Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dormition of Our Lady

The Greek Orthodox in Launceston (and the rest of northern Tasmania) have a church, dedicated in honour of the Dormition of the Theotokos, but no priest; instead, once a month, on a Saturday, Fr Timothy comes up from Hobart to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Since to-day is both a Saturday and their church's titular feast, not only Fr Timothy, but a whole busload of Greeks - and Ethiopians! - from Hobart came up for the Liturgy, together with others travelling by car. Among them were my friends Ron and Nicola, with their children... I had agreed to go all ecumenical and join them for this special occasion.

This morning, after walking up the Gorge to see the ever-burgeoning flood, I returned to my car and drove over to their church; hearing the Trisagion sung, it transpired that Orthros (Lauds) was ending, and, upon entering the church and lighting a candle for a consideration (as seemed fitting), I went and stood with the large congregation while the Artoklasia (blessing of bread for a name-day) was celebrated, since obviously all Greek ladies with Mary in their names were keeping this day in a special manner.

I should note here that Fr Timothy has no deacon, so he perforce sang all the litanies himself; he only had one server, too, an older man.

The Divine Liturgy commenced at 10:30, and concluded at 11:45 am. It was edifying to see the large congregation - including a dozen or so Ethiopians all in white in their church-going finery - which spilled over from the little church itself into the adjoining hall. The rites were conducted half in Greek, half in English, alternating for every petition, prayer, etc. (though the responses were sung in Greek only). Even the words of consecration were done this way: the Host was consecrated in Greek, the Chalice, in English! Certain parts, such as the Epistle, the Gospel, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer were pronounced twice, once in each language. (The sermon, on Our Lady as model of humility, was in English only.)

Here are the Epistle (Philippians ii, 5-11) and Gospel (St Luke x 38-42; xi, 27-28):

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.

Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord's feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: but one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.
And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

I was impressed by the choir (three older laymen, joined partway through by a younger man and his two sons): they had a number of armrests to lean on, as they stood by one wall, grouped about a mediæval-style lectern for their music. Amusingly, the reader couldn't quite find the right Epistle in the lectionary, so Fr Timothy popped out through the door of the iconostasis right in the middle of the chanting to give him a hand.

The Creed was recited, first by one of the choir in Greek, then by the two boys in English. Interestingly, few sang even an Amen or Kyrie, though we were all ever fervently crossing ourselves at every mention of the Trinity (and there were many) and also at other important bits (sorry, Bugnini, more really is more, less really is less); but when it came to the Lord's Prayer, all said it aloud together.

In the reverse to the Western practice, all the children were first mustered to receive the Holy Gifts; but then an impressively large fraction (about twenty or more) of the adults present also communicated. My friend's daughter brought me some of the antidoron (the blessed bread eaten after receiving Communion). During Communion, the choir sang a beautiful hymn in honour of the Theotokos, which Ron tells me is a favourite of the Greeks and always used at Communion; many even sang the refrain.

I recognized the refrain of this hymn as the same as that of the Akathist Hymn: Χαίρε Νύμφη Ανύμφευτε - or, "Hail, Bride unbrided" (the Greek doesn't quite work in English). Having now searched a bit, it turns out that this hymn is Αγνή Παρθένε, a famous nineteenth century composition by Bishop Nectarius of Aegina (whom the Orthodox have canonized):

O Virgin Queen and Mother,
O dewy fleece most sacred:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O height transcending heaven above,
O beam of light most radiant:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O joy of chaste and virgin maids,
surpassing all the angels:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O brilliant light of heaven above,
most clear and most radiant:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Commanding chief of heaven above,
O holiest of holies:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O ever-virgin Mary,
O Mistress of creation:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O Bride all-pure and spotless,
O Lady all-holy:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O holy Mary, Bride and Queen,
O cause of our rejoicing:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O Maiden Queen most honorable,
O Mother most holy:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

More precious than the cherubim,
more glorious than the seraphim:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Surpassing principalities,
dominions, thrones and powers:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, song of the cherubim,
Rejoice, hymn of the angels:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, ode of the seraphim
and joy of the archangels:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, O peace; Rejoice, O joy
and haven of salvation:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O bridal chamber of the Word,
unfading, fragrant blossom:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, delight of paradise,
Rejoice, life everlasting:
Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Some other observations: while as mentioned the Greeks are forever crossing themselves at the naming of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, I noticed that they do not have the Western custom of bowing the head at the Holy Name of Jesus; and unlike the Russians, they miss out the litanies in between the Gospel and the Great Entrance.

After the final blessing, the processional crucifix and ripidia were brought forth, and thereupon we all processed around the outside of the church with the large icon of the Dormition (covered in flowers), with an occasional stop for prayers.

The procession ended, we all received more of the blessed bread from Fr Timothy - and soon enough fell to on the huge lunch that had been prepared for all and sundry, including yours truly.

It was a sacred, festive, and familial occasion. I must say I felt very much at home. (Luckily, having some Greek, and more importantly a grasp of the flow of the Divine Liturgy through study and prior attendance of it in Russian and Ukrainian Rite churches, I didn't even need to open my pocket copy of The Divine Liturgy Explained.) How sad it is that these Orthodox are clearly so familiar with their beautiful and sacred rites, and yet would surely find the modern Roman Rite bare and alien. The Traditional Latin Mass is certainly more evidently a different, but very Catholic, form of the same Eucharistic Sacrifice, and closer in spirit to the unchanged and dearly-loved Eastern Rites.

After the lunch, my friends and I went up the Gorge (in my case, for the second time to-day) to admire the spectacle of the surging flood and whitewater rapids. I must admit, after also standing for an hour at the Greek service, my poor legs ache.

But I must now go to Catholic Mass, for the Sunday Vigil.


I've now returned from Mass, pleased and refreshed. I've resolved to keep attending Mass at St Francis, which is my canonical parish, since apart from anything else it delivers me from dire diocesan priests! I like the liturgy at Carmel, but for one thing: Father. Having a pious and reverent priest at the altar is more important than ever when attending the Novus Ordo.

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