Kevin Basil (signature)

And the Word Becomes Flesh

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Written by Basil on 01/30/2003 2:29 AM. Filed under:

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In response to a question on the OrthodoxPSALM mailing list from a priest in California. He wonders if he should dispense with service books entirely.

Father, bless.

As another said in response to this question, far be it for me to advise a priest. Yet, you did ask for input, so I again venture where bodiless powers fear to tread.

I relate the example of a poor mission and my own feeble experience in humility, with no expecatation that my many words will be useful. But, asking for God’s mercy to me, I hope that perhaps one thing may be helpful to you.

In our parish, we really encourage first-time visitors not to pick up a service book. The Orthodox Liturgy can be overwhelming for someone who has never been to one before. Trying to follow along in a service book usuallly means that their nose is in the book the whole time. They miss the processions, the torch-lights, the censing, the significance of the icons, the way other worshippers conduct themselves. Orthodox worship appeals to all five senses, and from the beginning we want newbies to get a sense of the whole and see the place of words in that whole.

We typically invite them to read the tract by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, “First Visit to an Orthodox Church—Twelve Things I Wish I’d Known.” If you are not familiar with this article, it is excellent for first-time visitors coming from Roman Catholic or Protestant backgrounds, and it is available as a tract from Conciliar Press.

As for regular members and Orthodox who visit, well-made service books are not necessarily a distraction, though my humble opinion is that the goal is participation on a level where the words are in our blood and the written page is cast aside. I think a metaphor of Wittgenstein is apt here: We climb the ladder to get to the roof, but once we reach the roof, we don’t think about the ladder as it is no longer needed. It has served its purpose of bringing us to that higher plane. This metaphor of Wittgenstein always reminds me of the stylites, the pillar-dwelllers, for they desired God enough to climb the ladder and never come back down.

It has been a liberation for our mothers and fathers, laden with the burdens of parenthood, to discover that The Almighty Service Book is not necessary to full participation. The phrase we use to communicate this is, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”

Including the propers in the bullletin is essential if you want your people to participate in that part of the service. If you do not, if you want them to listen to the choir or a reader—which is your call as their pastor—then obviously you can dispense with that at your discretion.

In either case, though, by putting the propers in the bulletin you allow your people to meditate on the text during the week. I think this has the most direct impact on your psycholinguistic and anthropological question: Some people take their bulletins home and, especially when it has liturgical texts, quotes, and schedule information, post them on their refrigerators and in their office spaces.

In my experience, most people only scan the bulletin during church. But a certain portion of them look at it more closely after they get home. As an example, just this evening a dear brother was asking father about last Sunday’s bulletin, which mentioned the upcoming candle blessing at Sunday’s Liturgy. He had read it at home, and wanted to know more. By putting salient quotes—whether liturgical, scriptural, or hagiographical—in your bulletin, you enrich the spirituality of that portion that reads them at home.

I hope you do not find me presumptuous in responding so thoroughly to your question, father. Kissing your right hand, I remain

Your unworthy servant,
Basil, a sinner

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