Tag Archives: liturgy in the west

Liturgy in the West-part 3

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

Liturgy in the West-part 2

Schmemann, “The Spiritual Problem,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1965, Vol. 9, #4, pp. 171-193.

As much as I’ve returned again and again to Schmemann’s work, I’m always frustrated by a certain superficiality in his discussion of the problems of Orthodoxy in America.

On one level, I think he does an admirably job in describing the challenges faced by the Church in America. Where I think his work fall short, and the current article is a good example of this, is his failure to consider the history of Christianity’s growth in America. If he did, he would (hopefully) have seen that the failures or problems of the Church in America are not unique to the Orthodox Church. They are rather common to all those established Churches transplanted to America from the Old World.

Those Christian communities that grew here, grew because, as Schmemann says, they took seriously the human heart’s desire for God. And all these churches were upstart groups. Small, sectarian groups that emphasized personal repentance, a strict moral code, asceticism, rigorous worship and philanthropic commitment. To be sure these largely evangelical Christians had different views from the Orthodox Church about what all these disciplines of Christian life meant. But for all that they frequently preached a rather superficial and often moralizing view of the Gospel and emphasized an emotional style of worship, they did lead people to Christ and did so frequently at the numerical expense of those formerly established Churches.

What I think Schmemann fails to take account of is that the Church in Old World was an established Church. This meant not only that the Church was supported financially by the Empire or the State but that the Church was able to outsource much of her administrative life to the government. You see this today in Greece were (until recently) clergy were not only paid by the government but that the government protected the Church from “competition” from non-Orthodox religions.

Coming to America, and here I think Schmemann is correct, meant Orthodox Christians had to be personally responsible for all the things the State did in the Old World. If as Orthodox Christians we failed, we failed because we weren’t ready to be responsible in this way. It is because we lacked the practical experience that we failed to do all the things necessary to fulfill the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel, worship God and sanctify the whole of human life making it into the sacrament of God’s presence He intended it to be.

Or rather, we didn’t so much fail as were overcome by the myriad practical details that, until recently, were taken care of for the Church by the State. In other words, we—laity, clergy and hierarchs—were not ready for the kind of freedom , to say nothing of responsibility, America offered.

Like other formerly established Churches, religious freedom has been corrosive to the Church. Even seemingly vibrant non-Christian traditions have proven unequally to the task of freedom. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that Muslims lose an even higher percentage of young people than does the Orthodox Church. What does this tell us?

It tells me at least that neither community was ready for responsibility that comes with the freedom America offers us.

Schmemann is right to point out that if our commitment to the Orthodox Church is not personal it will not endure. No matter how beautifully or faithfully or regularly we celebrate the Divine Liturgy and the other services of the Church, if we do not preach personal commitment, if we do not help people grow in their personal commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, we will fail.

Toward the end of his article, Schmemann says it is possible for the Church to exist and even thrive in America but only if we embrace the “deep sense it is freedom that constitutes the only truly ‘American way of life.’” For all their theological shortcomings, this is how early American evangelical Christians were able to take what was, in 1776, a largely unchurched America and make it a vibrant, churched America. As late as the early 20th century, Chesterton was able to truthfully describe America “a nation with the soul of a church”!

So what must we do?

First, we must reject “the superficial and oppressive conformities which have been consistently denounced and castigated by the best Americans of all generations as a betrayal of the American ideal.” In place of this we must help people understand and live out the reality that as Orthodox Christians in America we have both the freedom and “the duty, of choice and critique, of dissent and search.”

It is only in this way, that we can help each other understand that it is in the Church and through the worship of God that each of us can discover the possibility “to be himself.” I become who God has created me to be by being a faithful Orthodox Christian.

If we fail, we fail because we haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities God has given us in planting the Church in countries and cultures in which not only is the Church NOT established but frequently criticized. Or as Schmemann concludes, “there is nothing in the American culture which could prevent the Church from being fully the Church, a parish truly a parish, and it is only by being fully Orthodox that American Orthodoxy becomes fully American” or Ukrainian or German or Mexican or whatever.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Liturgy in the West-part 1

Alexander, Schmemann, “The Liturgical Problem,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1964, Vol. 8, #4,  pp. 164-185.

Schmemann concludes his article on the different challenges to the Church’s liturgical life in the West with a bold and frank statement not about liturgy but about the evangelical witness of the Church.

