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Posts Tagged 'divine liturgy of st. james'

Notes on Arab Orthodoxy on The Antioch Centre

Samn! provides an interesting piece on The Antioch Centre, the project of an Oxford-based monk to catalog the manuscripts of the Patriarchate of Antioch. I found this part particularly interesting:

Another important aspect of his work is uncovering more information about how long the Syriac language remained in use Orthodox Christians in Syria and Lebanon– in some regions, the lectionary readings were only translated from Syriac into Arabic in the 17th century! Orthodox Antioch’s Syriac heritage has long been sadly neglected, but this is now starting to change…

So if the lectionary was in Syriac, what liturgy were they using? Archdale King’s The Rites of Eastern Christendom seems to indicate that the Divine Liturgy of St. James has always been the normative Syriac rite — so was the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom a later development for Syriac speakers in Syria and Lebanon?

Funny but true story — somebody at All Saints suggested to me that it might be nice to include a round of “Lord, have mercy” in Aramaic. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but the suggestion was made in a very public forum by somebody who made it clear they didn’t want to be ignored. Syriac being a dialect of Aramaic, I figured, I dutifully added the Syriac translation (“Marya rahem”) to our list. Because there are already five different languages represented (English, Arabic, Greek, Romanian, and Slavonic), it was rare we would ever get to it, but I could go back to the person who suggested it and say, “Look, I heard your request and responded to it.”

Then I found out that in an actual Syriac language liturgy, for the petition responses they just say “Kyrie eleison” (and there’s a good chunk of their liturgy which is in borrowed Greek). As it works out, it looks like the same thing happens in Coptic too. The Syriac rendering was quietly removed from use at All Saints.

Draw your own conclusions about the pitfalls represented here.

(Thanks to Lucas Christensen for bringing this to my attention!)

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Χριστὸς γεννᾶται, δοξάσατε!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Christmas Eve found me singing the services of the Royal Hours of the Nativity, as well as the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil, in the morning. We only started doing the Liturgy in the last couple of years, and last year I had to leave right after the Hours, so this marks the first time I’ve sung this particular service.

The idea of the Royal Hours of the Nativity is one of my favorite services; it is, so far as I can tell, a Christmas service that is entirely ours and for which no other communion has an equivalent. I’ve always thought of it as a service that, in theory, could be a wonderful outreach if done really beautifully (of course, the same could be said of all of our services). Also the parallel of the hymn from Ninth Hour, “Today is born of the Virgin Him who holdest all creation in the hollow of His hand,” to the Fifteenth Antiphon from the Matins of Holy Friday, “Today is suspended upon the tree He who suspended the earth upon the waters,” is also one of those liturgical moments that reveals how carefully our ecclesiastical year is constructed.

The execution of the Royal Hours tends to stress me out, however. The last couple of years in particular have always had little gotchas (or big gotchas, as sometimes is the case) — two years ago, for example, my priest forwarded me an e-mail from our bishop saying, “This is how we’re going to do the Royal Hours throughout the entire diocese this year; please make a note of it.” I dutifully prepared to do the service exactly that way, I made a verbal attempt to verify Fr. Peter and I were on the same page before the service, and I reached the end of the Royal Hours as outlined by the bishop only to have the priest continuing on with exactly the portion of the service I had not brought with me for the morning. He asked me afterwards what happened; I told him I was following the bishop’s e-mail that he had forwarded me. Without going into messy details, we’ll just say that the decision had been made to not change anything in consideration of it being Fr. Peter’s first year at the parish, and that this not being conveyed to me was, one way or the other, an oversight. Last year, the Vesperal Liturgy was added to the schedule immediately following the Hours; unfortunately, for whatever reason the Liturgy was scheduled for an hour following the Hours, and the Hours take somewhere close to two hours if sung as written. We sped through as much as we possibly could, cutting repeats, and it was still about an hour and forty-five minutes. This incident was unfortunately forgotten, and the same mistake was made on this year’s calendar. The solution this time was to sing the troparion and kontakion at each hour, then read rather than sing the stichera leading up to the prokeimenon. This got us down to an hour and a half. Then there’s the matter of our Kazan Menaion for December being in horrible disarray with a lot of things having been lost or removed over the years. I will replace that, with my own money if need be, shortly (assuming they still exist). Hopefully, one way or the other, all of these issues can be addressed for next year.

Following the services for the morning, there was much goose-preparing, present-wrapping, cleaning and decorating to do before we returned to church for a chrismation, Nativity Matins, and Divine Liturgy at 8:30pm.

Goose, as it turns out, is on the expensive side. Being married to me has evidently done horrible things to Megan’s math, and/or her approach to thinking about food, and when she was asked how many people she was feeding when she ordered the goose, she added one plus one (her and me), and came up with the number seven. The resulting ten pound goose was, as you can see, not cheap. Ah well — if it had turned out terribly, it would have been a tragedy. As it is, we’re just fine with a few days’ worth of leftovers.

