The Mass according to St Germanus of Paris: third apology

One charge that is often brought against the Divine Liturgy of St Germanus is one of heavy byzantinisation, that is, the insertion of elements of the Byzantine rite into what ought to be a western Liturgy.

While it is true that, for various reasons, Byzantine elements were indeed incorporated into the restored Gallican Mass during its 20th-century restoration (and I will address these in a separate post), these are for the most part very unobtrusive and do not interrupt the flow of the Mass, and also are far fewer in number and far less extensive than some would suggest.  They are certanly not there to make a Western Liturgy seem palatable to Eastern Orthodox people, as is sometimes suggested.  One estimate that I encountered was that they account for approximately 70% of the Mass, in an attempt to "win people over".  Less than 5% would be a more accurate estimate, and a generous one at that.  Not wanting to attribute this inflated figure to any intention to cause a deception, I can only imagine that the person who made this observation might have been under the false impression that Western = Roman, and therefore incorrectly identified genuine western elements as eastern simply because he did not recognise them from the Roman rite.

Here I intend to deal with those elements that might appear to the modern observer to be extraneous importations but which are, in fact, authentic ancient Western practice.

The Trisagion sung shortly after the entry of the clergy

Anybody familiar with the Byzantine Liturgy will be aware that, immediately after the entrance of the clergy with its accompanying prayer and chants, the Trisagion - the hymn to the thrice-holy God - is sung.  This is a high point of the Byzantine Liturgy, as it is the first great hymn to God after the clergy have entered the altar.  It is also when they ascend to the presbyterium and, if the bishop is serving, where he ascends to his cathedra to preside over the eucharistic assembly.  For this reason, the consecration of a bishop takes place prior to this point so that the new bishop can ascend and take his place, presiding among his fellow bishops.

In the neo-Gallican Mass, the Trisagion is also sung in an identical position.  The entrance of the clergy is performed with its accompanying prayers and chants, after which the celebrant turns and blesses the faithful.  The Trisagion is sung immediately, three times.  To my knowledge, this is unique among western rites of the Mass and is therefore quite possibly a result of eastern influence.

However, that eastern influence - if that is indeed what it is - is not a modern one but rather had already become firmly established by at least the 6th century, and possibly earlier.  The letters of St Germanus tell us that the Agios (being the incipit), is sung in Greek, and then in Latin, and then in the vernacular.  Thus, this is a natural cross-fertilisation which is common in the history and development of all liturgical rites. (Click on the "ritual overlap" label on this post for other examples.)

As no complete manuscript survives, we do not know with absolute certainty that the hymn referenced here is indeed the Trisagion as we know it, but no other non-festal and non-seasonal hymn with such an incipit is known to have been commonly used in any rite apart from the Sanctus, which is universally a feature of the anaphora and so can be discounted as a possibility here.  Thus there is only a very slim margin of uncertainty about the nature of this hymn.

The deacon's stole worn over the dalmatic

The modern observer might be familiar with the apparent east vs. west distinction, in which Roman rite and most other western deacons wear their stole under the dalmatic, while Byzantine deacons wear theirs over the stikhar.  However, this is an oversimplification.

The reality is that, while the robe-type of vestment takes various forms and goes by different names in various rites, one thing that is very nearly universal is that the deacon's stole is worn over the top of everything else, as an outer garment.  This is seen in the Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiophian, and other rites.  This is just as true of the Western rites as any others. As far as I am aware, the one exception was the use of Rome, where the deacon's stole is worn beneath the dalmatic.  The fact that the Roman rite became the most widespread of the Western rites should not mislead us into thinking that its peculiarities are mandatory in all Western rites.  See any celebration of the Ambrosian or Mozarabic Mass for comparison,  (YouTube shouldn't fail you.)

The stole worn on the outside is an authentic Gallican custom.

The deacon's litany with the response of Kyrie eleison

Ask any newbie to Eastern Orthodoxy what the most striking element of the Byzantine Liturgy is and they'll probably tell you that it's the plethora of (often repetitive) litanies.  Do not be fooled: while it was never as prevalent as it is in Byzantium, the litany led by the deacon is also standard Western practice.

