Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Modernist Revision of the Divine Liturgy, Part II: Silence Deprecated

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. 2: Elimination of Silent Prayers

"Liturgical worship is carried out by the entire assembly, not just by the clergy. For this reason, liturgical prayer generally employs the first person plural. This is clear, for example, in the anaphora, the central prayer of the eucharistic liturgy: "Remembering this saving commandment..., offering you your own of your own.... we praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you..." The central action here is our corporate offering of praise and thanks, our eucharistia. It is appropriate, therefore, for liturgical prayer, the prayer of the assembly, to be recited aloud, for all to hear."

Why this is a bad idea:

While I would agree with the monks of New Skete that perhaps over the centuries, too many of the prayers became silent, if the priest were to say all the prayers aloud, it would substantially damage the liturgical experience, by suppressing the mystical quality provided through the quiet, discrete actions of the priest, scarcely visible or hidden by the iconostasis, accompanied by the angelic voices of the choir. Those Orthodox parishes that have implemented this change, in some cases, wind up sounding a bit like the famous "Montage" sequence at the end of The Godfather. What is more, if all the prayers are said aloud, the prayers will either be rushed by the priest, or the service elongated, or the congregation alienated by their apparent verbosity. Every prayer in the Divine Liturgy is holy, sacred, and present for a very good reason, and saying all the silent prayers aloud would be a very effective way of truncating them. Consider as an example the highly abbreviated prayers of the Roman Catholic Pauline Missal, compared to the much longer, and mostly silent prayers of the Tridentine Mass.

That said, I strongly support the priest intoning the entire Institution Narrative, and the Epiclesis, which are the most exquisitely beautiful prayers in the liturgy, and which deserve to be heard by all present. "Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee, on behalf of all, and for all," should be the climax of the Consecration; from then, as far as the priest is concerned, silence should prevail until the Lord's Prayer. As one of the main differences between the two main liturgies, of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, is the Epiclesis, saying it aloud would be of great benefit; otherwise, the only noticeable difference when serving St. Basil is the singing of "All of creation" instead of "It is truly meet." I should also add that the other prayers which differentiate the Divine Liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom ought to be read aloud occasionally; for example, on Forgiveness Sunday and the Sunday of Orthodoxy. In that manner, the congregation will have a chance to clearly hear the numerous differences between the two liturgies.

I should also stress that the Epiclesis, and any other prayers otherwise said silently, should be intoned, and not said. There exist a number of excellent musical settings for the Epiclesis; a very excellent example can be seen in this liturgy, celebrated by Metropolitan Philip Saliba of blessed memory. This liturgy also shows the outer limits of how silent prayers can be tastefully spoken; in a large cathedral church like St. Elias, one can get away with speaking them in the altar, for the benefit of fellow clergy, to ease following along, but it would be hugely inappropriate to use a microphone and amplifier to broadcast these prayers to the congregation.

Lastly, and most importantly, one should observe that one of the primary objectives of Orthodox ascetic discipline has always been to create silence.   This has been accomplished in many ways and in many forms; through the Jesus Prayer, recited verbally at first, then mentally, and finally noetically, through the silent prayers in the liturgy, and through the atmosphere of quiet contemplation that prevails in our monasteries and church.  Why then should we possibly wish to do away with silence?   Yes, there is choral music during the silent prayers, but an undeniable sense of stillness permeates the church, just as the verbal repetition of the Jesus Prayer allows one to tone out the distracting and oppressive noises of the World, and to retreat to the realm of Godly quiet.
In fact, silence has been one of the most desparately sought qualities not only in Orthodoxy, but in Christianity; indeed, almost all world religions value silence as a precious commodity, from the waiting worship of the Quakers, to the reverent quiet that prevails after dusk in the Kastom religion of the Melanesians of Tanna, to the austere silence of a Roman Catholic low mass, to the absolute silence that prevails at the ceremonial burning of the Temple at the Burning Man Festival (an event that is a religion in its own right).   Thus, to criticize the ancient tradition of silent prayers in the Divine Liturgy is not just to attack traditional Orthodoxy; it is a profoundly irreligious gesture that is an affront not only to Christianity but to the vast majority of world religions.

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