Vespers

Christ Pantokrator, Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens

The little chapel was lit only by ambient light from the sides, the chandelier from the ceiling turned off — this, of course, augmented by the lights on Fr. Raphael’s lectern and the glowing candles in the lamps before the iconostasis and those lit by the faithful before the icons near the door.

Icons hung on the four walls of the room as well as on the iconostasis, although not completely covering this piece of ecclesiastical furniture which was made from simple timbers and boards, no fancy carvings in sight.  Although the chapel had no dome (I believe Fr. John lives upstairs), a circular icon of Christ Pantokrator was mounted to the ceiling above the nave.

When the curtain in the iconostasis opened, I could see the Holy Table* with an ornate cross with two other ornate objects flanking it; they reminded me of monstrances, but I knew they couldn’t be since Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a western phenomenon associated with the 13th-century feast of Corpus Christi.

Fr. Raphael stood at his lectern in the back left corner of the chapel and chanted and sang Vespers.  There were Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, Kyries, and many others.  Amidst these beautiful hymns and chants were hymns for St. Ambrose of Milan whose feast was the next day.  These were beautiful and complex, verse homilies in miniature, teaching us of the life and teachings of St. Ambrose, praying that our faith might mirror his.

My Sundays of worship at Evensong at St. Alban’s in Ottawa as well as the many nights I have prayed Compline alone gladdened my heart when Fr. Raphael sang the Nunc Dimittis.  I mouthed the words silently along with him.

Every once in a while, I would see Fr. John behind the iconostasis, standing before the Holy Table, bowing, praying, and chanting a few portions of the order for Vespers himself.  At one point, Fr. John censed the Holy Table and then proceed out from behind the iconostasis with the censer.  He censed the doors, the icons of the day posted near the doors, Theodore, me, and Fr. Raphael, before proceeding back to his position behind the iconostasis.

Theodore, a young Romanian student of electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh, and I were the only two congregants for most of Vespers last night.  We stood at the back, crossing ourselves at the right moments and lifting up our hearts to God.  Using skills developed at Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic services, I kept half an eye on Fr. Raphael to know when to cross myself.  I tried to listen to the words of the service, but sometimes, especially when the chanting became singing, I got caught up in the melody and lost track of the words.

I prayed the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’) many times over.  My charismatic upbringing also manifested itself in the quiet praying in tongues through the movement of the Holy Spirit in that quiet, holy space.  At times, my mind wandered as I stood there, thinking about Eastern Orthodoxy, liturgy, and worship, as well as St. Ambrose.  Inevitably, my thoughts turned to the fact that my back was hurting.

I sat down.  Theodore had already done so, so I didn’t feel bad about it.

Within about a minute of having sat down, Fr. Raphael called me over to his four-platformed spinning lectern to read.

I read the Trisagion, the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer to St. Ambrose, and a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I may have prayed something else, but those are the prayers that stand out in my mind.  Fortunately, I know enough of Orthodox liturgy to have been able to pray the Glory Be without printed words properly.

After this beautiful service, we retired to the church hall for tea and cake.  I met Theodore and Dimitri, and had a conversation with Fr. Raphael about Pope St. Leo the Great and St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Then, as it was about 8:15 and I hadn’t had supper, I went home.

I’m glad I stopped in at the Orthodox Community of St. Andrew the Apostle.  The Lord blessed me through that visit, and I worshipped him in spirit and in truth.

*If I recall Fr. Alexander Schmemann properly, the entire space involved in the iconostasis is the altar.  Not knowing the Orthodox word, I give you the Anglican.

Tap into the Tradition: The Remedy for “Matthewism”

As may be known, I have a habit of listening to Ancient Faith Radio and reading Eastern Orthodox books (the most recent being Being As Communion).  The Eastern Orthodox are a voice worth listening to, and one of the main reasons they are worth listening to is because they, in turn, listen to the Fathers.  They are, thus, deeply traditional, preserving that which has been handed down to them.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, one of the many Orthodox converts on Ancient Faith Radio, says:

I realized that my selections [in my spiritual life] were inevitably conditioned by my own tastes, prejudices, and blind spots. I was patching together a Frankenstein God in my own image, and it would never be taller than five foot one. (Quoted here.)

