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DUIN: A fresh look at ancient faith

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

I got hooked on it three weeks ago.

Ancient Faith Radio is an Internet station (http://ancientfaith.com) filled with allusions to people with names like Methodius, Basil the Great and Ephraim the Syrian.

There's lots of mentions of someone called the Theotokos, which I've since learned is Greek for "Mother of God."

Unlike contemporary Christian radio fare, the station airs sonorous chants and breathtaking harmonies that soak into the soul. Lyrics, some of which date from the second century after Christ, are in Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Patrick Reardon, an Orthodox priest and friend since my seminary days, clued me in on the station, originally sponsored by his Chicago church. During the evenings, I click on iTunes and voila - heavenly music like a Gregorian chant on steroids: minor scales, major scales, pentatonic scales, the works. My toddler likes it too.

There is a theology behind this music. Greek Christians in the Byzantine Empire, dating back to 330 AD, believed that sacred chant united believers with angelic choirs. Byzantine music has this unusual component of an "ison" - a base drone that sounds like a bagpipe - that gives an unearthly feel to the monkish choirs.

The station breaks feature a "saint for the day," someone who has been martyred, has suffered greatly or has kind of a somber teaching for the chastisement of the soul. St. John Chrysostom is a regular here.

And there are the crystal-clear reading voices of the volunteer announcers.

"Professional people kind of came out of the woodwork when they discovered the station," says John Maddex, who founded the station in his Chicago-area home in late 2004. At the time, he was the division manager of Moody Institute's 35 broadcast stations. A convert to Orthodoxy, he also has done radio for the mega-evangelical ministry Focus on the Family.

Liturgical Web sites such as www. musicarussica.com and www.liturgica.com contributed CDs to the new station. Orthodox personalities, such as Michael Hyatt, the president of Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, landed teaching spots on the network. The most popular show is "Speaking the Truth in Love," by the Rev. Tom Hopko, the retired dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y.

As demand intensified, Mr. Maddex went full-time in April 2007. He and three part-timers manage the 24-hour station on a $150,000 budget, which is why you hear occasional funding pitches interspersed with the multipart chant. Now under the auspices of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, the station serves a rainbow of Orthodox groups.

"We are very pleased with the e-mails we get from people from all walks of life," Mr. Maddex said. "One guy, who was an atheist, said he had discovered an Internet radio station that was very compelling. 'I don't know what it is, but I cannot stop listening to it,' he told us.

"We also get listeners who - discouraged with evangelical churches and their praise bands - find our site. It helps them in whatever journey they are making toward the ancient church."

Ancient Faith now has 135,000 iPod downloads a month and averages 2,000 site visits a day from 1,300 unique visitors. Which means that some of us are tuning in more than once a day.

Julia Duin's Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.