Fast or Slow

 How’s a priest to pray?

 Life is fast these days. Everything we do we seem to do faster than our parents ever did. Just think of all the devices we have at our disposal to speed things up: microwaves warm and cook food faster; televisions that can fast forward through advertisements; remote controls so you can change the channel/volume faster (no need to get up); electrical shavers so you can shave faster (not from personal experience of course); electric knives and mixers and bread makers and toasters in the kitchen to make food preparation faster; drive thru’s for those who don’t even want to waste any time cooking … the list goes on.

That’s all very well, and we could argue whether all these conveniences have really improved the quality of our lives or not another day, perhaps. But for now I just want to know: how’s a priest to pray? OK, here’s the dilemma: Sunday morning liturgy. The main prayer of the week. The focus of all our spiritual lives. The unique experience of being united with Christ. Should I pray slowly and contemplatively, in order that we all can make the most of this very special time, or should I pray more rapidly because people just don’t have the time or the patience anymore?

I have heard differing views on this point from a variety of people, all of whom are both sensible and sincere. On the one hand there are those who insist that the Church must keep up with the times. It is unfair, they point out, to expect people who are used to everything in life going briskly and efficiently, to come to Church on Sunday and listen patiently to the word “amen” being pronounced with 167 intonated syllables over two minutes. Just say it, and get on to the next part. And there is no place in the modern Church for long, undulating tunes in incomprehensible Coptic. (I have even heard ancient hymns like “Rejoice O Mary” sung in English, but with the tune so condensed that the whole four verses of lyrics are squashed into just one verse of tune. Perhaps we should call this fast food hymns … McAlhan!)

These days, people have other things to do on a Sunday, so let’s just have a nice snappy liturgy so everyone can go and get on with their lives. The famous Fr Bishoy Kamel who served some years as a parish priest in the USA once pointed out that he who makes the congregation become bored in the liturgy commits a great sin. Apparently, he always prayed at one pace, whatever the situation, and it was a moderately brisk, moderately contemplative pace.

And then, on the other hand, there are others who insist that our ancient tradition should not be watered down after 19 centuries of careful preservation. And isn’t Sunday the Lord’s Day? And according to the Ten Commandments, should not the Lord’s Day be devoted entirely to the Lord? Then why quibble over the length of the liturgy? What else is more important than spending just one day a week together with God and with each other?

 The long tunes of the Coptic tradition were meant to allow time for deep meditation upon the words they carry. We sing them in the Church, surrounded by a multitude of icons, the holy sanctuary and altar of the Lord, and in the very, physical presence of the Lord Christ Himself upon that altar. At the end of the liturgy we go forward to receive Him for ourselves in Communion. How can anyone want to rush this experience? We should enjoy it, lose ourselves in the moment, savour it as one savours the sweet taste of rich ice cream (oops – it’s Lent! Sorry). What does it say about our priorities in life when our attitude to the liturgy is “when will it finish”?

Do you understand the difficult conundrum that must be resolved by each priest and his deacons every Sunday? I must confess I can see some sense in both views. I hate praying by the clock (would you look at your watch if you were sitting with Jesus?) and yet, I feel the responsibility to finish the service at the advertised time. Even though I might personally lean towards the longer, slower point of view, I can also see that there are many people today who find it genuinely hard to maintain concentration for two or three hours straight.

Perhaps the answer is to take the middle path, much as Fr Bishoy did.

Fr Ant

No votes yet.
Please wait...
Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

19 Replies to “Fast or Slow”

  1. “The famous Fr Bishoy Kamel who served some years as a parish priest in the USA once pointed out that he who makes the congregation become bored in the liturgy commits a great sin.”

    Why would that be the fault of the priest? Wouldn’t that be the individual’s problem? I mean, it’s not like Abouna made up the liturgy himself, he’s just praying it as it was passed down to him 🙂

    I personally enjoy when a priest takes their time praying a liturgy. However, if he has advertised a time for when the liturgy will finish, I do think it’s his responsibility to finish by that time. Occasionally, when Christmas falls on a weeknight (such as it did this year), my priest will aim at finishing the liturgy by 11pm since most people have work/school the next day. I bring this up because maybe if he didn’t do that, people would skip the liturgy all together so that they can be up early enough for work/school. Maybe if he didn’t do that, people would come but leave early, thus refraining from partaking of the Eucharist – which is the most important part.