As one example, the ninefold Kyrie eleison near the beginning of the Roman Mass is the remnant of just such a litany, the petitions for which survive in Sarum and possibly other manuscripts, and are blessed to be used in the Sarum Mass in the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the Gallican Mass, the corresponding Kyrie eleison was only ever sung a single time.  However, the sources tell us that there was a litany of general intercessions sung later in the Mass, which was led by the deacon and to which the people responded to each petition with "Kyrie eleison".  While this text no longer survives, the Litany of St Martin has been substituted as following this model and being an ancient Orthodox litany with the content necessary to fulfil this purpose.

The seven-branch candelabra

The seven-branch lamp on or near the Holy Table is standard in Byzantine rite churches.  However, far from being a borrowing from the Byzantine rite, its use on many altars where the Mass of St Germanus is served is a remnant of a long-forgotten Western practice.  In fact, it is a simplification of the ceremonial of the Gallican Mass, in which anciently, the seven candles would have been carried in the Gospel procession and held near to the ambo during the reading of the Gospel, to be returned again later.  In modern usage, the candelabra is (are?) stationary.

The deacon's exhortations of the faithful to be attentive

At various points in the Mass of St Germanus, the deacon calls the faithful to attention "in silence".  While this might appear to be an importation from the Byzantine Liturgy, again this is an authentic Western custom.

Remember that a universal feature of liturgical rites is that part of the diaconal role is to give practical instructions for the ordering of the worship of God by his people.  It is the deacon who calls the faithful stand, to kneel, to be attentive, to depart in peace, to pray to the Lord, to bow their heads, to give the peace, to hear the holy Gospel, and who directs the priest to bless the holy Bread and the holy Cup.

Therefore, it is the deacon who, in the Gallican Mass, calls the faithful to silence.  In some instances this might be an auditory silence, (such as prior to the Gospel, so that everyone can hear), but this is secondary.  Its true meaning is to call us to silence of the heart, so that we might be free from worldly distractions and focus on entering fully into the liturgical mystery.  (This is particularly pertinent in the Gallican Mass, which is textually much more explicitly eschatological than most other Western forms and even some Eastern).

We are called to such silence at the start of the Mass, prior to the Trisagion, in preparation for the Gospel, prior to the confession of Faith, and finally immediately prior to the Anaphora.  This calling to silence is the equivalent of the Byzantine calling to attention but was anciently phrased in terms of silence in the Gallican Mass and remains so today.

(Incidentally, it is also why the importation into the neo-Gallican Mass of the hymn "Let all mortal flesh keep silent" is very apt in the absence of the original text for the sonus, as it is very much in keeping with the spirit of this rite.)

The next instalment will focus on a particular liturgical development that applies to all forms of the Liturgy served within Eastern Orthodoxy, but which is curiously only pointed out as a negative criticism when it is applied to the Mass of St Germanus.

The Mass according to St Germanus of Paris: second apology

One criticism commonly heard of the Liturgy according to St Germanus of Paris is that it has nothing to do with St Germanus of Paris and cannot therefore be relied upon as being authentic.

Essentially, very little in terms of manuscript survives of the ancient Gallican Mass.  There is certainly no surviving complete extant missal or anything like that.  What we know comes from manuscript fragments, from extant books of closely related rites, and from descriptions of the Gallican Mass in other ancient writings.  One such description comes in the form of two treatises on the Gallican Mass known as "The Letters of St Germanus".

In these letters, we have a very detailed description of the Orthodox Mass as it was served in 6th-century Paris, from which it is relatively easy to compile a form of Mass for use in our own day, closely resembling what our Orthodox ancestors did before us.  This is precisely what was done by St John of Saint-Denis and his contemporaries in the 20th century, and the result of which has come to be used and known in our own day as the Divine Liturgy according to St Germanus of Paris.

So what's the problem?

Well, the authorship of these treatises is in dispute.  I've come across a number of suggestions, one being that these texts did not appear until the 7th century, after the death of St Germanus.

This really isn't the foundation-shattering news that opponents of the rite seem to think it is.  There are all sorts of reasons why writings attributed to a saint might not have surfaced until long after the repose of that saint, but let's assume the worst.  If the letters were not by the hand of St Germanus or a secretary writing them on his behalf, what would be the situation with which we would be faced?

It would mean that we have an ancient text, clearly written by a person of great piety and highly knowledgeable about the details of the liturgical worship of God by his people, which tells us how the Mass was performed in a specific part of the west in Orthodox times.  It would give us a glimpse into the form of worship that formed the sainted Bishop Germanus of Paris, known for his piety, wisdom, and generosity to the poor, as well as numerous saints besides him who are celebrated as beacons of Orthodox life and examples for us to follow.

