An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I'm still wrapping my head around this, so have mercy on these scattered thoughts.
I used to chasten my noisy children with the specific admonition that they were interrupting "such and such" person's worship next to us. Someone, wiser than I, has been relating to me that the notion of individual worship and prayer inside the Orthodox Church is...well one could say: anathema. The Liturgy is a not really a time for personal prayer. The Orthodox Church building with all its icons and decor, the incense, the chanting, the candles and the lamps, none of these are intended to create an "atmosphere" or to cater to your personal worship needs. They are for the Body.
I sense that this is the newer protestant mindset in many circles, like when we see pomo churches using our Icons: it's all geared toward creating this cool atmosphere that "helps" me worship. Since icons don't "work" for everyone, the following week a new theme will emerge: perhaps a prayer labyrinth or a rock band or an interpretive dance.
So what does Orthodox worship feel like? What does it mean to step away from the worship "mission" most of us grew up with? You know what I mean? We "felt" that worship was truly accomplished when we had some sort of internal reaction to what was going on around us. Does true communal worship feel different? Do we react differently? Do we experience it differently? As we participate in the "Work of the people", do we manifest it in our own hearts and minds in a unique (to us) way?
Worship in evangelical circles can often be graded: was it a good service (i.e. were a lot of people touched? Did it take on a life of its own and go longer than expected?) or mediocre services (i.e. the planned set of music ended and there was no grand emotional experience). You really cannot do that with the Orthodox Liturgy, I mean I suppose you could say that some services (e.g. Pascha, Nativity) are more joyous and festive and do in fact bring out more of an emotional response, but in general you do not see priests scrambling week end and week out to figure out what will "work" this Sunday along with the ever present promise that if it fails, next week will be better...different. (Rather they scramble through a host of books to figure what WILL happen regardless of what one may FEEL will "work".)
The overall implication is that noisy kids are a part of the Work of the People. Their voices, however indirect or inarticulate, speak along with us as one ought to expect from a real and LIVING and thriving community laboring together. A perfectly quiet nave is unnatural. Now please, let us reason together, I'm not advocating letting a screeching child go on screeching throughout the Work of the People. Just a bit more grace for noise perhaps, given that we aren't "working" like we used to: individuals focused on obtaining some ecstatic internal experience.
I remember Fr. Hierotheos Vlachos making the distinction between person (in the Orthodox sense) and individual (in the Enlightenment sense). The mythical Enlightenment critter is this supposedly autonomous, ahistorical entity with neither responsibility to nor connection with anyone or anything outside itself. Person, on the other hand, presupposes relationship, membership, interchange, cooperation, and so on, because its ultimate source is the Triune God. When human persons worship the Tri-Personal God, then, whether "privately" or corporately, it is never in isolation, because we are truly human persons only as we are being recreated in the image of Christ, the Great Prototype, which, obviously, occurs in the context of the Body of Christ.
As to how Orthodox worship feels, I can only share my own impressions. It's like getting on a train that's always in motion. It's like faintly hearing a grand symphony and learning to hum along as we feel and stumble our way toward it. It's like the emotional part of pain without the physical discomfort.
It's like the sound of one hand clapping. (Just kidding.)
As for the accoutrements, to me, they all teach and point to the reality of the Incarnation. I've often thought that one can learn just about everything one really needs to know about Orthodoxy by contemplating the Incarnation in its sheer, unabashed, Spirit-flooded physicality.
This is why I always wonder why people close their eyes during Orthodox worship, apart from the occasional eye rest or mental refocusing. I know why non-liturgical religion taught us to close our eyes, fold our hands, and become little Christianoid Buddhas: It's because for the most part, non-Orthodox Christianity tends toward Gnosticism. (Believe me, it gives me no pleasure or sense of superiority to say this. I write it with tears in my eyes.) I mean, if man's consciousness and senses are going to be short-circuited, with the exception of his rational faculty and possibly his hearing, there is nothing to see and nothing to do with the hands anyway. Thus, in the interests of "meaningful" prayer and rapt concentration upon a sermon that is typically a vapid pep talk or a bunch of snarled threats, men are taught a form of worship that hardly requires their presence, let alone their participation. Now, forgive me if this steps on anyone's toes, but it just seems to me that to habitually assume such a posture or close our eyes in an Orthodox temple is to misunderstand something important. So we shut our eyes to "see better spiritually"? But what do we imagine is going on in our heads that is holier than what is going on "out there"? It's highly probable that the merest speck of dust on the altar is holier than any thought I'll ever have in this life. And as for noisy (as distinguished from nasty) kids, I'm pretty sure that they're already holier than I am. A bit of noise is the least of my worries, or at least, it should be.
