Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
Life in a Northern Town
Liturgy Canadian Style
There has been much talk in the Church over the last four decades of building an indigenous Church for North America, with a local Typikon, icon style, and spiritual life that is fully Orthodox, while authentically North American. Because of demographic realities, these conversations usually take on the form of discussing an "American Orthodox Church" - a cute middle class white Anglo-American myopia that forgets Canadians, Mexicans, and most Americans as well. This ghetto of identity, born out of the ideas of progress of the American Revolution, stands ready to reform, reconstruct, and reimagine Orthodoxy in North America in its own sweet image, as American as mom and apple pie.
Of course, the myth of the progress of American identity is the myth of the revolutionary spirit: forget the past, or at least, rediscover something "ancient", and recast it for your own purposes. This is the basis of Protestantism: throw out Holy Tradition, and select tidbits from some early Church source that fit ideological goals. In Soviet Russia, they called this the Living Church; in North America, we call it mainstream.
America's cousin to the north has a different lineage, however. Canada's foundations rest in preserving traditions and traditional cultures. Sometimes this creates problems, and even conflicts, and often resorts to relativism in order to just get along with each other. Yet this traditional spirit - this fundamentally anti-revolutionary spirit - bears a marked similarity to the inheritance of Orthodox Tradition: the faithful caretaking of that which has been passed down from all generations before.
One of the reasons Protestant sectarianism has had such success in America, is that the revolutionary philosophy holds in itself the need to constantly invent new things. It is a germ that infects Orthodox life as well. When Orthodox academics look to identify things that are "American Orthodox", they are usually fueled by two opposing spirits, a carrot and a stick, if you will.
The stick that repels and motivates those who would tinker with the spiritual life of the Church is a fundamental rejection of anything from other Orthodox cultures. There exists an inferiority complex in some circles today that yearns to see Orthodoxy in North America as something special on the international stage at Orthodox gatherings. And so, those who would tinker with liturgical life, with the spiritual life of the Church, do so with something to prove - if not to the world, then at least to themselves.
The carrot is the temptation of innovation: the love of the new, and the different. This can take all sorts of forms, but these are all inevitably borrowed from foreign sources, sources outside the Church: raising hands in the style of the charismatics, structuring sermons based on Baptist methodology, gushy emotionalism in the prayers, or a cacophonous exchange of the kiss of peace among the laity in a style borrowed from Protestantism. The root of this euphoria is a sense that these innovations are somehow our identity as Orthodox North Americans. The reality is, our roots are far from this.
Sadly, those who counter this ecumaniacal strangeness often invoke a nostalgia for all things foreign: foreign language in the Liturgy, foreign loyalties and conversation, and foreign food after the services. Ultimately, these defenses fall flat, because they are as irrelevant to authentic Canadian Orthodox life as the strangeness they attempt to counter.
Unlike the revolutionary spirit of the Americans (with the notable exception of the faithful in Alaska), Orthodox in Canada are not a rootless people. The faith of the immigrants of the last two centuries is alive and well in our cities and towns. What is more, the faith of the Celts of a millennium ago, the Viking Christians of the tenth century, and possibly others - their Church life is also our inheritance. A Canadian Orthodox liturgical identity can only be built on these broad, timeless, and authentically Orthodox foundations.
So what do these foundations resemble? Contrary to the distortions of some quarters, these foundations show us a shared Orthodox inheritance and liturgical life which is remarkable in its universality. All are fundamentally traditional; all boast a deep, common monastic life (compare Celtic and Egyptian monasteries). All reverently approach the Liturgy with full icon screens (the Byzantine and Slavic iconostases differ from the Frankish, the Celtic, the Roman, the Viking, and the Anglo-Saxon only in materials and in the exact placement of icons). All offer the priestly prayers silently (whether on the Holy Mountain, at the monastery of Sarov in Russia, or in the Sarum rite of Orthodox England). All preserve a solemnity of worship and reverence within holy places (no one claps their hands in the Holy Sepulcher, or in the ancient Cathedrals of Orthodox Europe). All even share the same blessings of the faithful by the priest before Holy Communion.
Any authentic Canadian Orthodox liturgical life can only be built upon this common foundation. Anything borrowed from Protestant-style dabbling within the Orthodox academic setting will simply not stand the test of time. What is more, it will not be an authentic inheritance of the Orthodox Tradition in Canada, or anyplace else - it will be a fraud, created by design, in a spirit foreign to the Church. For the faith of the Church, the liturgy and prayers of the Church, come from the Faith of the Fathers. It is these Fathers, and not the fathers of revolution who are the authentic forebears of Orthodoxy in Canada.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.