That really doesn't seem to me to be any great undermining revelation.  In fact, if, as it is entirely possible, the letters were written by a pious woman - a nun, perhaps - and the name of the great saint was used because it is the only way that a writing of such provenance would have been given any credibility in an age when women's contributions to liturgical life were perhaps not greatly valued, then it is likely that this attribution to St Germanus is the only reason that this text survives today, and that rather than try to disparage this noble effort as a deception, we should be applauding and welcoming it as a means of intimately knowing part of our Orthodox heritage.

Whether or not St Germanus wrote this text, the authenticity of the present-day Mass resulting from it cannot reliably be called into question and, either way, it can be legitimately called the Divine Liturgy according to St Germanus of Paris.

There are, of course, other objections to this rite which I intend to deal with later in this series.  I intend to post those here once I have gathered my thoughts.

Orthodox culture: things I take for granted

I was born to a white English father (himself born to Irish and French parents), and a black Kittitian mother, whose ancestry three or four generations earlier was found in African slaves.

In the Orthodox Church, I was not out of place.  The bishop who ordained me to the subdiaconate was a white German convert from Lutheranism, whose English was decidedly American.  My parish had a reader from Nigeria, and within our wider diocese were clergy who were English, Russian, Latvian, and Canadian.  My current bishop is from a Jewish family but has a Spanish surname, and I visited his monastery in Holy Week to find myself making friends with a German priest, a French priest, another English subdeacon, and a former monastic novice who is South African with a French surname, among others.

I just thought I would share how utterly fantastic I find the experience of being an Orthodox Christian to be, and the benefits of being part of an international family that knows something of the breadth of the human experience.

And people will come from east, west, north and south, and they will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus Christ (Luke 13: 29)

The Mass according to St Germanus of Paris: first apology

A friend of mine - a fellow lover of all things liturgical - asked me some months ago to share my thoughts once I had finally experienced the Divine Liturgy of St Germanus.  That experience eventually came three days ago, on Palm Sunday, at the monastery of St Michael and St Martin near Luzé, France.

I had been curious about this Liturgy for years, fascinated by the communities that used it and by the music composed for it, some of which I managed to acquire in recorded and sheet form, in French and English.  So I was very excited at the prospect of taking part in it.  Then the Liturgy began and the curious excitement simply disappeared as my heart took over from my head and I realised that I was at the Divine Liturgy, as I had been hundreds of times previously, and that a fascinated curiosity was not how I usually faced that situation.  It just felt like an Orthodox service, which of course, it is.

I must say that prayerful contemplation did not always replace the curiosity, as I had offered my services to the singers, and so found myself sight-reading music, much of which I had not seen before, while trying to read and correctly pronounce the French words.  Doing this for a full Mass was very exhausting but rewarding.

Still, a few things stood out as markedly different from the Byzantine liturgies in a way that they did not from merely reading the text and rubrics:

Clear meaning

The Byzantine liturgies to which I have been accustomed for over a decade have been in continuous use for about 1700 years and have developed significantly in that time.  As such, they have a great many elements that are accretions, and others that are obsolete remnants of a time when things were done very differently, obscuring the true meaning of various parts of the service.  The fact that the Mass of St Germanus is a modern reconstruction of an ancient rite invites much criticism but it does mean that it is largely free of these things, and the cumulative effect of these little differences makes for a Mass that is refreshingly clear in expressing the faith that it actualises.

1. The entrance of the clergy is genuinely the point where the clergy enter the sanctuary.  The entrance prayers and ceremonies in this context make so very much more sense in this context than they do when the clergy start the service already at the altar, only to go on a little perambulation out of one door and back in through another, as an homage to an entrance procession that has not existed for centuries.  I think that the revised Byzantine liturgies of New Skete contain a worthy attempt to correct this, but they are used hardly anywhere.

2. The dismissal of the catechumens has featured in some recensions of this neo-Gallican Liturgy so I was curious to notice that it was absent on Sunday.  I have since been unable to find it in the books used here at the monastery.  Whether this is because there were no catechumens to dismiss or because there is no longer any expectation for catechumens to leave, I do not know.  I do know that, either way, it avoids the oddity of giving instructions ("Catechumens, bow your heads", "Depart, catechumens") to people who at best are not present and at worst do not even exist.  I know that some Byzantine Rite parishes omit these elements when there are no catechumens present but this is generally not the case in my experience in the Russian Church.

