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Posts Tagged 'lenten reflections'

Sunday of Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy in America

This last Sunday, being the first Sunday in Great Lent, was the so-called “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” commemorating the victory of iconodules over iconoclasm at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (“Nicea II — The Wrath of Arius”). In years past, there has been a Sunday evening Vespers in Indianapolis, participated in by all the area clergy and their parishes. This year, instead of Vespers, a morning Divine Liturgy was planned at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, who had just started worshiping in their new building in December.

All Saints’ participation was determined rather late in the game; being an hour and twenty minutes south, and with some of our parishioners commuting from as much as an hour away even further south, it took some figuring out. Ultimately our deacon stayed behind and served a Typika for those who weren’t going to Indianapolis, allowing Fr. Peter to concelebrate and a group of us from All Saints to attend.

The morning was stunning in several respects. For the occasion, a new icon was commissioned of All Saints of North America, which now includes Indiana-born St. Barnabas. The original was put out for us to venerate, and we were all given prints of it as well. I’ve jokingly called Holy Trinity’s new building the satellite campus of Hagia Sophia, but it really is frickin’ huge. As the pictures make clear, I think we had close to a thousand people in there, and people were still having to gather in the narthex. We had everybody, too (among the clergy as well as the people); Serbians, Greeks, Arabs, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, American converts, and even a handful of Copts, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians. (Okay, I’m not sure we had any Finns or Estonians.) The communion of the faithful easily took half an hour, and that was with six chalices, I believe. Add another twenty minutes or so for the communion of the clergy.

Some general observations: Holy Trinity is an example of a church which I think would be too big for me to be comfortable in it as my home parish. It is a beautiful building, and it will only get more beautiful as they fresco it, marble the floors, put up the iconostasis, etc., but I’d rather see the design principles applied to a church maybe a quarter of the size. (This begs the question of why Holy Trinity, which I believe has something like 600 people, doesn’t plant some churches, but never mind that now.) I’ve heard it suggested that past 250 souls or so, you really overtax a priest’s ability to minister; I’ll throw out another possible metric, which is that you don’t want the building to be any larger than that in which the cantor can sing comfortably and be understood and heard without needing a microphone. (This assumes that churches are being built with attention to acoustics, which isn’t even necessarily the case with Holy Trinity, unfortunately — there were one or two odd decisions made on that front.) That said, I think it’s wonderful that a traditional-looking Byzantine temple now exists which is large enough to hold everybody in the metro area. I somewhat wonder if perhaps, with Detroit being, well, Detroit, there might not be talk behind the scenes of moving Metropolitan Nicholas’ throne to Indianapolis, hence the building being a size more appropriate to a cathedral than a parish church.

I wound up joining the choir; Max Murphy, my counterpart at Ss. Constantine and Elena, conducts the choir for these big combined services and I sing for him when I am able. The music was, more or less, OCA music with some simplified Byzantine things reworked for a large ensemble. My trouble is that the Orthodox musical heritage is so much richer than the utility music which tends to dominate services like this, but the reason why it dominates services like this is because it is easily scalable to huge ensembles (as well as makes congregational singing reasonably easy). Mark Bailey once told me that Kievan common chant is great because you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes; on the other hand, he freely admitted, the downside of Kievan common chant is that you can get 50 people singing the front page of the New York Times to it in fifteen minutes. There wasn’t an overabundance of Kievan common chant at this service, but the principle was still largely the same. At any rate, it was, mostly, the music that virtually everybody in the Indianapolis area sings except Holy Trinity (and All Saints, for that matter), so it was familiar to Max, the majority of the choir, and a good chunk of the congregation.

There were some interesting moments during the procession of the icons; Fr. Taso (the pastor of Holy Trinity) originally asked the congregation to all sing the litany responses in their own languages, in the spirit of our coming together as a symbol of our unity as Orthodox Christians. This didn’t quite work the way he intended, so ultimately he led us in the Tone 4 threefold English “Lord, have mercy” common to Greek parishes (and Antiochian parishes during Holy Week if one is following Kazan). That worked just fine (although it was different from the responses the choir prepared — Max gave up when he realized that Fr. Taso was going off-script).

One always wonders what happens behind the scenes when that many clergy gather on another priest’s turf, particularly when the event functions something of a “coming out party” for said turf, but Fr. Peter made a point of bringing up that very question last night after the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. “It was very peaceful, as surprising as that sounds,” he said. “Fr. Taso called us all together and said, ‘Brothers, what do you want to do?’ To have the protos do something like that, particularly at a Greek church, is unheard of.” (When there were some inevitable uncomfortable chuckles, he said, “That’s not a swipe against the Greeks — they’d tell you the same thing!”)

Given events of the last few weeks, there have been conversations about what Orthodox unity in America means, if it can even happen at all now, if we’re looking a big step backwards, what’s the path from here, etc. etc. etc. I think that to some extent these nervous questions are a bit misguided; it’s not exactly like the AOCNA and OCA were preparing to announce an administrative merger next week and the news out of Damascus derailed it at the last second. However, I think we can look at events like this Sunday of Orthodoxy Divine Liturgy and make some informed guesses about what the practical side of jurisdictional unity might look like.

  • Somebody’s going to have to be the protos, as it were, and it’s probably going to be whoever has the resources to be so effectively, including the space to be a meeting ground for everybody. This was true in 1975 when Met. PHILIP and Met. MICHAEL unified the Antiochian churches in this country, and Met. MICHAEL stepped down; it will still be true going forward.
  • Along similar lines, there will be a group who is numerically dominant. There were ten or so parishes represented at Holy Trinity this last Sunday, and at least half of the congregation was Holy Trinity’s own people.
  • It will be up to the group who is numerically dominant and who functions as the “protos” to be a loving and welcoming brother in Christ. It will be up to the others to be receptive to that, and to return it in-kind.
  • It might be a bit of a cacophony for awhile until people figure things out. The job of the dominant group will be to help guide everybody into unity, and to do so in love.

