Posts Tagged 'AGAIN magazine'

Alternate universes

I agree with every word of this article. On the other hand, it is so divorced from the reality I experience as a church musician that it may as well be Un Chien Andalou. Even in the comments thread, where it is suggested that $75,000/year is not a realistic number for some parishes and $5,000 might be closer to what would be doable, I have to shake my head and say, “That’s just not the world in which I live.”

I had an e-mail correspondence a few weeks ago with somebody who is very active in the world of Orthodox sacred music. He was responding to my article on choir schools, and while he thought that I had said all the right things to the extent of stating what should be obvious, and there’s no harm in trying to start a conversation, the blunt reality is that apathy and inertia have dominated musical practice in American parishes, and that we’re so far away from what the historical models look like that it’s probably not going to be terribly productive to talk about how things “should” or even “could” be:

Even those examples that you cite in your article are few and far between, no doubt the result of one extraordinary individual’s vision and focused effort. The reality must be “met,” so to speak, on its own, current level. Most parishes don’t even understand the need to hire well-qualified, educated professionals to lead the singing at worship (as they do, for example, in hiring a plumber or an electrician), so most of our churches are filled with well-meaning, dedicated church singers who don’t even know what it is they don’t know. How does one begin to address that?

That’s a great question, that is. How does one begin to address that? I’ve mused about some of this before, but how does one develop a vision in such a way that it can be articulated to others and have them understand, when we’re talking about an overall state of reality in which as soon as you say the words “professionally trained and paid cantor/choir director” (and notice that the correspondent here can’t even bring himself to use the words “choir director”, presumably because even that is to assume something that isn’t the reality at many parishes) you’re likely to encounter blank stares, if not outright hostility?

At least when it’s a blank stare, often it is informed by the plain reality that, minus a state-funded church, we have the level of Orthodox practice and expression for which we’re willing to pay. Traditional Christianity in its various expressions isn’t exactly populated by people who are rolling in dough, folks, at least not in this country; in the publication world, AGAIN has found this out the hard way, and Touchstone appears to be in the process of facing this reality. My own stipend as cantor and choir director is undeniably tiny, far less than what section leaders and soloists get at the Protestant churches up the street when they’re singing significantly less than I do on a weekly basis, but it’s still a burden for the parish. I’ve told the priest and the parish council chair any number of times that it is not about the money for me, not by any means, but I do think it’s important that the community understand that there is a value attached to what somebody like me does. We wouldn’t expect to get icons, architecture, vestments, or incense for free, but there is a mindset out there that assumes musicians are going to understand that providing for their services is something that just cannot be a priority right now, which usually means “not ever.” (Which is roughly where we’re at with being able to improve the acoustics in our nave, unfortunately.)

At the other end of the spectrum from the blank stare is the outright hostility. These are the people who would tell you that we don’t need “professionals” at our church, thank you very much, who also conveniently never come to rehearsal or are willing to put any time into learning to read music, who say that it’s far more important for the Liturgy to be prayerful than well-sung (a false dichotomy which I have always found bizarre and self-serving), and they’d rather have the whole congregation singing together in a different key per worshipper than have the Liturgy sung by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Among other issues, this is somebody who doesn’t understand that there is precious little difference between those two scenarios.


This is perhaps one area (of several) where the criticism that America is, at its core, “culturally Protestant” manifests itself unmistakeably. As I’ve said before, we would never tell an iconographer or an architect or a vestment maker that they’re too good at what they do to be able to do it in its fullness in the service of the Church, but many people seem very comfortable telling musicians exactly this (and that’s hardly limited to Orthodox Christianity, in all fairness — it seems to be an American thing in general). We pay lip service to “receiving the tradition,” but we can’t resist putting our own populist, Main Street Baptist Church spin on it, cutting ourselves off from a lot of the good things that we would be exposed to if we just received the tradition without tweaking it. Unfortunately, an approach of “say the black, do the red” is itself treated as a personal preference that isn’t any better than any other personal preference. I’m familiar with a mission parish that made the decision in its early days that congregational singing of everything was going to be one of its foundational principles; the way they accomplished this was simply to never sing any of the proper hymnody except for certain troparia for major feasts that everybody already knew anyway. If “the people” didn’t know it, they didn’t sing it, period, and it didn’t matter what the book said. I have also heard very earnest people refer to Orthodox Christianity in the United States as “an experiment by necessity,” and speaking as somebody who wanted very much to get away from ecclesiastical experiments, such statements trouble me greatly.

