Saturday, September 09, 2006

One of These Things is Just Like the Other

An interesting overlap in the propers for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which I meant to point out yesterday):

The Antiphon on the Magnificant for II Vespers (Western):

Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, hath proclaimed joyful tidings unto all the world: for out of thee hath arisen the Sun of Righteousness, even Christ our God: Who, taking away the curse, hath bestowed a blessing; and confounding death, hath given unto us life everlasting.

The Troparion of the Feast (Byzantine):

Thy Nativity, O Mother of God, has brought joy to all the world; for from thee arose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, Who, having dissolved the curse, has given His blessing, and having abolished death, has granted us life eternal.

Those who love both rites -- which is to say, freaks like me -- find this fascinating. The occasional-yet-predictable recurrence of these overlaps between Eastern and Western praxis in our liturgical services speaks volumes. Both the East and the West influenced one another through the long years our feasts developed, with practices and prayers swimming both directions of the Bosphorus. (Granted, there was somewhat less swimming West-to-East...due to Rome's staunchly conservative nature. Our insistence on adding the Apocalypse/Book of Revelation to the canon was fairly significant.) :) This feast itself came from East to West, and in this and many other cases, the Byzantine propers remained long after its baptism as Occidental.

These overlaps speak both to Byzantines, who insist the Western Rite has "nothing in common" with the poetic-noetical-mystical East, and certain Pseudodox partisans, who insist on unnaturally exaggerating the number of these overlaps until they empty their services of the peculiar genius that made the Western Rite Western. The numerous legitimate similarities between Byzantine and Western Orthodox Rites testify to the Church's unity -- that though She is spread all over the world She praises "as if she possessed only one mouth" (St. Irenaeus) -- yet allow the Church to offer sweet fragrance to Her Lord in a rich and varied bouquet of adoration. This is the definition of "Unity within Diversity" -- the unity all Orthodox should take pains in striving to re-establish.


Friday, September 08, 2006

The Nativity of the Mother of God

The readings of the feast are at Huw's blog.

A Sermon on the Nativity of the Mother of God

The present Feast is for us the beginning of feasts. Serving as boundary to the law and to prototypes, at the same time it serves as a doorway to grace and truth. "For Christ is the end of the law" (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the letter (of the law), raises us to spirit.Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, has changed the letter in spirit and gathers everything in Himself (Eph 1:10), enlivening the law with grace: grace has taken the law under its dominion, and the law has become subjected to grace, so that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only so that by Divine power, the servile and subservient (in the law) are transformed into the light and free (in grace), so that we are not "in bondage to the elements of the world" (Gal 4:3) and not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the letter of the law.

Here is the summit of Christ's beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinization] assumed upon humankind, the fruition worked out by the God-Man.

The radiant and bright descent of God for people ought to have a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Such also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Theotokos, and as its purpose and end, the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible.

The less comprehensible it is, the more it is revealed; and the more it is revealed, the less comprehensible it is. Therefore the present God-graced day, the first of our feastdays, showing forth the light of virginity and the crown woven from the unfading blossoms of the spiritual garden of Scripture, offers creatures a common joy.

Be of good cheer, it says, behold, this is the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and of the renewal of the human race! The Virgin is born, She grows and is raised up and prepares Herself to be the Mother of the All-Sovereign God of the ages. All this, with the assistance of David, makes it for us an object of spiritual contemplation. The Theotokos manifests to us Her God-bestown Birth, and David points to the blessedness of the human race and wondrous kinship of God with mankind.

And so, truly one ought to celebrate the mystery today and to offer to the Mother of God a word by way of gift: since nothing is so pleasing to Her as a word and praise by word. It is from here also that we receive a twofold benefit: first, we enter into the region of truth, and second, we emerge from the captivity and slavery of the written law. How so? Obviously, when darkness vanishes, then light appears; so also here: after the law follows the freedom of grace.

The present day solemnity is a line of demarcation, separating the truth from its prefigurative symbol, and ushering in the new in place of the old. Paul, that Divine Trumpet of the Spirit, exclaims about this: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things pass away and behold, all things have become new (2 Cor 5:17); for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by which we draw near to God" (Heb 7:19). The truth of grace has shown forth brightly.

Let there now be one common festal celebration in both heaven and on earth. Let everything now celebrate, that which is in the world and that beyond the world. Now is made the created temple for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator. Now our nature having been banished from the land of blessedness receives the principle of theosis and strives to rise up to the highest glory.

Now Adam offers from us and for us elements unto God, the most worthy fruit of mankind: Mary, in Whom the new Adam is rendered Bread for the restoration of the human race. Now is opened the great bosom of virginity, and the Church, in the matrimonial manner, places upon it a pure, truly spotless pearl.

Now human worthiness accepts the gift of the first creation and returns to its former condition; the majesty darkened by formless sin, through the conjoining by His Mother by birth "of Him Beauteous by Goodness," man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation by theosis, and theosis by a return to the original perfection!

Now a barren one has become a mother beyond expectation, and the Theotokos has given birth without knowing man, and She sanctifies natural birth. Now the majestic color of the Divine purple is readied and impoverished human nature is clothed in royal worthiness. Now, according to prophecy, sprouts forth the Offshoot of David, Who, having eternally become the green-sprouting Staff of Aaron, has blossomed forth for us with the Staff of Power: Christ.

Now from Judah and David is descended a Virgin Maiden, rendering of Herself the royal and priestly worthiness of Him Who has taken on the priesthood of Aaron according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:15). Now the renewal of our nature is begun, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, receives the principle of a second Divine creation.

The first creation of mankind occurred from the pure and unsullied earth; but their nature darkened its innate worthiness, they were deprived of grace through the sin of disobedience; for this we were cast out of the land of life and, in place of the delights of Paradise, we received temporal life as our inheritance by birth, and with it the death and corruption of our race.

All started to prefer earth to heaven, so that there remained no hope for salvation, beyond the utmost help. Neither the natural nor the written law, nor the fiery reconciliative sayings of the prophets had power to heal the sickness. No one knew how to rectify human nature and by what means it would be most suitable to raise it up to its former worthiness, so long as God the Author of all did not deign to reveal to us another arranged and newly-constituted world, where the pervasive form of the old poison of sin is annihilated, and granting us a wondrous, free and perfectly dispassionate life, through our re-creation in the baptism of Divine birth.

But how would this great and most glorious blessing be imparted to us, so in accord with the Divine commands, if God were not to be manifest to us in the flesh, not subject to the laws of nature, nor deign to dwell with us in a manner known to Him? And how could all this be accomplished, if first there did not serve the mystery a Pure and Inviolate Virgin, Who contained the Uncontainable, in accord with the law, yet beyond the laws of nature? And could some other virgin have done this besides She alone, Who was chosen before all others by the Creator of nature?

This Virgin is the Theotokos, Mary, the Most Glorious of God, from Whose womb the Most Divine came forth in the flesh, and by Whom He Himself arranged a wondrous temple for Himself. She conceived without seed and gave birth without corruption, since Her Son was God, though also He was born in the flesh, without mingling and without travail.

This Mother, truly, avoided that which is innate to mothers but miraculously fed Her Son, begotten without a man, with milk. The Virgin, having given birth to the One seedlessly conceived, remained a pure Virgin, having preserved incorrupt the marks of virginity. And so in truth She is named the Mother of God; Her virginity is esteemed and Her birth-giving is glorified. God, having joined with mankind and become manifest in the flesh, has granted Her a unique glory. Woman's nature suddenly is freed from the first curse, and just as the first brought in sin, so also does the first initiate salvation also.

But our discourse has attained its chief end, and I, celebrating now and with rejoicing sharing in this sacred feast, I greet you in the common joy. The Redeemer of the human race, as I said, willed to arrange a new birth and re-creation of mankind: just as the first creation, taking dust from the virginal and pure earth, where He formed the first Adam, so also now, having arranged His Incarnation upon the earth, and so to speak, in place of dust He chooses out of all the creation this Pure and Immaculate Virgin and, having re-created mankind in His Chosen One from among mankind, the Creator of Adam is made the New Adam, in order to save the old.

Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joachim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joachim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God's law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless -- she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless.

Thus, Joachim and his spouse lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition -- the all-pure Virgin.

The constraints of infertility were destroyed -- prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother. Thus the immaculate Fruition issuing forth from the womb occurred from an infertile mother, and then the parents, in the first blossoming of Her growth brought Her to the temple and dedicated Her to God. The priest, then making the order of services, beheld the face of the girl and of those in front of and behind, and he became gladdened and joyful, seeing as it were the actual fulfillment of the Divine promise.

He consecrated Her to God, as a reverential gift and propitious sacrifice -- and, as a great treasury unto salvation, he led Her within the very innermost parts of the temple. Here the Maiden walked in the upright ways of the Lord, as in bridal chambers, partaking of heavenly food until the time of betrothal, which was preordained before all the ages by Him Who, by His unscrutable mercy, was born from Her, and by Him Who before all creation and time and expanse Divinely begat Him, and together with His consubstantial and co-reigning and co-worshipped Spirit -- this being One Godhead, having One Essence and Kingdom, inseparable and immutable and in which is nothing diverse, except the personal qualities. Wherefore, in solemnity and in song I do offer the Mother of the Word the festal gift; since that He born of Her hath taught me to believe in the Trinity: the Son and Word Without-Beginning hath made in Her His Incarnation; the Father begetting Him hath blessed this; the Holy Spirit hath signed and sanctified the womb which incomprehensibly hath conceived.

Now is the time to question David: in what did the God of all forswear him? Speak, O Psalmist and Prophet! He hath sworn from the fruit of my loin to sit upon my throne (Ps 131/132:11). Here in this He is forsworn and wilt not break His oath, He hath forsworn and His Word is sealed with a deed! "Once -- said he -- I forswear by My Holiness, that I lie not to David; his seed wilt prevail forever, and his throne, like the sun before Me and like the moon coursing the ages: a faithful witness also in heaven" (Ps 88/89:35-38). God hath fulfilled this oath, since it is not possible for God to lie (Heb 6:18). Consider this: Christ in the flesh is named my Son (Mt. 22: 42), and all nations will worship my Lord and Son (Ps 71/72:11), seeing him sit upon a virginal throne! Here also is the Virgin, from Whose womb the Pre-eternal One issued forth, incarnated at the end of the ages and renewing the ages, likewise sprung forth from my loins! All this is so! People of God, holy nation, sacred gathering! Let us revere our paternal memory; let us extol the power of the mystery! Each of us, in the measure given by grace, let us offer a worthy gift for the present feast. Fathers -- a prosperous lineage; mothers -- fine children; the unbearing -- the not-bearing of sin; virgins -- a twofold prudence, of soul and of body; betrothed -- praiseworthy abstinence. If anyone of you be a father, let him imitate the father of the Virgin; and if anyone be without child -- let them make harvest of fruitful prayer, cultivating a life pleasing to God. The mother, feeding her children, let her rejoice together with Anna, raising her Child, given to her in infertility through prayer.

She that is barren, not having given birth, lacking the blessing of a child, let her come with faith to the God-given Offshoot of Anna and offer there her barrenness. The virgin, living blamelessly, let her be a mother by discourse, adorning by word the elegance of soul. For a betrothed -- let her offer mental sacrifice from the fruits of prayer. All together rich and poor, lads and maidens, old and young (Ps 48:2, 148:12), priests and levites -- let all together keep the feast in honor of the Maiden, the Theotokos and the Prophetess: from Her has issued forth the Prophet, foretold by Moses, Christ God and Truth (Dt 18:15). Amen.

-- St. Andrew of Crete, Abp. of Crete (ca. 660-740).


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One from the Archives: Romans, Byzantize Err Else

I see from Huw Raphael that Orthodoxy Today has reposted Fr. Thomas Hopko's article on the Pope of Rome. Orthodoxy Today is recycling its article; Huw recycled his discussion on the topic; and I'm excerpting my comments from earlier this year. Read the whole post here.

[O]f foremost interest to this blog is that Fr. Thomas -- of the OCA -- endorses the concept of a Western Rite, potentially even in Latin. He suggested an Orthodox Pope "would restore the practice of having the priestly celebrant in the Latin liturgy face the altar with the faithful during the prayers and eucharistic offerings." Accepting the Western Rite would be a good place for all Orthodoxy to begin any outreach to the West, and Fr. Hopko takes this for granted. Further, "the Latin liturgy" is understood in the West as referring to the traditional Liturgy of St. Gregory...He further recommends the public recitation of the hours in Church -- something more commonly found in the Western Rite than among many of our North American Byzantine brethren...

The mere acceptance of the Western Rite would be a major step forward from some in his jurisdiction who utterly reject the concept...

Fr. Hopko essentially demands the Pope accept Byzantinization of the minor issues but not the majors. For instance, he says an Orthodox Pope "would also consider enforcing the ancient ascetical and penitential practice of forbidding the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Christian churches on weekdays of Great Lent. " This is an ancient custom -- of the East, not the West..He also instructs the ByzPope to "forbid private eucharistic celebrations for particular intentions, and for particular pietistic, political or ideological purposes"...Fr. Hopko deems the Western Trinitarian approach "unacceptable 'modalism.'" Putting it mildly, this is unacceptable overstatement...

In all seriousness, other theologians have approached the concept of reunion and reached more practical conclusions on these issues. However, this blog is merely satisfied Fr. Thomas Hopko has endorsed the idea of an Orthodox Western Rite. We hope he will pitch that at the next OCA convention; that kind of offer would produce some takers.

Off Topic: Omigosh

I rarely stray into social observation, but this is something everyone must see: in some Muslim societies, all women must wear the burqa (the full-length robe covering everything but the woman's eyes, hands, and feet). Ever wonder how this interferes with certian day-to-day eating spaghetti? This video shows how women must live everyday in much of the world.

The wording of my first sentence is significant: in these societies, all women must wear the burqa, not merely all Muslim women. After all, Islam -- contrary to media propaganda -- does not mean "peace" but literally "submission to Allah." If Islamic law applies to the whole world, then its adherents believe all people must observe it, whether or not the subjected accept its source as their deity.

The burqa is a fixed feature of these societies. Women who do not wear the burqa are considered temptresses, lewd women permitted to be beaten -- or worse.

The area in which this applies has spread throughout the West. In growing areas of France, Holland, Australia, and elsewhere, young "infidel" girls cannot pass through certain neighborhoods without donning Islamic garb -- or they will receive Muslim "justice": gang rape. The offenders -- usually unemployed or underemployed Muslim youth living in government housing -- regularly shout epithets such as "slut" at the young Catholic and Protestant girls while they are beating and violating them. These incidents, once unheard of, have risen more or less consistently with immigration by Muslims from countries that practice such tribal enforcement.

Think America is exempt? Our day, too, may come.

(This video appears on "The Official website of the Prophet Muhammed" -- a satire that must be seen to be believed, Danish flags and all.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Praying Backwards

Herewith an article on the misguided architectural "reform" to turn altars the wrong way. In one fell swoop, millions of churches changed stone altars facing east into flimsy tables facing the people. This article originally appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of Sacred Music, published by the Church Music Association of America (548 Lafond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103):


by Monsignor Richard J. Schuler

Father Klaus Gamber, who is recently deceased, has written for many years about the liturgical reforms that followed on the II Vatican Council. (The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, available from Foundation for Catholic Reform, 1331 Red Cedar Circle, Fort Collins, Colorado, 80524, $23) has recently been translated from German into French and English, and has provoked considerable comment in the European press.

One of the points considered by Father Gamber is the position of the altar with reference to the congregation. One of the most evident reforms following the council is the practice of having the priest face toward the congregation. Much of the propaganda that brought about the priests' change in position alleged that it was only a return to a custom of the early Church. History and archeology were both cited (but without true facts) as evidence in the claims. Without much study or questioning, priests and parishes across the country accepted the stories and tore out their altars, replacing them with tables of wood and blocks of stone that allowed the priest to face toward the congregation. The designs of the original architects, the over-all lines and focus of the church were set aside and thrown out. In most cases the artistic results were bad, and at best the new arrangement looked like a remodelled dress or suit.

The destruction of the church and sanctuary was unfortunate and often costly. In some parts of the country, the damage done to the churches by the altar-bashing reformers was greater than what the Vandals did to Spain or North Africa. But the greater evil was the damage done to the liturgical presence and actions of the priest. He was told to make eye-contact with the people, to direct his words to them, to become the "presider" at the community assembly, the "facilitator" of the active participation of the congregation. The notion of the Mass as sacrifice was discouraged, while the idea of a common meal was promoted. The altar became the table, much like in the days of Archbishop Cranmer in England.

Among those asked to comment on Father Gamber's book was Cardinal Ratzinger, who was interviewed in the Italian journal, Il Sabato (April 24, 1993). He explained that there is no historical data, either in writing or from archeology, that establishes the position of the altar in the early centuries as having been turned toward the people. To look at the people was not the question in the early Church, but looking toward the east where Christ would appear in His second coming, the parousia, was most important. Thus church buildings and the altars were "oriented" (faced to the east) so that the priest especially would see Him on His arrival. If because of the contour of the land or some other obstacle, the church could not be so located, then the priest, always looking toward the east, would have to stand behind the altar and face toward the people. That he was looking at the congregation was only accidental to the eastward position he took. Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome is a good example of this, because the church could not have the usual west entrance because of the Vatican Hill.

The cardinal explains further that the almost universal change to altars facing toward the people is not a decree of the II Vatican Council. Nor was it impossible before the council to offer Mass toward the people. A tradition of fifteen centuries of priests' standing at the head of their congregations was swept away in a few years. That tradition admitted of exceptions. I, myself, probably had a record of celebrating Mass in Latin, facing the people, more than any other priest in the country before the council. The church where I had weekend duty had such an altar in the crypt, and I offered Mass twice each Sunday for nearly ten years, all prior to 1963.

The cardinal was asked if the Church would revert to the ancient tradition practiced before the council. He replied that there would not be a change "at this time:" He said that the people are far too confused now by so many changes so quickly introduced. But he did not say that it would not happen at a future date. Surely, a great boost in restoring reverence to the celebration of the Mass would be given by a return. Father Jungmann, whose work on the history of the liturgy () was in large part responsible for the introduction of the change, had second thoughts about the value of the change.

The interesting aspect of the discussion brought about by Father Gamber's book is that little by little the propaganda and false assertions invoked to bring about the liturgical reforms following the council are now being exposed and found to be without truth or basis, historical, archeological or liturgical. The errors swallowed by the clergy and laity alike in the sixties included such lies as the elimination of Latin, the forbidding of choirs, tearing out of communion rails, statues, tabernacles, and vestments-all in the name of the council or perhaps the "spirit of the council:" Thank God the truth is beginning to re-appear.


Holy Mass Pictures

Beautiful music deserves uplifting pictures. This site uses (old, black-and-white) photos to illustrate the traditional Latin Mass. Broken down into the various stages of the Mass, this is a good graphic overview of the most familiar liturgy in the West. The website also has guides for altar servers and an illustrated discussion of the altar, the holy things, and the vestments.

On the down side, there is no picture of the communion of the people, reflecting the piety of the time. Alas, even this traditionalist text refers to the elevation of the chalice as "The adoration of the consecrated wine." (Sigh.) Overall, though, the pictures are clear and worthwhile.

This site is apparently the work of a sedevacantist who subscribes to The Siri Thesis. I'd avoid its links section, which seems to have links to decidedly unedifying material.

Otherwise, enjoy the pictures.