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:: Wednesday, May 14, 2003 ::

One Danger of Liturgical Piety

From a lecture delivered at Oxford on May 25, 1982 by Fr Alexander Schmemann
on "Liturgy and Eschatology"...

"What is needed is not more liturgical piety. On the contrary, one of the greatest enemies of the Liturgy is liturgical piety. The Liturgy is not to be treated as an aesthetic experience or a [mere] exercise. Its unique function is to reveal to us the Kingdom of God. This is what we commemorate eternally. The remembrance, the anamnesis of the Kingdom is the source of everything else in the Church. It is this that theology strives to bring to the world. And it comes even to a "post-Christian" world as the gift of healing, of redemption and of joy."

One of the pitfalls of having a beautiful, multi-sensory worship is the tendency to treat it as an end rather than a means. James posted yesterday about the phenomenon of how a typical Orthodox Church will attract many "field-trips" of curious people from other churches or colleges. I can relate to this. On an average Sunday Liturgy, my parish will have sevearl visitors from local churches and colleges. "Worship leaders" from an evangelical church accros town, a Greek art class from the local university...Orthodoxy will attract many people who come to primarily experience, not the worship of the Triune God, but merely the aesthetics of Orthodoxy. Sadly, some who even become communicants may have a hard time shaking this mindset.

Protestant converts to Orthodoxy (me included!) have a hard time not looking at worship through the lens of "What am I getting out of this?" That particular question may never form so concretely in our minds, but that attitude may creep into our subconscious. We may get angry when the choir director is absent and the perfection of the chant is compromised. Or perhaps we chafe at a visiting priest's way of chanting the words "ages of ages." When we visit another parish, do we bristle at the pews (or lack of pews!) in the church? Rather than asking ourselves the question, "Is this true?" we ask ourselves, "Is this nice?"

The danger of over-zealous liturgical piety is always a temptation we must fight against, as Schmemman noted so well. We must not let the Liturgy distract us from what the Liturgy actually calls us to be and to do.

:: Karl :: 8:48:00 AM [Link] ::

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