O.k., I know I ask a lot of questions, but I do have
a few more today.
Questions are great, just remember that in Orthodox epistemological thought, you learn much more by experience than by question asking
(I am not, of course, trying to discourage question asking). Btw, if you wanted to know more about the Orthodox position regarding how we attain knowledge, I'd highly suggest Justin Popovich's essay "The Theory of Knolwedge of Saint Isaac the Syrian," which has been translated into English and is in the book "Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ". Or if you wanted to take a look before you'd consider buying the book, there is a short excerpt of the essay at this page
1) Why is singing during the Divine Liturgy always
a capella? It is beautiful, but are instruments ever
used? If they are not permitted, why not?
I was thinking about this same thing during Orthros this past Sunday when I heard them singing the Psalms: "Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals" (Ps. 150). Why don't we have cymbals, or any instruments at all? I'm not positive, but I'll give three possible answers. The first reason I'll mention has at least some patristic support, that reason being that some thought instruments would be a distraction. It was thought, at least by some, that using just our voices--our person--we could focus on God more, while bringing in other objects would take away our attention from God. Second, the human voice, or voices joined, might be seen as a "sacrifice of praise" and/or "common intercession" to God. In other words, worship is direct prayer between us and God, and so it is possibly harmful to start adding other things in, especially if they are unneeded additions. The third answer I would give would involve the usage of prayers/songs in the home. Songs are not just sung in the Church, but can be sung anywhere, and especially should be sung at home if possible. In this way, while we Americans might typically think of music as having instruments, we should try as Orthodox to think of Church Music as being without instruments, that way we will have no hang-ups or excuses about singing wherever we might find ourselves. (E.g., we can't say "gee, I'd like to sing that hymn that's running around in my haed, but there's no guitar here to sing with, and I can't sing well, so I won't sing it at all.")
2) Why is basically the same liturgy used for the
Divine Liturgy? Is there not any variation on prayers
and singing? If not why not?
There are many variations through the year, and some from week to week, but it is true that the Liturgy is largely fixed in it's language. The idea is to get people to understand their faith, and more importantly to participate in their faith, so that's the approach Orthodox worship takes. Have you ever heard anyone say "It's wrong to have the Bible fixed because people will get bored"? Have you ever heard anyone say "Let's change the 'Our Father,' it's getting boring"? And how about David in some of those Psalms? (cf Ps. 136) The point is, repitition is not bad, and doing/reading the same thing isn't bad, unless you allow it to become dry and dead. The idea is to learn the liturgy well enough so that you can follow along and focus strictly on God. After a while you learn the "form," and that allows you to focus more on the substance. You aren't looking at the words of a contemporary chorus on a viewscreen, and you aren't reading along in a hymnal, you're instead--hopefully!--singing along what you honestly believe "We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit; We have found the truth faith, worshipping the undivided trinity: Which have saved us." It doesn't matter that you sang it the last 300 sundays, all that matters is what you make of it this Sunday. Much like the Bible, you get from it only if you put into it, and as long as you are in communion with God and are sincere, you could read/sing it 3,000 times and it wouldn't become "boring" or "stale". Having said that, while the main part of the service is fixed so that we can follow along wholly, the Orthodox do include just enough variation each service (from service to service) to teach us something new. When taken over the whole year (especially if all services are attended, and not just Sundays), this becomes quite an extensive theological education. You'll find out about everything from the missionary activities of the Apostles to the affirmations of the Ecumenical Councils.
It's also note worthy that just about every Church repeats itself anyway, the Orthodox are just a bit more up front. In the Wesleyan Church I attended, for instance, we (I do not mean myself, but the Church as a whole) were very proud that we weren't dead and repetitive like the Catholics Church down the street (some of the animosity came from our eschatological views). In reality though, we were on a fixed pattern as well, it was just that our pattern changed every few months, while the Catholics kept their pattern. During that few-month period though, I could have told you, with probably 90% accuracy, what would happen in the service, what order it would happen in, and what songs (well, choruses) would be sung. We tend to be creatures of habit, sometimes this can be a good thing (e.g., having the habit of reading the Bible every morning).
4) What is the general Orthodox view of contemporary
christian (read: Protestant pop and rock) music?
Is it o.k. to be a christian rock musician with spiritual
lyrics that present the gospel and are uplifting/inspiring?
I've never ran into any problems with this, and I use to listen to Christian Heavy Metal and Rock (while I was Orthodox). I will be so bold as to say that I think you would, if you became Orthodox, eventually stop listening to the groups by your own free choice. I could be wrong on that, but that was my own personal experience. It's not about the rightness or wrongness of the action, it's just about what the best thing is to do in the situation you find yourself. If, however, you went on listening to such music, I don't see that you would run into any problems.
That is all I can think of for the moment. I am still
reading, praying and attending the Divine Liturgy
every Sunday-and enjoying it I might add!
I'm sure many on here are praying for you.