Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Printing Press Killed the Church?

Back in 1980, an event occurred that changed how a generation would experience and think about music.  1980 saw the birth of MTV, a channel where rock n' roll, heard only on the radio or on cassette, vinyl or 8 track (the CD was out, but nowhere near the prominence of later years), would now have a distinct visual characteristic to it.  The inaugural video was the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star."  The channel was an instant smash and a younger generation of music lovers would be able to not only listen to their favorite music but see it as well.  Radio's days, it looked like, were numbered.

Of course, such proved not to be the case.  MTV has moved away from its music roots to become a channel that hosts news, sitcoms, game shows, reality shows, award shows for movies, etc.  It has ceased to be a purely musical-visual entity.  I think it is rare to actually find an actual video on MTV any more unless you're an insomniac.  Radio survived, but only barely.  Radio became more and more a recycling center for the same current hits over and over.  Now, specialty radio stations have come into the mix like what you have on Sirius XM.

The title for this post came from a sermon I was listening to online by Fr. Patrick Reardon of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, Ill.  I cannot remember the context of his sermon in general, but that one little phrase stuck with me.  As I listened to him defend it, I had to conclude that he was mostly right.  I don't think the printing press killed the Church, but it has inflicted some serious wounds which will not be easy to recover from.

Of course, the printing press has been hailed as the most important invention of the last 1000 years. Johann Gutenberg was named as the person of the millennium for his invention of moveable type.  Indeed, if it were not for the printing press, the dissemination of the Reformation's ideas could not have taken place throughout Europe and the pamphlets which stirred the colonies to rebel against Britain would not have had such an impact among other things.  But the printing press has caused a specific harm to the church and to her members, especially when it comes to prayer.

The Liturgy of the Church has always been sung aloud.  Her Scriptures and prayers were read and proclaimed for everyone to hear, regardless of literacy.  Even in private study, the Scriptures were read aloud (St. Augustine, in his Confessions marvels that St. Ambrose reads "with his eyes", i.e. silently).  Words and more specifically, the Word, is meant to be proclaimed, not read silently.  We would never, I hope, have a liturgy where everyone just read silently their own parts. It wouldn't be a liturgy, just a big group reading session.

But as more and more of the liturgy becomes internalized or silent, the less likely people are to remember.  I am amazed, simply amazed, week in and week out how many people in my parish still require the books to navigate the service.  Even cradle Orthodox have difficulties with this. I am even more shocked and appalled that even the creed requires the aid of a printed version.  When special services are held during the week for a great feast, the people come to me (because I'm chanting the service) and ask "where's the book?"  I often want to ask (I never do) why they cannot listen.

I'm sure if I did ask why listening would not be enough they would respond that they want to participate.  Participation is something I have touched on several times before and I won't do it here again suffice it to say that participation is not guaranteed by having texts right in front of you.  I would say that it makes you less likely to participate as you are not praying, you are reading. The two are not one and the same.

For today's world, reading is the first step towards making the prayers of the church one's own so that they cease to be words on a page, but expressions of the heart.  As long as Orthodox churches continue to put out service books which are readily available, the less the prayers will be internalized.

Another problem with equipping the congregation with text is that one thing that has not happened in the English language is a standardization of the prayer offices and Liturgy.  That's a bad idea for an number of reasons, but the primary reason I'm opposed to it is because someone at the end of the Liturgy or Vespers or Orthros can come up and ask why I chanted something a little different than the way it's in the book.  My response is often that melodies are prescribed for certain hymns and I prefer to use the hymn translations that are metered to those melodies such as the HTM translations.  So, rather than praying and listening to what is proclaimed, having a text in front of someone can often cause them to be the police for conformity, making an idol out of text.

In a perfect world, there would be no service books.  I also hate when I hear the entire congregation at the same time turning the page of a book. It's loud and distracting.  We need to get away from text because it's making Orthodox Christians excellent readers, but not good prayers.  The latter should be the aim.

Texts, of course, are necessary for the priests, deacons, servers and the chanters.  But that does not mean they should be universally available.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ecumenism done right

Fr. Z has a great post on ecumenism on his blog. I encourage you to read it.  I've never been one for ecumenism simply because, as Fr. Z shows, it would require Orthodox and traditional Catholics to concede to mainline Protestants and renegade Catholics validity to innovations in the catholic tradition which we simply cannot concede.

For instance, ecumenical dialogues between Orthodox/Catholics and Protestants always have to bring up the issue of women's ordination.  Orthodox and Catholic participants are more or less required to concede that such "is just the way they do things" and we should move on.  Never are the Orthodox and Catholic participants allowed to insist that the Protestants stop their practice or insist that Protestants stop using their properties and churches to insult what Catholics and Orthodox hold dear.  The double standard is obvious--Protestants can tell Orthodox and Catholics what to do about Catholic and Orthodox theology and rites, but should an Orthodox or Catholic prelate tell the Protestant to stop meddling in our affairs, that prelate is dubbed "anti-ecumenical" and someone is sought out with a "cooler head."

Fr. Z would like modern ecumenism to start out by his criteria.  I like that, but it will never happen. I believe that modern ecumenism is dangerous and it really serves no purpose.  For that reason, I believe that none of the Orthodox Churches should be involved in it on any level.  I've said it before and I'll say it again but true and faithful ecumenism is NOT about uniting the churches; it is about having the confessions of Christianity unite themselves to the una Sancta Ecclesia.  Those are two entirely different approaches. The former is more about administrative unity and agreeing to disagree while the latter requires a rejection of heresy and all other errors and being obedient to Christ and His Church.  This is not to say that I am for cutting off all contact with other confessions of Christianity, but like Patriarch JEREMIAS II said to the Lutheran theologians at Tuebingen, with whom he had dialogue, we should be in contact for the sake of friendship and nothing else.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Behold, my son

I became a proud father today.  My son came into this world at 1:55 pm and weighs 8 lbs, 15 ozs and is 21 inches long.  Wife and I have yet to decide on a name but will do so soon.  Prayers are requested for my wife who went through a C-section and is still recovering.  Thanks.