Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours (Vol IV, Ch 2)

From Michael Ruse:

Earlier in Chapter 1, subsection on Worship and Theology, Metropolitan Hilarion said that despite any talk or desire of simplifying or changing Orthodox worship for today’s age, “Not a single local Orthodox Church …has deemed it possible to revise the liturgical Typikon, even though in the Church’s experience, certain essential changes have been made in the Typikon’s use …” (Chp.1, p.11). 

 In Chapter 2, the Typikon – essentially the Church’s liturgical book for divine services – will draw us into the order and rich subject matter that “makes Orthodox worship a veritable school of theology.” It orders the psalms, Old Testament Biblical canticles, troparia, aposticha, and the various services of Vespers, Compline (apodeipnon=after dinner prayers), Midnight Office, Matins (a.k.a. Orthros), and the Hours (primarily the 3rd, 6th, 9th hours). We have been touching on the concept of time in our weekly discussions. Everyone has make decisions daily not only how to spend time (it is an important thing to spend) but also how to order one’s use of time. 

 The Church Typikon makes an encounter with Christ in liturgical prayer possible literally at any time, day or night, as much as we are able to do that. Much of the content of the Typikon comes from the Psalms and how they were used in early Christian and monastic traditions. If you ever wondered why certain Psalms are being sung, why they happen at certain points in the services, this chapter will not let you down in giving you that answer. Out of all of the non-Eucharistic services, Matins is uniquely the most monastic in character. Metropolitan Hilarion offers us a great benefit by easily outlining some of the themes and concepts behind the selection of readings from the Psalms so that we can attune ourselves to the that rich content, since even the most attentive worshipper can often miss a lot of what is being spoken or sung during the liturgical service. Another important aspect of this chapter touches on both the ancient practices that focused on set times, forms and gestures of prayer. Sitting down, stretching out one’s arms upward, and rising up early or standing at night are not nice suggestions, but essential bodily and timely ways of prayers.

 Join us this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to either introduce yourself to the heart of Orthodox worship or to keep deepening your own understanding of liturgical services and become fluent in its poetic language and structure. 

Worship Services of the Daily Cycle  (Vol IV, Ch 1)

From Michael Ruse:

Hubert Bays will present Chapter 1 in Part Two. Metropolitan Hilarion starts this topic with the section on The Mystical Supper because Christ fulfilled the Eucharist and He is the paschal meal. From there, we understand that Christ commanded his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” and no longer in remembrance of only Egypt. How do we remember Christ? “The Eucharist itself” is the focal point. Metropolitan Hilarion explains the celebration of the Eucharist in the next section, The Eucharist in the Early Church. The Apostolic community also worshipped by reading or singing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs as St. Paul says. Liturgical rituals were written as early as the 2ndcentury AD. These are outlined in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which give witness to the same elements and beliefs of worship as today’s Orthodox Church. 

 Although the Eucharistic communities had a ritual and liturgical character, some of the earliest Christian communities had space for improvisation and much local variety. The uniformity we might see today had developed over time and between different centers of Christianity in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. There is a place of importance for precise definitions of theology called horoi (literally boundaries in Greek) that flourished in Constantinople among the Greek Fathers. In the Semitic traditions, they understood worship and theology as more about “praising God in prayer” and in spiritual poetry, as St. Ephraim the Syrian has shown in many of his widespread compositions. His poetry influenced later Byzantine hymnographers who borrowed from his model such as St. Romanos the Melodist, and his poetry formed worship in Byzantium. 

 Other sections include The Eucharist of the Early Byzantine Period that begins with the Edict of Milan promulgated by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD. Metropolitan Hilarion discusses the Liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom as well as the ancient Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem used in the Christian East today. The Non-Eucharistic Services of the Daily Cycle covers material about praying the hours at certain times of the day. The Growth of Christian Hymnography explains how the Syrian tradition influenced Greek and Byzantine hymn-writing traditions, which links St. Romanos the Melodist and St. Andrew of Crete to St. Ephraim the Syrian. The last two sections are Worship in Constantinople and The Monastic Character of Orthodox Worship. 

 Join us after the Ninth Hour this Saturday at 4:00 pm to learn about some very ancient practices of prayer, worship, and poetry. 

Different Futures

Different Futures

I write these columns for the Hill Country News along with several other local clergymen. All of my fellow columnists are good guys, but I’m especially fond of Chuck Robison, because almost all of his articles are filled with references to things like “quantum convergences” and “radionic  chakras” (OK, I don’t think he’s ever actually written about radionic chakras, but I bet you that someday he will). He produces the sort of pieces I think Hunter S. Thompson would have churned out if he had lived long enough to get religion. However, as much as I enjoy Chuck’s style, I’m going to have to take issue with the column he wrote for the June 20 issue of the paper. In that article, Chuck made a pretty standard case for abortion, but, to round off his argument, he offered a proposal for how Christian communities might approach the whole issue.