3. The deacon performs his proper role of the Preparation of the Gifts and the transfer of them to the sanctuary.  Why and when the priest started to do this in Byzantine custom is something that I have never been able to find out.

4. The kiss of peace is something that really does happen among the faithful and is not reserved to the clergy alone.  The celebrant kisses the Altar, and then the deacons, who bring the kiss of peace to the faithful while they sing the responsory "Peace I leave with you".  Seeing it done, and seeming so natural and reverent, was very beautiful indeed.  It shows that the exchange of the peace needn't be the excuse for a good old chat that it often became in the Anglican and Catholic churches of my childhood and teenage years.

Many Orthodox Christians of Byzantine tradition do not even realise that their Divine Liturgy contains such a thing as the kiss of peace, and will tell you that this is an exclusively Catholic/Protestant thing to do.  In fact, I don't think that it was ever formally removed from the Liturgy as much as the practice simply fell into disuse.   At this time of year in particular, the ancient practice of omitting the kiss of peace on Maundy Thursday (given the very different significance that the gesture of kissing has on that day) becomes a very poignant marker of the Passion of the Lord in a way that it cannot if the Peace is never given at all.

The audible Anaphora

For good or for ill, the anaphora is chanted aloud, and the epiklesis is spoken audibly.  I know that the historical and spiritual merits of one practice over another have been the subject of Orthodox debate for years, and I do not intend to reproduce any of that here.  However, it is worth noting that, unlike the fixed Byzantine anaphoras the neo-Gallican (as indeed the ancient Gallican) anaphora is mostly variable according to the feast or season, and so has great catechetical benefit that would be lost if prayed quietly.  I mainly want to say that I was deafened by the silent reverence at the epiklesis in particular.  The sense of "God is here" really was astounding.


At Communion, the Body of the Saviour was placed in the communicants' hands, and the people drank directly from the chalice, as in ancient times.  When I was a catechumen, back in 2005, I was told to read the lectures of St Cyril of Jerusalem On the Christian Sacraments, where he describes just such a practice.  Those hands and lips have been sanctified with the waters of Baptism and sealed with the Holy Chrism: with proper catechesis I see no reason why Communion should not be given in this way.

"Homely" Orthodoxy

Perhaps the most important thing that struck me about this rite was that it just felt "lived in".  Much of the discussion of the rite that takes place online is by people - critics or enthusiasts - who have no direct intimate experience of it.  I don't mean an occasional visit to a parish that uses the rite but actual sustained Orthodox prayer and sacramental life with the Divine Office and Mass of St Germanus at the heart of it.

Yet here is a monastic community that has known nothing but that for decades.  Those Russian nuns who can tell you without consulting any books what is to be sung to which tone on any given day, and who will know when you are singing a text that should be omitted in that particular week - those nuns have counterparts in the Western Rite, and I got to see that on Sunday.

So I think that, what stood out to me most of all is that, for this community, the Divine Office and the Mass of St Germanus are not a matter of academic scrutiny or curiosity, they are not a subject for debate about the appropriateness or otherwise of their use; rather they are the channel through which they worship God, and how they form their Orthodox prayer life.  It's a bit like apostolic succession: we know we have it so we don't spend too much time worrying about how we came by it.  It just is.

I know that we Orthodox love the ancientness of our services, and the rich heritage that comes with them, but the simple truth is that, for most of us, regardless of the rite we use, once we have become steeped in that cycle of prayers, hymns, and bodily acts of reverence, in one sense it doesn't matter so much whether they have been in continuous use for over 1000 years, reconstructed from ancient manuscripts and blessed for use a half century ago, or composed by the bishop last year.  As long as the services are true expressions of our Faith and they "pray" in an Orthodox way we seem able - and very happy - to make them our own and incorporate them as part of our spiritual life.

Perhaps that is the Orthodox way.

What's in a name?

A number of people - particularly those who know me as Michael - have expressed curiosity over my adoption of the name Cyprian.

It really isn't the exciting story that you might hope it to be but, well... here it is.