Looking at these points, I’d argue this wouldn’t be a bad model for how things should be now, even, with or without unity on paper.

One other thought for the moment. That icon of All Saints of North America? A couple of them are American born; some of them were active in America. However, with the exception of St. Peter the Aleut (who was martyred young), none of those saints were both born here and active here. Let me suggest that before we have an indigenous church, we’re going to need indigenous saints. Some might argue that we should start with Fr. Seraphim Rose (which reminds me — I’m reading The Soul After Death right now); while recognizing he’s a controversial figure, I don’t really think that it’s in question that he is a native-born model of sanctity. I personally think he is a saint, and I believe he interceded to heal my mother from a heart issue a few years back, but I also think it will take time for the amen of American faithful to be uttered. I know a priest, and perhaps a bishop or two, who I believe might be glorified after their respective reposes. I have heard some suggest Lynette Hoppe; certainly this book seems designed to make that case. There are others I can think of, too.

My point is, until there are models of holiness who have been raised up out of “our people,” as it were, I’m not sure it makes any sense to be so neurotic and anxious about our earthly organization. Once we start producing saints, administrative questions will take care of themselves. The importance of saints who are local and recent, I have come to realize, is that they shine forth the light of Christ in a way that is immediate. What is more powerful, reading a story about somebody who supposedly did something fifteen hundred years ago, or hearing first-hand accounts of people who did those very things within the last few years? We run a great risk by holding ourselves at a distance from saints — they are less convicting that way, I suppose, meaning they’re more comfortable to be around, but they are also less compelling and convincing.

In other words — if we want a solution to the jurisdictional problem in this country, maybe what we need to do is, before we write a letter or join a lay activist organization or start a blog (all potentially worthy things to do, don’t get me wrong), we need to go out and be saints.

We will see.

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Clean week varia

I have finally posted the notes and answer key for Hansen & Quinn unit II. Click on the “Greek resources” tab and check it out. As always, e-mail me at rrbarret (AT) indiana.edu with any questions, comments, errata, etc. I hope it is useful. Unfortunately, it is likely to not be until after the semester is over before I can even think about unit III, but I should have a decent amount of time over the summer to devote to this project on an ongoing basis.

So, it’s the first week of Great Lent. This means, plainly, a lot of church.

At our parish, Great Compline with the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is served Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of Clean Week. This service is, shall we say, a commitment. The Great Canon is a leisurely stroll through the Old Testament; Great Compline could be thought of as the Orthodox Workout Plan. Because, you see, we make prostrations. A lot of them.

A lot of them. Want to know what it sounds like when the cantor has had to make so many prostrations he can’t catch his breath anymore but has to continue singing regardless? Come to All Saints this Thursday evening. There is a very practical reason why the rubrics of these services call for a left choir and a right choir — it’s called survival. We, alas, don’t have that, so Fr. Peter sings responsorially with me where he can, but he has enough to do as it is as well. There are moments where I can’t catch my breath and am drooling on my cassock because I don’t even have a chance to swallow — the service has to go on, and the congregation is so conditioned to get its cues aurally that if I stop in the middle of the Trisagion to swallow, a good three quarters of the congregation stops with me.

Starting tonight and throughout the fast, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. This is the highlight of the week for me throughout Lent — it’s a beautiful service, and having an additional opportunity to receive Holy Communion throughout the week when our earthly food changes so drastically is something for which I’m always thankful. It is a Liturgy attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (and we commemorate him as “the Pope of Rome” during the service), but it is unclear exactly how that is to be understood — that is, did he write it himself (the traditional understanding)? Was it a service he witnessed in Constantinople and wrote down later (the modern understanding)? Either way, it’s a witness to the existence of the pre-schismatic undivided East and West, particularly since those in the Roman Rite also serve a form of it on Good Friday.

Friday evening we start serving the Akathist to the Theotokos. Saturday and Sunday we have the typical Vespers/Matins/Divine Liturgy cycle (although this Sunday begins the use of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great throughout Lent), and then this Sunday evening, Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers will be served up at St. George in Indianapolis.

So, from last Saturday starting with Cheesefare Vespers through this Sunday, we’ve got at least one, if not two, services a day. In some ways it’s a nice symmetry with Holy Week; from Friday before Holy Week through Pascha there will be more like at least two services every day, so we will finish the way we started… just with more of it. (“More of what?” you ask. “Everything,” I reply.)

At its best, from a liturgical standpoint anyway, Orthodox Christianity does not gather as a community to worship on a Sunday-morning-only basis. This is, to be sure, not practical for some parishes and missions, particularly those who might not have their own building or a fulltime priest. Some parishes which do have their own building and a fulltime priest still nonetheless only serve the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings and hold no services at any other time; I’m not sure I understand this, but I say that as somebody who from the first time he ever heard the word “Vespers” (at age 16) asked “What is it and why don’t we do it anymore?”

It being the first week of Lent also means I’m a bit on the grumpy side. “Where’s all my protein?” my body wants to know right about now. The adjustment, at least for me, usually is made by about the second week or so.

I am lucky in many respects that this is Spring Break week. Things are very quiet in general, and I don’t have to worry about schoolwork or whatnot conflicting with services… that, unfortunately, will be Holy Week, since Pascha is the day before finals begin.


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