“… world without end.”

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008.

Back when I worshipped at St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church in Ottawa, I went on a retreat for young folks of the “College & Careers” variety. The talks were delivered by the excellent David Alexander on the theme of the Psalms. The Psalms, he reminded us, are prayers. They’re God’s Prayer Book. He recommended praying through the Psalms, saying that we could get through the whole Book of Psalms over two times in a whole year. He also led us through the Psalms, showing us many of the Messianic promises and foreshadowings that were fulfilled in Jesus.

I like the idea of praying the Psalms. This is in part related to praying the Gloria Patri — in psalmody, we join with Christians from throughout history, around the globe, and between traditions. The original monastic offices, as practised by the Desert Fathers and then more formalised through Cassian and Benedict, consisted of gathering to pray the Psalms together. The core of the worship of the monks as they gathered once or twice a week in Egypt or seven times a day in Italy was the Book of Psalms. Eastern Orthodox monks today have a service where they chant all the Psalms of David without stop.

Before the liturgies were organised and formalised, before the hymns were written and gathered, the faithful have had the Psalms to sing, worship, and pray with. The Psalms are like an ancient Jewish hymn book. We ought not to neglect them. Nor should we simply read them as we read the rest of the Bible. They were included in the Scriptures not simply because they reveal things about Almighty God but also because they teach us how to pray, aid us in prayer, give us words when we lack our own. Edith Humphrey, in Ecstasy and Intimacy, notes that Evelyn Underhill, a 20th-century English mystic, says that the Psalms and the Gospels are the foundational texts for Christian mysticism and spirituality.

The Gloria Patri makes the Psalms part of our prayer. We conclude the lessons with, “The word of the Lord,” or “Here endeth the lesson.” The Gospels when read aloud are closed with, “The Gospel of Christ.” But the Psalms are not concluded in such a manner when we use the Gloria Patri. Instead, they flow into our worship, for they were always intended to be prayers.

At the back of SVS Press’ translation of On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms. It is well worth a read for its insight into the Psalms as prophecy as well as prayer and how the Psalms lay out the entire spiritual life for us. In one passage, he writes:

In the other books of Scripture we read or hear the words of holy men as belonging only to those who spoke them, not at all as though they were our own; and in the same way the dongs there narrated are to us material for wonder and examples to be followed, but not in any sense things we have done ourselves. With this book, however, though one does read the prophecies about the Saviour in that way, with reverence and with awe, in the case of all the other Psalms it is as though it were one’s own words that one read; and any one who hears them is moved at heart, as though they voiced for him his deepest thoughts. . . . The marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up. Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self. Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself. (pp. 104-105)

Through my own praying of the Psalms and reading about the Psalms and the Gloria Patri, I have come to appreciate this ancient practice of making the Psalms one’s own. And now I think I understand my brother‘s dislike of the Psalter as found in the Book of Alternative Services (BAS).

The BAS is the Anglican Church of Canada’s modern liturgy and is fast becoming the dominant liturgy in Canada. I grew up with it; it is not as bad as many say. I was nourished by its words and grew into a man of faith using this book at worship every Sunday. Nonetheless, it is a lesser book compared to the BCP.

This is one reason why.

While it does include the Gloria Patri after the versicles from the Psalms, the Gloria Patri is rendered optional for the actual Psalm of the day. If you turn to the Psalter in said book (pp. 705-909), you will note something following each Psalm: a Psalm prayer. These prayers render the Psalms into little Aesop’s Fables in prayer form. If the Psalm is chiefly a prayer or an act of worship, then a prayer based on the theme of the Psalm at hand or praying for one of the lessons of the Psalm is completely extraneous.

I’ve a feeling, though, that the Psalms are not used or understood in this way by many Anglicans. Celebrating Common Prayer, the Society of Saint Francis’ book of the divine office, does the same thing, although it keeps the Gloria Patri with the versicles and canticles. The Psalms are not our own hymns and prayers! They’re just there to teach us a lesson! And if they conflict with our worldview, we’ll just excise the uncomfortable bits from the lectionary.

We are to be a people of prayer, drawing from the deep well of Scripture and Tradition. The praying of the Psalms has the benefit of being both. Using the Gloria Patri helps ensure that we continue to pray the Psalms, not simply say the Psalms.

