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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Memory Eternal! Patriarch Alexey Reposes

We have received news that Patriarch Alexey of Moscow and All Russia has fallen asleep. Memory Eternal!

Pannikhida at Protection of the Holy Theotokos Russian Orthodox Church, 5401-B Clay Avenue, Austin, Texas, 78756, at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008.

"To Paradise may the angels lead thee; when thou comest, may the martyrs welcome thee, and conduct thee into the holy city, Jerusalem." - antiphon from the Roman rite funeral service (Sarum use)

His Holiness Alexey, when yet serving as a priest.

His Holiness Alexey, giving his patriarchal blessing.

Memoriam Aeternam, Domne! Вечная память!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nov. 9 (new style Nov. 22): St. Theodore the Recruit

Today on the calendar of the Sarum use of the Roman rite we celebrate the feast of the holy martyr Theodore the Recruit. Presented below are the readings at Matins for the feast, translated into English by Hieromonk Aidan (Keller) in anticipation of their publication by St. John Cassian Press, together with all the Matins readings throughout the year for the Roman rite in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Lesson 1. In the times of the emperor Maximian, Theodore was arrested in the city of Abasia, and with him many other recruits into the army, and they were all pressured to sacrifice to the idols. But the blessed man Theodore, because he was faithful and full of the Holy Spirit, standing in the midst of the legion, said that, “I am a Christian, and I have not received a command to do sacrifice to evil graven images. For I have, for my king, Christ in heaven.” And having been led to the ruler Populius, the ruler said to him: “Theodore, sacrifice to the gods, and save thyself from these tortures which have been prepared for thee.” Theodore the blessed one said: “I do not consent to thee, and I am not afraid of thy punishments. For the expectation of good things induceth me to have confidence because of the hope which is laid up for me, and the crown which my Lord Jesus Christ hath prepared for me.” Full of indignation, therefore, the judge commanded him to be cast in prison, and be left there to die of starvation. But the blessed man Theodore was fed by the Holy Spirit. But Thou...

Lesson 2. When the ruler was sitting at tribunal again, and the blessed man Theodore had been brought in, he said to him: “Yield to me, Theodore, without torments, and do sacrifice to the gods, that I may write to the rulers of the whole round world that Theodore became a high priest. And receive from them no mean promotion, and thou wilt be a spokesman for us.” Blessed Theodore, looking up to heaven and signing himself, said to the ruler: “Even if thou wilt burn my flesh with fire, and use diverse tortures, as long as there is breath in my nostrils, I will not deny my God!” Hearing this, the ruler told the interrogators to hang him from a beam of wood and tear his sides with iron hooks. They tore him so much that even his ribs were stripped bare. But the blessed man Theodore chanted, saying: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Then the judge, after much ill-treatment, said to the holy martyr: “What dost thou desire, to be with us or with thy Christ?” With great joy the holy martyr answered him: “With my Christ I have been, and am, and will be.” But Thou...

Lesson 3. The ruler, seeing that the forbearance of the holy martyr could not be overcome by torments, rendered judgment against him, saying: “Theodore, a man who doth not obey the commands of the all-invincible princes, but believeth in Jesus Christ Who was crucified, I order to be delivered into fire.” And as soon as he had pronounced the sentence, it was carried out by word and command. And when the fire had been kindled, the blessed martyr prayed, sealing himself with the sign of the Cross. And with his hands bound behind his back, gazing up to heaven, he was accepted as a whole-burnt offering to God, like a ram chosen out of a great flock. And when he finished his prayer, the Devil’s henchmen lit the fire. But we to whom it was granted to witness it saw a great miracle in the glowing flame. For the flame became like the appearance of an arched vault, like a ship’s sail filled with the wind, and it surrounded the blessed martyr’s body like a wall, and his was not like a burning body, but like bread baked. For as the Holy Spirit came upon him the blessed martyr was in the midst of the flame without difficulty. And as he was praising and glorifying God, he gave up to Christ his spirit. And all were filled with a most sweet fragrance. And there came to him a voice from the skies, saying: “Come, Theodore, my dearly beloved, enter into the joy of thy Lord, for with fidelity hast thou finished thy battle-course.” And a certain woman named Eusebia diligently buried his body, and in that same place many miracles happen to the praise and glory of God’s name. But Thou...

