Saturday, October 31, 2009

UN Prayer Service

On Monday I attended the Ninth Annual Orthodox Christian Prayer Service for the United Nations Community, sponsored by the SCOBA/SCOOCH Joint Commission of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The service took place at Holy Trinity Cathedral with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presiding and Ambassador Strobe Talbot as the featured speaker. The choir from St. Vladimir's Seminary was to sing the recessional, so the seminary rented a bus for the occasion. There were extra seats on the bus, so I went along.

The Ethiopian choir that was to sing the processional did not show up, so the St. Vlad's choir was asked to do it. During the lengthy delay before the entrance, the choir ran through its whole repertoire, except the number they were saving for the recessional. So the first 19 minutes of the video are just the St. Vlad's choir singing. At about the 15-minute mark the bishops finally begin to trickle in. Vespers begins at about the 25-minute mark. The service is sung by the choir from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Both choirs sounded great, and they demonstrated just how different Russian and Greek music sound.

The sound quality of the video is inconsistent - there are some spots where it gets faint and scratchy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sacramental Validity

[The priest's prayer for himself] is important because it denounces and corrects the tendency to understand sacraments somewhat "magically," a tendency widespread among the Orthodox and whose spiritual danger and consequences in the life of the Church are often overlooked. Since, according to the Church's teaching, the validity of sacraments does not, in any way, depend on either the holiness or the deficiencies of those who perform them, one has come little by little to view and to define sacraments exclusively in terms of "validity," as if nothing else "mattered." The whole point, however, is that the Church does not separate validity from fullness and perfection. "Validity" is merely the condition for fulfillment, but it is this latter that truly "matters." The Baptism of a man like Stalin was probably a perfectly "valid" one. Why then was it not fulfilled in his life? Why did it not prevent Stalin from sinking into incredible abomination? The question is not a naive one. If millions of people, "validly" baptized, have left the Church and still leave it, if Baptism seems to have no impact on them whatsoever, is it not, first of all, because of us, because of our weakness, deficiencies, minimalism and nominalism, because of our own constant betrayal of Baptism? Is it not because of the incredibly low level of the Church's life, reduced to a few "obligations" and thus having ceased to reflect and to communicate the power of renewal and holiness? All this of course applies above all to the clergy, to the priest, the celebreant of the Church's mysteries. If he himself is not the image of Christ, "by word, by deed, by teaching" (I Tim. 4:12), where is man to see Christ and how is he to follow Him? Thus to reduce sacraments to the principle of "validity" only is to make a caricature of Christ's teaching. For Christ came into this world not that we may perform "valid" sacraments; He gave us valid sacraments so that we may fulfill ourselves as children of light and witnesses of His Kingdom.

From Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism, pp. 44-45.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Words of Power

We speak to the Devil! It is here that the Christian understanding of the word as, above all, power is made manifest. In the desacralized and secularized worldview of the "modern man," speech, as everything else, has been "devaluated," reduced to its rational meaning only. But in the biblical revelation, word is always power and life. God created the world with His Word. It is power of creation and also power of destruction, for it communicates not only ideas and concepts but first of all spiritual realities, positive as well as negative. From the point of view of a "secular" understanding of speech, it is not only useless, it is indeed ridiculous to "speak to the Devil," for there can hardly be a "rational dialogue" with the very bearer of the irrational. But exorcisms are not explanations, not a discourse aimed at proving anything to someone who from all eternity hates, lies and destroys. They are, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, "awesome and wonderful invocations," an act of "frightening and horrible" power which dissolves and destroys the evil power of the demonic world:

   [Here follows the First Prayer of Exorcism from the Byzantine baptismal service.]

Exorcism is indeed a poem in the deepest sense of this word, which in Greek means creation. It truly manifests and does that which it announces; it makes powerful that which it states; it again fills words with the divine energy from which they stem. And exorcism does all this because it is proferred in the name of Christ; it is truly filled with the power of Christ, who has "broken" into the enemy territory, has assumed human life and made human words His own, because He has already destroyed the demonic power from within.

From Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism, pp. 24-25.