On the other hand, in all fairness, it’s not like the Orthodox musical tradition, regardless of national expression, is readily available to learn from a living source in the United States if you’re living deep in the heart of Middle America. For me to learn Byzantine chant from somebody who knows what they’re doing, for example, I either have to drive five hours to Nashville or fly somebody in from the East Coast or the West Coast. (Or, as it worked out, go to Greece for two months.) It’s unrealistic to expect that people are going to have the opportunities to do those things given what seem to be the economic and demographic realities of many parishes. The various jurisdictions have their weekend workshops and whatnot, but they can still be hard to get to, and my own experience of such things is that they tend to be rather idiosyncratic in their presentation of the material. The various seminaries have courses they teach on liturgical music, but again, what I’ve heard about the content is mixed at best. There need to be teachers here who know what they’re doing, but in order for those teachers to be accessible, they themselves have to learn from somebody, and in order for them to learn, there need to be teachers… you see the problem? From a perspective of scarce resources, getting it “good enough” from materials you can find online and having simple music that doesn’t require much more than a willing congregation seems rather practical. (Of course, even simple four-part music takes, well, four parts, not to mention some rehearsal, but never mind that now.) If it isn’t exactly the glory of Byzantine liturgical practice in all of its fullness, well, Orthodox Christianity in the United States is an experiment, remember?

A $75,000 salary for the choir director/cantor of a medium-to-large parish? Must be nice. So far as I know, most priests aren’t being paid that (although I’d love to be wrong). At the present moment, I can’t conceive of Orthodox Christianity in the United States being at a point where even half of this number would be something other than the punchline to a bad joke.


Unanticipated interest

I’m taking most of this week off. Megan’s grandmother on her father’s side passed away last Thursday — memory eternal, Frances — and while we’re not traveling for her funeral, it was evident that it would be beneficial for me to spend a few days at home. Plus, I have some vacation time I need to use or lose, and our friend Benjamin Czarnota has been here for a visit.

The other positive, if not exactly enjoyable, thing has been using the time to make use of my insurance benefits while I still have them. So, Monday, I got an eye exam — dilation makes me intensely irritable, by the way, because I can’t bloody read, but the upshot is that my prescription hasn’t changed — Tuesday I got a dental checkup and cleaning, and then, this morning, as a result of yesterday’s dental checkup, I got a root canal. For a variety of reasons, this was not entirely unexpected — let me simply say that delaying having one’s wisdom teeth removed by five years can have far-reaching consequences, and I do not recommend it as a course of action.

I am hopeful that tomorrow might not randomly involve invasive surgery.

Anyway, something very unexpectedly cool that happened today is that, after four years of talking about the whole choir schools thing and having people not get it and/or otherwise ignore me, the publication of the piece in AGAIN has generated interest from a rather unanticipated source. I got a phone call from the church today saying that such-and-such person from such-and-such entity had read my article, really liked it, and wanted to do an interview about the ideas I was discussing. I called this person back, we had a lovely chat, and it looks like this is going to happen in a couple of weeks.

Now, similar interest in a different piece has come from a different-but-similar source before, but this is different in that what’s been asked for is an interview rather than a reading, and the entity in question is taking responsibility for the recording and editing themselves. (Since I didn’t say anything else about that recording, I’ll say now that after posting the file to the FTP site specified, I never heard from the people in question again. I’m reasonably certain that what happened is that probably the quality I was able to achieve at home wasn’t up to snuff, which is not anything I take personally, but this particular institution not having the wherewithal to make its own recording arrangements is something that’s going to rather severely limit its potential contributors. Oh well). Anyway, I’m still not going to go into too many details until it’s a done deal and I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, but it’s still a rather exciting development, and we’ll see if it’s actually meant to be.

AGAIN, again, and again

The latest issue of AGAIN was in my mailbox when I stumbled up my steps at 2:00 Tuesday morning. Fr. Michael Gillis was once again kind enough to include a couple of pieces from me, both an edited-down version of my review of Cappella Romana’s recording of Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ, as well as my choir schools essay, somewhat revised and updated. Plus, the letter to the editor regarding the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion was run, as well as a slightly edited version of my response.

This has been a nice, fruitful run of luck, and while I don’t have anything further for Fr. Michael to try to make readable at the moment, perhaps I will after my trip to Greece. At any rate, I very much appreciate his being willing to work with a writer like me. It has been a blessing, and perhaps his willingness to run my trifles will open some doors down the road — time will tell.

AGAIN, again — postcript

My Divine Liturgy in English review generated a letter to the AGAIN editor over a not-unexpected issue — that of the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion. Here are the highlights:

I’m uneasy with regards to the language [Cappella Romana] would institute. Changing the music is one thing; changing the language it’s written in is another thing entirely.

It’s important we don’t discard and/or replace the words that stir mind and soul, just to smooth some inconvenient bumps that have come about with the coupling of the Byzantine chants to English. If the truth be told, there’s a strong benefit inherent in the older English words. Simply because it takes an act of self will to use them, just like enter our church buildings leaving the physical world for the spiritual. The uncommon older words in our worship allow for the erecting of a similar barrier for the mind allowing separation from the offal baggage of our degenerate common day to day language. It’s a mistake to replace the word mighty with the word strong; to do so is to lose the Divine Authority inspired by the first in exchange for the wrongly elevated physical insinuation of the second.

Whatever the history regarding these two words, as well [as] the translations that have brought us to this point, the fact is the word strong is no longer capable of instilling the divine contemplation needed to lift the mind from the physical to reflect on the mystery of the spiritual. Our modern English speaking society throughout the world has mitigated this awe inspiring word by making an idol of strength.