This is the Christianised version of the religion cited by Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace of “Sheilaism” — whatever you feel like believing, however you feel like worshipping, however you feel like living is what comprises your worldview, religion, and lifestyle.

What Mathewes-Green discovered in Orthodoxy was the corrective of tradition.  We all have our idiosyncrasies that we bring to how we think and live, and as Christians we have them when we approach Scripture and worship.  Tradition is the accumulation of what has been handed down from the Apostles and generally approved of in each generation.  It challenges our presuppositions and idiosyncrasies, sometimes very uncomfortably, but when entered into prayerfully, the Spirit will use it to conform us more and more into the image of Christ rather than the accumulation of stuff and culture and self that we bring with us to begin with.

I decided that, while Orthodoxy is interesting and all, I already have a tradition of my own, and it sprang up in England around 596 with the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury.  To ensure that I actually am part of this tradition, I recently re-read the 39 Articles of Religion, and I find myself in agreement with them.  So, besides reading the 39 Articles, what am I to do to engage with the Anglican tradition in all its richness?

1.  I have decided to plug into the Book of Common Prayer more frequently, using Morning & Evening Prayer and Compline, but also on occasion the Anglican Society of Saint Francis’ Celebrating Common Prayer for the divine office.  The daily office is an important part of traditional English spirituality.  It is a way to pray to and draw near to God while at the same time joining with believers within the tradition throughout the world and throughout time.

2.  I want to read the classics of the Anglican moral/ethical tradition.  This will first mean finishing off William Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, but moving on to Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection.  This aspect of the tradition includes both virtuous living and the call to social justice, both of which are part of the endless movement towards holiness and perfection (on this endless movement, see St. Gregory of Nyssa).

3.  The Anglican tradition also includes the English Reformers, so the Book of Homilies and Richard Hooker at large are to be part of my long-range plan, as is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

4.  The Anglican tradition has a large component of hymnody worth exploring, and since I have 3 copies of Canada’s 1938 Hymn Book, I am well-prepared for this angle.  Alongside hymnody are the poets — Donne, Herbert, et al.

5. The pre-Reformation English tradition, from St. Augustine of Canterbury to the Venerable Bede to St. Anselm to Lady Julian of Norwich and more is part of the tradition as well.  I think a study of the mediaeval roots of “Reformation” thought would be a worthy activity.  Despite the arguments over the date of Easter and monasticism, mediaeval English Christianity tried to adapt local Celtic customs as part of their own, thus making “Celtic” Christianity also fair game.

6.  Patristics is fair game, being the root of much mediaeval Christian thought as well as much Reformation thought.  The Fathers are the Fathers of all Christendom, not just the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox bits.

7.  The theologians other than the Reformers, up to the present day.  The emphasis on Tradition means that, while I should probably grapple with the likes of Spong, Ingham, and more, my emphasis should fall on the Wesleys, the Anglo-Catholics/Oxford Movement, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, J.I. Packer, John Stott, and their ilk.

The above should probably last me until I’m dead.  Re those within Anglicanism who are divergent voices of dissent who attack and judge the tradition, I believe that the way to approach them is to look at them through the lens of the tradition, taking those bits that fall beyond the bounds of Scripture, the Creeds, and the 39 Articles, and providing cogent, reasonable, biblical, and traditional critique.

What about your tradition?  What are the roots and classic writings of Baptists, Mennonites, the Christian Reformed Church, Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism?  With these in one hand, the Bible in the other, large doses of prayer, and the enlivening of the Holy Spirit, we should be more clearly drawn towards the image of the likeness of Christ than when our own idiosyncrasies take control as we read our Bibles all alone in our rooms.  Oh, also, take along a worshipping ecclesial community for the journey.  God will use them to shape you mightily as well.

