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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Now the Day is Over...

Many moons ago, I got a Gmail account. For reasons now no longer important, I abandoned it and switched to a new Google account and it was this second account that I used to create my blog, almost five years ago now. Then I switched back to the ogirinal account about a year ago, so have been juggling two Google accounts: one for e-mails, Youtube, and just about everything else that is part of the Google empire, and another for my blog. While it is no great hardship, this has been incredibly tedious for me as it limits the things I can do if I want to blog or keep my e-mail account open and signed in.

However, in updating my blog to a custom template earlier today (a process since reversed) I discovered that, in the intervening year, a new feature has been intriduced, allowing me to transfer my blog to a different account. So that is precisely what I have done. I am decomissioning this version of the blog with this final post and from now on, my blog will live at this location. If you would please update your links accordingly, I'd be very grateful.

The fact that the blog has been transferred to a different account means that I shall lose all of my followers, so if you are one of the followers of this blog (see right-hand column), or indeed are not but would like to be, please do not forget to add the new location to the blogs that you follow. Thank you.

Unfortunately, in uploading the new template earlier, I failed to first transfer my widgets across, which means that I lost all of my links to favoured sites and blogs. I have tried to recontsruct the lists from memory to the best of my ability but do let me know of any omissions and please do not be mortally offended if yours is among the omitted sites.

With that, I say goodbye to this blog in its current manifestation and hope to continue to have the privilege of boring you all at the new location. :-)

Holy Scripture and the Church

Christianity is not an ideology that can be learnt from internalising texts. It is a way of being and of living with an ultimate purpose. It isn't for nothing that the early Christians referred to it simply as The Way. More on this from St Hilarion the New Hieromartyr.

Kamilavka tip to Daniel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Order of Deaconess: Liturgical Thoughts

St Phoebe of Cenchreae, by the hand of Suzanne Schleck

O Lord and Master, Who didst not reject women who were willing to offer themselves, insofar as is meet, to minister in thy holy houses, but didst receive them into an order of ministries; do Thou also bestow the grace of thy Holy Spirit upon this thy handmaid who desireth to offer herself unto Thee, and fill her with the grace of the diaconate, as Thou didst bestow thy diaconate upon Phoebe, whom Thou didst call to the work of ministry. O God, grant that she may blamelessly remain in thy holy houses, diligent in appropriate and prudent conduct. And prove thy handmaid perfect so that she, standing at the judgement-seat of Christ, may receive the worthy reward of her good conduct. Through the mercy and love for mankind of thine only-begotten Son, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
- From the rite for the ordination of a deaconess

There are differing thoughts within the Orthodox Church on the subject on the order of deaconess and its revival. I have sympathy with a number of them but discussion of those matters isn't really the purpose of this post. Rather, I just find a little liturgical exploration interesting to bring some clarity on exactly what it is that we are talking about when we refer to deaconesses.

Byzantine practice has always drawn a distinction between the forms of ordination to minor orders (chanters, readers, and subdeacons), and those to major orders (bishops, priests, and deacons). Here are some of the differences.

Major orders are given inside the altar and within the context of the Divine Liturgy, at the point appropriate to the particular order concerned. So bishops are ordained after the Lesser Entrance, in time for the hierarch to be able to take his place at the cathedra/presbyterium. Priests are ordained at the Great Entrance, in time to take part in the Liturgy of the Faithful, specifically at the consecration and distribution of Communion. Deacons are ordained immediately after the anaphora, just before the Litany of the Lord's Prayer: just before the time when a deacon would re-arrange his orar to take up the practical assistance of the distribution of Communion.

By contrast, ordinations to minor orders take place outside of the altar and in a context separate from the Divine Liturgy.

Ordinations to major orders always involve the invocation of the divine grace which is absent from minor ordinations. This is considered an important distinction between cheirotonia (the laying on of hands to confer the Mystery of Holy Orders) and cheirothesia (the laying of hands for the setting apart of the candidate for particular service within the Church). Here is the example from the ordination of deacons:

The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm, and supplies that which is lacking, ordains N., the most pious subdeacon, to be a deacon. Therefore, let us pray for him, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon him.

This invocation is absent from minor ordinations.

In major ordinations, this invocation is followed by two prayers of ordination, while there is only one prayer of ordination in minor orders.

Finally, those in major orders receive Communion in order within the altar while those in minor orders receive Communion outside the altar, with the laity.

