Friday, March 30, 2007

Goodbye (Again), Subdn. Benjamin

Our dear friend Subdn. Benjamin Andersen has closed his outstanding Occidentalis blog for good this time. He cites lack of time to produce a "quality blog" and personal concerns about whether blogging is the best use of his time. I couldn't respect the scholarly subdeacon's choice any more than I do, though it will be a shame not to share in his insights.

I've had similar thoughts about my own blog and have been "permanently busy" for some time, but instead of close up shop, I've made another choice: do a subpar blog. :) I don't have an infinite amount of time to devote to this website and don't know it would be a "quality" blog even if I did — as I note in my official disclaimer to the left, this blog is pathetic and I am pathetic but I saw a lack of authentic information about the canonical Orthodox Church's Western Rite online and wanted to do what I could with my limited free time to change that. (I do hope to have some more in-depth and focused material available for my readers in other formats in the future.)

I am sorry to see Subdeacon Benjamin's blog go, but I hope this gives us the opportunity to become better friends yet offline. God bless, and as he wrote the last time he quit blogging, "Depart in peace."


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

From the Mailbag: Good Pre-Schism British Prayer Source?

Q: Ben, can you recommend a good source for the Orthodox prayers of Old England, something that contains pre-Schism British prayers (in coherent English, please) from a verifiable source? I am interested in learning about and praying with the pre-Schism British Church.

A: Certainly. By far the best collection of various prayers from pre-Schism England is a wonderful little volume entitled, Christ the Golden-Blossom: A Treasury of Anglo-Saxon Prayer by Douglas Dales. In addition to being a bona fide scholar (the kind with degrees) -- and the author of several other well-received titles on Orthodox England -- Dales is the Chaplain and Head of Religious Studies at Marlborough College. Christ the Golden-Blossom selects and translates fitting prayers from the pre-Schism era. Dales arranges the Orthodox prayers and readings from the saints, first according to the major feasts of the Temporale (the Church Year), then commemorates the major pre-Schism saints of the Anglo-Saxon Sanctorale -- again with a reading by or about the saint in question, a brief biography, and appropriate collect(s). The book is also a beauty to behold, with photographs, rare artwork, and what one might call early British iconography on nearly every page.

The reason I recommend this text is your (rightful) concern with a book's underlying sources and trustworthiness. Christ the Golden-Blossom draws all its prayers from three sources: the Nunnaminster Codex of the ninth century, the Canterbury Benedicitional, and the Portiforium of St. Wulfstan. Most helpful, Dales lists the original source underneath each prayer. It is also easily available, inexpensive, and somewhat comprehensive (as a personal prayer book and devotional). With appropriate searching, you can find it as low as $14.50 a copy, brand new, in a beautifully illustrated hardback with rare illuminations. Used, one can find it at $8.

The only drawback to mention is that Dales has translated these beautiful prayers into modern English. However, the rarity of the prayers, beauty of presentation, and devotional insight make that worth overlooking. One can easily "Elizabethify" the translation without much more than changing "You" to "Thee" and adding an "eth" or "est" where required. I've quoted at least one of its prayers on this blog (where I performed such a minor tweak).

If you are interested in the Hours as prayed in pre-Schism times, you should get a copy of the Monastic Diurnal and begin a fruitful oblature as an Orthodox Benedictine. If you are committed to using only Sarum prayers, a number of items are available from You could contact our friend Fr. Michael of St. Petroc Monastery; his long-awaited Saint Colman Prayer Book (not St. Colman PB!) will include a small and adapted Breviary more than fitting for any dedicated non-Monastic.

Several other "Sarum Psalters," "Old Sarum Rite Missals," and "Old England" prayer books have been published over the years by various vagante and Pseudodox groups. These works, often described by the learned as "fanciful" (at the most charitable), are unverified individual works not authorized by the Orthodox Church, nor used within Her. One would be well-advised to put as much space as possible between oneself as such materials.

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EWTN to Air Orthodox Vision of The Passion Thursday

I thought everyone would appreciate this announcement, which I had in my e-mail. -- BJ.

The Passion According to Matthew, a symphonic and choral meditation on the Passion of Christ composed by Russian Orthodox BISHOP HILARION (Alfeyev) of Vienna and Austria, will be premiered today, March 27th, by the Russian State Tretyakov Gallery's choir and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra at the Moscow Conservatoire's Grand Hall, and will be performed at and broadcast live worldwide from the Auditorium Conciliazione in Rome this Thursday, March 29th.

In the United States the concert from Rome will be televised live on EWTN (Mother Angelica's "Eternal Word Television Network") THIS THURSDAY - MARCH 29th at 3:00PM Eastern/2:00PM Central/1:00PM Mountain/12 Noon Pacific with an encore performance scheduled for 10:30PM Eastern/9:30PM Central/8:30PM Mountain/7:30PM Pacific. Check your local listings for the channel number of EWTN in your area and to confirm broadcast times in your locale.

Bishop of PodolskThe Passion According to Matthew is a monumental work for soloists, choir and orchestra, composed on the basis of the canonical text of the Gospel of St. Matthew and liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church.

This work, composed by His Grace in the autumn of 2006, consists of 48 pieces including recitatives, arias for soprano, contralto, tenor and basso with orchestra, choruses, fugues for an orchestra and a choir. The total duration of the composition is about two hours. Participating in the recital will be 145 musicians including five soloists from Russia and Austria, 70 singers and 70 musicians. The performance of The Passion According to Matthew has been blessed by Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia. Bishop Hilarion is a graduate of the renown Gnesins Academy of Music in Moscow and the Moscow State Conservatoire, where he studied composition under Vladimir Dovgan. His All-Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy were premiered by the Russian State Tretyakov Gallery's choir conducted by Russia's Honored Artist Alexei Puzakov at the Conservatoire's Grand Hall on December 7, 2006.

Below you will find the transcript of an interview with Bishop Hilarion about The Passion.

An Interview With A Russian Orthodox Composer: Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev on Music as Prayer

ROME, MARCH 5, 2007 - Music in church should be an avenue to deeper prayer, not a distraction, says a Russian Orthodox bishop and composer.

His Grace Hilarion Alfeyev, Bishop of Vienna and Austria, is the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Community.

His latest composition, "The Passion According to Matthew," will be premiered in Moscow on March 27 and then performed in Romeon March 29.

In an interview with ZENIT news agency, the Lithuania-born Bishop Hilarion discusses his latest composition, the central role of music in the Orthodox liturgy, Christian unity, and some thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI.

Q: When did you receive the inspiration for this musical composition? Why the Passion according to St. Matthew?

Bishop Hilarion: The inspiration came out of the blue as I was driving from Vienna to Budapest on August 19, 2006, the feast of the Holy Transfiguration, according to the Julian calendar.

I suddenly thought that I should write a musical composition on the Passion story and that this music should be based on the Orthodox liturgical texts from Holy Week.

The title, "The Passion According to Matthew," also came immediately and I had no doubt that I should use St. Matthew's account of the Passion. By choosing this title I also wanted to declare my indebtedness to J.S. Bach, whose music has always been for me a source of deepest inspiration.

In Budapest, I celebrated the service dedicated to St. Stephen of Hungary on August 20, and on August 21, I drove back to Vienna. As I was driving, the first melodies began to come, and I began to record them in my memory. As soon as I arrived, I started to put them on paper. I then worked very hard for about three weeks.

I canceled one or two international trips, I almost did not respond to phone calls and e-mails, and I could not sleep during nights, because melodies continued to come to my mind even at three o'clock in the morning.

On September 10, the main bulk of work was finished. I left music aside for a couple of months, and then returned to it again in order to make sufficient revisions and to compose new movements instead of some of the original ones which I decided to remove.

In my composition, the Orthodox understanding of the Passion story is reflected. It differs from the understanding that is characteristic of Western religious art, where accent is often laid on Christ's humanity rather than on his divinity.

Orthodox tradition avoids naturalism in depicting the Passions: On the Orthodox icon of crucifixion, Jesus is depicted dead, not in agony, and his death on the cross is contemplated not as a moment of horror, but as a moment of glory.

The same attitude is reflected in the Orthodox liturgical texts. Moreover, almost every time when these texts mention the Passion, they also mention the Resurrection.

Being based on the Orthodox liturgical texts and inspired by the Orthodox singing, my music is as much about despair as about hope; as much about suffering as about redemption; as much about death as about resurrection.

Q: Why will the concert be presented in Rome after presenting it in Moscow?

Bishop Hilarion: This was not my idea: It came from the chief conductor of the Choir of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Alexei Puzakov. He was the first musician who heard my music as I was composing it -- I played it to him from Vienna, and he listened through the telephone receiver.

He suggested that it should be performed not only in Moscow, but also in Rome, since Holy Week and Easter coincide this year for Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

In November I showed the score to Vladimir Fedoseyev, and he very kindly agreed to conduct the performance. The dates for both concerts were chosen by Fedoseyev: These were, in fact, the only dates available for the Grand Symphony Orchestra during this year.

Q: If you meet the Pope when you are in Rome for the concert, what will you say to him?

Bishop Hilarion: I would say to him that, in my view, the time has come for a much closer collaboration between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches.

I do not believe that the restoration of full Eucharistic communion between East and West after almost a millennium of separation is something that is going to happen in the foreseeable future and I do not think that the theological problems that exist between us could be easily solved by the Joint Theological Commission.

But it seems to me that we should not wait until all the problems are solved and full harmony is achieved. It may never happen.

We must begin a much closer collaboration here and now, without any further delays. The challenges we are facing in Europe and elsewhere, such as relativism, militant secularism, radical Islam, are those we could and should address together.

I was deeply satisfied when I read Cardinal Ratzinger's speech during the conclave in which he declared war on relativism. I also noted that in his Regensburg lecture he went beyond the limits of political correctness because he felt that the issue he was addressing was important. The reaction that followed only confirmed that he had touched the heart of the matter.

Traditional Christianity nowadays needs to be defended from both the external challenges I mentioned, and the internal challenge of growing liberalization of doctrine and morality within some Protestant communities. I feel, and I often say openly that ecumenical relations with the Protestant world become ever more problematic and ever less hopeful.

The gap between traditional and liberal versions of Christianity is widening, and it is mostly Catholics and Orthodox who stay on the traditional side, while many Protestant communities adopt liberal standards.

Q: What role does music have in your personal prayer life?

Bishop Hilarion: Music plays a very important role in the Orthodox liturgy. As a bishop I celebrate liturgy every Sunday and on all feast days. The quality of the choir and the repertoire that it chooses is something of importance for me.

Being formed as a musician from my very early years, I cannot completely dissociate myself from music when it is sung in the church, and even as I am reading liturgical prayers, I continue to hear the singing.

Last summer I composed "The Divine Liturgy" and "The All-Night Vigil" for the choir a cappella. My main aim was to write such music that would not distract from prayer either for me or my parishioners.

Singing in the church should be oriented towards prayer and should not be turned into a concert, as often happens.

The best examples of truly prayerful singing could be found in Russian Znamenny chant, an equivalent of the Western Gregorian chant. This unison chant is simple, but it is meaningful and moving.