Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Liberal Catholic's View of the Orthodox Liturgy

I’m drawn to the beauty and sacredness of the Orthodox liturgy, the sense of an inherited tradition not invented by us, the absence of commentators and announcers and songleaders waving arms at us, the absence of ad-libbing celebrants, the purity of vocal music without accompaniment. But the people do not seem to form a community celebrating the liturgy together. Each individual makes the Sign of the Cross repeatedly, seemingly whenever moved to do so; only when a certain word or phrase is picked up by the worshipers did they (or many or most of them) make the Sign of the Cross at the same time. The iconostasis, as artistically beautiful as it is, distorts the liturgy and divides the assembly too much into privileged clergy and excluded people, even though the entire church space is clearly sacral, and the people are clearly connected to what is going on behind screen, even when the doors are closed and they can only hear but not see the liturgy.
From here.
HT: A blog reader.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate his comments, but he seems confused.

The house of God, has a 3-tier structure, a place for the people, the altar of sacrifice and thanksgiving, a place beyond, the holy of holies.

The Protestant Eucharist does not contain any of these elements, but is just a fellowship gathering, for the most part.

I think the Orthodox and the Eastern rites tend to have their altar at the place beyond.


bob said...

Ah, the interesting allegories of the altar! The original observer is right. In many Orthodox churches there are several liturgies going on at once: In the altar, the choir, the readers/yellers/groaners, and the poor saps (the congregation). On rare occasions the various parts do the same thing. Usually they are independent molecules bouncing around and colliding in interesting ways. Normally they have at least four translations of the particular service they are each doing. In the case of the closed door/silent celebrant style of eucharist one is attending a private mass done in another room. You are there to follow along as best able, waiting for the celebrant to enter the room where everyone else is.
In rare cases the entire community does the same service, with each of the components merging into one group of worshippers, with people participating intelligently, audibly, verbally. The term for this is "forbidden". Where it occurs it will soon be corrected by the bishop.

Archpriest David Thatcher said...

Certainly, the abuse of the Orthodox liturgical tradition exists, and change comes slowly (thank God). However, Bob, even the most conservative liturgical traditions (i.e. "closed doors" and "silent prayers") exhibit well the meaning of our life of Christ in the Kingdom of God. And Christ is present there, though perhaps that is not well understood in our ridiculously egalitarian age, and by those who do not understand the ethos of our worship.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I took bob's post as gentle sarcasm from (God willing) a brother Orthodox.

In fact, I'm going to have a hard time not remembering it and suppressing a laugh at Paraklesis tomorrow.

Bob said...

Liberal Catholics are clueless.

(I don't mean every last liberal Catholic, and I dare not presume they lack faith. I am making a general statement, so don't write the bishop on me, okay?
As if he'd listen, anyway.)

This article is so typical of the cluelessness that comes from the RCIA, and so many mainstream Catholic parishes. IT'S NOT ABOUT US, people, for crying out loud!

In the mainstream Cathollic Church there is an obsession with "we are church" and "the assembly celebrates" and "gather US in." It is spiritually dangerous, deadly dangerous.

Yes Virginia, there is more to life than Liberal Catholicism.

CJ said...

I attended my first Divine Liturgy at an OCA parish two years ago on the feast of the elevation of the cross.

I sort of relate to what the commenter said about seeming like they didn't form a community. Coming from an extremely low-Church Protestant background where gretting each other with handshakes and hugs was a part of the service, the Orthodox seemed "cold" and isolated by comparison (other than the nice young lady who helped me find my place in the service book as I was frantically flipping ). At coffee hour, it was like everyone "broke character" and was really friendly. I've been back three times and I'm used to it now, but it is a little jarring at first.

The Antiochian parish is quite a bit different, and in some ways reminds me of the black church I grew up in. The priest will ask questions during his homily and solicit answers from the deacon, readers, etc. His wife acts as sort of an "amen corner." I wonder if that has anything to dow with the congregation being about 80% cradle orthodox from the old country or first generation US.

Igumen Gregory said...

Frankly I believe the worship of the Church is to be God oriented. I have been to warm a fuzzy liturgies and find them a distraction to the prayer of the Liturgy. The warm and fuzzy is best expressed during the coffee hour or at other social times.

David Garner said...

I think he missed the point of the iconostasis (easy to do, in his defense). In viewing it as a screen, he failed to see it as a window or view into what was actually present at the Altar.

Dale said...

I think that some of these criticism have to be taken seriously. In modern Byzantine Orthodox practice only the Carpatho-Russians and some Western Ukrainians have even bothered to preserve congregational chanting, and they do it well. Unfortunately, all of these parishes who have gone over to the OCA have adopted liturgy as bad opera; in some ways Byzantine Orthodox worship has become not too much more than worship as spectator sport. Added to this is the tendency to dismiss any criticism out-of-hand.