Liturgical Oddities

I stumbled upon this website yesterday and was delighted to find an Orthodox parish broadcasting its services. I began watching the most recent broadcast yesterday, as I very much enjoy looking at these things. Only, I could only watch so far before I just had to shut the computer down. I watched the rest today. Imagine my surprise at some of the things that I saw:

A subdeacon giving a litany, a deacon reading half of the Anaphora instead of the priest, a lay server placing items on the Holy Table, the priest not dividing the Lamb with the spear as usual but grabbing it and carelessly ripping It apart with his bare hands with seemingly little care for prevention of dropping crumbs. The Royal Doors were wide open throughout the Liturgy, even at the point where they would be closed if a bishop were to serve. Very peculiar was the complete omission of the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the Litany for the Catechumens, both Litanies of the Faithful, and the Litany before the Lord's Prayer, not to mention other minor things, which, while not major causes of alarm, were unusual, such as kneeling for part of the Anaphora (on a Sunday), the deacons splitting the litanies between them, and so forth. I found watching it more of a distraction than a spiritually beneficial experience.

Is this sort of thing common in North American parishes under Antioch? My experience of Antiochian worship is that, (with exceptions), those irregularities are not generally in evidence but my experience is severely limited.

I'm not usually one to go looking for things done not quite properly and playing "spot the fault". I think that this is immensely unhealthy. On the other hand, what of faithfulness in small things, in obedience, in recognising that we have received a liturgical heritage which sustains our Faith and which is not ours to tamper with on a whim but of which we are the stewards, to pass it on to those who come after us? I started watching this video with some excitement but was genuinely shocked by these things and wonder just how widespread they are. When there was a particular shot of the interior of the altar, I recognised the church as the one which was the subject of some controversy not too very long ago, so perhaps it is simply this parish.

In any case, I find it quite unfortunate. Has anybody else experienced these things?

6 responses:

margaret said...

Good grief! I was rather happy and excited when I read your first sentence - I thought church watching would be a nice accompaniment to my coffee and danish pastry but now I'll have to find something else. I managed to find a couple of things you mentioned and it's horrible! I have no idea if this is normal for the Antiochians in the US (Fr Alexander in London would have a kitten I know) but let's hope fervently that it isn't but then... yikes... wouldn't you put what you considered your best done services online? I think I really need the sugar fix from my pastry now!

Matt said...

It's not just this parish, I'm afraid. The priest at another local parish in the same diocese invited our priest to serve the Liturgy with him a while back. When our priest arrived, the parish priest was sitting in the Sanctuary reading the Sunday paper while a couple of the altar servers were off to the side chatting and giggling. Our priest simply turned around and walked out of the church.

That parish is now (so I hear) on the verge of collapse. A number of their parishioners have begun attending church at the monastery where we attend and some have brought their bad habits with them: showing up late, talking during the service, women refusing to cover their heads, etc. Some have even begun demanding certain changes like adding pews, that sort of thing.

The bishop apparently has no control whatsoever over these parishes. I believe they resent him because he is a convert and because he is not of Arab descent. There is a lot more information available on the internet concerning that particular matter, if you care to learn more. (I personally try to stay as ignorant as possible when it comes to political discord within the Church).

I have only attended two Antiochian churches ever--the one you mentioned, for a Vespers service, and a local western rite parish--so I do not know a whole lot about the state of things in the archdiocese, but it seems to me that there are quite a lot of very serious, committed Antiochian parishes in North America. Many of them are heavily populated with converts (the Antiochian Archdiocese is very outreach oriented) who take the Faith and the Litugy etc very seriously.

Michael said...

wouldn't you put what you considered your best done services online?

From what Matt has said, Margaret, I wonder whether that's precisely what they have done. I'm sorry to have raised your hopes and dashed them. I had hoped to provide an antidote in the form of a link to the services from the cathedral in Mayfield but they only broadcast live and the archived videos seem not to be working.

Matt, welcome. You're right. I like to know what's going on locally so I know how to help those who come to us but the Lord knows we have too many of our own difficulties to start getting involved of those across the water. Still, what you say disappoints me, and at the same time makes me grateful for what I have where I am, and les sinclined to complain about minor matters.

Jon Marc said...

My general experience of the AOANA, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and many parishes of the OCA has paralleled what you were watching, but my parish church in high school (a part of the AOANA) is close to one of the Athonite monasteries and is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the norm.

I think the switching back and forth between deacons in the litanies is considered normal in the Balkans and the Middle East - I've seen it at both Romanian and Antiochian Orthodox services in hierarchical, monastic, and parish settings.

Andrew McQuillen said...

I have visited Antiochian parishes across the US while traveling, and I have to say that I think it is impossible to say what the liturgical norm is. Some parishes seem to be Arab social clubs, while others feel like you have walked into Lebanon circa 1400. Some convert parishes feel like an Episcopal church with cool vestments, while others seem to use mostly Russian music and practices. The parish I attended in New Hampshire had pews, an organ, and many other no-no's but the Priest and people (mostly Arabs) were so serious that it was easy to forget the problems. What I am trying to say is that one should never assume that a parish will be awful just because it belongs to a jurisdiction known for certain modernist tendencies. You may be appalled or you may be pleasantly surprised. The same applies to the OCA, I am not so sure about the Greeks as I have very little experience. I have even been to ROCOR missions that feel more like Americans pretending to be Russian peasants, which can be just as bad as many of the above problems.

Michael said...

You're right, Andrew. I suppose it's easy to forget this, being in the UK, where Orthodoxy is so small that parish practice across any given jurisdiction is likely to demonstrate much greater uniformity. That's certainly the case in the Church Abroad here, where we learn from each other's practice, ask each other quetsions, share resources, and so forth. The Antiochian Deanery here is largely the result of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy and so again there is a commonality of learning and growth among their parishes. Those are two examples but the other dioceses are numerically small as well. The Greek archdiocese probably has the greates variation.

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