Monday, July 14, 2014

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy, Part 1: Vernacular-only Liturgy

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

Suggestion no. 1: Vernacular-only Liturgy

"These general principles concerning the nature of worship have a number of implications for Orthodox worship in our time. First of all, if the principles enunciated above are to be fully realized, our worship normally should be conducted in the vernacular, in the language of the people. For centuries the Orthodox have appealed to the example of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In recent practice, however, this principle often has been violated. Our churches must consider whether the language of their worship in fact conveys its real meaning to the faithful and to the world."

Why this is a bad idea:

Already, vernacular translations are available for all of the Orthodox service books, and in those churches that continue to use the ancient liturgical languages, such as Koine Greek and Church Slavonic, more often than not, the ancient language is mixed with the vernacular; the homily is always given in the vernacular. To the extent that these ancient languages provide a barrier to understanding, they also facilitate a certain mysticism; I myself enjoy listening to Orthodox music in Church Slavonic precisely because I don't understand it verbally, but I know the lyrics that are being sung. I can, in this manner, focus purely on the spiritual dimension, which transends verbal speech.

What is more, many churches, particularly among our Oriental Orthodox brethren, have adopted the use of LCD and projection-based display screens; the Coptic and Syriac Orthodox Churches use this to simultaneously display Arabic and English translations of their liturgy at most of their parishes in the United States, and this system works exceedingly well. In the near future, tablets will be cheap enough, that the church might provide an ipad style device for the use of parishioners, with the complete text of the service, allowing them to follow along with great ease; these same devices might well replace the printed service books and sheet music. Many of these devices, like the Kindle, use electronic paper, so there is no distracting backlight, and unless you buy a leather casing, there are no animal products on the devices, making them suitable for use in the altar. Thus, the question of accessibility when using a liturgical language is utterly moot.

However, the most important reason for keeping the ancient liturgical languages, and using them together with the modern vernacular, is so that we preserve continuity with our forefathers. What a tragedy it would be if the language of the Gospel, Koine Greek, or the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus, in its Syriac dialects, or the Church Slavonic used by Russians for centuries, were to disappear. Rabinnical and Karaite Jews pray exclusively in Hebrew and Aramaic, relying on vernacular Siddurs (the equivalent of a Roman Catholic hand missal, or an Anglican Book of Common Prayer), and in my mind they are to be commended for this, as the language of Israel, the font of the Church, is thus preserved. The use of the vernacular was naturally one of the first changes introduced by modernizing Jews in the Reform denomination.

Lastly, one might observe the schism, general strife, and liturgical chaos the deprecation of Latin caused the Roman church. Though the Orthodox church has never been as wedded to a liturgical language as the Roman church, and indeed the historic refusal of the Romans to countenance any vernacular liturgy was a major point of disagreement between the two confessions, many Roman Catholics were greatly attached to the language of Cicero and St. Jerome, and this caused many schisms; today, the fastest growing parts of the Catholic church are the Latin-speaking traditionalist groups created under the auspices of Pope Benedict XVI's bull Summorum Pontificum, which greatly improved access to the old Tridentine liturgy. There are some signs the Roman church may be preparing to retrench on this point under Francis; if this occurs, the Orthodox should make every effort to accomodate disgruntled Catholics in our Western Rite, lest they fall into the hands of the SSPX, an evil, racist, and anti-Semitic organization that turns religious intolerance into a luxury brand. Given the nationalism present in the "canonical" Greek and Cypriot churches, and in the Moscow Patriarch, one shudders to think what xenophobic nightmares the abandonment of Church Slavonic or Koine Greek might create.

In our next installment, we will address the next item on the Modernist's agenda: eliminating the silent prayers.

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