We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Sunday, June 28, 2015


So, I attended my first Eastern rite liturgy this morning. I could, quite subjectively, list the things I liked (lots of movement, participation, fluidity) and the things I didn't like (most prominently, my arthritic knees longed for many more well-defined moments for being seated). But there wouldn't be much point in that, now would there? The only possible observation is simultaneously the one most obvious and also the most subtle: it is an entirely different world.

The following contains many words that spoke most directly to my experience:

The way we approach liturgy and the values and expectations we bring to it may serve as an example. Your liturgy represents a way of responding to the greatness and the holiness of God's presence: a certain kind of sober reserve and directness and an unwillingness to "waste time." In other words, you bring many cultural values and rules of polite behavior for receiving any dignitary and apply them to worship. We do the same thing: it's simply that the rules and values we bring with us are different.

Good Roman liturgy is orderly; clergy and congregation come in, go to their places and stay there until needed. Nothing is more destructive of good Roman liturgy than someone moving around out of place "trying to be helpful." Good Roman liturgy is concise; your liturgical texts say what they have to say and they end. Take the collects or opening prayers of your liturgy as an example. They are brief and virtually all follow a model which I might typify as "God, because this is so, we ask you to do thus and such. Amen." Your Mass may be quite simply recited, or it may be quite elaborate with choirs and musical instrumental. Variety and creativity are values for you, and if you live in a typical parish you have a liturgy committee which spends a lot of time selecting hymns, planning the important liturgies of the year, etc.

We bring a different set of values to our Liturgy and we follow eastern rules of politeness and hospitality. We greet the greatness and holiness of God's presence with ceremony, every flattery. Liturgical texts are long and God can not be mentioned without including a few adjectives referring to God's goodness, mercy, power and providence. You may find our texts as prolix as we find yours terse.

I wish I had something meaningful, even brilliant, to say, but I don't. Different world, different values.


  1. I am happy to learn that you had had your first experience in an Eastern Christian Church. I am even happier to know that that church was a sister church to St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church, which I have attended for nearly three decades now, as cantor, choir member, and choir director.

    I would only make two suggestions:

    1. You may want to read my essay, (if you have not already done so) I have spent the last 28 years trying to figure out how East differs from the West, from the perspective of a Westerner who has found his home in the East.

    2. More importantly, I would suggest that you attend other Orthodox churches, Greek, Slavic and Arab alike, or at least, listen to their music. Fair warning though: some of the natives, and many of the refugees from the West, tend to be a bit 'grouchy'.

  2. Were you hiding in the choir loft or is there a direct line from that church to yours? It was indeed SS Cyril and Methodius Russian Byzantine Catholic congregation.

    I tried to go with the flow, committing as few gaffes, as possible. This week, I hit the road, so who knows what my travels may yet reveal.

  3. No to both questions. I just hit the link, and it came up with the website of Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church. While I fancy myself as one who can 'connect the dots', it seems that the only mental exercise I'm getting these days is in jumping to conclusions and rushing to judgment.

    Fortunately, as C.S. Lewis remarked about the Orthodox/Eastern Catholics, we are, as my first, late wife would have put it, ' a loose and goofy group'. There are a few passwords you need to learn before you get your secret Orthodox decoder ring, but one picks up those simply by being there and being attentive. From what I've seen of your excellent weblog, I'm sure that you are more than capable of doing that.

  4. Ah, yes: the "connecting of dots." An under-indulged (and under-appreciated) activity, to be sure.

    Thanks, Bernard, for your kind words. I don't know what the future may bring. Stay tuned to this station.