Q: Why Do the Orthodox not Use Musical Instruments in Worship?
A: While there are parishes throughout the U.S. that have organs and use organs, traditionally, Orthodox Christian worship uses only the human voice (the greatest musical instrument given to humanity by God). In part, this is to manifest Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
There is a practical reason for this as well. Byzantine Chant (the style of music traditionally used by the Orthodox Church) takes full advantage of the human voice and uses several musical scales that have micro-tones (as opposed to full and half-tones). Though it is possible to use these same scales on some instruments, it isn’t with many. Thus, it is most practical to stick with the instrument the music was written for — the human voice.
Perhaps more to the point is the fact that the Apostles and early Churches did not use nstruments in worship, and indeed emphasized this “absence” as being significant, even normative:
Clement of Alexandria: “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and are intent on their idol-worshipping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wineless feasts, for they are more suited for beasts and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men… In general, we must completely eliminate every such base sight or sound – in a word, everything immodest that strikes the senses (for this is an abuse of the senses) – if we would avoid pleasures that merely fascinate the eye or ear, and emasculate.”
Eusebius: “Of old at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.” (Commentary on Psalms 91)
John Chrysostom: “David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.”