quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Liturgical Quote of the Day

An Eastern Orthodox quote on the liturgy:

"Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy. For an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a 'rule of faith' (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries..."
- Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (cited here and here)


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful quote. Thank you for sharing. As a cahtechumen in the Orthodox church I can tell you I have "learned" more from simply showing up for liturgical services of the Church than what I've read in one hundred books.


Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...


Thank you for this response. I am naive as to the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. I hear only good of it from people who are familiar with it.

As you bring out this quote beautifully shows the unity between the faith believed and the faith prayed. There are two many manufactured "divorces" between the avenues through which the faith is handed down and received. Theology and liturgy need not be (nor are they) divorced.

I love to read and especially love to read theology, history of the church, etc. (including the works of the Fathers of the Church - East and West). Although, I will not stop reading theology nor encourage others to stop reading theology this quote helps put our learning in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Fr Timothy,
I too love reading works on theology and Church History. Perhaps I was bit rash in saying I learned "more" from liturgical services than reading, because I think a truer statement is that the liturgies helped put the "concepts" I'd read in a proper context. Of course I will also not stop reading because I love it so much and find it edifying, but I try to keep in mind a wise quote I once read from an Orthodox monk (I think): "Read no more than you pray every day." I must confess, I don't live up to that standard, but I, by the grace of God, continue to try.

If I may, I'd like to add one other observation. As one raised in a Western religious tradition, I've noticed what I think is a difference between the way East and West approach "theology." In the West, it always seemed to me that theologians try to expound or debate concepts to arrive at truth, and this deduced truth then serves as a model for worship. In the Eastern tradition, I think it's almost the exact opposite. The "truth" is not deduced, it is experienced. Theological discourse is used instead to explain (as best as humans may) our experience of God. This experience of God comes, for most of us, in the liturgical worship of the Church, her sacraments, and ascetical struggles. I don't know if that makes any sense, but I can't think of another way to describe it.

Also, please pardon me for speaking in such general terms about the "West" and "East" as I know there are exceptions to what I've said on both sides of the spectrum. Also, please do not take any of my above comments as being deragatory towards the Western tradition. That was certainly not my intent.


Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...


Thank you for these thoughts. I hope by my comments not to imply that you would be opposed to reading theology, etc. This is more my own reflection of sensitivities toward general opposition to theology in the Church. (I likely repeat myself on this topic too.)

I appreciate your observations on the approaches of East and West toward "theology." In my own study of East and West and discussion with others I see this distinction too. There are advantages to both approaches and, while obviously distinct, they may be somewhat complementary to each other.
Actually, what you describe is a strength of the Eastern Tradition, a good balance for us westerners.

Fortunately, in my study of theology I am able to read from both East and West and learn from the catholicity of both traditions. The worship is more distinct and my experience here is less than my theological study. Still, both traditions provide a more catholic understanding of the faith than what I have experienced in non-catholic settings.

Your comments are received in the best light. Thanks again for the further observations.