Some Thoughts on Church Slavonic in the Liturgy

Church Slavonic, like all extant liturgical languages, is a dying tongue. The Russian Orthodox Church remains the single largest user of Slavonic, though many of its parishes in the diaspora—including those of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)—have abandoned it in favor of the vernacular. The Orthodox Church in America, with few exceptions, has completely dropped Slavonic and other local churches, such as the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox, have moved away from it as well. The main argument against using Slavonic in the liturgy is that few understand it anymore, particularly outside of traditional Orthodox homelands. In the Greek Catholic context, those churches which draw their heritage from the Slavic tradition now favor the vernacular. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which was once the largest Catholic communion to use Church Slavonic, now serves most of its liturgies in Ukrainian (with exceptions made for parishes in other parts of the world). This is somewhat ironic given all of the effort the Congregation for Oriental Churches put into producing a master set of “de-Latinized” Slavonic liturgical books for the Ukrainian and Ruthenian churches between the 1940s and 70s. So, is it time to move on from Church Slavonic? Should the liturgical language which sustained the Eastern Slavic churches (Catholic and Orthodox) for a millennium be abandoned once and for all? Or is it still possible to maintain a liturgical link to the past without sacrificing intelligibility to the point where the liturgy becomes either a museum piece or a performance?

The Pluralism of Errors and Lies

If diversity becomes the highest principle, there can be no universal human values. . . . If there is no right and wrong, what restraints remain? If there is no universal human basis for it, there can be no morality. ‘Pluralism’ as a principle degenerates into indifference, superficiality: it spills over into relativism, into tolerance of the absurd, into a pluralism of errors and lies.

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nashi Pliuralitsy

An Untimely Post

Note: When I wrote this in October 2012 for the previous iteration of Opus Publicum I never expected it to become as “popular” (relatively speaking) as it did. Since it was brought up to me the other day, I am pulling it from the archives and reposting it without any emendations.

Ancient Faith Acton? – More Quotes to Digest

Here are a few more words, penned by Eastern Orthodox Christians, for “Ancient Faith Acton” to digest.

[T]he structure of the state is secondary to the spirit of human relations… The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. Neither a market economy nor even general abundance constitutes the crowning achievement of human life.

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia, pg. 49

The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1978 Harvard Address

The attitude of Orthodox Christians to property should be based on the gospel’s principle of love of one’s neighbor, expressed in the words of the Savior: «A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another» (Jn. 13:34). This commandment is the basis of Christian moral behavior. For Christians and the Church believes for other people as well, it should be an imperative in regulating interpersonal relationships, including property relations.

According to the teaching of the Church, people receive all the earthly blessings from God who is the One who holds the absolute right to possess them. The Savior repeatedly points to the relative nature of the right to property in His parables on a vineyard let out to be used (Mk. 12:1-9), on talents distributed among many (Mt. 25:14-30) and on an estate handed over for temporary management (Lk. 16:1-13). Expressing the idea inherent to the Church that God is the absolute owner of everything, St. Basil the Great asks: «Tell me, what do you have that is yours? Where from did you take it and bring to life?» The sinful attitude to property manifested in the conscious rejection of this spiritual principle generates division and alienation among people.

The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, ch. VII(1)

Ancient Faith Acton?

Reading the papers today, we see the growing crash of the Western world. . . . I am totally infuriated, not so much by the Left as by the huge bankruptcy of the “Right” that generated this crash, this dead end, with a complete absence of any dream, any ideal. Stifling boredom of capitalism, of consumerism, the moral baseness of the world that they created. What comes as a “replacement” is even worse. The guilty ones are those who, having power and opportunity, have led the world into that dead end.

Freedom? Capitalism is reducing it to the freedom of profit. The essential sin of democracy is its bond with capitalism. Capitalism needs the freedom guaranteed by democracy, but that freedom is there and then betrayed and distorted by capitalists. The vicious circle of the Western world is democracy without morality–at least so it seems to me.

The choice is frightening: a terrible “Right” or an even more terrible “Left”–they both have the same disdain for man and for life. There does not seem to be any third choice, which obviously should be the Christian one. But Christians themselves are divided into right and left, without any other idea.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Journals pg. 49 (October 7, 1974)

These words, penned by a great man of the Eastern Orthodox Church, appear to hold no sway with the folks at Ancient Faith Radio who, regrettably, have given streaming space to so-called “Orthodox Christian Lectures” from this year’s Acton University. It brings me no comfort to report that “Actonism” is not a unique pathology infecting segments of the Catholic world; it has now made its way (ecclesiastically) east where it’s unlikely to meet the stern resistance it deserves.

Wednesday Scribble

The idea of Christian nationalism is upsetting to many contemporary Catholics and Orthodox in the West, albeit for different reasons. The Orthodox have never had much of a home in the geographic West, being confined to a handful of geographic locales where, regrettably, they have watched their numbers dwindle over the decades. Perhaps because of this fact, coupled with the “convert wave” of the 1990s, Orthodox found it convenient to hitch themselves to the political wagon of mainline Evangelical Protestants—a wagon directed primarily by the dominant politics of the Republican Party and its false promise to significantly curtail abortion access in the United States. (That Republicans, at the local level, have managed to do this in discrete areas of the country is not in dispute; their failure to do much at the federal level is telling, however.)

Monday Scribble

If the so-called “New Right” or “New European Right” are, at their core, pagan and the “old Right,” as we have experienced it in the United States, liberal and ineffectual, in what sense should we even speak of the political Right anymore? Has it become a useless designation? Truth be told I do not have any immediate answers to these—and other related—questions. Like all distinctions, the Left/Right one’s utility is hampered by excessive use. In the American context, both the Right and the Left, except perhaps in the latter’s most extreme formulation, are little more than offshoots of liberalism. Each fails to capture a reality that is not, at its core, liberal and therefore both “camps” do not appear to be welcome homes for faithful Christians, particularly Catholics and Orthodox.