As of December, 2009, this blog is inactive at this location. All posts have been transferred to the new location here. You are very welcome to read and comment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

St John on Abbreviating Divine Services



The Church typicon is a guidebook for training and schooling in prayer and the more it is adhered to the more benefit is derived from it. In the case of the inability to fulfill all that is laid out in the typicon, we must fulfill all that is in our power, preserving its general structure and main content. It is necessary, on the one hand, to fulfill the principal characteristics for a given service unchanged in its composition and that which maintains its identity separate from others. On the other hand, we must try as much as we can to fill in those parts of the service, which, changing according to the day, express the meaning and reason of the commemoration of the day's event.


Divine Services combine in themselves prayer, which is lifted up to God by the faithful, the receiving of God's grace in communion with Him, and the instruction of the faithful. The latter consists of teaching through reading in the divine services and hymns, catechism, and instruction in the Christian life. The divine services in their composition contain all the fullness of the dogmatic teaching of the Church and set forth the path to salvation. They present invaluable spiritual wealth. The more fully and precisely they are fulfilled, the more benefit the participants receive from them.

Those who perform them carelessly and who shorten them by their laziness rob their flock, depriving them of their very daily bread, stealing from them a most valuable treasure. The shortening of the services which comes about through lack of strength must be done wisely and performed circumspectly in order not to touch that which should not be tampered with.

- St John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco


Anecdotal evidence on the internet seems to suggest that there is currently a shift in the English-speaking Orthodox world towards a greater faithfulness to the liturgical tradition, with a large number of parishes seeking to perform the services of the Church more fully. Insofar as this is reflective of reality on the ground, I welcome this.

There is so much beauty and meaning to the services that is lost when they are abbreviated, and for those of us who live the services and who, in some weeks, find that the Sunday services are our only sustencance for the week, the excessive abbreviations that are employed in some places really are detrimental to our spiritual wellbeing. Sometimes, the antiphons are almost obliterated and some of the litanies are entirely omitted, or the petitions are garbled while the people make continuous responses so that they do not even hear the words. I once saw an online discussion where a priest advocated the omission of the Beatitudes because he claimed they were devoid of meaning particular to the feast or Saint being celebrated, when the only reason he thought this was because it was his custom to perform them in their abbreviated form. Had he done them in full, with all of the appointed troparia interspersed between the verses of the Beatitudes on each day, he could not have failed to appreciate that this portion of the Liturgy is replete with the meaning of the celebration of each day of the calendar, and serves to focus the minds and hearts of the faithful. What is happening when our clergy are establishing abbreviations and then citing the negative effects of these abbreviations to justify omission?

I am delighted to learn that St John wrote on this subject. The entire piece may be read here.

My own parish, until earlier this year, worshipped in a private home. As such, we adopted a couple of abbreviations in order to reduce the pressures that we exerted on the family which generously hosted us each week. Now that we have our own church, we are serving a fuller cycle of services and we hope to offer those services in their fuller forms. We now do the Ninth Hour followed by Vespers every Saturday, and the Synaxarion is read immediately before Vespers, introducing the celebration of the new day. At the Sunday Liturgy, we have never abbreviated the first and second antiphons as many churches do, and we plan to restore the troparia on the Beatitudes by the end of this year. The other main abbreviation is that we omit Psalm 33 after Communion. We have spoken about restoring it and it has been included in our new choir and altar books to make it an easy transition if ever we do. Perhaps in time we can restore this as well, as it is a beautiful hymn of praise to elevate people's hearts after Communion, and gives the clergy sufficient time to consume the remainder of the Holy Things.

If this restoring trend is indeed widespread, I hope and pray that it may continue, that in all things, God may be glorified.

3 comments:

Daniel (New Life) said...

I say Amen to that brother, Amen.

Robert said...

I also say Amen

Michael said...

Sadly, it now appears that the restoration of the Beatitudes troparia will not take place in the forseeable future. Who knows what will happen a few months/years down the line? As it happens, we already do them whenever we have the typika instead of Liturgy, so our people at least know about them.