Alexander Schmemann, “On the question of liturgical practices,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly,  Vol. 17, 3, 1973, pp. 239-243.

The monastery at Valaam keeps the complete cycle of daily services everyday. Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours together with the Eucharist are celebrated daily. On average this takes between 8 and 10 hours and this even though, as one monk from Valaam told me, “We chant quickly!”

Not every monk attends every service. This is because, as the monk went on to tell me, “if we did, the rest of the monastery’s life would grind to a halt.”

As we think about the liturgical life of the parish, it is important to keep in mind the amount of time–and as will see in a moment, effort—it takes to serve the prescribed services. For some parishes, even daily Vespers at about 30-45 minutes is more than they can do. As for daily Matins (which typically can run 60-90 minutes), this too is frequently beyond most r parishes.

However most parishes can serve some, or even all, of the Hours on a regular, or maybe even daily, basis. And most parishes can serve Great Vespers on Saturday and the eve of feasts as well as serve Divine Liturgy on Sunday and at least some feast days.

All of this, however, assumes not only good will and interest on the part of both the priest and the congregation but also the knowledge of how the services go together. Take a look at Matins for the Sunday of the Last Judgment. You can find them online here and here.

You’ll notice that there are hymns for both the Sunday in the tone of the week (tone 3) and from the Triodion for the Sunday of the Last Judgment. And while there are rubrics in the text, they aren’t always as clear as we would hope. (If you don’t know what all these books are, you might want to look them up online.)

This means to have anything more than Vespers and Divine Liturgy requires that there be at least one or two people in the parish who know how the services go together.

Sometimes we have chanters or choir directors or readers who can sing the service as laid out in the typicon using the Horologion, the Octoechos, the festal and daily menia and Lenten Triodion (assuming that your parish has all these books). If not, then someone, usually the priest, has to cut and paste the service together from online sources and then print it all out for the readers.

Either way, the daily services–to say nothing of the festal and lenten services–can be complicated to put together to say nothing of serving.

As I said above, none of this is meant to discourage you! But I think it does help us understand some of Schmemann’s complaints about the liturgical problems of the Church in the West. Celebrating the services of the Church is a time and labor intensive process that requires we know not only the music and the structure of the services but also the theology behind the services.

Understanding the Church’s worship is especially important for when, as priests, you have to make decisions about what services will be celebrated and how the community will celebrate them. The more you know about not only liturgical history, the rubrics and the theology of the Church’s worship, the better able you will be to make intelligent, pastorally prudent decisions.

Schmemann’s complaints really boil down to this last point. Do priests understand enough of the Church’s liturgical tradition to make  intelligent, pastorally prudent decisions. Or are they, are we, as he suggests, merely “winging it” or making up the services as we go along?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory