Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Power of Symbolism

A friend sent me a link to a video of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ordaining a bishop.  In this video you see the cheirotonia (laying on of hands) as well as other ceremonial actions part of this ordination.

A bishop is the fullness of the orthodox priesthood. All bishops are equals but some are given the title of Archbishop, Metropolitan, Patriarch, or Pope. All of these titles are honorific and administrative. They do not diminish the equality of all bishops as vicars of Christ and successors of the Apostles.

The priest who is to be consecrated a bishop is lead through the Holy Doors, by a bishop, during the Divine Liturgy and kisses the main consecrators hand asking his blessings. The bishop leads him around the Holy Table as the he kisses the four corners. This is repeated three times. Then the candidate kneels and the bishops lay their hands on his head and the Gospel book is held above their hands. Then the prayers of consecration are chanted. After this the new bishop is vested in his episcopal vestments. After each piece of vestments is placed on the new bishop the people chant “Axios,” Greek for “He is worthy.”

What I found most powerful was the symbolism of the Gospel book laying open over the head of the priest being ordained a bishop -- a powerful visual reminder that the only authority of the Church and of the bearers of the offices of the Church is the Word of God.  I almost long to have such a rite introduced into our Western Lutheran ordination order for it surely and powerfully proclaims what we believe, teach, and confess -- that the authority of the Church and of the Pastoral Office is nothing less and nothing more than the authority of this Word of God.

BTW isn't the singing simply marvelous!


Sage said...

It was beautiful and the singing was awesome. Makes me wonder how much their priests kibble and quip about the practice of their church.
Something else I wish we'd take from them as well. You don't need to bend with the winds of change in worship.

I was reading the Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries and was amazed at the life of a catechumen and the penitent. Talk about taking the Lord's Supper serious. Even the acceptance (or not) of various Bishops was a far cry from our practice today.

Yes, lots to take in on a lot of fronts.

Chris said...

The signing is beautiful. The only thing better is Byzantine chant. Western psalmody and hymnody can't hold a candle to this beauty. And this comes from a passionate lover of J.S. Bach.

Chris said...

The Word of God is Christ and the Gospel is the Icon of Him. Please don't try to make this into some endorsement of Sola Scriptura by the UGCC who, despite all their faults in submitting to the Pope and acceptance of other false doctrines, repudiate that innovation.

BrotherBoris said...

Here is the text of what they are singing as the one to be ordained is led around the altar three times:

Rejoice, O Isaiah! For a Virgin was with child and has borne a Son, Emmanuel, both God and man, and Orient is His name; whom magnifying we call the Virgin blessed.

Ye holy martyrs, who have fought the good fight and have received your crowns; entreat the Lord that He will have mercy on our souls.

Glory to Thee, O Christ our God, the Apostles' boast, the Martyrs' joy, whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity.

This is taken from the Orthodox marriage service. It is used to indicate that the one to be ordained is entering into a "marriage" so to speak with the Church and a form a "living martyrdom" as well (Good clergy everywhere are rarely appreciated or treated well ... let the reader understand)

I've never heard this service celebrated in Ukrainian before, but it is quite a beautiful language. I can hear the similarity to Church Slavonic. Kind of like the similarity between German and Dutch. Lots of familiar words.

Thanks for posting this!

Slava Bogu!

Anonymous said...

I could write a book about this. The music is truly out of this world. But the music the emissaries of Vladimir heard in Byzantium would put you to sleep. The music on the video was developed beginning about the 18th century. So when they reported that they did not know whether they had gone to heaven or were still on earth, they spoke of the liturgy, the vestments, icons, etc.

I know of no more beautiful music in the world. But I am also very much aware of what Petronius said, “Beauty and wisdom are seldom found together.” The next time one of our congregations is faced with the question of spending $100,000 or more for an organ, they might want to ask themselves whether one can worship God without one. This video certainly shows that one can. Is it an obscenity to spend $100,000 on an organ when every minute of every day, somewhere in the world, 10 children die of hunger – that’s only children, not counting grownups?

But! We live in a broken world in which there is always a “but”. A choir, such as you hear on this video, limits the participation of the congregation. They become just listeners, while the organ encourages participation by the parishioners. It is also true that people will choose churches depending in how good their choir is, and congregations will spend considerable effort (and sometimes money) just to enhance their choir. All of this takes away from what should be the central focus: the Gospel.

