Monday, May 31, 2010

Nothing ordinary about "ordinary" time

As we celebrated the Feast of All Saints yesterday and kick off the Apostles' Fast today, so we also return to the usually non festal "ordinary" time. This is when the offices have little to no special variables, Vespers and Orthros of the Sundays will generally have no additional special hymns and the rubrics are generally simplified. And as "ordinary time" coincides roughly with the start of summer, there is also a noticeable drop off in "normal" church related activities, let alone attendance at Liturgy by the faithful.

When I was at the Monastery of St. Gregory Palamas last year in July, I remarked to the abbot, Fr. Joseph, that being here during the fasting and festal seasons would really be spiritually beneficial to me as opposed to the ordinary cycle of services. Fr. Joseph was puzzled by my statement and then he looked at me and said that there is nothing ordinary about ordinary time. He said that this season is the best time of all to become reacquainted and develop relationships with the saints whom we may not know very well. And developing relationships with them, we develop their love for Christ since Christ is glorified in His Saints. That really got me thinking and forced me to really reevaluate what I had said.

For the past four months, we have used the Triodion and the Pentecostarion service books. Now, we must put them away for the Paraklitike and the Octoechos, at least for another year. Sure, it's easy to get excited about the Great Lenten fast with its struggle and its austerity, to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ and his 40 days on earth, culminating in the sending of the Holy Spirit. We go from fasting to feasting and then we seem to be in an in-between area. The Apostles' Fast is not as austere as the Great Lenten Fast and its variability of length from four days (new calendar) to four weeks makes it very easy to just cast aside as something not very important.

It's easy (or maybe just easier) to see the Christ in Christmas or in Pascha or in any other fasting and feasting season. The challenge is to embrace Christ just the same in a non-festal setting by honoring and venerating His Saints. As many people go to the gym at this time of year getting in shape for beach season, this is the perfect chance for us to pray the "ordinary" prayers with the "ordinary" saints to embrace what is extraordinary, the grace of our Lord, still poured out even on a regular old day.

The Sunday of All Saints

On the Western Calendar, the feast of all Saints is celebrated on November 1. On the Eastern Calendar, the festival is the last Sunday of the Pentecostarion, one week after the Great Feast of Pentecost. According to legend, this feast was established after a certain Roman (i.e. Byzantine) Emperor lost his wife and asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to have her glorified as a saint. The Patriarch responded that though the woman was certainly good and saintly, glorification and commemoration on the Church calendar are not done by simple request even if the one making the request is God's viceroy on Earth (as the Emperor was known in the Byzantine Theocracy). However, the Patriarch convened a local council which decided that a certain day should be set aside for the commemoration of all saints, those who are famous pillars of the Church such as the Theotokos, the Forerunner, St. Basil the Great to those who are not so famous pillars such as our mothers and fathers and all who have completed the course of this life in the faith. This day commemorates those saints whom we know and who are known only to God. We commemorate them all and we beseech them for their continued intercessions on our behalf (which they do anyway).

This festival is aptly placed a week after Pentecost. The troparion of the feast of Pentecost says that "through them (i.e. the Apostles who are called fishermen) thou hast drawn the world into Thy net." Those whom we glorify as saints have been drawn into the net by the Apostles' and subsequent generations' preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This feast then is an extension of the feast of Pentecost.

The word saint is often used in a way that can be quite contentious between members of different Christian confessions. For Protestants, the predominant definition of a saint is anyone who has died in the Lord. For Catholics and Orthodox, the predominant definition of a saint is someone who has been glorified and honored by the Church. Catholics and Orthodox won't balk at the Protestant definition as an addendum to their own addition but Protestants will often balk at the Catholic and Orthodox definition because they, mistakenly, attribute the honor and veneration paid to saints as idolatry if not outright polytheism. I once remember a story that my Lutheran grandmother (herself born and raised in Germany prior to coming here in the 1950s) refused to attend a Lutheran Church because its name was taken from St. John. "Lutherans don't have saints," she said.

