Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Possibly an Historic Event

Today marked an historic event, at least we think it did. Today marked the first Byzantine Catholic weekday Orthros (Morning Prayer) celebrated in South Carolina. Unlike the Roman Tradition, the Eastern Church typically offers the Divine Liturgy only on Sundays and Holy Days. On other days, services from the “Divine Praises” (“Liturgy of the Hours” in the West) are celebrated. Orthros, a combination of Matins and Lauds, the morning celebration, and Esperinon, Vespers, celebrated in the evening, are the two most commonly celebrated of these services.

The services of the Byzantine Divine Office differ substantially from their western counterparts. Orthros, by far the most complex service in the Byzantine liturgical tradition, is a symphony of psalms, litanies, prayers and hymns. While provisionally chanted in the tone of the week following the appropriate volume of the Octoechos, hymns of various tones from the Menaion are interspersed, giving every celebration a unique feeling and timbre. In its complete form the service can last up to three hours or more; but in parish usage, the service usually runs anywhere from forty minutes to around an hour.

The focus of all Byzantine worship is adoration of the Holy Trinity. When the commemoration of Saints forms part of that worship, adoration is directed properly back to God. Thus, we find no contradiction in singing praises to the Theotokos and the Saints as we are constantly reminded that their holiness is the result of faith in Jesus Christ and the abundance of His great mercy. In truth, it is most appropriate to venerate these holy ones who have gone before us. In our Divine Worship we are spiritually united to God and all of those who have gone before us and those around the world who worship with us.

For the participant, prayerful attention is rewarded with hymns that praise God, recall the saints and teach the central Truths of Orthodox Christianity. The Litanies frame prayer in appropriate channels for our own salvation and the good of the world. We come to experience worship as not merely an individual phenomenon (God and “me”) but a communal experience that reveals our place in salvation history and the ongoing establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And our celebration today? We got started a few minutes late. (Hey, we are Byzantine, eh?) The service proceeded not without a few minor glitches here and there. As the two chanters who assisted are still learning, a purist might charge that at times we were inventing new tones. Nonetheless, much of the chanting was solidly in tone, and all of it offered in prayerful humility to God. Ultimately, it was a beautiful experience of praise that left this priest overjoyed and thankful to the Holy Trinity and our Lady for the great grace to be a part of this possibly historic celebration.

So, if today really was the first weekday Byzantine Catholic Orthros in South Carolina, God is good! Thanks be to God!

And if we weren’t the first, God is still good! Thanks be to God!

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