Mighty, another word that carries much the same thoughts as the word strong once did, is currently used in the Liturgy. It has been for the most part spared the jaded attention of our society. Retaining its potency it bears well its burden, conveying the authority, the astonishment, the respect required of us. It commands us to humility, and as much as our puny minds can attempt, to contemplate and reverence the trenchant* power of our triune God.

If people don’t understand the meaning of such words, we should follow the example of our early church fathers that developed though God given inspiration the Divine Liturgy and a system of enlightening the ignorant, and educate them.

So when we think of our risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, do we want to glimpse him in the Divine Authority of his Majesty, or as…a glorified strongman?

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal; have mercy on us.

Phillip, your brother in Christ

* Keen, Sharp, vigorous, intensely perceptive, Penetrating, clear-cut, Distinct

My response:

Dear Phillip,

Thank you for your reflections on the translation of the Trisagion as sung by Cappella Romana. I am agreed wholeheartedly that it is a mistake to replace or discard words capriciously. What might help clarify things for you is that Cappella Romana followed the official translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira; that is to say, Dr. Lingas and co. did not write their own translation or change words as they saw fit. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, neither an amateur nor a shrinking violet when it comes to the matter of rendering biblical or liturgical  texts into English, was the chief architect of the Thyateira translation, and he has a detailed essay regarding the proper translation of the Trisagion, found here:

In any event, the two most salient points might be:

  1. The Greek word “ischyros” is translated as “strong” virtually every other place it is used, and in other liturgical languages (such as Slavonic) the equivalent of “strong” is employed rather than “mighty”; “krataios” is the word which better corresponds to “mighty,” as in “Pantokrator” – “All-Mighty” being how that is often rendered in English.
  2. Translating “ischyros” as “mighty” in the translation of the Trisagion, ironically enough, appears to date back to the 1772 translation of Dr. John King, a Protestant. The earliest known English translation, that of Dr. John Covel in 1722, uses “strong.”

I hope this helps!

In Christ,

Richard Barrett

No denying it’s a sensitive matter; this is a tricky instance where a translation of a prayer, regardless of its relative merits, has taken on a life of its own beyond that of its source. The 20th century certainly demonstrated that you mess with the language in which people pray at your own risk. On the other hand, Phillip makes the excellent point that in such cases an effort should be made to educate the people, and I think Fr. Ephrem’s essay does that quite well. The other side of that bargain is just that the people need to be willing to not refuse the instruction out of hand.

For my own part, I’ll note that I don’t consider myself my own authority on Greek, particularly not where these kinds of issues are concerned. I’ve been there for Fr. Ephrem Lash sight-translating a Gospel reading from Greek during a Liturgy without realizing he wasn’t reading from an English version until I was told later, so if he says “Holy Strong” is what the prayer actually says and means, I don’t think I have too much of a basis to disagree with him.

AGAIN, again

In case you’re interested, the current issue of AGAIN just came out (Winter 2009), and my article “Prepare for Joy: An Orthodox Christian Look at Being Engaged” is included amongst its pages. Alas, the Conciliar Press website continues to show Summer 2008 as the latest issue, so I have nothing to which I might link, but what I at least think I can do is post the draft I initially submitted. It was changed enough in the editorial process that I think I can do that without it being a problem for anybody, and if you have the issue sitting in front of you, you might get a peek behind the curtain of how it works – things which are suggested, changes that are made, additions which are inserted, bits taken out, and so on.

I hope it’s of interest; it’s something I haven’t seen discussed very much, and to be frank, many of the premarital materials the various jurisdictions publish are awful. Not that this is intended to be a definitive resource, but hopefully it at least can get a conversation started.

Matthew, my godson, was at my house one evening, lamenting some issues he and Erin, his significant other of two years, along with whom he had just been baptized into the Orthodox Christian faith, were having. The two of them had started talking about marriage within a few months of beginning their relationship, and Matthew, by this point, had bought the engagement ring a year previous — but the step of actually getting engaged had not yet been taken.

“We’re reaching the point where it feels awkward to be still introducing each other as ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend,'” he sighed to me as my wife Megan and I were doing dishes.

I had wondered when they would start feeling this way. I simply looked at him and said, “Yes.”

“Which, I suppose, means I need to get my act in gear and propose sometime soon.”

“Yes,” I said, having thought exactly this for months.

Matthew’s face brightened a bit. “I suppose I could do it tonight…”


“In fact,” he said, now beaming with the possibilities, “I could do it right now!”


Off he went, taking two of our crystal champagne flutes on his way out. An hour and a half later, we were admiring the ring now in its proper place on Erin’s hand and toasting them; they’re set to be crowned unto each other late summer of 2009.

So — now what? Okay, have a fun year, guys. Enjoy the planning and anticipation, but don’t enjoy the anticipation too much, if you know what I mean. Other than that — see you at the service.