I mentioned earlier the matter of brining the goose. This involved cleaning the bird and soaking it overnight in five gallons of water with lots of salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, cardamom, and so on. The exact recipe may be found here. It was not terribly difficult, but all the ready-making was time-consuming, and I found myself wrapping Megan’s presents just minutes before we had to head back to church.

Matins and Liturgy were a good deal less stressful than the morning’s services, and set the Feast off well, I thought. Christmas is always a strange-feeling time at All Saints; college town that Bloomington is, a lot of people are gone, and even some people who are in town often stay home. To some extent, this underscores for me how Easter really is the main holy day on our calendar, and as much as the Nativity is a major feast, it just still isn’t as big of deal. Nonetheless, the Nativity Liturgy is the best-attended non-Sunday major feast at All Saints, even if it doesn’t pack the house the way Pascha does. We did have the nine-member family of a catechumen — which included a Pentecostal preacher. I was asked, seconds before we were about to start Matins, if there was anything with which he could follow along — having to think quickly, I handed the requestor an extra copy of both the Nassar book of liturgical texts (aka “the Five Pounder”) and the Antiochian service book. I still have no idea if that wound up being useful.

Another part of why it’s strange, though, is that there is nothing in the Byzantine celebration of the Nativity that corresponds to what is done at the popular level in American society. We sing totally different hymns, we don’t do a “living Christmas tree,” and incense, candles and whatnot are normative parts of every service for us, not just for high holy days. All Saints has sung Christmas carols in the church following the dismissal, but in the last 2-3 years that’s fallen out of practice because we’ve started reading the post-Communion prayers at that point, so there’s not really a logistically clean point anymore where that might work. For my own part, I can say that the last thing in the world I want to do after singing Nativity Matins and Divine Liturgy is to start singing Christmas carols, for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which being that I’m vocally exhausted, and also that aesthetically it seems like it would be the most jarring transition possible. Still, I know it’s difficult for some people, that to some extent it doesn’t feel like the same Christmas everybody else is celebrating. I’m not sure what the solution is, if there even really is one.

A nightcap of eggnog with bourbon found me before we hit the sack, and then that was that for the night.

I think we finally rolled out of bed around 10:30am on Christmas morning. We opened presents — some festal icons for us, a couple of reference works Megan wanted, and then for me home coffee roasting supplies — and then what I was really waiting for: eggs benedict from scratch, with biscuits made from the buttermilk that Megan’s butter-making efforts from a couple of days before had yielded.

Then it was time to start roasting a goose.

Roasting a goose is less tricky than some might have you believe, but the incontrovertible truth is that there is a lot of fat. You have to prick a lot of holes in the skin so that the fat can drain out while the bird is cooking, and then you have to be immensely careful when pulling it in and out of the oven lest all of the drippings splash over the side of the roasting pan. The plus of this is that goose fat is supposed to make fantastic mashed potatoes.

We followed this recipe and liked it a lot; the one caveat I might mention is that the way the steps are organized, it is not made clear that the stock is a vital ingredient of the gravy until it is too late to go back and rectify the matter if you skipped over it. We were able to improvise so that all was not lost, and the stock made a really tasty soup a couple of days later, but do be aware of this. Also, the recipe assumes a thirteen pound bird; ours was a ten-pounder, and by the time we got to the last 50 minutes of roasting as called for in the recipe, our meat thermometer told us that it was already done. Next time we will attempt to recalibrate the cooking times to match up with the goose’s size.

Anyway, one way or the other, the fowl was not foul in the least. My impression of how goose tastes is that it’s similar to roast beef as well as good dark meat on a turkey. We also had mashed potatoes, collard greens, and spinach, served with a very nice Lebanese red wine. Dessert was homemade pound cake.

I also decided I was in the mood to read the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” aloud and in character; my reading of this story when I was seven or eight, after all, is the whole reason I ever had any idea there was such a thing as a Christmas goose in the first place, so it seemed appropriate. It was fun; we’ll see if this particular practice lasts.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday have, of course, seen us feeding a lot of people with goose leftovers. You can do all the same things with it as turkey; sandwiches, soup, and so on. As well as that’s gone over, maybe it was a good thing that Megan’s math was faulty — I look forward to doing it again.

All Saints served the Divine Liturgy of St. James again yesterday, the Sunday after Nativity being the other day when it is customary (at least in some places) to celebrate it; I hope to be able to post pictures soon. It really is a beautiful Liturgy, I’m finding it very enriching to become more familiar with it, and far more people in the parish got to be part of it than did in October. I’m only sad that it’s going to be almost ten months before the next time we do it.