O God make speed to save us; O Lord make haste to help us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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“Glory be …”

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto,

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

* * *

Glory be to the Father,

and to the Son,

and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Those with a knowledge of Latin are already saying, “But ‘et in saecula saeculorum‘ means ‘and unto ages of ages’!” I know. Don’t ask me why, the “ages of ages” bit is also there in the Greek. Moving along . . .

You may know the above prayer from time spent in liturgical churches; we have a tendency to sing or say it following Psalms, canticles, and various prayers and antiphons based on Psalms. It tends to be called the “Gloria Patri,” after the first two words in Latin.

John Cassian (c. 360-430), the fellow I’m researching these days, says that the Desert Fathers of Egypt would say the Gloria Patri after each Psalm (Institutes 2.8), noting, “This we have never heard anywhere in the East.” Cassian had lived in Bethlehem and was later to visit Constantinople before settling in Marseilles. If Cassian speaks aright, the Gloria Patri goes back at least to the Desert Fathers, a movement that was already a hundred years old by the time he arrived and one with a strong oral culture. The Gloria Patri may be older than they are, but we don’t really know.

Anyway, it made its way from the Desert Fathers to St. Basil the Great’s Divine Liturgy (c. 370-379) as well as into St. John Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy (late fourth century), although since both of those are from the living traditions of the East, it is hard to know what exactly the original text of each was; nonetheless, if we consider the guardedness of the East towards its tradition, the texts as we have received are probably very close to those of Sts. Basil and Chrysostom. Therefore, it was spreading in use in the late fourth century, despite Cassian’s note that he had never heard the Gloria Patri elsewhere in the East.

How the prayer came to the West is hard to say as well. The liturgies of the East were known in the West. Nonetheless, it may have come all on its own. Had it not come on its own, the most likely candidate is John Cassian. Cassian transmitted the spirituality and practices of the Desert to the monks of Marseilles in his two major works The Institutes and The Conferences.

He had a massive influence upon succeeding generations of monks, the Conferences being recommended reading in St. Benedict’s Rule (ch. 42). His recommendation of regularly praying the versicle, “O God make speed to save me; O Lord make haste to help me,” (Ps. 70:1, in Conf. 10.10.2 ff.) ensured its inclusion in St. Benedict’s office, being the standard beginning for the prayers and readings (chs. 17, 18, and 38).

It is hard to measure the impact of St. Benedict (c. 480-543) and his Rule for Beginners upon Christian spirituality. During the Early Middle Ages, more and more monasteries were founded according to his Rule or chose to live by it until the Rule became the standard authorised monastic rule of life. Since most monasteries were Benedictine and the Benedictines helped preserve Western learning during times of upheaval as well as produce many leading churchmen and missionaries, they inevitably had an effect on the liturgy of the Western Church.

Therefore, go and grab a BCP, and turn to the order for Morning Prayer. On page 6 of the Canadian 1962 version, just after the Lord’s Prayer, we read:

Minister. O Lord, open thou our lips;
People. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
Minister. O God, make speed to save us;
People. O Lord, make haste to help us.

Here, all standing up, the Minister shall say:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
People. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

There we see the influence of Cassian and the Benedictines. Here also we see the continuing tradition of saying the Gloria Patri. At a tradition BCP service, at the conclusion of the Psalms (outside of Lent), we proclaim the Gloria Patri.

In fact, this prayer is not only old and venerable but incredibly widespread. Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and others all pray this prayer. Wherever we have gone, we have brought the Gloria Patri with us. As a result, if you check out this page on Wikipedia, you can see the Gloria Patri in numerous languages.

When we proclaim the glory of God in this form, we are joining with Christians across the ages — at least 1600 years of church history includes this prayer in its worship and use of the Psalms. And when we say the Gloria Patri, we are joining with Christians of varying traditions from around the globe, joining in the mystical communion of the Body of Christ, raising our anthems high to the throne of God, united in one voice.

How cool is that?

This post has gone on long enough. But I hope you have caught a glimpse of the Gloria Patri as it has wended its way across the globe and through history right into your Prayer Book or BAS or version of the Daily Office or breviary or local congregation’s morning worship.

I’ll get to the usefulness of this as prayer and a small rant later.

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.