Surely there’s more that we can tell Matthew and Erin than that??? Megan and I discovered for ourselves when we were engaged that there’s definitely a lot of advice out there of varying quality — but what does Orthodox Christianity have to tell a newly-baptized and newly-engaged young couple which will be substantively different from what they would find in a secular self-help book, and which will be uniquely Orthodox?

The trouble is that engagement itself doesn’t fit neatly into a particular category from an Orthodox Christian standpoint. Yes, it is true that the betrothal service used to be the Church’s formal acknowledgment of an engagement and was served well in advance of the order of crowning itself. Still, Fr. John Meyendorff’s Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975) emphasizes that engagement as it is known today cannot be understood as the same as betrothal; betrothal “is the marriage contract as the Church understands it [for it] involves not only the bridal pair, but God Himself” (Meyendorff, 33, emphasis mine). Meyendorff notes that that in Byzantine society, a betrothal could only be broken by divorce — thus, “lacking only the ultimate sacramental fulfilment”, the betrothal service came to be celebrated with the crowning, rather than in advance.

So what can we say about this modern in-between state of engagement, clearly more than dating or courtship but still less than betrothal, that will be useful and practical for those moving through this particular harbor?

Fr. Peter A. Chamberas’ excellent book, This Is A Great Mystery: Christian Marriage in the Orthodox Church (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Metropolis of Boston, 2003) encourages engagement to be treated as a time for “substantive preparation” so that the couple not “miss altogether the awesome day of their visitation by the grace of God” (Chamberas, 8). By the time the wedding itself comes about, he writes, the couple’s “heart and mind must already be transformed and committed to the real nature and ultimate purpose of Christian Marriage, seeking fullness of life and salvation in God.” In other words, the primary purpose of engagement, as neither-here-nor-there as it may seem from a sacramental standpoint, is to prepare the man and woman for one of the ways through which they will be working out their salvation with fear and trembling. That’s a lot more than just picking out flowers and a cake, isn’t it?

Fine — but what does that mean, exactly?

The text of the betrothal and crowning services provides helpful illumination on this point; they are, as Fr. Chamberas eloquently describes, “the primary and most appropriate educational resource for informing and preparing the spouses for their married life as active members of the Church” (ibid., 22). Fr. Meyendorff agrees, exhorting “all couples intending to get married [to] make a point of reading the entire service carefully in advance…for the sake of conscious and prayerful participation” (Meyendorff, 35-6).

With that in mind, there are several observations about engagement one can make from the liturgical texts. In the services themselves, the couple takes no vows, but they are instead merely asked by the priest, “Have you a good, free, and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take unto yourself [as a spouse] this [person] whom you see here before you?” Fr. Chamberas writes, “This mutual, free and sincere agreement for Marriage is…an absolute necessary presupposition for the Sacrament to be performed” (Chamberas, 50), and Fr. Meyendorff sees it as a “useful way of emphasizing their personal commitment and active participation” (Meyendorff, 35). Thus, we might understand engagement as a period of discernment during which the couple prepares to be asked that very question, so that, to quote Fr. Chamberas again, they may offer “their sincere pledge of love and faithfulness…like the bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy, to be blessed and transformed” (Chamberas, 50). There are tools which the Church offers in aid of this process; the place for the couple to start is to begin premarital counseling with the priest who will marry them. These sessions will be, among other things, a source of specific advice regarding how to develop good spiritual habits from the outset, such as praying together, for example.

Given that marriage is a Mystery of the Church, however, this mystical transformation impacts not only the man and the woman being married but the entire community, just as the bread and wine must be distributed to the community of the faithful after being consecrated. This is reflected in the fact that the betrothal service begins with a Great Litany, a liturgical exchange in which the priest asks the assembly for prayers for the couple, and the people (the laos in the Greek Euchologion), the members of the community, affirm these petitions. This suggests that the period of engagement is not just a period of preparation and discernment between the man and woman, but also between the two of them and the community of the Church who will be asked to bless their union. “It is to the Church that the couple has come to be married,” observes Fr. Chamberas, “[and] it is the whole Church that prays [for them]… [T]he engaged couple…are making a mutual pledge before God and the congregation, not only to share their life but also to graft it upon the Tree of Life in the Church” (Chamberas, 51). Fr. John McGuckin, in his book The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture (Blackwell Publishing, 2008), paints the vivid picture of “their mutual love and joy [functioning] to others (as well as themselves) as a living icon of the burning love Christ has for his church” (McGuckin, 311). In the absence of a liturgical means by which the engagement can be recognized, a simple, practical way that the man and woman to be married might begin to engage their community in this way is to ask to be added to the list of those prayed for at the altar. This way, the entire congregation is praying for them week in, week out during the course of their engagement.

Much more can be said about the betrothal service, but I will conclude with the final observation that all of the petitions made on behalf of the man and woman suggest very strongly that the Church believes that they need them. In other words, the engagement may also be seen as preparation for the inevitable tough times to come and learning to work through them. If you think planning the reception seating chart was tough, just wait.

