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Author Topic: Gospels vs Epistles  (Read 1769 times) Average Rating: 0
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Rosehip
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« on: October 29, 2008, 04:34:43 PM »

In the Orthodox Church the Gospels have a place of great importance, and when they are read in church it is imperative that all stand reverently with bowed  heads (at least this is how it is done at my parish, I have no idea how the rest of you do it).

Other christians do not show perhaps quite this level of reverence towards the gospels, but treat all the books of the NT on a more equal level.

I'm simply curious to know more about this in general.
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2008, 04:42:04 PM »

Every visit I ever made to a Protestant Church (which numbers less than 5), excerpts of Scripture appear on Screens as the pastor weaves his discussion.  People are sitting when this occurs.
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Rosehip
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2008, 04:51:55 PM »

Those churches sound more sophisticated than most of the ones I've attended. The evangelical /fundamentalist church to which I used to belong always had the pastor reading the scriptural text while the congregation followed along with their own bibles in the pews. Rarely though, did anyone stand for the readings. There was no concept (that I can recall) of standing specifically when the Gospels were being read. As often as not, the sermon was not based on a Gospel reading, but rather, an Epistle reading. There would be congregational acapella singing and then prayer and then the pastor would introduce his sermon and read the text, after which he would preach.
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2008, 05:12:12 PM »

I've seen OT, Gospel and Epistle readings weaved into one discussion.

The theme for the sermon would be from the OT with excerpts from Gospel and Epistle to prove fulfillment or to validate a theme.

The youth ministry rock band was blaring away in another room while the sermon was being delivered.
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Rosehip
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2008, 05:23:54 PM »

Yes, I understand. But, I'm wondering why we treat the Gospels with such extreme devotion i.e. standing while they are being read, as opposed to the Epistle reading, which is more relaxed and around which I have rarely heard a sermon preached (at least not in my parish)? What is the history of this custom?
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2008, 05:30:02 PM »

"Wisdom Arise, Let us hear the Holy Gospel.  Peace be unto You."

We are ordered to stand to listen to the Holy Gospel.

"Let us be attentive"

We are ordered to pay attention to the Epistle.

When there were no pews, people stood for everything.  Now, people sit through the Epistle.
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2008, 05:52:30 PM »

It's so interesting that for people who suposedly revere the Holy Scriptures as we evangelicals alledgedly do, we take such a casual attitude in our approach to them. Part of the problem is that we don't want to look catholic- now I would say "we don't want to look Orthodox", but not many of us are aware of Orthodoxy. It's part of a larger problem in a sense: Reverence= Sterness= a Church that doesn't appeal to the mythical "Everyday man" that Fr Schmeman spoke of. Thus our reverence towards anything is carefully measured in our Church services that begin to take on the appearance of a pep rally: As A.W. Tozer said, the program becomes more important than the Presence.

Thus, while we're so zealous to make sure that scripture is understood, we're equally wary to look formal- (as if that draws in meaningful numbers thru our doors). Still, that doesn't quite get to your question of why this lack of holding up the Gospels in any kind of pre-eminence. I can only putter around and think perhaps that 1. We love the intellectual appeal of the epistles, they have a beautiful way of applying Scripture to our lives- they're not dealing so much with the mystery as they are application- we like propositional arguments. I still love the epistles for these reasons.
2. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Gospels- while absolutely loved and cherished- show the most amazing mind-boggling mystery that mocks the intellect: the Incarnation. We don't like mystery. We believe in it, of course, but it doesn't unravel itself as neatly as say a Pauline Epistle. I suspect that this second possibility is not so much an active choice on our part, as much as it is passive. We then like to say we teach, affirm, and emphasize all of Scripture equally; but I'm not so sure that's actually and accurately borne out.
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2008, 06:11:00 PM »

"Wisdom Arise, Let us hear the Holy Gospel.  Peace be unto You."

We are ordered to stand to listen to the Holy Gospel.

"Let us be attentive"

We are ordered to pay attention to the Epistle.

When there were no pews, people stood for everything.  Now, people sit through the Epistle.
That's nice that we listen to the Gospel and pay attention to the Epistle because the liturgical instructions command us to do so, but why are these instructions even in the Liturgy to begin with?  Answer that question, and I think you'll come much closer to answering Rosehip's question.
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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2008, 09:18:46 PM »

When I was in the Assemblies of God, we always stood for the Gospel reading before the sermon. It was very natural to continue the practice when I came to Orthodoxy.
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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2008, 09:24:11 PM »

Yes, I understand. But, I'm wondering why we treat the Gospels with such extreme devotion i.e. standing while they are being read, as opposed to the Epistle reading, which is more relaxed and around which I have rarely heard a sermon preached (at least not in my parish)? What is the history of this custom?

