Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Message: Trusting in God

I have not recently posted on this blog; I have been quite busy dealing with various unpleasant but important affairs.   Throughout however I have grown in my understanding of one key tenet of Christianity: God will provide.  Repeatedly throughout the past year, there have been moments when I have allowed myself the sin of despair; I have slipped into despondancy and in so doing slandered my beloved Creator, who, the Scriptures promise, has given His angels charge over me, to protect me in all my ways, lest I dash my foot against a stone.

Every Christian should reflect on the manifold ways in which God has protected them throughout their life, through the intercession of the saints and the intermediation of His heavenly host of angels.   As an example of God's grace in my own life, one of the best incidents I can think of was on one occasion many years ago, when, in excruciating pain from a toothache, I inadvertently crossed a fully red light, in which traffic was already moving through the intersection in opposition to my vehicle.  A collision nearly resulted, yet through God's providence, I was able to avoid the other traffic, and was further blessed in not being cited by any policeman (I should add that to date; through God's providence, I have never been convicted of any traffic infraction; I am scrupulous about traffic safety, and the error I made on that day, distracted as it were by the explosive pain in my molar, mortified me, and is the only serious operational error I've committed, thanks be to God).

Another occasion comes to mind, also vehicular in nature, where I was struck by a hit and run driver on a freeway.   Though the damage to my car was considerable (a punctured tire, damaged suspension and smashed fender), and although the impact caused me to skid at least two lanes to the left, I miraculously did not hit any other vehicle, and was able to exit the freeway and reach the safety of a supermarket parking lot, from which I called the CHP and roadside assistance, without incident.  Well, without incident on the way there; while in the parking lot, which is in a rather nice area of North Hollywood, actually right across the street from where a friend lived, while I was on the phone with 911, I had the bizarre experience of being propositioned by a prostitute with turquoise hair.  I dispatched her swiftly; The CHP officers on arriving found this to be highly amusing.

These two incidents both occurred several years ago, and both involve extreme incidents that reflect the perils one faces just when driving one's car.  Yet they serve to demonstrate a fundamental point: we can trust God to protect us.  Yet if I had wrecked, in either case, I would still have grounds for trusting in God, because in such a case, it would be because God, in His infinite mercy, would, from my error in the former case, or the error of the other driver in the latter case, cause a greater good, through the operation of the Holy Spirit.

I am not a Calvinist; as an Orthodox, I believe that humans have free will.  However, God, being omniscient, has sure foreknowledge of our actions, and being a merciful God, who loves mankind, orchestrates events to ensure the best possible outcome for His children, that they may prevail in their struggle against the evil one, conquer the passions, and through our cooperation with the economy of salvation facilitated through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, deliver us from evil, that we may draw ever nearer to Him.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sunday Message: What to Pray For

This morning I heard a most excellent sermon, a rarity in the Orthodox church, where our preaching skills require improvement.   The essential point of the sermon was that we should pray for deliverance from temptations and spiritual illnesses; God grants jobs, housing, cars, and material benefits even to atheists.   God will provide for us the basic necessities of life; however, by praying for healing of our spiritual infirmities: our arrogance, cruelty, lust, intemperance, intransigence, and all vices, we can become transfigured, as was, for example, St. Moses the Black, who rose from being a murderer and adulterer to one of the great Desert Fathers.

This is a powerful message, and I was strongly reminded of the similar promise of St. Seraphim of Sarov: acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will be saved.   There is a fundamental truth for this.    In a few weeks time, we will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, and it seems apt, in preparation for that feast, to begin to contemplate the process of personal transfiguration, that has the potential to lead us out of the depraved worldly existence, and into an exalted spiritual existence; by humbling ourselves, and admitting of our spiritual faults to God, we might obtain deliverance from them, and having obtained such deliverance, we ourselves might be transfigured.  When one looks upon the beautiful face of an elderly hierarch or monastic, one cannot help but see a certain luminous radiance emanating from them, and this alone is powerful enough to draw people to salvation in the Church.  

This essential transfiguration also provides us with the spiritual strength to endure without complaint the horrible travails imposed by the world, the ceaseless assaults of Satan, in the form of temptations or outright mocking, which those who advance in the hierarchy of the Church experience in increasing intensity (one might recall the physical violence suffered by St. Anthony at the hands of the devil); not only is the transfigured human able to withstand these assaults, but also to repel them, through serving the Church.  It is through this transfiguration that one can acquire the strength necessary for the Priesthood, or to serve in other mission fields and vocations.   Let us therefore consider how to acquire this transfiguration in our own life, by praying that our Lord might illumine us as to our own spiritual faults, that we might know what to pray for, so that as we approach the great feast, we might dare to approach that gladsome light of Tabor in our own lives.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Just what changes can be made to the liturgy?

Having addressed the first seven major criticisms levelled at the liturgy by the impious monks at New Skete in our previous posts, and also in our last post, two valid concerns, it seems fitting to look at the question of liturgical reform from another perspective.

Regarding the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, referred to within the Roman church and in general liturgical scholarship rather conveniently as the Byzantine Rite, the short answer is: none.

To be more precise, it would be a great destruction of our sacred heritage to modify the text of the existing service books in any way, to simply or reconstruct the liturgy, particularly to suit modern or ecumenical preferences and the declining personal piety of contemporary clergy.  Celebrating the liturgy in all its mystical splendour attracts congregants; watering it down alienates them.  Offering frequent services throughout the week at convenient times allows for a more full observance of the Typikon; omitting services such as midweek liturgies and Saturday vespers, and All Night Vigils, shoehorns everyone into having to make the one main Sunday Divine Liturgy, and if one cannot, for whatever reason, attend that one service, one is essentially out of luck.

This takes us to my primary point: while we cannot change the Byzantine liturgy in any way without doing damage to a priceless tradition, the grandest and most ornate of liturgies, and the one that is in many respects furthest removed from heresy and Christological controversy, we can improve the way we celebrate the existing services.   If we view the watered down approach of New Skete (aside from their commendable efforts to restore the Cathedral Typikon, the use of the Hagia Sophia before the fall of Constantinople), and the extremely abbreviated and diluted services of the OCA and the Antiochian church as the examples to avoid, and the traditional services in the great monasteries: Mount Athos, St. Catherine's in Sinai, Valaam, as the examples to aspire to, and are prepared to use some imagination in making the monastic level of liturgical service available to ordinary parishes, we can improve the manner in which the Byzantine Rite is celebrated.  Thus, we are not reforming in any way the liturgy, rather, we are reforming ourselves, by seeking to conform more closely to the Typikon, in all its splendor. 

