Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Eastern Church Five Years On, Part I: Teach Me Your Statutes

Almost five years ago, to the Sunday, I walked entered the Greek Church aloof to its mysteries and eager for an alternative to the insular world of worship which I knew. After some light digging online I found that I should not expect a holy water stoop nor a genuflection on entry to the church. I walked into a Melkite church in New Hampshire half an hour before the proper start to the Divine Liturgy, providing a sufficient cushion for getting lost. I approached the church with the trepidation one feels when leaving one’s element, like going away from home for the first time or going off to university. Vaguely, some rough, pulsating noise resonated from the opened windows of the parish; they sang words I could not discern.

As told, I found no holy water stoop upon entering the narthex nor anything toward which to genuflect. After the initial doors a stand bore an icon of the Dormition. I passed the icon and saw wonders. A great gate demanded all attention. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great looked upon me in blessing from four panels. Four cantors surrounded a podium to the left of the icon screen and two deacons stood around a similar podium to the right. They continued the hymn which I heard only faintly from outside, bowing to the floor at each refrain.

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes

The order of the angels was amazed,
When they beheld You, O Savior, among the dead,
Destroying the power of death, and raising Adam with You,
And releasing all from Hades.

Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me Your statutes

After four or five years living in the traditionalist segment of the Latin Church I found myself uncomfortably staring at true worship with no strings attached. Like the ancient Roman liturgy I came to love there was a “flesh of my flesh” sort of devotion and worship here, but bereft of any political affiliation or symbolic status on one’s opinions. Without the positive reinforcement that comes from selecting a satisfying position against one’s imagined foes, I was left to see this act of latria in a way I had viewed no other before it, as the worship of God for God’s own sake.

Very early in the morning the myrrh-bearers ran lamenting to Your tomb,
But the angel stood by them and said,
“Do not weep, the time for lamenting has passed,
Announce the Resurrection to the Apostles.”

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes

Hitherto, my understanding of the Church came from a narrow set of arguments that effectively said, “What preceded 1962 was original to the Apostolic tradition and your ideas are novel.” While that generally continued to be true in the limited sense I understood the situation in the Church, I had little knowledge, and no wisdom, for the actual Tradition of the Church properly understood. Other than St. Augustine, I had not seriously engaged a Church Father. Other than the Tridentine Mass, I had not seen a traditional liturgy, and certainly not in so normative a setting; the Tridentine Mass was always the exception in parishes. Like most traddies, I was a modern Cordelia Flyte: I knew little and believed it madly.

Since you gave birth to the Giver of Life, O Virgin,
You delivered Adam from sin,
And you granted joy to Eve instead of sadness,
For He Who took flesh from you, God and Man, restored to life him who had gone astray.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory be to You, O God!

It is the purpose of this post and a short succeeding series to ruminate on my five years living, thinking, and worshipping in the Greek Churches. In short, it has been a slow withdrawal from the toxic political atmosphere prevalent in some corners of the traditionalist world and an introduction to wonderment at the act of worship of the Holy Trinity.

In this Melkite Church there was no sense of “right” and “wrong”, meaning that one side of opinions was right and the one I did not belong to was in error. There was simple worship of God. Having spent the past few years preaching the wickedness of removing the Introibo ad altare Dei prayers I was ill prepared to hear the Great Doxology sung at the end of the Orthros (Mattins) service and then witness the Divine Liturgy begin with such words as to arouse one’s long dormant spiritual imagination.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


  1. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Sadly, there are no non-Latin Catholic Churches here which one could go to as an alternative on a Sunday, though there are plenty flavours of Orthodox - Eastern and Oriental.

  2. You have to write an article about worship of Virgin Mary so God will take away the storms from your country.

  3. If certain TLM-goers spent half as much energy on making (and participation in) Solemn Masses and Divine Office services a regularity in the parishes far and wide than they do on crisis-fretting, moralising (e.g. women's "modesty"policing), and all eschatology all the time, said CrisisTM would be over tomorrow.

  4. Is there anything you miss from Latin traditions?

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  6. I attended my first Melkite liturgy not too long ago, and found much of this post to be on the money. It was wonderful seeing a liturgy with no strings attached. I mean, I want orthodoxy just as much any Catholic would, but it always bothered me that attending the Tridentine Mass carried with it political implications about one's views on a variety of issues (I admit, however, to being guilty of this).

    And I second Marko's interest in reading about what you missed from the Latin traditions. I love the Melkite liturgy, but even after participating in one I don't think I consider any other other place home other than the Latin Mass.

  7. Experiencing the Ordinariate's Divine Worship for the first time gave me a similar impression (un-self-conscious worship-qua-worship, instead of worship-qua-ecclesio-political-statement).

    At the same time, I don't think the Latin Mass HAS to be that way, and I have a reasonable hope that it is already changing. It is incumbent upon each of us tradition-loving orthodox Latin Catholics to shed our own baggage.

    Allow me to share a personally inspiring example. A traditional order recently took charge of a beautiful and venerable old church and longtime indult community.

    The new pastor's sermons and catechesis have so far focused on themes of "circling the wagons of charity," "living out the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience," "fostering the Kingdom of God within us," and focusing more on our own spiritual life and actually building a Catholic parish family together, than being obsessed with minutiae, politics, and external battles.

    He has focused strongly on the basics of the ascetical and mystical life, and straight Biblical, Patristic and Thomistic exegesis, in a way that is both accessible and engaging for everyone regardless of intellectual or theological sophistication. There is "something for everyone," and no one is either over-catered to or looked down upon.

    It's real bread-and-butter Catholicism. No self-conscious polemics, private-devotionalism, or End Times-mania. It's not the "Tradistan" of yesteryear.

    Last Sunday, for instance, Father focused on how the Kingdom of Heaven is internal to us, highlighted the importance of "praying constantly in the heart," and promoted the Jesus Prayer (!) as by far the best way to do so.

    He has also already expressed that "liturgy is meant to be sung" and wants to make every Sunday Mass a sung Mass (and eventually Solemn w/ enough priests) as far as possible. He brought up closing Sundays with Sung Vespers when more priests get assigned in the longer run, and singing the Office in general.

    There is also a new evangelical zeal in the community that is palpable. Attendance has already skyrocketed in just the last 4-5 weeks, and still growing.

    I could on on. But I think that if this is a bellwether for the next "stage" of traditional Catholicism, and I think it is, then I personally am very, very encouraged and heartened.

    1. Tom B.,
      Yes, that is certainly inspiring! Thank you for posting it. I'd be tempted to join the good Fathers myself.

    2. The ICRSS in Detroit has been exactly the same way.

  8. Dear Rad Trad. ABS loves him some Melkite Divine Liturgy and were it not for the Bride, he'd never ever go to even a pre 1955 Latin Rite Liturgy so superior to it is the Melkite Liturgy.

    Is that because of changes in his outlook or is it because of the objective value of the Divine lIturgy?

    That question has not been of keen interest to me but everything about the local Melkite Church appeals to all of his senses and it lifts ABS out of time and place.

    ABS recalls one is supposed to stay with the rite into which he was born so maybe ABS was born out of place and time :)