Zenit Highlights on Met. Hilarion Talk

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Music can lead people to discover the astonishing appeal of the Man behind Christianity — that is, of Jesus Christ himself, according to Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

The chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate affirmed this Wednesday when he spoke at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..

Metropolitan Alfeyev is himself an accomplished composer and he spoke on “Music and Faith in My Life and Vision.”

The prelate acknowledged that he is “well aware of the insignificant number of young people who listen to classical music, whereas almost everyone listens to popular music.”

“This,” he said, “I consider to be a real tragedy.”

But, he affirmed that “secular musical art is possible within Christianity, including that which exceeds the limits of classical music which I love so much.”

Sacred messages

The metropolitan called Christianity “inclusive,” saying, “it does not set strict canonical limits to art. Christianity can even inspire a secular artist who, using the means available and known to him and his milieu, will be able to convey certain sacred messages equally in the language of modern musical culture.”

By way of example, Metropolitan Alfeyev cited “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“No doubt,” he said, “this composition is not in keeping with church criteria, but the author did not purport to present the canonical image of Christ. He achieved his objective outstandingly well by telling the story of Christ’s passion in a language understandable to the youth and through the medium of contemporary music.”

“I appreciate this music more emphatically than I do the works of many avant-garde composers, since the latter sometimes eschew melody, harmony, and inner content,” the metropolitan reflected.

“The image of Christ can inspire not only church people, but also those who are still far from her,” he added. “One should not forbid them to think, speak and write about Christ, unless they are moved by a desire deliberately to distort Christianity and to insult the Church and the faithful.

“If a composition is bright, impressive and grips the listeners, if it makes them empathize emotionally with the Gospel events and even weep, if it arouses profound feelings in them, then it deserves high praise.”

Metropolitan Alfeyev observed that the path to Christianity “often begins with a discovery of the living Christ, rather than a recognition of the church’s dogmatic truths.”

“Christianity is a religion focused on the living Man, a historic person,” he said. “The person of this Man appeals astonishingly. It may well be the case that a composition on a Gospel subject, though written by a non-Churchman, is imbued by a veneration of Christ. Many may begin their way to Christ and to the Church through such a composition, even if it were not altogether ‘canonical.'”


  1. I saw the play “Jesus Christ Superstar” a few years ago, and I found it very inspiring. In fact, I was actually crying when the actor playing Jesus was “crucified” to the cross. This illustrates that some of the “modern” religious songs and plays dealing with Christianity can indeed be inspiring and have a positive impact on Christianity.

    • Christ had been dragged around Jerusalem in chains, struck on the face, spat upon, mocked, and beaten. He had been silent through all His sufferings; He had said nothing to His tormentors. He only broke that silence when He saw the women weeping (“bewailing and lamenting”). Jesus turned and rebuked them sharply for their weeping:
      “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

      The tactics used by movie producers to appeal to the emotions of the audiences do not bring lasting benefits. In most cases it holds the interest and attention of some for a day, or a week, or perhaps a little while longer. One needs to make a huge step towards the understanding of the real issue: repentance. Why is He hanging there? This is an injustice! Does this weeping come because of a deep knowledge of one’s sin? Jesus does not want us to feel sorry for Him, but He calls us to believe in Him, to repent and to prepare ourselves for day of God’s wrath.

    • Geo Michalopulos

      I’m with you on this one George. I remember being moved by this opera 30 or so years ago. One reason I suspect is that like +Hilarion, I appreciated its musical integrity. Its harmonies and melodies soar. Its lyrics rhyme. As a piece of musical theater, it’s not dischordant. Compare it to more modern pieces which are unrememorable.

  2. Jesus Christ Superstar? Really now, it was at least partly inspired by Kanazakis’ book, The Last Temptation of Christ for which Kanazakis was excommuniated by the Greek Church because he denied the divinity of Christ (I think he was excommunicated. He certainly denied the divinity of Christ in his work(read it way back when)). He certainly continued in his exploration of the Nietzchean theme of the tension between the Apollian and the Bacchanalian impluses in the human psyche.

    JCS was an adroitly crafted superficial Broadway musical designed to get money from people by using dramatic tricks to emotionally manipulate. It succeeded and it too denies the divinity of Christ just as its inspiration. JCS articulated the prevalent worldly mind set of the time toward Christ, an anti-hero perhaps, but still and all, just a man among men.

    I can only hope the Met. Hiliarion’s work is just a tab bit better and more real.


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