I don't want to get into all the arguments as to how the Orthodox veneration of the saints is not an heretical practice. I will say that if the Word of God (Christ and also His icon of Scripture) is the basis of the faith then the gift and seal of the Holy Spirit is the means to live the faith (hence, tradition). We commemorate our brothers and sisters who have lived the faith and even in death are still are brothers and sisters in the kingdom. Every Liturgy, Office or pray we pray is not done by us alone but by the bodiless powers and by the saints as well, offering prayers before the dread judgment seat of Christ. We are not alone; the saints will not let us be alone. When we pray, they are there with us. When the Priest begins the Liturgy with "Blessed is the Kingdom..." we are no longer on earth. We are translated, mystically, to the heavenly abode where we stand alongside those who have departed the faith. Our prayers become one and the same. When we commemorate the saints, we are commemorating those standing right next to us, both manifest and unseen.

Through the prayers of all the saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The People and the Epiclesis

Liturgical innovation and/or the conflation of various Orthodox traditions as well as the importation of distinctly Western (i.e. Roman) practices are in full swing particularly within the Antiochian Archdiocese but can be seen to a lesser extent even in the Greek Archdiocese. One of the particular innovations has to do with the confusion of prayers/actions specifically reserved for the clergy and those reserved for the people. This is no more apparent than in the epiclesis prayer.

When the priest calls down the Holy Spirit he says the following:

P: And make this the Body of Thy Christ.

The people then respond:

Pe: Amen.

P: And make this the Blood of Thy Christ.

Pe: Amen.

P: Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit.

Pe: Amen. Amen. Amen.

This is the way it is done in Antiochian and Greek parishes. But it is patently incorrect. The "Amens" are the prerogative of the Deacon only. If there is no deacon, the "Amens" are again reserved to the priest. However, because of the continued absence of deacons and also because of the influx of converts from Protestant backgrounds where there is no distinction between clergy and laity, the people have taken the deacon's role for themselves. The people should be singing the hymn "We hymn Thee, We bless Thee" but this hymn has even been moved to be sung AFTER the epiclesis. It makes no sense to place it there since we should be hymning and blessing the Lord because He is transforming the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Alexander Lebedeff has this to say about such liturgical innovation:

Similarly, the proclaiming aloud of three "amens" after the epiclesis is another uncalled-for expression of fervor, meaning it is not specified in the rubrics of the service. The service books state clearly that the three "Amens" are said by the Deacon. It does not say: "and the people say—amen, amen, amen."

Again, this is an example of laypeople usurping the prerogative of the Deacon, who participates actively in the consecration of the Holy Gifts, and gives both the invitations ("Bless, Master, the Holy Bread." etc.) and the responses, including the "Amens." It would be inappropriate for the altar servers to participate in these responses, even though they are right there and can see and hear what is occurring. During the epiclesis, the choir is singing the solemn hymn "We sing unto Thee...", the Royal Doors are closed, and the faithful stand in silent prayer that should not be interrupted by any amens, however well-intentioned. In order to even know when the exact moment to say these amens occurs, the congregation would have to hear the words that the Priest is supposed to pronounce quietly during the singing of the hymn. Either the Priest would have to say them quite loudly, drowning out the singing, or the singing would have to stop so that you could hear what the Priest was saying. Both would be a violation of the order of the service (as is any reading aloud by a Priest of any prayer meant to be read quietly or silently).

Actually, there are a variety of dynamics indicated in the services for prayers. Some are said quietly (in a low voice), some are said loudly (in a great voice), some are said silently (no voice). We should humbly defer to the holy authors of these services and follow their directions. Whenever we want to introduce something "of our own," we not only violate the service rubrics, but we violate the unity of the church.

All such "unique" practices should be patiently and lovingly eliminated.

The entire article can be referenced here.

Such practices need to stop. I'm no ordained Deacon and thus I should not say Amen. Neither are the people in the nave. This work is only being done in the sanctuary, the result of which will then be carried out and distributed to the faithful. Then, we may say "Amen, amen, amen" to our hearts' content.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

To Kneel or Not To Kneel? That is the question.

