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The Shepherd, June 2007

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  • Basil Yakimov
    The Shepherd, June 2007 1 “I WAS TOLD last week that in the services it is canonical to use only the language of the country you are in. Is this right? -
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2007
      The Shepherd, June 2007

      1 “I WAS TOLD last week that in the services it is canonical to use only the language of the country you are in. Is this right? - because most churches in this country do not, and even here and at the Convent, we use several languages” - Anon., London.

      I ADMIT that I was rather stumped by this question, because I am not at all well-versed in the canons, and could only call to mind one that touched on the language of the service, and that indicated that in one instance at least we should not be using the vernacular. A footnote to Canon 81 of the Sixth Œcumenical Council remarks that the Emperor Theodosius the Lesser ordered that the trisagion always be chanted in Greek and that as a consequence Saint Sabbas the Sanctified, who had separate services in Armenian for his Armenian disciples, nonetheless ordered that this hymn be always chanted in Greek. Apparently the Latin churches also chanted it in Greek. As you might know, we sometimes do so at the Convent. However, being at a loss for an authoritative answer on the broader question, I e-mailed Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna and asked his thoughts. He replied as follows:-

      “THIS IS an interesting question. There is no question at all, as most liturgical scholars aver, that the desire to retain a sense of unity with the ancient Christian community, in which Greek (the lingua franca of the time) was the dominant language, led to a great reluctance in adopting Latin, when it became the popular vernacular language. This sentiment persisted for centuries in the West, where Latin itself became a putative ‘link to Apostolicity.’ At the same time, the Fathers, from the earliest times, saw the Liturgy as an instructional tool, as well as a devotional exercise. This interplay between liturgical traditional (or Liturgy as tradition) and instruction is still with us today.

      “It is obvious, then, that, while it became an axiom that the people should understand the Liturgy (and in the Eastern Church there was great latitude, for this reason, in allowing the Liturgy to be celebrated in the language of the people), this did not reach the level of canonical regulation, to the best of my knowledge. If such an obscure canon exists, then it certainly addresses the issue of the people knowing what the Liturgy is about and not just the issue of the language in which it is celebrated.

      “I should also note, in reiterating this last point, that the Liturgy was, from the very outset of Christianity, in very beautiful, rich, and poetic language. It is a misnomer, largely perpetuated by Protestant Biblical literalists, that the koine of the New Testament was a ‘common’ language (and thus vulgar and available to any individual who speaks); koine Greek was only ‘common’ in the sense of being spoken commonly by all people in the ‘known world’ of that time as a lingua franca. The New Testament was written in a profoundly exalted, poetic, and rich language and not a street language. … It was written in a style similar to that of Scripture (which is paraphrased throughout it) and has to be studied as assiduously as New Testamental Scripture to be understood. The assumption about a ‘simple’ Liturgy that can be understood like a grocery list or a newspaper advertisement is borrowed from the same poor (if ubiquitous) Protestant Biblical scholarship that defiles the mystery of Scripture.

      “Hence, the Liturgy, even when translated into the language of the people, has always been rendered in a refined literary language. And this is how the Liturgy has been translated into English by liturgical scholars who understand the history of the Liturgy both from an academic and from a spiritual perspective. Modern ‘you-who’ language in English, for example, is not consistent with the magnificent imagery of the Orthodox Liturgy. That such language is becoming popular even among would-be Orthodox scholars is, perhaps, a clear statement about how little they understand the internal mystery and awe of the Liturgy. And one who becomes preoccupied with the language of the Liturgy is often bereft of a clear grasp of what the Liturgy is -- a statement of Faith in which noetic knowledge is transmitted, at times, between the words!”

