There’s been an interesting discussion here between Jock and David about the Eucharist. Jock understands, as I do, what the Catholic Church means by the Mass. I also understand what the Orthodox mean by the Liturgy. One of the, to my mind, unfortunate facts of life in the West is that we have all lost sight of the Orthodox Church. Like the Catholic Church it traces its lineage to the beginning; unlike the Catholic Church it has never had a Council of Trent, or a Vatican II. The Eucharistic feast is at the centre of its Liturgy, but the latter is not just about the Eucharist; indeed it is not just about the Orthodox – there is the antidoran – the bread of welcome, distributed to non-Orthodox at the end. The Liturgy is recreation of that of Heaven itself.
I’be enough aesthetic sense to be taken away myself on the occasions I’ve been to an Orthodox Liturgy – well, when my legs and back have been able to take the strain of standing for that long; I understood the urge to prostration quite differently after I attended an Orthodox service; the relief! That’s wonderful. But once I’ve left it, it is like leaving a theatre; I enjoyed it but it is gone. It would be like living on a diet of pate de fois gras listening to chanting.
Those services, like the Tridentine Catholic ones, are a marvellous and uplifting experience; more so than any Protestant service I’ve ever been too. But they are the product of pre-literate society. They present in active form essential elements of our Faith. That this was deliberate we can see in the earliest catechesis which survives, the lectures attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem. But we do not live in a pre-literate society (although we may be moving to a post-literate one, I sometimes feel), and when we can all read the Bible and come to our own views, I can’t help but feel it is a good idea to have some good guidance.
Our pastor is one of seven ‘elders’ who take care of the affairs of our church. It’s not a light undertaking to be an elder. Tithing is required, so is time and effort. We, and the congregation, pay for our pastor. He spent two years in theological college (after doing a science degree at University) and several years as assistant pastor in places before we called him here. His sermons last for at least 45 minutes, and they are made available to us all on CDs or via the internet. They are based firmly on the scriptural text of the day, and we study it at the Thursday evening Bible classes; the children get it on Tuesday at their night club.
It is a guide to all of us. He claims no infallibility, we give him none. But he is called out to spent his life doing something the rest of us cannot spend that amount of time doing – that is studying the Bible in depth.
So, the sermon certainly lacks the theatrical grandeur of an Orthodox Liturgy (but as our pastor is an accomplished preacher, it does not lack in aesthetic quality), but it stay with us after we go. It prompts me, and others, to go back to our Bible and to our commentaries, it prepares us to discuss the word of God at our weekly meetings.
I sometimes think that the perfect service would be to mix the Orthodox and the Protestant – but a five hour service is perhaps more than any of us are able to offer to the Lord.