WHAT IS THE CHURCH OF ANTIOCH?
The Church of Antioch was founded, as we read in Acts 11, vv 19-30, by the believers who were scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution after the death of S. Stephen the Deacon. They came to Antioch, and preached, and "a great number believed". (v.21). So the Apostle Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem, and after settling the Church, fetched the Apostle Paul, and spent a year there with him, until they were sent on by the Holy Spirit on their missionary journeys (ch.13,1-3). Later, the Apostles Peter and Paul were together in Antioch. About the year 67, Ignatius became the third Bishop, and it is to his letters, written to the Church of Rome and others around the Mediterranean as he was taken in chains from Antioch to Rome, that we owe much information about the earliest age of the Christian Church. He was martyred about 117 AD.
Because of its Apostolic foundation and its closeness to the source of Christianity, Antioch was accepted as one of the five Apostolic sees or Patriarchates by the Councils of the early Church. These were: Rome and Antioch (because of SS.Peter and Paul), Alexandria (S.Mark) and later, Constantinople (Constantine's New Rome) and Jerusalem (after the Christians rebuilt it).
The Patriarch of Antioch "and All the East" presides over Christians in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and has a Diocese in Saudi Arabia. It is not generally known in the West that throughout the Arab world there is a Christian minority, 20% more or less according to the country; and that this Christian minority is so well respected by the Muslim majority that traditionally Christians have formed the main part of the government administration in most Arab countries. Of course the rise of anti-western Muslim fanaticism in recent years has had its effect on this relationship.
Until the first World War, Syria and Lebanon were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The position of Christians under the Turks was always insecure, and often dangerous. Conditions late last century caused large Christian emigrations, to North and South America, to Australia and New Zealand. Those who came to New Zealand went first to Dunedin, where the first Orthodox Church was built in 1911; but many moved on to Christchurch, and especially to Auckland, where the Corban family became well-known as vintners.
NOT A "DENOMINATION"
People in the West are used to hundreds of "denominations" differing widely in style of service, and in doctrine. In understanding the christian East it is first of all necessary to realize that this western phenonenon is foreign to the East, just as it is to the New Testament. The East has known heresies and schisms, but they were dealt with and died out, except the heresy of Nestorius, which still has a few million followers in Iraq, and the schism between the "Eastern" and "Oriental" Orthodox, which over the last 30 years has been resolved, and communion is being restored. Any other "denominations" present in the East have been imported by western missions, both Catholic and Protestant.
It is therefore understandable that the Eastern Christians see the Church, which they call "Orthodox" (=true in doctrine) as the focus of unity in society. It is no accident that at present in Moscow the Orthodox Patriarch is playing a reconciling rôle between President and Parliament; the Church is the soul of the nation.
Members of all Orthodox nations have now emigrated to western countries, and so the Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Zealand is one of four Orthodox Churches with membership in the "Conferences of Churches in Aotearoa-New Zealand"; the others are the Greek (with some 10,000 members) the Romanian and the Serbian. The Russian Church Abroad has Churches here but no priests, * and does not belong to the Conference. There are also Bulgarians and Macedonians who have no Church of their own, but attend one of the other Orthodox Churches. Apart from the Greeks, the other Churches have a few hundred members here. However, in the whole world, Orthodoxy is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church, with which it has much doctrine and other tradition in common. The Orthodox are said to be over 200,000,000 today.
In New Zealand as in other countries English- speaking people have joined Orthodoxy, and services in English are becoming available.
THE SERVICE OF THE CHURCH
We said above that the East is not splintered into "denominations".
In worship, also, the East simply carries on as it always did, and a service
that to westerners might seem very old-fashioned, throughout Eastern Christendom
seems quite normal. Such divisions as there are in the East hardly affect
the service at all. There are national characteristics: Russian chant is
different from Greek and Syrian, and the Ethiopians are much given to drums;
but these are accepted as variations in one tradition. The services of
the Roman Church, which is recognized as having been Orthodox until 1054,
are just as valid an expression of the Faith as the Greek services, especially
in the form they had until the 1950's. In America, a number of congregations
of English or Roman background have entered into Orthodoxy over the last
30 years and have exercised their right to retain their "western" rite.
It was in the hope of being able to provide for a few New Zealanders a spiritual home in Orthodoxy in a familiar style, that Fr Jack approached the Ashley Church Committee in 1982 about using the Church of S. Simon and S. Jude on a regular basis. It was necessary to provide a Sunday Liturgy for ethnic Orthodox at 11 a.m., but the other services, through the rest of Sunday and every day, are said, privately for the most part, in a form which differs little from those customary in the other main Churches.
What follows is applicable to Orthodox services in either their Eastern or Western forms, or to the worship of God in any Church, eastern or western, which shares the basic inheritance of worship coming down to us from Christ and His Apostles.
PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP
Many times in the New Testament we read of the Lord or His followers
going into the Temple "at the third Hour" or "at the sixth Hour", etc.
The christians inherited from Old Israel the habit of praying to the Lord
"seven times a day".