From my perspective, improvements in the way we celebrate the liturgy could include:
  • Using the Third and Sixth Hours as the basis for a proper preaching service, with congregational singing of the appointed psalms, following a clearly annunciated, and not chanted, review of all of the daily scripture lessons, that have previously been read at Vespers, and will be read in the Divine Liturgy.   This frees up the clergy to chant the Prophecy, Epistle and Gospels in the liturgical languages (Church Slavonic, Koine Greek, Classical Georgian) without fear of comprehension.
  • Any time the parish has a long lunch following a Divine Liturgy on a Sunday, such as on a major feast day, the Ninth Hour should be celebrated.   In fact, every opportunity for parishioners to hear this most sublime office throughout the year should be taken; the monastic practice of beginning the All Night Vigils with it is most commendable, and ought to be adopted in parishes.
  • The use of beautiful green vestments should not be limited to Palm Sunday and Pentecost, but should be used on feasts of Confessors, as is presently the practice in many parishes.  Where this is not the practice, it should be made universal, so as to provide a more diverse array of color within the service.   For that matter, dark red vestments ought to be used more frequently as an alternative to black vestments, which are a late innovation; while I myself find the black vestments we use on Weekdays and in Lent beautiful, they have only been in use since 1821, and the use of dark red in alternation with black as Lent progresses would be most historically appropriate.  One might also dare to suggest that given the frequency with which red vestments are used throughout the year, during the Nativity Fast, it might not be entirely inappropriate to adopt western custom and use our beautiful purple and violet Vestments, otherwise used only in Lent.   In this manner, the variation of color in the parishes might be more evenly distributed, as well as the level of wear on specific vestments. 
  • Given the frequency with which gold vestments are used, every effort should be made to ensure that they are as elegant and beautiful as possible.  Parishes and priests ought to own multiple sets of these, in a diverse array of patterns, and rotate them to reduce wear; I have come to abhorr the dreadful sight of faded and threadbare gold vestments, which have changed to a faded and sickening yellow color, especially among deacons and in the paraments.
  • Some parishes, particularly in the Ruthenian tradition, use orange vestments as the default between the Apostle's Fast and Transfiguration; I find this an interesting custom that might deserve wider application, in parishes that can afford another set of paraments, and for priests that can afford another set of vestments.
  • The mystical character of every part of the Divine Liturgy should be intensified; priests should be encouraged to recite, as appropriate, Patristic homilies, or intone the great metrical homilies of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Romanos the Melodist, et cetera.
  • Owing to the immense complexity of Orthos, or Matins, and the fact that it is commonly abbreviated in the same place, many people seldom or never hear certain parts of the service.  I propose that the abbreviations in Matins be done on a revolving basis, that over the course of time people may come to appreciate the service in its entirety.  Of course, this increases the demand on the choir and the clergy, but I feel its worth it, rather than the travesty of simply leaving most of the service as a theoretical liturgy that exists on paper but in practice, like the full 10 hour All Night Vigils, is never actually celebrated.
  • Urban parishes should follow the highly successful example of churches in central London and New York by offering convenient midday services to office workers throughout the week; suburban parishes should provide early morning and evening services instead.  In this manner, the neglected midweek portions of the Divine Office, and the Divine Liturgy, can be celebrated.
  • The restoration of the disused Divine Liturgies of St. James, St. Mark and St. Peter, with St. James being available as an alternative to St. Basil on Holy Saturday (given that the most visible difference between the two liturgies, the use of the hymn Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, instead of the Cherubic Hymn, already tilts in favor of St. James, and the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem strongly suggest this was the ancient practice), St. Mark being used on the feasts of the Evangelist and other heroes of Alexandria, such as Athanasius and Cyril, and the Sundays following their feasts, and St. Peter being used during midweek services which are by nature pressed for time, owing to its shorter length.   Additionally, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil might be used in fasting seasons other than Lent.  This would have the effect of emphasizing the sublime, triumphant character of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is the finest liturgical composition known to man, and is neglected to a large extent in Orthodox parishes due to overuse; people simply take it for granted, and fail to appreciate its full beauty.   A slight reduction in its use would have the effect of illuminating its brilliant splendour as if with a giant spotlight.
  • The Violakes edition of the Typikon of the Great Church should be phased out, in favor of a return to the Typikon of St. Savas, which remains the norm in monastic settings and most of the Slavonic churches.   The Typikon of the Great Church, while a good idea in theory, was not well executed, and has attracted widespread criticism, from die-hard Old Calendarists to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.   It has many rough edges, such as the rather peculiar reading of the Matins Gospel between the Eigth and Ninth Odes, changes described by Ware as "ill-advised."  In a certain level, it could be seen as prefiguring the disastrous and divisive liturgical changes of the 20th century, such as the adoption of the equally problematic Revised Julian Calendar by a minority of Orthodox churches. 
  • Congregational singing in the Divine Liturgy is best avoided, except in communities that have the discipline and simple hymnody that makes this possible, for example, the Russian Old Ritualists. Congregational singing of the appointed Psalms and other hymns in an expanded service of the Hours, even with the accompaniement of an organ, if one exists (and I anticipate in the years to come, as mainline denominations contract, the Orthodox will acquire many fine churches equipped with majestic pipe organs), would be superb.
  • Speaking of the organ, its use in the Divine Liturgy should in general be discouraged, except for the purpose of providing a prelude and postlude; here, we might well avail ourselves of the music of Bach and other fine Western composers. Indeed, for the purpose of masking the sound of confessions, this would be vastly superior to the present use of the Third and Sixth Hours; a postlude might provide an amiable atmosphere in the nave as the congregants slowly disperse following the liturgy, creating a pleasing environment in which the Holy Icons might be venerated, and friends met, before proceeding to the Social Hall for luncheon.
  • I do not consider the Revised Julian Calendar to be a heresy; I consider the manner in which opponents of it in Greece and elsewhere to be persecuted a heresy.  Nonetheless, it is most definitely broken, resulting in an unnatural swelling of the period of time before Pascha, and an unnatural reduction of the time after; causing feasts normally celebrated in Lent to be celebrated outside of it, preventing the occurence of a Kyriopascha, and in general, causing havoc, confusion and schism.   The Finnish Orthodox Church frankly does better than any of the churches using the Revised Julian Calendar, by using the Gregorian Calendar; thus at least the liturgy flows according to its natural order, and events such as a Kyriopascha are possible.  Better yet is the retention of the Julian Calendar, as the problem of calendar drift is rather overstated, and over many many centuries, will correct itself owing to the slowing rotation of the Earth.  A number of elegant and non-disruptive mathematical schemes for preventing the celebration of Pascha in Gregorian September several hundred years in the future exist, but one is reminded of the saying by John Milton Keynes "In the long run, we are all dead."   From an Orthodox standpoint, one might reinterpret that, as considering it is best to leave this minor problem in the hands of God.   The beauty of the Julian calendar is that it separates the solemn observance of the Christian feasts from the madness of the secular holidays that have grown up around them; the crass commercialization of Christmas and Easter is thus bypassed, and a wall of separation erected between the Orthodox and the heterodox, preserving the Orthodox faith in its fullness, and providing a fine inducement for heterodox to convert, to escape the perverted madness of the "Holiday Season," and the sickening secular exploitation of the birth of our Lord.
That summarizes what I feel might be acceptable improvements to the way we celebrate the existing liturgy in the Byzantine Rite.   A few other points however should be made, in interpreting the above suggestions:
  • The implementation of such changes in praxis should only occur with the consent of the Bishop and the parishioners.   Such practices might be implemented first in newly created, mission parishes, and then be adopted by other parishes as they see fit.  Older practices should be preserved alongside.  If so much as one pious Orthodox parishioner is alienated as a result of these efforts to improve the celebration of the Byzantine Rite, the entire enterprise would be in vain.   This is my criticism of Nikon, and my criticism of the Revised Julian Calendar; in both cases, sweeping liturgical changes were forced on parishioners, using violence.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church, USA, without violence, managed to suffer schisms as a result of the overly aggressive implementation of entirely novel liturgies.   Here, it must be stressed that no change is being made to the liturgy, and no changes in praxis at existing parishes will be made unless the parishioners enthusiastically agree to them.
  • Within the Orthodox Church, there exists a diversity of liturgical rites.  In addition to the Byzantine Rite, we have the reformed Western Rite, which in spite of some efforts to suppress it, continues, and must continue.   Within the Byzantine Rite, there exist at least five active variants: the Greek use, the Slavonic use, the Russian Old Rite, the Georgian use, and the Ruthenian use.   The difference in praxis between an Antiochian parish and a parish of Russian Old Ritualists might lead one to believe that a different liturgy is being celebrated; in fact, it is the same liturgy, celebrated differently.   This unity in diversity is beautiful, and adds greatly to the richness of the Byzantine liturgy.   Additionally, we have the disused Cathedral Typikon; while our prayers that this may someday be heard again at the Hagia Sophia might not be answered in our lifetime given the Islamic fundamentalism of the Erdogan regime, the use of this in at least one or two major Greek Cathedrals, as scholarship converges on an accurate reconstruction of it, would be splendid.   However, it would require many enthusiastic clergy to accomplish; the magnificence of services at the Great Church in its heydey, in some respects, exceeds that of even the grandest liturgical celebrations in the Orthodox church at present.
  • We may pray that the Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrians be persuaded to, for the sake of unity in the middle East, accept the faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which they appear close to doing; a union between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Coptic Church nearly happened in the early 19th century, only to be vetoed by the Khedive, following the strategy of divide and conquer.  If such a union, on the faith of the seven councils, was possible then, then it surely remains possible now.   This would entail the addition of five great liturgical rites to the Orthodox faith (the Coptic, Ethiopian, West Syriac, East Syriac and Armenian), and would be a joyous moment, more joyful perhaps than even the definitive defeat of Arianism following the Second Ecumenical Council.
In conclusion, just as I have eviscerated the most impious proposals of the monks of New Skete, I accept that some of the suggestions I have made may cause controversy.  I pray that not one of these ideas will be implemented in a manner that would cause discord, confusion or schism.  Lastly, if a truly competent authority, such as a qualified Priest or Bishop, concludes that anything that I have suggested is itself heretical, I beg to be informed of it, in all humility, that I may correct my error.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy: Part 8

This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy. The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.

In this series of articles, I have enumerate many of their desired reforms, and then explained why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.  This article is a bit different, in that it addresses two points which are in fact valid problems, although one cannot trust modernists such as the monks at New Skete to be able to provide meaningful solutions

Suggestion no. 8: Addressing The Preaching Deficit

"The word of God is also made present through the sermon, which is an integral part of liturgical worship. But all too often the sermon is of poor quality or simply omitted. Our churches should devote special attention to this critical need."

