The Old Rite - part two

Christ Pantokrator in the Old Rite Church of the Nativity, Erie

In this second post about the Old Rite, I want to share some of the treasures that I have found, some of which I have incoporated into my own devotions. I should add that I'm not sure I could belong to an Old Rite parish, as there seems to be a degree of strictness in the execution of the services and prayers that I find too regimented for my own spiritual growth. I also think that there were some traditions that did need to be revised, such as the praying of the third, sixth, and ninth hours in sequential order before the Liturgy instead of at their appropriate times. What I do like, though, is that, when there is no Liturgy, the ninth hour has portions of the Liturgy inserted and becomes a form of what is more commonly known as the Typika service.

However, there are also many beautiful traditions, and I actually have a great deal of sympathy with those faithful people who, three hundred years ago, having been formed from birth in their faith and spiritual life by these prayers and services, resisted when they were suddenly told that they would have to stop using them in favour of abbreviated versions. I think that those of us who belong to the New Rite really have lost something in not continuing some of these devotions.

The Old Rite bilingual prayer book

Perhaps the most obvious difference lies in the music. The Old Rite maintains the use of Russian chant before it was unfluenced by the west, so it is much closer to Byzantine and even Gregorian chant than the four-part harmonies that many of us know today. Znamenny chant, in particular, can be very beautiful, and some good examples of it can be heard sung by the choir of the Valaam monastery on their various recordings, and I am pleased that there seems to be increasing interest in its use in New Rite churches. One noticeable feature is that the voices in this style of chant are what we in the west would call "untrained", producing a very nasal sound. However, this is authentic to this style of music. The Old Rite chants for the readings are nice but they are quite sombre. I have taken to using them during fasting periods and at funerals outside of the paschal season. (Otherwise, I use the melodic chants from the Carpatho-Rusyn tradition). Compare the almost monotone deacon's petitions during the litanies in the New Rite to the beautiful melodies used in the petitions in this video from the Old Rite Uspenia monastery, (it is perhaps best not to comment on the doctrinally-questionable icon in the ceiling):

Some interesting differences that I have noticed is that some things that are optional today seem to be just part and parcel of the Liturgy: the tropars on the Beatitudes, psalm 33, and I'm sure there are others. Perhaps this reflects our modern-day penchant for abbreviating. Some of the litanies, hymns, and responses are slightly different as well - usually longer than what we have today.

Another difference is the manner of crossing oneself. We New Ritualists are accustomed to pressing our thumb and first two fingers together, with our ring and little fingers pressed to our palm, and crossing ourselves at each invocation of the Holy Trinity. In the Old Rite, they cross themselves in the way depicted still in most icons where a blessing is imparted. The first two fingers are extended, with the middle finger slightly bent, and the Cross is seen as a symbol of the Christ rather than the Trinity. This is reflected in when the Cross is made during services and prayers.

The lestovka, in common use in Russia before the importation of the chotki from Greece, is still the most common form of prayer aid used by Old Rite Orthodox Christians.

One thing that I have personally adopted is the use of the entrance and departure bows when entering and leaving church. These exist in the New Rite as well, and the Jordanville Prayer Book does give the manner of doing them, but this form is greatly curtailed and, as such, these signs of reverence are often ignored completelely, especially in churches outside of the Rusian tradition. The journey to church can be quite hectic for me and I find it very helpful to walk into church and have these prayers to say before I venerate the icons and greet my brothers and sisters. It helps me to make the transition from the hustle and bustle of public transport to a quiet reverence, and the departure bows help me to retain that as I leave to go back into the world.

There are many, many other differences in the forms of worship and execution of the services, many of which may be read about here, (though not without bias). There are a good few websites out there with a wealth of information on the Old Rite. However, if some of these seem acerbic in tone, please remember the persecution that Old Ritualists have suffered at the hands of New Rite church authorities in the past. I have found it better to find people on the internet and approach them directly. I have found them loving and always willing to explain things to me. Better yet, if you have an Old Rite church near you, (which I don't), why not go and visit?

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