Saturday, February 24, 2007

Byzantine Divine Office in One Volume

Latin rite Catholics are accustomed to condensed books such as the Breviarium Romanum or Liturgy of the Hours. As such, it can be frustrating to a Latin rite Catholic that is accustomed to a comprehensive single, two or four volume set for the divine office, when they determine they are interested in learning more about the divine office as celebrated in the Byzantine liturgical tradition.

The trials and tribulations within our own Latin rite liturgical tradition has had the positive effect of not only a greater appreciation and interest being taken in our own liturgical tradition and legitimate diversity, but also that of the venerable Christian East. Inevitably, this interest can result in a certain percentage of Latin rite Catholics choosing to worship in one of the Eastern Christian traditions, of the Byzantine in particular, or wishing to adopt some of the richness of that tradition into their personal prayer lives. That might find them going to the Divine Liturgy regularly or from time to time, or it may be as simple as praying the Jesus Prayer, or the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God, or it may result in a desire to shift over to praying to the Byzantine equivalent of the liturgy of the hours.

The trial that a Latin rite Catholic (if not also a Byzantine Catholic!) interested in the Byzantine celebration of the Hours is that they are often faced with the fact that, unlike the Western tradition, single compilations of the divine office where typically not produced. The Hours in the Eastern Church often are made up of a variety of different books. The normal celebration of the divine office can be confusing enough for a Catholic not accustomed to praying in accordance with the liturgical seasons or feast of the day, but if page-turning can be confusing, having to navigate multiple volumes can be even moreso.

Until this time, the only single volume option was Byzantine Daily Worship by the respected Eastern Archbishop, Joseph Raya. This volume included a selection of the Byzantine Hours, and also included the Eucharistic liturgies of the Byzantine tradition. A handy volume yet, but by no means complete, and not always terribly easy to find.

I was thus delighted when I happened across another volume, picking up from this tradition, published by the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut in 2003. The book is 1373 pages, and is published in a very attractive volume that looks like the typical single volume breviary Latin rite Catholics would be accustomed to in our own rite, including six sewn in ribbons. It is also an extremely attractive volume, with an ornate gold Byzantine cross on the front and embossed into the black leather of the cover and spine are ornate, floriated ornamental designs. When I first saw the book, I was stunned by its beauty as a liturgical book -- and this ought to be our impression of our liturgical books. The interior of the volume is also quite nice, incorporating red rubrical texts and borders, and employing traditional Byzantine ornamental banners throughout the book.

The volume is titled: Divine Office: Horologion, Octoechos, Triodion, Menaion

Of course, my perception of this book is primarily as a handy reference for the divine office in the Byzantine tradition. It seems to me, however, that for a truly rounded review, what is best is to gain the perspective of a Byzantine Catholic priest who is already accustomed to the Byzantine Hours. They will provide the best insight into the useability of the book. To that end, I happened across this very recent post on this very book by a Melkite Catholic priest on his blog, Byzantine Ramblings. I felt in best to offer up his review in combination with my own perceptions, to give the greatest overall perspective on this volume:

For handiness, the Ukrainian Church wins hand down. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford published a one volume edition of the Divine Office in 2003. This book is a step forward from earlier attempts at an English language one volume Byzantine Divine Office, such as the monumental Byzantine Daily Worship by Archbishop Raya and Barn de Vinck, originally published in 1969.

My deacon and I have started using this volume to fulfill our obligations to pray the offices on a daily basis. I recommend it, with qualifications. At 1373 pages, it contains a sufficient number of selections from the Ochtoechos, the Menaia, the Triodion and Pentecostarion to allow keeping the offices, with the convenience of all being contained in one fairly handy and handsome volume. The text is of a comfortable font and size. Rubrics are in red and each page features a nice red border. Six coloured ribbons allow one to mark the necessary pages to pray the offices.

There are drawbacks and shortcomings, however. These do not disqualify the volume, but should be considered by anyone pondering whether to spend $100 plus shipping.

The first shortcoming is the arrangement of the material. The common texts of the services are placed at the beginning of the book. As these pages get used most frequently, wear on them is inevitable. Placing them at the beginning of the volume immediately leads to a weakening of the spine. A better option would have been to follow the custom of the Roman Hours (proven through experience) and locate this section somewhere in the middle of the volume. While this may seem counter-intuitive, a service book so arranged is much easier to use.

Mirroring this shortcoming, the volume places the Troparia, Kontakia, Theotokia and other common hymns just before the calendar at the very end of the volume. This typically leads to several ribbons marking the Troparia, Theotokia and calendar, all bunched together. At the cost of a few extra pages, the Troparia, Kontakia and Hypacoe could have been distributed appropriately in the Ochtoechos section, leaving the Theotokia and common Troparia to share a single ribbon. The calendar might have been better placed just before the Menaia section.

The layout of the services themselves could benefit from a slight revision. A highlighter aids clarity in keeping Vespers and Orthros (Matins in this edition) as the order of the service printed is that of Sundays and Feast Days. That said, the only real complaint here is that the ending of the services requires that one refer back to the conclusion of Vespers. These 'variations on a theme' might have been printed on the fly leaves, similar to a popular French language edition of the Roman Hours. Not being very familiar with the Ukrainian usage, I'm not sure whether what appears to be several 'mis-locations' are errors or simply a different practice than that with which I am familiar.

An almost to-be-expected shortcoming is the presence of a considerable number of misprints, typos, if you will. Given the size of the project it is understandable that this would happen.

As to the texts used in this volume, the Psalms are from the Grail Psalter (second edition, I think; with jarringly silly "inclusive language"). The Scripture passages are seemingly taken from the New American Bible (don't get me started). The text of the services themselves would seem to be the approved English version used by the Ukrainian Archeparchy. Personally, I don't have a problem with this, although it is not the text familiar to Melkite Catholics.

Not perfect by any means; but as I said at the outset, worth a recommendation, if only a qualified one.

As one can see from Father's review, there are some elements, such as inclusive language psalms, which are unfortunate. That being said, to date this is the single best and most comprehensive collection of the Byzantine Hours that I have come across and I would recommend it for anyone looking to say the Byzantine Hours, or have a handy reference to them. As you will note in Father's review on Byzantine Ramblings however, this should not be understood to be utterly comprehensive as this comprises a selection of the various books that form the Byzantine Hours. But it perhaps represents the greatest and most comprehensive selection to date in a single volume, and one which at least gives a good and thorough representation of the Byzantine tradition.

Those interested in this title are likely best to contact the Eparchy of Stamford by email.

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