Posts Tagged 'our liturgy is older than your liturgy'



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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