Fr John Erickson Shares Stories of Liturgical Music to Inform the Future of Orthodox Singing in America


Former Professor of Church History and Dean Emeritus, the Very Rev. Dr John Erickson returned to St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) to deliver the keynote address for the 2024 Colloquium on Liturgical Music in Eastern Orthodox Theological Education. Fr John gave his talk “Identity, Authenticity, Fidelity: Stories From the Last Century and What We Might Learn From Them Today” to a large crowd in the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium and an audience of almost 200 registrants online.


Colloquium facilitator, Dr Alexander Lingas gave the introduction for Fr John, noting his well-known scholarship in Church history and highlighting his less-publicized yet prolific contributions to Orthodox liturgical music in America. Dr Lingas also expressed his gratitude to Fr John Erickson for his guidance and pastoral instruction during his younger days as a visiting scholar at St Vladimir’s Seminary during Fr John’s tenure as Professor and Dean, echoing the sentiments of many SVOTS alumni.

Fr John opened his presentation by quoting Henry Glassie, a distinguished historian of material culture: "History is not the past. History is a story about the past, told in the present, and designed to be useful in constructing the future." Throughout his talk, Fr John told various interwoven stories about the development of Orthodox liturgical music in America over the last century, reminding the audience of the efforts put forth in decades past to develop a common sense of Orthodox identity that crossed jurisdictional lines through adopting a shared “musical vernacular.” One remarkable example of these 20th-century pan-Orthodox endeavors was the First National Eastern Orthodox Religious Cultural Festival, which took place in Pittsburgh in August 1963. Fr John reviewed the various liturgical selections sung at this unique event, attended by over 11,000 people from multiple jurisdictions, describing the gathering as “a high point” in the “visible expression of Orthodox unity in America.” 

In the latter portion of his talk, Fr John gave many further examples of the “musical vernacular” employed in Orthodox choirs across the United States, and posited the benefits of adapting appropriately to our current intercultural Orthodox milieu, while incorporating our ancestral musical traditions without being completely overshadowed by them. He also presented an array of practical ways to adjust liturgical singing practices to suit the choir makeup and ability of each local parish.


Fr John concluded his presentation by relating some of his personal experiences, dwelling fondly on his time at St Vladimir’s Seminary and relating the ways that the seminary influenced not only liturgical music in American Orthodoxy but also liturgical practices such as frequent communion and evening Presanctified Liturgy. During the Q&A session following the talk, senior St Vladimir’s staff member, Ted Bazil, gave a short tribute to Fr John’s many years of dedicated service and positive influence within the seminary community.

 The 2024 Colloquium on Liturgical Music in Eastern Orthodox Theological Education was made possible through a Vital Worship, Vital Preaching Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc. Watch the recording of the talk by John Erickson by clicking the button below.

Watch Lecture Recording


Some of the invited scholars and members of the SVOTS faculty panel for the 2024 Colloquium on Liturgical Music in Eastern Orthodox Theological Education. From left: Anastasia Kappanadze (St Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), Deacon Harrison Basil Russin (SVOTS), Dr Nicholas Schidlovsky (Dean of Holy Trinity Seminary, Jordanville), Dr Alexander Lingas (SVOTS), the Very Rev. Dr John Erickson (SVOTS former professor and Dean Emeritus), guest of Dr Schidlovsky, and Deacon Petar Kozakijević (Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolis of Zagreb and Ljubljana).