The reason for my listing the above is that we have an extant text of the ordination rite of deaconesses dating back to the 8th century, and on each of these points of difference, the rite has the characteristics of an ordination to major orders. The ordination of a deaconess takes place within the Divine Liturgy (at the same point as that of a deacon), inside the altar, the divine grace is invoked, two ordination prayers are used, and the deaconess receives Communion inside the altar, receiving the chalice from the hands of the bishop and replacing it herself upon the Holy Table. This last point is itself significant for, as anybody familiar with altar service will know, the minor clergy, (with the exception of the subdeacon), are not permitted to touch the Holy Table or to lay anything upon it. The rite also mentions the vesting of the new deaconess in the diaconal orar.

Before we are too hasty in drawing firm conclusions from this - especially the temptation present within certain quarters to suggest that all major orders at one time included women - it should be pointed out that, while there is every mark of major orders here, there are also differences between this rite and the rite for the ordination of deacons.

Here, for instance, is the invocation of the divine grace from the ordination of a deaconess:

The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm, and supplies that which is lacking, ordains N., beloved of God, to be a deacon. Therefore, let us pray for her, that the grace of the All-Holy Spirit may come upon her.

You will notice that there is no reference to the candidate for ordination already being a subdeacon. It appears to be assumed that she is a laywoman being ordained directly to this order. For no other order do we have any parallel rite such as this for a female equivalent, so it appears that the order of deaconess does indeed stand alone and is not part of a progression through the orders.

Secondly, while two ordination prayers are used, they are not the same prayers as those used to ordain a deacon.

The third, and most significant, difference concerns the "Dance of Isaiah". In major ordinations, the candidate is led around the Holy Table three times, each time prostrating himself before it and the bishop, and venerating it by kissing its four horns. This symbolises his marriage to the service of the Holy Mysteries at the Table and it draws on the imagery of the similar threefold circling of the marriage table by the bride and bridegroom at the wedding service. In fact, the same hymns are sung on both occasions. This is entirely absent from the rite for the ordination of a deaconess, indicating that this ordination is not to service in the altar. This limitation also seems to be hinted at in the second of the ordination prayers, quoted at the beginning of this post, specifically in the line, "insofar as is meet".

I'm not sure that we can draw any definite conclusions from an ordination rite in isolation from other scriptural, historical, and doctrinal study, and I would resist any temptation to do so, but I do think that this is an interesting exercise to challenge many preconceptions and assumptions that we may make.

The text of the ordination rite that I have appears in Women and the Priesthood, edited by Fr Thomas Hopko. It includes interesting perspectives from Orthdodox writers and is well worth a read.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Righteous Anger

When anyone is disturbed or saddened under the pretext of a good and soul-profiting matter, and is angered against his neighbour, it is evident that this is not according to God: for everything that is of God is peaceful and useful, and leads a man to humility and to judging himself.
-St Barsanuphius the Great

What can I say in response to this other than to repeat the protest of the disciples when the Saviour told them that in order to inherit eternal life, the must eat of his Body and drink of his Blood? 'This is a difficult teaching. Who can accept it?'

The truth is that I have no response to this. I do not understand it. When our hierarchs and priests teach and practise things that we know are contrary to the saving Faith, it causes pain and confusion, and yes, sometimes anger, because we know that what they are doing is wrong, and we know that they know that it is wrong, and yet they do it anyway. So how are we to respond to that? The anger is detrimental to our spiritual well-being. It eats away at the soul and affects our relationship with God and creation, and when we recognise this it is very easy to become resentful of those whose actions have elicited these feelings in us. Yet only we have the power to choose to leave it behind. God will strengthen us to do so but not against our will. We must shed the anger and bitterness and seek the peace and love of Christ in our hearts.

But does this mean that we are to remain silent? As Chistians, baptised into the death and resurrection of the Christ, and one with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, are we to stand idly by, humbly remaining silent while our beloved brethren are led astray? The Saviour tells us:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Matthew 7:15

How do we retain our spiritual composure and our focus on the path of humility while simultaneously facing the reality of the dangers that confront us even within the life of the Church? I do not know. Perhaps it is a balance that we are not called to find. Perhaps it is not for most of us to challenge the heresiarchs, and perhaps we should leave it to those who have the spiritual gounding to face them, to the Ephesian St Marks and the Studite St Theodores of today. But what if St Mark of Ephesus and St Theodore the Studite, and others like them, had said the same thing?

This is a difficult teaching. Who can accept it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

O Canada!

Above is a video of the Great Entrance from the church of St Elias in Brampton, Canada. This is an Eastern Catholic church which serves in English and Ukrainian.