Which brings us to the crowning service. The very use of crowns and related imagery suggest martyrdom; not in the sense of suffering being an unavoidable element of the Christian marriage, but in the sense that within the marriage, as in every other element of the Christian life, the victory in Christ — that for which the martyr’s crown is bestowed — is achieved through humility and death to oneself in seeking to serve Christ in the other person. This is made explicit in the epistle reading — “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Fr. McGuckin points out that what St. Paul is exhorting the husband and wife to do in this oft-misunderstood passage is “to outdo one another in putting their own self at the service of the other” (McGuckin, 311). From this standpoint, the engaged couple needs to prepare themselves to be able to accept the crown with all that it entails. Fr. Chamberas again: “[T]heir crowns must remind them always, not of a mere symbolical ritual, but the very condition which makes their Marriage a Christian Marriage. By being crowned in the name of the Holy Trinity…the couple are challenged to see that real glory and honor are to be found in their joyful self-offering and service to each other” (Chamberas, 75).

A final observation is that the crowning service, in the final prayer before the actual bestowing of crowns, provides the engaged couple with a very clear outline of what is normative in the Christian marriage: “Unite them, O Lord, to have oneness of mind. Crown them in marriage to be one flesh. Grant them the fruit of their bodies and procreation of blessed children. Grant also, O Lord, that their life together may be blameless and without reproach.”

This, ultimately, is what the engaged couple needs to be working towards — oneness of mind. One flesh. Yes, children, if God wills. A life blameless and without reproach. It’s not necessarily a life of material wealth and happiness and unconcerned bliss — but the fruit of the time spent preparing in the frustratingly neither-here-nor-there state that is engagement is, as Fr. Chamberas puts it, “a real expression of their entrance into the Kingdom of God… the beginning of their own familiar kingdom, which is destined to be a small reflection of the true Kingdom” (Chamberas, 75).

What the engaged man and woman must remember is that the Christian life may not always promise happiness — but “the key issue…is the presence of joy,” Fr. McGuckin writes. “And joy is wholly a spiritual phenomenon that cannot be counterfeited” (McGuckin, 317). Christian marriage is not the exercise of two people merely pursuing in parallel individual ease or the ephemera of “being happy,” in other words; such things may happen, but they are to be in the service of mutual joy, which is sacrificial, selfless, and seeking Christ.

So, to Matt, Erin, and all other engaged couples who may be reading this: prepare for saying yes. Prepare your church community and your family to say “Amen.” Prepare for martyrdom. Prepare to be one, to be blameless, to be parents. Prepare to fail at most or all of this at least some of the time (and thus prepare, maybe, to go to confession a little more frequently).

But nonetheless, above all — prepare for joy.

tmatt on what converts want

I’d like to call your attention to an essay by Terry Mattingly which also appears in the current issue of AGAIN, entitled “What Do The Converts Want?” The Conciliar Press website, you will notice, still contains no reference to the new issue, but happily the piece has been posted online before — look for it here. It is very much worth reading, and I don’t wish to repost it here. That said, there are a few points I wish to engage — not disagree with, exactly, but which I think are worth further discussion, particularly in light of Fr. John Peck’s article and the spirited discussion surrounding it.

For example:

If you attend the Sunday night service at a typical Baptist church and look around at the 40 people there in comparison to the 200 or 300 in attendance on Sunday morning, you will find that about 80 percent of the church’s giving is accounted for in that group.

[…] The Sunday night experience in a Baptist church is very similar to that in Saturday evening Vespers services in an Orthodox church. As Bishop Antoun told me once, if you look at who attends Great Vespers and comes to confession, you are looking at about 80 percent of the service, the giving, and the energy in most parishes.

Who comes to Vespers? Who comes to confession? Who comes to the feasts, and why do they come?

I understand what Prof. Mattingly is getting at, but All Saints is the counterexample. The people who come to Vespers (both on Saturday night and during the week) represent a chunk of the service and the energy, to be sure, but on the whole, a very small portion of the giving. For the most part, the Vespers crowd, as well as the non-Sunday festal crowd, is made up of people who are some combination of college students, young married couples (some with kids, some without), and inquirers — all of that is to say, people who are on the whole very much willing to serve and are excited to do so, but who aren’t in a position to be substantial donors. There is, in fact, a very small number of parishioners who are long-term-to-permanent residents who come when it isn’t Sunday. Some of that is simple geography; we are the only Orthodox church for at least an hour in any direction (more like four depending on the direction), and we have a number of people who have at least a half hour drive to get to church. These are not folks who are going to make it more than once a week, at least not terribly often. In addition, a plurality of our parishioners are working-class people who work irregular hours; nurses, maintenance workers, restaurant managers, and so on. These are not people who are always going to be able to make it on Sunday, let alone Saturday or Wednesday or any other day. Finally, we’re in unincorporated Monroe county, not in the municipality of Bloomington, meaning we’re at a very inconvenient distance from the city center, and bus service does not come within two miles of us. This makes us hard to get to for a lot of the college students; if you want to come to Vespers but don’t have a ride, you’re out of luck. Again, the realities of what this particular college town are like make the situation at All Saints a significant variance from the model described here. We’ve talked any number of times about how best to solve this problem, but short of petitioning the city to redraw the boundaries so that we get bus service, operating a private bus ourselves, moving the church into city limits, planting new missions, or telling everybody to move closer, all of which carry some kind of a dealbreaker (invariably having to do with money), there’s just not a great solution.

