Friday, April 25, 2008

let us be attentive!

We tend to schedule out the Orthodox services I will attend pretty far in advance. Usually, at the beginning of each month, I send Julie a list of what's coming, my preferences, etc., and we try to line things up with both our schedules. Of course, this month has a lot more services to manage than most, since it includes Holy Week. I don't try to attend everything (though it would be nice), but I try to catch the highlights, especially incorporating services I've never attended before or haven't attended recently. This year, I finally get to attend the Lamentations service in the evening. It was my first service at Holy Cross, three years ago. Joel, the only Orthodox person I knew at the time, invited me to come along with him. It's a beautiful and moving service, but I haven't been able to line things up to attend since.

I would also have liked to attend vespers this afternoon, when the icon of Christ is taken down from the cross. But Jenna has a doctor's appointment that conflicts, so instead I dragged Ian to the Royal Hours this morning. His behavior wasn't perfect, but I had to give him kudos anyway. If you don't know, the Royal Hours consist of four services combined--first, third, six, and ninth hours, which were designed to stand alone throughout the day, especially in monasteries. These days, even monasteries tend to skip or contract them. In Russian churches, I believe the vigil service ends with the first hour and liturgy is preceded by the third hour. But in a lot of parish settings, they only make an occasional appearance, before the greatest of the feast days, when they're combined like this into one long service. There's nothing particularly dramatic or exciting about them, either. They're intended to be quiet breaks of contemplation throughout the day, and stringing them all together doesn't change the mood much. For a kid who struggles to stay in his seat from start to finish of family dinner time, one such hour would be hard enough--two is pretty taxing.

I'm still learning how to interest my son in spiritual things, and I know his experience of worship is still mostly "waiting it out." But today I think I learned an important lesson. As usual, he asked me periodically through the service, "Are we almost done?" I realized part-way through that, if I'd taken more initiative, and if he had a little bit better capacity to follow my explanations, I might have explained to him in advance that the service consisted of four cycles, and he could get a good sense of how much longer we had by counting those cycles and paying attention to what happened when. It would have gone over his head, but as a secondary application, I decided that when he asked during the ninth hour part, "Are we almost done?" I would give him an answer that would hopefully get him to pay some kind of attention. So I said, "After the priest reads from his big Bible again, we'll be almost done."

Of course, I suspected that that "almost" would be an Orthodox "almost." It's a common joke that "let us complete our prayer unto the Lord" means the service is maybe 15-20 min. from winding down. I didn't have a service book to look at, but I figured the ninth hour couldn't be too much longer than the others. It did, in fact, have extra stuff at the end, which forced him to ask me a couple more times if we were (really) almost done. But he was definitely more attentive to the Gospel reading in that last cycle than in any of the others, or for that matter, in most other services he attends. Granted, he was paying attention because he wanted to know when he could get out of there; but for now I'll take what I can get.

Incidentally, at the last minute, I had decided to attend the service at St. Matthew's instead of Holy Cross. Julie was kind of floored yesterday by how much it cost to fill up the car, and I think we were both looking for ways to minimize driving. I consider it a form of offering to drive back and forth to Linthicum so many times this week, but it still seemed like attending at least one service close by would help break things up a bit. Plus, I had to take time off of work to attend, and the less I consumed with travel time, the less leave I'd have to use. In any case, I'm glad I did. Attending a service like that in the middle of the day, I'd just be running in and running back out anyway. More to the point, it was perhaps the most moving, impressive experience I've had at St. Matthew's.

I don't know what it was--maybe my own spiritual condition, maybe the different feel of having such a small group present. (Hours services tend to be sparsely attended.) Maybe the experience of attending an "off" service at St. Matthew's. (In my experience, they have mostly done Sunday morning liturgy only; Lent and Holy Week constitute a general exception, but other than Sunday of Orthodoxy, I think this was my first time attending anything out of the normal routine.) Whatever it was, I was glad to be there. I have to admit that I did not stay focused on what was going on in the service 100% of the time, but what I mostly remember being distracted by was contemplating how helpful the experience was for my attitude. I can sometimes get a little uppity about parishes like St. Matthew's, where the clergy wear suits and collars, the chairs obstruct proper bowing, the liturgical schedule is thin, etc. It was a good dose of humility to realize there's more there than I give them credit for.

I've got about an hour and a half before I have to leave for the Lamentations service. Next up after that, Vesperal Liturgy at Holy Cross tomorrow morning. (The services of Holy Week tend to run ahead of schedule. You get Matins in the evening and Vespers in the morning. It's like we just can't wait to get to Pascha.) This is the big day for baptisms and chrismations. Lent was historically a preparation for catechumens anticipating baptism right before Pascha. So between that, the blessing of bread and wine at the end, the fact that it's vespers and liturgy combined, and St. Basil's liturgy no less--I read today that it's the longest Divine Liturgy of the year. (Speaking here just of the liturgy itself. The Pascha Vigil will be longer, but that's because you've got three or four services together.) And what am I doing? I'm bringing both kids by myself! Should be exciting. I haven't done that since shortly after Jenna was born, when Julie was laid up at home from her gall bladder surgery. This was the only way I could make it--Julie's going to a nearly new sale, and I would normally be staying home with the kids. Fortunately, she can ride with a friend, so at least I have transportation. Now let's see if I can "take no thought for any earthly thing when the time comes . . . "


Julie said...

I will definitely be thinking of you tomorrow morning as you tote both kids to the long service! Most men wouldn't even consider it - you're very brave!!

Roland said...

I have been told that the Royal Hours had their origin in the desire of the emperor to attend all the services leading up to the Liturgies of a few key holy days - Nativity, Theophany, and Pascha. The patriarch accommodated him by scheduling the hours back-to-back so that the emperor would not have to spend his whole day traipsing back and forth between palace and cathedral. (My source for this story was Carpatho-Russian, so its reliability is questionable.)

The bit after the Ninth Hour was the Typica service - i.e., the Divine Liturgy up through the readings. Holy Friday is the one day of the year when the Liturgy cannot be celebrated, so the Typica service is tacked onto the Royal Hours.

The Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday would be a lot longer if we did all 15 of the traditional OT readings, but we only do 3, which shortens it considerably.