What should be done about this:

The splendid, mystical, ethereal atmosphere of profound holiness that dominates the Divine Liturgy is almost palpable; given that the Orthodox alone have preserved a Eucharist the reality and validity of which is beyond question, this has a distinct impact on the environment within the liturgy itself.  It has thus become challenging for even the most aggressive Orthodox priests to offer a compelling homily in the thickness of this atmosphere, fully vested and with the great spiritual presence of the Cherubim and Seraphim pressing down upon them.  The natural urge for a brief, spiritual homily in the Divine Liturgy is instinctive and should be followed; the Priest should not drone on as if he were Calvin, but rather should deliver a message that is spiritual, above the petty concerns of this world, and beyond the purely rational exploration of the faith.   Brief patristic homiles might be recited, or metrical homilies intoned.

However, the atmosphere in the Divine Liturgy itself does not abrogate the need for proper catechesis.  I propose to revitalize the languishing Sixth Hour as the forum for preaching, following the restatement of the daily scripture lessons during the Third Hour, with both hours forming one continuous service, with a 30 minute break between them for purposes of hearing confessions.   In this manner, the opportunity for longer, more intellectual sermons for the purpose of inspiring the congregation and catechizing them in the faith exists, and the Orthodox might better compete with the Protestants and better live up to the standard set by St. John Chrysostom.

Suggestion no. 9: Restoring Daily Prayer

"Other aspects of liturgical worship should not be overlooked. In 20th century Orthodox parish life, the daily office as a communal activity has been virtually abandoned. A Sunday-only church is a church deprived of much of the power of Scripture and most of the treasures of Orthodox hymnography. Our churches must explore new ways in which the discipline of daily prayer can be restored."

What should be done about this:

This is surely the most valid suggestion of the monks at New Skete, one which might be said to sincerely lack any trace of the impiety or disastrous ecumenism and modernism that characterizes the rest of their article.   By cutting back services to just a Sunday morning service, which is de rigeur in many Antiochian parishes, and is even advocated by some, we alienate those who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend the primary liturgy, and also fail to maintain our obligations to celebrate both the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office to the fullest extent possible.   The more services a parish offers, the more opportunities it provides for laity to attend.  

The Church of England in recent years has saved many parishes in the City of London, which would otherwise be white elephants, by repurposing them as places of prayer during the lunch hour, for the tens of thousands of office workers in the Square Mile, which nowadays has a mere 900 residents.   Americans and those unfamiliar with London should note that I am not referring to Greater London, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, but rather to what one might consider its "downtown" or "financial district," an area surrounding St. Paul's Cathedral that represented the original extent of London proper (the rest of London consisting of other boroughs such as Westminster, Kensington, Southwark, Greenwich, and Lambeth; many years in the past, these were distinct villages surrounding the City of London, but now all have been amalgated into one great city; the City proper however refers to an area of just one square mile, which once had a large residential population, but which today consists almost entirely of office space).

This idea, like black vestments and four part harmony, originated outside the Orthodox church, but is nonetheless a very good one; Orthodox parishes in urban areas can serve their congregants on weekdays by providing noontime prayer services.   I would suggest that the Divine Liturgy be celebrated on Wednesdays, Fridays, and feast days, the Typika on Mondays, and the Hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, except in Lent; if an evening service of the Presanctified is not well attended, then this is the time to do it.

In like manner, suburban congregations have already had great success providing services in the early morning, available to parishioners before work, and services in the evening, after work; this is the manner in which most midweek feasts are actually celebrated these days.

Orthodox parishes should improve their offering of recreational and family events, and couple these with weekday services.   Tired parents coming home from work, who want to spend time with their children, should be offered a strong incentive to do so in the church; Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has argued passionately that the atmosphere in the Orthodox church is, and should be, that of being at home, rather than the rigorous feeling of "soldiers on a parade ground" one encounters in Catholic parishes; to this end, let us make attending evening services as appealing as sitting on the sofa watching television, by coupling them with various forms of family friendly activity, and by providing within the nave itself comfortable seating; not obstructive pews, but movable chairs, that can be rearranged and that will not obstruct the pious who have the strength to stand, but that will allow the tired to rest, and bask in the holiness.   One should look to the church as a second home, a home away from home, and a place to escape all worldly cares, not just on Sunday morning, but every day of the week.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy, Part 7

This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy. The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.

In this series of articles, I shall proceed to enumerate their desired reforms, and then explain why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.

Suggestion no. 7: "Re-examining" the Lectionary

"In the Divine Liturgy, we receive spiritual nourishment not only through reception of communion but also through the hearing of God's word in the Scripture readings. But given the fact that few people regularly attend more than the Sunday morning Liturgy, the lectionary itself needs to be reexamined. In our present usage, only a very small portion of the New Testament is ever heard by the faithful, and the Old Testament is virtually absent. The faithful hear about the miracles of Jesus with great frequency; but they are not exposed to His ethical and moral teaching (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount)."

Why this is a bad idea:

One might first remark that, from a Slavonic Orthodox standpoint, the last remark seems particularly laughable, given that the high point of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, forms the Third Antiphon, sung at every Divine Liturgy.   In the Greek tradition, this might not be the case, at least to the same extent, but given that I am a member of a Slavonic parish with very amiable relations with like-minded Greek Orthodox, I don't want to comment on their liturgy, given my relative lack of familiarity with it (unless one counts the tragically watered down form of the beautiful Arabic liturgy of the Antiochian church which dominates in America, although I don't fault the late Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory for this, but rather a certain culture of liturgical complacency which managed to infect the entire autonomous AOCNA, and which slipped under the evangelically-minded radar of the late, most excellent bishop).

Now, what follows is a highly technical discussion of lectionary systems.  For readers of a short attention span, let me summarize my objections to a "re-examination" of the lectionary: any substantial change to the Byzantine lectionary, such as moving to Byzantine-flavored variant of the three year lectionary used in the Roman church, and with variations, as the Revised Common Lectionary in most dying mainline denominations, would violate the Typikon, the Rule of Prayer and Life for Eastern Orthodox parishes, and disrupt our ancient and most excellent spiritual system.   The Old Testament is read frequently in a prophetic context at Vespers, as a prelude to the Divine Liturgy to follow on Sunday Morning, and I have argued elsewhere that these readings ought to be repeated during the Third Hour, and printed in parish bulletins, as a means of bringing the parishioners who miss out on Vespers up to speed on the message of the day.    What is more, it is fallacious to assume that the laity must hear the entire Bible read in church to be able to benefit from it; the Byzantine liturgy does not read the Apocalypse liturgically, but it has nonetheless had a substantial impact on the spirituality of our faith.

Moving back to this proposal, one can see where the monks' examination would invariably point us: towards a discussion on adopting some form of the Revised Common Lectionary.   This nightmarish prospect must first be firmly dispensed with, before we can move on to how to actually address the valid points of this particular issue they raised.   The RCL by itself, derived from the three year lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church adopted with the Pauline liturgy, has attracted much criticism.   Historically, the Christian church has always used a one year lectionary; some ancient Jewish communities attested to in the Babylonian Talmud and the writings of Maimonides used a three-year lectionary, but this was never the norm, and because the early church did not use a three year lectionary, it is safe to assume that this was a divergent practice, and not original form of the thrice-weekly reading reading of the Torah instituted by the Prophet Ezra, which forms the basis for the entire concept of the Lectionary (before that time, the King read a substantial portion of Deuteronomy to the entire populace assembled at Jerusalem every seven years, and this was the known extent of the public reading of the Torah).

The triennial nature of the RCL aside, one might also lament that compared to other lectionaries, it is highly defective.  The editors of it made extensive use of gender neutral language, obviously inappropriate within the Eastern Orthodox faith; it, for maximum inclusiveness, naturally omits or downplays many books that most Protestants regard as apocryphal, that are highly important to the Orthodox faith, and it omits certain vital passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, as discussed in the prior post in this series.   A very balanced discussion of the RCL, in which many of the faults therein are brought to light in comparison with the historic Anglican lectionary, which I consider a very good lectionary, in part for the fact that it manages to ensure the entire New Testament is read in the course of a year, and the Old Testament, sans some books inappropriately deemed "apocrypha", in two years, can be found in this issue of Liturgy Canada.

The Anglican lectionary is much like the Orthodox lectionary in that it really isn't a single "lectionary", but rather a system of separate readings for separate services.  To some extent, it has been used within Western Rite Orthodoxy.   The lectionary consists of paired Old Testament and New Testament lessons for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer respectively, an annual lectionary of Collects, Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and holy days throughout the year, read during the "Ante Communion" portion of the Eucharistic lectionary, and a monthly scheme for the reading of the Psalter, at Morning and Evening Prayer.   This system is obviously simpler than the ornate Byzantine Rite, but a highly functional one, and one which in fact shares a common, Apostolic origin with our lectionary.

