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Saving Russian Religious Music Traditions

A Russian Orthodox Easter service in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

A Russian Orthodox Easter service in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

Many religions use music to help communicate their message.

What you are listening to is a choral work performed in the Russian Orthodox Church. This kind of singing is different from other religious traditions. And it is this kind of singing that a U.S.-based choir hopes to keep alive.

The group recently went to Russia for training in what is known as the Slavonic tradition of music.

All 35 members of this choir are Russian and citizens of the United States. The group sang during religious services in Moscow. The choir’s leadership said they want to protect this musical tradition.

In North America, the Russian Orthodox Church has about 2,500 churches and monasteries, which are properties for religious workers.

Music is an important part of the Orthodox religious experience. The choir’s website states that Orthodox Christian worship in public “cannot take place without singing. In the Russian Orthodox Church,” it says, “a glorious tradition of church singing dates back at least a thousand years.”

The group says it is interested in building better relations between Russians and Americans at a time of tension over Ukraine. And they see music as a way of doing that.

Vladimir Gorbik is the head of the choir. He says his group is about religion, not politics. But western media often note close ties between Russia’s Orthodox Church and the Russian government.

Alexei Malashenko is with the Carnegie Moscow Center. The center is part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Malashenko talks about the connection between politics and religion in Russia. He says President Vladimir Putin uses the Orthodox Church to support his secular goals.

"Russian Orthodox Church is used by Putin, by president, as a tool for mobilization of the population, of Orthodox population, in order to support what power, secular power, is doing now."

The Russian Orthodox Church in the United States shares religious values with the Orthodox Church in Russia. But the U.S. church operates independently from the Russian church.

Alex Lukianov is with the musical institute. He explains that in Russia, the government and religion have always been connected, or as he says, intertwined. But he adds changes within the government have not kept up with changes in the church.

"The government and the church have always been closely intertwined in Russia. The government's changed more so than the church has. You know, I think there are some things that have caused tension as a result of that."

But it is not all politics for the church leadership in Russia.

Mr. Lukianov says the church in Russia is also doing a lot of good things, such as building and fixing churches and monasteries.

With the help of the Russians, the choir hopes to bring a group of Russian Orthodox Americans to Moscow every year to keep up the singing tradition.

I’m Anna Matteo.

We’d love to hear what you about think of this story. Share your thoughts in the Comments Section.

VOA’s Daniel Schearf reported on this story from Moscow. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English, adding some addition reporting. Kathleen Struck and George Grow were the editors.


Words in This Story

preach v. to make a speech about religion in a public place

worshipn./v. to show respect and love for God or for a god especially by praying, having religious services, etc.

secular adj. not religious; of, relating to, or controlled by the government instead of by the church

monastery – a place where religious workers live and work together

intertwined adj. to be or become closely involved with each other

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