The last four or five days have been busy, though not all has gone according to plan.
Thursday was the eve of the Nativity of St John the Forerunner, with the celebration of Vespers between confessions, for which I am grateful to George for acting as reader, and Friday morning saw a dozen of us assemble and celebrate a simple but prayerful Divine Liturgy, for which we are indebted to Margarita and Alexander for chanting on the kliros.
We were glad to be able to share Norman John’s name-day with him, and wished him “Many Years”.
I was greatly looking forward to celebrating the Divine Liturgy for Saints Peter and Fevronia in Cheltenham the following day, but, sadly a tyre blow-out on the motorway ended our journey before we had even reached Port Talbot, mercifully with no dire consequences.
Happily, Sunday saw a uneventful journey to Cardiff for the feast of the Tikhvinskaya Icon of the Mother of God, and – despite the impact of holidays and the end of term – saw forty of us gather for Liturgy. The boisterousness of our children was a reminder that mums and dads need to keep an eye on our young ones, and try and diffuse a little of the energy which was rather too audible, at times. Can we please make sure that EVERYONE, regardless of age is still during the readings, especially the Gospel, and that the children are with parents from the beginning of the anaphora until after Holy Communion? They need to grow into the Liturgy, even if it initially remains more of a mystery to them than for the adults, and they need to become accustomed to being quiet and prayerful.
With regard to discussions among parishioners over the last week, or so, I would like to address a pertinent question:
WHAT DO I DO IF I ARRIVE LATE FOR LITURGY?
Given the distances that some of our folks are travelling and problems with traffic and transport, a late arrival does not automatically cause parishioners to point a finger of blame at those who arrive late after the beginning of Liturgy, and we will always be understanding.
However, for those living in Cardiff, even if using public transport, things should be easier and more straight forward, though this may well mean that, in order to play, safe we start out earlier than might be necessary if all goes according to plan. As you know, apart from Sundays I usually have the joys and sorrows of public transport each and every day on which I am travelling into Cardiff – and I have to make compensatory allowances for the vicissitudes of our transport system.
So… what happens when – for whatever reason – we arrive after the beginning of Liturgy?
• It is important to be quiet and unobtrusive and to not distract anyone, endeavouring to make no noise and minimise any movement.
• Though it may sound harsh and prescriptive, the time for the initial veneration of icons and lighting candles is BEFORE Liturgy and not during the service – at least with regard to the icons and candle-stands at the front of the church.
This may not be the norm in other places or in large temples with a solea at the front and a sanctuary raising the liturgical eye-line above the nave and congregation. However, our setting is very different because of the physical “geography” of the church, pretty much all on one level.
With no raised pavement before the iconostasis and everything outside the sanctuary on the same level, people walking around the front of the church can be distracting and obtrusive once the Liturgy is under way.
• If you arrive late, please do not approach the front of the church during the deacons’ litanies/eketenias, but venerate the icons and light any candles quickly and quietly during the antiphons, and please DO NOT cross the church from one side to the other at the front of the church before the Holy Doors once the Liturgy has begun.
• As during the deacons’ ektenias, when the Little Entrance is made, there should be nobody venerating the icons or lighting candles – as at other times when the priests or deacons come out from the sanctuary.
• If you arrive during readings DO NOT MOVE from the entrance, and stop and wait wherever you happen to be. Before the readings we hear the exclamation “Let us attend” i.e. let us be attentive, so we need to stand, listen and allow others to be attentive as well as being so ourselves.
• After the Gospel, no one should venerate icons or light candles at the front of the church. The post-Gospel ektenias lead to the Cherubic Hymn, followed by the creed and the anaphora – so the deacons are constantly serving before the iconostasis. There should be no movement or distraction anywhere in church during the anaphora.
• There has been a convention that nobody who arrives after the Gospel is permitted to receive Holy Communion, but as Bishop Irenei has made clear, this is already a concession that undermines the integrity of the Liturgy and our participation in it.
