Category Archives: Church

The Focus Of The Service

Our little church group has been exploring Orthodox Christianity for more than a couple of years, and we’ve done our own priestless services for a while, with occasional visits to other communities, or by a priest when he was in the area. It’s only really been since the end of July (maybe even the beginning of August) where we’ve been able to go to the full priest-y service, a couple of times a month.

So between kid-wrangling, and trying to sing the right notes, there’s things I’m really starting to notice, in the experience.

Something that’s particularly struck me the last couple of times, has to do with the interplay between who’s doing what. And there’s a lot of what being done. There’s responsive prayers, there’s songs the choir sings, there’s a couple of declarations the people make. And the movements in and out of the altar area: with the gospel book, with the covered bread and wine.

There’s prayers said aloud, so that the congregation can give the Amen. And there’s some that are said quietly, that the congregation generally don’t hear, and perhaps the end of it might be said loudly. And some that the choir sings over.

The impression this has been reinforcing on me, is that, while the service is ultimately for our benefit (bringing us Jesus, particularly in the Gospel and the chalice), we’re not the focus. And while, in other Christian traditions I’ve been part of, or just visited, I wouldn’t have really considered the service or the songs to be “about me” (though, towards the end, some of the songs ended up feeling that way), the Orthodox service is radically and emphatically not about me.

And yet, “for us men and for our salvation”. Not about me, or to me, but still for me. A balance, an emphasis in one direction but not to the exclusion of another.  And, like I said, interplay

Interesting. And something I’m liking.

Halloween From A Different Angle

Something occurred to me a while ago, which has rather the potential to change one’s understanding about Halloween, particularly when thinking about the historical context. I knew that there was an ancient understanding of the cycle of the day, certainly in Old Testament Judaism, that the day started at sunset. “Evening and morning, one day”, the creation narrative tells us.

I’m not quite sure when I started understanding this, but that perception of time continued into Christianity. An Orthodox example, the first Sunday service is Vespers on Saturday evening. This perspective may not be maintained in modern denominations, or if it is, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it doesn’t mean much practically outside of a liturgical framework. In fact, even in the liturgical concept, if you weren’t told and didn’t pick up on a few subtle cues, you might not immediately notice, either.

With that in mind, then, Halloween becomes not “the day before All Saints’ Day”, as you’ve probably heard all your life. It is the evening that marks the start of All Saints’ Day.

In a similar manner, then, properly speaking, the 24th of December is not “Christmas Eve”. The evening at the end of what is commonly perceived as the 24th of December is the evening that marks the beginning of Christmas Day. I found it confusing when in Germany I was told they celebrated Christmas on the 24th. I think perhaps they retained at least the practical implications of Christmas Day starting in the evening of the secular 24th, where in England we retained the understanding of Christmas Day being the 25th.

So what does this mean for Halloween? It means that whatever historic Christian traditions that were associated with Halloween, and the insights those traditions might provide to how our ancestors depicted evil spirits, or how they understood the deceased and how they relate to us, was part of, not separate to, their participation in the Feast of All Saints.

Digging through the layers of candy to discover those traditions and insights, now that’s the hard part.

How The Discovery Of St Juvenaly Changed History

I have a certain fondness for history, and particularly enjoy the occasions where historical evidence disrupts conventional wisdom. I’ve done a post on the book The Ra Expeditions, which has quite a few examples: the assumption that cultures that used reed boats did so because reeds were abundant in those places (untrue in several of those places), modern shipbuilders having opinions on how the boat should go together proving inadequate compared to the archaeological designs, and so on.

If you enjoy that sort of disruption, or just love a good story, you’ll probably enjoy the following video on those merits.

Back when Alaska was owned by Russia, a fur-trading company brought some Russian monks over, as part of a strategy to try and get a monopoly in the fur-trading business. One of those monks, Juvenaly, went travelling, and never came back.

Some years later, the company wrote a report on their activities, which reflected badly on the monks, and contained a story about what happened to Juvenaly. Some years after that, someone wrote a history of Alaska, which relied heavily on the help of a disgruntled Russian translator, who translated Juvenaly’s diary. The History of Alaska, in particular, became accepted history.

But some things about the conventionally-accepted history didn’t add up, and then some oral tradition surfaced which had the potential to shake things up a bit…

I found the video at the OCA site. They embedded it from Vimeo, but the video’s settings are preventing me from embedding it here. Still, I found it a very entertaining 40 minutes.