And a new year is almost upon us. Thank God for that, for so many reasons.

The Divine Liturgy of St. James: A recap

To answer the first question everybody asks: No, it wasn’t five hours long. Truth be told, we didn’t cut a blessed thing from Fr. Ephrem’s text and rubrics (perhaps the only service where we haven’t), and it was…

…drumroll please…

all of an hour and thirty-five minutes. I’m guessing the issue regarding length is a function of two things — 1) it is a recension which is itself abridged (Fr. Ephrem does note that there is an “extremely long commemoration of the Saints” that is missing), and 2) many of the priest’s “silent” prayers would have at one time been said aloud. At any rate, with the materials we have, it’s not really any longer than a Divine Liturgy of St. Basil; we may very well wind up doing it again for the Sunday after Christmas (the other traditional day for it, evidently).

Alas, nobody was there to take pictures. There are a couple of people in the parish who would normally function as “event photographers,” and neither of them could be there. If we do it again in a couple of months, we can rectify that then.

I will note that I made an earlier comment in error: the Liturgy does not begin with the entrance into the nave with the Gifts, but rather with the Gospel (roughly corresponding to the Little Entrance in St. Basil/St. John Chrysostom). This is the only “Entrance” in Fr. Ephrem’s rubrics, hence my confusion; “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” does accompany the deacon while he processes, by himself, into the sanctuary with the Gifts (presumably the idea is that this is the time when he would get them from the skevophylakion), but it’s not quite the same big to-do that it is in St. Basil’s or St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy.

For a Liturgy perhaps one person there (Fr. Nabil from St. George) had seen before, everything hung together remarkably well; the choir kept it together very well on the music, there were no train wrecks, and everything proceeded smoothly in general for clergy, choir, and congregation alike. The makeshift ambo was quite a nice touch; the proclamation of the Word from the center of the people seemed to have an impact on some. When it was over, after we returned the church to normal and replaced the platforms in the choir area, there were a couple of people who expressed the sentiment, “Now that it’s gone, I sort of miss it.” Fr. Peter even suggested that it might not be out of the question to include a central ambo in the design of the permanent All Saints temple, hinting that it’s starting to be revived in other places.

We had a nice group of visitors; one inquirer brought his whole family, plus a contingent of folks from St. George, and a handful of people from the Bloomington Chamber Singers (who consulted us a bit regarding their upcoming performance of the Rachmaninoff Vigil).

I’m looking forward to the next time we do this. It’s a wonderful, prayerful Liturgy, and it would be nice for it to have a regular spot in the liturgical life of our parish.

Kickin’ it oldschool, ambo-style

“You say amvon, I say ambo…”

So, in going over the Divine Liturgy of St. James with our clergy Monday evening, something which became clear is that the rubrics assume that there’s something in the middle of the nave on which one may place things, from which one may read things, etc. — that is, an ambo in it’s original location.

Initial discussions had us placing the memorial table in the middle of the center aisle, but then Fr. Peter thought it would be nice to put it on a raised platform of some kind. There is a rank of platforms back in the choir area of All Saints on which the women stand, and we moved one of those out and placed the table on it. Realizing the platform segments were of staggered lengths, however, it hit me that we could place them on top of each other, giving us two steps leading up to the memorial table, making something of a makeshift ambo. The prokeimenon, epistle, and alleluia could be sung from the first step — remember that the prokeimenon corresponds to the “gradual” in Western practice, known as such because it was sung from the steps of the ambo — and the Gospel from the second step. (No steps leading down on the other side, but oh well.)

The only problem was that, since the church ran out of carpet while covering the tops of these platforms, there was a decent amount of bare plywood showing, and setting them up this way only exposed it. Really, Fr. Peter said, the only thing we could do to make it something other than a horrible eyesore would be to paint over the exposed plywood with something like a gunmetal grey. Lucas and I looked at each other — “What are you doing tomorrow evening after work?” I asked him. “I think I’m painting these platforms with you,” he said.

So, following a quick trip to the hardware store for a quart of paint and brushes, we headed to All Saints yesterday to do what was necessary. “How good of an idea is this,” I asked Lucas, “letting guys like you and me into the nave by ourselves with paint and brushes?”

“I’m just hoping nobody notices that we’ve had to take out chairs to make everything fit in the space,” he replied.

It didn’t take more than 45 minutes or so to actually do the painting; we then had to move the choir up to the front of the church in order to answer some other logistical concerns the ambo created. After doing that, and destroying taking all of the displaced chairs into the fellowship hall, the paint was dry, and we set it up as it will be for tonight.

