THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRACTICAL STUDY OF LITURGICS

Archbishop Laurus
Seminary Graduation 1995

The great instructor of the spiritual life, Bishop Theophan the Recluse of Vysha, says that prayer is "the receptacle or field of all spiritual life, spiritual life itself in motion or action" (An Outline of Christian Moral Teaching, pp. 405-06). Another definition which he gives concerning prayer is that "prayer is the breath of the soul"(Ibid). If prayer is the breathing of the soul of every individual Christian, then public prayer, or divine service, is the breathing of the soul of the whole society of Christians, i.e., the Church. If the Christian prays carelessly and poorly, spiritual life dies in him. If he completely ceases to pray, then he is in danger of spiritual death. In exactly the same way, only that church is alive in which spiritual life exists, in which public prayer is conducted in the proper way, in which the divine service is performed properly and in order. The church in which the divine service is celebrated carelessly, in which the ritual is given secondary importance, in which the ritual is performed only for "form's sake," such a church dies spiritually.

Such are the fundamental considerations according to which the practical study of liturgics among sciences concerning the divine service should be granted the most important and honored place in the theological schools. Unfortunately, it has not always been thus everywhere and I is not. In some schools liturgics was taught as a dry, abstract science, as something divorced from "the breath of life" - the divine services. As a result, those who are finishing theological schools, when ordained to holy orders, have not been able to properly celebrate the divine services. A great deal of attention was given to the historical process in the development of our divine services. Great importance was given to the opinions of various scholars concerning the origin of one or another aspect of Octoechos, or some liturgical action. Much was spoken about the symbolism of various religious rites. However, the service itself, its exposition, order, and content have been left without due attention.

Meanwhile, what richness is contained in our divine services! Only who delves deeply into them, studying them according to the original sources, our wonderful service books, sees this. Our divine services present a genuine "school of piety," and a real theological school, instructing us in all our theological sciences through live, colorful images and highly inspired, prayerful expressions.

Thus, the annual cycle of divine services sets forth for us completely, with people and main events, all of biblical history, Old Testament as well as New Testament, and also the history of the Church, general as well as particular, i.e., the history of the Russian Church. Before us pass the majestic Old Testament images of the patriarchal forefathers, the great leaders of the chosen people of God, Moses and Joshua, the Judges of the Kings of Israel, the stern prophets, the zealots of Jehovah and condemners of the apostasy of the Hebrew people from the true God. The wonderful foreshadowings and prophecies about the coming Messiah are revealed, and then a complete series of feasts all the New Testament history from the Nativity of John the Baptist until the Ascension of the Lord. Here is contained the history of the Church in people and events, a general history as well as the Russian Church history in particular.

And how many great dogmatic truths are unfolded for us with our verses and canons in lofty poetical images! Particularly the so-called Triadica (Trinitarian hymns), in a fresh and graphic way inform us about the great truth of the "Trinity in Unity" - the Three-in-One Divine Being. The Theotokia, among which the "Dogmatic Theotokia," especially, expound for us concerning the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God from the unwedded and most pure Virgin Mary, concerning the perpetually-confessed dogma of the Church regarding the ever-virginity of the unwedded Theotokos. For one who can read and investigate thoroughly, this is a full course of dogmatic theology revealing to us all the dogmatic teaching of the Church: about God, one in essence and three in Persons; about God as the Creator of the world and mankind; about the provider and Savior of man; about the Son of God as Redeemer; about the Holy Spirit as sanctifier, about the Church as the storehouse of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Each of the Seven Mysteries is given full expression in a separate service, where the significance and meaning is revealed fully and in detail. And finally, we have the last destiny of the world and man - the second coming of Christ, the Last Judgment, the eternal suffering of sinners and the eternal blessedness of the righteous.

What plentiful material our divine service books give us in the area of moral theology - the teaching concerning Christian morality! In this area we find inexhaustible examples from the lives of the God-pleasing saints. And above all, we find the teaching on prayer in the innumerable images of the most diversified prayers for all occasions of life, answering all the varied needs of the human being. We have a full picture of the war continually waged in man 5 soul between virtue and sin; the lofty examples of virtues; the censure of sin; the graphic examples of virtuous and depraved life gathered from Sacred Scripture, the history of the Church, and the lives of saints. In this sphere especially rich material is provided by the Lenten Triodion with its incomparable and exalted penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, and also by the penitential and tender verses of the Octoechos.

