Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia

Liturgical Life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

By Fr. Gene Maximiuk
Presented at the Clergy Retreat, April 10, 1998
Edmonton, Alberta

Of late I have been wondering about the Liturgical Life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. I have been thinking what is included in that life based the guidelines given to us by our Church as well as questioning their practical implementations according to the Life of each parish. Has there been neglect and wondering what are the possible solutions as to how to improve it, if for a fact there is neglect and if there needs to be improvement.

According to Prof. George Florovsky, a noted theologian, first and foremost we must recognize that ‘there are two aspects of Christian existence – personal and corporate – and they are linked together inseparably. One is saved only in the Community, and yet salvation is mediated always through personal faith and obedience. This basic duality of Christian existence is conspicuously reflected in the realm of worship. Christian worship is at once personal and corporate… (Festal Menaion- George Florovsky).

Since the Orthodox Faith values very greatly its history and its tie to the historical Church, we can acknowledge that ‘the historic character of Christian worship is clearly expressed in the structure of the liturgical year. This Christian calendar has obviously a vital theological significance and many theological implications. (Festal Menaion- George Florovsky) This then, is of vital importance to us as we are part of the historical Church.

This leads us to acknowledge that, according to Florovsky, ‘Worship is the norm of Christian existence. It should be the constant disposition or attitude of the Christian person. Indeed, to worship God means precisely to be aware of His presence, to dwell constantly in this presence. It is through worship that the ‘new man’ is being formed in the believer, and the baptismal grace of adoption is actualized. The Christian man must be always in the state of worship, whether it is expressed in words or not. In its essence worship is the orientation of man towards God. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit…’ (Festal Menaion – George Florovsky)

So, we know that the basis of being a Christian is to worship God and to do so according the Christian Calendar that the Orthodox Church has developed over the centuries. Some questions for us to consider in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada; do we worship God as fully as we are called to? Are we in a state of constant worship of God? Does our Liturgical Life, allow the maximum opportunity for our faithful to orient themselves towards God given what seems to be the modern realities of our time constrained life, that sees us scheduling every aspect of our lives for convenience, including our opportunities to worship.

There is in the Church a fixed rule or order of worship, even for private prayer. We also must acknowledge that it is our duty, as Orthodox Christians, to follow it as fully as possible.

From the liturgical viewpoint the life of an Orthodox Christian is composed of various cycles.

First of all, there is the great cycle embracing a person’s whole life from birth to death. This consists in actions which are not repeated, but occur once only during the earthly existence of each person; baptism, Chrismation, burial. To this cycle belong also the sacraments or sacramental blessings which confer special grace for a particular office or vocation within the Christian community: Marriage; monastic profession; holy orders.

At the other extreme from this major sequence involving a Christian’s entire life, there is the daily cycle of prayers and praises offered by the Church once in every 24 hours. In the liturgical life of Orthodoxy, as with the Jews and other ancient peoples, the day is considered to begin at sunset. Accordingly the Church observes the following order:

Vespers (Vechirnya), Compline (Povechirya), Nocturns (Polunoshnytsia), Mattins (Ytrenya), First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, Ninth Hour (Chasy).

Such is the basic daily pattern. Another addition could be the Morning and Evening Prayers, and the general commemoration of the Living and the Dead which has its own liturgical form. These are of a more informal character than the other offices. They are read by lay people before the icons in their own homes; in monasteries they are sometimes recited by each member of the community individually in his or her cell, while in other cases they take a corporate form and are read aloud in chapel.

Now the Holy Liturgy is frequently included in this daily cycle: its place is normally after the Sixth Hour, but during fasts it is celebrated after Vespers. It is somewhat misleading, however, to treat the Liturgy as part of the daily cycle. In the first place, it is not infact prescribed to be celebrated each day: according to Orthodox practice, except in cathedrals and large monasteries a daily Eucharist has always been the exception rather than the rule. Secondly, and more importantly, the Eucharist in its deeper reality does not properly belong to the ‘liturgy of time’, and therefore stands apart from the daily cycle. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is always an ‘eschatological’ event, it transports the participants to a point altogether outside time – to the ‘heavenly places’ where there is no past, present, or future, but only the eternal Now.

Connected with the Liturgy is the service of the Typika (Izobrazitelnaya), which is sometimes read after the Sixth Hour on days when there is no celebration of the Eucharist. On occasion it may also precede the Liturgy.

Obviously the great majority of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians are not able to participate in the whole daily cycle. It is usually performed in its entirety only in monasteries, and even here there may be considerable abbreviations. In many parish churches Vespers and Mattins are not celebrated daily, but only at weekends and at major feasts. On working days a devout lay Christian will be content to read the Morning and Evening Prayers, in a shorter or a fuller form according to the time at his disposal.

Between these two extremes, the daily sequence and that of a man’s entire life, there are three intermediate cycles which together comprise the Church’s Year: The weekly cycle of Eight Tones, The annual cycle of movable feasts, centred upon Easter, and the annual cycle of fixed feasts, commencing on September 14th.

