Liturgy and the “Green” Patriarch

Thus our worship coincides with the same joyous worship in heaven and throughout history. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom himself affirms: “Those in heaven and those on earth form a single festival, a shared thanksgiving, one choir” (PG 56.97). Heaven and earth offer one prayer, one feast, one doxology. The Divine Liturgy is at once the heavenly kingdom and our home, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21.1), the ground and center where all things find their true meaning. The Liturgy teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions. In its spacious embrace, it includes the whole world, the communion of saints, and all of God’s creation. The entire universe becomes “a cosmic liturgy”, to recall the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, Homily during the Divine Liturgy on the Feast Day of St Andrew, 30 November 2006

Nobody can deny the beauty of these words, but what do they mean? How can the Liturgy really be the “ground and center where all things find their true meaning”? How does the Liturgy teach us “to broaden our horizon and vision”? I (this is Neil posting) would like to quickly look at a practical and important example, one that is close to the heart of the so-called “Green” Patriarch. (I hope that Pope Benedict’s visit to the Phanar has moved some of you to familiarize yourself with the Patriarch and his very interesting writings). One of the very last parts of the Common Declaration signed by the Pope and Patriarch reads:

At present, in the face of the great threats to the natural environment, we want to express our concern at the negative consequences for humanity and for the whole of creation which can result from economic and technological progress that does not know its limits. As religious leaders, we consider it one of our duties to encourage and to support all efforts made to protect God’s creation, and to bequeath to future generations a world in which they will be able to live.

How, then, can participating in the Liturgy possibly show us the “true meaning” of God’s creation? Let me quote from the opening address that Patriarch Bartholomew delivered at the Sixth Religion, Science, and the Environment Symposium, held this past July in Brazil, near the Amazon River. This address is entitled, “The Fragile Beauty of the World.” The excerpt might seem a bit long, but it does begin to answer our question, and is certainly worth reading:

Seeing clearly is precisely what the liturgy teaches us to do. Our eyes are opened to see the beauty of created things. The world of the liturgy reveals the eternal dimension in all that we see and experience. It enables us to hear new sounds and behold new images as we travel along the Amazon River. It creates in us a mystical appreciation and genuine affection for everything that surrounds us. The truth is that we have been inexorably locked within the self-centered confines of our own individual concerns with no access to the world beyond us. We have violated the sacred covenant between our selves, our world, and our God.

The liturgy restores this covenant; it reminds us of another way and of another world. It offers a corrective to a wasteful, consumer culture that gives value only to the here and now. The liturgy converts the attentive person from a restricted, limited point of view to a fuller, spiritual vision “in Him through whom all things live, move, and have their being” (Acts 17.28). It provides for us another means of comprehension and communication. The liturgy is the eternal celebration of the fragile beauty of this world.

In practical terms, this would naturally imply a way of life that would be respectful of the divine presence in creation. We should not be blindfolded by personal interests, but be sensitive to the sacredness of every peninsula and every island, every river and every stream, every basin and every landscape.

If we are guilty of relentless waste, it is because we have lost the spirit of liturgy and worship. We are no longer respectful pilgrims on this earth; we have been reduced to careless consumers or passing travellers. How tragic it would be, for us all as delegates of this symposium, if we were simply to pass through the Amazon, like the indifferent priest in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We must be responsible and responsive citizens of the world; we must be careful and caring pilgrims in this land. If we are not in fact moved to compassion, bandaging the wounds of the earth, assuming personal care, and contributing to the painful costs, then we might easily be confronted with the question, which of these do you resemble: the Good Samaritan or the indifferent priest?

The liturgy guides us to a life that sees more clearly and shares more fairly, moving away from what we want as individuals to what the world needs globally. This in turn requires that we move away from greed and control and gradually value everything for its place in creation and not simply its economic value to us, thereby restoring the original beauty of the world, seeing all things in God and God in all things.

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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Liturgy and the “Green” Patriarch

  1. I think that it is important to remember here that His All-Holiness Bartholemew is referring to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and to a liturgical and mystical theology which maintains contact with the thought of Dionysios the Areopagite and the Church Fathers.

    It is at base an iconological worship, and one where the the priest is the icon of Christ the Sacrificer and Sacrificed, where the deacon is the icon of Christ the servant, and where the cantors, the servers and the worshippers are icons of the angelic host.

