Instrumental Accompaniment in the Orthodox Church — Case Study: the Island of Corfu

From the beginning of Christianity hymnody has been present in the public worship, accompanying the prayer in a harmonious way. Saint Matthew tells us that Jesus Christ Himself sang praise to God together with his disciples (Matt 26:30). A specific element of Christian hymnody is the exclusive use of the human voice and the exclusion of any instrumental accompaniment. The 15th Canon of the Council of Laodiceea it is interpreted by some as the one by which the Church forbids the use of musical instruments in worship. Although it does not refer to musical instruments, by keeping the common people away from the hymnody, they were actually trying to remove all secular elements from the practice of the Church. In the history of the Church however there have been some exceptions when, depending on the historical context, or determined by the musical need to perform the scores as correctly as possible, or out of a desire for modernization, instruments were used in the church. Such an exception is found in the island of Corfu, where, to this day, in the Church of Saint Spyridon, during the holy services, the choir is accompanied by an organ. This tradition is directly linked to the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who in the period 1922-1930 led as a bishop the believers of the Corfu island, one with a turbulent history. That fact that it stayed 400 years under Venetian occupation influenced decisively the architecture, painting, music, and the whole life of the people of Corfu.