The Anglican lectionary was, for its part, based on the pre-Tridentine Roman lectionary, which was mostly left intact at Trent, which, as one can tell by comparing it with the Orthodox lectionary via the tables presented at the Bombaxo website, is very similiar to its Eastern counterpart, differing primarily in the lack of the Lukan jump, the occasional use of the Old Testament as the "Epistle", and the shorter nature of the lessons (possibly a result of their being chanted in Latin and thus being unintelligible to the parishioners).  The Anglican reformers expanded the length of the lessons and read them in English, resulting in a system moving closer to Orthodoxy.

The Roman lectionary, owing to its short, stylistic lessons and inconsistency regarding the use of the Old Testament, was a prime candidate for reform in the wake of Vatican II, but unfortunately, rather than returning to Apostolic tradition, the reformers pursued a radically new direction.  Adding a separate Old Testament lesson to the readings at Mass was by no means objectionable, but the triennial cycle was, as was the somewhat liberal bias in the selection of lessons, which became further exacerbated with the Ecumenical derivatives of the new Roman lectionary.

Now, let us take a look at the Byzantine lectionary in greater detail.   The lectionary forms part of the Typikon, an elaborate system of rules, or if you prefer, a meta-lectionary, that governs all aspects of our liturgical services.  If followed in precise detail and without alteration, the Typikon repeats itself around every 535 years (I believe the precise number to be 537), factoring in the revolving octoechal cycle of hymnody, the weekly psalmody, and the ornate interaction between fixed and movable feasts.   The Typikon is more than a liturgical system however; it is also a rule of life; the Typika of Eastern Monasteries corresponds directly to the Rule of St. Benedict, and in like manner, the Typikon can also be seen as a rule governing the life of parish churches.   Of course, secular pressures make it difficult or impossible for most parishes to observe the Typikon in its entirety, but that fact is regrettable, and should be lamented, and not used as a justification for replacing it; the Typikon sets the standard we should seek to attain, and if a parish or monastery succeeds in following it precisely, great spiritual blessings will follow.

Naturally, implementing a triennial lectionary, derived from the RCL, but with a nod to Byzantine custom on popular feast days, which is doubtless what the monks at New Skete would have in mind, would violate the Typikon, and result in a profoundly watered down liturgy.   Within the present Byzantine Rite, there are in fact multiple discrete lectionary systems being observed: the weekly Psalter, the cyclical Matins Gospel, the Prophecy readings appointed for Saturday Night Vespers, and finally the Epistle and Gospel lessons of the Divine Liturgy itself, which unmistakbly follow the Hatarah and weekly Torah portion read since antiquity in Judaism.   A future article will examine this fact in light of the East Syriac lectionary, which preserves in some places distinctly Jewish Torah and Haftarah pairings, and follows them in due course with Epistle and Gospel readings.

In the Byzantine lectionary, access to the Old Testament is provided primarily by the Vespers prophecy read on Saturday night, as mentioned above.  This service is of extreme importance in our faith; its present neglect in some jurisdictions is egregious.  To the extent however that people do not understand it, and thus experience the ecstasy resulting from seeing the prophecy read therein fulfilled in the Epistle and Gospel read during the Divine Liturgy the next morning, I have argued for the repetition of this reading at the Third Hour.   However, attending both Vespers and the Liturgy is a far more spiritually healthy alternative, and this practice would most likely be substantially diminished were an Old Testament lesson to be included in every Divine Liturgy.

The main problem seems to be that, while the Byzantine lectionary does read over the course of the year the entire New Testament, many of the lessons are heard in services frequently celebrated only in monasteries, for example, most of the reading of Mark.   The Old Testament is used sparingly, where the Christological prophecy is at its most acute.   However, in both cases, the pious faithful can correct this problem by following the lectionary in their own private readings, or a Reading Plan such as this one hosted on Bombaxo.   There is also a lectionary contained within the Orthodox Study Bible, which is a most valuable resource for the laity and costs a mere $50 or so.  

Thus, the real answer to the dilemma posed by the monks presents itself: while, outside of the monasteries, in the average parish, the parishioners will not actually hear that much of Sacred Scripture read aloud, this problem can be overcome by the very healthy practice of regular, systematic and disciplined reading of the scriptures in private.   This activity should ideally be done together with one's family, combined with the saying of Morning and Evening Prayer (also conveniently featured in the Orthodox Study Bible, along with other liturgical resources).   The last word is that where the resources of the parish limit public celebration, private devotion must take its place.
Our next article in this series will address the monks' not entirely invalid complaint that the Sermon in the Divine Liturgy is neglected, while commenting on the risks of allowing the Liturgy to devolve into a preaching-oriented service.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Message: Where there is persecution, there is the Church

Today, July 9th on the Julian Calendar, we commemorate many martyrs.   The dreadful tragedy of the ethnic cleansing of Mosul last week weighs upon my heart, yet it is Sunday, and on this blessed day of our Lord, there is always cause for happiness.  Rejoice, for the Lord is with you, we can confidently say to the holy martyrs, and indeed even to ourselves, as we face our own tribulations which may seem in comparison trivial, yet which are no less painful to endure.

One bright moment in the past week was the joyous arrival in Rome of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, the persecuted Ethiopian Orthodox woman who was subjected to such cruelties by the vicious Sudanese government as to qualify as a Confessor of the faith.  Confessors are those who are not martyred, but who nonetheless suffer gravely for Christianity; for example, Maximus the Confessor had his tongue removed.   This woman was forced in an act of unimaginable and callous cruelty to give birth with her legs chained, which has apparently left her child disabled.  I cannot imagine the pain this must cause, yet I cannot also help but imagine the wondrous joy she must now surely be experiencing, having been delivered from the clutches of her homicidal relatives and her homicidal rulers. 

That any family should seek to put to death a member of their own blood for confessing a different faith shows a perversity of thought that cannot be reconciled with human decency.  Yet within the early church, many did suffer in this manner; our Lord himself warned us this would be so.  "The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."

Therefore, let us continue our prayers for all the persecuted church: martyrs, confessors, and especially those who persecute them, so that, like St. Paul, they may be moved by God to receive the Gospel.

The liturgical use of the Apocalypse

One aspect of the Orthodox Church that testifies to the antiquity of our faith is the fact that we do not read the Book of Revelations, or the Apocalpyse of St. John, in Church.   This owes to it being essentially the final book in the Athanasian canon to finally receive universal approval; the West did manage to make liturgical use of it, but for whatever reason, it was never introduced in the East.   The Syriac churches are even more limited, for they read only the Pauline epistles, excluding his pastoral epistles to Timothy, Titus, et al, and also the Catholic Epistles of Peter, John, James and Jude.  

Within the Byzantine Rite, sacred tradition demands that the lectionary be preserved to the fullest extent possible.  That said, one cannot help but wish that the beauty of the Apocalpyse could be heard in our churches.   There are, however, ways by which this can be accomplished, without altering the existing lectionary cycle.

The first, and least invasive way, would be to use the words of the Apocalypse in the composition of a hymn, most likely a Kontakion, to be served in an Akathist service, or another supplemental service such as a Moleben (or Paraklesis).  Additionally, the liberal quoting of the Apocalypse in homilies, particularly metrical homilies of various forms, would provide an effective and non-disruptive means of its introduction.  These hymns could be used to commemorate the feast of St. John the Beloved Disciple. The instructions of our Lord to the various churches also seem most especially suitable for the celebrations surrounding the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

The second, and slightly more invasive approach, would be to avail ourselves of the fact that not all Matins services have a Matins gospel reading.  The Matins gospels are cyclical; the Resurrection Appearances of Christ are read in a continual loop, as it were.   We could perhaps complement this, by at other times introducing a cycle in which the Apocalypse would be read continually through at Matins, and to round things off, additional cycles of Matins Gospel readings might be introduced for days on which there is normally no Gospel, perhaps covering the Acts of the Apostles, or the Prophecies regarding Christ that are read at the Vesperal Liturgy on Great and Holy Saturday.

Since these do represent the introduction of additional content into the liturgy, the use of these new facilities would have to be approved in each case by the local bishop, and their use would surely be a matter of discretion for the individual parish or monastery.  Those desiring to hear the Apocalypse in this manner could do so, whereas those who most commendably wish to preserve the Byzantine Rite in its most exact form would follow that path.   Ideally, at least half of all parishes would adopt the augmentation, but a viable minority would not, ensuring both the preservation of the unaugmented Matins lectionary and the introduction of the enriched Matins gospel cycles. 

