The answer of course is that bells are not accompaniment
to the music sung in church.
Bells originated in the Church's need to find ways of notifying
people of the commencement and other important moments of the services
or other events, and once they had developed to the point where
they did more than just make a racket that could be heard at some
distance, it was natural to strike them festally whenever appropriate,
just as we also do with all of the semantra in the monastery on
Pascha night. But if bells can be compared to any type of musical
instrument, it would be to the trumpets and drums that ancient armies
used to rally and to signal tactical manoeuvers to the troops in
the field, rather than to the "instruments of song" (keli
zemer) referred to in the Bible.
(In fact, most of the earliest bells we have were used on horses
in battle.) Bells are intended for the exterior acoustic space of
the church; they are architectonic and social in a way that the
chanting that goes on inside the church is not. "Make your
church the center of a sacred soundscape" is one of the headlines
we use in promoting our bells, because their function is precisely
this, and this is what we want people to understand and to do. Of
course, bells and chanting do have similar functions, insofar as
both are involved in the Church's "proclamation"-- but
then, so do architecture or iconography, in their own ways and with
regard to their own "audiences": just about everything
the Church does, in one way or another can be considered as an expression
of its proclamation.
Nonetheless it is interesting that most (but not all) of the traditions
I am familiar with do not call for any ringing of bells to mark
the Gospel, the Sanctus, the words of institution, the epiklesis,
It Is Truly Meet, the end of the Anaphora, the Lord's Prayer, or
Communion. (I have seen the gospel announced, and all typika call
for ringing the big bell 12 times during or at the end of the Creed,
to signal the beginning of the Anaphora.) In the first place, ringing
at the times mentioned would require the bell ringers to absent
themselves from the church at crucial moments of the service, when
the Church is fully concentrated within herself, as it were, focusing
and attending strictly on the awesome mystery which is taking place
in her heart. Bells belong to the external presence of the Church,
rather than to its internal action-- if we can put it this way,
their primary context is kerygma, not theoria.
Naturally, everything we do externally, should (and in the Church,
does) spring from what is inward and ownmost. But arguably, church
music, including perhaps especially those parts of it which are
more melismatic and even designed so that they can expand to fill
the "soft moments" of the liturgy such as the clergy communion,
really have as their primary milieu the Church's contemplation.
I think one place where we can notice for ourselves the difference
between the purpose of bells and that of chanting is in our feeling
of incongruity when we enter a church where they are playing a recording
of bells. Our sense of incongruity arises not just from the fact
that the bells on the tape are usually those of some huge tower
in Russia, and therefore completely out of scale with the temple
in which the recording is being played-- or even from the fact that
by playing a recording the church is doing something artificial,
in an artificial manner (that is, in effect, lying)-- but from the
fact above all that the "bells" are being played indoors,
for the congregation's enjoyment, whereas they obviously belong
outdoors, for public announcement. It is more than strange
to us that the Church's annunciation ("blagovest")
has been reduced to "atmospherics"! And in fact this reduction
strikes us even as a kind of cameo of everything else we do that
just doesn't work.
Instruments such as organs, clarinets, violins, and guitars on
the other hand have as their primary purpose not announcement, but
accompaniment, and they act to enhance the emotional qualities of
the music, if not to express pure emotion in a wordless fashion.
They are well fit for the enjoyment and delectation of the listeners
but, as we said, their voices are "alogoi", not characterized
by logos; and in expressing emotion, they come perilously close
to evoking the passions-- which is the ground on which many of the
fathers spoke against their use in church.
The primary function of chant, however, is not enjoyment or entertainment
or delectation, but the proclamation of the Word of God; it developed
out of a need not only to solemnize the community's celebration,
but also to communicate the words of the Word to large groups of
people in an era when artificial amplification was not an option.
But precisely for this reason we avoid excessive coloration or harmonization
in chant (well, at least we should avoid it, canonically)-- because
our main goal and priority is to communicate the Word to the people
of God, and to involve them in those words which were and are sung
by the incarnate Word to God his Father. As we all know, because
of the priority given to "praying with the understanding"
(1Co 14.15), at least until recently, the Orthodox Church has always
insisted on the vernacular in its divine services.
There is, of course, something to be said for aesthetic beauty--
a good deal to be said, actually. Where, indeed, would our services
be without it? But even if the Church does have some very melodious
and melismatic exaposteilaria, for example, it nevertheless draws
the line at accompanying them with instrumentation, in view of the
logos-character of all its worship (logike latreia).
The litia is a service of intercession for the civil community,
its appropriate space is outside the temple, or at least in its
outer courts, at the threshold where society and Church meet each
other. In that place, the Church opens up to society, takes its
cares into her own concern, and enfolds its members, its activities,
and its world in her own motherly bosom-- and also, standing in
leaderly formation in and with society, she orients it as
she faces eastward in the triumphant expectation of her prayer.
If in the litia the Church goes forth from the temple to gather
the civil society together and to bring it to the Dawn, then by
a similar token through the ringing of bells her "joyous message
of the Resurrection" goes forth from the Morningstar that rises
in her heart and penetrates to "all the ends of the earth",
immediately orienting the attention of every listener to the Holy
Table where that Dayspring does indeed appear to us from on high.
Thus in the ringing of bells the Church indeed fulfills herself
as the center of a sacred soundscape, the soundscape at whose heart
is the incarnate Logos. Bells are the resonant expression (ekphoresis)
of her eucharistic life, "to the city and to the world"
(urbi et orbi). For us, now that the Logos has come, the Psalmist's
call to "praise Him with timbrel and harp" means "with
action and contemplation", not simply with instruments of harmony.
Yet traditionally, we announce the occasions on which this Incarnation
is fulfilled (teleiothenai) with bells, and not without reason
was the "mighty roar" of the zvon known among some native
Asian peoples as "the voice of the Christian God"-- for
as Christianity triumphed in Russia, the Russian people required
instruments that could express, as adequately as possible, the power
they knew in Christ. In some cases that roar could be heard as far
as 30 miles away, and it shook the foundations of the city itself.
Yet within the church, in the depths of mystery, all is silence,
in which the only voices heard are those of the Bridegroom and his