Saturday, 9 March 2013

"Follow along" - How projector screens and liturgical texts may actually be more a hindrance than a help in the liturgy - (Fr. Aidan Kavanagh)

Ask Samuel L. Jackson, the only thing scarier than 'snakes on a plane,' are projector screens in an Orthodox church! When you think of projector screens being hung above (or even in front of) an iconostasis projecting the liturgical text, your first inclination might be to assume that such use of modernity must obviously be a good thing. Rationally, it would only make sense that this technology would help parishioners "follow along" during a divine liturgy, allowing everyone to be fully engaged in the worship. Makes sense, right? Well, not quite. This well intended addition which has crept its way into our liturgical worship over the past few years may actually be more a hindrance than a help.

Participation in the divine liturgy involves every person in a parish, not just the clergy, and choir - it is to be participated in corporately. Our goal in liturgy is not to mindlessly recite prayers, neither is it to listen to someone else recite the prayers, but rather, it is to experience communion with God and with the body of Christ, that being the Church. The words being prayed and sung should become our words, expressing the groans of our heart. The liturgical text should not be viewed as some magical incantation someone wrote centuries ago that requires a congregation to patiently allow for the prayers to have their desired affect on the gifts placed on the altar, but rather, the liturgical prayers should be internalized, and 'chewed' on by our whole being. Therefore, it is also less important to be caught up trying to 'follow along,' and more important to truly be present in the corporate liturgical dance.

Some might be thinking here, "What about visitors and catechumens? Wouldn't they benefit from a projector screen?" – Great question! Of course all churches should make sure they have books available for new comers. However, making these texts available should be for the express purpose to encourage these individuals to also to participate in the liturgy, the books should never be allowed to be used as a type of distraction from what is happening around them. Imagine for a moment while you are watching a film someone hands you the script to the movie so you can 'follow along' - would it be safe to assume that most people wouldn't find that enjoyable? Imagine all that person would miss! Would you or anyone you know be just as involved in the plot of the film if they were simply reading, neither really watching and/or listening? This is one of the many reasons why musical and theater performances do not hand their patrons the text being used. A person is meant to live the experience, not to 'follow along.'

Typography, by its nature, separates and compartmentalizes information, making it impossible for a complete and rich experience. Applying this observation to reading off a screen while participating in liturgical worship, it comes as no surprise why many complain that liturgical prayers often lack a 'prayerful feel.' And how could such liturgies be prayerful when they are reduced to a 'read-along'?  

Delving into this dilemma further, it may be worthwhile examining just how text and typography actually influences our cognition and what affects it may have on our engagement with the world. Canadian communications theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, wrote extensively on the effects of typography and text on individuals and society. According to McLuhan, unlike in times past or in cultures where typography is not considered the primary mode of communication, we in our modern Western culture have significantly lowered our ability to synthesize the world around us. It may be worth mentioning that McLuhan also believed that the invention of print technology and its ontologically disjunctive nature contributed to the rise of individualism, capitalism, and nationalism - all of which could be argued are anti-liturgical ideologies.
Below is an excerpt from Fr. Aidan Kavanagh (a liturgical theologian) on the affects of text on the liturgy and our liturgical participation. Enjoy! 


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bishop Bulus al-Bushi: A theologian from the 'golden age' of the Coptic Orthodox Church - On 'theosis' (union with God)

Anba (Bishop) Bulus al-Bushi (ca. 1170-1250) was one of a select group of Arabic speaking Egyptian theologians that helped shape the Coptic “golden age” set in the Ayyubid rule of Egypt. His name reflects the fact that he was from “Bush,” a town located in Middle Egypt (just north of Beni Suef). Much of the early part of his career, was spent as a monk, probably at the Monastery of Anba Samuel Qalamun in the Fayum, a large agricultural oasis located adjacent to the Nile Valley, southwest of Cairo. During the last decade of his life, he served as bishop of Old Cairo, the most prestigious of the local Egyptian bishoprics at the time.

Below is an excerpt taken from Bishop Bulus' exegesis of John 6 found in his treatise 'On the Incarnation,' emphasizing the role of the eucharist in theosis. (John 6 is a well known scriptural passage which is incorporated in the liturgies of both the Eastern and Western churches)

The church of the Virgin Mary (Hanging Church) in Old Cairo, dating to the 3rd C.
Bishop Bulus likely prayed many divine liturgies and delivered countless sermons in this ancient church.

Bulus al-Bushi - 'On the Incarnation'
Chapter Eight: God Granted Us Participation in the Body of Christ

"Then in his favour he added a confirmation. He willed to grant us participation in that holy body and a connection with it by a most excellent spiritual kinship that transcends the bodily kinship, to the extent that the eternal life which that body acquired becomes in us completely and rightly natural.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Return to the Father - Our lenten journey

"From beginning to end the lenten services of the Church call us to return to God our Father. The theme of the parable of the prodigal son runs through the entire season. We have wasted what our good God has given us. We have ruined our lives and our world. We have polluted the air, the water and the earth. The birds and the fish, the plants and the animals, grieve because of our wickedness. We have corrupted our bodies and minds. We have abandoned communion with God and the joy of His dwelling. We have gone off on our own, following our own ideas, enacting our own plans. And the result is that we are away from our true home, lost in a far country, living among swine. Through our reckless wasting of the gifts given by God we have stripped ourselves of our original glory, wisdom, beauty and strength: we have lost our divine legacy as children of God. And the whole cosmos suffers with us in our affliction."
- The Lenten Spring by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Saturday, 23 February 2013

'The Pearl' by St.Ephraim the Syrian - Hymn I

Saint Ephraim of Syria (ca. 306-373), having written countless hymns and sermons exclusively in the Syriac language, is especially beloved within the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Pearl contains eight hymns praising God for his love and offer of salvation. The collection takes its name from Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46). As in the parable, a beautiful pearl symbolizes God’s kingdom, irresistible and perfect. In verse that retains its beauty in translation, St. Ephraim explores how God’s grace changes lives.


** 1. **

On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren;
I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom;
Semblances and types of the Majesty;
It became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Was Dioscorus of Alexandria a Eutychian (monophysite) heretic?

Some personal advice before I get to today's post:

If you want to sound like a true theologian, go out and get yourself an opinion about Dioscorus of Alexandria (? - 454). And don't worry, it doesn't have to be based on fact... actually, many people might give you extra points for making things up! :)

Over the past many centuries, much ink has been spilled discussing the character and theology of Dioscorus of Alexandria. Considered a saint by some, and worst than heartburn by others, he is one of those people who God has blessed as being a meeting point for unnecessary discussion and conjecture of all sorts.

Below is a letter penned by Dioscorus while in exile (post Chalcedon), to the monks of the Hennaton. The letter draws attention to two major points regarding Dioscorus' Christology:

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Journal reflections of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann on H.H. Pope Shenouda III and the Coptic Orthodox Church

Saturday, February 11, 1978

Immersion yesterday and today in a totally unknown (to me) world of Coptic Christianity. Right away I must express my main impression: it is edifying and it is alive. I remember my trip to the Middle East in 1971 and my impression of something outlived, nominal, dying, chained to the past—the existence of a non-existent world. Lifeless Hierarchs. Fear. Lies. Corruption.

And then, last year in Los Angeles, I met His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the Coptic Church. Right away—an impression of genuine life, spiritual openness. And now, in Cairo, I am meeting the very Coptic reality. There are about seven million Copts in Egypt! And this church, despite persecutions (Byzantine, Arab, Turkish), despite the surrounding sea of Islam, despite its isolation and loneliness, and the whole spiritual and political chaos of the Middle East, is revived and alive!