There are of course other questions that would have to be addressed, for example, whether or not these other Matins Gospel cycles would imply a Polyeleos service.   Matins is an extremely complicated service; in fact, it is the longest and most complex service in the Byzantine liturgy, ever changing, and almost always abbreviated, often in different ways according to the custom of individual parishes.  Its celebration therefore is a most splendid example of the exquisite way in which we worship God, and we must avail ourselves of every opportunity to explore it more; those parts of it seldom heard ought to be heard more frequently, and every opportunity of improving comprehension and attendance, and providing enrichment, without violating the existing directives of the Typikon, should be seized.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Lost Liturgies of the Orthodox Church

There is a wealth of liturgical material that is disused within the Orthodox Church, that we have every right to avail ourselves of, and should, as conditions warrant.  Aside from the Cathedral Office, which is being carefully documented and made available for use by the most excellent scholar of music and liturgy, Alexandar Lingas, who also directs the superb Capella Romana, we have several other beautiful liturgies which are, frankly, much more "ready-made" and easy to serve than the majestic ancient rite of the Hagia Sophia, which I pray will someday be served again in that Great Church, but which would scarcely work in a small parish church, such as those that predominate ROCA.

Ready for immediate use, with current litanies and other amenities, fully compatible with the Typikon, the complex system of lectionary readings, hymnody and other variable aspects of our services, which functions much like an elaborate clock or computer program, running on a 537 year cycle, are three sadly disused divine liturgies.

Before beginning a review of these disused liturgies, I should state my belief that the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the most exquisite and supremely beautiful liturgy in existence; it is doubtful it could ever be surpassed.    I fear to some extent that, by overusing this liturgy, we risk desensitizing the faithful to its unique glory.   I would not be opposed to the increased use of the Liturgy of St. Basil in all fasting seasons, in any parish desiring to make such a change, as a means of increasing the appreciation of that greatest of liturgies, composed by the greatest of preachers, St. John of the Golden Tongue.   Indeed, one could make a case to serve the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom were served at every major feast, including that of St. Basil, and only at those major feasts, given its glorious nature; however, I personally would not opt to go that far, and would content myself with a mild, gentle and gradual process of increasing the emphasis on the splendour of this liturgy, by reducing its ubiquity.   For as I see it, quantity can obscure quality; scarcity is the basis of all value.   Now, aside from St. Basil, and the special case of the Presanctified and the Western Rite liturgies, what might be used instead?

The Divine Liturgy of St. James is foremost of these; the oldest and grandest Orthodox liturgy, it is increasingly celebrated on the Feast of St. James, October 23rd, and knowledge of how to perform it is improving.  One must be careful to ignore the modernist Greek reconstruction of it, which has the ridiculous innovation of celebrating the liturgy on an altar erected in the nave, in front of the royal doors, versus populum, with 13 priests and a bishop; such a format may have once existed in Jerusalem, but is not typical of the rite as it has been historically used elsewhere, including in Russia (where, until the reforms of Nikon, it was in many of the service books).  

It is a myth that this liturgy takes four hours to serve; it may have during the age of St. Basil, leading to the latter's famous redaction of it, but in its present form, it can easily be served in a normal timespan.  The Syriac Orthodox Church, an Oriental Orthodox jurisdiction, routinely serves it in 90 minutes or less, albeit with one of several abbreviated anaphorae, including those of John Chrysostom, and the Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles, which appears to have been the basis for Chrysostom's superb liturgy.   In the Russian Orthodox format, the only really obvious difference between the liturgy of St. James and the other liturgies is the replacement of the Cherubic hymn by the hymn "Let all mortal flesh be silent," a hymn we also sing in the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on Great and Holy Saturday.  A case could be made for using the Divine Liturgy of St. James here, to bring our praxis more in line with that documented by Cyril of Jerusalem; one might observe that the parishioners would scarcely notice the difference, as only the prayers said by the priest would change, and only slightly, for the liturgy of St. Basil, according to tradition, and obvious examination, is a clear derivative of that of St. James.   Thus, we would do this oldest of liturgies justice if we were to celebrate it consistently, two or three times a year, on Great and Holy Saturday (when it once was celebrated, the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Be Silent" being a legacy of that era), on the Feast of St. James and/or the Sunday after the Feast of St. James (if October 23rd does not fall on a Sunday).

The Divine Liturgy of St. Mark was used by the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria until the 20th century; the most recent revision dates from the 1890s.  It thus features all of the neccessary facilities for use in a modern Orthodox service, including provisions for the three Antiphons, the correct Diptychs and Litanies, et cetera.   It is even closer to our standard liturgies than that of St. James, featuring the Cherubic Hymn in its usual form, and even the phrase "Thine own of Thine own gifts we have set before Thee", so similiar to the equivalent in St. Basil and St. John Chryostom as to be essentially interchangeable.   The most distinctive feature of the Alexandrian liturgies, the double epiclesis, was removed over the years from the Greek Orthodox version and exists only in the Coptic, thus, there is nothing in the service that a Russian Orthodox layman would find unnatural or jarring.  In recent years, many seminaries, particularly those associated with the Greek church, have served it on the Feast of St. Mark.  I would most humbly suggest that this liturgy be served on that feast, and on the following Sunday, and also on the feasts (and following Sundays) of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril, the three heroes of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.   It might also be used in lieu of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil as an alternative to the triumphant liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in lesser fasts, such as the Apostle's Fast.

Lastly, the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter was used in ancient times by the Russian church, before the reforms of Nikon.   A community of Old Believers in Turkey, in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch, continued using it for many centuries until their forced exile in the early 1960s, at which time the Turks confiscated and presumably destroyed their ancient service books.   Fortunately however, a copy, written in Slavonic, was found in a library at Mount Athos, and thus this beautiful liturgy was not lost to posterity.  My understanding is that it has been celebrated in the Western Rite of ROCOR, both before and after the Western Rite parishes joined the schismatic Metropolitan Laurus to subordinate themselves to a tyrant, leading sadly to their own impending dissolution.

However, this liturgy is not a Western liturgy, strictly speaking.  It is rather a Byzantinized version of the ancient Roman liturgy; the Anaphora contained therein is essentially the Roman Canon, devoid of the heretical accretions since the Great Schism of 1054, and of the regrettable comingling of the Roman and Gallican Rites.   The liturgy is fully configured for normal Orthodox worship and is fully compatible with the Typikon, featuring three antiphons, and the usual litanies.   The diptychs are missing from the online text at Occidentalis, presumably due to a typographic error, but inserting them in the usual position is a simple matter. 

The main advantage this liturgy offers is its brevity.  I do not suggest using it on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, for this would be ridiculous; it is named in honor of St. Peter on account of its Roman origin, but is the product of generations of liturgists and, while not fundamentally different from the Apostolic liturgy, is most certainly not by Peter's hands.   Indeed, as far as we know, St. Peter himself most likely was illiterate, unlike Paul, relying on Mark the Evangelist as his scribe.  The dissimilarity between the Alexandrian liturgy which bears Mark's name, and the Roman liturgy bearing Peter's name, suggests a later authorship for one or both, with the liturgy simply credited to its proper author.  Two additional unrelated liturgies are also named for Peter: the Syriac Orthodox Anaphora of St. Peter, which is rather similiar to that of St. Xystus, if memory serves, and the Maronite Anaphora of St. Peter, which is, uniquely for the Maronites, of an East Syriac structure.  The Western Rite of ROCOR has indeed added to the confusion by also naming their systematic restoration of the Sarum Rite for Peter.  

So let us return to the main blessing this liturgy provides.  Like the Mass of the Latin Rite, it is short.  One could say it in an hour or even a half hour, owing to the short nature of its anaphora, without the kind of liturgical butchery required to compress the the liturgies of Ss. Basil or John Chrysostom into such a timespan.   This is useful for what one might call an "emerging market": the lunchtime crowd.  In recent years, the numerous historic Church of England parishes in the City of London have been saved to a large extent by providing lunchtime services to the office workers, as the residential population of the Square Mile has dwindled to less than a thousand.   Increasingly, throughout the world, urban churches are finding success with these services.   However, such services are, by their nature, pressed for time.   The only possible way we might be able to do such a service and offer communion in the Orthodox church, communion which is so beneficial to those faithful laboring under the most intense, crushing burden of the world in their day jobs, is to use as short a liturgy as possible, and to this end we have three options: massacre that of St. John Chrysostom (which I have seen done, to a blasphemous extent, by priests from the Ecumenical Patriarch), write a new one, perhaps based on the Anaphora of Hippolytus, a dubious proposition given that our newest liturgy dates from the fourth century, or use the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter, a liturgy recently used in our church before the schism, and used by Russian Orthodox continuously until the 1960s, admittedly Old Ritualists, but Old Ritualists whose canonical status is unquestioned.  

