Sunday, April 16, 2006

Eastern churches
My favourite Orthodox-related prayer books
Besides the office books for the Hours

You can read or buy some of these through the first link above.

The Hapgood service book, the first Russian Orthodox book in English (with the imprimatur of St Tikhon) and still printed by the Antiochians in America, is deservedly a classic and uses Miles Coverdale’s psalms from the Book of Common Prayer.

The Jordanville book is the gold standard of Russian Orthodox prayer books in English and very good indeed: all the canons and akathists you need and the pre- and post-Communion offices in full. The English is native and good: an Englishman translated the original! Down side: flashes of what I call ‘Spite Rome!’ language like ‘Theotokos’ or ‘Birthgiver of God’ where ‘Mother of God’ is the idiomatic English and common Catholic translation. But, the boffins protest, ‘Богородица’ and ‘Богомати’ are different words. Please. I know the real reason why you’re doing it. On the other hand there are Ruthenian Catholic books that excise the word ‘orthodox’ for that reason in reverse. Some people are just into schism.

The Old Believer Prayer Book seems to suffer less from that, has much of the same material, better still can be used as a diurnal as it’s got most of the Hours in it, the English is enjoyable most of the time (except for a few clunky translations trying too hard to sound ye-olde) and it doubles your fun if you know Russian: enjoy the strange spellings and wording in the Slavonic on facing pages with the English. (Bonus info for you: the named sins censored on the English pages in the pre-Communion prayers are to do with masturbation and homosexuality.)

I like the ones from the old Russian Orthodox US metropolia (now the OCA) in the 1940s that have all Russian Orthodox devotions but good Tridentine Roman Catholic moral theology* (mortal vs venial sin) and catechism answers. (And even a retitled nihil obstat and imprimatur in the front pages. About 60 per cent of their people were and are Ruthenian — here’s more on them — and before about 1900 were Byzantine Catholic. Blame the Irish in America for that split.) The best of both. Down side: people seemingly not fluent in English trying to write in the style of the King James Bible.

The Ukrainian Catholic ones from 50-100 years ago, in Slavonic and/or Ukrainian, with RC devotions and their version of the Byzantine Liturgy (in Slavonic — they didn’t switch to modern Ukrainian until around the 1970s), fascinate me for historical reasons but the clash of the two traditions is grating. (This mix is not what Rome wanted!)

I think the classic one for Carpatho-Russian Diocese people is Chl’ib dušy (translation: The Bread of Heaven), from the 1930s right when the schism with Rome happened (again, blame the Irish — it was really nothing to do with religion), compiled in the 1800s by Fr Alexander Duchnovič**, a Byzantine Catholic priest in the old country (Ruthenia — actually they’re called ‘Greek Catholics’ there), and maybe even with the imprimatur of the saintly Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky), the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church for nearly the first half of the 20th century (about 40 years). But I think it was printed by the Orthodox. Very like the Metropolia stuff I described.

I like the Ruthenian way of doing the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian (a Doctor of the Church) during Great Lent: for the 12 bows instead of simply ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ as in the Russian books it’s been turned into four stanzas of three lines each:
O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy upon me.
O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number.
Makes you slow down and think about what you’re doing so it doesn’t become mechanical.

You can ‘test-drive’ prayer in this rite here.

From Occidentalis
Икона Божьей Матери ‘Умягчение Злых Сердец’
• In the pre-1962 Roman Rite, Friday in Passion Week is one of two feasts of Our Lady of Sorrows, in this case Our Lady of Compassion
• Yes, the Russians copied part of the Seven Dolours devotion — from the Poles. Beautiful icon: Our Lady, Softener of Evil Hearts.

From Fr John Whiteford
Was Yuri Gagarin really Orthodox?
The space hero never mocked God; Khrushchev did when describing G’s flight in a speech

Possible fun fact
There may be more ethnic Ruthenians in the old American industrial ‘Rust Belt’ than in Ruthenia today

Patriarch Paul III of Serbia is in hospital
Of your charity pray — I understand he is a Christian gentleman who’s tried to stop the sectarian violence in his part of the world and he is of course orthodox

*Of all things Catholic, this is the one particularly Roman Catholic thing that has helped me most over more than two decades in my walk with God. Thank the Schoolmen who were before Trent, pointing the way to St Alphonsus and all who followed. Even if, heaven forbid, the Roman Mass disappeared for ever (or, far less important, Latin vanished), this won’t pass away — it’s simply the best explanation of the divine and natural laws. Anglicanism’s contributions besides baptising me and introducing me to the Catholic faith nearly 30 years ago are 1) the idiom of Coverdale, Cranmer and the King James Bible and 2) tolerant conservatism (search the blog). Anglicans introduced me to the concept of confession and absolution; old-school Rome showed me how to use it. The Orthodox tradition at its best is really an Oriental version of what I’ve believed in all along with a mystical ‘kick’ of its own. Why my interest in the Russian version and not Greek? Because the Russians are very European — they’re masters of incorporating Western Catholic things without becoming clumsy hybrids. (Rather like the way they took ballet and perfected it.) Very accessible to somebody from my background.

**Ruthenia has a national anthem, and a stirring one at that, written by him.

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