But what do we imagine is going on in our heads that is holier than what is going on "out there"? It's highly probable that the merest speck of dust on the altar is holier than any thought I'll ever have in this life.
You know it's funny, but when you reminded me of eye-closing, the exact same thought occurred to me...what exactly is it we are trying to see without our eyes?
Parents of small children of course can NEVER close their eyes. Funny, if I think back to when I worshiped as a pentecostal I'd often close my eyes and imagine being in God's presence...ala St. John's description in Revelation.
Welcome to the Orthodox Temple. :)
Imagination can be dangerous...especially if you are me.
Focusing on this difference of REAL personhood vs. individuality and how I/we manifest this in my/our experience of/participation in Orthodox worship is stirring me to consider how I might more fully invest myself.
Yeah, and when you tie it in with the interplay being apophatic and cataphatic experience, it gets really interesting. Or it makes you crazy, which might or might not also be interesting.
The only approximation to a description of how the apophatic/cataphatic are related that helps me at all is that we strive to release all our own self-generated ideas about God in order to make room for His self-revelation in and through the Incarnation. Not "make room for new self-generated concepts," mind you, but for God's actual self-revelation. Whew. Let me know when you have that, OK? I need the contact high.
I confess, I'm an eye-closer. I justify it to myself by saying that it helps me concentrate on the prayers but in reality, my mind drifts just as easily as it does when my eyes are open. Never thought it through that way
Debbie says the same thing: It helps her concentrate on the words. I'm sure there are exceptions, times when eye-closing is more OK than others, etc. I'm just making a general observation/comparison. Being in the choir, it's actually not something I have to think about personally, because I don't have the entire corpus of Orthodox hymnology memorized yet. Maybe next year ;-)
I really appreciated this post. do you mind if I cite it on my blog? I've been having similar discussions lately, and as a convert, it's hard sometimes to know what to throw out and what to keep. Some orthodox I know have opted to throw it all out, and start fresh, not trusting that they would have the discernment at such a young 'orthodox' age to know what was fruitful and what was merely comforting. I have to admit, this was also my approach, although I do know other orthodox converts who love their vineyard worship music and are truly edified by it. I have no answers, only questions...
it's hard sometimes to know what to throw out and what to keep.
Well, I'd say that Orthodoxy in North America has suffered from this for quite awhile now. This continent is rather unique - perhaps excluding Alaska - in that it wasn't as much evangelized as it was settled. Part of why we have a jurisdictional problem is that Orthodoxy in America - cradle or otherwise - doesn't itself know what to throw out and what to keep.
Greek celebrating Greek independence day at Church is a prime example. Would we ever think of celebrating July 4th at Church? Perhaps if we were an immigrant community elsewhere I suppose we might...but who knows.
So we converts shouldn't feel too bad about being ignorant about what to cling to and what to let go...the persistant ethnic problem in many Orthodox churches is evidence that we are not alone and neither are we as immature as we might imagine.
That being said, I am adamently opposed to some convert attitudes that insist EVERYTHING we do MUST be different than how evangelicals do it. That's wrong and frankly it is wrong in the historic spirit of Orthodox Mission. We Baptize what is good, we reject what is bad...discerning that is the tough part I suppose.
I'm presently reading a book called "On the Edge of the World" by Nicolai Leskov and it speaks a good deal about Orthodox Mission work in Eastern Siberia.
With regard to worship, I am still working through how I should participate...or at least how I might participate more fully with a clearer understanding of how the service itself differs from my past experiences and theories of what happens on Sunday mornings.
I can recall sometimes after a rather "dry" evangelical service that someone would console us with the words: "Well, God was worshipped, brother." There is truth to this...perhaps more than we cared to understand.