That said —

I believe that most of these converts are coming out of that core 20 percent of their former churches. They are active, highly motivated people. They read, they think, they sing, and they serve.

Yes, indeed. Let me just offer a caveat, however:

That’s the approach of the converts. They are not looking for “Orthodoxy Lite.” They want more.

This is the approach of some converts, yes. Don’t, however, discount the converts who may have converted for basic theological, ecclesiological, or historical reasons who, a few years later, have to admit that they still find the Byzantine rite foreign and strange, or still are having trouble with some of the Marian doctrines or not ordaining women or this or that. These are converts who probably can be fairly described as wanting “Orthodoxy Lite,” because the “more” is ultimately more than they can take. These are generally not people who actively want to be “Eastern Rite Protestants,” but they might have thought that it would be okay, at least at first, if that’s what they were, and they’ve just never quite grown beyond it.

The American converts are not looking for some kind of post-Vatican II, carved-down liturgical experience. They have that all around them. They are not trying to cut the service down another 15 to 20 minutes so that more young people will hang around — as if that would work. […] You see, the people who want to worship, want to worship.

Again, I have to hold up All Saints as the counterexample. Because of the various factors mentioned earlier, our parishioners tend to be very sensitive to the clock. My standing instructions as the cantor for Matins: no matter where you are or how much you have left, at 10am, call it good and start the Great Doxology. Matins just happens to be the service where length is going to be most variable, depending on the length of the Gospel reading or how many stichera we have at Lauds or which canon we’re singing and so on — but I’m told, “If Matins runs to 10:02, we get asked, ‘Does Liturgy start at 10:00 or 10:05?'” Another piece of the puzzle here is that because Sunday is the only day when attendance can be counted on, the time following Liturgy is highly prized by the various ministries — including my own, the choir — and a Liturgy ending at 11:30 rather than 11:20 means that’s either 10 minutes less a particular group will have or 10 minutes later they’ll have to stay. For people who may have to work at 2pm (which used to be the case for me when I first got here), that makes a big difference. Keeping services on the shorter end is the practical reality for this community for right now, for better or for worse.

Many Orthodox churches are having trouble retaining their young people, so they are seeking ways to stop the bleeding. But there’s the rub. If you are not creating new faith, you will not retain the children of those who had the faith in the first place.

Here’s where All Saints is a happier counterexample. We’ve got a lot of kids up through high school and a lot of college students.

I remember something that happened when my family was part of an ethnic parish that had installed pews in the sanctuary. During Great Lent, the number of people who came to church on Wednesday nights — for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts — was small, so we could stand in the front of the church. Freed from the pews, all sorts of Orthodox things started happening again. Prostrations returned. People were bowing, people were worshiping with their whole bodies. It was a very moving experience.

I am fully in agreement with Prof. Mattingly on this point; the first several Orthodox churches I visited had no pews, and the experience was something very different from what I was used to as a Protestant. I’m always overjoyed and heartened to walk into a church and not see chairs or pews littering the floor. How can you even do a metania without bonking your head on the pew in front of you? How do you do prostrations during Lent? How do you even successfully have everybody gather around the priest during the Great Entrance, touching his vestments as he goes by with the Gifts?

The trouble with this particular example, however, is that he connects, intentionally or not, the issue of pews with “ethnic parishes.” It is true that a number of ethnic parishes, particularly Greek and Arab parishes, have pews, and they ain’t goin’ nowhere. Here in the Midwest, however, I’ve seen nice, neat rows of seating being the rule more often than not, even in the parishes where there are mostly converts, and it’s just not up for discussion whether or not they belong there, whether or not they’re actually a part of our tradition, etc. “This is America and Americans expect comfortable seating,” is what even the convert clergy say, some acknowledging in private that yes, it’s a concession, but it would otherwise be a losing battle and that those who prefer an open floor need to forget it. I’m familiar with one case where the priest one day said to his parish, “We’re going to take out the pews. Now. You will get used to it.” They did, and they got used to it — but as another priest pointed out, “He’s a monkpriest. He can do that.”

Americans who visit an Orthodox church will judge the vitality of that congregation based on how many people sing and take part in their worship. That is really unfair to many Orthodox who were raised to stand in quiet holiness, but it’s the truth.

Americans will want to take part in the service. If they have mustered up the courage to walk through the door of an Orthodox church in the first place, they’re not going to want to just sit or stand once they’re in there. They will feel left out, if there is no way for them to sing, if there is no way for them to take part in the service. The church will have just sent them back out the door. Let me repeat: Americans will judge the spiritual vitality of an Orthodox parish on whether or not the congregation is reverently and enthusiastically singing, praying, and participating in worship.