However, not only the above-mentioned theological sciences find their expression, in one way or another, in our Orthodox divine services, but all the others also receive their content from them. During the course of the centuries our divine services have built up an harmonious system, rich in content, through the efforts of many great hymnographers, people of prayer, and ascetics, holy fathers of the Church. To set in order all this rich material, a special arrangement was composed according to the days and months of the year, with exact indications as to how and when, and on which days, and in which service, and in what order this material is to be used. This is the Typicon, or Ustav.

The first, most ancient edition of the Typicon goes back to the 5th century of the Christian Era and belongs to the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified, near Jerusalem. The second edition has come down to us from the 9th century, from the Monastery of St. Theodore the Studite. The Typicon was composed in fulfillment of the commandment of the holy Apostle Paul, who indicated that in the Church everything should be done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:40).

It would seem that having such a very rich inheritance, received from the first centuries of Christianity, it would behoove us to learn the Typicon, to investigate it, and to try to use it fully for our instruction and the salvation of our souls.

However, what do we observe in actuality in our times? For the significant majority of believers, this greatest of spiritual riches has become unapproachable, it seems to be hidden under a bushel; it remains completely unused.

The reason for this, of course, most importantly lies in the secularization of life, in the departure from the Church, which began long ago among our Russian society, from the middle of the 17th century, as a result of an imprudent rapprochement with the West and a flippant enthusiasm for anti-Christian, Western pseudo-culture. In society different secular interests and aspirations, as opposed to spiritual ones, began to dominate. Genuine, living faith began to weaken, and people became weary of true services conducted according to the actual Typicon. Services were shortened. As a result of this process, as can be observed in contemporary parishes, only the skeleton of the services remains. The unalterable parts remain, but the stichera often are shortened or left out. Such is the case also with Matins. The odes of the canons are shortened; not all of the eirmosi are sung, so also with the katavasia, and so on. This in spite of the fact that all the richness and depth of the services are to be found in the stichera and the canons. In them are reflected the festal events, in them are glorified the saints in whose memory the services are celebrated. With such abbreviations the worshippers do not receive any impressions from the event celebrated, inasmuch as, except for the troparion and the magnification, they do not hear anything related to the given feast. For this reason, all the above-mentioned richness of our divine services is lost and is not accessible to the faithful.

At the same time, those who support abbreviating the services give attention to providing that the unchangeable parts of the service be diversified, and they often resort to concert-like four part harmonizations. Because of this choir directors devote much time to the execution of complicated, concert pieces for the unalterable portions of the services which are repeated; for example: Bless the Lord, 0 my soul; Blessed is the man; Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart; Praise ye the name of the Lord; the Great Doxology. In actuality, with plain chant [harmonized simply] the time spent in concerts could be used to sing the stichera and in the reading of the canons. Of course, with the use of plain chant and the additional material the services would be somewhat longer. However, the worshippers would have the ability to grasp the meaning of the event celebrated and to receive spiritual edification. The services would not be monotonous (some say boring), as the case often is now, and because of which the worshippers lose interest, and our churches are empty during vigils. Quite the opposite, they will be beneficial and edifying because of their content. Such a service creates a spiritual mood, a spiritual uplift, and would fill the worshippers with the Grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Theatrical concert singing came into fashion in Russia during the last two centuries, and it is a direct violation of the 75th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council which states: "We desire those who attend church for the purpose of chanting neither to employ disorderly cries nor to force themselves to unnatural shrieks, nor to introduce anything that is not becoming and proper for the church; but, on the contrary, to offer up such psalmodies with much attentiveness and contriteness to God, Who sees all that is hidden from our sight. For the sons of Israel shall be reverent (Lev. 15:30), the sacred word has taught us."

Chant of Italian origin arrived in Russia together with immigrant Italians during and after the reign of Catherine II, and brought into our churches a spirit foreign to Holy Orthodoxy. Under the influence of a general enthusiasm for the West in all areas of life, it spread widely throughout Russia and established deep roots. Nevertheless, at the beginning of this century in Russia there were people who began to understand the problem involving church chant, and they began to return to the ancient, strict church melodies.

A great authority on the question of church chant, the New Hieromartyr Arsenius, Archbishop of Novgorod, at one time one of three candidates for patriarch at the All-Russian Council of 1~ 7, twice convoked in his diocese conferences for teachers of church chant - in 1911 and 1913 with the goal of returning the church choir to true chanting as it was in Russia during the course of 700 years from the time of the Baptism of Rus'. At the first of these conferences he made a speech, from which we cite some ideas.

"Beginning in the 17th century we directed our gaze toward the West, and then we began to change in every respect," said Vladyka Arsenius. "We have forgotten that church chant is a holy work. We have forgotten the wonderful Znamenny, Bulgarian, and Greek chants,... church singers imagine themselves to be artists ~.. For this reason they often choose for church hymns unsuitable melodies and they are ready to make the choir a stage.. we answer to God for this profaning of the divine services with our singing. The choir is not a stage for actors. In church everything should be sacred." The basic characteristic by which real church chant should be distinguished is dispassion.

