Why Mystery is not “Mysterious”-Part 1 of 2

There is much confusion about Christian appeal to mystery. It is alleged at times to be a means of obscuring answers to hard questions, or the lack thereof. It is derided as a catch all “god of the gaps” who is pointed to when there are no answers.

Nevertheless, we as Christians of the Apostolic Faith do point to mystery.

In the Roman Mass, the Priest Proclaims:

“The Mystery of Faith.”
And the Faithful respond:
“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, /we proclaim your Death, O Lord, /until you come again.”

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, part of the preparatory prayer before Communion states,
“For I will not reveal Your Mystery to your Enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas…”

In the Latin Rite response, we see that the response is not something covert. Instead, it is a revelatory comment that what the Eucharist does is proclaim Christ’s saving death.

In the Byzantine Prayer, we hear that the Mystery will not be revealed to the enemies of God. This emphasizes that it can be revealed, to those of the right frame of mind.

One approach that can be helpful is to point to the Scriptural application of the term mystery. In this case, we understand that the mystery of salvation has been revealed through Christ and the Church, through the salvation of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. As one example of this, we have chapter 1 of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians.

But another way to understand mystery is to put it into an appropriate historical context. Along these lines, I am happy to say that I have been a part of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary’s Online Program, which you can find more info about at this website.
My first online course is entitled, “The Theology of the Divine Liturgy”, and it is being taught by Fr. David Petras.

In part of the course notes, which I will quote just a bit so as to entice you to consider your own possible interaction with the course, we see that mystery is not obscure to those involved, in its historical context.

In the Greek culture a mystery rite was a ritual that re-enacted a certain myth. A classic example was the Eleusian mysteries, where the drinking of the kykeon symbolized a return of fertility to the crops, it represented the corn goddess Demeter sadly searching for her daughter. Greek mysteries were hidden from outsiders, but were a revelation to those who celebrated them. If you think about it, the essence of the modern “mystery” story is the revelation of the solution to the puzzle. The essential part of mystery is the revelation, and this was true of St. Paul speaking about the mystery of Christ.

Mystery is all about a revelation that is revealed, albeit only to some. But the point is that without this revelation, mystery is not a mystery. We tend to think that the key to a mystery is that it is and ever shall be confusing, but this is not how the Eleusian mysteries were celebrated. They were only rightly celebrated when people understood the reference to the myth that was being illuminated by the mystery itself (and not in spite of that mystery), and its relevance to the fertility that was being commemorated.

In my next post, I will relate this Greek reflection with a more modern context, in order to help us see that a mystery is not “mysterious”, in the obscurantist sense of the word.


Notes on Chanting a Reader’s Vespers Services – 06/19/10

As a prefatory side note, the section for Reader’s services from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (from where the block quotes are derived) is found here.

These notes were taken at an instruction that I received, and I’ve tailored them to focus on how to lead a Vespers service as a reader.

The overall focus was on how to lead a service in the absence of a priest (or deacon).
What’s more important than learning structure is the fruit that can be had from learning something like this with the blessing of one’s spiritual father.

If my notes present any inaccuracies, I am wholly to blame.

Ultimately, this framework has been used by me to lead my family in Vespers services, and I think it is helpful if one adopts a similar pattern when one cannot make it to the life of the parish for lack of services/ability to make it.

One of the first things to think about with regard to a “reader’s service” is the fact that in the Byzantine Tradition, Blessings are imparted most properly by Bishops, who represent Christ to the faithful in his jurisdiction, and priests, who serve in the absence of the Bishop. Hence, the Divine Liturgy begins with a blessing when we hear “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

Therefore, while the reader does begin a Vespers Service, this should not be with such a blessing. To invoke the prayers of those who have gone before us giving blessings, the Reader can begin instead by saying:

“Through the Prayers of Our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, Have Mercy On Us.”

My family and I respond with Amen and the service begins with “Glory to You Our God” most of the year, barring the Paschal Season’s variations.

The service is then read straight through including the Lord’s Prayer, but as I have been instructed, a reader is not to pray “For Thine is the kingdom….”, as this is another Trinitarian benediction.

Instead, we turn to the heart of Eastern Christian Prayer and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy On us.”

