Sunday, September 20, 2009

This bugs me

Call me a liturgical purist or just anal retentive, I don't care. One of the underlying characteristics about the worship of the Eastern churches is that the worship is conducted while standing. Most Orthodox do not, or cannot, stand for the entire Liturgy, which for some people is completely understanding, but for healthy people, there really is no excuse. To sit is to assume a position of comfort and it makes one lazy and slothful especially when you are to be praying. Besides, everyone knows the expression "Think on your feet." Well, your response time improves by more than 20% when you are standing and that is especially useful in prayer. I know that I really should only be concerned for myself, but I get irritated when sitting is preferred and then I'm told it's allowable because it's an Antiochian tradition, which is code for, we're modern and hip so we don't have to do it the old way. I know I will always be on the losing side of this battle, but I will continue to fight. Here is a brief list of when people generally sit when the congregation SHOULD be standing during Liturgy or any of the offices.

1) The Litanies. You are asking our Lord and God and Saviour for mercy and forgiveness. How does the sitting position convey that you are sincere and earnest for mercy for your sin-laden soul? Stand up!

2) The Six Psalms at Orthros (Matins). I grant that very few people ever come to Matins on a Sunday or a feast day, but when we serve Orthros in the evening during Holy Week for the following day, or on Christmas Eve (which shouldn't be done anyway), you should be on your feet. The six Psalms are 3, 37, 62, 87, 102 and 142. In our tradition, one should stand for these Psalms with heads bowed. Making of the sign of the Cross at the break between pslams 62 and 87 when we chant "Glory be..." and "Alleluia" is wrong becuase we should be focussing on our sinfulness and the mercy of God. These are the psalms that our Guardian Angel will read at the Last Judgment when we stand before the Dread Judgement seat of Christ. You should be preparing for that awful day. You're not going to find a chair for you to sit in when Christ is presiding. Stand up!

3) Any time the priest censes. Whenever the priest comes out of the Holy Doors whether at Psalm 140 for Vespers, the imperial psalms and troparia of Matins, the singing of the ninth ode (Magnificat) at Orthros, the final censing of the Proskomeide (preparation of the gifts), the Cherubimic Hymn, etc. you should stand and have your head bowed. You are an icon of Christ. As the priest censes the icons on the iconostasis in the front of the sanctuary, so he also censes you. Why? So that your prayer will be uplifted to God. It is also improper to make the sign of the Cross as this happens. Stand up!

4) Whenever the priest blesses you in the name of the Trinity. Stand up!

5) During the reading of the Gospel and the Alleluia verses. Stand up!

6) During the Cherubimic Hymn and the Anaphora. Stand up!

7) The Little Entrance (with the Gospel) and the Great Entrance. Stand up!

8) The Lord's Prayer. Stand up!

9) The pre-communion prayer of St. John Chrysostom. Stand up!

How does that old Protestant hymn go? Stand up, stand up, stand up for Jesus? If you get tired, sit down. Christ doesn't expect you to kill himself for the sake of the Liturgy, but if you have the wherewithal and the strength, you should stand and make a little room for sitting as possible.

Also, as a side note, it is also improper for one light candles and venerate the icons as the priest is censing.

Why has this lack of liturgical etiquette crept into Orthodox Churches (not all of them mind you)? It's probably because of a lack of good catechesis and education of the faith (especially among the cradles, though the converts are to blame as well). There's probably also a hint of Orthodox trying not to appear as radically different from the typical American mainstream Christianity. Whatever the reason may actually be, just stand up. For people who complain consistently that they "don't get much out of the service", this may be the prescription to cure that malady.


  1. We're not even supposed to move during the Six Psalms.

    "Antiochian tradition" would be a perfectly good explanation if it were an Antiochian tradition rather than a very modern, Antiochian-American tradition stemming from the first draft of immigrant communities attempting to navigate life as immigrants in America in the 1930s to 1970s. It's as 'out of touch' with what Americans want or expect as mandating old timey Anglican priestly dress in a culture decidedly divorced from such traditions (even within the Anglican and Episcopalian churches of the West).

    I, for one, would love to see more traditional Antiochian practices in the AOCANA - not simply accepting what's on the ground there (why emulate the weakest, why not the strongest?) but a reinvigoration of the Antiochian traditions such as is seen in the monastic revival in the Patriarchate. It's essentially a copy of what the GOA needed and has received through the work of Elder Ephraim - whatever the weaknesses in the working out of that tradition here it is exactly the strong medicine the previously weakened (spiritually) GOA needed and still needs.

    I should note I have found myself sitting more with a child. The baby has me less attentive already, but sitting adds to it even more. I take it as an opportunity to remind myself how un-advanced I am, which can then lead to prayer.

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for the comments. You're right that any movement during the 6 psalms is not permissible. I don't think a favourable verdict will be rendered if we're squirming around.

    I'm afraid that as long as Metropolitan PHILIP is in charge, the traditions that are part of the Antiochian church are going to be sidestepped to make Orthodoxy look like just an Eastern form of High Church Anglicanism. Monasticism will not be even considered as a remedy for those of us (like myself) are spiritually sick.