On the subject of developing a midday urban ministry targeting office workers, I shall be writing another, longer and more detailed post within the coming days.   I envisage a cycle that would see an Akathist on Mondays, a preaching oriented service based on the Hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter, or on feast days when the liturgy must be celebrated at another time, a Typika service, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy, Part 6

This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy. The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.

In this series of articles, I shall proceed to enumerate their desired reforms, and then explain why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.

Suggestion no. 6: Casual Communion

"In some Orthodox churches, frequent reception of communion has become the norm, while in others the faithful come only rarely. In both cases, however, the reception of communion is often seen as an act of private devotion. Our churches need to rediscover the communal and corporate dimensions of the eucharist. They also need to reevaluate their various practices related to confession, fasting, and other forms of preparation for communion. This is necessary particularly when these practices not only obscure the ecclesial significance of the eucharist but also discourage frequent communion, thus inhibiting the spiritual growth and nourishment of the faithful."

Why this is a bad idea:

This, from a spiritual perspective, is perhaps the deadliest suggestion made by the impious monks at New Skete.  In recent decades, the trend to commune the entire parish, except at Easter, when this was always the tradition, on every Sunday, has led to numerous persons partaking of the Eucharist iwthout the adequete spiritual preparation.  It is no accident that the Revised Common Lectionary, among the more poisonous fruits of the Ecumenical Movement, omits this key warning of the Apostle Paul, following the institution narrative in 1 Corinthians chapter 11:

" 27 He therefore, who eateth of the bread of the Lord, and drinketh of his cup, and is not worthy of it, is guilty of the blood of the Lord, and of his body.  
   28 For this reason, a man should examine himself, and then eat of this bread, and drink of this cup:  
   29 for, whoever eateth and drinketh of it, while he is unworthy, eateth and drinketh condemnation on himself, by not discerning the body of the Lord.
   30 For this cause, many among you are diseased and sickly, and many sleep.
   31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
   32 But when we are judged by our Lord, we are really chastised, that we may not be condemned with the world.  
   33 Wherefore, my Brethren, when ye assemble to eat, wait ye one for another.
   34 And let him who is hungry, eat at home; that ye may assemble, not for condemnation. And as to other things, I will give you directions when I come."

From this very clear warning, it is evident that a thorough examination of conscience, at a minimum, is a prerequisite to communion.   It is for this reason that ROCA requires parishioners to attend to the sacrament of Confession before receiving the Eucharist, and to fast beforehand to the fullest extent their health allows.   To do otherwise would be criminal negligence on our flock; we would be guilty of allowing our congregation to partake of condemnation, rather than of the divine nature, to their own destruction, and for that would have to answer at the dread day of judgment.

It is imperative that, as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has pointed out, frequent communion, a most healthy practice advocated by all the saints, be practiced, but at the same time, His Eminence warns us of the dangers of casual communion.   The environment in many Christian churches today creates a situation where everyone is encouraged to come forward, without any checks to see if they are baptized, and wihtout any warning that the sacrament, if consumed in a state unworthy, could be deadly.  This is a terrible crime; the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches especially are guilty of exposing their flock to severe physical and spiritual harm by failing to place an appropriate fence around the sacrament.  

I should say, that I fear that if we do not heed the warning of the Blessed Apostle, and provide some mechanism for ensuring the proper purification and preparation that lets us approach the chalice with some degree of increased holiness, in a state of worthiness, that we might receive its life-sustaining and life-creating nourishment, the blood of many could be on our hands.   The barriers erected around the Holy Eucharist may seem formidable, but it is essential for every pious Orthodox Christian to confront them, ideally every Sunday, and every day in Lent; keep the Eucharistic fast, confess everything, as often as possible, and approach the Chalice without fear, and you will surely receive the fruits of Christ's life-creating sacrifice to the fullest extent possible.   Just as physical exercise to keep our bodies in shape, and proper eating to maintain health, requires discipline, so to does our spiritual life; maintaining the neccessary discipline to partake of Communion as often as it serves is the surest way to maintaining proper spiritual health, and to partake of every divine grace the Lord has provided for our sustenance.

In closing, in the Divine Liturgy, the Priest proclaims "Holy things are for the holy!"   Anyone who dares approach the Chalice while knowingly in a state of unrepentant sin is unholy, and partakes of death rather than life; any Priest who knowingly allows such a profane act of self-destruction to occur will answer for it on the dread day of judgement.  "Holy things are for the holy!" is not a meaningless embellishment of the Divine Liturgy; rather, it is the warning of Paul in a nutshell, and as Paul's narrative of the Last Supper is likely the most ancient in the New Testament, and the importance of Paul to the Orthodox faith unquestioned, it behooves us to heed his warning, and to accordingly partake of the Body and Blood of Our Lord with only the greatest fear and reverence.   If some are unable to maintain the spiritual discipline necessary to facilitate daily or weekly communion, then it is better for them to communicate only occasionally, when they are able to properly prepare themselves, than risk their own destruction for the sake of conformity; to conduct the Divine Liturgy in such a manner as to encourage all to communicate without proper preparation is a great evil.

In our next article in this series, we will examine the very impious and disagreeable suggestion that we depart from the ancient lectionary, that has served the Church for over a thousand years.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Wasted Hours

One lament I have about present liturgical praxis in much of ROCA is the highly abbreviated manner in whic the Third and Sixth hours are served, before the Divine Liturgy, following All Night Vigils; they are typically hurridly chanted, and seem to serve merely as a warmup for the choir, and in a small parish like mine, also serve to mask the sound of people confessing to the Priest before the Divine Liturgy.  The situation is of coure the same across most of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate.    The Ninth Hour is rarely celebrated.    Only the First Hour, when it is included as the conclusion of All Night Vigils, receives the prominence one would consider desirable.   In this I see a missed opportunity.

Many parishioners who attend the liturgy did not make the All Night Vigil, and hear the Prophecy and the Matins Gospels.   In the Third Hour, in between the appointed Psalms, I would propose a Reader or the Priest simply read these, together with the appointed lections for the next service, in a clear voice, in the vernacular language spoken by the majority of the parishioners.   This leaves the clergy free to intone in the most artistic manner possible the Epistle and Gospel during the actual Divine Liturgy, in Church Slavonic, without concern over audience comprehension. 

In like manner, I propose in the sixth hour, the Priest delivers a lengthy sermon, the primary edification tying the different appointed lessons together.   This sermon might be up to 30 minutes in length.  This leaves him free in the Divine Liturgy to quote a Patristic homily, or sing a Metrical Homily of St. Ephraim the Syrian, or a Kontakion of St. Romanos the Melodist, or perhaps to compose his own lyrical or metrical homily, or if nothing else, to deliver a brief homily of a primarily mystical nature, the rational and intellectual exegesis of the daily service having already been thoroughly explored during the Sixth Hour.

Finally, many parishes have lunch following major observances.  Whenever a meal is served to the parishioners, I propose it be followed in due course with the solemn Ninth Hour, immediately following the thanksgiving prayer at the end of the meal.  What better way to end a beautiful feast day than to contemplate the wondrous passion of our Lord and Savior.   In each of the Hours, the Psalms might be sung, perhaps congregationally, and to simple matters, or dare I say it, even with the assistance of an organ, providing the congregation with the opportunity to sing, while at the same time ensuring that the music in the Divine Liturgy itself will be provided by the choir, and will be as otherworldly, transcendental and mystical as possible, allowing the average parishioner to simply stand or sit in the nave, absorbing the profound Holiness as the Divine Liturgy is celebrated.

This is not to say that the Divine Liturgy itself should be rendered completely mystical and incomprehensible, with all intellectualization transferred to the revitalized hours, nor that the hours themselves should be dry and intellectual; surely that would be as dire as the present manner in which they are neglected in parish life.  Rather, I propose a balance, whereby more preaching could occur during the Third and Sixth Hours; however, these services, like all those of the Byzantine Rite, contain a great deal of solemn beauty and mysticism, if celebrated properly, and by turning them into a preaching-centered service, this solemnity would be better expressed than with their present state of neglect.   I do believe the supreme example of a homily in the Divine Liturgy itself is the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, which remains unsurpassed in its brevity and beauty; by explaining the observance of the day in intellectual detail during his sermon in the Sixth Hour, the Priest will be free to explore in his Eucharistic homily the spiritual dimension, in a manner deemed most appropriate; perhaps also in this manner, Patristic homilies, such valuable works of preaching, might be more widely heard.  Some of these are quite long and intellectually intensive, and would be better read during the Sixth Hour, whereas others are short and mystical, and are best fit for the Liturgy of the Catechumens.    Finally, Sunday School would be provided during the Third and Sixth Hour Service, whereas children would be urged to remain with their Parents during the Liturgy.