At my church today we had a voters meeting to vote on what new pews would grace our nave. Really the question that was posed to the congregation was what type of wood would be used--oak or mahogany? In the end, oak won out simply because it was cheaper. It should have been a really short meeting, but like all voters meetings, this one just dragged on because other issues, not illegitimate ones, kept coming up.

One of the issues raised was whether kneelers would be part of the pew deal. It was not and it was not even part of the bid. So, a motion was made that new bids be sought out including kneelers as part of the deal. The motion failed. The arguments put forward for kneelers was that several parishioners kneel (on Sundays and at other times) during the epiclesis when we call down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and that kneeling is done as "pious custom" to honor this meeting of Heaven and Earth.

While I do not doubt the sincerity or the piety of the people who do such an act, it is a Western innovation that has crept into the Eastern Rite, especially here in America. As one of the proponents mentioned, a great number of churches of the Eastern Rite have both pews and kneelers to accommodate the faithful despite the fact that such is never found in the churches of the Old World. (I'm not going to get into arguments about whether pews are appropriate or not. That is for another time). However, just because all of the other churches have given into this innovation doesn't mean that we should as well.

Nevertheless, this issue got me thinking about when it is appropriate to kneel and when it is not. I think it has no place on Sundays as Sunday is always an anti-Pascha (i.e. mini-Pascha) and to kneel implies penitence when we should be rejoicing at our Lord's triumph over death. We also do not kneel at any service between Pascha and Pentecost when it returns on Vespers of Pentecost Day. Such is the rationale behind the 20th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council (Coincidentally, today we commemorated the 318 fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea). But does that preclude all kneeling?

As indicated earlier, kneeling does not always have to be an action of lamentation or sorrow or penitence. There can be a "joyful knelling" if you will and a lot of shades of gray in between.

I don't have the necessary learning to parse all the arguments for and against kneeling in various contexts, but the late Archbishop CHRISTODOULOS of Athens once wrote something about this very issue. You can read it here on the MYSTAGOGY blog. For what it is worth, I believe that kneeling is part of the Western Rite inheritance which has jumped rites to the Eastern Rite. When, however, kneeling is called for in the rubrics of the Eastern Rite, it actually should be understood for the faithful to make a prostration. When the epiclesis occurs on a Liturgy for a feast day, outside of the Pentecostarion period, I will prostrate at the words "changing them by the Holy Spirit."

But read it and make your own judgments. I believe that this is one of those American spins on Orthodox faith and practice and tradition that can really divide people from the greater Truth that should be proclaimed in our churches each and every week.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hard Times for Candlestick Makers

Hard Times for Candlestick Makers

One of the things this article does not mention is that Orthodox churches use a lot of candles made from beeswax. Now, the population of bees, for some unknown reason, has declined though some scientists have speculated that the reason is due to some mutated genetic virus.

Also, the decline in the use of candles across all Christian confessions is probably due to many people thinking that candles are somehow too "Romish" and thus that practice must be excised from any pious practice. I didn't think that the light of Christ only had a monopoly on the Roman Catholics!

New blog

Directed by my fellow blogger Chris Orr, I've added a link to the blog Again and Again which is authored by Fr. Milovan Katanic. I strongly suggest you visit his site and read what he has. Especially read his bit on the Ascension.

Many years, Father!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Glorious Ascension of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ

Forty days after His Resurrection from the Dead, the Orthodox Church today (as well as the Western confessions) celebrate our Lord's Ascension into Heaven and His sitting at the Right Hand of God the Father. I was privileged for the first time to be able to celebrate the entire cycle of the feast (Vespers last night, Orthros and Liturgy this morning) and some insights came to me as to why this feast is so important and significant. Thanks to Fr. Peter Pappas at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church for giving me some food for thought. And especially a great many thanks for allowing me to chant Orthros with you in both Greek and English.

Though this is one of the 12 great feasts, Ascension is often forgotten because it always falls on a Thursday and not everyone can get off work to go to Liturgy. At the same time, I think a lot of Christians, particularly Orthodox Christians, get discouraged when we come to Ascension because no longer do we chant "Christ is Risen" which we have done several million times since April 4 and the services return, more or less, to their "normal" mode. At the same time, though this feast is often forgotten, by both Eastern and Western Christians, I think that is a blessing in disguise. If it were more mainstream, how long would it be before the secularists who have so convoluted Pascha and Nativity with the Eastern Bunny and Santa Claus come up with some sort of secular alternative to this or even to our next feast, Pentecost? So, maybe we should rejoice in this little secret.

