My question regarding the meaning of "liturgy" was sparked by the brief exchange between Josh and Nektarios that, in its turn, was sparked by the issue of tonsured readers versus lay readers. I think the points made there were on target, but I do think the points made only slightly later may not be as correct.
Liturgy is the work of the people, and that means that not only the clergy and the choir, but the people also have their own proper role to exercise, and those roles cannot be mixed, but they cannot be delegated or neglected either.
The issue of silent prayers has come up in discussion here before, and I expressed my opinions about those in greater detail in that thread. For now, I will merely say that it is my understanding that those prayers that are now taken silently in the Liturgy of the Byzantine rite were originally taken aloud, and the people responded to them. Nowadays, the situation in many places (in my own experience, anyway) is that priest and deacon conduct their part of the service in the altar, and the choir/chanters respond from their place, with the people not really doing much except crossing themselves, bowing, lighting candles, venerating icons, etc. I don't doubt that these people may very well be participating on another level in the liturgy. But it is clear, I think, that originally the people sang those things which the choirs now usually take, and the original intent was that the people would have more of an active role in the celebration than the more passive role they currently exercise. Silent prayers and other such things now seem to be "canonised" by rubrics, and choirs are nearly universal in Byzantine churches (in my experience), and it is my opinion that these things, while not necessarily an abuse, are missing the mark.
So it puzzles me that people can take this exceptional situation and take it to be the norm to such an extent that comments such as those above can be made. I am not offended by it, nor do I mean offence toward those who espouse these opinions. But to read:
and equality that comes through the laity usurping the holy orders of the Church. Whether it's the laity reciting the deacon's "Amens" if the secret prayers are read audibly(i.e. Priest: This bread to be the body of your Christ- People: Amen!), or what you've mentioned about the position of the tonsured reader, it all seems to stem from the same desire.....the desire for equality. The idea that "what they're doing up there"(the altar), or "what the men get to do" is something that all of the laity have to participate in more fully in order to really be a part of the liturgy.
genuinely makes me wonder.
The "deacon's Amens" during the Epiclesis seem to be an element that originally wasn't "the deacon's", but the people's. I've read at least one Orthodox Metropolitan (my bishop) say as much. Of course they became the deacon's Amens, but only after the prayers themselves were taken silently. Originally, the bulk of them were meant to be taken aloud, and responded to by the people. Read the prayers, and you will see what I'm talking about (I recently read the text of the Divine Liturgy in an OCA publication, and with the possible exception of the prayer during the Cherubic Hymn, it looked to me as if all of the "silent" prayers were meant to be taken aloud).
While the question of rotating readers may have something to do with mistaken notions of equality, I don't think one can say that the movement to take "silent" prayers aloud is for similar reasons. I don't think it's the desire for equality. I don't think it's simply a matter of thinking that what's going on at the altar is more important than what is going on in the nave, and so the people want access to that in the name of false equality.
Similarly, this remark from Nektarios also makes me wonder:
There is a sort of feeling out there that unless you actively "doing" you aren't fully participating. I've done both...last Saturday's liturgy I was the altar boy, reader and chanter (FWIW I'm not a tonsured reader). When I go to Liturgy (or any church service) at Saint Anthony's I stand and that's it....no chanting, no responses, nothing like that. Amazingly I can participate without stealling the deacons part or even hearing the priest's silent prayers. People in general have a very fuzzy notion of what lay participation is. It's a large and complicated topic and I can't really put my finger on it...if this makes any sense it is both a comibation of clericalism and anti-clerical feelings
I am not arguing in favour of allowing anyone into minor orders or to allow regular folks to do whatever they want on a rotating schedule or anything like that. In the liturgy, everyone has their proper role. It belongs to the priest to do X, the deacon to do Y, and the people to do Z. Mixing roles is not what I'm defending.
But the laity, by virtue of their baptism, are members of the royal priesthood. We exercise that priesthood as the laity by praying for others and for ourselves, and by offering ourselves and all we have to God. The fullest expression of this royal priesthood, however, is during the Divine Liturgy, and the laity exercise this by taking a more active role in joining in the prayer of the clergy at the altar by making the responses.
Is there anything wrong with just listening and praying privately? No. I myself do this when visiting a church with whose rite or language I am not familiar. But that is not the ideal, I don't think. If that was the ideal, then I think the liturgies in use throughout "Apostolic Christianity" would be VERY different from those we have and use to this day. It is my opinion that the whole issue of silent prayers and what not has taken the role of the people and transferred it to the choir/chanters, and that is wrong. It doesn't allow the people to exercise their proper role in the liturgy.
I attend EO services frequently, and they are never the same as my experiences at my own church. I used to think it was because I was more familiar with one than the other, but now I'm fairly familiar with the structure of the more common EO services, and they are still not the same, and I think it's because I can sense the lack in the liturgy that is caused by a lack of popular participation. The local OCA parish has beautiful services with a very nice choir, and it can be quite moving, but it doesn't hold a candle to my parish, for example. Sure, my parish's singing isn't always at its aesthetic best, but it is sung by all the people, in a heartfelt way, and that in itself strikes you powerfully. When the singing and the rites and everything else are done well (like this past Sunday), you can feel within your heart a warm sensation, and your body trembles, and you might even feel a bit lightheaded or misty-eyed, as you realise that this is "the essence of Orthodoxy, the True Faith". That sounds incredibly sappy, and for me to describe it better would make me look even more sappy, but it's true. I've experienced it.
But I realise that others may feel the same in their own churches, even if I wouldn't, so I want to hear more.
People in general have a very fuzzy notion of what lay participation is.
What is lay participation?