Sunday, July 14, 2013

Should the Byzantine Liturgical Calendar Be Updated?

"From time immemorial the ecclesiastical hierarchy has exercised this right in matters liturgical. It has organized and regulated divine worship, enriching it constantly with new splendor and beauty, to the glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians. What is more, it has not been slow - keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact - to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage.

The sacred liturgy does, in fact, include divine as well as human elements. The former, instituted as they have been by God, cannot be changed in any way by men. But the human components admit of various modifications, as the needs of the age, circumstance and the good of souls may require, and as the ecclesiastical hierarchy, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, may have authorized....All these developments attest the abiding life of the immaculate Spouse of Jesus Christ through these many centuries. They are the sacred language she uses, as the ages run their course, to profess to her divine Spouse her own faith along with that of the nations committed to her charge, and her own unfailing love."

--Ven. Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei §§49-50

After reading Ven. Pope Pius XII's encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy, Mediator Dei, I thought about his point on how the liturgy does and should change according to the needs of each age and circumstance (although this process of change must also hold in respect the traditions of the Church).  It made me think of the Byzantine liturgical tradition.  From what I know, the Byzantines pride themselves on the fact that their liturgy has remained the same for generations, and the Byzantine liturgical studies that I've read often focus on discovering the original forms of the liturgy and identifying any aspects that have changed (I assume for the purpose of trying to make the current liturgy even more original).  However, I wonder if the Byzantine tradition can sometimes be too much against change in the liturgy.  An overabundance of change that overthrows worthy tradition should not be encouraged, but some change can be good, and, according to the Holy Father, it is necessary.

One area that I think of is the liturgical calendar.  I don't mean the order of the great feasts: those show forth the unchangeable truths of the Faith in a beauteous way that is still (and I think will always be) relevant to contemporary man.  What I mean is the many saints' feast days.  From what I know of these saints, at least on the Ruthenian calendar, they are old saints: the newest are probably from the 1500s, if that (though I could be wrong).  The thing I wonder about is this: should newer saints be added to the Byzantine liturgical calendar?

Some churches in the Byzantine tradition already do this: at the very least, I know the Russian Orthodox add new saints to their calendar, such as St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), and St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833).  This does not, I think, mean that they despise the older saints: all saints are models of Christian life and virtue for us.  Instead, it shows that they recognize that God is always raising up saints and that we should commemorate all of them.  It also means that their liturgical calendar does not feel as trapped in the past: in addition to venerating the Apostles, their disciples, the Greatmartyrs of the early centuries, the Stylites, the Unmercenaries, and others, they also venerate the New Martyrs, like St. Elizabeth, a Romanov princess who become a monastic, founded a convent, and was ultimately killed in the Bolshevik Revolution.  They thus venerate saints from across the ages, and they show that sainthood is not an ideal of the past but an ongoing reality, as is Christ's work in the world and in us.

As far as I know, as I mentioned above, there do not seem to be any saints in the Ruthenian calendar from the recent centuries.  Should that be changed?  It would represent a change in the liturgy that would assist modern man in his Christian life, I think, and thus be a truly good change for the liturgy.  An issue for the Ruthenians is the lack of saints from their church, but, since the Church is universal, would it be wrong to include new saints that are not specifically Ruthenian onto the calendar?  Most of the saints are the calendar already are not Slavic: could we add new ones as well?  One crazy idea I had was, since today is the Feast of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils, and since there is a feast later in the year for the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II), could a feast be added for the Fathers of the Later Fourteen Ecumenical Councils?  There could be ecumenical issues with our Orthodox brethren from this, so it might be too crazy of an idea.  But couldn't new saints be added, saints that, though not specifically Ruthenian, are commonly venerated among us? 

I do not know if others have had this idea, but I wonder if it could work.  It would show that the Ruthenian Church is not "ossified," as Christianity should never be: the Church is called to continue to incorporate the new things that are worthy of Christian emulation, such as new art and music, into Her life and liturgy.  Shouldn't She also incorporate new saints?  The Roman Catholic Church does so.  Should the Ruthenian Church add newer saints to the liturgical calendar?  I am inclined to say yes, as it is a proper change in the liturgy that does not deny the truths of the Faith but incorporates what is new to assist contemporary man and to show the universality of the Faith that draws treasures old and new out of its treasuries.  The old is already admirably present in the Ruthenian Church and liturgy, so shouldn't She also make the new present as well?

I am interested in hearing the views of others on this topic, so please, comment below.  Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

1 comment:

  1. Check the Troparion in the Liturgy for October 31. We venerate the Holy Martyr Theodore Romzha, Bishop of Mukachevo on that day. I guess you have what your looking for. As far as the Liturgy its sometimes a mistake of others that say we dont ever change ours. We have and always will have organic development.