This is a point which is frequently asserted by all kinds of people. “Participation” seems to be defined as “everybody sings everything.” I really struggle with this.

Reality: there are so many moving parts in a Divine Liturgy, let alone most other services, that there is no way to keep everything you might sing in a compact little hymnal which lives in the pew in front of you. Even us cantors and choir directors don’t have everything readily available at any given moment. The refrain of the Second Antiphon, the various troparia and kontakia, the entrance hymn, the possible replacements of the Trisagion, the communion hymns which change throughout the year — it is just not reasonable for everybody to be able to sing everything. Even if you could have everything in a wieldy hymnal, at my parish, for example, just about everybody who could read the notes is in the choir anyway.

I’m familiar with one parish that solved this problem by saying, “Okay, then we don’t change any of the moving parts. We just sing the Liturgy congregationally with the parts we know, week in, week out, regardless of what’s actually appointed for the day.” That’s an extremely comprehensive solution (to say nothing of extremely, well, extreme), but it’s a very real problem, because our various liturgical texts are our theology.

Can we do a better job of coming up with congregational service books which actually correspond, at least by and large, to what a parish actually does? Yes, absolutely, and in this age of Microsoft Word, Sibelius, and cheap laser printers, there’s no reason we shouldn’t — it just takes time and a little know-how. I came up with congregational service books for the Divine Liturgy of St. James which contained every note sung and every word said (at least that wasn’t marked as one of the priest’s private prayers). However, only the readings, and the portions of the service connected to the readings (the prokeimenon and Alleluia), change in a St. James Liturgy, so it’s a lot more feasible. I can also tell you that while the visitors may have been following along with the books, I’m not sure the parishioners were (given instances such as a part clearly being marked as the deacon’s in the service book, and the entire congregation coming in for it because it’s something they’re used to saying on a Sunday Liturgy).

Participation is not necessarily singing along — it might very well be, but there is also the possibility that it might not be. Liturgical singing is a craft, one that has historically been very much valued as such, even as early as the fourth century, when the Council of Laodicea outright forbade singing in church except by those formally appointed to do so. I’m not advocating that by any means, don’t get me wrong, but I guess what I am saying is that we need to be clear on what we mean by “congregational singing” and “participation.” Do we mean “everybody sings everything”? Do we mean people sing the responses at various appropriate points? These are things we have to figure out. We also have to avoid the false dichotomy of “worship” and “performance.” “I’d rather hear the Liturgy sung badly and prayerfully than by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus,” somebody once told me. I’d never want to hear a Divine Liturgy sung by that particular ensemble, I guarantee you, but that doesn’t mean we should hold up some kind of aesthetic minimalism as a good thing. We don’t put up ugly icons, we don’t use bad-smelling incense, and by the same token it shouldn’t be acceptable that liturgical singing be an area where mediocrity is not only okay, it’s preferred, just because it means people are “participating.” To (almost) end this with an extreme example, if my participation is causing the person standing next to me to cover their ears, then I’m not worshipping — I’m calling attention to myself. By the same token, if my participation is causing people to gush and applaud, that’s equally problematic, because it is once again calling attention to itself rather than to the actual intended focus of the worship.

I recognize this is a topic where emotions tend to run hot and everybody’s opinion is strong. As a musician, somebody who has had years of training to do what I do, this is how I see it (which, some might argue, is exactly why we shouldn’t listen to musicians, because they think they know better than everybody else want to keep everything for themselves). My final thought here is that I’m not convinced that we Americans do “reverently and enthusiastically” well, at the very least not at the same time.

As threatening as it sounds, our goal — if there is to be a united Orthodoxy — is to be united in worship and sacramental practice. This unity will blend gifts from across our great ethnic traditions. However, it will be a vital, growing Orthodoxy that at the congregational level can welcome Americans with open arms. It will make them feel strange, but it will be a place they can become a part of and even help change over time. This Orthodoxy will assimilate on the level of culture and language, but it will not assimilate to America at the level of practice, sacrament, and doctrine. It will not compromise on the essentials. It will not compromise on what unites Orthodoxy around the world and through the millennia. It will create a worthy expression of Orthodoxy that will, over time, be unique to this culture.

Once again, I understand what Prof. Mattingly means (I think), but I very much struggle with how he puts it. When he says, “It will not compromise on the essentials,” what are the non-essentials on which he believes we will compromise? What does he mean that American unity “will blend gifts from across our great ethnic traditions”? Does he mean that churches might give out palms and pussy willows on Palm Sunday? Well, okay. Does he mean this liturgically, that we’ll pick and choose from various typika to create some kind of “blended” American typikon? If so, is that really a good idea? I keep coming back to the Greek parish in Krefeld, Germany that I visited last summer — the Liturgy was “of a piece.” It was a unified, centuries old knowledge of Tradition which guided how they celebrated the Liturgy, rather than a hodge-podge of this bit from the Russians and that bit from the Arabs and this other bit from the Greeks, and if you’ve got any special requests please see our liturgical committee. And yes, the Greeks were pretty much standing there in holy silence, and it was no less glorious than if they had all been singing along. Yes, Prof. Mattingly, meaning absolutely no disrespect, but what you say is quite unfair to those who have been raised to be that way. Their way is absolutely no less legitimate than our American tendency to want to have a hand in everything lest we feel excluded, take our ball and go home.

