PROTOCOL NO. 139
Diocese of the West
The Orthodox Church in America
May 18, 1988
Dismissal of Pascha
Christ is risen! Indeed, He's risen!
The diocese and I are approaching our first anniversary together in our new relationship. In reviewing the past almost twelve months, I see that, as usual, I have no reason to be anything but thankful to Almighty God for all His blessings poured out upon us. I see that, with God's help, some things have been accomplished, and some not. In this letter, I want to touch on some matters that do not really need a separate conference or a great deal of discussion, but which need to be touched upon, and I hope this will be helpful to you all:
I. First, I'm enclosing some material I translated from S. V. Bulgakov's well-known desk manual for the clergy. The material pertains to confession of a priest by another priest. This material has already been distributed to the deans. Without canvassing you all, I have no idea how many of you have been blessed with the awesome responsibility of confessing another priest. Perhaps you all have done so, and have experienced no problems … perhaps not. (I also assume you all are conscientiously going regularly to confession.) This material from Bulgakov's manual, in the form of questions to ask a priest coming to confession, would be, I feel, helpful in preparing to hear another priest's confession and in preparing oneself to confess. I'm also enclosing questions from the same source relative to confessing a hierarch. For most of you that would be theoretical; the questions may nonetheless have some value for you.
I'm sure you all know that we hear a deacon's, priest's, or bishop's confession within the altar, before the Holy Table. When the signing of the Holy Cross is made by a priest on another priest's (or the bishop's) head, then this is done not with the bare hand, but with the hand cross. The priest who is coming to confession customarily lays aside his pectoral cross during the confession, it being an award, which is not an appropriate display at that time of humility and sorrow. Those priests who are used to coming to confession while wearing the epitrachelion should continue to do so, since the epitrachelion is a sign of the priesthood itself and is not an award.
Here is another item of priestly courtesy: while priests call each other (and deacons) "Father", they do not speak of themselves as "Father" to another priest (or to the bishop), nor do they sign their correspondence to one another as "Father so-and-so." Priests speak of themselves to each other (and to the bishop) as "Priest so-and-so," (or Archpriest or Protopresbyter so-and-so. Deacons speak of themselves to other deacons or to priests or the bishop, as "Deacon so-and-so," while always addressing other deacons as "Father Deacon" or "Father so-and-so."
II. It has come to my attention during parish visits, and through reading minutes of annual parish meetings, that the following impropriety is sometimes taking place: parish councils and parish meetings are deciding, considering, and voting on matters which are properly of pastoral competence. I consider the order of services and, especially, the LANGUAGE of the services to be just such pastoral matters. It is the priest who is hearing the confessions of the parishioners, not the council or the general meeting, and it is the priest who must judge what are the liturgical needs of the parishioners, based on his personal knowledge of their spiritual condition, primarily, though not entirely, through the Mystery of Holy Confession.
III. Every priest and deacon surely knows the days on which the Mystery of Crowning (Matrimony) may not be performed, and why not. We all must know, for example, that one reason that marriages are not performed on Saturdays is because ON SATURDAY EVENINGS THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN IS GIVING HIMSELF OR HERSELF OVER ENTIRELY OR PRIMARILY, TO PREPARATION FOR THE EUCHARIST WITH HOLY COMMUNION, and that married Orthodox Christians are devoting this evening to the spiritual aspects of their Union. In addition, the joyous merrymaking always associated with the aftermath of the Crowning in Church, that is, with the "reception," frequently leaves all the participants in a state inappropriate to preparations for Holy Communion, or making the same downright impossible. Therefore, only the DIREST necessity would make the blessing of a Saturday wedding appropriate. I believe it would be requiring truly heroic spiritual strength on the part of newlyweds to imagine that they would not, having been married on Saturday, begin their honeymooning until Sunday evening, in order to appear fully prepared for Holy Communion on Sunday morning. There is no "practicality" whatever which outweighs the NECESSITY for the Orthodox Christian to participate fully in the Eucharist on the Lord's Day.