Add to this list the special services during the Great Lenten period and other times of the year, and we can see that indeed the Church in truth shows us that the Worship is the norm of Christian existence. The question for us is what norm can and should exist for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (UOCC) within these five cycles?

For the first cycle there seems to be not much of a question as we all celebrate the Sacraments for the life of our people. The only question that seems to arise is with regards to uniformity of practices between the parishes. Many priests assume the responsibility of making their own version of the Trebnyk lengthened or shortened according to their needs or their perceived needs of the parish. This is a great problem that needs to be addressed by the Council of Bishops, with an eye on bilingual books and practical brevity of services. This has to be priority.

As for the other four cycles, that is where we see a great variety of practices and also liturgical revision. Some parishes follow the cycles more completely and others to a lesser extent. Some serve all the Great Feastdays and some of the Minor Feastdays, and some parishes serve them on a lesser extent or not at all. I think that it is safe to assume that the daily cycle in its entirety is not fully followed in any of our parishes of the UOCC. But in the same breath, we must say that some parishes do attempt to follow the cycle of Vespers and Mattins at least on Saturday evening, Sunday morning and before a Major Feastday. However, I think that they are in the minority.

For us in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, we need to address our Liturgical Life and to what extent we worship God according to the prescribed cycles of services.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Ilarion, of blessed memory, in his Epistles to the clergy calls the priests to serve what is proper and to serve regularly the services of the UOCC. It can be taken as a given that he calls for the regular serving of the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and as well on the Major Feastdays. He also calls for the serving of the liturgical services, as often as possible, in the larger centres. Vespers- every Saturday, before every major feast and as well on Sunday Evening.

Mattins- before every Liturgy, whether on Sunday or Feastday.

He also calls us to not be concerned about the number of people in attendence, as this will grow as people become accustomed to the services.

He calls for the serving of Akathists, Molebeni, Parastacy, when ever the opportunity allows, not waiting for someone to ask for it.

This then leads us to speculate what he expected smaller parishes or parish districts to maintain for a liturgical life.

During Lent he calls for the serving of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete in all churches without exception. He also calls for the serving of Passia services everywhere also, as well as the other services that pertain to Holy Week.

We now have a picture of what the full Liturgical Cycle consists and as well as what our Heirarchy has blessed as important to maintain. Each parish according its situation serves more or less fully this liturgical cycle.

Questions that can be asked:

Do we even need to evaluate our individual parish Liturgical life?

Is it important to serve and maintain all of the Major Feasts?

What Minor Feasts need to be maintained in our parish life?

Should those who do not serve the Vespers and Mattins regularly, look at starting to reintroduce them to some degree, into the regular life of the parish, according to Met. Ilarion’s Epistle?

Do those parishes that do not follow the Lenten cycle of services, need to reintroduce them, again according to Met. Ilarion, or at least to some degree?

Has our current lifestyle in Canada dictated what services are now practical and which are not? If so, what are they and do they vary according to each parish and its available resourses, (dyaks, choirs)

Is there a need for revision and editing of our Liturgical services so as to make them practical and viable in our parishes, with the hope of maintaining their essence? Who has the right to do this?

It seems that our Met. Ilarion, of blessed memory, felt the need for us to live a rich liturgical life, and that seems appropriate since the Orthodox Church is a liturgical church, with its life focusing around the cycles of liturgical services. A question for us is how to creatively balance the resources in each given parish, with the needs and realities of each individual parish for, living a complete as possible, liturgical life. This tells us to a great extent what services will and can be served and which ones will not. Is there one set formula that can apply to each parish, or are the formula’s as varied as the number of parish situations? Personally, I feel that the formula’s vary and rightly should given the individuality of each parish reality, maybe however, there are certain basic services that need to be maintained in all parishes for them to grow spiritually, no matter what the situation. However, the content of the said services could be uniform throughout Canada.

Another question that comes up is,why serve if no one shows up? What value is there to serving a service, when attendance is minimal and should we serve them just for the sake of serving them? Are we fulfilling then the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law, so to speak, by doing this? Again, I reiterate Met. Ilarion’s, thought that we must not get caught up in the attendance game. He encourages us to focus on the services and the people will get used to them and attendance will increase. We must remember what our Lord taught us, ‘For where 2 or 3 are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ Mt. 18:20.

As a final thought, I read an interesting statement from the German materialistic philosopher Feuerbach. ‘Man is what he eats’. He thought that he had put an end to all ‘idealistic’ speculation about human nature. In fact, however, he was expressing, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man. (Schmemann- For the Life of the World)

I am no philosopher, but I do believe not only Man is what he eats, but that Man needs to eat in order to live. Spiritually, this applies even to a greater extent. We need as much access as possible to spiritual nourishment.

The ultimate question remains for us, are our faithful, through the liturgical life we lead in our parishes, what they need to live and grow spiritually, or are we just giving them enough so that they won’t starve to death?