(c) 2008 St. John Cassian Press

Today we also remember the repose of Schema-archbishop Theodore of Pskov Caves and West Milford.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

King Alfred of England--an Orthodox Saint?

Below are a few thoughts and observations regarding the topic of whether King Alfred of England might one day become a Saint of the Orthodox Church.

There are Orthodox Christians in our days who advocate declaring King Alfred of England (849-899) a Saint of the Church.

Orthodox Christians are certainly free to advocate or campaign for the future glorification (canonisation) of a beloved Orthodox Christian who has reposed. Yet there are some difficulties with the idea of glorifying King Alfred. For example, he never had a cultus. That means that the Orthodox Anglo-Saxons who were his contemporaries did not see him as a man distinguished for holiness of life (or, at least, there is no evidence they did). And who is in a better position to judge the matter, his contemporaries or we who are alive a thousand years afterwards, and have no personal knowledge of this great King?

The first authority to declare King Alfred a Saint was a cluster of 19th century Anglo-Catholics in England. These men represented the high-church wing of Anglicanism. Could some Orthodox be assuming King Alfred is a Saint because they own Anglican-produced Lives of Saints which list Alfred? Could they be reading these sources uncritically, assuming that Alfred's inclusion means he had a cultus long ago? That is possible, but inconclusive. Mere chronological sequence proves nothing about cause and effect. An Orthodox individual who hopes today that King Alfred will be named a Saint, is not (necessarily) following the Anglican precedent.

[above: statue commemorating King Alfred of England]

I have some concerns peripheral to the question of King Alfred, which I'll state broadly. I have read a number of articles and internet posts which make conclusions about the ecclesiastical situation prevailing a millennium ago in England. Some of these conclusions tend towards the notion that England was Orthodox until 1066, falling into Roman Catholicism and schism only afterwards, as a result of the Norman invasion. To me it seems that this notion springs from a romanticised love of all things Anglo-Saxon, rather than any dogmatic, canonical, or other objective criteria. Between the Normans invading in 1066, and the Anglo-Saxons defending, there was no difference in religious beliefs, in Filioque usage, in church ritual, or in reverence towards the Roman Papacy. (Perhaps a case can be made that the Anglo-Saxons had more reverence for the Papacy, while the Normans had more political-military ties with it, rather cynical ties which had just recently been forged.)

Most of this notion that the Norman invasion resulted in "Roman Catholicism being imposed on England" seems to originate in the writings of Dr. Vladimir Moss. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Moss about this, even as I am grateful for his work in presenting to Orthodox readers the lives of Anglo-Saxon Saints in English.

But back to the 9th-century King Alfred. We're left with three difficulties: (a) King Alfred at no time had an Orthodox cultus; (b) there are no surviving relics of him; and (c) so far there has been no sign from God that God wills him to be glorified by the Church on earth. Of course, anything can happen.

Here is what can safely be said: To this day, King Alfred remains an unfadingly bright exemplar of pious Orthodox monarchy. And to this day English-speaking Orthodox Christians owe the rich flowering of tenth-century English Orthodox culture, great monuments of liturgy and sainthood and literature, to the vision, tenacity, and piety of Alfred.

May he rest in peace blissful and eternal!


Friday, November 14, 2008

Nov. 1 (Nov. 14 new style): All Saints Day

By an ancient Celtic custom, today is in the Western rite the feast of All Saints.

To all Western rite Orthodox who keep All Saints today, joyful greetings with the feast. Below are some of the old Roman-rite chants for this festival from the English tradition, taken from "Old Sarum Rite Missal," (c) 1998, St. Hilarion Press, Austin, Texas. What will be seen in the introit chant is the presence of the tropes, a venerable Orthodox tradition of the West which prevailed in one form or another from the dawn of the 9th century to the Reformation, and even afterwards. The tropes are poetic verses interwoven into the chanted psalm texts to instruct the people on the nature of the feast and to glorify God and His Saints in a more expressive way.

