Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sunday of the Blind Man: Vespers and Divine Liturgy

Being in marvellous Melbourne, I betook myself to the Russian Catholic Church of Holy Trinity–St Nicholas, for Vespers on Saturday and Divine Liturgy on Sunday. I'd not been to Byzantine Rite Vespers before; luckily for me (since I can't understand Church Slavonic), Vespers was almost wholly sung in English, to settings drawn from the ancient znamenny chants: including None (which is customarily chanted before Vespers), the service took a little over an hour – apparently the only element that in a parish might otherwise be included was a litia or procession, since in parishes the chanting of the first kathisma of the psalter (Psalms 1 to 8) is much abbreviated, and only fully carried out in monasteries. It was an atmospheric setting: only the many icon lamps shone out to begin, with the chandeliers lit midway through the Hour. A particularly touching aspect of the service was the sight of the deacon's young son happily playing with a children's book - which he took and propped on the singer's bookstand, alongside the horologion and all the other books needed for the service (I counted eight or ten!)...

Driving over from Essendon to East St Kilda (and avoiding toll roads) meant that I only arrived on Sunday morning five minutes before the notional service time of half ten; Terce was being chanted, then Sext; then the Divine Liturgy began. I would say that the majority of the service was in English (the deacon alternated - one litany in English, one not), as was the excellent sermon, but the choir chanted a good deal in Church Slavonic, as several of the older members of the parish joined in the singing. The Liturgy took two hours, concluding with the Prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion read aloud by the subdeacon. (I should mention that, according to the Julian Calendar, Russian Easter fell very late this year, and this Sunday was the Sunday of the Man Born Blind, the last Sunday before the Ascension.)

Afterwards, I enjoyed breakfast with the Russian Catholic community; I am envious of Chris, who flew to Moscow for Holy Week this year, and attended some very grand liturgies there. God willing – I suggested to several friends there, including Subdeacon Justin and his wife – a party of us ought go do the Trans-Siberian in a few years' time, and visit the far-flung sanctuaries of Holy Russia. After an even later lunch, I travelled to Philip Island at the invitation of David Schütz, he of blogging fame; I stayed with his family on Sunday night, and motored back to Melbourne, before flying home to Tasmania, on Monday.

4 comments:

modestinus said...

Having spent seven years in the (primarily Russian) Orthodox Church, I thought I'd toss in some nerdy liturgical tidbits with the caveat that there probably are some distinctions between conventional Russian Orthodox and Russian Catholic praxis on things liturgical. However, from what you describe here, it seems like there is a substantial amount of convergence.

First, the eight sung verses of the first stasis of the First Kathisma, typically referred to as "Blessed Is the Man" in English, is a staple of Great Vespers (i.e., Vespers of every Saturday evening and all high-level feast days), even in Russian monasteries. Few, if any, intone the entire Kathisma anymore and it seems that that practice stretches back many centuries since even a number of Old Believer/Ritualist groups which follow the Russian Typikon (Ordo) of the mid-17th C. sing the eight verses rather than intone the entire Kathisma. "Blessed is the Man" is also sung on Vespers outside of Saturday if it is a major feast, thus replacing whatever kathisma might normally be assigned for that day. Interestingly, the second and third kathismas, which are reserved for Matins of Sunday (typically anticipated on Saturday evening in Russian practice as part of the improperly named All-Night Vigil), also have ancient hymnography for select verses, only it's almost never used except by Old Believers. Most monastaries choose to simply intone the entire kathismas.

Second, Litya is rarely served as part of Great Vespers when Great Vespers isn't being served as part of the Vigil (i.e., Vespers, Matins, and First Hour (Prime)). Some argue that Litya should never be served as a "free standing" part of Vespers absent the rest of the Vigil, though contemporary parish practice varies. There are even some parishes which serve Vigil that dispense with the Litya except on one of the 12 major feasts of the Orthodox calendar. There's probably no authorization for this in the current Russian Typikon, but the one thing you find in Orthodoxy, despite its heavy emphasis on ornate liturgy, is a great deal of flexibility and interpretation of Typikon rules, especially at the parish level. To be honest, most people usually don't even notice.

modestinus said...

Third, the intoning of the small hours before Vespers and the Divine Liturgy is almost uniquely a Russian practice these days outside of monastic settings. I have heard different explanations for why that is the case. The idea that the Liturgy should be served after the Sixth Hour (Sext) is a Greek import into Russia, however. The Old Ritualists that have priests stick by the practice of serving Liturgy after the Ninth Hour, which reflects a much older (and extinct) Russian practice of not serving the Divine Liturgy until the early afternoon. Now, of course, most liturgies are served in the morning, which means that the Sixth Hour (in modern Russian practice) and the Ninth Hour (in Old Rite practice) are moved hours ahead of their usual timeslot. Most Russian monasteries also follow that practice. In fact, it's not uncommon to find Russian monasteries that will serve the Midnight Office (no equivalent in the West), Matins (equivalent of Western Matins and Lauds), First thru Sixth Hours, Typika (Psalms of the Liturgy which are usually not recited in the Liturgy on lesser feast days) and the Divine Liturgy all in a row (it takes roughly four to five hours, depending on the liturgical rank of the day). I believe, however, that a good number of monasteries have adopted the Kievan Caves practice of always anticipating Matins the evening before, even on days when the Vigil isn't served. This usually leaves more space for the morning services, though it does result in the liturgically strange phenomenon of the Midnight Office -- the first Orthodox liturgical service of the day -- being served after the second liturgical service of the day. Moreover, many of the prayers of Matins that are read silently by the priest, along with some of the hymnography, makes a lot less sense in an anticipated setting, particularly when it follows right on the heels of Vespers.

Ok, enough out of me...

Joshua said...

Fascinating! Thank you ever so much for explaining all this. My friend, Subdeacon Justin, is my usual source for all things Russian (he spent time at Jordanville prior to his coming into full communion with the Holy See), and is rather keen on Old Ritualist practices - he led the singing of "Lord, I have cried (Psalms 141, 129 and 116) in what he called, I think, a "stichological" manner: a short response or stichos was interpolated, in such a way that the end of every verse or so was repeated with the stichos added. It was a manner of psalm-chanting I've never come across before, but it was most effective.

Joshua said...

Sorry - I meant to say "Psalms 140,141,129 and 116". I seem to recall that in Greek these four are named, after their first words, Kyrie ekakraxa!