Monday, October 18, 2010

A liberal Anglican on the Orthodox Divine Liturgy

While on holiday in the Dodecanese recently I made my way each Sunday to the town’s church to attend the Divine Liturgy according to the Greek Orthodox Rite. As always I was struck by timelessness of this ancient liturgy, of the sense of being caught up into the heavenly places, but also by the differences with the Sunday Liturgy of the Western Rite. As far as liturgy goes there is indeed “a wideness in God’s mercy” as Frederick Faber famously wrote. Here are a few observations based just on two Sundays on one Greek island. I’m afraid I have no idea whether what I experienced was typical, but here goes;...

...3. Participation in the Divine Liturgy was minimal. People stood, or sat, with great attentiveness, and made the ritual gestures with devotion, but in the main were content to observe the rite and listen to the cantors who sang for them. This is a far cry indeed from the full, conscious and active participation encouraged and expected in the West.
4. Likewise there seemed to be no encounter, no real dialogue, between priest and people. The priest faithfully observed the rite, performed the ritual acts and spoke or sang the ritual words, but there was no direct connection made, no eye contact even. The Liturgy went its own majestic way and the people tagged along. They seemed to need no encouraging word, no little clerical ad libs, no lifting of the spirits with humour. They evidently felt supremely privileged simply to be there.
Read the rest here.

H/T Carlos Antonio Palad via email

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes: to be present at the Table is the supreme privilege! He nailed it! He just doesn't get it...

melxiopp said...

I'm always sort of confused by comments such as:

3. Participation in the Divine Liturgy was minimal. People stood, or sat, with great attentiveness, and made the ritual gestures with devotion, but in the main were content to observe the rite and listen to the cantors who sang for them. This is a far cry indeed from the full, conscious and active participation encouraged and expected in the West.

It's as if "full, conscious and active participation" cannot mean:

The heart of the matter is: Stand with reverence before God, with the mind in the heart, and strive toward Him with longing. (St. Theophan the Recluse

In fact, many shy away from service in the Church so they can better maintain this prayer (for that's what St. Theophan is referring to).

The blogger also notes:

4. Likewise there seemed to be no encounter, no real dialogue, between priest and people.

Correct, it's meant to be an encounter between God and His people (including the priest).

This is also just a cultural difference as any Orthodox worshiper used to the full, physical actions of the laity knows how the priest and the people interact. They interact through blessing, bows and prostrations (with and without crosses at different times, with different meanings), prayer, including prayer for the priest (e.g., the tradition of praying "May the Lord God remember thy priesthood..." at the Great Entrance), kissing the priest's hand, etc. When you know what's going on it feels a lot like the silent looks and actions married couples make and respond to - there is no need for extraneous words and impromptu orations.

melxiopp said...

They evidently felt supremely privileged simply to be there.

"Lord, it is good for us to be here."

"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man... how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."

"I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude. And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days. And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me, And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me."

Visibilium said...

This is a far cry indeed from the full, conscious and active participation encouraged and expected in the West.

We've all seen the by-products of the Westernized "participation" mind-set at our Liturgies: slouching, leaning against the wall, hands in pockets, sitting with legs crossed, and other signs of denying the vast gulf between the human and divine.

melxiopp said...

Don't forget the cringing at liturgical dance, the terrible lay readers and responsorial leaders, terribly done liturgical innovations, etc. not to mention simply staying away out of fear one will be brought up on stage like it was a magic show ("see, no body and blood at all, just plain bread and wine, right?")

Bob Glassmeyer said...

"Full, active and conscious participation" is a hot-button liturgical phrase that can be interpreted in God knows how many ways.

Here in the West, which I'm seriously discerning viewing out of my rearview mirror, there is an obsession with "the People of God," "We are Church," and what really makes me want to scream, "the worshipping assembly is the celebrant of the Liturgy."

Until we in the West depart from that spiritually dangerous orientation, and reorient ourselves toward God in the Liturgy, it's going to be nothing more than a big word game.

We in the West DON'T GET IT. PERIOD.

Robert said...

Typical liberal Christian response. Their not happy unless they are having a party in Church. Rather than prayerful silence.

Ben said...

Lest we forget, the Liturgy is indeed the work of God's people (not just his cantors, choir, or priests). Although part of that work is of course prayerful silence, prostrations, and the sign of the cross, part of it is also responding in sung prayer (for God did have a reason to give us voices, did he not?) It is often too easy to go from one extreme (a party in Church) to the other extreme (silence from the laity) while missing the beautiful middle ground of reverence and participation, all the while recognizing the supreme privilege to be there at the Table.

David said...

Some of our parishes are better than others, one visit by one person can not condemn an entire church. We can't get sidetracked from our faith and practice by thinking that crossing our legs ads anything to the suffering of Jesus on the cross, or that careful attention means God loves one more than another. Ultimately we all fail and the good news is that Christ perfects his Church. That alone is reason to celebrate.

bob said...

Before responding with outrage, consider that he may have been quite right in his observations, liberal though he be. There ARE congregations who sit or stand like statues every Sunday. In many of them no one even takes communion, which really brings into question whether a liturgy is even sacramental worship. It isn't a sacrament if you're simply under the same roof as someone else who is receiving communion in an adjacent room. Decay has become tradition in a lot of places. He might also be dead wrong.