Paraliturgies

I love the litugical cycle of the Church's days, weeks, months, and years.  I think that having a fixed liturgical calendar in some way reconciles our life and existence in fallen time to the saving work of Christ, and bring us into the eternal Eighth Day of the New Creation.  Largely for that reason, many of my posts reflect my love for this cycle of prayer and worship.

However, that does not mean that I do not find great value in those prayers and devotions that do not fit into this established pattern of the hallowing of time. There are many of them - some of them beautiful, some not so beautiful - but they all flow from people's hearts and stem from a desire to be drawn closer into communion with God and each other.

Two of my favourite paraliturgical services are Molebens and Cross-Processions.  My absolute favourite is the Processional Moleben, which combines the two, and is highly festive in character.  A Moleben is simply a service of prayer and supplication, and may be offered for any of a number of intentions but my favourite form is the General Moleben, contructed from excerpts from Matins, with propers inserted according to a particular celebration, whether it be the parish's patronal feast, a pilgrimage to a holy site, a visitation of holy relics or an icon, or whatever else.

I think that the primary reason that I love this so is that it that it is fairly simple ceremonially.  That may seem like a strange thing for me to write but I do mean it. It means that I can immerse myself in the prayer without having to think about what comes next, how to communicate that to others who need to know, and so forth.  It also means that, on festive occasions when there are visitors from elsewhere, there is no confusion because some are accustomed to Greek-style, some Russian-style, and others none at all.  It just sort of happens and we get on with the business of praying.  The second reason is that it comes with a very pertinent dose of Scripture, usually highlighting things about whatever is being celebrated.  There is usually at least one psalm, often an Epistle, and almost always a Gospel (which is boldly proclaimed outdoors if there is a procession, in which case there may even be as many as four Gospels).  The third is that, it being a prayer service rather than something strictly liturgical, the clergy stand among the laity rather than ministering in the altar, and the practical participation is much more on the vocal offering, which brings everybody together in a different way from more liturgical offerings, where we each have our distinctive roles that come together into one act of service to God.  In addition to the litany responses, there is the "God is the Lord" responsory, which the people belt out, before going immediately into the troparion of the celebration, which can itself be repeated over and over again if there is a procession.

This is important.  I do not think that there is a western equivalent to the troparion, which is a short, thematic hymn unique to each saint or feast, and which becomes something of a battle hymn of the people during services on that day.  Everybody will know the troparion of his parish's patron saint because it will be sung at nearly every Divine Liturgy in the parish, and the troparia of certain feasts easily roll off the tongue after having been Orthodox for a couple of years.  Stand in the middle of a gathering of Orthodox people and sing the line "O Lord, save thy people" or "When Thou wast baptised in the Jordan, O Lord" to tone 1 and you'll see what I mean.

When the procession is included, and there is a station made at each of the four sides of the church, where the people are blessed with the Cross, the festal icon, and holy water, while imploring God's mercy with joyful hope. 

I love it.

3 responses:

Ian Climacus said...

I love the description of a troparion as "a battle hymn of the people". I am amazed each year how the words, and melody particularly as one may confuse my chanting attempts for the wailing of cats!, of troparia or kontakia come back to my mind and I can join with the choir and congregation.

And thank you for sharing about the Processional Moleben which I have not yet been blessed to be a part of.

Michael Astley said...

I'm sure you do much better than wailing, Ian. :-)

And yes, the marriage of words to music does help the memory. It adds another element of recall.

While it isn't limited to the Russian church by any stretch of the imagination, the Processional Moleben does seem to be a big part of at least ROCOR parish life. Its frequent use seems unknown among the Sourozh clergy with whom I have had conversations about it. It would be interesting to learn how widespread it is outside of the Russian church. One thing the Greeks have that I wish featured more in the piety of the Russian church is the Paraklesis to the Mother of God during the Dormition fast. I particularly love this too.

Ian Climacus said...

I shall endeavour to ask around about Processional Molebens in the Antiochians and Greeks I encounter and get back to you.

We Antiochians, following the Greeks, also do the Paraklesis to the Mother of God during the Dormition fast: it is a beautiful service. I am very thankful for a parish and priest who will regularly serve it, as well as serving weekday evening services in Great Lent, whether 1, 3 or more people (in addition to the choir) end up turning up for it.

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