Officium Gaudeamus, trope ‘Hodie mundo,’ tone 1
(The officium is the same as the "introit" of the Western Mass-Liturgy. The parts which are tropes, poetic additions to the Roman rite from the 8th century onward, are shown in light blue colour.)

Today across the earth there hath dawned the festive day of all the Saints;
O come ye, come and sing:

Let us all be joyful in the Lord, celebrating a feast day to the honour of All Saints.
Today the multitude of martyrs doth rejoice exceedingly in heaven, and as for us upon the earth, come ye, come and sing:
For their solemnity the Angels are joyful,
For thereupon, this day, we render honour with praises very meet of all the Saints,
And together praise the Son of God.

V. Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous : praise is meet for the upright. (Ps. 32:1)

O as what a glorified star do the Saints radiantly shine! For having spilled their blood, they are found worthy of requital in Thy kingdom.
Let us all be joyful in the Lord, celebrating a feast day to the honour of All Saints,
The heavenly joys give high praise to all of them at once upon this day,
For their solemnity the Angels are joyful,
Chanting unto Christ their odes with sweetly sounding voices,
And together praise the Son of God.

+ Glory be... As it was...

Come ye, forthwith singing sweet sounds with the subtlety of music:
Let us all be joyful in the Lord, celebrating a feast day to the honour of All Saints;
Let the flower of our virtues be in equal harmony with our mouths.
For their solemnity the Angels are joyful—
Eternal companions of the radiance of the Blossoming on high—
And together praise the Son of God.

V. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised : in the city of our God, in His holy mountain, in the well-rooted joy of all the earth. (Ps. 47:1)

We whom the bosom of our mother the Church hath nourished with gracious sweetness, come and sing:
Let us all be joyful in the Lord, celebrating a feast day to the honour of All Saints—
For to them is the highest honour, and the godly vision of the King Who is most high—
For their solemnity the Angels are joyful,
For they see the number of those on high completed as is just,
And together praise the Son of God.

Angelic Hymn (Glory be to God in the highest).

Sequence Xpisto inclita

Let our illustrious, white-robed hosts
Sing a melody to Christ,
Giving praise to all His Saints,
By means of these festivities most holy.

First let our voice ring out for Mary,
By whom the gifts of life are given unto us.
Thou who art both Queen and Mother, and art pure,
Absolve our sinful ways by thy prayers unto Thy Son.

May the sacred synaxis of the Angels
And the glorious host of the Archangels
Now wash away our sinnings,
Asking heaven’s lofty joys for us.

Do thou, O prophet, herald, shining lamp,
And thou more than a prophet,
Making our bodies purified,
Do thou place us on the light-bestrewing path.

O chieftain of the Apostles,
And all the multitude thereof,
Strengthen now the peoples’ hearts
In your true teachings, we beseech you.

Stephen, glorious man, shining in thy crown,
And illustrious host of holy martyrs,
Give ye us hale hearts and bodies, make strong your holy spears,
That they may get clear victory over the enemy.

O Martin, thou illustrious one,
And every host of hierarchs,
Mercifully now do ye receive
The prayers which we are making.

O very most exalted Queen of virgins,
Thou art a mother undefiled, and a virgin heavy with Child,
And O thou purity consecrated to the Lord,
Preserve in purity our souls and bodies.

May the reverend supplications of monastics,
And all the mansions of the Saints,
By their prayers poured out fervently,
Guide our times and seasons.

And may they bring us to the true joys,
The high-heavenly joys which are in the heavens,
May they unite the hosts of those redeemed
With Him Who is merciful. Amen.

(c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sts. Simon & Jude: Oct. 28 (Nov. 10 new style)

On Oct. 28 (Nov. 10, on the civil calendar) we celebrate the feast of the Holy Apostles Simon & Jude. This is the day their holy relics were enshrined together in a fitting church in the city of Old Rome.

On Old English calendars, this is one of those feasts marked as "Rest from labour."

Here are the first six readings at Matins for the feast, from the Sarum Book of Readings, translated here for the first time into English by hieromonk Aidan, Russian Orthodox Church.

