A few days ago I had the opportunity to attend an eastern Orthodox Vespers.
It was all very interesting, although I’m not sure how authentic it was because the whole thing seemed to be comprised of ex-Anglicans but then I guess the Catholic Church is in the same position in some places in this country too…
It was in English which was a bit of a surprise, and it comprised of very long readings which were all intoned and bits of chant which washed over the congregation like gentle waves. The service was repetitive in a fair few places, but there were gems in there, the Chant was very interesting musically, and if there had been more men to chant I’m sure it would have been fantastic, the minor keys, the baselines, the interesting crunches that turn into harmonies…
It was also interesting to see various members of the congregation roaming around, exceptionally quietly I might add, venerating icons and the like during the office, there was a great respect for what was going on, but also the freedom that comes from knowing that if you are doing something holy and worthwhile it couldn’t be wrong to do it in the middle of vespers. Just imagine if people did that during choral evensong at some posh college chapel people would think they had gone mad and would be giving looks that could kill.
There were theologically dubious moments, but they were very interesting ones, the foremost of which talked about when Jesus descended to hell, and according to the chant even plundered hell, which dubious though it may be still sent a shiver up my spine and in a good way. The idea that Jesus would endure hell in order to steal souls right out from under Satan’s nose is quite an interesting one.
I have been told of the logical impossibility of God going to hell, but then I also think God can do the illogical in human understanding. Miracles are logically impossible, there is no reason why God can’t perform a theological oxymoron.
Anyway, I got to thinking that I spend so much time going on about how great it is to call Anglicans to come home to Rome, but I haven’t said anything about the eastern Orthodox.
Though the eastern Orthodox are, well, a lot more orthodox than the established Church in this country, some of the same underlying problems exist which keep them separated from Rome.
Papal authority being the foremost. I’m not sure the issues that caused the original drifting apart that ended in the great schism are really of paramount importance, but the underlying problem with Roman authority has remained constant.
I hope Rome is keeping an eye towards unity, even with the Eastern Orthodox whilst it is trying to entice every Anglican it can over the Tiber. The Eastern Orthodox absence from the Catholic Church is a wound that goes deep and hurts the Church more because they have a patrimony which is not reinvented like it was by the Oxford Movement, but was truly inherited from the apostles.
The Pope I’m sure has given this thought and if anyone can make moves toward this he can, Fr Zuhlsdorf has more than once remarked that Pope Benedict is the Pope of Christian unity, and I must totally agree. The foundation of respect laid by JP2 has been built upon with real concrete initiatives and solutions to heal divisions and create tangible unity with Rome.
Benedict has been attacked as an opportunist poacher or as endorsing holocaust denial but I suspect such things will be like water off a ducks back because he knows the goal of real Christian unity is worth any calumny or insults which people who don’t understand that objective throw at him.