Someone recently commented, regarding the length of Byzantine versus Western Rite services:
> My thinking is that to glorify God is the purpose of these services, whether they're WR or ER, and both do so very well...
Here was my reply:
I would like to expand on these words, starting from the thought that the daily services are for the glorification of God.
People often wonder if it's really the best use of our time, to be in church each day chanting the Hours. This issue is perhaps the most acute for the Byzantine rite, where Matins does take a while, especially on feast days. But it's also acute for the old forms of Western rite, which are undeniably lengthier than the modern. Matins in the Sarum Use of the Roman rite can be managed in an hour and a half (including the Little Office of St. Mary and often the Little Office for the Dead), but only if you are experienced and move briskly (no "What comes next?" or "Where do I flip to, for THAT?").
It really is the best use of our time. By these frequent daily prayers, we glorify our Creator. We also preserve within ourselves a spirit of repentance and vigilance (nepsis), which refines our life in faith and prepares us for death and eternal life. The grace given us by the Holy Mysteries (for prime example, in Holy Communion in the Liturgy on Sunday) is thereby preserved in us across time, so if we do it right, we manage to live in a state of grace day after day. Thus we become bearers of grace, bearers of God, in the world. We turn into human candles which cannot be hidden under a bushel but will shine into the world. Okay, there are other ways in which that can be done, but back to the topic.
When we pray the Hours, heaven and earth are in communion. We know that at the Liturgy angels of God stand there and pray and sing alongside us. Usually you can't see them, but sometimes you can. Well, the exact same thing is true for the Hours. Angels concelebrate them with us, as St. Etheldreda experienced so keenly.
In the Hours (especially, in Western rite, the Matins) Christian instruction is delivered. Holy Fathers comment on Scripture. The lives of Saints are unfolded and impress themselves in our minds, showing us how to implement the Gospel teachings in various circumstances. The theology of the Church is revealed (one advantage of the old Roman rite over the modern forms: higher theological and educational content).
In the Hours, that divine order in which creation rejoiced before the Fall, is renewed and restored. Things proceed by grace and divine order, rather than the randomness and purposelessness of the post-Christian life of alienation. This helps a person order his thoughts and feelings, thus reducing harmful effects of passions and bringing greater spiritual rootedness to one's life.
By imposing a divine order upon our words, thoughts, and bodily motions, the divine office breaks the wheel-rut of our daily grind. Thus the power of worldliness is broken, for a time, and new avenues are opened for the human spirit. (It is necessary, afterwards, to use this corner of freedom to deepen our personal relationship with God in private, inward prayer; if we don't do that, we're getting a momentary blessing but discarding it.)
The divine office prepares us for other spiritual tasks, such as feeding the poor, instructing the ignorant, visiting the sick and those in prison, studying the Holy Bible, obeying our superiors, etc.
The divine office is like a mighty spiritual tool, for it can make us clay in God's artistic hands. Like any tool, it can be misused, misdirected, and does not guarantee healing or salvation for all. Still, the most hardened church-attending sinner can find that a little "Cupid's arrow" of repentance may be shot into his heart, at some moment, from the quiver we call "the divine office." It can perfect saints, and it can lead a thief to cry, "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom!"
What, we have time enough for two hours of television and over an hour on the computer, but that's too much time to spend in church on God, soul, life, faith, the kingdom, and all the reasons we were put on this earth? That's not realistic.
In our post-Christian age we need powerful tools to overcome the powerful influence of growing darkness and evil. We need a radically re-ordered way of life, maybe more like the rhythm of mediaeval life. Not working a job all the time like the 19th century factories, and not aimless leisure, but the support of community; church- and family-based education; living close to church, within the sound of the bells; going to daily services (full round not required); soup kitchen or a workshop for employing unemployed people; small-scale agriculture / horticulture; and spending more time in carpentry and carving and sewing and learning music and video producing, for God's glory, or minding an Orthodox bookstore, than in other activities which take up too much time (each person knows which those are).
Down with Babel, raise the walls of Jerusalem!
Fr. Aidan+ sinner
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Austin, Texas