Lesson 1: When, by revelation of the Holy Spirit, Simon of Canaan and Jude the Zealot, apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, had entered Persia, they found two warlocks there, Zaroës and Arphaxad, who had fled out of Ethiopia from before the face of the holy apostle Matthew, and had defiled all Persia with their wicked teaching. In any case, when the holy apostles entered Persia, there came to meet them a prefect of the army, Waradath, a leader of the king of the Babylonians, whose name was Xerxes. This man had undertaken a war against the Indians, who had invaded Persia’s borders. In his enclave there were those that made sacrifice, and entrails-readers, and warlocks, and enchanters, and going a-sacrificing from dwelling to dwelling, they provided deceptive oracles by means of the demons. But on that day, as they were cutting themselves and letting their blood, they were entirely unable to provide any oracle. But Thou...

Lesson 2: So they arrived at the outskirts of the next city over, and there a demon issued a roar to those consulting him, and he said, ‘The gods who accompanied you as ye went to battle cannot provide you any oracle because the apostles of God are over there. One is called Simon, and the other Jude. And these have received such power from God, that no god dare speak when they are present.’ Then Waradath the captain had them sought after. When they had been found, he began to ask of them where they were from, and who they were, and why they were come. The holy apostle Simon told him, ‘If thou wouldst know our tribe, we are Hebrews. If thou wouldst know our status, we are slaves of Jesus the Christ. If thou wouldst know the cause of our coming hither, we are come because of your salvation, so that ye may be able to know the God Who is in heaven, once ye have forsaken the error of your graven idols. In reply Waradath said to him, ‘Now I go shortly to battle with the Indians, for that they have threatened the borders of Persia, invading them, and have secured the aid of the Medes for themselves, against us. And it is not a good time for me to discuss these matters. When I shall have won and have returned in a good humour, I will grant you an audience.’ The holy apostle Jude said to him, ‘More appropriate it is for thee to know Him right now, by Whose reinforcement and relief thou wilt have power to be victor—or, rather, to find those who are rebellious entirely pacified. Waradath said to him, ‘Since I hear that our gods do not dare to give us an oracle in your presence, do ye yourselves predict the future to us, that I may know which of us will prevail in the battle.’ But Thou O Lord...

Lesson 3: The holy apostle Simon told him, ‘Today suspend your forward march, and on the morrow, at this hour, that is, the third hour, those whom thou didst send ahead of you will come to thee with legates of the Indians. And they will announce to you that the lands they invaded are restored to your dominion, and they will bring a payment over and above the tribute they had paid, and readily accepting whatsoever conditions of peace thou shalt desire, they shall enact as steadfast a very firm treaty.’ Next the captain, on advice, bade them be kept under custody until the morrow, to discover the outcome of the matter, whether their assertion would be proven true. And on the morrow it came to pass according to the apostles’ words. They that had been sent forth came in swift course upon camels, and announced that all was as the apostles had foretold. But the two apostles, invited by the king and captain, tarried in Babylon, performing mighty miracles: giving sight to the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, ambulation to the halt, cleansing lepers, and chasing demons out of the bodies of the possessed. And when for one year and three months they had dwelt there, more than four hundred thousand men were baptized, not counting children and womenfolk, the king being the first baptized, with all his nobles. For all saw that diseases were healed at a word, the blind were given sight, and even the dead were raised in the name of Jesus Christ, and all the people believed, destroying the temples of the idols, and they built churches. Now, the apostles ordained in that city a bishop named Abdias, who had come with them from Judaea, who himself had seen the Lord, and that city was filled with churches. These affairs having been settled in good order, they went upon their way. And throngs of their disciples followed them, two hundred men and more. But Thou…

Lesson 4: Now, the apostles went round about the twelve provinces of Persia, and their cities. But the aforementioned warlocks Zaroës and Arphaxad, committing crimes from city to city, and saying that they were of the race of the gods, and always fleeing from before the face of the apostles, stayed a long while in this or that city, until they would learn that the apostles were coming thither. But wheresoever the apostles entered, they unmasked their crimes, and showed their teaching to have been invented by the enemy of the human race. And in the city of Samur were forty high priests of the temples, whom the warlocks incited against God’s apostles, in a speech such as this: ‘Two Hebrew men will come hither,’ said they, ‘Enemies of all the gods. When they shall teach that another God should be adored, ye will be deprived of your powers and be thrown out like so much rubbish. Therefore, speak ye to the people, so that the moment they shall enter this city, they may be detained to make sacrifice. But Thou...