    It is this iconological and “cosmic” liturgy which is capable of helping us to open our spiritual eyes, and to see the essential holiness of God’s Creation. I have had the great fortune to have participated in this liturgy for the last score of years, and I can tell you, from my own experience, that I have gained great spiritual benefit from it.

    And, I am sorry to have to say, to the extent that Western Latin Liturgy has departed from that of Dionysios, of Maximos, and of the Fathers, and to the extent that it has lost the mystical and iconological qualities mentioned above, it is incapable of teaching these spiritual truths. And that is the central point of what I have been attempting to say in weblogs and in this weblog regarding liturgy.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Bernard,

    Thank you for writing. The Patriarch certainly speaks here of “Orthodox liturgy” and “the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor.” But given the setting (and perhaps the Patriarch’s use of Latin), one might suppose that he is speaking of something that should be both recognizable, and, to some extent, replicable, in the West. Does this seem reasonable?

    Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, wrote, “In the liturgy, things reveal their own nature as a gift offered by the Creator to humanity,” and “To those who seek a truly meaningful relationship with themselves and with the cosmos, so often disfigured by selfishness and greed, the liturgy reveals the way to the harmony of the new man, and invites him to respect the Eucharistic potential of the created world.”

    Some Western writers have themselves already invoked Eastern liturgies and iconology as models. Thus, Stratford Caldecott:

    “The popularity of Byzantine icons in the West is partly a healthy reaction against the widespread use of sentimentalized devotional images, but as the true greatness of the iconographic tradition gradually reveals itself lessons may be learnt concerning the liturgy too: the iconic properties of a ritual which manifests the action of Christ, compared to the iconic properties of a picture manifesting his presence, or the reality of his human nature. The point would not necessarily be to copy the Byzantine rite, but to develop the Roman rite to a point where the East can recognize in it an authentic Christian liturgy.”

    Finally, one might suggest that the ultimate basis for liturgical theology is the last book of the Bible, especially the fourth and twenty-first chapters (the latter cited by the Patriarch), which all Christians should have in common.

    Would you agree with this? I appreciate your deep experience in these matters and your willingness to enlighten me. Please forgive me if I’ve missed your point (it’s rather late …).

    Thank you.


  3. Dear Neil:

    Sorry for the delay in responding to you, but, as the late John Lennon had remarked, life is what happens when you had made other plans.

    I entirely agree with you that His All-Holiness, in speaking of the Divine Liturgy, is speaking of something which should be recognizable and replicable in Western liturgies. The fact that at present, that something is difficult to discern in the West is some measure of, if not the reason for, the division between East and West. It is radiantly evident from the writings of both His late Holiness, John Paul the Great, and His Holiness, Benedict XVI, that they “get it”– that is, both of their writings indicate that they understand the cosmic and the mystical nature of the Liturgy. Would that the average priest in the sanctuary, or the laity in the pews or the choir loft, had the same understanding!

    I suppose that the problem, or at least part of the problem, is that the West is attempting to divest itself of the barren legacy of scholasticism (admittedly a good thing), and in the process, has also (unfortunately) rid itself of the patrimony of the Fathers.

    I entirely agree with you that Stratford Caldicott has nailed it on the head that a true liturgical restoration in the West is not to be accomplished by a slavish imitation of the East, but rather (in his own words): “The point would not necessarily be to copy the Byzantine rite, but to develop the Roman rite to a point where the East can recognize in it an authentic Christian liturgy.”

    I personally believe that unless and until laity and clergy are immersed in the triple font of Scripture, Tradition, and the Teaching Authority of the Church, and bring these living waters of the Holy Spirit to the Divine Liturgy, that any so-called “development of the Roman rite” will be as elusive as seeking the rainbow’s end.

    I entirely agree with you, however, that the ultimate basis for liturgical theology is both John the Theologian’s Gospel and his Revelation. His Grace, Bishop Kallistos Ware, in a recent theological conference, pointed out that while the Revelation of John is not a scripture which is read during the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, it is the archetectural plan for the building of the Church.

    I am happy, though, to see in writing and in inquiries such as yours a devotion to the fonts of Divine Revelation, and insights which reveal an Orthodox mind and heart. If the Liturgy is the manifestation on Earth of the Kingdom of Heaven, then you are not far from that Kingdom.

    Yours in Christ,


  4. Pingback: Creation as a Web of Life « Catholic Sensibility

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