The Ragings of the Pagans     

The Orthodox liturgical tradition is very, very old, and still retains vestiges that reflect much older circumstances. For example, immediately prior to the Eucharist proper the deacon cries out to the doorkeeper, “The doors! The doors!” That is, he is telling the doorkeeper to close and guard the doors lest the Roman soldiers break in and arrest them all for what the Roman law considered a capital offense—viz. attendance at the Christian Eucharist. Never mind that the office of doorkeeper no longer exists and that the pagan Roman empire (with its hostile soldiers and hostile laws) is long, long gone. Orthodox are a liturgically conservative lot, and the deacon still issues the old directive to the doorkeeper.

It is the same with the dismissal of the catechumens after the first part of the service. In the old days, catechumens were not allowed to attend the Eucharist proper, and so were kicked out and sent home after the first part of the service. They were there for the Scripture readings, the sermon, and the litany and prayer for them offered by the celebrant. But after that, as part of the disciplina arcani which protected the Eucharist from profane non-Christian gaze, since they could not offer the intercessory prayers, exchange the Peace, or commune, they were dismissed and sent home. Now of course they are allowed to stay for the entirety of the service, along with any casual visitors (something unthinkable in the early church), and so they stay put until the end of the service—and also for the coffee hour which usually follows. Nonetheless, in many places (though not at our St. Herman’s) the deacon still tells the catechumens to depart and go home after the litany and prayer for them.

We see this same liturgical conservativism in references to pagan practices, such as in the references to “the delusions of idolatry” or one’s “former delusion” in the anaphora of St. Basil and in the baptismal prayer for the making of a catechumen respectively. The “former delusion” which the would-be catechumen was then forsaking was of course the delusion of idolatry—the erroneous notion that many gods existed and that it was a pious thing to worship them.

We also see this conservatism in liturgical references to paganism itself. At the end of the anaphora of St. Basil (who died in 379) the celebrant prays that God would prevent schisms among the churches and “pacify the ragings of the pagans”. At Lenten Matins the reader asks the heavenly King to confirm the Faith and “quiet the heathen”. It was understood by all the faithful when those prayers were first used that the pagan heathen did a lot of noisy raging against the Church, so that the Church had to ask for God’s protection against them.

It is easy to forget all that raging now, and how perverse and impious Christians once seemed to the mass and majority of pagan society. We can scarcely imagine this now in our secular society where religion, if it is tolerated at all, is pushed to the margins and relegated to the private and personal sphere. (I apologize to any in the Bible belt where this is not so; please remember that I live in godless Canada.) In ancient Rome, temples were everywhere, and the gods lived side-by-side men inhabiting the same world. Our modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” was inconceivable back then. Decency, piety, good citizenship, and respectability consisted of giving all the gods their due, and the gods, in return, would bless and protect society.

Given this symbiotic arrangement, the Christian insistence that those gods were not real gods at all, but demons struck most people as crazy and even dangerous. What retaliation might come from the gods if people stopped worshipping them and even denounced them? War, famine, pestilence, drought, flood? The Christian refusal to connect with the gods almost meant the Christians’ complete separation from their neighbours: pagan stories (i.e. myths) were everywhere and formed the foundation for the educational system, and much of the meat in the local market had been sanctified by being offered to the gods. Given this omnipresence of the gods in society one could scarcely have avoided contact with them if one wanted to. No wonder the pagans raged against us.

Tertullian, a north African apologist, documented much of the raging: the pagans “take the Christians to be the cause of every disaster to the State, of every misfortune of the people. If the Tiber reaches the city walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn’t move [i.e. in a drought] or if the earth does [i.e. in an earthquake], if there is famine, if there is plague, the cry is at once: ‘The Christians to the lion!’ What, all of them to one lion?’ (from his Apology, chapter 40). In the old days, pagan opposition was constant and real.

But, one might ask, why keep such liturgical stuff around (such as the instruction to guard the doors and the references to the pagans) so many years and centuries later? Here at St. Herman’s I have always defended the retention of the directive about the doors because one never knows when hostile people might try to enter them again. (This is not paranoia; as recently as the Covid crisis here in B.C. police were instructed to enter churches which remained open and shut them down. Like WKRP Dr. Johnny Fever once said: “When people are out to get you, paranoia is just good sense.”)

And the pagans are still around (at least here in Canada) and they are still noisily raging. They are not dead or even asleep. They are wide awake (and ‘woke’). They don’t worship Zeus or Apollo anymore. The idols currently ascendent here in the West have different names. But like Zeus and Apollo in the old days, our modern idols are everywhere and are powerful. As those who have fallen afoul of their worshippers have lately discovered, the lion still exists too, in the form of being “cancelled”, and perhaps even fines and imprisonment. Apparently there are all sorts of ways of being devoured.

Some hopeful people have suggested that this approach is too negative, shrill, and unjustly paranoid. They say that this is making a mountain out of a mole-hill, and anyway the pagan raging will stop soon enough. The current unpopularity experienced by visible and vocal Christians here will not last. It is a mere swing of the pendulum, one which soon enough swing back the other way.

Amen; may it be so; may our current Canadian situation be the swing of the pendulum and not, as I suspect, the leavening of the lump (see 1 Corinthians 5:6). But until things change, our deacons will retain the old verbal directive to guard the doors, and pray that our heavenly King quiets the heathen. For they are certainly raging loud enough around here just now.

See also
“It Is Time for the Lord to Act” “It Is Time for the Lord to Act”
Andreas Moran
“It Is Time for the Lord to Act” “It Is Time for the Lord to Act”
Andreas Moran
Anyone who starts to pray may say to himself: You have been busy with worldly things; now it is time to begin God’s business, to work for God.
The Mystery of Liturgy The Mystery of Liturgy
Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer)
The Mystery of Liturgy The Mystery of Liturgy
Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer)
In this new video, Schema-Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer), abbot of St. Tikhon's Monastery in Waymart, PA, America's oldest Orthodox monastery, speaks about the great mysteries of the Liturgy in which we meet the Incarnate and Risen Lord. "The eternal and living God became flesh and through this same flesh we know God, we touch God, we handle God, we experience God, and the Liturgy is actually the place that this incarnatioanal view of the Church plays out in a magnificent symphony of sound, sight, smell, taste, of encountering the Incarnate God."
The Gates of Paradise The Gates of Paradise
Yuri Klitsenko
The Gates of Paradise The Gates of Paradise
Yuri Klitsenko
In the Holy Scripture the temple of God is compared with paradise. In the vision of prophet Ezekiel the garden of Eden grows on the banks of the river that flows from the temple: "Waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar…And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine"(Eze 47:1-12).
Timothy9/2/2023 5:02 am
Fr Lawrence apparently is not aware that many churches and traditions actual still do follow the practice of excusing catechumens from the Liturgy of the Faithful (they aren't "kicked out", and they're usually provided some kind of study or alternative way to participate and learn). Also he defines idolatry in a curious way... idolatry has nothing to do with how many gods there are: it means worshiping a creature instead of God. I'm glad he draws the conclusion that we must remain vigilant, because the forces of evil are present now as much as they ever were, and they continue to look for ways to destroy the Church.
Yonas Gebreselassie9/1/2023 10:26 am
Very interested
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