These were: the morning service (Matins), the 1st,3rd, 6th, 9th Hours, the evening or sunset service (Vespers), and the end of the evening (Compline). This fitted in with the ancient time- keeping in which dawn was at the first hour, and sunset at the twelfth. The night was divided into four watches. The seasons caused the day hours to vary in length, but we can say roughly that in our Lord's day people were accustomed to prayers at three-hourly intervals through the day (and later, in the monasteries, through the night as well). The coming of Christ changed some aspects of worship, since the sacrifices of the old Law were now fulfilled in the one death and resurrection of Christ. The supreme act of Christian worship from the very beginning was the Eucharist, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper in order to bring that one sacrificial action into every place and time by recalling it (anamnesis). The ruin of the Temple in AD 70 was an acted parable to the effect that the old sacrifices were now fulfileld in the Christian Eucharist. It seems from Acts 2,42- 46 that the Eucharist was held daily from the beginning: And they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers... 46. And they, continuing daily in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house..
The persecutions by Jews and Romans put an end to all public worship by Christians, who assembled only for the Eucharist, and that in secret. But they continued their prayers at home, and when persecution ceased 300 years later, and Churches could be opened again, the people pressed the clergy to preside in Church over the daily prayers that had been held in their homes. A daily Eucharist seems also to have existed, at least during part of the year (in Lent in the West, outside of Lent in the East, to judge by the lessons provided in the service-books).
There is a considerable body of material common to all Christian worship, underlying all the variations, because of the original foundation in the old Law and the teaching of Christ to the Apostles. First among these are the
These date back to the age of King David, and many are ascribed to him. In spite of their great age, they have come alive in every age in Christian experience. The daily prayers of Christians have over the centuries consisted mainly of the reading of the Psalms; in various ways the whole 150 would be read through in a week at the morning and evening services. Certain Psalms were given a special place and said every day at morning and evening and in the Little Hours.
The rest of Holy Scripture was usually read systematically through the year. Certain other hymns in Holy Scripture (Canticles) were also taken into the cycle of Christian worship, and led to the composition of Christian hymns.
were a specialty of the Latin West. Many of these date back to the 5th or 6th Century, and have their own special melodies, equally ancient. There are only a very few metrical hymns in the Greek service- books; most hymns were composed on the pattern of the Psalms, in which the poetry consists in matching pairs of ideas in the two halves into which each verse is divided.
In the Sixteenth Century the Psalms were translated into English by Bishop Miles Coverdale and included in the first English Prayer Book. Although it has some errors and obscurities, it became so popular that it was not replaced when the King James or Authorized Version was published (1611). It did. however, have to compete with a Psalter in which the Psalms were translated very freely into metrical, rhyming hymns, which were used in Scotland and even for a long time in England. Many became favourite hymns, and led to the composition of others.
MUSIC AND ART
Anyone who has visited a synagogue, and heard the plainchant of the Eastern and Western Christian services, can be in no doubt where the Christian music came from. Although it has evolved over the centuries, it too is a gift to us from our Jewish inheritance. Very strange to modern ears, and preferably sung by unaccompanied voices, it carries the unique atmosphere of the heavenly places. The visions of heaven in the Prophecy of Isaiah and in the Revelation of S. John give us other characteristics of the heavenly worship, which correspond to the details of the Temple worship and that of the earliest Church: sacred books, a sacred fire with incense, beautiful robes, and many ministers attending the sanctuary.
In English-speaking countries, worship nowadays often has a quite different style. Services conducted in a speaking voice, unknown before the late Middle Ages, are considered normal. Art is reduced to a very minimal level. The music, more often than not, is no longer that of organ and traditional hymns, but of short verses repeated to the accompaniment of a pop group, with melodies derived from contemporary popular music. In a few places, the music of Western Europe of the last few centuries, the greatest flowering of art and music in the history of the world, is still maintained; and even the original plainchants sometimes appear in a few fragments.
Without wishing to comment on the relative worthiness of these styles, we can say that it would be a great pity if a generation grew up knowing nothing but contemporary styles. Considering that contemporary music, in the commercial world, is chiefly aimed at arousing lust and other violent emotions, it is remarkable that a contemporary Christian music taken from these sources is so successful in creating a religious atmosphere at all, even if, like most modern music, it is aimed at the emotions rather than towards the spirit. But even so, to lose the great inheritance of the Christian past would be a tremendous pity.
The aim in the daily services in the Ashley Church has been to offer to Almighty God a service of prayer that is as perfectly authentic as we can make it. Whether it be the Byzantine Liturgy or Hours, or the Mass and Hours that have sanctified the English people since S. Augustine brought them to Canterbury in Kent in the sixth Century, things are done with care to make the offering as good an example as possible with the resources available. The Psalms are read (sometimes sung) from the Coverdale version; the Hours are said every 3 hours from 6.30 am to 9.30 pm if at all possible; Mass is said after the appropriate Hour according to the Rubrics; the Church is kept adorned, in the correct colour for the season, in the manner traditional in English Churches.
Is this an effort worth making? It would be an encouragement to
think that others thought so, and were prepared to lend a hand and a voice
to make the offering a little more worthy.
Orthodox services in English:
S.Ignatius Antioch Orthodox, 5 Alford St. Waterview, Auckland.
Serbian Orthodox Chapel, 70 Webb St., Wellington. *
S.Simon & S.Jude, Ashley.
S.Michael Antioch Orthodox, 72 Fingall Street, South Dunedin.
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