Orthodox Authority (Even Though it’s a Misnomer) Pt. 3

So I found myself in possession of a bit of extra time this evening and thought it might just be best for me to get the rest of this short series off my chest. Perhaps then I can feel like I’ve accomplished something and been able to move on. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed to the discussion on authority in various comment sections. And once again I’d like to say that the podcast from Fr. Hopko says everything I’ve posted and more. And it does so far more eloquently than I ever could.

To continue: The final aspect of authority I would like to examine may come as a bit of a surprise to many (unless you’ve listened to Fr. Hopko). It is liturgy. The liturgy is authoritative in Orthodoxy. There are a handful of liturgies in Eastern Orthodoxy:ย Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, Liturgy of Saint Basil, Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, Liturgy of Saint James, Liturgy of Saint Mark, Liturgy of Saint Gregory the Great, and the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon of Moscow. As I understand it, if you walk into any Orthodox church you will find one of these liturgies being celebrated.

But probably not the Liturgy of Happy Birthday

Now, if you’re Protestant (or grew up Protestant) you may very well be saying “so what?” right now. But for the Orthodox the Divine Liturgy is not just some convenient system of worship that someone somewhere cooked up to make sure the church service moves smoothly. There’s no moment for a tattooed youth pastor to get up front and talk about how “hip” the church is while the technicians in the back are plugging in the fog machine. The Divine Liturgy is, quite literally, what forms and defines the Church. It is the purpose of the Church. The worship of God with the practice of the Eucharist is what makes the Church the Church. It is called the “Divine” Liturgy because the Orthodox believe that it is directly inherited from the apostolic teachings.

So how is the Divine Liturgy authoritative? I mean, even if we accept the idea that it is formed by apostolic teachings, how does that make it different from, say, the Bible? Protestants say the Bible is authoritative, but we can’t seem to make up our minds on what it’s actually saying. Here I think I may have to be a bit moreย speculative than I have been to date because the Divine Liturgy is a storehold of mysticism, which directly confronts my all-too-often rational mindset.

The Divine Liturgy is authoritative because it represents the synthesis of the two previous topics I have written on (the bishops/councils and the people of the Church.) A leader of the Church creates a Divine Liturgy, yet it is the people of the Church who choose (in large part) whether to adopt the liturgy or not. So why would a liturgy be created? Well, as Fr. Hopko said, perhaps some things need to be restated or clarified. If we look at the question historically, we can see that some liturgies have been created because new churches needed a liturgy in their particular idiom.

It would seem that the purpose of the authoritativeness of the Divine Liturgy is less to deal with day-to-day and practical controversies, and is more to deal with the great theological issues such as the natures of Christ, etc. However this doesn’t mean that the Divine Liturgy has no impact on our day-to-day lives. The liturgies exhort us in various parts and prayers to be ever-mindful of our own faults and flaws, to forgive others, to reach out in compassion and charity, and to be strong in the face of adversity.

Just like the lessons of My Little Pony!

So the Divine Liturgy is the final aspect of Orthodox authority for this series. It is where the mystery and the miracle are repeated as we focus on God and partake in the Eucharist. As such perhaps it is more accurate to say that the Divine Liturgy is authoritative more because of what it points to, namely, God incarnate in matter.

Perhaps Divine Liturgy in the last place is something of an anti-climax because it doesn’t resolve one of the core issues that I, and others I’ve interacted with, have been trying to figure out. That is, to put it simply, Catholicism or Orthodoxy? I think my previous post gives a good response to the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy and what is needed for reconciliation. This “schism” has likely had the same confusing effect on a great many people, which is why so many Catholics and Orthodox thinkers refer to it as a “scandal.”

Interestingly enough, even though I’ve worked through this short series now and had been leaning Orthodox before, I find myself leaning more and more back into the Catholic direction. I’m not sure I can even explain why this is at the moment. However, as I mentioned in my previous post about the “myth of schism,” I think perhaps it is time for me to lay aside the arguments on either side of this discussion and see where prayer and meditation takes me.

No. Leave the arguments and the books too! That’s not how you relax.


~ by crossingthebosporus on July 7, 2012.

17 Responses to “Orthodox Authority (Even Though it’s a Misnomer) Pt. 3”

  1. Yes, my friend, for now, prayer is needed. Our heads spin so, and we none of us made these divisions ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Glad mine isn’t the only mind spinning, none of us made these divisions and I suapect none of will unmake them, either. But it is fascinating.

  3. My sister, who is a counsellor reckons we all need to let go; I annoy her by saying ‘of everything except Jesus’

  4. Part of the significance of the Divine Liturgy is that it, as the ecunemical councils, *requires* the AMEN of the people. This is why, in Orthodoxy, a priest cannot celebrate the eucharistic liturgy unless there is at least one other person present to give the ‘amen’ at the liturgy (and throughout the liturgy). If there is no ‘amen’ the priest cannot continue to serve.

    • That’s an interesting point. I didn’t know that. I know that the Catholics, Methodists, and presumably then the Anglicans say that Eucharist cannot be celebrated alone. I suppose the reason why is roughly the same (although the words may differ.)

  5. On a related note: Metropolitan JONAH of the OCA just resigned under pressure from the other OCA bishops.

    Kyrie Eleison

  6. There is much speculation…but oca.org has his resignation letter.


    I hope it is as ‘innocent’ as this humble letter suggests.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty tough to interpret. “Unanimous request” and “beg forgiveness…” May God be with him, his family, and the OCA as they seek new leadership.

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