It's always disheartening to see Orthodox Christians not take the feasts of the Church seriously. I'm not speaking of those Orthodox Christians, of course who cannot make it because of their work and/or family schedules, but those who don't go simply because they have no desire to. Yet, at the same time, we should rejoice that even though the seats are left empty by our fellow man, the saints in Heaven and the Angels and Archangels together celebrate with us.

But, at the same time, I believe that most people don't really understand what Ascension is all about. They, as a whole, know the Gospels which record this event where Christ ascended into heaven giving his final commandment to the Apostles to love and forgive one another and that will be bound and loosed on earth will also be bound and loosed in heaven. OK, so what's the point then of his Ascending to heaven?

Our Lord spent 40 days here on earth following His Resurrection from the dead. He appeared to many, not as a spirit but as the God-Man, the Theanthropos. Every time he appears, He still appears with the wounds suffered from His Crucifixion. He doesn't appear as if He had his wounds treated. Why is this important?

Our Lord ascended into heaven while he still wore human flesh, wounds, sores and all. The Ascension is the deification of the flesh. We must remember that the bedrock of our theology is that God became man so that everything we have become through sin would be healed. Christ took our flesh up to heaven and that flesh sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ came not to destroy but to save!

We are often taught to fight against the body. This is erroneous. We are taught to war against the flesh. It is the flesh that is our enemy, but it is at the same time it is the source of our salvation. Bishop BASIL once said that the fallen Angels would never be saved because they have no flesh. Without flesh, they have not the means of repentance. Now that Christ has come, has been crucified, has been raised from the dead and has now ascended into the heavens, our repentance becomes strengthened not in spite of the flesh, but because of it! Our Lord did not come and do all these things simply to say "You are forgiven. Go and live life as you want because I will always forgive you." As he ascended and deified the flesh, Christ did command us to love and forgive one another. But he commanded us to do that because we now can do that since our flesh is no longer the burden it used to be. We have been changed! Ascension has done that.

There will be a general Resurrection at the Last Judgment. All men, Christian and not, will be resurrected as Christ promised. But the Ascension is only for the saved. St. Gregory Palamas says that "the Resurrection is connected with all men, but the Ascension only with the saints." Going further, Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS says this:
This is said from the from the point of view that by His Resurrection Christ conquered death and gave the gift of Resurrection to all. All will be resurrected on the day of Christ’s Second Coming, both righteous and sinners, but not all will be taken up. Only the righteous, the deified will be found worthy of this great experience. The Apostle Paul confesses: “And those who have died in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:16-17).

My thanks to Chris Orr at Orrologion for providing these quotes.

Christ's Pascha is for all men since all will be resurrected to be judged. Christ's Ascension is only for the saved who will become partakers of the essence of God through His energies (2 Peter 1:4). This is the bonafide Christian holiday! Though non-Christians and nominal Christians celebrate Nativity and Pascha, Ascension is not for them! It is for us!

So, let us go forth this day, rejoicing that the flesh is deified and that this holiday confirms our salvation through Christ our Lord and God and Saviour. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Commemoration of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Equal ot the Apostles and Evangelizers of the Slavs. Also,a note on language

Today, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two Greek monks who were sent to evangelize the Slavic peoples in the ninth century to great success. The Prologue of Ohrid gives this description of them and their work:

Saints Cyril and Methodius were brothers from Thessalonica of distinguished and wealthy parents, Leo and Maria. The older brother Methodius spent ten years as an officer among the Macedonian Slavs and thus learned the Slavic language. After that Methodius withdrew to Mount Olympus and dedicated himself to the monastic life of asceticism. It was here that Cyril (Constantine) later joined him. When the Khazarite king, Kagan, requested preachers of the Faith of Christ from Emperor Michael III then, by command of the emperor, these two brothers were found and sent among the Khazars. Convincing King Kagan of the Faith of Christ, they baptized him along with a great number of his chief assistants and even a greater number of the people. After a period of time, they returned to Constantinople where they compiled the Slavonic alphabet consisting of thirty-eight letters and proceeded to translate ecclesiastical books from Greek into Slavonic. At the request of Prince Rastislav, they traveled to Moravia where they spread and established the devout Faith and multiplied books and distributed them to the priests to teach the youth. At the request of the pope, Cyril traveled to Rome where he became ill and died on February 14, 867 A.D. Then Methodius returned to Moravia and labored to strengthen the Faith of Christ among the Slavs until his death. Following his death - he died in the Lord on April 6, 885 A.D. - his disciples, THE FIVE FOLLOWERS, with St. Clement, the bishop at the head, crossed the Danube River and descended to the south into Macedonia, where from Ohrid they continued their labor among the Slavs begun by Cyril and Methodius in the north.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius are often invoked as the archetypal models for why the church should celebrate its respective services in the language of the place it is located. They did not evangelize the Slavs in Greek nor insist that their practice of the Orthodox faith should be done in Greek. This is in contrast with the Latin West who insisted that Latin would be the only liturgical language regardless of whether you understood it or not.

In orthodox churches today, there is some division on how best to apply this standard of using the language of the people in the liturgical language of the church. Obviously there is no 1:1 parallel between our time with that of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. There is a great deal more of mobility in today's world. You are not expected to die in the same place where you were born and lived. As a result, there are a great number of expatriates living in foreign countries where the language spoken is not the language of the church. Thus, communities of Serbs, Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks will have their services mostly, or entirely in their respective mother tongues regardless of the fact that they are now in a new country. Often, they will insist that to remove the language in favor of the tongue of the new country amounts to nothing less than abandoning the faith itself!

Even further, the language that the Russians, Serbs and Bulgarians use is not Russian, Serbian or Bulgarian but Old Church Slavonic, the ancestor of modern Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian. The Greeks use not modern Greek but the Greek of the New Testament and the Byzantine Empire. Romanians use a more ancient form of Romanian. In other words, it is not the colloquial language. Attempts in Greece to use modern Greek for the Liturgy has been greeted with open hostility by the Holy Synod there.

Now, I have no idea what the solution to this whole problem is. This situation is not totally reserved to the Orthodox. German Lutherans for many years, even up until World War II, continued to celebrate the Mass in German. Hispanic Catholics here in the states continue to use Spanish for their Mass. I don't think however that all parishes in the United States should be forced to use English only or even use a combination of the two by their respective bishops or authorities. But I do think that those people who insist, often forcibly insist that for here in the United States it's English or nothing else, are wrong.

The insistence on using English only here in the United States for the liturgical language of Orthodox Churches betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what Liturgy is and what it is not. The most obvious misunderstanding is this: Liturgy IS NOT Evangelism. The Liturgy is the worship of God in the Church (ekklesia) by those who have been called out (Enkalein) from the world. The language we use in the church should not be the same we use in every day life. If a church wants to use all English for English speakers fine, but that should not come at the expense of a Greek church whose members still want to use Greek because they pray in Greek.

Organic development has been the fundamental principle of Orthodox (small-t) tradition. If a group of Russians set up a church here in America 100 years ago and has used Russian for all of its services, it should continue to do so. But, if over time, more and more English works its way in, then it should continue unabated and organically. There shouldn't be someone with a clipboard and a checklist who stands by the priest and choir saying that since the Anaphora was in Russian last week, it should be in English this week.

I believe that Sts. Cyril and Methodius understood the organic development as well. They invented an alphabet for the Slavs but by no means did they immediately start celebrating the Liturgy in Slavonic. That took time. For those who wrongly insist that all Orthodox services be done in English for their sake (how arrogant can you get?), relax, go to your own English-speaking church and let it take time. Sts. Cyril and Methodius understood this; you should too.