Not to derail your post into a choir fight, but my husband and I were talking about this as it relates to various musical traditions.
Aesthetics aside, Americans I know who want Byzantine music in churches say they prefer it because it is more "meditative" or "prayerful." My problem with that is that it takes the liturgy, the work of the people, and turns it into dozens of people praying by themselves while they happen to be in the same room. Unless everyone is actually taking the ten seconds it takes to chant "honorable" in a Byzantine style to reflect on the word "honorable," which I highly doubt, it has become individual worship/prayer.
Again, I'm putting aesthetics aside. If someone wants to say, "Russian chant is annoying. It reminds me of a barbershop quartet on steroids" (I was told this by a Catholic monk who was a music historian at the Vatican)I'm fine with that. But I don't see the fact that Byzantine chant is so slow and sparse as to allow you to do your own thing, which in my understanding is what the 20+ hours a week you aren't in church are for, as a selling point.
I shared your post James with a priest friend of mine and thought I'd post his response to it:
"A good post. I agree with what he said. As a priest I would be careful about who I shared that information with however. The reason is that we live in an age in which many parents seem less aware of the disturbance their kids can cause during church services than parents of only a generation or two ago. "Back in the day" parents would tend to be a bit more strict in this regard and would tend to "shush" their kids a bit sooner and teach them to be quiet in church and to be aware of disturbing those around them. A sense of social responsibility was inculcated into the children at an early age. Today's parents seem to be more inclined to let their children "express themselves" perhaps out of a fear of being too mean or that their kids will grow up to hate church.
I am of course speaking in general here as there are many exceptions. And I am not pointing fingers! I am just offering this thought to explain why I have said things very similar to what James writes to non-parents who have been disturbed by the children of others, but have not said the same to many parents who might take it as an endorsement of their "parental style" which in some cases I see as too lax.
ok, I have to respond to the children comment too... Our church is blessed with many many young families, and I think there are well over 40 children aged 10 and under at our parish (when everybody shows up at once), so it is not a quiet service. In fact, I was remarking to my husband a few weeks ago that what we need is more elderly, grandparent types! We have some. One couple, in particular, (just converted roughly 3 years ago) are just wonderful. They were listening to another older gentleman complain about the whining and crying babies disrupting his worship, to which our friend K. replied "If you find your worship being disrupted by the sounds of children fussing, you must thank the Lord, because it means your parish is alive and has a future" (paraphrased). I was so encouraged by his words. As a mother of three, church has not always been easy. It is only within the past few years that I have actually been able to remain in the church for the whole liturgy. (my kids are now 10, 12, and 14, but were only 1 and 3 when we became orthodox). Sundays used to be just a lot of work, and we'd often leave immediately after communion to get home in time for naps (theirs and ours!). So I sympathize greatly with those parents with babies and small children. It's frustrating for them as well, and it doesn't help when others make comments (I heard more than a few in my day). If I had to err, I'd err on the side of leniency. Just the other day at church, a new couple were hissed at (by a visiting orthodox, we get a lot of those when the Bishop is here), to keep their children quiet as the Bishop was here! Great witness, eh? They left rather promptly after that. I pray they are brave enough to try again.
I hear you Victoria. Having walked in similar shoes with a 3yo and an almost 2yo, and a third a month away, it can be frustrating to have a Deacon walk over and tell you your child is being too noisy and needs to be taken out.
However, I have seen the opposite extreme where a child is babbling, talking or giggling, on and on, with the parents doing nothing to even attempt a quieting of the child. There has to be a balance as some noise is inevitable. Yet, as a Matushka at the local OCA cathedral once counseled us, "They can learn to be quiet, even at very young ages." I'm finding with J (our nearly 2yo) that she is right. It does mean quite a bit of "in and out" of the nave, but witnessing progress has been assuring. Helping J learn has involved a very simple, gentle conditioning that, "Noise (excessive or constant) means out, but does not equal play time." So I hold her in the "narthex" until she is quiet and wants to get down. I was shocked to see how quiet she was last night through much of Bride Groom. And we're not talking about low-key kids, these are high energy younglings.
Obviously, I'm just starting to find my groove in this. I'm very open to looking at this in other ways.
Very interesting thoughts. I liked Paige's contribution the best. Here we are questioning the need to close one's eyes, in order to focus on the prayers and shut out some of the chaos, and meanwhile, in many places, the church is sufficiently dark, the service chanted in a language not understood, that it would seem like the liturgy becomes a stylized experience in which every person brings his own piety. Kallistos Ware once gave a talk in which he described the Greek monastic habit in idiorhythmic monasteries, in which only the chanter is there to do the "official service," while the monks come and go, "doing their ropes", and +Ware went on to say that we shouldn't condemn this admittedly individualistic approach. It seems that many styles are OK. We don't have ONE practice. I say closing one's eyes should be used if it helps one focus on the prayers and hymns, most of which are images in song, if you will. It's a contemplative practice. What's the problem with it? I agree with the Matushka mentinoed above that kids can behave quietly in church. In my experience, kids who are "under control" are actually just happier kids, whether in church or not. They should be able to stand in one place be quiet. Deviations from the ideal should be allowed, to a point. And I agree with the priest who said that we need to be careful about telling parents to "relax" control. Some parents actually need to tighten the controls a bit. I am quite confident that in Old Russia, kids were never allowed to run in and out, screech, and carry on. Not that Russia is an ideal for us, but then again they're not evangelicals, either.
yes, aaron, I guess I should have added an addendum to my post. I am by no means laissez-faire in my parenting practices. The reason sundays were so much work for us was because we did strive to teach our children stillness and quietness in church. This was easier with some than with others. Every parent has their own methods. Some bring drawing materials for very small children, some, little baggies of crackers or cheerios. Small distractions help. But every child comes of an age in which this is not longer appropriate, and they must simply learn how to be reasonably composed in church. Kurt's methods with our children were that if they fussed to be taken out, then the experience outside of church had to be more unpleasant than actually just staying in church. So he'd bring them out, and just hold them very very still in the narthax. They really really didn't enjoy this, but he made it clear that their choice was either to be held very still outside of church, or stand on their own quietly in church. It was a long and frustrating process, but it worked eventually. Who's place is it to comment on the behaviour of other people's children? I'm not sure. The priest? The deacon? Certainly not me.
I have 5 sons, and they've always been in Church, if not the Orthodox Church. I would just suggest that if we expect them to suddenly get it together in Church while outside Church they're allowed to be impolite, strident, self-indulgent Philistines, then the problem is us, not them. If the general rule is the behavior should appropriate to the context, and that love of God and neighbor aren't somehow encased within the four walls of a building, I bet we'd have fewer problem children.
Sometimes I think my kids - my boys particularly - could all be diagnosed with ADHD and once on drugs they'd pass the Babuska Test for kids absolutely needing to stand like statues in church...oops...I mean bas-reliefs. NO STATUES ALLOWED!
What I have noticed, at least in my kids, is that age is a HUGE factor in the "being able to sit/stand still" demand. I've watched them enter into the "I can't sit still phase" and then slowly leave it. Frankly, it's a pain in the arse, but I've found duct tape and beatings are frutiless.
I've seen a few kids - at about this age - who COULD stand like a bas-relief. It seemed eerie to me...but perhaps an indication that that child's parents were far better than me (quite likely), or that their kid just had a different dispostion. Maybe a combination of both? But I did notice something odd...that this kid's hands were behind his back and that those hands were twitching WILDLY, as if he had a neurological disorder, which I know the kid did not have...so I'm not sure what to make of that.
Anyway, as active as my boys can be I *THINK* that I am pretty sensistive to knowing when they need to be corrected or escorted out. However, EVERYONE HAS DIFFERENT TOLERANCES WITH CHILDREN.
I know some people are literally uptight being in the same room with kids...oh how they must loathe the festive and chaotic noise of my home! Such folk cannot suffer little more than a single peep out of a child. If THEY know where the "OFF" switch is, I'm happy to receive such advice. Alas, it is akin to receiving advice on shooting from someone who has never owned a gun.
I've never known a parent to be so overly lax that the work of the people is being consitantly and unapolgetically inhibited by an unruly child. I suppose if I did encounter such, then a talking to would be in order...but something better:
Many of us are, have been, or will be flustered parents in a service. For those annoyed by a noisy kid, why not offer to help? Perhaps the parent actually has multiple kids to "deal with" and could use a hand with one? I've seen how someone other than a parent can be a big benefit to calming a child. And believe me...the parent will love you for it.
Also, a word of encouragement can go a million miles. I ALWAYS make it a point to offer some kind words to a parent whose had a rough go of it. We all have bad days...kids have bad days too. Parenting is hard...it takes far more than a firm hand and stern rules.
The last thing we want to do is drop a hammer of condemnation and isolation on our younger families...if they need to be shown a better way, show them a better way. It's far too easy to look at OTHER kids and marvel at how "We would never let our kids do THAT!"
Of course, perhaps I've not recognized any parents who were too lax because I am one of them?
God bless the kindly older man in our Parish who has time and time again offered loving words to me about my children on days when I'd like to have hauled them out to the woodshed after church for a real dose of lax parenting.
We've been described as a 'pediatric parish' yet in all the years I've been there and all the more years from which I've collected gossip, there is only one occasion where Fr. has ever asked a parent to remove a child. Most of the time he just talks/ chants/ sings louder. Probably not a bad approach all things considered. If someone really has a problem, the'll complain to the authorities (that's happened before too) and the authorities will take the matter in hand (sometimes passive/aggressively) but still, redundant feedback loops are there. So far, MY fuse has been shorter than all but one of my fellow parishoners. May God have mercy on my soul and bind up the wounds I've inflicted on my kids.
I find myself wondering if the paranoia and knee-jerk reactionism to kids stems from an overly cerebral (and therefore less incarnational) approach to worship. If it's all about getting my propositions perfectly aligned as though I were conjugating the Greek verb "to be," then yeah, I'm going to insist on being able to hear pins drop on carpet. But if it's about being comfortable enough to be human in God's presence, because He really is present, and not a theoretical "presence," then that changes things. We're not standing there to study or take notes for our next volume of Church Dogmatics. We stand before the altar for the same reason flowers turn toward the Sun.
My point was that kids should be given reasonable (and I mean that literally) boundaries. For example, I don't care if they make some noise in Church, and I don't care if they make noise (even a lot of it) at home. But they're not to interrupt, and they're to be quiet after 10 P.M. or so. There aren't any infallible formulas that I know of, which is lucky, because it's really not rocket science anyway. Reasonability and consistency is my best counsel.
Funny you should say that Patrick, last week it dawned on me that (all due reverence to the trancendence of God) this is my Dad's house, If I'm not comfortable here, I'm the one that has the issue. If my kids aren't comfortable here, I'm still the one that has the issue since I've got them both for most services and they don't know anything else.
I understand, but don't beat yourself up about it. We can control our kids' physical motions (to some extent), but we can't really control what they're thinking and what impressions they're drawing from the experience of Orthodox worship. Not being cradle Orthodox, I'm kinda guessing here, but I think what happens is that slowly but surely, when the Orthodox soteriology really begins to sink in --- that God REALLY loves us, that He's not out to get us, that Death is not His "righteous penal wrath" sticking it to us, that salvation means infinitely more than a reprieve to a bunch of criminals who have little to look forward to than being forgiven but not transformed criminals, and so on --- then we begin to pay attention of our own accord to what's going on, and then every syllable puts meat on our spiritual bones.
On the other hand, if we get the impression from the Church or our parents (or both --- Kyrie eleison) that if we step out of line, someone a lot bigger and more powerful than we are is going to get really pissed, we tend to leave the phone off the hook, as it were. That kind of life is just too difficult for words. I guess what I'm driving at is that once I learned from the my Mother, the Holy Church, what the Father is really like, it revolutionized my approach to parenting. I hope this makes some kind of sense.
You bet you can. Another benefit of my finally getting this through my thick skull is that my sons come to me with things that they otherwise wouldn't. It's astounding what happens when kids start to believe that you're not out to get even with the world through them, that you respect them as persons rather than extensions of your being, that you're not interested in micromanaging them, etc. I spend most of my time trying to forgive myself for the damage I caused before I came to my senses. If you see me weeping while I sing the Passion Gospels tonight, you'll have a bit of inside info as to why.