When I was new to Orthodoxy, I interacted with many Orthodox Christians online to learn as much as I could and to become familiar with Orthodox faith, practice, and culture.  I understood from these interactions that I would take a saint's name at some point, and it was explained to me that, as part of my catechumenate, my priest would ask me which saint I would like as my patron.

So, I was made a catechumen (in the Byzantine calendar, on the feast of the miracle of St Michael at Colossae), and given the name Michael.  Some months passed, and I wasn't asked, so I made the enquiry about taking a new name, only for my priest to explain that I had already been made a catechumen with the name of Michael.

It turns out that the advice I had been given online reflected only one practice, and that there is another, which is based on the understanding that, if you already have a saint's name, that saint has led and guided you to the point of knocking on the Church's door, seeking entry, and ought not to be abandoned.

I asked about changing my name when I was ordained a reader and then again a subdeacon, but was told that this is not the custom of the Russian church.  So I was stuck with Michael.

Yet it was questions of ecclesiology that had caused me to begin exploring Orthodoxy in the first place, and it was in the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage that I had found clarity and answers.  While they may not be the answers I would entirely subscribe to today, they were pivotal on my journey into Orthodoxy, and I value his writings immensely.

Also, in the life of St Cyprian, I saw myself - both as what I was and also what I hoped I might be.

After the Roman persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius, St Cyprian was very hard on those who had fallen, and who had offered sacrifice to the emperor, and even on those who had not done so but who had signed false documents claiming to have done so to preserve their safety.  As a bishop, and a nobleman of means, he was able to go into hiding, so was really quite unfair to those who did not have the resources and privileges that he had had.

In this, I saw something of myself - quick to point out what is right and proper, and not always stopping to take account of the human cost of doing the right thing and the real difficulties that this might pose for some people.

Yet, in the later persecution under the emperor Valerian, St Cyprian did not go into hiding but stayed with his people as their pastor, and so he was arrested and martyred, boldly confessing the Faith of Christ even to the point of death.

Is this something that I would do?  I would like to say yes but the reality is that I cannot know that until faced with the situation myself.  However, I know that I have a holy advocate and example in the person of St Cyprian of Carthage.

Therefore, shortly after my reception into the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, I asked my bishop's blessing finally to take the name of Cyprian, which he graciously granted.  Now I have him as my patron saint, interceding for me before the throne of God.

We honour you, O Cyprian, as a true shepherd who with your sacred words and divinely-wise doctrines have shown us the boundary-stones marking out the one Church of Christ.  Even to death you bore witness with courage; wherefore, we extol you as a bishop and martyr. Entreat Christ that we all may be saved.
Kontakion, tone 2 

Ash Wednesday

'When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'

- Matthew 6:16-21

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday: and the first day of Lent. Many Christians, Orthodox and non-Orthdox alike, will be familiar with the ceremony of the imposition of ashes which has become customary on that day. This comes to us directly from the custom of the dismissal, in former times, of those who were excommunicate for one reason or another, and were serving a time of penitence before being received back into the full communion of the Church. Eventually, it became customary to impose the ashes on the heads of all who presented themselves.

Indirectly, this custom comes to us from Scripture, where numerous times in the Old Testament, we see reference to dust and ashes thrown upon the head as a sign of mourning, penitence, and a reminder of human mortality. (Job 2:12; Joshua 7:6; Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 27:30, among others).

Yet the Saviour warns us in quite clear terms not to disfigure our faces in order for our piety to be seen by others. This certainly ought to make us at least think about the widespread custom of being seen with a dark smudge or Cross on our faces, and how wee see this in light of this Gospel, particular in places where the ash is mixed with oil for the specific purposes of giving it a darker, more noticeable hue, and causing it to stay in place for longer.

Yet surely it cannot be that this has never occurred to anybody before.  Surely others have heard the excerpts from St Matthew's Gospel and wondered how to interpret them in light of the liturgical practice that they have always known of priests deliberately placing a visible and sometimes lasting mark on the faces of the people.

It is curious that all of those Old Testament references make mention of the dust and ash being specifically thrown upon the head. There is no mention of making a mark on the face.

Similarly, the rubrics of the service books make no mention of making a visible facial mark in ash but state simply that the ash shall be placed on the head.   The relevant rubric in the Sarum Missal simply says:

Afterwards the ashes shall be distributed on the heads of the clergy and laity by the higher dignitaries, making the sign of the Cross with the ashes...

