Orthodoxy through another perspective
11-04-2010, 06:31 AM
Perhaps I am in a minority, but I certainly consider the average Orthodox Liturgy, and certainly the Coptic Liturgy, to be far too long when celebrated outside a monastery. It may be that few of the writers on the Forum have experienced the full ? by which I mean ?full? ? Coptic rite. Celebrated correctly (which it very rarely is in parishes), the Liturgy begins with the Raising of Evening Incense and the singing of the Hours and associated prayers, the previous night (which, commencing around 6.00 p.m., might conclude by midnight). This must be followed by the Raising of Morning Incense and the singing of the Hours in the morning, and then the Liturgy. Beginning at 7.30 a.m. it might be concluded around mid-day. There is, in the Coptic tradition, no basis for leaving out a single element.
Orthodox liturgies are essentially monastic rites, not parish rites (an important distinction made in relation to the daily offices by the eminent liturgical scholar, Baumstark, who noted an early division between ?Cathedral? and ?Monastic? forms).
It might be said that the laity need not bother to attend the full Liturgy (and, indeed, very few Orthodox laity do ? I have celebrated the Coptic Liturgy in a church with fifteen people present until immediately prior to the Gospel when suddenly another 500 appeared!). This raises the obvious question: if the parts they do not attend are not essential, why use them? Wouldn?t it be preferable to have a whole liturgy that the whole People of God attend?
I recently observed a celebration of the so-called Liturgy of St Gregory. This is, essentially, the Tridentine Mass slightly adapted and approved for use by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Antiochian Orthodox Church in their Western Rite parishes. It was a said (as opposed to sung) celebration and without a sermon. It involved basic vestments and ceremonial, and only a Priest assisted by a Deacon. It was simple, dignified and inspiring ? and lasted less than an hour. Had hymns and a sermon been added, and the liturgy been sung, it might have taken slightly less than two hours.
A shorter, simpler liturgy also addresses two other significant problems. First, if the liturgy takes, say, two or three hours, when do we have time for either education or community building, especially in a small church like ours when people may have to travel long distances to attend? Can we ask people to stay for another hour for an educational program, and yet another hour for, say, lunch and getting to know one another? Or doesn?t education in the Faith and the building of community matter?
Second, what might be thought of as ?full? liturgies require that the clergy are properly trained and fully competent in celebrating them. I think such liturgies need to be done properly or not done at all! Better a simple liturgy well celebrated than something grander which is not. The Coptic rite is, alas, horrendously complicated in its ceremonial requirements. I had the inestimable benefit of being trained in the rite by an extraordinarily knowledgeable and ultra-conservative senior Priest (and former Abbot). The painful months of training and the stressful ?examinations? gave me a deep appreciation of the rite, but no desire to use it on a regular basis. It also led me to feel great discomfort when I see the rite used incompetently ? rather like listening to Grand Opera being performed by amateur singers accompanied by the local school band.
The question of the length of the liturgy involves a further question which had been raised on the Forum recently which, if I might paraphrase it, is what is the relationship between our ?ordinary? lives and responsibilities, and our obligations to prayer and worship? There are, sadly, those who apparently believe that God requires them to spend endless hours in church even at the expense of their obligations to family, work and community.
This is, in part, I suspect a consequence of the myth perpetrated in some Orthodox communities that the monastic life is the ideal and that those who cannot follow that ?higher? path must imitate it as far as possible. The monastic path is neither higher nor lower, merely different. Those who are called to be parents, to care for families, to have vocations in the world are as much called as those drawn to the monastic life. And those who are called to a life in the world have the same obligations and responsibilities to service, commitment and education as monks and nuns. Abandoning family or marital responsibilities (allegedly) to worship God is not, I think, true worship. Any more than the employee who cannot worthily earn his wages because he is too tired from too many hours of church attendance.
I do not accept the distinction been ?ordinary? and ?spiritual? life. I am required to manifest my Orthodox Faith no less in my university teaching and my Tribunal hearings than in my formal or personal worship. Each is, in fact, ?liturgy?. Each must demonstrate the highest standards of commitment, dedication and energy. If I fail adequately to prepare for a lecture because I have been too busy at church or in prayer, I am betraying my students and, indeed, effectively stealing from my employer who pays me to teach.
We need to rediscover what might be called the asceticism of the life in the world rather than assuming that we could be ?really holy? if only we could spend all our days in prayer and liturgy.
It is entirely unreasonable to expect, let alone demand, that men and women who bear heavy responsibilities for their families, for earning a living, for sharing in the lives of their communities, must be able to set aside excessive hours each week to attend church. We should be inspiring them to live their Faith in their lives in the world, rather than implying that they are somehow spiritually inferior. We should be offering them Divine Worship that meets their needs.
Sadly, Fr Peter?s suggestion of a ?Liturgy of the Presanctified? ? by which I assume he really means a service with Holy Communion outside the celebration of the Divine Liturgy ? is seriously problematic in Orthodoxy. In the Coptic Orthodox tradition the reservation of the Sacrament has been strictly forbidden for centuries (although it clearly was common practice in early centuries). Without Reservation there cannot be Communion outside the Liturgy (other than, as is the case with the Copts, when the Sacrament is taken to the sick, for example, immediately following the Liturgy).
Even without adopting a different liturgy (such as that of St Gregory), we can simplify our celebrations and reduce the commitment in time. The Liturgy does not need to be sung on every occasion, we do not need to use the fullest vestments at every celebration, we do not need a full complement of assisting ministers every time. Consider a simple said celebration of the Liturgy of St James with minimal vestments, and a Priest assisted only by a single Deacon!
No doubt these comments will provoke ? at the very least ? discussion!
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 - Fr Gregory - 11-04-2010 06:31 AM