I should lastly like to emphasize one more time, that in no respect would any alterations be made to the service texts of the Third or Sixth Hours; rather, in the Third Hour, the reading of all of the scripture lessons of the liturgical day having begun at Vespers the previous night, and at the Sixth Hour, the sermon, would be inserted at suitable moments.  No change at all would be applied to the Ninth Hour, other than being sung properly, rather than hurridly chanted.

The typical daily schedule of worship of a Parish following this system would be as follows:

8:30 AM - Third Hour
9:00 AM - Sixth Hour
9:30 AM - Those who intend to communicate will confess to the priests; those not communicating may rest in the parish hall or spend time in quiet devotion.
10:15 AM - Start of the Divine Liturgy
12:00 PM - Parish Luncheon
2:00 PM - Ninth Hour

The night before, the All Night Vigils would of course be served according to the customary timetable.

If Matins is to be served in the morning, this schedule is somewhat pressured, but the following is easily attainable, with a shorter sermon during the Sixth Hour:

5:30 AM - 8:30 AM - Matins begins, concluding with the First Hour
9:00 AM - Third Hour
9:30 AM - Sixth Hour
10:00 AM - Confessions heard
10:30-10:45 AM Divine Liturgy begins
12:45 PM - Parish Luncheon
3:00 PM - Ninth Hour (at the correct time, one might observe)

Such an order of services interestingly takes us close to the proper times of the Hours in their original use: the Third Hour ought to be 9 AM, the sixth, Noon, and the Ninth, 3 PM.   Of course, in contemporary practice, outside of a monastery, getting lay parishioners to sit through even an abbreviated Sixth Hour following the dismissal of the Divine Liturgy is unrealistic, however, other than that, with this schedule some proximity to the natural order is found, especially if a pious congregation has the heart to attend a lengthy Matins and Prime in the early morning hours.

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy: Part 5

This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy. The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.

In this series of articles, I shall proceed to enumerate their desired reforms, and then explain why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.

Suggestion no. 5: Female Clergy

"While the entire people of God are to participate fully in the Churchs worship, they do so in different ways, through a diversity of ministries. Recent pan-Orthodox consultations, including the Inter-Orthodox Conference on Rhodes in 1988, have repeatedly called for the restoration of the diaconate for women, but as yet no concrete steps for implementation have been made. We believe that a deeper and more extensive exploration into the role of the diaconate, both male and female, is now long overdue. Reconsideration of the role of other ministries in the Church is also needed."

Why this is a bad idea:

Again, we see the pressure for the restoration of the Deaconesses, intensified considerably, but also a new and disturbing suggestion, "Reconsideration of the role of other ministries in the Church is also needed."   This clearly implies a desire for the ordination of female priests, and ultimately, female Bishops, following in the footsteps of the Anglicans.   That this is impossible in the Orthodox church should be obvious, for in the entire history of the Orthodox church, we have had an exclusively male priesthood and an exclusively male episcopate; were we to ordain women to these roles, we would cease to be Orthodox; an axiom of the Orthodox church is that being Orthodox, we are not allowed to make arbitrary changes to dogma or praxis, but must at all times faithfully seek to preserve Holy Tradition, a Tradition which most definitely excludes women from these offices.

Let us now explore the question of why women are excluded.  It is not misogyny, as some impiously dare to suggest, but rather, owes to the distinct vocation of men and wome, according to the divine economy of salvation.  As men, when we are called to the Priesthood, we are called to iconically represent Christ at the last supper, when we consecrated it In Persone Christi, to use a Latin phrase.  Most specifically, the celibate Bishop represents Christ, and the married Priests and celibate Heiromonks in turn represent the Bishop.   The Deacons, in assisting in the liturgy and in the delivery of the sacraments, represent the Apostles.

Women on the other hand are called to iconographically represent the Virgin Mary, either through emulation of her Virginity, or her Maternity.   Both Holy Celibacy and motherhood, in the form of Holy Matrimony, are the clear models for Christian women to aspire to; bearing children is their priesthood.  Just as a man cannot give birth, a woman cannot consecrate the Eucharist, for Christ was a man.   This is not to imply women are inferior, merely that a difference exists according to the design of God, and the Orthodox Church has always worshipped and believed thus.  Unlike in other denominations that have sprung from the corrupted Western Church, we do not consider ourselves free to deviate from Holy Tradition in order to conform to secular pressure, and indeed the secular pressure for the ordination of women is most extraordinary.  Yet in failing in this manner, and also in failing to maintain the ancient teaching of the church regarding marriage, gender roles, and sexuality, the mainline Protestant churches have very nearly destroyed themselves.   God forbid that this should happen to the Orthodox Church.

As for deaconnesses, it should be observed that their specific function related, like that of their male peers, to the delivery of a sacrament; rather than assisting in the delivery of the Eucharist however, their function was to assist in the delivery of the initatory rite of Baptism.    For in the early centuries of the church, the relative poverty of the populace meant that baptismal robes would be an unaffordable luxury, and thus men and women alike were baptized separately and in the nude.  For a male Priest to go down into the water with a nude woman would be an obvious impropriety, thus, the the Deaconnesses were appointed, but not actually ordained, to serve in his place.   They were required to be celibate, initially above the age of 60, but later this requirement was lowered to 40; one might assume the majority were nuns.  

As Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, and subsequently spread across the continents, mass baptisms of adult women became the norm.   Then, to a large extent, the Orthodox Church reached boundaries, limits imposed on its evangelism, chiefly by the threat of violence from Islamic persecutors.   Thus, over time, the vast majority of those received into the Orthodox Church were received via infant baptism, and the role of the Deaconness simply became obsolete.  

In modern times, the Orthodox Church is again making disciples of the nations, but thanks to the increased wealth God has granted us, we have the provision for baptismal robes.  Thus it is possible for the priest to descend into the water as he immerses the convert without any hint of impropriety, and without the risk of extreme temptation to lust that would be caused by the baptism of a nude adult female in this manner.   Thus, the function for which the office of deaconness was created is, effectively, obsolete.

That said, the appointment of women to the lesser orders has continued to varying extents.  Women also play vital administrative roles.  My own parish, lacking a full time priest, is administered and effectively managed by two female parishioners; they keep the books, provide the administrative  leadership and the primary decisionmaking.   They also sing in the choir; without them, the parish would not exist.   They are truly the mothers of the congregation.

That said, the restoration of the order of deaconnesses is not impossible, but the timing at present makes the situation difficult, for to do so would risk increasing the pressure to violate the natural order given by God, and to ordain women to the priesthood, thus taking onto ourselves the corruption that has poisoned the mainline Protestant denominations.   The only possible use I can see for deaconesses at present would be to assist in the liturgy in Orthodox convents, but to my uncertain knowledge, the nuns do not wish this at present, and are content with present arrangements for their service.   If deaconesses were implemented, the canons of the ancient Ecumenical councils would have to be followed strictly: they would be required to be celibate and at least forty years of age; thus, for all practical purposes, they would either be nuns, or secular virgins living in the world.   However, at present it is simply the wrong time to be addressing this; there is not an actual problem affecting the church, as the vital participation of women is responsible, to a large extent, for the day to day operation and executive management of ROCA. 

In closing, Priesthood is a very specific attribute; it is directly analogous to motherhood, for it represents spiritual Fatherhood.   For the same reason that men cannot bear children, women cannot legitimately serve as Priests, for they are called to iconographically represent the most holy theotokos, who it should be stressed was closer to God than any other human being.  In their vocation they are in fact considerably more blessed than their male brothers; for those who serve in the priesthood and episcopate are forced to endure demonic attacks on an unimaginable scale, manifesting themselves both through the mundane nastiness of ecclesiastical politics, to dreadful supernatural assaults such as those borne by St. Anthony.  We sing of Mary, Blessed art thou among Women, but we should sing of Women, blessed are you among Humans, for You are bestowed with the kinder, gentler vocation, that come more naturally to you, and are spared the agonies of the priesthood, that exceed in their psychological horror the pains of childbirth by a great margin, for in acting in persone Christi, the priest carry the terrible Cross of Christ, and endure His sufferings; only through the grace of the Holy Spirit are they able to survive, and carry on their most sacred ministry.