      Those who do not appreciate this have “either fallen under the sway of these modernist Orthodox who miss the ‘wordless’ message of the Liturgy and its noetic qualities, being preoccupied as they are with externals, or forgotten that, while understanding is important in the Liturgy (and thus we must study it and know its contents), spiritual and noetic knowledge are its goal and content. …pontificating is a sign of spiritual pride, if I may add a personal addendum to what I have said,” … they are “thus building up, in the name of a worthy argument (understanding the Liturgy), a spiritual impediment to the greater dimension of the Liturgy, which goes beyond words. We must understand it, in the end, as a mystery that speaks the inner language of the soul.”

      And regarding my observation that “I have seen one [canon] saying the Trisagion must be chanted in Greek!” - the Archbishop continues:-

      “These Nomo-Canons of various kinds and provenance are not to be confused with dogmatic Canons, of course; and yet, they often are. Thus all of the noise about what ‘the Canons’ say and the ignorant use of the word ‘uncanonical’; these words, more often than not, are used in a senseless way to make a point that they were never meant to make. Simple regulations do not touch on dogmatic matters.”

      And I added: “Is there a canon about using the vernacular? One day I shall have to read the canons, but for now can you help?”

      “Again, not to the best of my knowledge, though I would do well to read the Canons again, as well, so as to be able to know what is and is not mentioned in them. But then I would have the problem of which collection to use and would be forced to write a treatise on the difference between canonical regulations, canonical restrictions, canonical proscriptions and prescriptions, and the matter of Canons as they preserve dogmatic truth and as they maintain mere administrative order. I am not up to the task, I am afraid. At any rate, I do know that what I have written represents the teachings of the best canonists and several very good theologians. If my expertise is nothing (and it is) theirs is certainly reliable.

      “I commend you for using numerous languages in Liturgy. We do the same, and for the same reasons. Moreover, the catholicity of such a practice speaks for itself.”

      NEWS SECTION, 1 MOSCOW - ROCOR RAPPROCHEMENT AS ANTICIPATED, the mutual signing of the “Act of Canonical Communion” by His Holiness Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and Metropolitan Lavr was performed amid great splendour in the Cathedral of the Saviour in Moscow on Ascension Day, followed by hierarchs and clergy of both jurisdictions concelebrating the Divine Liturgy together. Much has been reported on this in newspapers, TV and on the internet. For a secular commentator, Tony Halpin in “The Times” (18/5/07) made one of the most perspicaous remarks, by beginning his report on the event, with the words, “Under the watchful gaze of President Putin.”

      Two ROCOR hierarchs refused to agree to the union, His Grace Bishop Daniel of Erie and His Grace Bishop Agathangel in Odessa. Both issued statements making their positions clear. On the day after the ceremony in Moscow, a number of clergy of what they called the “Widowed Eastern American Diocese” of ROCOR - [“widowed” is a technical term, implying that a diocese n longer has a Bishop - ed.] -issued a statement separating themselves from the Synod of Metropolitan Lavr and petitioning the two faithful hierarchs to form a Provisional Supreme Ecclessiastical Authority (PSEA). It appears at the time of going to press that such a PSEA has not been formed, and there has been a vigorous exchange of letters about whether or not Bishop Daniel is prepared to be party to such an idea, some claiming he is, others stating that he was unduly pressured to sign documents, yet others claiming that he is kept under some kind of house arrest.

      Much of this sadly echoes the confusion surrounding the departure of the late Metropolitan Vitaly from the Church Abroad some years ago. Nonetheless Bishop Aganthangel has accepted approximately fifty clergyman from what we must doubtless now call the “Moscow Patriarchate (Outside Russia)” in North and South America. A number of clergymen have also placed themselves under the Synod of Archbishop Tikhon (RTOC), and still others have adopted the untenable position of remaining with the MP(OR), commemorating Metropolitan Lavr and the hierarchs with him, but refusing to commemorate Patriarch Aleksii II. We hear that one clergyman in Britain has taken this course, even though it is in direct contravention to a decree of his ruling hierarch, Archbishop Mark.