Forget the rubrics for a moment.

Why do we treat the Gospels with such reverence?  Because the Gospel is Christ's life, salvific ministry, saving Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and His everlasting teaching into the world.  The Gospel is the Son of God Incarnate in our world.  The Gospel is His Teaching, His Life, His Example.  The Gospel is at the center of all our sacraments, holding special place both spiritually and physically.

The Gospel is so important that the Epistles basically are interpretations, and incarnations, of the Gospel.  The Epistles are the story of how the Gospel became real, and really important, in the life of the Early Church.  The Gospel is so important that it caused us to re-think how we interpret all of Scripture (the OT).
« Last Edit: October 29, 2008, 09:24:27 PM by cleveland » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2008, 12:30:42 AM »

Excellent point Cleveland!

Regarding Rosehip's original question, part of it is liturgical difference. I can only speak as one who grew up in "tall steeple" ie. formal Presbyterian churches (for which I will always be grateful). But the protocol was to sit attentively and formally in the pew for scripture readings, responsive readings, prayers and sermon and stand for hymns, confession of faith, doxology and gloria patri.

There was never any slouching, holding coffee or casualness to it. Such laziness crept into the protestant churches in the 80's and 90's.

As a point of interest, we would often have an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading (in that regard the gospels were egalitarianized alonside the epistles), plus the responsive reading which was a psalm or other "wisdom" passage of the Bible.

Regarding the emphasis on epistles. As a protestant youth pastor, I was sometimes called upon to preach when the pastor was away. It is easier to preach on the epistles. Expository literature lends itself more easily to expository preaching, which is what Presbyterians want,

The difference also resides in the fact that feeding on the Word of God - read and preached is the protestant weekly sacrament (not being facecious or smart-aleky here; I mean that in a humble sense). Protestants want a SERMON, not a homily.

Gospel readings lend themselves readily to a 10 minute homily.
A thirty minute sermon is easier when tackling a passage from an epistle.

I am not saying this is right or wrong, I am just suggesting why the epistles get exulted in protestant churches, espcially those with a strong preaching and theological tradition such as the reformed churches and lutheranism.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2008, 12:33:15 AM by BrotherAidan » Logged
Justin Kissel
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« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2008, 12:58:15 AM »

Quote
Other christians do not show perhaps quite this level of reverence towards the gospels, but treat all the books of the NT on a more equal level.

Before becoming Orthodox I was in a Wesleyan holiness group, and we indeed treated all the Scriptures in roughly the same manner. I think part of it was about pushing the Biblical idea that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16) as far as we could (of course that passage was talking about the Old Testament, but it was also applied to the New Testament at our Church). When "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," and inerrancy and infallibility become a central dogma that is mentioned fairly often, it might seem to some that the consistent thing to do is to treat all Scripture the same.
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Rosehip
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« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2008, 07:54:55 PM »

Thanks, Cleveland, for your excellent explanation!

Thanks also to all the former Prots-your experiences and thoughts are all so similar to what I have experienced.

Upon becoming Orthodox,it was quite an interesting experience to see the entire congregation huddle together, while bowing their heads as a physical support for the Gospels during the gospel reading during an Akathist or Moleben; and to see the priest kissing the place in the Gospels where he ceasing reading (there are, of course, many other such examples of reverence during the services).
« Last Edit: October 30, 2008, 07:55:59 PM by Rosehip » Logged

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Byzantine2008
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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2008, 08:20:11 PM »

Yes, I understand. But, I'm wondering why we treat the Gospels with such extreme devotion i.e. standing while they are being read, as opposed to the Epistle reading, which is more relaxed and around which I have rarely heard a sermon preached (at least not in my parish)? What is the history of this custom?

Forget the rubrics for a moment.

Why do we treat the Gospels with such reverence?  Because the Gospel is Christ's life, salvific ministry, saving Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and His everlasting teaching into the world.  The Gospel is the Son of God Incarnate in our world.  The Gospel is His Teaching, His Life, His Example.  The Gospel is at the center of all our sacraments, holding special place both spiritually and physically.

The Gospel is so important that the Epistles basically are interpretations, and incarnations, of the Gospel.  The Epistles are the story of how the Gospel became real, and really important, in the life of the Early Church.  The Gospel is so important that it caused us to re-think how we interpret all of Scripture (the OT).

God bless you,

that was an awesome explanation.

Smiley
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