But! I was brought to tears many years ago in Leningrad (yes, it was still that) when suddenly, during a Russian Orthodox service, the entire congregation broke into singing the Creed. This is a “tradition” that somehow spontaneously began during the time that the authorities were trying to exterminate the Church. So, the Holy Spirit works, whether you have an organ or not, or whether you are being persecuted or not.

That is why I usually close my comments with,
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

joel in ga said...

The beauty of the rite illustrates why God keeps the Catholic and Orthodox churches around: Protestantism is not yet mature enough to handle such liturgical fulness, which God desires His Church to have. When such maturity does occur, then we may again see a single, outwardly united Church, reformed and catholic.

Chris said...


You don't know what you're talking about.

Music of Byzantium would put you to sleep? I chant that music week in, week out and have yet to utter a yawn.

And since when does a choir limit the participation of the congregation? I've been to many, many Orthodox churches where the laity are singing along with the choir. Some don't sing, simply because they lack the ability but don't dare say they don't participate.

Terry Maher said...

I should hope we would never see such nonsense in a Lutheran ordination of anything, let alone a "bishop".

If holding a Gospel book over the head of the ordinand symbolises that the Scriptures are the only authority of the church and its ordained ministry, then two things:

1. If the reality corresponds to the symbolism, then what in the hell are we doing being Lutherans, let's swim the damn Bosporus!

2. If the symbolism does not symbolise what we confess, then what in the hell are we doing oohing and aahing over their dress up and play church carryings-on?

The fact is the reality does not correspond to the symbolism, and that twice over, once from our perspective that for all its pretty churchy stuff the EO do not confess what we confess, and regardless of that, from the EO perspective the gesture is not meant to symbolise anything like our understanding of the root of authority in the church, which, as Chris has noted, is viewed as an innovation with no roots in Scripture at all.

BrotherBoris said...

Actually, Terry, if you want to be like the people on the video, you'd need to go back to Rome. They're Uniates, people who hold to the EXACT FAITH and DOCTRINE of Rome, and who are in communion with the current Pope of Rome. Don't let their outward Eastern trappings and forms fool you. These people aren't any more "Orthodox" than I am Roman Catholic. And their "church" was created under the most sinister of conditions, as you most probably know.

For those that don't know the story, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was created in the 1500s when, due to the horrors of war millions of Orthodox believers found themselves under Roman Catholic rule in the Polish and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Their Roman Catholic rulers did not want Orthodox subjects whose bishops resided in Kiev and Moscow. So a most hideous monstrosity was created: the Unia. Ambitious, unscrupulous Orthodox priests were offered bishoprics and title of Polish nobility if the converted to Rome. They were allowed to keep their Eastern Rites and the Slavonic language. There was lots of intrigue, deception, bribery, murder, abuse and simony involved. Modern Orthodox tend to view these people as traitors to our faith, although in reality many of the uneducated laity were hoodwinked and lied to at the time, many being told that the Pope had supposedly renounced his errors and become "Orthodox." The whole affair was simply scandalous.

The Eastern Rites before Vatican II were greatly Latinized in many places. One good thing Pope John Paul II did was to tell the Eastern Rite Roman Catholics that they had to purge their Latinisms and go back to their historical,Eastern liturgical forms. That is why what you see in the ceremony today is rather authentically Eastern, for the most part. A hundred years ago, that would not have been the case. In any case, the doctrine is still 100% Roman Catholic.

I don't mean to sound bitter. But these people are not in any sense Orthodox, nor do they claim to be. Thinking they represent Orthodoxy makes about as much sense as mistaking German Catholic for Lutherans because they occasionally sing Lutheran chorales at Mass.

Chris said...


You wrote: "The fact is the reality does not correspond to the symbolism, and that twice over, once from our perspective that for all its pretty churchy stuff the EO do not confess what we confess, and regardless of that, from the EO perspective the gesture is not meant to symbolise anything like our understanding of the root of authority in the church, which, as Chris has noted, is viewed as an innovation with no roots in Scripture at all."

Symbolism is often our only way of understanding the ways of the Kingdom. Since we cannot truly know what God is beyond what He has revealed to us, symbolism is often our only recourse, looking for signs which point to other signs which eventually lead back to God.

As far as your reference to me, I think you misunderstood. The Lutherans are the innovators, not the UGCC (which is not part of the Orthodox communion; they are papists) when it comes to the Scriptures. The church predates Scripture, not vice versa. For all their faults, the UGCC at least recognize that.

William Tighe said...

