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.


  1. Agreed.

    I only experienced this once that I can remember: at the OCA Cathedral in Boston.

    Part of the problem comes from a belief that the secret or priest's prayers are 'late' commands added to the services inappropriately. In fact, while is is true that "there can be no question whatever but that Christians used to recite liturgical prayers, including the eucharistic anaphora, out loud", it is also true that by about the 4th - 6th Centuries across the Christian world, cutting across the Non-Ephesian, Non-Chalcedonian and Chalcedonian (East and West) divides the prayers were being said silently, quietly, secretly, mystikos. The 500s is not 'late' and a worldwide Christian consensus for secret prayers argues powerfully for the prayers to be said as received - secretly - regardless of what happened 'earlier' or 'originally'. I wrote more about this here:

    I remember reading in Runciman somewhere that honor and holiness in the East were shown in a way different than in other cultures. They tended to cloak and cover and veil the holy rather than set it on a pedestal and proclaim it.

    Robert Taft's "Was the Eucharistic Anaphora Recited Secretly or Aloud? The Ancient Tradition and What Became of It" in Worship Traditions in Armenia and the Neighboring Christian East, ed. Roberta R. Ervine, AVANT Series, Book 3, St. Nerses Armenian Seminary, New Rochelle, NY (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2006) is useful not so much for what he argues, but for the historical facts he provides and either ignores or refuses to weight appropriately, IMHO, e.g. assuming 4-6th Centuries is 'late' and according Justinian higher authority than the consensus of church practice over centuries and continents. His article can be viewed here:

  2. Once again, Chris, I bow to your great and expansive knowledge. Thank you.

  3. If a newcomer may chime in, I agree with you. I think that much of this desire for everything to be spoken aloud is indeed an importation of protestant clericalism. Prior to the reformation, we saw the mass become incredibly privatised and the laity were largely spare parts. The reformers rightly reacted against this but characteristically went too far and simply traded one form of clericalism for another. So instead of restoring a proper sense of corporate worship, where people of different orders - priests, deacons, subdeacons, readers, chanters, laity - had their different roles to fulfil, often converging and overlapping with each other, they simply focussed everything on the priest. For the first time, participation in Christian worship was determined by being able to always see the priest, hear the priest. In the Church of England, Rood screens disappeared, the altar was moved into the chancel and placed end-on, what was left of the priest's vesting prayers was directed to be said aloud so all could hear. That legacy remains today, where there is outcry if the priest says anything they can't hear. If he faces the same way as them to lead them in prayer, tey refer to him having his "back to the people". The very fact that they conceive of it in terms of the priest's relation to them just shows how much they have been conditioned to think that their participation is completely dependent on seeing and hearing the priest.

    What place has this legacy in Orthodoxy? The privatisation of the mass was an affair of the Latin church, the reaction against it of the Protestants. This is not our affair and we should not be importing its results into our worship.

    Such clericalism is alien to our Orthodox Tradition. Uwe Michael Lang is a Catholic priest but in his Turning Towards the Lord we read of the early Roman basilicas, some of which had to be reverse-oriented (the altar at the west rather than the east end), so the priest would face east at the altar with the people facing him. However, at the time of the anaphora, the deacon would exclaim "Conversi ad Dominum!" (Turn towards the Lord), and the people would turn to face east for the prayer, with the priest and altar behind them, because they understood that corporate prayer was about priest and people together turning towards the Lord, and not about focussing on the man at the front. The rubrics of the Liturgy of St James seem strange until we realise that that the Great Church in Jerusalem was similarly reverse-oriented.

    This clericalism needs to go. It has no part in Orthodox worship, where the people have their full part to play alongside the clergy. I can really do no better than St Ignatius:

    "Each of you must be part of this chorus so that, being harmonious in unity, receiving God's pitch in unison, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father."