Liturgical Abbreviations Poll

I was recently reminded of a service of "Great Vespers" I attended last autumn that could have been referred to, not unreasonably, as turbo-Vespers. A conservative estimate would be that at least a quarter of the service was omitted, and quite possibly as much as one third. I'm really not sure how this could be justified, especially as so much of the content of our services is already shortened to allow for our weakness and the busyness of life.

As I have blogged about in the past, St John wrote some quite strong words about this, yet at the same time allowed for the difficulties of parish life, with many people travelling long distances, clergy who have to work and are self-supporting. This balance is what I think is important. Here are his words:

'The divine services in their composition contain all the fullness of the dogmatic teaching of the Church and set forth the path to salvation. They present invaluable spiritual wealth. The more fully and precisely they are fulfilled, the more benefit the participants receive from them. Those who perform them carelessly and who shorten them by their laziness rob their flock, depriving them of their very daily bread, stealing from them a most valuable treasure. The shortening of the services which comes about through lack of strength must be done wisely and performed circumspectly in order not to touch that which should not be tampered with.'
- St John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco
A recent post on a new friend's blog, lamenting the difficulties among our Catholic friends, got me wondering to what degree the services are commonly abbreviated in the Orthodox Church and realised that it is high time that I posted another poll, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. I have limited it to the Divine Liturgy as this is the service with which most people will be familiar. There are two polls - one asking what is omitted in your parish and the other what is included - each focussing on some of the common abbreviations that I have encountered.

1. The typical psalms 102 and 145

In a number of churches, these are abbreviated to one degree or another. I have seen some editions of the Liturgy with only four or five verses of each. While my preference is for the psalms to be sung in full as I find them especially encouraging, and particularly find that psalm 102 properly disposes me for worship when I arrive flustered and ill prepared, I'm actually not too bothered by the abbreviations here. After all, these psalms came fairly late to the Liturgy anyway, replacing the antiphonal psalms (which are often still sung on weekdays and with different psalms on great feasts of the Lord), which were themselves originally sung in procession on the way to church - a procession which no longer takes place except in token form at the Little Entrance, so I can sympathise with those who shorten them. (I beg indulgence of my readers from the Greek tradition where the custom surrounding the antiphons developed differently from in the Slavic tradition.)

2. The troparia on the Beatitudes

Whenever the Beatitudes are sung in lieu of the third antiphon, there are troparia appointed to be sung/read between the Blessed verses. I have heard arguments that these unnecessarily lengthen the service but it is too easy to forget that there is actually comparatively little within the Liturgy that actually highlights the particular celebration of the day, and that those who were not present at Vespers the night before might well benefit from hearing them. I find the resurrectional troparia appointed for Sunday mornings to be particularly beautiful and think it a shame that in many places the people do not hear them.

3. The kontakia after the Little Entrance

Generally, on Sundays at least, the order of entrance hymns is very simple: the appointed troparia of the day are sung in order, followed by a number of kontakia corresponding to the troparia just completed, and concluding with a theotokion, (usually O Protection of Christians). In some churches, they only sing one kontakion, regardless of the number of troparia.

4. The readings

On a number of days - most Sundays in fact - in addition to the Sunday readings from the Apostle and Gospel, there are additional readings for the Saint(s) of the day. In many churches, these are omitted and there is only ever one Apostle and one Gospel reading.

5. The Litany of Fervent Supplication

This is the litany with the threefold Lord, have mercy after each petition, and is essentially the community's litany, in which the deacon inserts petitions according to the particular needs of the parish or monastery: for those who are sick, travelling, pregnant, in conflict or war, and such like, so that the people's prayers for those concerns may be offered along with the communal offering of the Eucharist. In some parishes, these additional petitions are omitted entirely and the deacon/priest simply rushes through the standard petitions while the choir continuously sings the Lord, have mercy.

6. The Litany for the Catechumens and the two Litanies of the Faithful

In some parishes, these litanies, which are not optional, are never done. The Litany for the Departed is also commonly omitted in many parishes but as it is not generally supposed to be done on Sundays, most readers may not be sure whether or not it is done in their parishes so I have left it out of the polls.

7. Psalm 33

This is appointed to be sung after the Prayer below the Ambo, during which the distribution of the antidoron is to take place and the deacon consumes the Holy Things. In most parishes and cathedrals today, however, the antidoron is distributed after the dismissal, (a custom that possibly started due to large numbers of the faithful being present - itself encouraging). Consequently, the psalm has disappeared from the Liturgy in many parishes and cathedrals, and the deacon is forced to consume the Gifts after the Liturgy.

I must say that, while we do leave out some things because of our origins and our current stage of development, my parish doesn't come out too badly here at all. Please do share your own comments and thoughts once you have taken part in the polls.

5 responses:

Michael said...

I find it very encouraging that somebody has indicated that psalm 33 is used somewhere. It used to be done at our cathedral but was stopped 2 or 3 years ago by a previous assistant rector. I wonder whether you may be so good as to indicate which parish it is. You can do so anonymously if you prefer but I would be grateful. Thank you. :-)

Han said...

Here in Denver, we use Psalm 33 (or at least the first 10 verses).

Michael said...

Splendid! Thank you, Han. :-)

Martin (Audley) said...

We have just lost our prayers for the Catechumens at the bidding of the Lebanese Monk who sometimes visits and who is something of an expert on at least the Antiochian liturgy. Indeed it is his lifes work to dig out manuscripts dating back centuries, partly to see the evolution of such things. He argues that we have no catechumens and thus the prayer is not said. IMO I think that we should include them as we are praying as part of the universal church for ALL catechumens. When it comes to asking them to depart however - there is nobody to depart! Hmmm.
We include a reading from the Synaxarion on major Feast days and on many days during Great Lent - this is not an every Sunday routine however. Antiochian tradition seems to be the most inclined to abbreviate I think.

Michael said...

I would be inclined to agree with your compromise, Martin, (and welcome!). I would include the Litany for the Catechumens but perhaps not actually dismiss them unless they were there to be dismissed. Of course, many places no longer dismiss them even if they are there (sigh).

Still, your priest is obedient to his bishop on this matter, which, knowing your priest, he would do with all grace and humility.

As far as ROCOR goes, we don't do the troparia on the Beatitudes at my parish, and neither does our Colchester parish. They do them, though, at the cathedral in London and at the church in Mettingham. The former ROCOR parish in Manchester also does them so they seem to be quite popular in the Church Abroad. I wish we did them at my parish. When we are priestless and I serve Typika, I have a blessing to use them then but that's only two or three Sundays out of the year. :-( Still, there are reasons for not wanting to change too much right now and I respect that and obey my priest.

We do the readings for the Saints, so we usually have two Apostle and two Gospel readings on Sundays. However, if there are three of each appointed, we usually omit the one of least significance.

We also don't usually do psalm 33, although my parish priest seems keen to do it on our Patronal Festival to make it a little more festive. It really is a beautiful psalm and ideal as a post-communion offering of praise. Perhaps next year.

Otherwise, we do everything on the list in full.

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