It is in and through liturgy that the Kingdom of God “comes with power” (Mark 9:1)—power to judge and to transform. It is liturgy which, by revealing to men the Kingdom, makes life and history, nature and matter a pilgrimage, an ascension towards the Kingdom. It is liturgy, in short, that is the power, given to the Church, to overcome and destroy all “idols”—and secularism is one of them. But liturgy is all this only if we ourselves accept and use it as power.

Earlier in this same essay, he argues that secularism is not, as we might suppose, the absence of religion or even hostility to religion. Rather it is about a certain, unwholesome “autonomy” from the Gospel.

When we have a secular worldview, we may very well believe that the Gospel “can supply life with ethical standards, with help and comfort.” What secularism excludes, however, is the very possibility of “transform[ing] life into … [the] very content is God and His Kingdom.” And so, the typical Orthodox Christian (priest as well as layperson) believes “in God and in the immortality of the soul, he can pray and find great help in prayer, but once he has entered his office and begun working, this work itself is not even supposed to be ‘referred to’ the fundamental religious realities of Creation, Fall and Redemption, but is indeed ‘self-sufficient’ or autonomous.”

The practical effect of this is that the vast majority of Orthodox Christians go through their days without any awareness of the presence of God in their lives. And without such an awareness, they are incapable of gratitude to God. As a result, they never come to see their lives—with all the accompanying successes and failures, its joys and sorrows, its hopes and frustrations—as they really are: A gift from God given to them not only for their salvation but the salvation of the world.

This is why Schmemann says people come to Liturgy on Sunday (if they come at all since less 30% of us will be there on Sunday) merely to take a break from the daily grind of work and family life. Or maybe, they see Liturgy as the Christian equivalent of a secular “safe place,” a brief retreat from a hostile culture.

In either case, they have no sense that Liturgy (to say nothing of the other services and sacraments of the Church) is the means by which they don’t just offer their lives to God but receive their lives back from Him but not only renewed and transformed. As I mentioned in the January lecture, at the Divine Liturgy, we don’t simply offer our lives to God (“Lift up your hearts to the Lord”!) but at Holy Communion receive that life back transformed by Christ into a share of His life.

I am skeptical of Schmemann’s rosy view of the liturgical of the Church in the patristic era or in traditional Orthodox countries. I’m unconvinced not because I reject his analysis of secularism but because I agree with it.

Schmemann’s analysis of secularism is, I think, the fundamental problem we face as sinners in every age and in every culture. We are always tempted to put God in a box, to limit God’s role in our lives. Think here of the hymn from Matins on Forgiveness Sunday:

Woe to thee, O my wretched soul! Thou hast received authority from God to take thy pleasure in the joys of Eden, but He commanded thee to not eat the fruit of knowledge. Why then hast thou transgressed the law of God? (Ode I)

We fell precisely because we refused to accept with thanksgiving creation and our whole of our life as God’s gift to us.

Instead, and like Adam, we try to re-arrange things according to our own will and for our own purposes. And we do this whether we are Americans or Ukrainians, whether we live in the USA or Europe or any traditional Orthodox country.

Taken together, what does Schmemann’s analysis tell us about the liturgical life of the Church?

Important as it is to celebrate the service well (“Say the black, do the red”!), this isn’t enough. Again, liturgy isn’t magic. To celebrate the services well means to celebrate them with not only with faith and understanding but also with the expectation that through our worship of God we will not only be saved but transformed. This happens because in the Church’s worship we personally encounter Jesus Christ and receive His forgiveness.

And this isn’t simply something that happens to us. Through the liturgy God the transforms and saves the world. In liturgy the creation itself is brought into an ever-greater conformity.

This means not only the material world. The social world—the world of work and family life especially—are transformed in and through the Church’s worship. If all of human life and creation are not renewed, then none of it is renewed and we are not saved.

We are not saved without the renewal of all of creation because human beings are both a microcosm and a macrocosm. To be human means that we are both an image of all creation and that all creation is fulfilled in us.

So, again, what does this mean for the liturgical life of the Church?

We must invest the time and energy need to understand the Church’s worship and what it means to worship God as Orthodox Christians. This means not only that we need to study but pray. Too often priests limit our prayer lives to our celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments and services of the Church.

But if I only “pray” in Church, I can be sure of one thing. I don’t really pray at all. As a priest, I must daily, hourly, offer my life to God as a “sacrifice of praise.” Without this, I won’t have the grace needed to help my parishioners be themselves transformed by the Church’s worship.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory