Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Line or Circle?

The more I expose myself to the writings of the eastern fathers, the more I notice an irreconcilable difference between us and them. While it is certainly true that there is no single perspective that divides us, there nevertheless exists a basic set of viewpoints that are at the core of our differences. In this post I would like to address three points of distinction between us and them for our consideration.

First, contemporary western Christianity is 1] linear, 2] logical & 3] legal in its approach to reality, life, God, & c… In our western minds all things move in a straight line from A to Z, all things are subject to a logic that creates a cohesive and orderly account of God and His kingdom. Moreover, mankind's goal is rooted in getting right, and staying right with others and with God. This threefold perspective is easily seen in the western church’s liturgies, which take us form the entrance sin stained parishioners into God's courts and end in the being sent out as Christ’s emissaries. Our western architecture also illustrates this linear perspective, it is full of angles that point us straight up, out, and away from this world, it tells a story of an outward trajectory. In addition, western doctrine shows itself to be obsessive compulsive about our juridical standing before God, we begin soiled and we end cleansed. Every doctrine hinges on justification.

The eastern fathers on the other hand, come from a diametrically opposite set of views. They are 1] round, 2] relational, & 3] restorative in their approach to reality, life, God, & c… This too can be seen in the eastern liturgies, architecture, and doctrines. In the early liturgies we see nothing linear about them, prayers and litanies occur throughout, several entrances, the priest praying one set of words, the choir singing one song and people running around lighting candles and prostrating. Their buildings are circular in shape, they turn in on the earth, and heaven and earth become one. Their doctrine centers on God becoming man to raise man up to God, the goal is healing the broken sinner. This opposite approach can leave westerners feeling like they entered a three ring circus. However, the point of distinction that should not be missed is that the early east was Kairos focused rather than Chronos focused. Consequentially, the east was larger, fuller, and better able to take in the whole of the faith.

Can these two perspectives ever be reconciled? Perhaps not! However, it is possible to drop a bridge that enables the linear, logical, and legal to cross over into the round, relational, & restorative. The challenge for our failed western experiment will be to learn to fit chronos into kairos.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shrinking God’s Kingdom

Last Sunday, one our parish families’ asked me to bless an icon of “The Good Shepherd” for their home. I was pleased to see that the establishment of icon corners is taking place within our homes. The concept of icon corners or icons in general does not sit well with those who have grown up in Protestantism. It can be seen by many as a form of idolatry. But why is this the case? It is because of an ignorance of the whole faith of the undivided church. Those who struggle with iconography do not know about the 7th ecumenical council, its conclusions, its laws, or the connection of iconography to Christ’s incarnation. In short, they misunderstand iconography due to their ignorance of the implications of God becoming man in Christ. How can this be, how can it be that an Anglican, one steeped in liturgy, can be find themselves in this position?

The answer, as I see it, is found in the primary effect of the protestant reformation, and its truncation or shrinking of the faith. While Anglicanism did not buy into the wholesale burning of patristic thought as did many Protestant groups, it did get caught up in the spirit of the age. In one sense it was very profitable to do so while in others not. The profit came in the formation of the “Book of Common Prayer.” In it, the primary daily offices, weekly, yearly, and lifelong liturgies were contained, summaries of the faith and even the liturgies of ordinations. This was ingenious; it presented the people with a summary of the faith, and made it possible for all to pray and study the whole faith.

There was however a downside to the BCP. The downside is that the only practices that were allowed were those in the prayer book. This meant that blessing material things was no longer to be practiced. It meant that much of the seventh ecumenical council and its canons went out the window. There were no provisions for clergy to conduct any service outside the BCP, thus the people forgot the holy tradition left to them by the church. One may say that this problem has been remedied by the newer prayer books and their new rubrics, which permit almost anything, however, that really does not resolve the issue, but merely opens the door to innovations!

Looking back, what should have happened was that the BCP should have served as “the people’s prayer book”, but the church should have retained its English liturgical books revised to match the contents of the seven ecumenical councils. This would have left the populous with a summary of the faith, but not permitted the smaller book to be the sum & substance of the faith. This would have kept Anglicanism from the truncations of Protestantism. History cannot be changed; nevertheless, we must still face the future with eyes wide open. In order to recover the whole faith for Anglicans we need not only an orthodox BCP that is inline with the seven councils, but also orthodox liturgical books inline with the seven councils that contain the whole faith as it was passed on to us.

We could learn something here from the Eastern churches, which have retained that undivided faith. Below is a list of liturgical books used in the Eastern churches, In the East:

Five books contain the ordinary parts of the service:

· The Liturgikon contains the priest's and deacon's parts for the daily liturgical cycle.

  • The Horologion contains the people's parts for the daily liturgical cycle.

  • The Euchologion contains the occasional services conducted by a priest, such as the baptism, wedding and funeral services, as well as assorted priestly blessings.

  • The Archieratikon contains those services conducted by a bishop: ordination, consecration of a church, and so on.

Three books contain the Scriptural readings used in the services:

  • The Psalter contains the 150 psalms, divided into twenty kathismata, as well as the nine Scriptural canticles.

  • The Gospel Book contains the specified readings (called pericopes) from the Holy Gospel.

  • The Apostol contains the non-Gospel readings from the New Testament (the "apostolic writings"), and the readings from the Old Testament.

A single book contains all the hymns which recur in an eight-week cycle throughout the year:

  • The Octoechos contains the Sunday and weekday hymns in each of the Eight Tones.

Three books contain the parts of the services for the liturgical year:

  • The Triodion contains the proper hymns and prayers used during the Great Fast.

  • The Pentecostarion contains the proper hymns and prayers used during the Paschal season, from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints.

  • The Menaion contains the proper hymns and prayers for feasts and commemorations on the fixed calendar - that is, those which fall on the same date each year.

  • Finally, the Typikon provides rules for the celebration of each service, what to do when several feasts fall on the same day, and so on.

These liturgical books used in the worship of the church are the means by which the whole faith is kept intact, and is passed on!

However, in the east, the individual person only needs one book containing only the most important services and the principal feasts is necessary. Such a book is called an Anthologion. This is the Eastern Book of Common Prayer. In the Eastern liturgical set up the benefit of both liturgical books and a BCP co-exist.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Feast of St Francis

Blessed Francis (1182 – 1226) was an ordained deacon and preacher. He also was the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, and of the environment. It is customary for Anglican-Catholic churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of 4 October.