May Sts. Cyril and Methodius continue to intercede on our behalf before the dread judgment seat of Christ.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Commemoration of St. Christopher the Martyr

Yesterday, May 9, was my name day. St. Christopher, my namesake, is commemorated on that day. You may not have heard much about it since yesterday was the final Sunday of Pascha, it was Mother's Day and Christopher shares his commemoration day with the Prophet Isaiah. It also doesn't help that the Roman Martyricon has removed him altogether following the reforms of the calendar made in the wake of Vatican II (his commemoration on their calendar though was on July 25). It is of further little help that even the Prologue of Ohrid has only this to say about him:

Christopher was a great miracle-worker. He is especially venerated in Spain. The people pray to him primarily for protection from contagious diseases and great pestilence. He suffered for Christ and was glorified by Christ in the year 249 A.D.

Much of what we think we know about St. Christopher is rooted in legend. That is why he was dropped from the Roman Calendar. Despite this, the Church has never said that the acceptance of the literal truth of the lives of the saints or even the Theotokos was absolutely necessary. But what is the truth behind such legends?

As I so often tell my students, truth is not fact. Fact answers "what" questions. Truth answers "why" questions. So why celebrate St. Christopher's Day even if he was not actually a martyr and did not actually carry the Christ child across a river before martyrdom under the Emperor Decius? I believe Elysia Younes writing on the Antiochian Archdiocese website gives a good answer: "Although so little is known about the life of St. Christopher, there is so much to be gathered even from his experience carrying Christ across the river. We all bear and are called to bear and to “put on” Christ by taking up the crosses in our lives that He has given to each of us. St. Christopher bore his cross and eventually suffered martyrdom for the faith, fulfilling the commandment of Christ, “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38)

May Christopher continue to intercede for us before the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ for relief from afflictions of this life and that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

*Also, a sidenote. Iconographers who depict St. Christopher with the head of a dog are in error. Christopher is called "dog-faced" because his countenance was so terrible to behold.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is the Western Rite Orthodox?

In an earlier post, I talked about how a friend of mine decided to complete his catechumenate in the Eastern Rite because so much of what he has been reading to educate himself in the catechism is rooted in the liturgics of the Eastern Rite. I also related how there is very little about embracing Orthodoxy via the Western Rite. It also doesn't help that the Western Rite is only approved by two jurisdictions in America (and probably the world), the ROCOR and the Antiochian.

Those who object to the Western Rite have good and valid arguments. This is one of the better objections I have heard of late made by Abba Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church, which is Coptic Orthodox, lead by Pope SHENOUDA III. It's a youtube video and you have to wait until about the sixth minute before he gets into the particulars of Western Rites. Nonetheless, his talk before that point should be of great interest to those of us who desire a true reunion of the Eastern and Oriental churches. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Modern Creed for today's modern Episcopalian?

Though I am not the author of this and have no ties whatsoever to Episcopalianism or its respective adherents, I have to say that I too lament what is going on in the TEC both here in America and also around the world. I see many of the same things happening in a lot of Lutheran bodies so the sentiments which are expressed in this particular creedal "formula" can be found in much of modern Lutheranism today as well.

Like the author of this piece of satire, I too do not doubt that there are good practicing Christians in both the TEC as well as in the ELCA, the "liberal" wing of modern American Lutheranism. But when heresy is proclaimed and is adopted as mainstream, isn't that the time to leave? I don't and wouldn't know how to advise someone after he has decided to leave.

Read the piece for yourself and come to your own conclusion

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gifts and service

In my last post, I lamented that the choir at the church I attend is, unfortunately, not doing its duty as I think it should. Perhaps it is not even for me to say such a thing though it is clearly the elephant in the room. I also lamented that we have a great many people in our congregation who are gifted in some singing capacity yet will not join our choir simply because they too are frustrated with the knowledge of what goes on up in the choir loft when the choir is not singing. I posted a tract from Bishop BASIL who wrote that it is sinful (his word) for someone not to use the gift of his voice at the Liturgy.

