The altar party at Mechelen - basically everyone who was not tied down to their own home parish that day. I am in the back row, between the two mitres
Last Monday for the feast of the Epiphany was part of a full-blown episcopal liturgy in the attractive church late 19th century church the Roman Catholics are letting us use in Mechelen, 30 km from Brussels and the historic centre of Roman Catholicism in Belgium.
Usually I don’t much care for episcopal liturgies, with their complex choreography (I inevitably get dirty looks from the bishop for being in the wrong place), their constant changes of omophore (stole) and the centrality of the figure of the bishop. Fortunately there are young men who seem to love all this and I leave them to get on with it. My preference has always been for small weekday liturgies with one priest, one deacon and perhaps 10 people in church
Yet at the same time, I am beginning to smell something important in these big liturgies. It ties into a primitive need for ritual, going back beyond Christianity into man’s general religious past (religio perennis as some call it – I prefer the German term religiöses Gemeingut). Something you perhaps do not understand very well, but instinctively you know to be important to your humanity. Something which feels right when you have completed it properly. Something that, if the Church does not provide, other will, starting with Freemasons. Also, in a Christian context, linking in to the permanent liturgy going on in heaven (even if I hope that, if and when I get there, the heavenly liturgy will be simpler than the Orthodox episcopal one, or that kindly angels will ensure I am always in the right place with my censer…).
The other thing that was right – and almost for the first time ever in my 20 years in Orthodoxy – was to hear the canon of the liturgy of St Basil (the very long one, now relegated to a few big festivals) read out aloud correctly, without being cut (as Fr X does) or gabbled at breakneck speed (Fr Y’s manner) and done in silence so only God hears (Fr Z). I am rarely laudatory of our bishop, but I thank him for that.