The precise manner of how the ashes are to be distributed is not specified and it seems perfectly possible to me that this is the case because it was simply assumed that clergy would know how to do it.

Here is a missal woodcut that depicts the same thing, (sadly I do not know its provenance):

It was only a few years ago that I learnt that it is mainly in our anglophone world that the Cross on the face is as widespread as it is, and that in the Latin church, in many European countries, the custom is for the dry ashes to be sprinkled over the inclined head of the penitent in the form of a Cross, which is then barely, if at all, noticeable to anybody.  Could it be that this is the more ancient custom, and what is intended by the rubrics?

Below we see the sprinkling form of the imposition of ashes employed in the cases of two recent popes.

What is important is the action of the imposition of the ashes and its significance to the penitent: a sorrow for sins and the attitude and mindset that pledges repentance and amendment of life; a conversion of heart.  There is no need for a lasting mark on the face intended to be seen by the world.  Let our lasting mark be the visible fruit that we bear and that others see in our lives.

'Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honoured, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful... Let the ear fast... by not listening to evil talk and gossip... Let the mouth fast from the foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?'
-St John Chrysostom, "The Proof of Fasting"

On the one occasion that I experienced Ash Wednesday liturgically in an Orthodox context (in ROCOR), the ashes were imposed using the visible-Cross-on-forehead method.  However, I must say that  am inclined to prefer what seems to be the more ancient custom, and I would ask our clergy to consider whether it might be worth adopting this practice. 

At a time when we can encounter such things as street corner and drive-thru ashings, and when it is difficult to look at our Facebook feeds at the start of Lent without seeing increasing numbers of Ash-Wednesday "smudge" selfies, perhaps the focus in how this day is presented to the people of God ought to be less on the physical mark and more prevalently on internalising within our hearts the meaning of the Lenten fast, allowing our passions to be subdued, and our hearts imbued with the grace of God, so that they may spring forth in genuine love for ourselves and our neighbours, for the sake of our salvation.

Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
-Isaiah 58:5-9

On Canonicity - whatever that may be

I came to Orthodoxy through the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2005. At the time, ROCOR was in communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and the Orthodox Church of Sinai. To the rest of the Eastern Orthodox churches, ROCOR was considered "uncanonical". At the time there were many articles published on ROCOR clergy blogs and elsewhere expressing the view that this was a bizarre use of the word canonical.
The thrust of their arguments was that referring to ROCOR as uncanonical seemed to have little to do with the degree to which ROCOR adhered to the canonical tradition of the Church and more to do with the fact that it wasn't in communion with the churches using the term in this partisan way.

In 2007 ROCOR entered into full communion with the Patricarchate of Moscow and was subsequently recognised as canonical by the other Eastern Orthodox churches. The language used by ROCOR shifted at this point, and we, too began to refer to certain other churches as uncanonical, despite us having been in communion with many of these very same churches only months earlier.  In fact, in some cases, it was members of our very own Holy Synod that had consecrated the bishops of these churches which were now suddenly deemed uncanonical. This was very difficult to understand for many of us who had been taught that canonicity is not about being in communion with one group or another, but rather about faithful adherence to the canonical tradition of the Church.

How could we look at these churches that adhered faithfully to the canons of the Church and tell them that they were uncanonical, meanwhile entering into communion with churches whose practice on a number of fronts seemed not to be in keeping with canonical tradition?
I am now a member of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, which is not an Eastern Orthodox church and makes no claim to be such.  We are part of a different communion of Orthodox Churches.  Our faith, our teachings, as well as our spiritual and liturgical life, are Orthodox.  Our bishops have their apostolic heritage in the same succession and lineage as the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and we are in communion with other churches with similar roots.  Yet, many within the Eastern Orthodox church refer to us as "uncanonical".  Indeed, the OrthodoxWiki article refers to us as "independent".
This latter term is particularly interesting.  In a sense, I can understand one communion referring to another as uncanonical.  When there is any kind of disagreement, human weakness will nurture a desire to demarcate others as somehow "not like us" and perpetuate that demarcation, even if the differences are imagined rather than real.  Such a label is an effective way to do this.  However, it is more difficult to understand the reference to us being independent.

