By the time of the Protestant Reformation, Rome had been in schism from the rest of the Church for roughly 500 year, and I have no desire to defend, for instance, the indulgences against which Luther railed and which the Greek/Eastern Church has never known.
But against some of the Reformers’ premises, doctrines, repudiations, and liturgical practices, we stand together (I think) opposed.
The Reformation rejected many of the ideas of Medieval Christianity and set in place new models that would become the foundation of the modern world. One of those was to redefine how human beings were to be understood. Essentially, their simplified model was to see us as intellect and will. There were various shades of agreement and disagreement about whether intellect or will was the more important, but no one doubted that human beings were to be approached on the ground of information and decision-making. Church architecture in short measure began to reflect this new understanding. Altars were de-emphasized, often replaced by a simple table. The pulpit became a primary focus, sometimes being moved to the center of attention. Though sacraments remained important (at first), they were deeply suppressed in favor of “the word.” The Scriptures were emphasized but in a new manner. They were the treasure-trove of all information. Believers were to be instructed constantly and urged towards right choices. Christianity quickly morphed into a society of religious morality. This arrangement and understanding are so commonplace today that many readers will wonder that it has ever been anything else.
However, liturgy itself was never meant to convey information in such a manner. It has a very different understanding of what it is to be human, what it means to worship, and what it means to liturgize in the Church …
Christianity, prior to the Reformation, was largely acquired as a set of practices. Things that seem rather innocuous (or even superstitious) to the intellectualized/choosing practices of modernity are actually the stuff that constituted, formed and shaped the Christian life. The pattern of feasts and fasts, the rituals of prayer, the preparation for and receiving of communion, all of these, far too complex and layered to be described in a short article, formed a web of nurture that linked the whole of culture into a way of life that produced Christian discipleship. Those who argue that it did not do a good enough job, have nothing to which they can point as an improvement. Instruction and choice have not made better Christians – indeed, they have been a primary element in the progressive secularization of Western civilization.
We are not an audience in the Liturgy. We are not gathering information in order to make a decision. We are in the Liturgy to live, breathe, and give thanks, in the presence of God. There is often a quiet movement within an Orthodox congregation. Candles are lit and tended. Icons are venerated. Members cross themselves at certain words, but are just as likely to be seen doing so for some reason known only to them and God. It is a place of prayer, and not just the prayers sung by the priest and choir.
The struggle for a Christian in the modern world is to renounce the life of the audience ….
Lex orandi, lex credendi; the law of prayer is the law of belief; you are how you pray and worship.
The Reformers’ errant anthropology and resultant worship and even architectural novelties produced a materially different religion than that of the first 1500 years of the Christian era.
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)