Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sailing to Byzantium...

The Byzantine Rite is the complex of worship rituals normally used by the, uh, well BYZANTINE Orthodox Churches (Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Antiochians - the other Antiochians that is, etc., etc.) and the Churches related to them which are in communion with, and under the jurisdiction of, the Pope (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Melkites, Ruthenians, etc., etc.) Descended from the most ancient liturgies of Jerusalem and Antioch (as is the Armenian Rite and our own West Syrian Rite), it developed in Constantinople (aka Byzantium) with input over the centuries from various monasteries. Above all, the Byzantine Rite is beautiful.

Fr. Stephen compares it - rightly, I might add - to a symphony:

"The Strange Land of Liturgical Knowledge"

and then there is this Baptist preacher in Texas who discovers this major brand of Orthodox worship:

"Not for Lightweights"


"St. Anthony the Great, Part 2"

followed by

"This Sunday - St. Joseph in Houston"

What Fr. Stephen long ago learned and what Baptist Pastor Gordon Atkinson is just now discovering is that revelation is not confined to the Bible, nor even to the rest of the Tradition as recorded in the various narrative and poetic writings which bear it witness. No, the Christian revelation is manifested in a very real way in the celebration of authentic liturgy. But this revelation is not simply the presentation of information. It is also encounter and communion, a real confrontation with the glorified Christ, He Who Is glorified precisely because he is first crucified and, as such, is himself the revelation of his unseen Father. The early Christians summed it up this way: "The rule of prayer is the rule of faith."

Every discussion of the Byzantine Rite, no matter how cursory, must include the following:

Many years ago, over 1,000 years ago actually, a pagan prince in Southeastern Europe began investigating the monotheistic religions with a view toward adopting one for himself and his people. He sent representatives to speak with Jews and with Muslims, to visit Rome and Germany, and then, to travel to Constantinople. After experiencing the faith and worship of Christ as found in Byzantium, they reported the following back to the Prince, whose name was Vladimir:

"We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty."

All of the ancient rites have their own ethos, their own genius. That of the Byzantine Rite is beauty, effulgent beauty. If you have never experienced the Byzantine Rite, you should. At least once.


Don said...

The event you describe at the end is, of course the "Baptism of Russia," as Vladimir was the Prince of Kiev (where the Russian nation began.) I was in Russia when they celebrated the 1000th anniversary of this in 1988.

Vladimir sent his delegations to the Jews, Roman Catholics and Muslims. The delegation was underwhelmed with the last because they were sad and smelled bad.

This was a key moment in Orthodox history because Russia is Orthodoxy's greatest mission success. But, like Protestantism's experience with the Scotch-Irish, it's had its moments...

Lucian said...

I can't for the life of me understand what or why *our* Liturgy is (far and) above the rest of the other Liturgies. (I personally don't think this is true, I'm sorry).

FrGregACCA said...

I wouldn't say better, Adrian. My Church, after all, uses the West Syriac Rite, and, as I said, each Rite has its own ethos. However, even though the Byzantine Rite is set against the backdrop of Eastern liturgy in general, and has many things in common with the other Eastern rites, it is in many ways unique, largely because of its aesthetic development. Also, on a practical level, it is the Eastern rite most accessible to Americans, both in terms of availability and intelligibility, since it is the one Eastern rite most likely to be celebrated in English.

Best rite? Not necessarily. Most beautiful? Probably.

FrGregACCA said...

Forgive me, Lucian. The above comment was in response to yours, not someone named "Adrian". I've never even met you and I've got you confused with someone else (whom I've also never even met).

Kyrie Eleison!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Father, I agree! It is glorious.

I also believe that other liturgies can be beautiful if one is prepared to worship. For me, preparation requires attending Matins. I need that time to prepare my heart, silence my mind, and begin to focus on the One who gave His life for the life of the world.

FrGregACCA said...

Yes, indeed, Alice. It does take time to "lay aside all earthly cares."

I remember once attending a Coptic liturgy. It started at 9:30 AM. I got lost and had trouble finding the Church. I arrived at 11:00. The priest was just about to chant the Gospel.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Imagine! You were spared from standing for 3 hours. : )

There is a Coptic church in Cincinnati that I'd like to visit. Perhaps this summer.

Lucian said...

Well, it's still puzzling that You think it's the most beautiful. :-\ (As opposed even to other Oriental rites, which is even weirder).

Gregory said...

The reason the Byzantine liturgy is beautiful is that is has a sense of Mystery, beautiful icons, and the "smells and bells" of incense etc.

I think the same could be said for a HIGH (not low) Traditional Latin Mass (or as it is called now Extraordinary Rite or as it was called Tridentine Rite)
Again, a high sung Mass with Gregorian Chant (closest to Byzantine chant in terms of acappella, non instrumental, etc)
or the great Classical music)