Lesson 5: And it chanced that after the apostles had made their way through all the provinces of Persia, they came to the great city Samur. When they had entered into it, and had tarried at the house of their disciple, a man of that city, by the name of Sennen, lo! about the first hour of the day, all the high priests together cried to Sennen, with a numberless mob, ‘Bring forth to us the enemies of our gods! If thou wilt not sacrifice to our gods with them, we shall burn thee and thy house with them.’ Meanwhile the apostles were seized and were led to the temple of the sun. As they entered the temple, the demons began to cry out through the energumens, ‘What is this happening to us and you, apostles of the living God? At your entrance we are burnt in flames.’ Now in one corner of the temple, on the east, stood a chariot of the sun, of molten gold; and in another corner a chariot of the moon, of molten silver. So the high priests began to threaten violence against the apostles of God before the people, that they ought to adore these. And so did those two warlocks who had stirred up this same violence. And Jude said to Simon, ‘Brother Simon, I see our Lord Jesus Christ calling us.’ And Simon answered, ‘For a while now, I have been seeing an appearance of the Lord in the midst of angels. For the angel of the Lord also said to me when I was praying: I shall make you to depart from the temple, and make that temple collapse upon them. And I said: Lord, may this never be; perhaps there will be some among them who will be converted to the Lord.’ When therefore they were saying these things amongst them in the Hebrew tongue, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, saying, ‘Be ye strengthened, and choose ye one of two things, either the sudden destruction of these men, or else prepare yourselves for the palm of martyrdom with the confidence of a good struggle.’ But Thou...

Lesson 6: In reply the apostles said, ‘We ought to pray for the mercy of our Master Jesus Christ, that He may have compassion also on these men, and may help us, that we be able to attain the crown.’ Only the apostles saw and heard these things. They were impelled by the high priests to adore the graven images of the sun and moon. The apostles told them, ‘Cause there to be silence, that we may give our answer with all the people listening.’ And when silence fell, the apostles said, ‘Hear ye all, and behold. We know the sun is the servant of God, and the moon likewise is subject to the command of its Creator. And yet they, existing in the firmament of heaven, are not shut up in their temples without affront, since in the heavens they are known to openly appear unto all the world. And that ye may realise that their idols are full not of the sun but of demons, we command the demons who deceive you inside the idol of the sun and of the moon, to go forth from them and shatter them.’ And as all were struck with bewilderment, Simon spake to the idol of the sun, ‘I command thee, deceiver of men, most wicked demon, go forth from the graven idol of the sun, and shatter it and its chariot.’ When Jude had said the like to the graven idol of the moon, two emerging Ethiopians were seen by all the people, black, naked, and repulsive of countenance. And smashing the idols, they let loose a great wailing in their awful voices. Then all the high priests, rushing on the apostles of Christ, slew them. And in that same hour of their passion great lightnings flashed, such that the temple was rent in three from the highest pinnacle of the roof to its lowest foundation. And the warlocks Zaroës and Arphaxad were burnt up by a bolt of flashing light, and were turned into charcoal. But after three months king Xerxes sent and translated the bodies of the holy apostles with great honours to his own city. In it he built them a wondrous basilica, and established in its midst a sarcophagus for them, of pure silver. In that spot, they that believe in our Lord Jesus Christ receive the benefactions of God, as many as are found worthy to set foot in that place. But Thou...

