Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Divine Services are Evangelism

The Divine Services of the Holy Church are maximally educational in their nature. This is especially true of Vespers & Matins. The All Night Vigil that is served in parish churches in the Russian tradition is composed of Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour and is the most educational Divine Service that the majority of believers are regularly exposed to.

A common part of catechism at St. Vladimir’s is attending Sa
turday evening Vigil. Both Fr. Moses and I mandate that those who are pursuing being joined to the Holy Church attend these services.

At the Vigil we hear each week about the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the feast or saint being celebrated on the Sunday. We can learn much at the Divine Services, but only if we can understand what is being read or sung. That puts a big and important burden on our choir and readers. They are not just reading and singing for themselves, but for the faithful who are present (as well as those listening or watching on the live stream). This is why it is important to pray for our choir and readers, just as we would pray for the priest before he hears our confession or before he gives a sermon, or for our teachers before they instruct us, or our doctors before they operate on us. We must ask God to help those who strive to help us so that they can help us well.

The present reality at St. Vladimir’s is that our catechumens are 100% native English speakers. That is the usual situation and has been such for some years now, although there are of course those that begin to come to Church who are native Russian or Ukrainian speakers. And there are those who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers who attend Vigil regularly too. So we are going to continue to serve that service as a mix of Church Slavonic and English. But as a rule we are going to start using some more English in these services since it is especially important that the catechumens be spiritually nourished by the Divine Services. Remember - they cannot partake of the Holy Mysteries of the Church and receive God’s Grace in this way. They are dependent on the Grace they can receive from the Divine Services (and however else the Lord deigns to enlighten them of course). In short: it is sort of counter-intuitive to send non-Russian speaking catechumens to a service that they can, at best, understand only half of when the main point of them being sent to this service is to learn.

Most people probably wouldn’t even notice this upcoming change since the vast majority of our parishioners do not, unfortunately, attend Vigil on any regular basis. And even those who are present every Saturday will hardly notice. So why not just “sneak in” more English and be quiet about it? Although the temptation is great to do just that, this is not the way the Church works. We do things for a reason - and that reason needs to be explained and it needs to be defended and it needs to be understood. And thus there will be no sneaking. :)

For those services where we get a big number of native Slavic language speaking folks we will keep the same 50/50 split we have had for some years at Vigil. I mean services like the Nativity of the Lord, St. Vladimir’s Day, and whenever a hierarch leads us in prayer. So again - since most folks AT BEST only attend Vigil on these rare occasions the change on Saturday nights won’t be very noticeable. But it will be happening so that we can continue to bring new people to the Church. Because: the Divine Services are Evangelism. They are not an empty rite or some sort of odd old tradition - they exist to educate us and strengthen us in our faith, as well as, of course, to provide us the opportunity to partake of the Mysteries of the Church and to spread the Gospel. This article by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) is required reading in my Dogmatic Theology class in the Pastoral School. I think it does a good job explaining the significance of the Divine Services for the faithful - the key place the services have in the Church and why that is the case. I strongly recommend this article to all our parishioners.

There is no plan to deviate from our usual Sunday Liturgy schema. But Vigil is changing because we have to react to the reality of those who are consistently attending. If more Russian and Ukrainian folks start coming to Vigil - and I very much hope they will - we will make changes again then. But for now, with the catechumens needing to be educated in the faith, we will treat Vigil for what it is: an educational opportunity that they need to understand to the greatest extent possible.

We hope you will come to be educated too! This is something we ALL need: clergy, laity, Orthodox of 50 years, Orthodox of 50 days, and everyone in between. The Divine Services are not served for the clergy and choir alone, but for everyone. The Divine Services have developed over the centuries of the Church as a refined, accurate explication of our faith. They are a GIFT. Right now, sadly, only a few of our people accept this gift.

The Church has never made people learn a new language to be Christians. Neither the Greeks did this to the Rus, nor did the Russians do this to the Alaskans, nor has any missionary group done this to those they were evangelizing. And we will not either. Please join us for the Divine Services - come learn your faith - the authentic faith our Lord brought us for our salvation and that our friends and neighbors are seeking in our midst!

May God grant that this change to using more English causes us to have more discussions about this! Not because one group wants to impose one language on another and doesn’t want to attend the services they mandate in that language, but because so many people will be at Vigil every Saturday that we will have to revisit this question for the sake of all the great number of those who are present: both catechumens and baptized Orthodox Christians!

Fr. Gregory

No comments:

Post a Comment