It may seem unusual for me to be posting a video of a church in the Unia, especially a Ukrainian church, given the history and current relations, but the truth is that, all of that aside, they actually serve the Liturgy with care and devotion, faithful to the inherited liturgical tradition, and seemingly without idiosyncratic innovation. See the way they do the Great Entrance, for instance. It is just so beautiful and doesn't grate or distract in the way that some of my Orthodox experiences have done. The only thing that the servers didn't do was to reverence the High Place but this is likely barely noticeable to the people. I am not a liturgical perfectionist as I have lived through the results of that mentality in my past church life, and it is unhealthy. There are many instances where what is ideal is simply not practical or even possible in a given situation and economy must apply. I believe that a humble and contrite heart is the most important thing where prayer is concerned.

Yet in corporate, liturgical prayer, I firmly believe that the second most important thing is obedience and faithfulness to the liturgical tradition. Making up one's own practices may be personally satisfying, but it is a distraction to the worship and prayer of others, and I think that I sometimes do not appreciate as much as I ought my parish priest's training at the hands of monks and his adherence to that spirit of monastic obedience. I wish we would more often see less of a particular priest's preferences coming through in the Liturgy and a simple adherence to the rubrics and spoken words that we have received. I know that this is another borrowed term from Catholics of a certain variety but I think that there is a great deal of sense in the maxim, "Do the red; say the black." When a Catholic church serves the Orthodox Liturgy more faithfully than the Orthodox, I believe that there is a lesson to be learnt.

Incidentally, I have been in friendly contact with the priest and some of the people at St Elias', and have been a fan of their Youtube videos for some months now, since I first discovered them. I have found them to be incredibly friendly and generous and, if I were to accept the doctrinal claims of my Catholic friends, would probably migrate to Canada just to be able to make this my parish.

I leave you with a processional moleben.

Romania's Neglected Orphans

I saw this report on the news yesterday evening. I was moved to tears. When the next sad story came on, I had to leave the room. I don't have much to say about it other than to ask you to please read it, or at least watch the video, and pray. Googling "care for Romanian disabled" or "care for Romanian orphans" will reveal ways that those who wish and are able can help financially.

Please pray.

Western Rite Office Online

Archbishop John of the Holy Synod of Milan has given his blessing for part of the results of his translation work of the ancient English offices to be published online. While, at the time of writing, we in the Russian Church Abroad are not in communion with the Milan Synod, we have been in the past - indeed, their hierarchy came from us - and many of us feel a sense of kinship with fellow moderate Christians who confess the Orthodox Faith while avoiding extremism in either its ecumenist or isolationist forms. There is also some overlap between their Western Rite history and ours. I understand that these offices are currently used in the ROCOR Diocese of Eastern America, (specifically at the Holyrood Hermitage in Florida), with the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of New York.

It is only a legitimate, Orthodox Western Rite, prayed in the spirit of Orthodoxy and using Orthodox prayers, that I find personally beneficial and which I feel to be proper for use by Orthodox people for their salvation and deification. May this translation of the ancient offices of Britain be a rich addition to what is currently available to those of us who wish to pray in the manner of those Saints who have worked out their salvation and walked these islands before us.

The texts and music may be found here.

Snow had fallen, Snow on Snow

The recent bad weather has caused problems for many people, myself included. I visited a friend for his birthday last week and found myself waiting for a bus in the city centre for an hour, while it snowed. When one did eventually arrive, and everybody at the bus stop, (who, by this point, had got to know each other quite well, having moved beyond frustration to laughter), piled onto it, it only went so far along the journey, leaving us to walk the rest of the way home in the wind and snow. On the way home from the Liturgy on Sunday, I got to the bus stop to be confronted with a sign saying that all bus services to my area had been withdrawn until further notice. I know that others have suffered much worse.

In light of this, I thought I would capture and share some of the happier effects of the snow. Here are some photographs I took yesterday, although we have had some more snow since then and it is snowing as I type.

Our garden

And again

Catprints in the snow. I'm sorry I didn't manage to get a photograph of her actually playing in the snow. It's so deep that her legs completely disappear. It's the strangest sight.

The Amazing Adventures of Perpetua, the Intrepid Snowtiger

I made a snowbishop. I haven't named him yet and a quick gance out of the window reveals that his nose has now fallen off, (I hear that this is a common problem among hierarchs during the winter months). It was pointed out to me that I have forgotten to give him a staff but I don't want to give the neighbours further cause for concern.