      The situation at the present seems, as might be expected, rather fluid, and it is probably wisest not to comment more extensively. However, in one respect the fears of those who were opposed to this union have been fully realised. The former ROCOR has now entered into full communion with the ecumenist jurisdictions within the Orthodox Church, with those who have accepted the calendar innovation and with those whose canonical status she formerly considered to be doubtful.

      Thus there have already been instances of concelebration with clergy of the Orthodox Church in America. With the blessing of their Archbishop, Kyrill of San Francisco & Western America, St Nicolas Church in Seattle hosted a concelebration of the Washington Orthodox Clergy Association on Holy Spirit Day. Fourteen priests and five deacons participated. The WOCA hitherto comprised clergymen of the Greek Archdiocese, the Antiochian Church and the OCA: now MP(OR) are one with them.

      At the Ascension Day celebration in Moscow itself, His Grace, Bishop Athanasius (Patriarchate of Alexandria); His Grace, Bishop Niphon (Patriarchate of Antioch); Archimandrite Ignaty (Patriarchate of Bulgaria); Archpriest Alexei Yuschenko (Church of the Czech Lands & Slovakia); and Archimandrite Zacchaeus (Orthodox Church in America) were present.

      A further ecumenical dimension to the rapprochement has been added by Cardinal Walter Casper, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, who has conveyed greetings from Pope Benedict XVI to Patriarch Aleksii II following the restoration of unity. The Cardinal expressed hope that the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion and the celebration of the event would “give an impetus to deeper relations with other Churches in the common desire for a fuller Christian unity.” In this he speaks the truth, for the confessing voice of the former ROCOR has now been silenced, what was once called the “Conscience of Orthodoxy” has been dulled by this union, and it will now be much easier for Moscow, or her state controllers, to pursue ecumenical aspirations.

      MOSCOW PARTIARCHATE ON BAPTISM A STATEMENT has been issued by the MP Department of External Church Relations (DECR) concerning the signing of a document on mutual recognition of baptisms by several denominations in Germany. On 29th April, 2007, in Magdeburg, a declaration of mutual recognition of baptism by several churches, including the Roman Catholic and several Protestant denominations was signed. Archbishop Longin of Klin (MP), was a signatory of the document. He acted in the name of, and as delegated by, the Commission of the Orthodox Church in Germany (KOKiD), headed by Metropolitan Avgoustinos (ŒP), and established with the aim of coordinating the activities of various Orthodox jurisdictions in that country. The DECR statement has been issued in response to the scandal that this signing caused, and it tells us that: “At the same time, the Orthodox participants in the preparation of this declaration adopted a document titled A Note from the Working Group of the Commission of the Orthodox Church in Germany concerning the practice implementation of the declaration on baptism. This document, in part, says that the reception of heterodox Christians into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation ‘takes place [...] if the baptism which has already been performed outside the Orthodox Church corresponds to the Orthodox understanding.’ The document of the Orthodox Working Group also says: “In the Orthodox Church there cannot be one fixed procedure or form for reception of all baptized Christians, since, aside from local traditions, much depends on individual spiritual needs, and therefore is within the competence of the clergy involved in the reception of those who desire to be received into the Church.’” The DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate further declares, “that the signing of this document by Archbishop Longin of Klin, who acted not in the name the Russian Orthodox Church or her Diocese in Germany, but as a representative of the KOKiD, at the request of her presiding officer Metropolitan Avgoustinos, represents only the personal opinion of Vl. Longin.”

      Actually this “clarification” raises more concerns than it lays to rest. First and foremost it implies that the Orthodox Church recognises the “baptisms” of those outside the Church; that the Orthodox members at the Magdeburg meeting were somehow able to hold two differing opinions, one which they assented to by their signing of the ecumenical document and one which they confined to their own Note; that an Archbishop may hold differing opinions on matters of the Faith depending on whom he is representing; and that on matters of Church teaching he may hold and express personal opinions which contradict that teaching

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