I read in Orthodox America an article
that said that the way our bishops serve today is not correct and that it comes from the
Byzantine court practice....I was surprised by this, since I thought these services were
old and had not changed....These people also like little churches. Is it wrong to have
big churches? I thought that maybe you, who are traditionalists, could help me in my
confusion. (B.P., CA)
The Priests taking part in the dialogue on
liturgics which appeared in Orthodox America, "Liturgical Renewal"
(Vol. XI, no. 4 [Oct. 1991], pp. 6-7), appear to be very pious and sober men. However,
both the Church of Latvia and Russia, to which they belong, have been long under the
influence of modernist thinkers. Constant references to the innovative and often
misleading liturgical research of the late Father Alexander Schmemann are perhaps evidence
of this fact.
One of the Priests, Archimandrite Zinon, rightly
points out that Baptism must be accomplished by immersion, not sprinkling, as is often the
case in modern Russia. But his reference to Archbishop Chrysostomos of Vilnius, who often
serves in the rank of a Priest, shows us how careful we must be in approaching liturgical
traditions. The fact that Bishops have served as they do in the Church now for four
centuries certainly argues against a sudden return to supposed earlier practice. In fact,
Bishops often serve both in the style of Priests and in the style attributed by Father
Zinon to Byzantine court custom, which shows us that modern practice encompasses more than
one single tradition anyway.
As well, careful scholarship does not support the
idea that the totality of todays hierarchical service derives from court usage. This
is a gross overstatement. If it did derive from such usage, we must realize that Orthodox
spirituality does not make a sharp distinction between the profane and Divine, but
encourages us to transform what is worldly into something spiritual. Thus, the adaptation
of some Byzantine court customs to ecclesiastical usage does not necessarily mean that the
Church appropriated things profane for sacred use, somehow thus contaminating Church
services. Rather, the exalted practices of the courtpractices, incidentally,
that consciously sought to endow the political branch of the Byzantine Empire with
spiritual imagery and to make the earthly Byzantium an icon of the Heavenly
Kingdomevolved into practices that have served the Church and which properly reflect
its uniquely spiritual notion of majesty. Holy Tradition is not only that which
is sacred and ancient, but that which has been transformed and which has evolved into
something sacred over time and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Quite obviously, on
sober reflection, few of us would discard the beautiful hierarchical services of the
Church today for some theoretical restoration of the past, so that we would not have to
bow so often or sing "Many years, Master," a sentiment towards our Shepherds
which is neither Byzantine nor an innovation, but which is represented by exclamations
found in the earliest liturgical texts.
Regarding Church buildings, we should remember
that the Church should be our spiritual home and should be adorned with the best that we
have to offer. The temporary Churches that many immigrants built when they came to this
country were built out of necessity and were just that: temporary. They should not serve
as a model for our Church buildings. At the same time, Churches should not be lavish
buildings that reflect a materialistic way of life or the desire to impress others. Small,
humble Churches which are decorated in traditional Orthodox style need be neither shacks
nor palaces. They should show the sacrifice of their congregations without providing an
occasion for pride or showiness.
It behooves us to remember that pious reflection
on Church worship can often correct errors. It can also provoke errors. But the piety
associated with that reflection eventually rectifies any such errors. Impious or idle
reflections on Church worship, however, can lead one to error, blasphemy, and innovation,
which in turn often result in that vicious pride that obviates correction. In this sense,
one must be very careful about printing the speculative reflections on Church worship of
even the most pious persons. Moreover, sometimes "renewal," though perhaps
honestly undertaken, comes to be misused by those who want to change services simply to
make them shorter and who, placing greater emphasis on material gain than spiritual
soundness, want small buildings in order to avoid donating more money to the Church.
Laziness and greed are, to be sure, all too often the bedfellows of a "renewal"
that serves innovation.
From the "Question and Answer"
section of Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 4, pp. 13-14.