(c) 2008 St. John Cassian Press

Holy Apostles Simon and Jude, pray to God for us!
Sancti Apostoli Simone et Juda, ora pro nobis Deum!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sarum Calendar: Oct. 25/Nov. 7, Sts. Crispin & Crispinian

Today we keep the memory of the holy brothers and martyrs Crispin and Crispinian, who suffered at Soissons in Gaul. All efforts to discover some sacred icon of these martyrs have failed over the years, but here is an engraving:

The Sarum Book of Readings for Matins includes three lessons today for the brother-martyrs. These are translated into English for the first time now by Hieromonk Aidan of the Russian Orthodox Church, (c) 2008 St. John Cassian Press.

Lesson 1: Crispin and Crispinian chose the city of Soissons to host their earthly pilgrimage. In this city, because the error of the Gentiles had so much prevailed, lack of decency kept them from obtaining lodgings, for the reason that they were Christians. Having ascertained the Gentiles' cruelty, they learnt the craft of shoemaking, being followers of that instruction of the Teacher of the Gentiles, that folk should provide themselves this life’s necessities by the labour of their hands. And they practised this craft as unobtrusively as they could. But Thou…

Lesson 2: But, hearing of these things, the ungodly Maximian in short order directed Rictiovarus, the assistant to his ungodliness, to search for them. And, being sought by him, they were found in the aforesaid city, cobbling shoes for the poor. When he was unable to call them away from the faith of Christ, he commanded the famed martyrs, once stretched out with pulleys, to be beaten with clubs. Again Rictiovarus, insane with fury, commanded millstones to be hanged about the neck of each, and that they be submerged in wintertime, in the river which is called the Aisne, beneath the ice. And last of all he commanded pitch, lard, and oil to be boiled together, and gave fresh orders that the holy martyrs be thrown into it, to be devoured in the torment. But Thou…

Lesson 3: That same night, it was shown them in a revelation that when day had dawned they would receive the reward of their labours and confession, and be greeted by the Lord as shining victors. The vision was fulfilled without delay, by the manifest accomplishment of the act. For Maximian, soon as he heard of the failure of his henchman Rictiovarus, commanded both Crispin and Crispinian to be punished with the sword. Now, their bodies were left by the tormentors to be devoured by wild animals, dogs, and the worst kind of birds. But they remained inviolate from the bite of these beasts, Christ preserving them. But Thou…

Holy Martyrs Crispin and Crispinian, pray to God for us!
Sancti Martyres Crispine et Crispiniane, ora pro nobis Deum!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Supporting Christminster

There is a functioning Western rite monastic skiti in the Russian Orthodox Church, Christ the Saviour (or "Christminster"), located in Hamilton, Ontario. The website is here:

More information on this community, its oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury, and photos, can be viewed here:

The faithful are encouraged to travel to Christminster and experience Western rite firsthand there, by praying alongside the monastic fathers for renewal of the mind and spirit. I too hope to make a pilgrimage to Christminster in the near future.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sarum Calendar: Oct. 17/30, St. Audrey

Today on the Sarum calendar is the feast of the elevation and translation of the relics of our holy mother Etheldreda (Audrey), royal abbess of Ely in England. Below is an image of the reliquary at St. Etheldreda church, near London, in which rests the incorrupt hand of the holy virgin and abbess.

It is recorded that at the elevation of her precious relics, a miraculous heavenly fragrance emanated from them. The body of the Saint appeared whole and untouched. In fact, she appeared to be merely asleep, though her body had lain in the soil for many years. The incision in her neck, made by a physician just before her death, had entirely healed up; the same physician was in attendance and confirmed the miracle. Strong and bright are her prayers unto God for Orthodox monastics and all the faithful.

Holy Mother Etheldreda, pray to God for us!
Sancta Mater Etheldreda, ora pro nobis Deum!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarum Calendar: Oct. 9/22, St. Dennis of Paris

Today, on the calendar of the Sarum use of the Roman rite, we celebrate Sts. Dennis, Bishop; Rusticus, Priest; and Eleutherius, Deacon. These bright luminaries of the Church were martyred at Paris in the 1st or 2nd century. St. Dionysius or Dennis of Paris has often been confused with St. Dionysius of Athens ("the Areopagite"), but the Sarum martyrology assigns them distinct days as distinct persons (the Areopagite to Oct. 3, the Parisian martyr Oct. 9).