At the same time, not everyone is gifted with a voice or an ability to make or even appreciate music. And that's OK. St. Paul tells us that we are all gifted in different areas. But too many people believe that their respective giftings should be translated to service only at the Liturgy. So, someone who is a good speaker should preach the sermon? Someone who is a polyglot should concelebrate and translate the service into other languages? Someone who is a good dancer should dance at the altar? Someone who is a gifted instrumentalist should play during the distribution? Of course, we would say no to any of such suggestions. St. Paul's listing of gifts should not be regarded as things that should be translated to the Liturgy. He is talking about our whole life in the church. And yet, it seems that there is a constant attack on the liturgy to somehow be "inclusive" of everyone and their respective gifts. If a person is a good and eloquent speaker, can not his skills be put to use outside of the liturgy? If a person is a good speaker of foreign languages, cannot his skills be used to translate the gospel for those who have never heard it? Why do people automatically assume their gifts are to be used only during Liturgy? Our life should be a spiritual one and yet we live most of our lives outside the church. Should we not employ our gifts there?

My thanks to Pr. Peters for good thoughts to inspire this little piece.

Choir and the Liturgy

I have recently quit the choir at my church. This is something that I really did not want to do, but I've finally come to the end of my rope. We are blessed to have a pretty talented choir which executes week in, week out pretty well and aesthetically pleasing. I can't tell you how many times people, who have moved away and returned to visit, have said that the choirs at their new churches are nowhere near as good as what we have. Such is a great compliment. But, like everything else in life, you have to take the good with the bad. Sunt bona mixta malis as we say in Latin. I wonder if we would still be complimented by these same people had they known what goes on when we are not singing.

I have quit the choir because I am tired of the incessant talking that goes on when we are not singing the responses or the hymns. I have quit because I don't have enough silence to pray the liturgy which I am trying to say. I have quit because many of the people up there do not take their duty (that's right, duty) seriously and come late, sometimes so late as to not arrive until after the Gospel reading, do not concentrate on what they are singing, do not concentrate on the rubrics, leave early so that only 4 people are left for the final "Amen", etc. In fact, many of the people up there are up in the choir loft so that they can talk to their friends and get away with it, something that would not be able to get away with if they were downstairs. Also, this choir does not rehearse and most choir members only want to sing the material they have done for the past 40 years! And then choir members wonder why no one new wants to join. Their own actions have prevented it.

So, I'm done. And yet, for all my righteous indignation, I know that I am guilty of a sin. Bishop BASIL once wrote up a very candid paper on the duty of singers. You can read it here. I have used the term "duty" referring to what choristers and chanters do deliberately simply because what we do on Sundays or any other Orthodox service or Liturgy outside of Sunday is a responsibility, is a duty. It is not optional for us. Those of us who are gifted to sing should sing! To neglect or to deny that gift is to cause grave offense to our Maker.

I don't like my choice. I would prefer never having made it. But I have and I must bear the weight of my sin. Though I will continue as a chanter, to deny my voice at the Liturgy which is the work of the people, I am imperiling my own salvation. I do want things to change up there but I'm not so arrogant as to think my departure will change anyone's habits. Most of the people up there have been up there for a long time and such habits will not change overnight.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Good post from Pr. Gregory Alms

Though a Lutheran (and we don't hold that against him), Pr. Gregory Alms has a wonderful little piece on the secret of appreciating church. I invite you to read it.

Though we Orthodox want to claim that we are somehow immune from the problems that occur in other confessions, especially with "Worship wars", if we were honest, we would admit that a little bit of that does occur. And we also do have problems, especially in more ethnic churches, of allowing visitors to "go at it alone" without really welcoming them into our congregation for that Sunday. Church is community, the congregation singing the hymns of the angels together to our Lord and God and Saviour. The less church looks and sounds like a church and community, no amount of business sense and church-growth strategies will save it from being a hollow building.

Thanks, Pr. Gregory for your thoughts.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The future of the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church

A week ago I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine who is a catechumen at our sister church here in Omaha, St. Vincent of Lerins. St. Vincent is a Western Rite Parish of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Before, I get into what the conversation was about, let me give some background on the Western Rite.

