The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


09 July 2014

The Significance of the Church Typicon

"Metropolia" is short for "American Metropolia" which today (2014) is known as the OCA (Orthodox Church in America under Metropolitan Tikhon Mollard) which is in world-orthodoxy.

The TYPICON of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services
by Fr. Seraphim Rose, 1973

Standing in the Temple of Thy glory, we think we are standing in heaven.
Verse of Matins

At what shall we marvel the most, O Orthodox Christians, when we stand in our Orthodox temples and worship God in the way He Himself has instructed us to worship Him? – At the astounding beauty and glory of the Divine services which overwhelmed the emissaries of the holy Russian Prince Vladimir a thousand years ago, so that they did not know whether they were on earth or in heaven?  At the astonishing variety and complexity of the services, which can be compared only to the abundance and diversity of nature itself, being like it a reflection of the abundance of the Divine Creator?  Or at the wondrous order that prevails in the midst of all this variety, and which makes of Orthodox worship a harmonious whole capable of raising the soul into single-minded devotion to God? 

How unfortunate it is, then, that so few Orthodox Christians enter fully into the meaning and spirit of the Divine services which, according to the idea of the Holy Fathers who created them under Divine inspiration, are supposed to be a daily source of inspiration for believers, preserving and fanning into a great flame of love that spark which brought them to the saving Orthodox Faith.  How few know and love the Typicon which sets forth the principles of the order of the Divine services and which, if it is understood properly, is capable of helping to put our own hearts in order, of orienting them toward the Sunrise from on High Who is the object of the Church's worship! 

And how doubly unfortunate it is that there are those who presume to call themselves Orthodox and yet, looking upon the sad state of Orthodox worship in many places today, find the fault for this to lie, not in the lukewarm believers who do not wish to live by the ideal of the Typicon, but rather in the Typicon itself, which must, according to them, be "revised" and brought "up-to-date."  One of the most clever of these "revisionists," Father Alexander Schmemann, has recently written "A Letter to my Bishop,"1 Metropolitan Ireney of the American Metropolia, complaining that the latter wishes to return the Metropolia to the standard of the "pre-revolutionary Russian Church," to "the standard service books... of the Russian Orthodox Church."  In one respect one can sympathize with Fr. Schmemann's objection: for it is evident that his bishop does not have in mind any true return to fervent and meaningful participation in Divine services, but only a very minimal preservation of the general order of services in the Slavonic service books, as an answer to the disorderly innovationism which is now apparently widely practiced in the Metropolia.  Fr. Schmemann believes that the situation in the Metropotia is too desperate to be saved by a return to outward order.  He finds that the Metropolia's "financial bankruptcy only reveals and reflects its spiritual state – a state of apathy and demoralization,... of abysmal ignorance of the very foundations of our faith," and that "our Church is sick – liturgically and spiritually" – a shocking statement which certainly cannot be made concerning the Church of Christ, but which may indeed be applicable to an ecclesiastical body such as the Metropolia which for long has been travelling a path far from true Orthodoxy. 

The plea of Metropolitan lreney is to salvage at least some parts of the liturgical practice of the Russian Church: a few verses when the Typicon calls for a whole psalm, one canon at Sunday Matins instead of the three or four appointed, etc.  To this Fr. Schmemann correctly replies that this is not the standard of the Typicon and that, in any case, the Metropolia's people do not find even this minimum meaningful.  Therefore, he believes, the Typicon must be revised in the light of our knowledge of its historical development, of other traditions, and the like.  In a word, the services must be made somehow palatable to spiritually bankrupt people!  Fr. Schmemann takes a bad situation and makes it worse, advocating the establishment of a new typicon, a lower standard – which the next generation of the Metropolia will undoubtedly likewise find "unmeaningful" and too demanding!  

Enough has been said for us to learn a lesson from the self-admitted spiritual bankruptcy of the Metropolia.  It was worldliness, indifference, and abysmal ignorance that produced the Metropolia's bankruptcy; and we who would be Orthodox zealots. whether in the Russian Church Outside of Russia or in her sister zealot Churches, must realize that these same attitudes can cause us also to become lukewarm in our faith, or to lose the grace of God entirely.  

Let us understand clearly, then, to begin with, that neither the people of the Metropolia nor its would-be reformer  Fr. Schmemann, understand at all what the Typicon of the Church's Divine services is and what is its function.  A thorough historical investigation of the Church's Typicon will not at all lead us to become "revisionists" of it, but on the contrary, will only fill us with wonder at its coherence, profundity, and meaningfulness. Indeed, one of the chief works of scholarship on the Typicon, that of Professor Skaballanovich2 which Fr. Schmemann himself cites as extremely valuable, comes to exactly these conclusions, and his work only convinces one ot the great wisdom of the Holy Fathers who compiled the Typicon.  The mistake of the people of the Metropolia lies in tis ignorance of and indifference to the Church's inspiring Typicon; the mistake of Fr. Alexander Schmemann lies in his looking at the Typicon in a purely legalistic and academic manner, as though it were merely a system of arbitrary rules and prescriptions which must be blindly obeyed or cleverly avoided, rather in the spirit of a contemporary Code of Motor Vehicles.