Certain Features of Worship in the Orthodox Church (Vol IV, Part 1)

From Michael Ruse:

DeAnne has background in education and she will present Part 1 to start Volume IV, The Worship and Liturgical Life of the Orthodox Church. There are five main sections to Part 1: 

1.    Worship and Theology 

2.    Liturgical Languages 

3.    Liturgical Ceremonies 

4.    The Church Calendar

5.    Liturgical Cycles and Liturgical Books

 There are three types of calendars used for calculating when to observe feast days, weekly fasting, and other liturgical cycles that are used in Orthodox Churches: Gregorian, Julian, and the revised Julian calendar. What do Orthodox Christians do throughout the year? Liturgical cycles run daily, weekly, annually fixed, and annually movable. Other important books that are used in these cycles include the MenaionOctoechos, and Horologion; these cycles allow us to read through all the Gospels and Psalms weekly and yearly as well as learn about the lives of the saints.   

Each of these smaller sections present us with a similar idea. How do we keep certain features of the old and the new in the Orthodox Church? Metropolitan Hilarion presents us with the idea of a “living Tradition of the Church” that flows from the past into the present. But how is it decided? Should a calendar be updated or kept the same? Should Russian or the inheritance of Old Church Slavonic as a sacred language be kept? The Orthodox Church is experienced in these situations since we've dealt with Arianism and controversies about Pascha before. If some new development causes a schism or a rupture between worship and theology, then it is very likely either a bad idea or not a genuine feature of the Church. 

Another important consideration when we start Volume IV is the nature of worship and theology. It’s interesting that this interaction is called lex orandi and lex credendi (Latin for the law of praying and the law of believing) because it’s an inescapable part of life that our beliefs will follow our worship. Actions reveal our beliefs. He explains that what we believe – like the Creed – flows out of how we pray, and nothing in the divine services hinders us from prayer.

Church Singing in Other Local Orthodox Churches (Vol III, Ch 13)

From Michael Ruse:

Reader Matt Groh will present some exotic material on local church singing from the Balkans and the Caucasus regions, neighboring places of Russia. He is also an educator by profession and he teaches science. Since he is the head chanter at St. John’s, you will not want to miss his presentation on local Orthodox church singing. Join us this Saturday at 4:00 pm. 

The country of Georgia is located in the Caucasus Mountains on the border of Asia and Europe, and both Bulgaria and Serbia are situated in the Balkans. The last two countries have grown out of Slavonic and Hellenic church singing traditions and they are still influential today. They have a unique melodic development while they also share a Byzantine tradition based on the eight-tones like Russian chants. 

The amount of voices used is an accurate and convenient way to categorize church singing in different countries. We can place the ancient traditions of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch under the one-voiced type sung with an ison-drone (bass drone). That type of singing is also used in modern Hellenic, Bulgarian, and Russian lands. Four-voiced homophono-harmonic or part-singing is widespread in Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Finland, Japan, America, the Czech and Slovak lands, and Poland. Finally, there is the Georgian three-voiced that is a "unison" type of singing because of its characteristic cadence that grows into one voice. This chapter reveals the Orthodox mind because church singing is varied and unified at the same time. 

Russian Church Singing (Vol III, Ch 12)

From Michael Ruse:

Join us this Saturday at 4:00pm to support our St. Thomas Catechetical School and fellow parishioner at St. John’s, and learn what spiritual resources Russian chants might give to us. This chapter is also worth our attention since Metropolitan Hilarion is himself an accomplished composer and fluent in musical traditions of Russia and the West. 

Znamenny chant is the most "ancient form of liturgical singing" in Russia. The word znamya means sign, which indicates that it’s written with Russian signs on a sheet of paper. Lined-strokes called hooks (kriuki) are written over these signs to indicate how long a certain sound lasts in different sorts of melodies. Znamenny chant has been partly lost. But it can be heard in modern variations in monasteries.

There was a major departure liturgically and in style with znamenny chant during the Post-Petrine period of history with a kind of singing called partesny that seems to follow the other cultural and religious revolutions of that time. Then came a slew of composers who were influenced by Italian schools, which later were criticized by a particular man named, Saint Ignatius Brianchanikov, who fought to preserve znamenny chant for Orthodox worship. Metropolitan Hilarion doesn’t forget to include the high and low points of history, and he never fails to investigate the origins of things. The final section deals with contemporary singing in Russian churches. 

Metropolitan Hilarion has also layered the topic of church singing very well. We have covered the influence of Ancient Israel’s musical traditions, especially the psalms, and Greek antiquity’s melodies, as well as Byzantium’s development of the eight-tone system. Now we arrive back into Russian land. This chapter will be compact, but it’s worth the trekking to discover how everyday words are transformed in divine services to inspire the heart to worship God. Through chanting and church singing we reach our spiritual goal of glorifying God. 

