Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Looking to the East

Lately, it seems like I've hit a rough patch in my attempt to follow the Benedictine tradition of praying the daily offices.  I continue to lead Morning Prayer and Compline most days at the Virtual Abbey (see my previous blog post ) but lately, I'm having a hard time getting motivated to pray a more complete version of the offices.
During times like these, I find myself longing to pray with a community.  My congregation, like many Lutheran congregations, has a tradition of gathering for Vespers during Advent and Lent on Wednesday evenings, but at no other times during the year.  Some day, perhaps I will expand upon that time frame.  But, in the meantime, where can I go other times of the year to pray with a community?
I'm not aware of any other parishes in my town from the Western liturgical tradition (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran) that pray any of the daily offices as a community on a year-round basis.  If my town had a Benedictine monastery, I could go there, but the only local monastery is a community of cloistered Carmelite nuns - since they don't follow the Rule of St. Benedict, I don't think they allow visitors very often.   
So, when I long to pray with a community, I look to the East. 
Throughout the year, St. Thomas Orthodox Church comes together as a community to pray Vespers on Wednesdays and Saturday evenings.  Here is a picture of the interior of St. Thomas before the service, as the setting sun was beaming through the windows and shining on the icons:  

During Vespers services at St. Thomas, we pray one of the most ancient hymns of the Church, the "Phos Hilaron" ("O Gladsome Light").  The words of the Phos Hilaron seemed especially fitting tonight as the light of the sun brightened the interior of the sanctuary during the service:

O gladsome Light of the holy glory of the immortal,
heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ!
We that come to the setting of the sun,
when we behold the evening Light,
praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God.
Meet it is for thee at all times to be praised with gladsome voices,
O Son of God, Giver of Life.
Wherefore the world doth glorify thee.
When those words of the ancient liturgy are chanted in a sanctuary full of the haze of incense, and icons illuminated by the sun, it truly feels like a foretaste of the heavenly feast. 
St. Benedict is normally referred to as a Western saint, but since he was a part of the undivided Church of the first millenium, before the division between East and West, he belongs to the whole Church.  So, I think St. Benedict would think it is okay for me to  look to the East while trying to follow his path. 


  1. I believe the solution is looking us right in the face. The motto of my Archdiocese is: "From the rising to the setting of the sun."

    You write: "But, in the meantime, where can I go other times of the year to pray with a community?"

    You long to pray every day in community. So do I. So do many "Christian mystics" who are not monks or nuns. Holy Mother Church knows this. She provides.

    My parish, which is not huge, has 3 daily masses -- 7:30 A.M., 8:00 A.M. and (vespers) 7:00 P.M. We pray together the universal prayer of the universal church -- the liturgy of the mass -- every day, three times a day. It is a foretaste of heaven. (Luther abolished daily mass because he disliked and feared abuse.)

    I have tried to say many, many times, on my blog and elsewhere, that this whole thing is a terrible misunderstanding.

    Lay people can live like priests, monks and nuns -- spiritually -- in the world. The Lord through his Church has provided us all the means we need for holy, happy lives. We don't need to join a monastery. We need to use the means the Lord has already given us.

  2. I'm not opposed to daily mass - and would probably take part in one if I were a part of a tradition that offered it - with one caveat: They should be in addition to, and not supplant, the daily prayer offices.

  3. But of course. I don't care if I sound like a broken record or a malfunctioning CD or a repeating whatever-is-used now: This is a misunderstanding.

    All of my priest friends pray the Daily Office. It is part of the requirement of their Priesthood, just as making breakfast for my husband is part of a woman's married life. I know a couple of lay people who pray the Office. Of course a lay person can pray the Daily Office.

    If you are a priest, you say daily mass and pray the Office. If you are a lay person, both are optional. It has to do with Vocation, as I have said in an earlier comment. And... if you want to be a part of a "tradition" that offers daily mass... well, you know my answer to that. C'mon in. The water's fine. You would be very happy, as am I.