In the icon below, St. Dennis appears on the right:

Holy Martyrs Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, pray to God for us!
Sancti Martyres Dionysi, Rustice, et Eleutheri, ora pro nobis Deum!

Sarum Calendar: Oct. 8/21, St. Demetrius

In a single Sarum manuscript, October 8 (on the civil calendar Oct. 21) is given as the feast day of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica, the great-martyr.

Here is shown the reliquary of St. Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher, at Thessalonica in Greece.

Holy Martyr Demetrius, pray to God for us!
Sancte Martyr Demetri, ora pro nobis Deum!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Divine Office, Made Simple

Lately some confusion has risen over the nature of the Divine Office in the Western rite (a) as it is celebrated today by Orthodox Christians; (b) as it was celebrated for centuries, until the Schism of 1054; and (c) as it was celebrated in early times (5th to 7th centuries, give or take). This blog post is a sincere effort to put an end to unnecessary confusion.

Let us examine the Office chronologically. The Roman rite knows two predominant patterns of Divine Office, one known as the "cathedral" or "parish" use and one known as the "Benedictine" or "monastic" use. The oldest in origin is the cathedral use. St. Benedict (+547) made an adaptation of its weekly cycle or cursus, for use in monasteries of his rule, and called his cursus "Opus Dei," the Work of God.

Primitive (Early) Office

This stage in the office's development might be called the "primitive" or "early" office. It consisted of invocations, psalms, antiphons, readings and their responsory chants, short scripture readings, preces (short antiphonal selected psalm verses), short prayers (orationes, i.e., collects), patristic commentaries on the readings (more or less ad lib), and eventually came to include hymns (poetry in regular stanzas).

Pre-Reformation Office

The next stage was the product of a substantial reworking, a process fairly complete by the year 850. On the one hand, lengthy and repetitive elements in the early office were abolished: no longer were antiphons sung after every verse of every psalm, and the Matins readings were shortened substantially. But as if to compensate, new material was added to the office: an involved system of commemorations (each consisting of an antiphon, verse, and collect) brought into the office a spectrum of prayers to the Saints. New hymns were composed for diverse occasions. And, most telling of all, "little offices" were appended to the primitive Hours, "little offices" of Our Lady, of the dead, and, in monastic use, of All Saints. Also, in monastic use recurrent devotions became indissolubly woven into the fabric of the daily office: the 15 Gradual Psalms, the 7 Penitential Psalms, a daily Litany of Saints., and so forth. This form of office prevailed in the West from the 8th or 9th century until the Reformation. The prevailing "style" of doing the office was a choral service; generally, the local clergy or monastics came together in church to sing it.

(It should be pointed out in passing that a number of monasteries during this time period used not the Benedictine but the older cathedral office.)

"Modern" or "Counter-Reformation" Office

This form of office abbreviated the preceding one, but left intact the structure and content of the core Hours. The little office of Our Lady became optional, and eventually died out. The little office of the dead was made a monthly, instead of a daily, observance. In monastic use, the little office of All Saints and the daily devotion-psalms and Litany ceased to be required, so that the office could take much less time. Also, the prevailing "style" of doing the office came to be non-sung. More often than not, offices were spoken quietly in private, not in church. This stage is represented, in the cathedral office, by the Tridentine use books, and, in the Benedictine office, by the Breviarium Monasticum (e.g., that published in 1925). After 1911 the Tridentine office was radically restructured and the ancient psalm-cycle replaced.

(It should be noted that from the Reformation onward, the Anglican movement resulted in the creation of a whole new divine office, radically distinct from forms existing before it. This is sometimes called the Cranmerian or BCP (Book of Common Prayer) office. The services are re-cast, drastically abbreviated, and combined into one another, to such a degree that only vestiges remain in the BCP office of the ancient structure and content of the office which prevailed in the West before the Schism and was of Orthodox origination. The BCP office represents perhaps one-fifteenth the content of the historic office. Sometimes new, harmonised music has filled in this form of office a bit. This form of office was first approved for Orthodox usage in 1977 by the Antiochian jurisdiction in the United States.)