The reality is, all of these bits from various national traditions which developed with particular variations did so for a reason. The way the Russians do, say, the Beatitudes, isn’t meant to follow a Byzantine setting of the Entrance Hymn.

It seems to me that if we’re serious about wanting to be unified in worship and sacramental practice, the first step is to come up with a definitive English language version of the Liturgy and the Offices. I find it to be a terribly distracting problem that I can’t even visit another Antiochian parish, to say nothing of an OCA or GOArch parish, and count on being able to say the Creed with them without needing a cheat sheet. Once we have that, then perhaps we can put our minds to re-setting the hymns using these texts. Then we let a few generations just receive the Tradition and — as I have suggested before — let it change us for awhile before we start trying to change it.

The worship in these churches will be in English, and the people — all the people — will be singing.

Here is this point again. Again, I don’t know that I can completely go there without defining terms more particularly.

Some of these churches will have tight budgets, but they will be tight because they are struggling to cope with growth, not decline.

Amin, amin, lego imin. Here All Saints is the example, not the counterexample. “Strugging to cope with growth” is it exactly.

Yet, at the high point of that service, as a small choir entered the sanctuary singing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,” the members of the congregation stood in silence — watching.

My friend saw this and, trust me, this was not what he was looking for. He wanted Orthodoxy, for himself and for his family. He wanted more, not less. He still does.

I have suggested before that, granted that it is the parish’s joyful responsibility to welcome the stranger, people who are new arrivals to a parish, particularly inquirers, might be well-served by a little humility and try to accept the parish for who they are, rather than judging them against what the inquirer might like them to be. When I first came to All Saints as a young inquirer, having spent a wonderful group of Sundays with a particular Seattle-area parish, I had a checklist of what I thought it should be like based on that other parish. Guess what? All Saints failed on virtually every count, and I wanted absolutely nothing more than to never darken their door again. Guess what? That checklist had a lot more to do with me and my not-inconsiderable baggage than anything All Saints was doing wrong. Each parish has its own ethos, its own set of strengths, and we’re going to be wasting our time — particularly as inquirers — if we take the attitude that somehow we’re getting “less” Orthodoxy because our laundry list isn’t getting ticked off the way we’d like it to be.

While I very much agree with the overall point and tone of Prof. Mattingly’s piece, I feel like I have to bring up the fact that we need not count our American pride as a Christian essential, much less an Orthodox Christian essential. We will ultimately be frustrated if we do so, and we will get, in fact, less Orthodoxy, not more. We’ve also got to be careful that we don’t overgeneralize the experience of the local parish (and Prof. Mattingly’s is an extraordinary and unusual one), or our own individual experience, and call that “what American Orthodoxy will be.” I would count myself among those whom he describes as wanting “more Orthodoxy, not less,” but I’ve seen a wide enough variety of converts and inquirers to know that this isn’t precisely the case with everybody, and certainly not to the same extent. Surely there are those who might see me as being at the “lukewarm” end of the spectrum, for various reasons. (I, of course, see myself as being perfectly in the middle, but I at least am aware that I am deluding myself in thinking that.)

Prof. Mattingly gets a lot of things right in this essay, and there are other things which I believe are worth discussing further. I’m glad he got the conversation going; let’s keep talking about it, by all means. It’s going to be centuries before the last word is had, more than likely.

Finally, the announcement I announced earlier

There’s nothing on the website yet to which I can link, but the Fall 2008 issue of AGAIN finally arrived in my mailbox today, containing my article about the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius conference, as well as my review of Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English. None of the material will be new to either of my regular readers, although the format, length and structure of the pieces themselves are unique to the print publication — the Fellowship writeup is ~2,500 words (as opposed to the ~6,000 words my blog entries contained), and the review is 750 words, vs. 2,500 here.

As I said earlier, nobody stumbled across the blog and said, “Hey! We should run this!” I thought that I could tailor both pieces to suit AGAIN’s format, and wrote a query note to the managing editor, Fr. Michael Gillis. He liked the ideas, gave me word counts to shoot for, and I set to work getting what I put up here into a form manageable for a magazine. He liked what I turned in, made some suggestions and some editorial decisions, and then ran them. It’s worked out well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see some other things come of this, but I know darn well that until you have the issue in hand nothing’s a done deal, so I don’t want to say any more than that for the time being. I have other ideas that might perhaps make a good working relationship with Conciliar Press advantageous down the road a piece; we’ll just see. It’s a beginning.

I’ll put up links once they’re available.

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