By what defintion is the Orthodox Church of the Gauls independent?  We do not stand alone: we are part of a wider communion of Orthodox churches, sharing the same Orthodox faith and practice.  If we are "indepedent", then so is the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, or any of the other member churches of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions of churches, but this seems a very counter-intuitive use of the word independent, as it would be if a police constable operating under orders, as part of a police force, were said to be functioning as an independent agent.  The word simply cannot be legitimately applied to that situation according to any common understanding of the word in the English language.

Regarding canonicity, I suppose that this just isn't something that we feel we must demonstrate to others.  We merely seek as best we can to order our life on the Apostolic Orthodox-Catholic Faith.  Are there canons of the ancient councils that we do not apply rigorously?  Yes, there undoubtedly are.  Yet has the Phanar not hosted services in which the Pope of Rome has been commemorated in the litanies alongside the ruling bishop?  Does the Greek Orthodox church not permit subdeacons to marry?  Do the Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Churches not permit the offering of the Eucharist on the weekdays of Lent?  Was Metropolitan Nicolae (Corneanu)'s reception of communion in a Catholic church not greeted with nothing more than a "Please don't do that" from the Holy Synod of Romania?  All of these actions contravene at least one canon or another, and I'm sure that a little research could generate a plethora of further examples.  Yet nobody (perhaps apart from our Old Calendarist sisters and brothers) condemns these churches as being "uncanonical" on the basis of these examples of apparent disobedience of the Church's canons.  So I must wonder how my church is any less "canonical" than those listed above?

Some might say that we are uncanonical because our foundation as a distinct church did not arise from a decree of autocephaly from our mother church.  Yet, did what is now the Russian Orthodox Church have such a decree or did it claim autocephanlous status for itself?  Anybody with a passing knowledge of Orthodox history will confirm that the latter is true.  Yet nobody today challenges the canonicity of the ROC on this basis.  And despite the Orthodox Church in America having been founded by precisely such a decree, has its autocephalous status not gone largely unrecognised because the remaining Eastern Orthodox churches cannot seem to agree among themselves who has the canonical authority to issue such a decree?
Neither an Ecumenical Council, nor the Patriarchate of Constantinople or of Moscow, nor any other Mother Church can create a new local Church. The most that they can do is to recognise such a Church. But the act of creation must be carried out in situ, locally, by the living Eucharistic cells which are called to gradually make up the body of a new local Church. 
- Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. 
My purpose here is not to disparage the good and holy people in any of these churches, but rather to highlight that the entire modern discussion of whether a particular church is canonical is filled with so much contradiction and misdirection as to be of very little value, if any at all, and seems to my inexperienced and uneducated mind to serve little purpose other than as a weapon to perpetuate segregation.

It is my opinion that, when assessing the Orthodoxy or otherwise of any ecclesiastical body, the questions asked should simply be these:
  • Is this church's faith and practice an expression of Orthodox doctrinal, spiritual, and liturgical Tradtition?
  • Is this church's episcopate part of the lineage of the apostles through sustained Orthodox succession?
  • Does the ethos of this church reveal the salvific love of Christ towards his creation?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then perhaps we ought to consider whether we can embrace them as sisters and brothers in the life in Christ, and greet them with a kiss.

ROCOR Western Rite Developments

I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning to be greeted with the news of this decree of the Synod of Bishops.

After the initial shock had waned somewhat, my first thought was for those who have become my friends who are directly affected by this.  Among those with whom I corresponded, there was a very clear sense of hurt, loss, and bewilderment. It must be understood that, for many, this came out of thin air.  I checked the Occidentalis Yahoo group to see if there was any further news. At the time, there was no discussion of the matter at all, likely because the news had broken less than 24 hours previously and the people directly affected were busy looking after each other and prayerfully assessing their own situations. What was most striking, though, was that the discussions of the preceding few days suggested business as usual.  This highlighted for me the suddenness of all of this.

Please pray for those in the thick of this and those charged with their pastoral care.

In the days since the decree was published, the internet has been host to much public speculation, innuendo, and misdirection.  There has been insensitive and really quite unseemly gloating from opponents of the Western Rite over their perception of its death in ROCOR, as well as an almost delusional "ostriching" by those who seem to think that life will continue in the Vicariate as before. I think that charity and everybody's spiritual wellbeing would be well served by some prayerful and patient awaiting of further clarification.

