Author Topic: The Nature of Liturgy and Orthopraxis  (Read 1947 times)

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Offline Alveus Lacuna

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The Nature of Liturgy and Orthopraxis
« on: March 31, 2009, 03:38:21 PM »
I have been wondering about the nature between worship and belief, and to what degree the Orthodox Church allows for flexibility.  I know that in the early days of the Church, there were a variety of different local liturgical rites, and that in the East and West over time all territories were placed under uniform liturgies.  I think that the Oriental Orthodox would be an exception, because as far as I know they have all retained distinct liturgies.

So my question is really about the relationship between the method of worship, and how it teaches us things about the faith.  If Orthodoxy as a whole aligned itself exclusively with one uniform liturgy and demanded this of everyone, then at least the notions of orthopraxis and orthodoxy being interconnected would make more sense.  But the acceptance of various "Western rites", Old Believer rites, et cetera has me confused.

To what degree are Orthodox bound to specific liturgical worship, and how flexible are methods of worship?  With all of this talk about creating an authentic expression of North American Orthodoxy, it has me wondering why on earth some sort of "Evangelical Liturgy" has not been concocted.  Why not blend traditional theology with 'contemporary' worship, so long as it is in accordance with Orthodox theology?

Religions and cultures are not separate ventures, as so many like to whine about "ethnic Orthodoxy."  The evangelical Protestant model is an authentic expression of American Christianity in every way.  It reflects culture in the United States and the values of the society.  So why could these expressions not be take in, with prayers to saints and petitions being added that better reflect Orthodoxy?

Just to be clear, I do not want in of these things to happen, nor am I arguing in their defense.  I am simply wondering why exactly some variations are open to acceptance, and others or not.  The arbitrary line to me seems to be drawn at "as long as it's old."  "Ancient liturgies are great, even if they have been dead for over a thousand years and we are now artificially reconstructing them!"  I like the idea of continuity in the tradition that has led us to today, but I have no idea what to make of these reconstructions, because reconstructionism is exactly what led me away from Protestant paradigms.  You cannot observe a text with a 2,000 year separation and somehow try to reconstruct the Christian faith in a "pure" form.  The venture is doomed to fail before you begin.  And in many ways I feel the same way about the resurrected liturgies.  The whole endeavor seems to be in a good spirit, but ultimately it is an artificial construction; an attempt to reconnect with a lost identity that removes itself from its own history and dives into the realm of nostalgia (in this instance I am referring specifically to things like the Gallican rite). 

Anyway, the notion of liturgy being good so long as it is old simply isn't good enough for me, and I would appreciate any helpful responses!
« Last Edit: March 31, 2009, 03:52:29 PM by Alveus Lacuna »

Offline SakranMM

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Re: The Nature of Liturgy and Orthopraxis
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2009, 09:43:11 AM »
Great questions...let me take a stab at it.

I think it is fairly common to separate belief and worship as two separate components of religion.  But really, belief flows out of worship, and worship expresses what we believe.  "Lex orandi, lex credendi."

The liturgy is more than a source of sacraments.  The liturgy is life, and feeds us with the Word of God through prayers, hymns, biblical readings, and the Eucharist.
The liturgy is the school of the faithful.

As to what degree Orthodox faithful are bound by forms of worship, I think there is considerable diversity.  Let's just take the typical Sunday liturgy:  While it has the same basic form consistent throughout the Orthodox world, different local customs and practices will prevail depending on where you are at, in order to reflect the life of the community.

I think a major reason why we don't blend "contemporary" worship with traditional Orthodox theology is because the Orthodox forms of worship we have now are timeless.  They aren't simply anachronisms; everything has a purpose.  Certainly the majesty of Orthodox worship flowed from impressions made by the Byzantine Imperial Court, but in Christ, these things have taken on a Christian identity, and again, are timeless.

What most people call contemporary worship today is simply a form of entertainment in the form of uplifting songs and inspiring homilies.  Certainly, faithful and pious people exist in these "traditions."  However, the focus is taken off of Christ and placed on ourselves, on our feelings, on how we perceive Christ.

None of that matters.  It's not about YOU in the liturgy so much as it is about Christ and His Body.  We come together to commune with God and with each other, not to be entertained or inspired (although inspiration and piety can certainly be side effects of the liturgy.)

What could we take from contemporary Protestant worship that would add to what we have in Orthodox liturgy?  Nothing.  They have hymns.  We have hymns that are majestic in quality and purpose.  They have sermons.  For goodness sake, we have Chrysostom, who may as well be speaking to us today - his words are still valid. 

Contemporary worship flowed out of nominalism which helped spawn the Protestant Reformation.  Orthodox worship is maximalistic.  We give everything and our best to God (or at least try to.)

Yes, we've got our problems.  Yes, people have misunderstandings about traditional liturgy that need to be addressed and corrected (such as misunderstandings about the frequency of communion, etc...)  These points need to be considered by educated and pastoral leaders.  But I don't think that we can equate "traditional" with "outdated."

Lest we forget, Orthodoxy IS an American institution.  While Alaska wasn't a state then, there have been Orthodox present there since the 1700's.  There have been Orthodox in the mainland U.S. since the early 1800's.  We've been here for a long time, and outdate the presence of some "American" denominations in the States.  Instead of insisting that Orthodoxy be transformed by American culture, I think we should focus on transforming the culture with Orthodoxy.  That's not to say that advocates of contemporary worship can't teach us a thing or two about theology, etc...  Modern, non-Orthodox theologians and scriptural commentators like L.T. Johnson and Timothy Hayes are read in our seminaries to great effect.  Good and well.  But I think we have a treasure in our worship; we just need to take a look at it to recognize it.

« Last Edit: April 01, 2009, 09:44:19 AM by SakranMM »
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Offline cholmes

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Re: The Nature of Liturgy and Orthopraxis
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2009, 11:37:52 AM »
What most people call contemporary worship today is simply a form of entertainment in the form of uplifting songs and inspiring homilies.  Certainly, faithful and pious people exist in these "traditions."  However, the focus is taken off of Christ and placed on ourselves, on our feelings, on how we perceive Christ.

An outstanding post.  This part, however, stood out to me and strikes me as particularly accurate.