Evensong

There has been some discussion here of late regarding worship and liturgy and modern vs. traditional.  This past Sunday I worshipped at one of my favourite services in all of Christendom.  A traditional, BCP Evensong in and of itself is not necessarily my favourite.  It is Evensong at St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church, Ottawa, Ontario, that I love (I have been at St. Paul’s in London and a couple of other high church variations — beautiful, but not what I truly love).

I slipped into a pew midway up the right side (Epistle) of the church beside my friend Clive and took off my big, grey coat then prayed a bit.  Clive and I chatted briefly, then I prayed some more (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat 5x.).  The sanctuary was basically quiet save beautiful music wending its way from the pipes of the organ at the front.

The service begins with a proclamation from the priest that our Lord Jesus said that where two or three are gathered, he will be with them also — glad to know we tripled the minimum requirement!  We sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” then opened our red (1962) Books of Common Prayer to p. 18 (my tattered tome has a blue sticky to take me right there).

And then, having assembled and met together “to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at [God’s] hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul” (BCP, 19), we confessed our sins, prayed the versicles, then recited the psalm appointed for the day, alternately by the half verse.

This was followed by the First Lesson, from Isaiah 6.  And then we sang in the stark yet beautiful and (for me) comfortable plainsong the Magnificat (Mary’s song from Luke 1:46 ff).  This was followed by the Second Lesson, wherein our Lord and Saviour healed the man at the pool near Bethesda.  Following this, we sang in another stark yet beautiful plainsong the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s song from Luke 2: 29 ff).

We recited our faith in the words of the ancient baptismal creed of Rome, the Apostles’ Creed.  We prayed more versicles, then the Collect for Christmas, the Collect of the Day, the requisite Collects for Peace and Aid Against All Perils.

The priest sermonised about Isaiah and the Apostle John, about the great glory of God, and the cleverness of the early Church as they prepared their delivery of the Good News.

We proceeded to sing “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”  An offering was taken up during the hymn.  This was followed by the prayers from Morning Prayer, pp. 13-15.  We sang “Joy to the World.”  Richard played a beautiful postlude on the organ that made me glad to be there.

Then we (now numbering 8, not 6) drank Orangina and ate cookies, discussing various things.  Questions re my future were a topic of interest, since I only turn up about once or twice a year, and my future is a bit vague at this point.

I wouldn’t call this service high or low.  Simply traditional.  It was sung, but we all sang together.  Evensong at St. Alban’s is liturgy as it should be — the work of the people.  We are worshipping God using the words of Scripture, the hymns, the tradition, and so forth.  The music, the beautiful setting, the people, the stillness, the smallness — these contributed to an atmosphere wherein I (at least) was able to focus my attention on the words and their meaning and the God whom I came to worship.

This service of Evensong is very special.  I hope it stays as it is for many more years to come.

Traditional and Modern Meet in Steve Bell’s CD “Devotion”

AMC Casiday, in Tradition and Theology in St. John Cassian, writes something along the lines of being traditional as creative interaction with one’s origins.*  This is, essentially, what Steve Bell‘s CD Devotion does.

The songs Steve chose for Devotion, save two, are by Gord Johnson, a songwriter from his (Anglican) church in Winnipeg, St. Benedict’s Table.  They would sing these songs in church, and, it seems, Steve really liked them and wanted to share them with the world; these riches were not to be hoarded.  So, with Johnson’s blessing, Steve Bell recorded the album Devotion, a worship album of relatively simple yet deep songs of worship and prayer, praise and supplication.

The lyrics of “Almighty God”, the very first song on the CD will be familiar to all who have been to an Anglican Eucharist:

Almighty God
To you all hearts are open
All desires known
No secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you
Worthily magnify your holy name
Through Christ our Lord

Two other songs draw upon older texts: Gayle Salmond’s “The Lorica”, a modern reworking of “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”  I love the original hymn, but enjoy singing this new telling of it.  The other is “Benediction.”  For those of us who pray Compline, this is Johnson’s adaptation of the ancient office hymn “Before the Ending of Day” (“Te Lucis Ante Terminum”).