Currently, only two jurisdictions in this country have Western Rite Vicariates, the Antiochians and the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). Most Orthodox Christians worship according to the Eastern Rite, which revolves around the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Western Rite Orthodox Christians use either the Rite of St. Gregory the Great or that of St. Tikhon. The latter was an emended form of the Rites used in Anglican Churches. St. Tikhon saw nothing unorthodox about it but made some changes, most especially in the canon, and it was pronounced Orthodox. Thus, many Roman Catholics as well as High Church Episcopalians and Lutherans will find that the Order of Service for a Western Rite Orthodox Church is very familiar to their own rites.

The Western Rite is not without controversy. As I said, only two jurisdictions here in America (and probably for the world) offer the Western Rite. There are many, both cradle and convert, both layperson and clergy who feel that the Eastern Rite is the only Rite for Orthodox Christians. Some say that Western Rite Orthodox Christians have yet to embrace the fullness of the faith and the church. I shake my head at such accusations. We must remember that there were a number of "competing" liturgies even in the Byzantine Empire. It was not until the 8th century where the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was made the "usual" practice thus sidelining the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which is now used only about 10 times a year. We must also remember that the West (as a whole) was Orthodox until about the 10th century when diversions from the true faith such as the filioque, azymes, different baptismal practices and the doctrine of papal infallibility would cause schism later. Nonetheless, the Western Rite, developed long before these innovations came into practice is Orthodox, in its theology, in its prayer. Granted, those innovations I mentioned crept into the prayers but those, for a modern Western Rite, can be easily excised.

That is not to say that I am all keen on the Western Rite. For instance, some ceremonies and feasts have been retained that lead not only to split between east and west, but also to the Reformation. The feasts of the sacred heart, the immaculate conception, corpus Christi have been retained and these are problematic.

Now, back to my conversation. My friend is an Orthodox catechumen. He was enrolled as a catechumen at St. Vincent of Lerins. Catechumens are required to go through an exhaustive preparation before they are received into the Church. This is done for their benefit. It is all the craze now to go "church shopping." The catechumenate exists so as to eliminate any doubt that this is just a passing thought in his/her mind. Anyway, as preparation, catechumens go to classes, attend the Liturgies and as many other services as they can to accustom themselves to the lex orandi, lex credendi of Holy Orthodoxy, and also read a lot of books. These catechumens are reading Bishop HILARION's (now Metropolitan) book "The Mystery of Faith." It is an excellent book, but like all books on the faith of the Eastern Orthodox, it relates the faith through the Liturgy of the Eastern Rite exclusively.

The Liturgy is our great teacher. It is not something we dispense with simply to go with something more hip and more "relevant." It is our great teacher and has been for a long time. The problem is that with all the books out there about the Eastern Orthodox faith, they all reference our faith through the lens of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or Basil the Great. This poses a problem for our Western Rite catechumens who, desiring to learn the faith and process it and make it part of thesmeslves, cannot make connections between what they read and what they experience in the Western Rite.

Thus, there is a great need for books to be published on how the Orthodox faith can be grasped and apprehended through the Western Rite just as through the Eastern Rite. Sadly, nothing as yet exists. And, if there is no remedy, I fear that the Western Rite for Orthodox may disappear altogether. And that should not be allowed to happen.

As for my friend, he has decided to complete his catechumenate at St. Mary which uses the Eastern Rite. He was originally to be chrismated at Pentecost, a few short weeks away, but now his chrismation and his entry into the church will be delayed for a little longer. He has decided upon this course because, whether rightly or wrongly, he experiences the fullness of the faith only in the Eastern Rite. The lack of adequate reading materials to help him and others complete his journey in the Western Rite needs to be given great attention.

At the same time, I feel that this is not an isolated case. Western Rite parishes are very hard to start up and maintain here in America. And many Western Rite parishioners have come over to Eastern Rite churches because they feel that the Eastern Rite is, to them, "more Orthodox," whatever that may mean. It would be a great shame and sadness if the Western Rite were to disappear. I hope someone would take it upon himself or herself to write about how the Western Rite Liturgy is just as Orthodox as the Eastern Rite; to demonstrate how the Western Rite reflects and practices Orthodox spirituality through its Liturgy. That needs to happen sooner rather than later.