After this Amen, we go back through the Vespers Book until Psalm 103.

For a Major Feast/when there is a Litija that can be sung at Vespers, the Melodic version of Psalm 103 is chanted. Otherwise, we sing the antiphonal version.

At the Litany of Peace, which is the first litany of both services, we sing 12 Lord have Mercies, and then a Glory/Now.

Further online research at the Metropolitan Cantor Institute, which is put together from my own Metropolitan Church, I’ve found this prayer to be appropriate following the litany of Peace.

O good God, in all times and places you are worshipped and glorified both in heaven and on earth. You are long-suffering and generous in your mercy and compassion. You love the just and show mercy to the sinner, calling all to repentance through the promise of blessings to come. Deem, O Lord, at this very hour, to receive our supplications and to direct our lives in the path of your commandments. Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, set right our minds, cleanse our thoughts; deliver us from all affliction, trouble and distress; surround us with your holy angels so that, guided and guarded in their camp, we may obtain oneness of faith and the knowledge of your unspeakable glory. For you are blessed, forever and ever. Amen.

If one wants to then proceed to the Kathismata (the melodic 1st Kathisma for Saturday night/Sunday is in our book, but one can also find prescribed reading for any day with a Typikon. If those are taken, the small litany is replaced with 3 Lord Have Mercy’s and a Glory/Now.

As the lamplighting Psalms are sung, if you have texts for the stichera of the feast, Pripivs (introductory melodic versions of the lamplighting Psalms that set the musical tone) can be sung by the head cantor, and the stichera/verses can be sung by all. If I do not have the texts available, I will simply sing through.

When you get to the next part, simply omit the “Wisdom Be attentive” and sing “O Joyful Light”. Sing the Prokeimenon (without the “Wisdom” again) and the reader may sing the verses.

At Readings, only the Priest/Bishop should say “Wisdom, Be Attentive”. So you can just read the readings, with the proper introductions.

In our practice, at a daily Vespers, one can omit the Litany of Fervent Supplication at this point, and go straight to the hymn of Glorification, singing it plainchant. At a Great Vespers, the Litany is replaced by 12 Lord Have Mercy’s and a Glory/Now, and the hymn of Glorification IS sung with the melody provided in the book.

The Litany of supplication is replaced by 12 Lord Have Mercy’s and Glory Now, and one can then pray this prayer in place of the priestly prayer.

Blessed are you, O Almighty Master, for you have lighted the day with the brilliance of the sun and the night with the fiery stars. You have counted us worthy of the length of this day and to come to the beginning of night. Hear our prayer and forgive the voluntary and involuntary sins of all your people. Accept our evening prayers and send down in return the greatness of your mercy and kindness upon us, your inheritance. Guard us with your holy angels, clothe us in righteousness as a defense, protect us in your truth, and keep us in your strength. Deliver us from all our enemies and their hostile attacks. Grant that this evening and the approaching night and all the days of our life may be perfect, holy, peaceful, sinless, without violence and free of nightmares. Through the prayers of the holy Theotokos and of all the saints who from all ages have been pleasing to you. Amen.

After this, one proceeds to the Aposticha if one has the text for it, and then to “Now you may dismiss”, through the Lord’s prayer, again exchanging the “For thine is the kingdom” with “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.”
As is the case with the Hymn of glorification, if this is not a Great Vespers level day, we sing this and the Trisagion without melody.

The Troparia can then be said. I try to make it a point to use the troparion of the day (Monday through Saturday or Resurrectional tone of the week), plus whatever saint or feast’s troparion can be sung.

From here, if we had skipped the litany of Fervent supplication because of it being a daily vespers, we sing 12 Lord have mercy’s and a Glory now. Otherwise, we go straight to this closing/dismissal.

More honorable…
Glory, Now and ever
Lord, have mercy (three times)
Bless, O Lord!

Then the Leader prays:

O Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of your most pure Mother, by the might of the precious and life-giving Cross, through the prayers of the holy, glorious and praiseworthy apostles, and of the holy (patrons of the church and saints of the day), and of all the saints, have mercy on us.

And we close with the long “Amen”.

Glory to God!