While few other songs are modern retunings and rewordings of old prayers and hymns, still, I believe, the spirit of these songs is the spirit of the Great Tradition.  One of my favourites is “Praise the Father, Praise the Son,” whose chorus is thus:

Praise the Father, praise the Son
Praise the Spirit, three in one
Who was and is and is to come
All praise and honour and glory and power
O praise his name forever

Also great is “Embrace the Mystery,” a very short Eucharistic song (“Behold what you are / Become what you receive / Take up this bread and wine / Embrace the mystery”).  The other songs are also great and notably singable and full of grace, beauty, and truth, the same truths and ideas found in the traditional hymns.

Worship is not about how you feel.  It is not about your ability to connect with God.  It is about rendering praise to God and telling Him how much He is worth (worth + ship = worship).  It is extolling his Name.  We are, however, to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Songs such as these help us focus our spirit so that we are singing more than mere words, as our minds focus their attention on the words — empty diction, empty syntax, empty grammar — and infuse them with meaning.

Whether you feel good, bad, or indifferent, singing a Gord Johnson song will help you focus your mind on God.  This is worship.

*I’m in Ottawa; my notes are in Toronto.  I’ll let you know later what the proper quotation is.

Saint of the Week: Abba Giyorgis Saglawi

From an Ethiopian prayerbook
From an Ethiopian prayerbook

Abba Giyorgis (d. 1426) was an Ethiopian monk who was chaplain to Emperor Dawit I (r. 1380-1412).  According to “The Miracle of Saint Uriel the Archangel,” the English translation of which takes up pp. 9-13 of this document,* he was descended from the son of King Solomon whom Solomon sent to live among the Ethiopians.  Like many great men, Abba Giyorgis was born to parents who at first seemed infertile, but through constant prayer and supplication, their infertility was cured.

The second miracle, besides his birth, was when Abba Giyorgis was taught by the Archangel Uriel the alphabet.  He had spent 7 years at Hayq, “the Paradise of the East,” unable to learn his letters.  The Archangel, who had previously granted his parents the gift of this son, granted to Giyorgis the ability to read and write.

Immediately, as “The Miracle of Saint Uriel” relates, he began writing.  Abba Giyorgis Saglawi wrote a lot.  According to the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, he wrote

the “Arganona Wedase” (“Hymns of Praise”), the “Wedase Masqal” (“Praises of the Cross”), the “Matshafa Sebhat” (“Book of Thanks”), also called the “Matshafa Berhan” (“Book of Light”), the “Matshafa Mestir” (“Book of Mysteries”), which is a compilation of doctrines, completed two years before his death, and the “Matshafa Saatat” (“Book of Hymns”).

He also became abbot of the monastery of Dabro Damo as well as chaplain to Emperor Dawit, as mentioned above.  Like many men of active mind, he got himself into controversy and, thence, into prison.  He got out of prison as a result of a new emperor, Tewodros, who was one of his former pupils.

I became aware of Abba Giyorgis because of his role in the daily office of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.**  The last book in the list of his writings, the “Matshafa Saatat” is the book of the daily office.  Sa’atat is the Ethiopian hours or horologion.

The Sa’atat of Abba Giyorgis is the most common version of the daily office in use in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  To quote Taft on Giyorgis’ sa’atat:

This . . . sa’atat, apparently the only one still in common use, comprises nocturns and an eleventh and twelfth hour.  Nocturns and vespers or the eleventh hour are little more than a series of four Scripture lessons, with a responsorial pslam before the last, always a gospel, at nocturns.  This lection unit is enclosed in a framework of opening prayers and concluding intercessions, hymns, orations, canticles, etc.  The twelfth hour is a devotional office in praise of Mary.

Thus the Ethiopians can lay claim to having transformed the hours into a Liturgy of the Word centered on Scripture lections a century before Luther. (269, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West)

I hope this brief telling about Abba Giyorgis has been enlightening.  For me, it is a reminder of the international character of Christianity, that is not just Catholics, Protestants, and the Eastern Orthodox, but that there are Egyptians, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Indians, Iranians, and others who are part of the historic line of the Christian faith founded upon the teachings of the Apostles.