Conversations On The End Times

One thing that was interesting to find out, was that some popular notions of the End Times, Jesus returning, and all that, originated in the 18th Century. “But what about all those Bible verses?” you might ask. These are often from different parts of the Bible, and hadn’t been put together to try and form a cohesive theory before. And there are some conflicting versions of these theories about, with disagreements over what’s supposed to happen when, and all that.

Here are some shows to listen to, that give a different perspective on eschatology. Hopefully you will find them entertaining and illuminating.

Faith Encouraged Live has two shows. The first ended up more, “no, we don’t believe this, or that”, and the second tried to be “this is what we actually do believe about this”. Fr Barnabas has a different guest on each program, and also has some live calls. Each episode is about an hour and a half:
1: Rapturemania and the Second Coming of Christ
2: Even So, Come Lord Jesus

Our Life In Christ has 4 shows, which each take on a different aspect of the subject. The hosts Steve and Bill have a chat/discussion around the subjects, each episode is around an hour.:
Part 1: “Steve and Bill discuss the landscape of popular end time scenarios”
Part 2: The End Times in church history
Part 3: They talk about the Rapture and Christian Zionism, among other things, and relate the subjects to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
Part 4: 666, Antichrist and the Beast.

Finally, Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory gave a 3-part talk that went through the book of Revelation from start to finish. Each part is just over an hour:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Service Book Update: Nearly There

The service book I’ve been working on, has passed through a bunch of version numbers as various little problems have surfaced (one of the most recent being a missing “us” in “forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer), and the formatting has had some tweakings, so in theory it’s easier to pick up again after skipping stuff (mainly the Tones you’re not doing that week).

Father Dan gave the thing a quick once-over today, and gave it a thumbs up. But then a part that has been slightly-problematic-but-we-kinda-got-used-to-it was pointed out, and so I inquired about how OK it was to modify that bit.

There’s a psalm that’s read early on in the service, 104 in the Western numbering, and the translation that’s in the service books we’ve been using is a bit awkward: the Thou/Thy isn’t so bad, but there’s places with “hast” rather than “has”, but then the rest of the text uses “did” rather than “didst”, and that sort of indecisiveness doesn’t help it just flow off the tongue.

We have some options, but we’ll probably stick with Thou and Thy, but more modern language for the rest.

There’s still some bits I think I’ll pick the others brains about:
“The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which Thou did appoint for them. Thou did set a bound which they should not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth”
I wonder if “Thou appointed” might be better than “Thou did appoint”, and “Thou set a bound” without the did. That kind of thing.

So, nearly there, and I’m looking forward to when we can print off a bunch of copies of Version 1.0, the one we’re happy to use for the services. Version 0.9b and 0.9c both got labelled “Final Review”, I hope I can avoid a similarly-labelled 0.9d.

Foundations Podcast Series

Our little church group has been going through this podcast series, a rather tightly-packed introduction to the basics of Christianity in general, and Orthodox Christianity in particular. It’s good for those who know something about the subject, but it should also prove interesting to those who know nothing about it.

The series is Foundations Of The Orthodox Faith, and this page links the first episode at the top, and the last episode at the bottom.

I’m actually having to catch up on my mp3 player, because I missed a bunch of the first few episodes we did. The shortest episode is slightly longer than 20 minutes, the longest slightly over 30 minutes, and there are 8 episodes.

Hope you enjoy!

Service Book Update 2

After a while of wrangling with versions of words and musics, I came to a draft of the Reader Vespers book that I was fairly happy with. Then after wrestling with printer settings and the like, I got 3 copies printed.

The first copy was really tiny, but I managed to get the printer to do it 2-sided. The second copy, I missed the setting, or used a different program for printing on, or something, so that turned into 2 copies.

This has actually worked out for the services we’ve tried to use them at. I’ve kept the tiny copy for annotating, and the larger copies have been used by the more-in-charge people, for keeping track of all the extra bits.

Still a learning process, but I have annotated my copy a bunch, and so I’ve been updating my files to fix some issues.

Now my revised text is about ready, and I’ve started the prettification phase.

Rather than, like last time, kind of stabbing in the dark at settings to get the books to look all right in booklet form, I’m getting a crash course in Publisher, which understands this sort of thing.

My first attempt at pasting the text into Publisher was a disaster, text and page seemingly having no relation to each other. I figured out the text box thing, and making Publisher think in terms of booklet, and right paper size.

My wife, thankfully, has the eye for making such things look good, and the technical skill to know what things to play with to get the sort of results she wants. Following her directions, the first few pages are shaping up quite well. There’s some stylistic decisions to be made a bit further down the road, but the feeling of progress is always nice!

