Sunday, June 26, 2011

My broken record - different, yet the same

I've blogged about this before and I doubtless will again, but it is a great joy to belong to a Church where the basic form of the Liturgy is the same no matter where I go.  We visited St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Panama City, Florida, and we plan to return on Wednesday for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

St. John is my Patron Saint, so it was a particular blessing to have his icon prominently displayed for veneration.  St. John's is a small Greek parish in Panama City, and meets in what was obviously at one point a Protestant Church.  It is quite small -- smaller even than our little parish in Hiram, Georgia, both in attendance and in the size of the parish building itself.  Most of the service was in English, but most of the hymnody was in Greek, and prominent portions such as the Lord's Prayer and the Trisagion Hymn were sung in both English and Greek.  As was the practice at the last Greek parish I attended, the priest at the end handed out the antidiron and offered a blessing in lieu of having the parish venerate the cross.  Unlike the last Greek parish I attended, the sermon was after the Gospel reading, as it is in our home parish.  We communed, and the priest and parishioners could not have been nicer.  We look forward to returning.

When I visit other Orthodox parishes, I am constantly struck by how trivial the differences seem and how utterly familiar the Liturgy is even when it is not done the same way we do it.  I shouldn't be, but I am.  One reason we left the Lutheran Church was the "to each his own" form of liturgical practice that is not at all what we were raised with, but was in fact prominent in our area.  There was no catholicity, there was no sense of oneness to the Church.  There was only what we do here, which was sorta-kinda like what they do down the road, but not in any real fundamental sense.  This is not to denigrate this -- certainly Lutherans are not alone in this typically Protestant worship mindset.  But it is not what we understood the Church to be.  It is not catholic.

This is also not to say the Orthodox Church walks in lockstep.  As melxiopp kindly pointed out the last time I blogged on this topic, there are in fact material differences in how some Orthodox parishes celebrate the Liturgy.  And without question, there is freedom for that in Orthodoxy, and there is also concern about an overuse of that freedom.  We are, in that, no different than anyone else.  The devil is in the details.  Other Christians have worship wars over whether to add a rock band, or a keyboard, or modern lighting and video screens.  We bicker over whether the curtain and the Royal Doors are shut, or how loud the prayers are spoken.  That is not to make light of these concerns, nor to be triumphalistic about the failings of others.  It is, rather, to say it is refreshing to have such uniformity, even as we could always do better.  As Lutherans, we were raised in the faith on liturgy, catholicity and tradition.  It's good to have all three again.


Daniel said...

A very important factor in all of this is that Orthodox Divine Liturgies have names and definitive verbage attached to those Patron Saints. Thus no one is in the dark about what the Divine Liturgies of Sts. Basil, John Chrysostom (or the seldom used St. James)consist of. In contrast, Lutheran "Liturgies" had no names, no Patron Saints, no definitive text to refer to. Of course the latter had temporary monikers such as "TLH page 15" or "LW page 158", but these were as fleeting as new hymnals were produced. Thus I contend that there is no such thing as "THE Lutheran Liturgy"; it is a non-entity. On the other hand, differences in the Liturgy of the Church occur due to local variation. If a priest omits small portions of the text, at least most everyone knows it. Finally, we dare not trash these services out of respect for the Saints whose prayers bless these assemblies.

While I am at it, these same processs of a detachment from believing in asking intercession of Saints is also behind why newer Lutheran (and other Protestant) churches are almost always named "Turning Point", "Crossroads" or "Journey not the rock group". When they lost their "this world" connection to these Saints, namely asking intercession of them; then naming churches after Saint Boniface, Saint Peter or even Saint Paul became pointess. It is obvious five hundred years later that remembrance is not enough. No intercession, no memory eternal. We see this in real time.

May Christ our God, through the prayer the Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary and of the Saints bring all who seek the truth into services facing east, in communion with the Orthodox Church.

Jim said...

I guess I will have to visit other parishes to learn that. I have only attended one so I cannot compare.

David Garner said...

Very, very interesting points, Father Daniel. I had not really considered that at all.

Jim, I wouldn't really encourage visiting other parishes. It's just been a fact of our life in the Church that we've had to. I'd much prefer to attend every service in our home parish.

Jim said...

I am a "homebody"at nature too so I probably won't do much visiting around... Maybe after I take the step to be chrismated, I will see how my brothers and sisters are worshiping...