"Novus Ordo" Office

After Vatican II, by stages, the Roman church revised its office books, again in the direction of simplification and abbreviation. We may call the results the "Novus Ordo" office. The most far-reaching change was to the lectionary, the cycle of readings through the year, but the changes to the psalm-cycle and other features were substantial, both in the cathedral use and, after 1983, the Benedictine use. The results somewhat resemble the Anglican office in brevity, and in distinctness from office forms which went before. The abolition of Prime (that is, First Hour) is one notable feature of Novus Ordo development.

Western Rite Orthodoxy

Most Western rite Orthodox Christians who do a daily office follow the "modern" (Reformer or Counter-Reformation) form of office, most commonly the BCP office or the Breviarium Monasticum of 1925. But in some quarters the "primitive" Western office has been attempted (e.g., by Abbot Augustine, Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), though never with the original repetitions and long readings, and the "pre-Reformation" office has also been used (e.g., the Sarum office, which contains all patristic and historic elements of the Western office; see it here). To this writer's knowledge, no Western rite Orthodox community uses a Novus Ordo office.

It cannot be stressed enough that the most important thing about doing the Divine Office is simply to set about doing an office, as blessed by a spiritual father. The influence of the world's fallenness is very powerful in our postmodern Western culture. If unchecked by godly traditions such as sanctifying the hours of the day in prayer, and regular confession and communion, and retreat and pilgrimage betimes, this "undertow" of the world grows strong and dangerous. We cannot make immediate changes in the culture surrounding us, but we can make immediate changes in the "input" our souls and minds, and all our senses, experience daily. By doing a Divine Office we feed, nourish, and elevate our souls. In this essential task we ought above all to support and encourage one another. We should not judge our neighbour based on what form of Office he does. It is a remarkable thing in this day and age that anyone is still left to sanctify the hours as a Christian believer ought. And doing a brief but daily office is better than advocating a fuller Orthodox office, then never managing to actually do it. Wherever we see the Hours done by the faithful, we should give glad thanks to God.

"It is later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God." -- Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), +1982

Amen, and amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Latin Priest in Moscow Resigns

Fr. Andreas Jezierski was active for years in the city of Moscow, celebrating the Tridentine use of the Roman rite in Latin in his chapel there. Fr. Andreas was a married priest aligned, as a temporary measure, with an unrecognised jurisdiction, until such time as he might make his home within the Patriarchate of the Russian Church. Fr. Andreas also had corresponded with Abp. Hilarion of Sydney, of the Russian Church Abroad, regarding the possibility of Western rite parish work in Australia.

Hieromonk Benedikt (Schneider) of the Russian Patriarchate confirmed, on Oct. 15, 2008, that Fr. Andreas has resigned and is no longer active in the ministry. His Latin-language website at, which had explained his efforts, has been dismantled. Fr. Andreas, when yet active, did raise the interesting question of whether the use of Latin in Western rite services may have a place in the pastoral outreach of the Orthodox Church to Western people.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good News for the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite

On Sept. 18, 2008, Fr. Hieromonk Aidan (Keller), formerly of the old-calendarist Synod of Milan, was received into the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia by Metropolitan Hilarion of New York. His ordination was regularised, and he was assigned to the Diocese of Eastern America and New York. Fr. Aidan has been blessed by Metr. Hilarion (Sept. 26, 2008) to celebrate services according to the Sarum use of the Roman rite, using the full line of liturgical books published by St. Hilarion Press and which are due for re-issue under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Shortly afterward, on Sept. 29, 2008, Fr. Hieromonk Cuthbert (Pierce), formerly of the old-calendarist Synod of Milan, was received into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, also by Metropolitan Hilarion. His ordination was regularised and he was assigned to serve the same diocese at the Holy Cross Hermitage in Jacksonville, Florida. Fr. Cuthbert, who will now be known as Hieromonk David, was blessed by the Metr. to celebrate services according to the Sarum use of the Roman rite, using the line of liturgical books and materials printed at St. Gregory's Press in New Jersey.