As mentioned here recently I have been listening intently to the Podcast “Worship in Spirit and Truth” by Father Tom Hopko. The latest episode takes a lengthy look at a single word “Amen“.
All giggles aside regarding the hour spent on a single word, Father Tom takes a number of interesting tangents on his journey in this episode. The importance of the “Amen” in corporate worship, particularly the Divine Liturgy is spelled out over a number of minutes. Many people are not aware that the Divine Liturgy should not occur without a congregation in place, or at least invited (by the doors of the church being open). As Father Tom says “And therefore it shows that the clergy or a priest or a bishop cannot celebrate the Liturgy, or any liturgical office for that matter, without the people being there to say Amen. Otherwise, it’s not a liturgical service. Now perhaps, not only a bishop or a priest but any one of us might be home all alone, and it might be that the church is having Vespers, so we might take out our Vespers book at home and pray along the prayers that are said liturgically in church; in the gathering; in the assembly. We may say them home alone. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. And when we are saying it, we would even say the Amen to what we ourselves have prayed.”
There is much discussion also regarding our ability, or in some instances lack of ability to say “Amen” to the service. Fr Tom talks much about the language of the Liturgy, raising concern not only at the use of foreign languages in english speaking countries, or older versions of the language (ancient greek or slavonic) but even Old English as an impediment to the faith.
If the celebrant turns to the people and says, “Peace be to you,” how can a person who doesn’t know what, “Peace be to you means,” say back to the priest, “And to your spirit too.” Now, we may know it by looking at a book, but you’ve got to have some understanding. Now, this also applies to the kind of language that we use; not only that it would not be the common language of the person praying, but perhaps it would be that language but in such an ancient form that the people couldn’t understand it.
For example, a person may speak modern Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, or Bulgarian, but they go to a service in Old Church Slavonic, and they can’t understand it. That’s why in Bulgaria and Serbia, they’re now using modern Serbian and modern Bulgarian, and in Ukrainian, they’re using modern Ukrainian, because the people understand it. The people have to understand it.
This is the part where I began to bite my tongue, as honestly we need to address the issue of language in our parishes. I love the poetry of Slavonic, and do serve as a Deacon mostly in Slavonic, but it is an impediment to many people. Also, I stood at the back of the church reading a bilingual service book for years before I felt comfortable that I knew what was going on. Not the most accessible.
The majority of the fixed portions of the service can be learned, but “Suppose there are hymns, Troparia, and Kontakia sung that you only hear once or twice a year. People can have not the foggiest idea of what is being said, because it’s a Slavic language but they don’t understand it, because it’s so ancient. It’s so primitive.”
I have many ideas, not necessarily answers. Perhaps less familiar readings (during vespers if prescribed from the Old Testament, or much of the Canons of the saints in Matins) should be in Russian or English (talking from an Australian context with Russian and English speaking congregations).
Anyway, there is much food for thought in this one. The podcast link is above and there is a full transcript available there also.