As a UGC myself I would disagree with much, although not all, in Chris's account. But I will advert to one omission. Calvinism had gained a great deal of strength among the Polish nobility from the 1560s onwards (whereas by 1560 Lutheranism in Poland had already become a largely German phenomenon). These Calvinists tried repeatedly to form an "anti-Catholic, anti-Jesuit" common political movement in Poland, but usually went on to try to persuade and/or coerce the Orthodox into Calvinism. Since the Orthodox (and particularly the bishops) of the Kiev Matropolia could expect no help from Constantinople, and were disinclined to seek it from Moscow (from their perspective the Metropolitan, after 1589 Patriarch, of Moscow was an usurper of the privileges of the Kievan metropolia) most of them seem to have come to the conclusion that an "arrangement" with Rome would be their best course, and one which would confer upon them the same legal status in Poland (official recognition, representation in the Senate, etc.) that Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and even Unitarians possessed by the 1590s.

One might also note that the Union proclaimed at Florence in 1439 was accepted by the Kievan metropolia (while rejected by Moscow), and that successive Kievan metropolitans down explicitly to the 1480s and tacitly to around 1500 claimed to be in communion with BOTH Rome AND Constantinople, and that it was the Latin bishops who, insisting in the 1490s that it was a case of EITHER Rome OR Constantinople, forced the Kievan bishops to choose Constantinople.

Terry Maher said...

What exactly did I misunderstand, Chrisula? I said the symbolism of holding the Gospel book over the ordinand's head should not at all be understood as symbolic of an understanding of the authority of Scripture as Lutherans understand it, an understanding which as you point out the guys in the vid would regard as an innovation, not authentic teaching.

IOW they don't mean by the gesture what we would mean should we import it into ordination ceremonies, so why bother oohing and aahing over stuff that does not confess what we confess.

As to their being Uniates, doesn't change the point in the least -- RC, EO whatever, they don't confess what we confess.

Last I heard, the Uniates didn't like the term and lately the Romans avoid it.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I once attended a concert by a Soviet choir visiting Boston. I guess it was more than 20 years ago. They offered samples of church chants beginning with about the 10th or 11th centuries. I forget the exact dates, but I do remember that these were monotonous chants with no harmony and I had a genuine desire to escape. But when they started with the 17th century and later, the chants became more familiar because they are based on western harmony, though not on western melodies. My point was, and I am pretty sure I am right, that the music we hear and love today is not what they sang 1,000 years ago.

Also, Chris, my experience extends only to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, the U.S.A. and several other countries, although I have been a Lutheran all of my life. I found it very rare that a member of the congregation would sing along with the choir, and then that person might receive looks of disapproval. The instance I related earlier was the only time in probably more than 100 times that I attended Russian Orthodox services, when I heard the entire congregation sing. The a capella form of singing four part harmony requires people to have a keen musical ear, and people will “sh” someone if they are off key. Writers like Leskov have written about the intrigues connected to competition between congregations to improve their choirs.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

BrotherBoris said...

To George Marquart: Most Russian Orthodox that I know are profoundly thankful that the Russian Church adopted four part Western harmony during the 17th century. I know I am. It came from two sources, the first being Poland, and the second being Italy. It spread into Russia from the Western Ukraine which is adjacent to Poland. It was received very favorably by many people, including the Czar's court where it was adopted as the form of music for the Imperial Chapel. Russian Orthodox composers also began to study abroad in Italy, and they brought back an Italiante influence in their music which is sometimes referred to as "Russian Baroque." The monasteries tended to preserve the older style of singing, such as the Znameny chants and such. Today Russian Church music draws on a period of more than 1,000 years of musical development. One can indeed here all sorts of music in the Russian Church today, from the most austere Byzantine chants to modern compositions and nearly everything in between. However, I would say that the simple four part harmony is most beloved by the common person.

Chris said...

I will confess that I do not appreciate it when the congregation attempts to chant the Byzantine melodies when they have no idea what they are doing. But I still reject vehemently the idea that if people aren't singing they aren't participating. Most people are not musically inclined and most who think they are, aren't.

I also reject the idea that the addition of an organ will be the panacea to what you believe the problem is. I remind you that organs have been in churches in Western Europe since the 9th century and their addition was not for congregation singing.

On another note, I am not a big fan of Russian 4 part singing myself. It is too Western. Znameny is truer to Russia's heritage and should be encouraged. But as I am not Russian Orthodox but proudly Greek Orthodox, they can do as they please.