Posts tagged ‘liturgy’

October 9, 2017

we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

[Paul] is commonly—and not inappropriately—thought of as the Church’s earliest theologian. This persuasion, nonetheless, certainly does not mean that the Church had no theology prior to Paul’s conversion. Indeed, on the very day Ananias baptized the Apostle to the Gentiles, there already existed an authoritative body of Christian belief—a paradosis or “tradition”—of which Paul himself became both the appreciative heir and the ardent proponent. As we shall consider presently, his appeal to that authority was both prompt and insistent.

…In what forms did Paul receive this traditional information about Jesus? He received it, first of all, through the teaching ministry of the Church, beginning with the instructions he received from Ananias, the pastor of the congregation in Damascus, when he received Paul into the obedience and sacrament of faith (see Acts 9: 10–18; 22: 12–16). The living Church, this “house of the catholic obedience” (Venerable Bede’s beautiful expression), also conveyed the inherited faith to Paul through the words of her kerygmatic and catechetical material, her basic creedal forms, her hymnography, and her other prayers.

…Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions (paradoseis) you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2: 15)

But we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition (paradosin) which they received (parelabosan) from us. (2 Thess. 3: 6)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions (paradoseis) just as I handed them on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 2)

I received (parelabon) from the Lord what I also handed on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 23)

I handed on (paredoka) to you, among the first things, that which I also received (parelabon). (1 Cor. 15: 3)

…The traditions of the Church were inseparable from the forms and content of her worship. Indeed, there is substantial evidence, from her earliest days, that the Church proceeded, at least implicitly, on the premise, “the norm of worship is the norm of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). The reasoning supportive of this axiom seems solid: If the Church’s prayer was an expression of her faith, then the words of the prayer must give a good idea of what the Church believed. How do we find this material?

…We don’t know how much non-liturgical poetry the earliest Christians wrote, but we do know they wrote hymns, and we know that many hymns are composed in common poetic forms. Now, if there was one thing perfectly clear about the early Christians, it was their disposition to sing the content of their faith—and not only to sing it, but to sing it together, to chant common texts they all knew by heart. Thus, we find Paul and his companions, in the dark of midnight, “praying, singing hymns (hymnoun) to God” in a Philippian jail (see Acts 16: 25). Whatever hymns they were singing, they were certainly singing them from memory.

…When we find traces of Christian hymnography in the New Testament literature, the discovery is particularly precious; in such instances we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down.

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December 30, 2013

doth seek now with tears thy help to worship

So much to ponder in these ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church. I’m particularly struck by the repeated consideration given near the end of this hymn to the danger and difficulty of responding aloud to God’s revelation of Himself with “well-balanced songs of praise.” (Purchase an MP3 recording of this here, and see more ancient nativity hymn lyrics here.)
9th Ode of the 2nd Canon of Christ’s Nativity

Magnify, O my soul, her who is more honorable and more exalted in glory than the heavenly hosts.
I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him.

Magnify, O my soul, the God born in flesh from the Virgin.
When the Magi saw a new and strange star appearing suddenly, moving in a wonderful way, and transcending the stars of heaven in brightness, they were guided by it to Christ, the King born on earth in Bethlehem, for our salvation.

Magnify, O my soul, the King born in a cave.
The Magi said, Where is the Child King, the newborn, Whose star hath appeared? For we have verily come to worship Him. And Herod, the contender against God, trembled, and began to roar in folly to kill Christ.

Magnify, O my soul, the God worshipped by the Magi.
Herod ascertained from the Magi about the time of the star by whose guidance they were led to Bethlehem to worship with presents Christ Who guided them, and so they returned to their country, disregarding Herod, the evil murderer of babes, mocking him.

Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Lord inside the cave.
Verily it is easier for us to endure silence since there is no dread danger therefrom for us. But because of our strong desire, O Virgin, and Mother of sameness, to indite well-balanced songs of praise, this becometh indeed onerous to us. Wherefore, grant us power to equal our natural inclination.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: Magnify, O my soul, the might of the indivisible and three-personed Godhead.
O pure one, Mother of the Word that appeareth newly from thee, O closed door, verily, as we behold the dark shadowy symbols pass away, we glorify the light of the truth and bless thy womb as is meet.

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glorify, O my soul, her who hath delivered us from the curse.
The Christ-pleasing people, O Virgin, having deserved to be granted its desire by the coming of God, doth seek now with tears thy help to worship the glory of His enlivening appearance wherein is the renewal of birth; for it is thou who dost distribute grace, O pure one.