Hagia Sophia it ain’t, and I’m not going to argue that it’s gorgeous (particularly with the power outlets on the sides), but it at least looks more or less intentional. (Alas, Fr. Peter is just going to use the prothesis table behind the iconostasis rather than use one of our outdoor shrines as a skevophylakion.) We’ll see how it goes tonight — it sounds like we will have some number of visiting clergy and interested people from the community and around the area, including a contingent of folks from St. George, the big Antiochian parish in Indianapolis. Hopefully somebody will be around who can take pictures. A colleague of my wife’s is coming tonight out of curiosity, and he has never been to an Orthodox service before. Given its length and the fact that this is the first time any of us have ever attempted to celebrate this particular Liturgy, I’m pretty sure that all I can tell him is, “God be with you.”

God be with us all — St. James, pray for us!

Coming soon: The Divine Liturgy of St. James

On 22 October 2008, at 6pm, All Saints Orthodox Church will celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. James for the Feast of St. James, the Brother of Our Lord.

It was mentioned to me about a year ago that this might be a desirable thing to pursue. It isn’t exactly happening the way originally envisioned; the hope at the time was that we would be in a new building with more forgiving acoustics than our current nave, but that hope remains unrealized for the time being. Nonetheless, we are pushing forward — hey, since local Catholic parishes have started celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass semi-regularly, leave it to us to break out our oldest rite, right?

The Divine Liturgy of St. James — can we call this the Iakovian Liturgy? I’d hate to call it the Jacobite Liturgy — is said to have been the rite taught to St. James by Our Lord and was subsequently the principal rite of the ancient Church of Jerusalem, edited and embellished as the St. Basil Liturgy and further pared down to become the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy. I will let liturgical scholars with PhDs argue whether or not the traditional first century dating of the Iakovian rite is accurate or if it’s more reasonable to assume that it came about somewhat later. Clearly the use of the Trisagion and the “Only-begotten Son…” are later accretions, but in terms of the overall structure and character — well, let’s just say that there are ideological reasons to want to support any of the various arguments, and leave it at that. One way or the other, we can say that we know it as the oldest complete form of the Divine Liturgy still in continuous use, and it is still in use by various Syrian and Indian communities.

Putting together an English text was not a small consideration; Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s translation served as the base, but it is insufficient for use in an Antiochian parish, given the official preference for Elizabethan English. Where necessary, the Antiochian text was substituted (for components such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and so on); where possible, Fr. Ephrem’s text was kept, converting to Elizabethan English as needed. Particularities such as “Let our hearts be on high”/”We have them with the Lord” were also retained.

Once we had a text, then it fell to me to create a book for choir/congregational use. Thankfully, Sibelius 5 and Microsoft Word made that relatively easy. I adapted the St. Anthony’s Monastery settings of hymnody specific to St. James to our text, used the version of “Only-begotten Son…” from the Mt. Lebanon Choir Divine Hymnal, used the Trisagion we sing every Sunday (had to keep something the same) and then added all of the other parts — litany responses, anaphora responses, etc. The choir/congregation book ultimately contains every word and every note which concerns those worshiping from the nave — it is as complete as it needs to be without including the priest’s personal prayers and so on. (At 43 pages already, it would be significantly longer were I to include those.)

I will say that, in many respects, it’s a simpler liturgy; there are no antiphons, no troparia (although we will sing the Troparion to St. James as a recessional), there is no Megalynarion, and since it begins with the clergy processing into the church with the Gifts (from the skevophylakion, no less — such things make me happy, although we don’t actually have a skevophylakion), no Great Entrance in the middle of the service, either. From the choir’s perspective, there are significantly fewer major portions to sing, and the Alleluia and Prokeimenon are the only propers. The rubrics call for the Body of Christ to be received in the hand and for the Blood to be drunk from the chalice by the communicant, but we will be communed from a spoon regardless — no one’s particularly comfortable with what could go wrong the other way, given that we’re all used to the spoon by now.

Anyway, it will be an interesting liturgical adventure, to say the least. We’ve tried to visibly open it up to as much of Bloomington’s greater Christian community as wish to attend; given the provenance of the rite, it is clearly the common heritage of all Christians, and to be able to serve it in English is a gift we would like to be able to share with as many as possible, even if it’s our humble little church that’s doing it and not the Midwestern Regional Campus of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom. (That place is going to be gorgeous, I have to say — and they might even have built a skevophylakion, I’m not sure.) To that end, we’ve put out a press release to the local papers (let’s not hold our breath that they’ll care, but who knows) and sent flyers to every area church and campus ministry we could find. We’ll see.

On a different matter — my friend Gavin used to have a favorite Microsoft joke (at least before he started working there): “Microsoft — solving tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s technology, today.” So, maybe that could be tweaked and made appropriate to Orthodox Christianity — “Addressing tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s Christianity, today.”

Or maybe not.


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