Closely bound up with liturgics along with chant is church art or iconography. If chant is called upon to illustrate and to imprint strongly in our hearts liturgical material by means of such an important organ of our external senses as hearing, so iconography also acts by means of another organ of sense - sight. Iconography also, like chant, should be conducive to the education of the faithful in an Orthodox spirit, and iconography should respond to the needs of Orthodox aesthetics and lead, not to deception, but to healthy religious feeling.

Orthodox iconography is not realistic, but symbolic. It cannot and should not illustrate anything that is of this world, which lies in evil, disfigured by sin, carrying in itself the stamp of sin, and attracting to sin. Iconography should not remind one of anything worldly. On the contrary, it should attract one's thoughts and feelings away from all worldliness and carry us over into another, higher world, the spiritual world. Not only should Raphael's madonnas not be found in Orthodox churches, but also all art that cannot cut us off from everything earthy, art which, even though it might seem to be inspired and beautiful from the point of view of aesthetics, nevertheless portrays only worldly images encountered upon earth and bound up with the world. Iconography, as well as church chant, should completely separate us from the world. Without this it is not Orthodox and cannot instruct us in Orthodoxy.

Such is the criteria, such is the touchstone for evaluating the "Orthodoxy" of church chant and iconography. Here one cannot talk about such a thing as "personal tastes"; we cannot permit the criterion." whether it pleases one or not." Both chant and iconography should be, above all, in agreement with the spirit of Orthodox aesthetics, which demands a full denial of the world, with the Orthodox teaching about prayer, free from ecstatic prelest [deception]. For this reason, not for one minute can we forget that according to the word of the beloved disciple of Christ, the holy Apostle John the Theologian, "the whole world lieth in wickedness," and "[Whosoever loveth] the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Dispassion is the very criterion for the "Orthodoxy" of church chant and iconography.

And this question is very important! The divine services should cultivate in the faithful the spirit of Orthodoxy and not the prelest of the West. Unlawful Western chant and realistic art invading our churches obviously can only foster the spirit of Western, ecstatic, seducing prelest, destructive to souls but in no way in the spirit of genuine Orthodox piety.

In relation to the above, it is important to point out that all non-Orthodox who become interested in Orthodoxy, of whom we see more and more in our diaspora, instinctively draw closer to the Orthodox Church, love, appreciate, and highly esteem our ancient chants and our ancient iconography, which perfectly reflect all the exalted heavenly beauty of Orthodoxy. Many among them wince and wonder when they hear in our churches bravura Italian melodies which have nothing in common with Orthodoxy.

Thus, Liturgics should be the inspiring study of the living richness of the Church, which is to be found in our divine service books and, besides, should not be separate from external expression in church chant and iconography.

Such a mission we at Holy Trinity Seminary try to fulfill, according to our abilities and strength. Our seminarians learn the divine services in practice. They also study the history of the divine services. They participate in the church choir and they serve in the altar. In such a way those who try, have the possibility not only to become closely acquainted with the services and learn church chant, but also to immerse themselves in the life of the church year.

During the last few years we have organized seminars in church singing, which are held in the summer. Further, the Church-singing Commission of the Synod of Bishops holds annual conferences which are conducted precisely in that Church spirit and direction about which the New Hieromartyr Arsenius of Novgorod spoke and emphasized. Under his initiative and with his blessing there was printed The Church Choir Director's Companion in 1~3. By 1916 in Russia there were already three editions of this book. Holy Trinity Monastery printing press reprinted this valuable aid for choirs in 1959. Many of our parishes now use this Companion, both in the choir and during other services. This very handbook, The Church Choir Director's Companion, is the principal handbook and directive for our church-singing conferences. Such a guide in church-singing tradition we find in the majority of our parishes where graduates of Holy Trinity Seminary are priests.

In some degree we can also observe that in the majority of the parishes of the Church Abroad church iconography is kept in the ancient Russian-Byzantine tradition, thanks to the fact that in our monastery we have an iconographer, Archimandrite Cyprian, around whom has gathered an iconographic school and tradition. Many of our churches have been painted by Archimandrite Cyprian and his students. They have also painted icons which have been printed and distributed not only among our faithful, but also in Russia in great quantities.

Here my desire has been to indicate what important work is carried on by our Seminary, by our Monastery, and by our Church Abroad!

Seminary Graduation 1995
Archbishop Laurus


From Orthodox Life No. 4, 1995





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