Service Book Editing

Father Dan visited on Thursday. We ended up not doing the Vespers service, but we got a lot of pointers on the parts we hadn’t been doing. Some wasn’t in the materials we had.

I wonder if we’ll settle into a time of “Well, we’ll learn this chunk next, and when we’ve got the hang of that, we’ll add another chunk”.

For example, there’s 8 Tones (a Tone could loosely be described as a Tune), but it seems that there are parts of the Vespers service where one might veer off into using a Tone other than the one that, in general, one ought to be using for that week.

So I wonder if we’ll spend some weeks sticking with One Tone Per Service until we’ve got the hang of some parts we’ve been skipping (it might not take all 8 weeks to figure it out).

After two songs in our sets of music, there was another song, that wasn’t mentioned in the white service book (I think they were mentioned in the red book, but I think one was truncated there). We found out another (related) song is supposed to slip in after another song, but it wasn’t in the sets of music, or mentioned in either service book. As the songs are related, we were told we could just repeat the first one.

Went hunting for that song today (I say “that song”, really there’s 8 of them, one for each Tone), found at least four sets of words, and at least three sets of music. One of the musics matched the Tones we’re already doing. I added the text of these into the with-Priesty version of the text-only service books I’ve been working on, and added some things based on notes I made on Thursday.

Got a bunch of changes to make on the other books (some the same as the ones I’ve made today, which should be straightforward).

Busy week ahead, getting ready for family coming, then family being here for a couple of weeks. Might be able to fit in some of that editing in the next couple of days anyway.

Service Book Update

This morning we went to K-Town. It sounds like Fr Dan’s first Sunday solo as a priest, last weekend, went smoothly, today seemed to as well.

This week, he’s joining us for our Vespers service, a meal, and probably some talking, finding out how we’re doing, and all that sort of thing.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how we’ve got into our own swing of Priest-less Vespers, but Vespers with a priest present hasn’t tended to go quite as smoothly. That there’s parts we’ve left out when we’re on our own because you need clergy present to do them, and parts we’ve had in the sets of music, but are only referred to in the white booklet, and we’ve concentrated on getting good at the stuff that’s just in the white book.

When writing up the stuff from the music sheets into the new service books I’m working on, there was one spot in particular that looked a bit complicated. Another look at it, a few days ago, makes it look like one of the pages was photocopied from two, so marginal notes that made it look complicated seem to be irrelevant. A clue that I missed last week was that the verses were written in caps and lower case, and the sung parts IN ALL CAPS. I noticed that, but not that the part that looked like it might be returning to a verse then back to the chorus, was written in the chorus format all the way through.

Phew, that makes things easier.

So today, in between chasing after children (there seemed to be rather a lot of that this afternoon and evening, I think every parent gets days like that), I was adding that stuff I wrote up last week, to the new Vespers service book.

That book had been customized to be as we regularly did it, so missing the Priesty parts. and now modified to include the extra stuff that we should start doing.

Last week, I typed up three things: the extra verses and responses to Lord, I Call, the Apostikha verses, and the Troparia. The Troparia are sometimes just a couple of words different from the Sunday versions, and I still need to figure out with People In Charge Of Music-y Stuff, which wording to go with.

there was one more Bit We’re Supposed To Do that wasn’t in the sets of music: the Prokeimena. Found the words in the red service book (which we generally don’t use: it’s slightly more complicated, and some of the wording is quite a bit different to the white book). No music there. Looked up music today: found at least 2 versions of the music, one with the same wording we have, and one with different wording. I’d looked up the Sunday prokeimenon music for the tone we’ll be using this week, let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have to make that tune fit these words. Anyway, also need to sort out with an In-Charge person which version of the music to use.

Figuring those couple of things out, and a couple of questions to Fr Dan about a couple of extra bits, should bring the new service books to just-about printable. They’ll need to be looked through to make sure I wrote everything right (hopefully nothing as bad as the “statues” in the current book that ought to be “statutes”), and some decisions about consistency with capitals (“Thy Cross” and “Thy Salvation” here, “Thy cross” and “Thy salvation” elsewhere in the source materials, that stuff needs sorted out), then hopefully I can set my designer wife to prettifying it (including consistencies with things that are CAPITALISED, italicised, and/or underlined), then we’re almost a Go.

Today, I also did a version with all the Priesty stuff added back in (typed the extra stuff in, and saved it separately. With a priest a lot more local, with the potential for joining us a lot more frequently, maybe we just want a Priesty version done. Maybe with markings and notes so people will know what to skip when he’s not here.

