Dr. Brian A. Butcher

“You Have Given Us the Grace to Pray Together in Harmony”:

Liturgical Singing as a Criterion for (Philosophical? Theological?) Aesthetics

It is well known that in the Christian East, unaccompanied singing abides as the ordinary, all-encompassing medium of public prayer— this being also the erstwhile (and in some locales still extant) practice of the Latin West. Singing is not a discrete activity carried out during the liturgical action, so much as the way in which, as it were, worship is enacted: an axial element, in turn, in the pursuit of the “good life,” religiously conceived. Whether it involves cantors, choirs or the whole congregation, such singing is always a conversation— ideally a three-way communication engaging a deacon, as well as the presiding bishop or priest. Traditional Orthodox practice in this regard raises interesting philosophical questions about the intersection between the psychology/sociology of sacred song, and the understanding and experience of beauty— arguably the defining, overarching category in Orthodox theological discourse. Chanting, moreover, can be seen (heard!) to bear profoundly ethical considerations, embodying a kind of practical wisdom rarely noticed in contemporary philosophical, or even theological, discourse.


Brian A. Butcher is currently Research Fellow at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, at the University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. His first major monograph was published in 2018 with Fordham University Press: Liturgical Theology After Schmemann: An Orthodox Reading of Paul Ricoeur. Other publications of note include a chapter on Orthodox sacramental theology in the 16-19th centuries, in the Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology (OUP, 2015) and, more recently, a chapter on gender in Orthodox theology in Gender in Orthodox Christianity (Routledge, 2019). His professional associations include membership in the American Academy of Religion and the North American Academy of Liturgy.

He is a subdeacon in the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, the father of six children, and enjoys taekwondo, training for triathlons, playing Celtic music, and cooking.