And the traditions of the Church, such as the praying of the daily office, are part of that historic, international tradition.

*If you know Amharic, the English translation is, of course, unnecessary.

**In Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West (Liturgical Press, 1986), p. 269.

Because the Book of Common Prayer is that amazing

Here’s a point scored for Anglicanism.  In The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West,* Robert Taft, SJ (that makes him a Jesuit), writes:

Easily the most important of all sixteenth-century reformed offices is that of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  To its great merit the Anglican communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved to some extent at least the daily services of morning praise and evensong as a living part of parish worship.  As Louis Bouyer said in his Liturgical Piety, . . . morning and evensong in the Book of Common Prayer

. . . is a Divine Office which is not a devotion of specialists but a truly public Office of the whole Christian people . . . we must admit frankly that the Offices of Morning Prayer and of Evensong, as they are performed even today in St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, York Minster, or Canterbury Cathedral, are not only one of the most impressive, but also one of the purest forms of Christian common prayer to be found anywhere in the world.

*Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1986.  Quotation p. 323.

Liturgies

booksforwebI have a strange habit of collecting liturgies.  Right now I’m house-cat-dog-sitting for my parents while they’re out of the country.  For this trip, I brought both the Book of Common Prayer and Celebrating Common Prayer.  Back home in Toronto, I have an older BCP with the text of 1662, the Book of Alternative Services, and The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. I used to own the Roman Lauds, Vespers, Compline, but I found that it was just modern translations of things for which I had better, more beautiful translations in the BCP.  I think that is all the books of liturgies I own.*

In a file folder I also have liturgies borrowed and pilfered from various churches and events, including at least one I composed myself.  On this computer, I have a folder called “Medieval Liturgy,” in which you can find “Tridentine Vespers” (a translation of the same cut and pasted from www.breviary.net), “OE Benedictine Office” (containing prefaces for Morning and Evening prayer in Old English from a Benedictine breviary), and “A Mediaeval Vespers” (my personal translation and tweaking of the Sarum Vespers for Tuesdays).  Lying on my desk at home is a liturgical reflection on the Trinity from a mediaeval English prayer book waiting to be taken from Latin into English.

Today I was quite pleased to receive in the mail more liturgies!

Huzzah!

These are those used by an Anglican priest of my acquaintance in Cyprus.  They are “A Service of Scripture and Prayer for Morning and Evening,” “Canticles,” and two different versions of “A Service of Morning Prayer.”  Just before writing this I used “A Service of Scripture and Prayer for Morning and Evening.”  I liked it!  Since I’ve been using the BCP lectionary for my personal Bible readings, I just slipped them in for the lessons!

I like liturgical prayer for various reasons, some of them noted in my post on the Daily Office.  Sometimes I feel a bit bewildered by the array of liturgies available for use these days — for the office, for the Eucharist, for specific occasions, for use by families, for all sorts of reasons, times, and places.  However, there is some comfort in it.  The regularity of the BCP is strong, sustaining, comforting, rooted.

But sometimes . . .

Sometimes, you want new words, and not necessarily your own.  Raised evangelical/charismatic, I’m well-acquainted with extemporaneous prayer.  Sometimes, though, it’s nice to try out new words that aren’t your own.  Words or structures of prayer that you haven’t seen yet.  Or a new version of an old thing.  These arrays of liturgies now pouring out into the world since the liturgical “renewal” of the sixties/seventies can be a blessing to those things.

Nevertheless . . . nevertheless, with all my liturgies, I’m still rooted to and with the BCP with its beautiful Elizabethan language and strong Reformation theology.  Were I stranded on a desert island and could have only two books, one would be my travel-sized NKJV (you need something portable on those desert islands) and the other would be my aged, weatherworn BCP.

*I have other books of prayers, though, such as A St. Francis Prayer Book, and a book of prayers for men, and Sr. Benedicta Ward’s translation of The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm.  Plus, of course, the Hymn Book.