The part that does concern me a little, is that the number of people coming ot our service this week could put quite a strain on the number of service books we have to share, so will I want a copy of the book I’ve been working on, printed out? Any errors could stand out during actual use.

Lots to think about.

Working on our Vespers service book

Today’s project for me was to slave over a hot service book.

Our Vespers service is the service we’ve been doing the longest. As we’ve been doing a priestless version for a while, my first revision of the book cut out all the stuff we don’t do.

We actually have at our disposal TWO different Vespers service books (multiple copies of each, we’re not all hunched around trying to peer at the words). The simple one is the white one, which are branded for our former overseeing church. It doesn’t have the music in, and there’s places where it notes that extra songs are added in.

The red book is more complicated, as I was reminded when I was looking through it to fill in some blanks. now some parts have me more confused…

We also have a set of music, which I believe we’ve been using in conjunction with the white books. There’s some songs in there that we haven’t done (the ones noted in the white book). This is the stuff that has mainly thrown us off when we’ve had a priest with us, and our recent visit to K-town’s Vespers used them, so we’ve decided to add them in.

So that’s what I’ve been collecting and adding today. The extra verses and parts of Lord, I Call Upon Thee, the Apostikha verses, and the Troparia. There’s also the Prokeimena, but I skipped those today. They weren’t in with the music, and the red book was seven shades of confusing in that regard. Plus the other stuff already took me most of today.

There are eight Tones, and we cycle through them. So Tone 7 started today, Tone 8 starts next Sunday, then it goes back to Tone 1 after that. All the things I added today (text only, thankfully, though some of the music could really use redoing), I had to add for each of the eight Tones.

The Lord, I Call stuff started straightforward. The first set of music I found turned out to not be the full set, the second set was more complete (missing a page, I think). After the “Lord, I Call” part, there’s 3 verses, each with a “Stikhera” (for the sake of not looking it up, let’s describe it as “a choiry bit”) afterwards.

This was just fine until Tone 7, where on the music sheet, the third Stikhera kind of gets interrupted by the third verse coming back and saying “wait! I wasn’t done yet!”, then the third Stikhera finishing off. (“I’ma let you finish…”)

In a rare display of being easier, the red book just includes “Verse 3 ctd” as part of the uninterrupted Stikhera.

The three verses have the same words in all 8 Tones. The red book lists 10 verses, the first 3 being the ones that we use. The verses are labelled 1-10, 1 and 2 being in the section (X), 3 and 4 in (V111), 5 and 6 in (VI), and 7-10 in (IV). I have no idea what this means; in the following pages, the words (and most of the music) are displayed, and only use the same 3 verses.

And after the last Stikhera, before the Theotokion which rounds out each Lord, I Call section, it says “(etc.)”

What etc? I don’t know the etc! Can’t you tell me the etc?

I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out. That’s maybe one to ask now-Father Dan.

In the meantime, have to check with musicy people about which construction of Tone 7 to put in the book.

The Apostikha(s? e?) were a lot more straightforward, the only issues I see cropping up here are noting that I need to enforce consistency with capitals (just corrected a bunch of Thys and Thous, cross usually has a capital C, as in “By ascending the Cross, O Lord…”, “Thy most pure Body” is in the Troparia, do I capitalise the B in “His holy body”? and so on).

I suspect proof-reading will be a lot of work.

The last section was the Troparia, and here things got a little complicated.

The wording on the music sheets mostly matched up with the Troparia in the Sunday service book, so a quick copy-and-paste did that job. I think the tunes were different, so I made notes where things were different. the differences were minor, Thy/the, to/for, some extra ands and an our. Some of the sheets had music for “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.” Others had [G.N.E.] written on them (I’d say “scrawled”, but don’t mean it to be disparaging, and also it’s better writing than mine). Following that, there’s a Theotokion.

The white book just says “Troparia (sung or chanted)”, followed by priesty parts we usually have to skip. So previously our service would stop just before this point.

The red book at this point in the service has a Troparion to the Theotokos (one set of words, two options for music, not a different one for all eight tones like in the music sheets). then it has page numbers for the appendices for Sunday Troparia and Lenten Troparia, so essentially the other way round from the music sheets. But the Sunday Troparia (words, at least, didn’t check the tunes) seem to be the same as on the sheets and in our Typika service book, so grateful for some consistency, there.

I’m grateful for the consistency we do get, and I do enjoy this project. It’s just that everything turns out to be more work than you think it’ll be. Lord willing, we’ll know what we’re doing someday!