Thursday, May 14, 2020

Nicholas Denysenko on Possible Adaptations in Response to COVID-19

Pray Tell: COVID-19 and Orthodox Liturgical Reform: What’s Possible?

Denysenko gives 4 alternatives to public Divine Liturgies. The first:

Sunday Matins or Typica (in-church)

One way to have a Sunday gathering while maintaining physical distancing guidelines is to celebrate a non-Eucharistic service without exceeding the maximum number of people for a safe gathering. Sunday Matins (Orthros) is already appointed to the regular weekly cycle. Parishes that normally celebrate Vigil on Saturday evenings are familiar with resurrection Matins, as are communities of the Greek and Arabic traditions, who celebrate Matins on Sunday morning before the Divine Liturgy. Sunday Matins features psalmody, hymnography, the eleven “eothina” resurrection Gospel readings, and the Great Doxology (Gloria). The addition of a homily to Matins would create a Sunday service honoring the Lord’s resurrection of about one hour, an appropriate way to praise his resurrection while receiving nourishment from his word until it is safe to return to the received Divine Liturgy.
The Typica service offers a viable alternative to Matins. This service features psalmody and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and allows for the addition of the appointed Epistle and Gospel readings. Many faithful are already familiar with the Typica, as it is often celebrated by the laity or with a deacon presiding when the priest is absent. Matins and the Typica allow for two non-eucharistic Sunday gatherings that honor the requirements of physical distancing.
Having Matins as a substitute for the Divine Liturgy may be appropriate, but could it be done at home?

The first option is for a Typika service without Communion; the second option that Denysenko gives is  for some form of Communion service that can be based on the Typika, with a deacon presiding, but it seems that this would have to be done in a temple. The third option is distributing Holy Communion to the laity so that they may bring it home to share with others. Here Denysenko does not mention the possibility of Holy Communion being taken home with some sort of prayer service, like the Typika to accompany its reception. I would think that this is a possibility.

Either as a form of Communion service or not, the Typika could be done on Sunday. Would the laity have the necessary liturgical resources to be able to do a Typika service on the other days (without Communion) at home? Would that be a good replacement for daily celebration of the Divine Praises? I have heard it said that it is difficult to the Divine Praises at home, as multiple books required. But I read that a version of the Great Horologion is enough for home use.  

Besides Holy Transfiguration Monastery, their Great Horologion is also carried by SVS Press and Saint Nectarios Press.

St. Tikhon's Monastery Press  has their own verison.

Online: The Horologion and Psalter

Then there are alternatives to the Divine Praises that contain some version of the horologion, like Publican's Prayer Book

The fourth is a discussion of the possibility of a priest invoking the Holy Spirit through teleconferencing (telecommuning? to consecrate the Divine Gifts present at the homes of families.

The final option is one familiar to some Protestants – a communal celebration of the Eucharist via Zoom. The Orthodox variant of a Zoom liturgy would require the laity to have bread and a cup of wine and water with them for the service. The community gathered would ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon “these gifts here offered” – in this case, the gifts offered by each family participating in the Zoom liturgy.
Is such a telecommuning or telethanksgiving possible?

I anticipate a minimum of three Orthodox objections – the absence of a consecrated altar; the multiplications of lambs and cups offered, violating the principle of all partaking from a single prepared lamb; and the laity administering the gifts to themselves.
The second one in modified form does seem serious. Even if it were canonically possible to not have a single lamb and cup on the altar (something analogous to the consecration of multiple hosts and cups of wine at a Roman-rite Mass), there is a unity to the consecration and distribution that is lacking in Denysenko's proposal. The symbolism of sharing the One Body of Christ does seem to be lost.
There is, however, no objection that can be raised to the power and love of God to consecrate any gift offered by his holy people. Certainly, a Zoom Liturgy is extraordinary, but a Zoom gathering is a still a gathering, the participants constitute a community, and they are gathered in a real space, virtual, but no less legitimate than the normal embodied gathering.
But has it been revealed to us that this is possible? I don't think Denysenko can claim that it has been. Rather this is speculation from other principles to reach a conclusion about possibilities of praxis -- moral theology, but are there limits to praxis to which we are not paying sufficient attention here?
The problem with these proposals is neither technological nor legal.
There may be a legal problem with the fourth, which may be linked to a problem of the use of technology. Can technology be used to facilitate telethanksgiving and telecommuning? There is something to the physical requirements for gathering in Christ's name that technology cannot replace. For the fourth proposal, we must carefully ascertain whether it is possible for the Ekklesia to "gather" and participate in the Eucharist over a distance.

Returning to my questions in previous posts: can there be a Byzantine Communion service that is also "Eucharistic," having an appropriate Thanksgiving central to the prayers before the reception of Communion? Such a communion service, like the Typika, wouldn't require the presence of a presbyter, though it could through have a presbyter present (like a Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts). It is said that the Typika does have

An Eucharistic Communion service would be distinguished from an Eucharistic Divine Liturgy in which the gifts are also consecrated by the presbyter with the anaphora.

So we could call these two forms of Eucharist, the Eucharistic Communion service and the [Eucharistic] Divine Liturgy. On the other hand, as it would be an innovation of sorts, such a development militates against itself. The name Eucharist should be reserved to the form of worship we have received from the Apostles, with the act of Thanksgiving in the Anaphora and the consecration of the Divine Gifts. But a Typika or a Communion service should still have an act of Thanksgiving, even if the service cannot be called Eucharistia.

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