In our next article in this series, we shall explore the attempt to encourage the most dangerous and destructive practice of casual communion, without proper preparation.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Message: The Desolation of Mosul, and the Abomination of the Desolation

Today, every Christian heart should weep.  Every man in every nation should tremble in fear of God, who will deliver His flock and vanquish evil, for today, a great evil has been done.   Of the 30,000 Christians in Mosul two months ago, all have left.  Ethnic, or religious cleansing, has been acccomplished.   There are no churches; no Orthodox, no Catholic, no Protestant.   The Assyrians are gone; the Chaldeans are gone, the Syriac Orthodox are gone, the Armenians are gone; the Syriac Catholics are gone; the Protestants are gone; the Syriac Catholic Patriarch has been burned; there are none left.  Mosul, until recently a city with many Christians, now has fewer Christians within it than Saudi Arabia harbors within her hostile borders.

God have mercy.  Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance, and let this iniquity not go unpunished.  At the dread day of judgment, those responsible for this dreadful evil will have to answer for their sin; may God have mercy on them.

We must also take pains that Christianity never tolerates the fundamentalism that is eating away at the Islamic faith like a great cancer.   It is beyond horrible to note that there appear to be some Christians who are allies of the Islamic state.   They sympathize with Muslims for hating and persecuting the Orthodox and Catholic Christians, owing to the sheer calumny that those Christians are "alcohol-drinking, pornography-watching, sexually promiscuous, picture-worshipping Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic."   While the Abomination of the Desolation may have referred to the destruction of the second temple, or Caligula's erection of a statue of himself as Jupiter therein, is such desolation of the Christian faith not also an abomination, in its own right?

As Christians, we have a duty to oppose tyrannical, fundamentalist sects within our own faith, that seek a spirituality closer to Wahhabism than to the Apostolic faith, such as 9Marks.  9Marks as an organization encourages pastors to subjugate their parishioners, imposing strict control over them, disciplining them, for among other things, questioning their authority, not allowing parishioners to resign and leave for another church, and encouraging parishioners to shun fellow parishioners who disobey, in the manner of Scientology.

Just as this blog decries the Society of St. Pius X for attacking, on theological grounds, the idea of religious liberty, and thus implicitly favoring anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, and the Moscow Patriarch, for remaining subservient to the leadership of an expansionist regime that shoots down civil airliners,  we also are forced to decry 9Marks, an organization on the other end of the fundamentalist spectrum, for its seeming attempts to align itself with Islamic fundamentalist, and to impose a similiar system of discipline in Baptist, Presbyterian and non-denominational Protestant churches in the United States and elsewhere (including one particularly unpleasant church in Dubai, according to Wartburg Watch, which has been carefully documenting their abuses, and is linked to from the right).

We Christians have not lived up to the standard God has set for us.  We have committed abominations in the name of the Lord; we have vanquished, despoiled and ultimately left desolate the abodes of our brethren, thus repeating the Abomination of the Desolation.    Consider these abominations: the Crusades, the massacres of  Vlad III Țepeș, the Inquisition, the murderous Piedmont Easter, an event so terrible that I shall not link to an article describing it,, the persecution of Catholics in England and Scotland, and the persecution of Old Believers by Patriarch Nikon in Russia, are most dreadful sins against the Gospel of Christ.  Let us not repeat our past mistakes, but clean up our act, and through peaceful evangelism, steer our brethren away from venomous and rapacious cults, such as 9Marks, lest our faith degenerate into the abomination of fundamentalist Islam, that we ourselves may cause no more desolation.

Pray for the safety of all persecuted Christians, and all those suffering in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world on account of faith.  Pray for your brethren.

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy, Part 4

This article on the WCC website, though more than a decade old, remains an accurate statement of the intentions of modernists regarding the Orthodox liturgy.  The notoriously liberal monks at New Skete Monastery, formerly Catholic, but received into the notoriously liberal Orthodox Church in America (a jurisdiction whose autocephaly has never been universally recognized), corrupted by the modernist heresy so prevelant in the Roman church, manifested in the liturgical reforms in the wake of Vatican II (which, I should state, were a dreadful perversion of what Vatican II actually authorized; in terms of seeking reconciliation with the Orthodox, and in terms of the change of theological emphasis that Vatican II produced, it was, by itself, a movement in the direction of Orthodoxy), naturally want to do the same thing to the Orthodox church.

In this series of articles, I shall proceed to enumerate their desired reforms, and then explain why these reforms are deadly, from the perspective of Confessional Orthodoxy.

Suggestion no. 4: Messing with the Choir, and Deaconesses

"Do choirs and cantors facilitate the congregation's involvement? Does the music adequately convey the meaning of the text? Are certain classes and groups of persons systematically excluded from full participation (e.g., women, as a result of erroneous application of Old Testamental laws on ritual purity; children, as a result of being sent away to Sunday school during the Divine Liturgy)?"

Why this is a bad idea:

I fear to speculate on what the authors desire when posing the question "Do choirs and cantors facilitate the congregations involvement?"   If the answer is more congregational singing; I must voice my opposition, for without an organ, which is not traditional in the Byzantine Rite, congregational singing quickly turns to cacophany, unless the congregation has the liturgical fervor and discipline of the Russian Old Ritualists, which alas, most congregations do not.  This is not to say that we cannot have some form of congregational singing, but the idea that there is anything wrong with allowing parishioners to simply bask in the heavenly music of the choir, while lifting their heart unto the Lord in prayer, is deeply perverse.   The development of a strong and enlarged Western Rite in Orthodoxy might well help allay this, by providing a forum for those attached to congregational singing to participate in the Orthodox faith.   In addition, the bar should be lowered slightly for choir membership: in a Russian parish that worships in English and Church Slavonic, those who only speak English should be allowed to join in with the choir, and learn the English hymns, in which they would participate.   This might well be done antiphonally following the two-choir model favored by St. Ignatius.

Let us now move on to the more seirous question raised.   Are women being discriminated against in the Orthodox Church, for such an absurd reason as an erroneous reading of the Levetical Code?   Surely not, for if that were true, it would mean that the Orthodox Church had, from its very beginnings, misinterpted the Levetical Code, and if that is true, then our claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is utterly baseless, and in fact the feminist Gnostic sects that Elaine Pagels alleges existed, and were suppressed by evil patriarchal bishops like Ss. Ignatius and Irenaeus, had it right.  Nevermind the fact the Gnostics were misogynistic in the extreme, with the Manichaen Gospel of Thomas declaring that "Any female who makes herself male will inherit the kingdom of God," and Pagels' pop theology has been widely discredited by serious scholars of the Gnostic faith; it is frankly, wishful thinking.   But let us suppose there were a feminist church, that the evil Orthodox suppressed 1,800 years ago.   If that were the case, then we might as well reform everything, because that would mean that we were clearly in the wrong all this time, that we were never even close to being the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, but were instead a misogynistic cult that destroyed the faith of the Historical Jesus.

There are in fact many who believe exactly that; many of the clergy of the dying mainline Protestant churches, especially the Episcopal Church, USA, and the United Church of Christ.  Others, refraining from the unethical desire to demolish the faith of an existing church, have moved on to denominations more suited to their worldview, such as the Unitarian Universalists and the Ecclesia Gnostica.  Perhaps the monks of New Skete should consider such a move; one cannot help but feel that if their vocation were sincere, they would be happier in such an environment, where they could freely avail themselves of those aspects of Byzantine spirituality they found appealing, without demolishing the traditions of a beautiful religion, in the manner of the hateful anti-Wesleyan Methodist blogger Rev. Jeremy Smith (who has labelled the Orthodox Church and her persecuted sister churches in the Middle East "misogynist" for failing to ordain priestesses) or the Presiding "Bishop" Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who would be a wonderful Christian were her zeal for Christ as strong as her zeal for litigation.

The Orthodox Church itself is a realm of love, and the idea that we would systematically exclude women from the liturgy, for any hateful motive, is poisonous in the extreme.  Anyone who believes that about the Orthodox Church should resign, or be excommunicated, for only those capable of participating in the love of the Holy Trinity, which is a complementarian love, with each person contributing in their own way, according to their individual traits.

Lastly, I should say regarding Sunday School, I am a strong proponent of developing the Third and Sixth Hours, presently an afterthought chanted hurridly before the Liturgy begins, largely to obscure the sounds of confessions taking place, into an extended service of preaching and hymn singing.  Here, the children would participate separately in sunday school, and learn about the faith; it should remain open during the divine liturgy to provide Christ-centered diversions, should any children of intermediate age (4 through 7 year olds especially) become bored to distraction and disrupt the service, but in general, infants and as many children as could sit or stand through it would participate fully in the entire divine liturgy, while receiving age appropriate catechesis during the earlier Hours.

In the next installment, I shall answer the question as to why we no longer have deaconesses, and cannot afford to reinstate that ancient office in the near future, and address the very disturbing suggestion that the Orthodox Church consider ordaining women to the Priesthood and Episcopate.