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July 31, 2004

An Orthodox Experience?

Given the usual English meaning of the word "Orthodox", it is perhaps misleading to describe the experience of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom as "Orthodox"! In doctrine, form, and theology it could be nothing but a liturgy of the Orthodox Church, and although we enjoyed a "shortened" version, it is self- evident that the assertion of the Greek, Russian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Syriac Orthodox Churches that "the liturgy is eternal" is correct. They would also claim that it is in the liturgy that earth and heaven are at their closest.

After last night, I can see what they mean.

We stood for the entire service, around four hundred of us, as we would do in an Orthodox Church, while the Priest and his assistant performed the rituals of their church. We could have sat, but it did not seem appropriate, and their Liturgy was being offered "For the Unity of the Church", even though the Anglican and Orthodox Churches are now divided, seemingly forever, on the issue of women priests.

The music for the Orthodox Church is unaccompanied - the church having rejected the use of any "secular" instrument in worship around 500AD. At least they are consistent! They also do not use any form of electronic amplification, so the priest needs a good powerful voice in a place like the Abbey! This one certainly did. His sermon in particular was an absolute beauty, covering, in a very serious but compassionate way, the things which divide Christians and those (which really count!) that unite us.

The form of the Liturgy is certainly recognisable to anyone of the "catholick" wing of Christendom. The Introduction is longer and certainly has echoes of the Early Church meeting to commemorate the Last Supper in private houses and over a shared meal. While most of this would, in an Orthodox Church, happen behind the Icon Screen, we were privileged to see the whole as it happened at the head of the Nave of the Abbey. The Priests' vestments were straight from a mosaic of the period of Justinian, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The ritual almost as old.

The form of the service is as follows:

The initial Blessing and the Litany of Peace - sung by Priest and responses by the Choir.

Antiphon - Bless the Lord, O my soul! - Kalinnikov

The Shorter Litany - Priest and Choir

Second Antiphon - Glory be to the Father - Rachmaninov

The Shorter Litany - Priest and Choir

The Third Antiphon - O Lord remember us - Kalinnikov

(The Priest would normally come through the Icon Screen and hold aloft the Book of the Gospels while stood in the congregation - in the Abbey he took it from the Altar and moved to a place between the front rows of people and held it aloft.)

He then intones "Wisdom, be steadfast!"

The Introit:

Intoned by the priest with a choral response, this is:

"O come let us worship and fall down before Christ. O Son of God, who art wonderful in thy Saints, save us who sing to thee, Alleluia!"

The Tropar - a Litany sung by the Priest which encompasses Church, State, The World, individuals in need, and all the company of Christianity.

The Trisagion - Sung by the Choir, this prayer is:

"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us. (Repeated three times) Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, both now and for ever and for ages of ages, Amen. Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us, Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy upon us."

The Epistle and Gospel are sung

The Epistle is sung by a Member of the congregation and the Priest intones at the end of it

"Blessings upon you Oh Reader of the Word."

The Gospel is sung from the Entrance to the Icon Screen by the Priest.

This was follwed by the sermon (Out of its normal place which is usually Post Communion.)

THE GREAT ENTRANCE is now made and this is followed by

The Cherubic Hymn - Priest - Choir - Gretchaninov

The Litany of Supplications and the Kiss of Peace

The Nicene Creed - Sung by the Choir - Gretchaninov

All I can say about this is that it is a fantastic setting - solo lead throughout - and it really made me conscious of how much we all share.

The Offering of the Holy Gifts - the Bread and Wine are offered by the Priest on behalf of the congregation (who brought bread offerings with their supplications to the service and from these the Communion Bread is taken.)

The Anaphora then begins - this is the Consecration prayers and follows a similar pattern to that of the West, but in the form of a Litany.

The Magnifical Hymn - Sung by The Choir

The Litany of Supplications and the Lord's Prayer

The Communion Anthem - The Choir - Rachmaninov

The Communion

The Post Communion - Priest and Choir

The Litany of Thanksgiving

The Dismissal

The Antidoron
During this the congregation are invited to eat the left over bread from the Table of Offering (which was not used in the Consecration) and to kiss the hand Cross used by the Priest in the Dismissal Blessing.

This summary can in no way do justice to a truly spiritual event - one I will ponder on and treasure for a long time to come.

"Bless the Lord all ye servants of the Lord, Praise Him and Bless Him forever!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 31, 2004 04:50 PM