The following article did not appear in the Orthodox liturgical journal Axios:
"It's a dreadful mess," said Fr. Roberto Enojado, a convert from a Papist background. "When I first found Holy Orthodoxy I was moved by the profoundly spiritual meaning of the liturgy in contrast to the pathetic reforms of the Romans. Now I see a congregation that is clearly as bored as I am."
Fr. Enojado is not the only priest in Orthodoxy to realize that the static nature of the Divine Liturgy has bled the Church's membership. Although sacred in every way the Divine Liturgy is brimming with empty action actions often mistaken as symbols by those who lack specialized knowledge.
Many of the actions in the liturgy are "incomprehensible" according to Sr. Vassa Larin, a professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Vienna. Gestures that the faithful interpret as mystical symbols are in fact practical measures that succeeding centuries since the Fall of Constantinople and the beginning of the Great Captivity have rendered antiquated.
Uniate Fr. Robert Taft, SJ has taught innumerable Orthodox students, among them Roberto Enojado, who are expected to be on the liturgical committee for the next Great and Holy Synod of 2024, which may or may not be an ecumenical council this time. Taft emphasizes that while past generations clung to stability in their ignorance, young people today are educated and desperate for constant change. "The unchangable nature of the liturgy is driving millennials from the Church," said Enojado.
Enojado is a young priest for a parish in Los Angeles and figures to be one of two or three members of the liturgical commission with pastoral experience, the remaining seventy-two all academics and seminary instructors. "Every Sunday it's nothing but troparia about the Resurrection," he says. "There is nothing instructive in the Divine Liturgy anymore, nothing about the mystery of the Church as there was before the Hesychasts."
Some quiet reformers are calling for a face lift of the Divine Liturgy along Roman lines. Fr. Dcn. Scholasticos of St. Wonkion Monastery goes as far as to call for the removal of the icon screen and more popular involvement along the lines of Paul VI's intervention into the Roman liturgy. His teacher, Fr. Taft, reminds us that the Roman renewal was an "overwhelming success."
Fr. Enojado is less enthusiastic about what he describes as a protestantization of the Roman liturgy. Instead he says "We want to re-upholster an existing piece of furniture, not create a new chair."
Still, a reform has not been thoroughly considered by static Church leaders, but is an urgent matter. Larin warns that "people currently think the Apostles celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. That clearly wasn't the case."
One potential obstacle to renewal in the Divine Liturgy is the question of direction. All commentators agree that the Church must do whatever the Fathers did, but evidence is actually quite scant as to what exactly they did. "What psalms and troparia did they sing before the monastics came to New Rome? No one knows," says Scholasticos. His solution is to return to the spirit of the Early Church and improvise texts. "Someone made up the Thrice Holy Hymn, not an angel. Why can we not do the same?"
Questions abound heading into the Great and Holy Synod of 2024 as the Church looks to understand its identity in post-Christian society. Enojado thinks that fixing the liturgical problem is a necessary step in that process. "People were not this liturgically rigid in ancient Constantinople, or even in Moscow. Would the Church not loosen up if its liturgy loosened up today?"
"Part II: Committee Meetings" to come! This is a a series inspired by a previous post and is purely speculative in nature.
Aside: posts will become more infrequent this month. I have a 90 minute commute each way to my office and I am moving at the end of the month.