Category Archives: Canons and Liturgical Practices

Holy Arousal

by Thomas Arentzen

St Augustine once observed: “It is longing that makes the heart deep” (Tractates on the Gospel of John 40.10). As a scholar of the early Church, I am often struck by how much early Christians longed. They ached and urged and craved intensely, wanted and thirsted immensely, desired and hungered and yearned for all that was good and beautiful. Their hands longed to touch; their ears wanted to hear; and their eyes just had to see; their mouths awaited tastes as eagerly as their noses anticipated smells. Expressions of overwhelming desire reached a fevered pitch in texts written for liturgical settings; hymns in particular depicted human relationships with the divine in vivid colors. This is not to say that the poets engaged in some form of confused emotionalism; on the contrary, they wove deeply embodied affects—a starving person’s hunger or an impassioned body’s yearning for an embrace—into the fabric of their theological vocabulary. Those listening or singing along could not help but feel the waves of desire pulsating through their own hearts and embodied selves.

For Holy Wednesday, Orthodox church singers prepare to perform St Kassia’s (c. 805–860) famous troparion “On the Sinful Woman.” Continue reading

Liturgical Literacy

by Richard Barrett

Recently, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Metropolis of Chicago announced the ten areas of strategic focus they had developed during a three-day retreat. His Eminence Nathanael, Metropolitan of Chicago, said that these areas represent  “who we are and what we stand for as Orthodox Christians[.]” Number nine on the list was “Worship Engagement and Accessibility.” This appeared to grow directly out of at least one weakness called out in the published SWOT analysis: “Unsatisfactory church experience (welcoming and liturgical).” This announcement echoed the concerns raised in Alexei Krindatch’s report, “Orthodox Christian Churches in 21st Century America: a Parish Life Study,” released in January of this year by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. According to Krindatch, attendance at Sunday services declined overall between 2010-2015, and in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Antiochian Archdiocese in particular, regularly participating members have become less engaged in the lives of their parishes.Issues of language, comprehension, and participation are oft-cited barriers to engagement; the service is in a language that the people do not understand, following an order with multiple moving parts that the people cannot track, which gives the people nothing to do. As a result they do not see that they have a reason to be there.

This perceived state of affairs is in marked contrast to the commonplace that from the Eastern Orthodox Church perspective, the primary act of the Christian is to worship God. Continue reading

It’s That Time of the Year Again: In Tone Four, “The murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews…”

by Bogdan G. Bucur  |  ελληνικά  |  ру́сский  |  српски

byz-hymn-e1491498366215.png

Disturbing Words, Disturbed Emotions

The words in the title are from one of the stichera at the Beatitudes chanted on Holy Thursday evening (Triodion, 589). Similar references to “arrogant Israel, people guilty of blood,”  “bloodthirsty people, jealous and vengeful,” and “the perverse and crooked people of the Hebrews” occur in the unabbreviated English translation of the Lamentations service printed in the Lenten Triodion.

It is true that this kind of language appears less strident when considered within the context of Byzantine rhetoric; it is also true that the pattern is set by the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Micah 6:1-5; Amos 2:9-12); and it is, yet again, true that we must also take into consideration the larger context of the Church’s growth from a charismatic, egalitarian, theologically innovative, and administratively schismatic group within first-century Judaism into the increasingly Gentile reality of the second century. Indeed, during the early decades of the Christian movement, the context for the vitriolic anti-Judaism found in the Hebrew Bible, in some apocalyptic writings of the Second Temple era, and in the New Testament (e.g., “brood of vipers,” “synagogue of Satan,” “enemies of God,” “sons of the devil”) shifted gradually from harsh intra-Jewish polemics to polemics between the overwhelmingly Gentile Church and “the Jews.” All good and true—but today these invectives are deeply disturbing, and we know that rhetoric of this kind has at times been part of the explosive mix that led to violence against Jews. Continue reading

Some Common Misperceptions about the Date of Pascha/Easter

by John Fotopoulos  |  ру́сский

There is a common misperception among Orthodox Christians that the reason why Orthodox Easter (i.e. Pascha) often occurs so much later than Western Christian Easter is because the Orthodox Church abides by the rules for calculating the date of Pascha issued by the 1stEcumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD and thus the Orthodox must wait for Passover to be celebrated by the Jewish community before Pascha can occur. Despite this view being held by so many Orthodox Christians as well as being promoted in popular essays written by some Orthodox priests, it is not accurate. The reason why Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs so much later than Easter celebrated by Roman Catholics and Protestants has nothing to do with the Orthodox Church following the Paschal formula of Nicaea and the Western Churches not doing so, nor is it because the Orthodox must wait for Jewish Passover to be celebrated. Rather, Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs later than Western Easter because the Orthodox Church uses inaccurate scientific calculations that rely on the inaccurate Julian Calendar to determine the date of Pascha for each year. Some background information is in order to help explain precisely what the problems are. Continue reading