Such is not the case at all!  But in order to see the significance of the Typicon one must know what it is.  The Typicon is, literally, a book of rubrics for the conduct of the Divine services and the harmonious joining of the different cycles which make up the church's life: the daily cycle, the eight-week cycle of the Eight Tones, the fixed cycle of Feasts and Saints' days, the movable cycles of Great Lent and Pascha, but in its significance the Typicon is much more than this.  The Typicon is, as its title might be translated, a "book of examples," and its intent is actually, as Professor Skaballanovich has well noted, "to sketch the high ideal of the Divine services, an ideal which by its beauty might evoke a constant involuntary striving to bring it into realization, something that is perhaps not always possible in full measure, as is the case also in the realization of every ideal, the following of every exalted example.  In essence such is the nature of the whole law of Christ, which is unrealizable perfectly in all its heavenly exaltation, but which by its Divine grandeur inspires an irresistible attraction on the part of mankind to bring it into realization, and which thereby gives life to the world" (Commentary on the Typicon, vol. 2 p. 2).

The full title of this important book is:  "The Typicon, or the Depiction of the Ecclesiastical Rite of the Holy Lavra of our Holy and God-bearing Father Sabbas in Jerusalem.  The same rite is followed also in the other venerable monasteries in Jerusalem, and similarly in the other holy churches of God."  The Typicon, that is to say, is the standard of the services of the Monastery of St. Sabbas in Jerusalem, which was subsequently taken as the standard of the services in other monasteries, and then in the whole Orthodox Church.  It is precisely the monastic services which are taken as the standard of the Church's life of worship, because monasticism itself most clearly expresses the ideal toward which the whole believing Church strives.  The condition of monasticism at any given time is ordinarily one of the best indicators of the spiritual condition of the whole Church, or of any Local Church; and similarly, the degree to which the local parishes in the world strive toward the ideal of the monastic services is the best indicator of the condition of the Divine worship which is conducted in them.

The Typicon of the Divine services is an ideal; and therefore let no pastor or believer make the mistake of thinking that he has already done "enough" if in his parish "all the people sing" (which is indeed prescribed by the Typicon, as we shall see), or there are services on the eves of Sundays and feast days.  The battle being waged today by the world against the faithful is constant and relentless, and it is of an intensity unparalled in the whole history of the Church.  In America it is evident that daily newspapers, radio and television, public schools, supermarkets, fashions – virtually everything that exerts any kind of influence upon the mind or taste is directly or indirectly involved in destroying the Orthodox World view, in making true Orthodoxy seem "fanatical," "out of step with the times," and in persuading Orthodox Christians to give up their high ideal of making Orthodoxy permeate the whole of their life in order to "get along" better in the world and "fit in" with other confessions and world views. 

Against this unrelenting attack the Orthodox Christian must wage a constant, conscious battle, or else he simply will not remain Orthodox, and most certainly his children will be lost.  The "Orthodox" jurisdictions of America (the Metropolia being actually in better condition than most of the others!) should be a sufficient lesson of what will happen to people who do not wage a constant battle to preserve their Orthodoxy, but rather accept it as a matter of course, assuming that one is somehow automatically Orthodox just because he is called by this name. How different is the judgment of Christ our Saviour!  Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men (Matt. 5:13). 

The Holy Fathers who compiled the Typicon had precisely in mind this battle to preserve oneself in the grace of a Christian life, and we shall see what an effective weapon for this battle is contained in the Divine services, which, contrary to popular belief, are most practical and applicable in our own situation today.  

Starting in 1974 in The Orthodox Word, practical information will be given on the Church's Divine services – on the reading and singing of the Psalms of David and the singing of the traditional Russian chant in English – based on the best tradition of Russian Orthodox practice. Leading Orthodox hierarchs of our century have called the faithful to return to the true tradition of the Orthodox services according to the Typicon, and we shall quote the inspiring words and examples of such zealots of the Divine services as the New-martyr Archbishop Arsenius of Novgorod, the Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch, and the present Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, Archbishop Averky of Syracuse.

The words of these zealot-hierarchs, and a knowledge of the true tradition of the Divine services. will surely persuade us that we, the last Christians, are far from the normal life of Orthodox piety; how much, therefore, we must struggle in order to get back to that normal life!  But how inspiring is the path to it!  We shall see that the Divine services are not only a treasure-house of the Church's dogma and spiritual instruction, but even more a school of piety which teaches us not only how to think, but even how to feel about our life and the path of salvation. The full use of this basic source of piety is an essential part of the zealot movement of true Orthodoxy in our own day. 

May the knowledge of the ancient tradition of the Divine services awaken Orthodox zealots today ever to strive toward the ideal which the Church's Typicon holds out to them: to stand in God's Temple, in fear and trembling and great joy, and worship Him in the way the Divinely-inspired Fathers have instructed us to do!  

1. Printed in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 1973. no. 3, pp. 221-238.
2. Michael Skaballanovich, Commentary on the Typicon (in Russian), Kiev, 1913, 2 vol.
3. Much work has been done on Greek Orthodox chant in English at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston 226
from The Orthodox Word, issue #53, Nov-Dec 1973

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