Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Introduction to Orthodox Liturgical Praxis

During Holy Week and the Pascha Octave, I had occasion to fondly remember St. Andrew's Catholic Church in El Segundo, CA.  It was a short drive from where I was living for my undergraduate studies, and I tried every year to bring a group of fellow students to celebrate the Bright Monday Liturgy observed there.  The Church itself was a marvelous place, crafted within to be do everything one hopes that a Byzantine Temple would do.  The vestibule was black and dark, but once one had entered into the main body of the Church, it was like you were lifted to heaven.  The chanting was exquisite, the liturgies precise and glorious.  It was certainly a good introduction to the Byzantine Liturgy for those who had not had the privilege of attending.  Then at the conclusion of the Liturgy, the entire Church would march around the Temple, chanting the Pascahl Troparion "Christ is Risen", and then read the resurrection account of one of the Gospels at each corner.  And then, as an added plus to hungry college students, we ate the leftovers from the parish's Pascha feast of the day before. 
Here is a sliver of the Paschal Liturgy from St. Andrew's:


For me, therefore, St. Andrew's was the perfect place to introduce my fellows to the Byzantine liturgical practice, and many of them would fall in love with the tradition because of that experience. It was much to my delight, therefore, that when I attended the Society for Catholic Liturgy's Conference in Colorado Springs this past fall, I met Bernard Brandt, the cantor for St. Andrew's, and learned that he was giving a presentation entitled, "An Introduction to Orthodox Liturgical Praxis." So often I hear from people with a wide range of questions about the nature of the Byzantine Liturgical tradition, and not being able to as readily take them to the exquisite liturgical experience offered by St. Andrew's, I thought I would offer something analogous, by posting the link to the text of Mr. Brandt's  talk.  I'll quote from his conclusion, but the article as a whole is well worth the read:
And so, at the completion of my brief excusus into Orthodox liturgy, the question arises: what does Orthodox Liturgical Praxis have to do with Roman Catholic liturgy?
My answer would be this: I would commend you to study Orthodox liturgical praxis further, because it is quite simply the praxis of the Early Church, to which Roman Catholics are heir, and who until fairly recently had continued to practice most of the same things. In saying this, I would remind you of two repeated themes of two important Roman pontiffs: of the Blessed John Paul the Great, who believed that in the Body of Christ, its two lungs were the Eastern and Western Churches, and for that Body to breathe freely, both of those lungs must breathe freely; and of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, that we must study the Christian past in order to bring its treasures into the present and into our worship.
I would also remind you that Tradition, rather than being a dirty word, is according to the Vatican II statement on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, is one of the three fonts, together with Scripture and the Teaching Authority of the Church, by which the Holy Spirit has spoken. The Orthodox would go much farther, and would say that Holy Tradition is the means by which ALL Christian truth has come down to us, the Holy Scriptures included.
I would further remind you that Traditio (and its Greek cognate, Paradosis) it is not simply a noun, but the description of a process: the process of handing something on. While I was in law school, studying the laws of property, this fact came home to me when I learned that in Anglo-Saxon law, the sale of a piece of land was solemnized by what they called the Traditio: in which the owner of the land picked up a clod of dirt from that land, and handed it to the new owner. In short, rather than being a dirty word, Tradition is simply a process of communication, and a process which can be resumed by whoever wishes to do so. All that it takes is something to hand on, someone to hand it on, and someone to receive it.

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