The decree mentions a forthcoming letter to be addressed to the Vicariate clergy, as well as a commission set up to look after them and their proper integration into ROCOR life - something that has been lacking until now, for various and complex reasons. At least one member of that commission has since indicated publicly that the picture is emphatically not as bleak as the WR opponents might perhaps like to think, and that the Western Rite shall continue in ROCOR, while making clear that things will certainly be different.

Perhaps we should just wait and see.

Render unto Caeser...

No, I don't particularly like the King James Bible either but it's the only translation that has the desired effect in a blog post title, so there it is.

My attention has recently been drawn to this article by a Konstantin Matsan.
My initial reaction was that de Nile is not just a river in Egypt, it seems. However, after further consideration, I think that Mr Matsan is right in that too often all manner of assertions are made about the supposedly deepening relationship between church and state in Russia without any effort being made to show the premise to be true, (I believe that "begging the question" is the expression that he is struggling to find), but he falls into the trap of another logical fallacy in that this itself does not render the premise untrue.

Are the Russian state and the Church in Russia getting closer? Finding an answer to this would require a detailed historical comparison, which I am not qualified to make, and indeed we are presented in the article with evidence that seems to suggest that there is no real deepening relationship here. Perhaps a more manageable question, then, would be whether they are already too close. This only requires an examination of present circumstances.

The All-Night Vigil

Be very diligent in coming here early in the morning to bring prayers and praises to the God of all, and to give thanks for the benefits already received... and so pass the time of day as one obliged to return here in the evening to give the master an account of the entire day and to ask pardon for failures... Then we must pass the time of the night in sobriety and thus be ready to present ourselves again at the morning praise.
- St John Chrysostom

Until recently, I used to dread the All-Night Vigil.  This may seem a strange thing for a Christian to say.  In fact, it was last year during Lent that I was serving for my bishop in the cathedral one Saturday, and had been in church all day.  There had been the Divine Liturgy in the morning, a brief repast, then the service of the Great Anointing.  Having started at 9 a.m. and it now being 5 p.m. and mindful of being back the following morning, I made my apologies and made good my escape.  My bishop asked me, 'Are you a Christian?'  I understand his question - indeed how better for a Christian to spend his Saturday night than in prayerful greeting of the Resurrection of the Lord? Yet, I think that people who are very well accustomed to things sometimes just don't realise what it can be like for people who do not know them and find them a trial when presented in a completely inaccessible form.

Pedantry: "Fast", please; not "Lent"

What is this strangeness to be found in use among English-speaking Orthodox people, and now seemingly found in calendars, of referring to all fasting periods as "lent"?

The word lent is from an Old English word meaning springtime.  Among Christians, it probably came to be used as a sort of shorthand for the lenten fast - literally, the great fast prior to Easter which, in the northern hemisphere where the terminology was coined, always takes place during the spring.

There are other fasting seasons throughout the year, of course, but some Orthodox Christians also call these by the name "lent", as though the word is some sort of synonym for fast, which, of course, it isn't.  It is not unusual to hear such expressions as Dormition lent, Apostles' lent, and so forth.  This makes no sense.  They are fasts, not lents.

I would be interested to learn what terminology is used in Russian or Greek, for example, to refer to the fasting seasons.  I assume that it is some word for "fast" and not a time of year.

Just saying.

Orthodox Android - part 4

Just a quick update: It seems that within the past fortnight, an Android version of the Ancient Faith Radio app has been released.  It has taken them far too long to get their act together but I'm grateful that they have finally come up with the goods.

Orthodox Android - part 3

Well, here it is:

Orthodox Android - part 2

Having got my shiny new Android phone, I had to learn how to find my way around a new operating system but found this very easy due to the intuitive design of Android, which is fairly typical of Google's products.  It is more easily customisable both in terms of its layout/appearance and of its functionality, which means the phone works the way I want it to work, according to what is easiest for me.  Unlike the iPhone, there are no permanent apps that cannot be removed from the screen.  If I don't want something there, I get rid of it.

Orthodox Android - part 1

Last year I posted this collection of reviews of my favourite apps for my iPhone.  Now that I have an Android phone, I have promised people a similar review for Orthodox Android apps.  This will come but, having previously endorsed the iPhone I feel that I bear some moral responsibility to point out what its flaws are to prevent others from falling into the trap that I did, of getting caught up in the Apple hype.

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