This too:

When it was time for thy presence on earth, the first enrollment of the world took place. Then it was that thou didst decide to enroll the names of men who believe in thy Nativity. Yea, that commandment did issue forth from Caesar, since the everlastingness of thine eternal kingdom hath been renewed. Wherefore, we offer what is better than moneyed tax, namely Orthodox theological sayings; to thee, O God, Savior of our souls.

May 5, 2013

strong enough to exult in monotony

G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstasy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

November 24, 2012

obviously legitimate to wonder why

The more circumscribed an action is, the more it consequently belongs to the order of those actions which can either be reproduced by the agent himself in identical circumstances, or imitated by others–the more it is obviously legitimate to wonder why it is performed, or in other words what calls for it. On the other hand, the more totally an action involves the personality of the agent, the more it is of the nature of a vocation, and the more it is unique by its essence so that there can be no question of the agent repeating it or of others imitating it from outside, the less the question under consideration can be asked without absurdity.

From page 105 of “The Creative Vow as Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

October 24, 2012

a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices. And this will be true even of the most instrumentalist, pragmatic programs of education (such as those that now tend to dominate public schools and universities bent on churning out ‘skilled workers’) that see their task primarily as providing information, because behind this is a vision of the good life that understands human flourishing primarily in terms of production and consumption. Behind the veneer of a ‘value-free’ education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information is an educational vision that remains formative. There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such thing as a ‘secular’ education.

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies) by James K.A. Smith.

October 22, 2012

joy of recovered childhood

The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole beauty of liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.

Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the “necessary.” Beauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.” And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy. It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditional and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.

“…It is in the highest sense the life of a child, in which everything is picture, melody and song. Such is the wonderful fact which the liturgy demonstrates: it unites act and reality in a supernatural childhood before God.”

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (29-31), with the last portion being quoted from Romano Guardini’s 1950 book The Church and the Catholic, and the Spirit of the Liturgy (180-181).

June 20, 2011

delight of the eye

Another passage from Wilken:

When speaking of how God is known early Christian thinkers favored the metaphor of seeing, not hearing. In his response to Celsus, Origen cites a series of biblical texts that have to do with seeing: “Blessed are the pure in spirit for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jo. 14:9); and “Christ is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). From these he draws the conclusion that people come to know the “Father and maker of this universe by looking at the image of the invisible God.” Beauty is the corollary of seeing. In the Scriptures many of the key terms used of God’s self-disclosure, words such as glory, splendor, light, image, and face, have to do with the delight of the eye. When we speak of the pleasure the eye takes in what it sees the term that comes to mind is beauty. The psalmist wrote, “One thing have I asked of the Lord … that I will behold the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).

As early as the second century the apologist Athenagoras of Athens included the term beauty in a list of words depicting God. The God we set before you, he says, is “encompassed by light, beauty, spirit, and indescribable power.” In his commentary on the Song of Songs Origen wrote that the “soul is moved by heavenly love and longing when it beholds the beauty and the comeliness of the Word of God.” God’s revelation can be seen from the perspective of its ineffable beauty as well as of its truth and goodness.”  (p. 20)

This point is central to the thesis of Wilken’s book (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God) and shows how the medieval triad of goodness, beauty and truth started to be understood as three modes of knowing God and his revelation.

June 13, 2011

she remembered them years later

As this whole life is a kind of journey or exile, exercising the office of priesthood often involves a deliberate, steadying or arresting of time (cycles such as weeks, months, anniversaries and festivals help in this regard):

They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.

Lewis is always interested in light and it’s transformational effects, especially sun light. Our whole world begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation under the light of God himself. Exercising the eyes of a priest often involves noticing these hints at what the world might truly look like.

Then suddenly the sun rose and everything changed in a moment. The grey sand turned yellow and twinkled as if it was strewn with diamonds. On their left the shadows of Shasta and Hwin and Bree and Aravis, enormously long, raced beside them. The double peak of Mount Pire, far ahead, flashed in the sunlight and Shasta saw they were a little out of the course. “A bit left, a bit left,” he sang out. Best of all, when you looked back, Tashbaan was already small and remote. The Tombs were quite invisible: swallowed up in that single, jagged-edged hump which was the city of the Tisroc. Everyone felt better.

(Both from The Horse and His Boy, chapter 9.)

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