Early Christian and Byzantine Church Singing (Vol III, Ch 11)

From Michael Ruse:

There is a wealth of material in this chapter that covers two major sections: Early Christian Music and Byzantine Church Music. We learn that early Christian musical composition wasn’t fixed from the beginning although there were expectations about what to be used for singing. It developed from the Old Testament hymns, the psalms and also ancient Greek melodies. The eight tones or Octoechos helped form and fix later church singing in the Byzantine period. 

After reading this chapter, we will become easily familiar with the most salient and essential terms and ideas of church music like cantillation, the Octoechos, plagal, cento, neume notation, phonai, domestik, and ecphonetic notation. 

Metropolitan Hilarion also touches on some of the writings of the Church Fathers and what they said about the importance of one’s inward disposition, content and rules for church singing. They viewed the human voice as the primary instrument of praise to God rather than instruments. Because of the association of certain sounds and instruments with pagan culture at that time, they tended to speak against musical instruments for accompanying church singing. 

Join us this Saturday at 4:00pm to learn how church singing unifies our voices toward God in the divine services. 

Background: Music in Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel (Vol III, Ch 10)

From Michael Ruse:

As the title says, this chapter is a background for the next chapter on Early Christian and Byzantine singing traditions. Ancient Greece and Israel – both being Mediterranean cultures –  form the backbone of Orthodox Church singing. For example, much of our notation, rhythm, style, and content of early Christian musical tradition draws from these two sources. But the perennial philosophical question is what does Athens and Jerusalem really have in common? As far as Church singing is concerned, a lot of both ancient traditions come together in early Christian and Byzantine singing. The Greeks imparted much of our notation and style while Israel’s psalmody and temple worship gave much content and structure in terms of what we sing. That liturgical singing draws much from King David and the Psalms. So there are two major sections to this chapter: 1) Music and Song in the Old Testament and 2) Musical Arts of Antiquity.

Join us this Saturday at 4:00 to learn about more how these two ancient traditions formed our own singing tradition.

The Meaning of Icons  (Vol III, Ch 9)

From Michael Ruse:

Icons are venerable, ineffable, mystical, myrrh-bearing, rainbow-hued, miraculous, hesychastic and meaningful. How exactly are icons meaningful to us? 

When we discuss the meaning of icons, there are several major topics that come up. They have a theological, an anthropological, and a cosmic meaning, which means it has to do with God, Christ the God-man, and all of creation and mankind including our experiences, moral and mystical. 

Metropolitan Hilarion draws a distinction between religious art during the Renaissance and Iconography as understood and experienced by the Orthodox Church, and the previous Chapter 8 has helped to set that foundation for us. 

How would we ourselves look in an icon? In the East, icons are “static,” not stuck in this world of bodily movements nor do they even focus on particular emotional experiences as some other religious traditions or philosophies promote. 

Neither are they “dynamic” and passionate as we see beautifully portrayed in Classical Western art of the often nude, muscular, agonizing bodies and realistic beasts that take their form from Greco-Roman mythologies. 

After the struggle with passions having been conquered, Orthodox icons are like the victory laps of the saints. We too struggle to receive that renewed body and mind. In this way, icons are both relatable to our daily struggle and also inexhaustible in their meaning.

Russian Icons (Vol III, Ch 8)

From Michael Ruse:

Since we have read about the early links that existed between Byzantium and Kievan Rus’ in the chapter on Russian Church Architecture, Metropolitan Hilarion discusses the Greek influence on iconography in Russia, certainly seen in major Cathedrals, as he shows. This chapter has several sections that roughly follow a historical outline, and it seems he intends for us to soak up that vision of Russia’s icons. 

When certain Russian cities grew in cultural importance, they also became important places for the development of iconography, for example, Tver and Moscow. The masterful iconographer, Theophanes the Greek, was well-known in the 15thc. He was on the artistic scene of Muscovite iconography, and importantly he also taught the painter, Andrei Rublev. 

Saint Andrei Rublev and Icon of the Holy Trinity follows next, and Metropoitan Hilarion also includes a discussion on the topic of iconostasis development. But the “Holy Trinity” icon of the Trinity Lavra at St. Sergius is a fascinating topic that deserves its own book because of its important theological and mystical meaning. 

The remaining sections of this chapter cover: 

-      Dionysius and the Subsequent Development of Russian Iconography 

-      Post-Petrine Period and Academic Painting in Orthodox Churches 

-      Russian Icons in the Post-Revolutionary Period

There may be more than one thing that we can appreciate about Russian Icons when we read of the history. One great appreciation we can have for icons and which the Church recognizes in icons are not only beautiful paint seen on the wood, but equally the master craftsmen who are skilled at making them. Metropolitan Hilarion again covers with virtuosity a key part of Orthodox worship and he highlights important icons throughout Russian history. The next chapter will deal with what icons mean.