There are two other matters which should be mentioned in connection with the above:
A. SATURDAY EVENING IS DEVOTED TO PREPARATION FOR SUNDAY MORNING, i. e., FOR THE DIVINE LITURGY. This "preparation" means, in terms of parish liturgical life, the All-Night Vigil, consisting of Great Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour. In those parishes WHICH DO NOT HAVE THE CAPABILITY to serve the All-Night Vigil, then Great Vespers alone may be served on Saturday night, and Matins and the First, Third, Sixth Hour before Divine Liturgy. In the sad event that a parish doesn't have the resources to serve the Holy Resurrection Matins, the clergy (and devout faithful) have to read it by themselves with the evening prayers on Saturday night or in the morning, with the morning prayers. Some parishes customarily have a quiet meal (snack) after the evening service, with conversation or formal discussions. These should continue. NO RECTOR CAN GIVE HIS BLESSING TO REVELRY OF ANY KIND AFTER THE EVENING SERVICES, NO PARTY, NO DANCE, NO RAFFLE, NOR MAY HE ATTEND SUCH. This question, I believe, does not arise in parishes which have a living tradition of praying together on the eve of the resurrection. It would seem to come up only where the parish is liturgically "dead" on Saturday night, where it is said that services are not (should not?!) be served on Saturday night because "no one would come."
If it is true that an Orthodox parish in our time still would give a higher priority to a dance than to praying together and preparing for the Eucharist, this is a matter for self-examination by the spiritual leader of the parish. Venerable Fathers, you know this is true, as do devout members of your flock. I am, of course, with you on this "100 percent."
B. While it is well known that our rite with which we accomplish the Mystery of Crowning finds its origins in a man and woman going to the Holy Chalice together, i.e., in the Eucharist, there never was a time when the Service of Crowning found in Orthodox Service Books was combined or mingled with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom or Saint Basil the Great. I have heard that this may have been done elsewhere in our Orthodox Church in our day. This is an innovation in the Orthodox Church, and WOULD BE an innovation in our Diocese of the West if such were to be performed here. I haven't been asked for, and I have, of course, not given any blessing to "combine" the Mystery of Crowning with the Divine Liturgy, nor am I disposed to give such to this or any other such "liturgical adventures" which appear to be based not on living Tradition, but on liturgical archaeology. There are many important principles involved here. One of the most important, to me, at least, is that when a change is blessed in our Orthodox Church, this is not the result of its institution by a hierarch, diocese, or church in isolation, or alone. We are all aware of the consequences of the "filioque" having been added on to the Holy Symbol of our Faith by the Roman Church acting unilaterally. In fact, we Orthodox seldom miss an opportunity of pointing out how that action flouted the principle of catholicity or "sobornost," of love for the brethren. When I made my Confessions of Faith at my consecration, I did not promise to avoid only that which was not expressly forbidden by the Holy Canons, no, I promised to do everything in harmony with the rest of the hierarchs, with the rest of the Church, that is, in harmony with Holy Tradition.
What this means, relative to the discussion of Crowning and the Divine Liturgy, is that I could only bless some newly concocted intermingling of the Rite of Crowning with the Divine Liturgy in the event that this was the result of a concerted decision of our Holy Synod, and its publication and authorization of such. (It would not be inappropriate, I believe, to assume that the Holy Synod would take such an innovative step only after giving the sister Orthodox Churches an opportunity to express themselves on the subject, since what affects one affects us all.)
Dear and venerable Fathers, I want to thank you for a truly wonderful year. Everywhere I go in our "Best" Diocese of the West I see life, hope, and serious orientation toward spiritual goals, to real Life in Christ. May Almighty God strengthen us all! Much remains to be done. There is kind of "holy momentum" now at work. As long as we continue to "let the Church be the Church" and seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, then we are promised everything.
I send you archpastoral blessings, and I assure you all of my constancy in prayers for you,
With love in Christ,