Friday, December 27, 2013

Western Carols Should Not Be Sung During the Divine Liturgy

From the files of "I said it before and I'll say it again," this installment complains about how western carols have infiltrated Orthodox Divine Liturgies during the Sundays prior to Nativity and even on Nativity itself.  I'm not sure how prevalent this is in other jurisdictions, but it seems that a number of parishes in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, especially those lead by priests who were converts from the EOC (Evangelical Orthodox Church), have made it a regular practice and encouraged their choirs to sing these after the Divine Liturgy or during the people's communion on the Sundays leading up to Nativity and on Nativity itself.  This is a dangerous practice and must be stopped.

First, let me state that there is nothing, per se, "wrong" with these Western Carols on a theological level or even on a musical level.  Many of them I continue to enjoy myself as I have many recordings of them.  But their presence in the Divine Liturgy can do detrimental damage to the good order of the Church and is akin to the issue many Protestants have with incorporating "praise worship" into their ceremonies.

1)  They do damage to the good order of the Church.  The Holy Orthodox Church's Offices and Divine Liturgy are not structured so that priests can choose what hymns, prayers and other texts based on their personal preference.  The Typicon of the Great Church of Christ (used by Antioch and Greece) and the Typicon of Mar El Sabbas (used by the Slavic Churches) exist to prevent innovations and to ensure that the liturgies celebrated in each community are consistent the world over (with some differences due to calendar issues and saints that are venerated in one community as opposed to another).  The liturgies celebrated on any given day the world over are one Liturgy of worship to God and His Glory.

2)  Protestantism and even Catholicism for years have been changing their respective ceremonies.  It is not uncommon to walk into a Catholic Mass and mistake, understandably, what you see as a generic Protestant service and vice versa.  During Christmas, this confusion is even more pronounced as both Protestants and Catholics use the same carols to usher in this time of year. 

It is no secret that many Orthodox adherents in the Antiochian jurisdiction are converts from mainline Protestantism and Catholicism (though more of the former than the latter).  In its reception of converts from mainline Protestant or from other Christian confessions in general, the Antiochian jurisdiction has done a great disservice by its insistence, or rather non-insistence, that those being received into the una sancta should not have to put away their former customs when it comes to the traditions and practices of the church:  Hence, why we have sanctuaries decorated with Christmas trees and pointsettas, Western Christmas Carols sung during the Divine Liturgy,  "Merry Christmas" replaces "Christ is born!", etc..  I am not saying that these practices are bad, but they are NOT Orthodox.  

If we have willingly given ourselves to the Orthodox Church and the deposit of faith she guards, then we must give ourselves to it entirely and not bitterly try to cling on to those things (good things that they may be) for use in the church during her Divine Services, all of them.  The Church's liturgy is constantly being altered to make room for hymns to new saints, but its fundamental structure remains unchanged for about 1200 years.  And there is good reason for maintaining this.  Look at the churches that have a pick and choose mentality when it comes to their worship services.  Those churches are dieing.  There is no center to hold them in place.  They will, of course, claim that they are being moved by the spirit and by the message of Jesus.  Those people are wrong.  Jesus never condemned the Liturgy or the worship of the temple.  NEVER! The spirit makes everything new even if it were a prayer written 1000 years ago.

Again, there is nothing theological questionable about most Western Carols.  Many of them are quite good.  But why should "Silent Night" replace the megalynarion "I behold a strange and wonderful mystery?"  Why should the Apolytikion "Thy Nativity" be replaced by "We Three Kings?"  Now, I'm not saying that these things are happening and hopefully they never were (I have heard of a Ukrainian parish replacing the first two antiphons at Liturgy with "Little Drummer Boy").  But we must be vigilant to safeguard the Liturgy.

The Liturgy is a gift from God to us so that we may reoffer it back to Him just as Christ in the Eucharist is the offerer and the offered.   To make changes to it or to suggest changes because we miss where we came from is to have doubts about the strength and character and efficacy of the Eastern Rite.  It is not deficient in any way.  It is only deficient to those who have placed their own personal wishes above that of the communal nature of the church.

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