Peeling the onion

by abbamoses

Fr John Whiteford posted a thoughtful piece on his blog entitled ‘Why doing Vesperal Liturgies in the place of the appointed services is a bad idea.’
Vesperal Liturgies, which splice together portions of the vespers service and the Divine Liturgy, are only appointed a few times a year. But in some places a practice has developed of offering Vesperal Liturgies on the eves of Feast days in place of the appointed services, with the rationale that this allows people to come to the Liturgy who would find it difficult to do so on the Feast day.

Fr John offers arguments against the practice and points out that there are other solutions to the real attendance problem, solutions that respect the integrity of the appointed services. While the issue may seem like an obscure one, of little interest to most Orthodox Christians and none to anyone else, I thought that Fr John’s final paragraph widened the perspective:

One of the problems with making up abbreviations that truncate the services is that eventually what is done for the sake of special circumstances becomes the norm, and the future abbreviations are done on the already truncated service. Eventually the onion is peeled until there is no onion left. If you take a look at what happened in the Roman Catholic Church on a parish level, the average Catholic today doesn’t even know what Vespers, Matins, or the Hours are, because the only thing that is left is the Mass, such as it is these days.

What might be seen as an oddity in Orthodoxy is that there is only one Typikon (the rule-book for services) for monasteries and parish churches. Most parish churches don’t find it practical to do nearly the full prescribed schedule of services; some do more, some do less, but almost all fall short. So, one might ask, why not just have a simpler, more do-able Typikon for parish use?

I think the peeling-the-onion phenomenon is the answer. If a ‘streamlined’ Parish Typikon were established, in time there would again be pressure to simplify it, and the downward spiral would continue until we were left with little more than the Sunday Divine Liturgy, perhaps a ‘streamlined’ one at that. Much better, I think, to hold to the Church’s Typikon and say ‘This is the ideal; do what you can.’

A question: why do liturgical ‘reformers’ always seem to want to simplify and reduce worship services? You might think that at least one reformer, looking at the current spiritual situation of the modern world, might say, ‘what we need for our time is more, fuller services.’ But that never seems to happen.

The image above (of a Slavonic Typikon) is taken from Fr John’s post. I’ve slightly tidied up the original text of the quote from the same post.