In our ROCOR liturgical handbook Vladika makes it very clear that those who commune are to be at the Liturgy from the very beginning: the blessing, “Blessed is the Kingdom…”, and that this needs to be enforced and observed within our communities (with some possible economia for those of our parishioners travelling great distances).
• If you arrive late for Liturgy – for whatever reason – do not simply join the communion queue without a blessing. Those who commune do so with the blessing of their spiritual fathers and the agreement of the priest, if he is not their dukhovnik.
• Please, do not to ask for confession before Holy Communion, and that includes confessions for your children. I often spend five or six hours hearing confessions on Thursdays and Fridays, as well as for close to an hour before Liturgy. Please make the most of the opportunities given.
• Confessions for those who wish to commune will not be heard after Liturgy, and no one will receive Holy Communion then, apart from in the most exceptional circumstances. Once the chalice is returned to the altar, Holy Communion is over and one of the deacons consumes the Holy Gifts and cleanses the Holy Vessels.
Given that Liturgy does not begin until 11:00 travelling time is plentiful, and there is usually little reason for lateness if we plan accordingly and allow for the unexpected. Sometimes, things go wrong, and in those circumstances we certainly want to know, so that allowances might be made if extreme circumstances warrant economia – but this is an exception and not the norm.
In addition to these observations, may I remind ALL who commune that they should not venerate icons once the Holy Gifts have been brought out, that they should already be lined up for Communion and that they should not ordinarily leave before the Thanksgiving Prayers, which are usually shared between English and Slavonic readers and offered on behalf of all who have communed. There should not be conversations during the prayers.
Also, we do not kiss anything until we have had zapivka after communion, and even then, though we kiss the cross at the end of Liturgy we do not kiss the priest’s hand (or more correctly, the cross on the right cuff of his vestments).
Thank you in advance for your understanding, and I hope that we can all work together to preserve the sanctity, reverence and solemnity of the Liturgy and teach our customs to those who are new and are perhaps not used to our strictness around Communion and may be accustomed to rather more individualism and movement in church.
Our expectations of behaviour during Liturgy set our liturgical culture apart from places where conversation, constant movement, dropping in at any time and equally leaving according to whim are tolerated or entirely normal – and many of us have been shocked by the free-for-all in some other parishes, where the Liturgy is far from prayerful and bad behaviour goes unchallenged.
The earthly Liturgy is a concelebration with the heavenly Liturgy, and we join with the saints and angels as Christ our Great High Priest offers Himself in each and every Liturgy, on behalf of all and for all: united to the Upper Room and Last Supper, and to the redemptive Mystery of His Cross and Resurrection.
How can we possibly do or allow anything which undermines this awesome and wonderful Mystery and foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven?
Looking forward to the week ahead, the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on Wednesday, the Feast of the Hoy Apostles Peter and Paul, commencing in Nazareth House at 11:00. Like last Friday’s Liturgy, it will be simple, given the lack of singers and servers, but we greatly look forward to celebrating the feast. Those who confessed before last Sunday’s Liturgy are blessed to receive the Holy Gifts.
I will hear confessions on Thursday afternoon in Nazareth House, and would appreciate requests by noon on Wednesday, please. Anyone attending the Liturgy for the Holy Apostles is welcome to confess after lunch.
In your prayers, we ask for remembrance of the sick and suffering servants of God, the Priest Anthony, the Subdeacon Peter, the Reader David, Maxim, Phoevos, Andrey, Brigid (Mo) and Ludmilla.
Also, of you charity, please pray for the newly departed servants of God the Archpriest Alexander and the Nun Mina.
Thank you all who continue to labour for our parish, especially to our prosphora bakers, who provide the central offering for our Liturgy every week. Thank you also to Patrick (Dan) for so generously sharing surplus books and objects of piety with members of the community. We are so pleased to hear that he has finally found a new home in West Wales and pray for a successful completion.