    I guess in the end my post really made no difference haha… But for the Sunday liturgy, I would vote on taking it slow. I’m not sure how things are run in your church, but at my church, after our liturgy we all settle downstairs for an Agape meal. Then the kids/youth are sent off to Sunday school, and there is an Arabic meeting for the parents. For the most part, no one usually leaves immediately after church. There’s no rush 🙂

    Pray for me,
    /sm

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  2. Abouna…keep praying the liturgy the way you always have!!
    You are one of only a few priests who’s liturgy’s are always enjoyable!!..

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  3. Abouna, I was wondering, if the Church congregation were more involved in the Liturgy, I would think this would be less of an issue than it currently is.

    If the congregation really prayed together, lifted our voices together, said Amen together, kneeled together,etc. there would be less distraction from the outside, and hence less bored. The more involved and feeling that we are participants rather than observers, the more likely we would be less bored.

    i am not saying that would make you able to stand a 10 hr liturgy or something like that, but I think we would appreciate a longer Liturgy.

    I think, an I am the first to admit fault here, but deacons not being well trained, and not being in unison contributes to people’s frustration of long services.

    But, I observe, less people are having prayer lives themselves, and that must be part of the wider problem.

    Hmmm. I don’t really have a basis for my conjecture, but I think it makes sense to me (otherwise I would not have said it). I am not saying that those who are bored are all disconnected, observing, prayer-less people. I believe that there are those that hare ADD and resistant to the aforementioned “ideas”. going with my analogy, if you wanted an ADD person to get focussed, you involve them positively and not necessarily give them menial short tasks.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  4. The problem is not the length of the liturgy, it is interactive enough and it’s pace is constantly moving and changing to keep you engaged for it’s two hour length.

    The problem is that people today go through life wanting to get things done at the quickest pace possible so they could move on to the next chore or activity.

    The Sunday liturgy for most people is just habit, something they’ve done since they were children. When something becomes habit, it turns into a chore or a ‘have-to-do’ and so it is treated like every other activity in their lives…’just get it done and move on’…
    So like everything else, the Sunday litugy becomes something that we plan into and around our lives, rather than a stand-alone time of the week that has been set aside.

    That’s the sad thing here!

    Keep the liturgy as it is…when the priest rushes through it, it just becomes extremely annoying (to me anyway)!!..

    Oh and ADD or ADHD doesn’t exist! It’s just an excuse for bratty kids that have a lack of discipline (just thought I’d include that)…

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  5. Hi Abouna, I consider myself to be a mild mass goer. As much as I tried to get into mass (and I have grown to like it more and more as I got older) is that there are parts of it that I don’t understand and thus there is a disconnect. I am a man in my early 30’s, and I think there is a generational issue with attention and speed. Things have to make sense and at an appropriate speed in order to be attentive. For example if the mass is explained more, or there is a more elaborate sermon, or the mass is shorter with a service part attached to it then it would be more meaningful for myself. Just a thought.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  6. Nathan, I know what you say represents a lot of people’s views about ADD (including my own former views), but I am converted. Have you seen them in a clinic? Or seen their SPECT scans of their brain that shows an obvious functional deficit? Or seen their response to directed therapy? Not only that, many psychiatrists think it may be undiagnosed! Others believe the criteria in the Diagnostic manual (DSM IV TR) is not stringently applied, and hence we have a false subgroup not amenable to treatment, or we get those that, as you said, get labelled and automatically assumed to be resistant to conventional methods of discipline without further intervention. But I have not doubt in my mind the pathology exists. A SPECT study showed that they have classical deficits in the pre-frontal cortex as they try to concentrate (in the normal population, the pre-frontal cortex gets hotter i.e. more activity). I know you are going to argue that that is a reflection of them not wanting to study, but that does not explain why with stimulant medication it becomes better (as I would not expect the stimulant to change their personality in that way). Genetic studies have also showed that they have deficiency in dopamine, that is inheritable.

    Just thought I would clear that up haha. I don’t like myths to perpetuate.

    I don’t think the liturgy is as interactive as it was, though- I don’t hear the congregation singing together as they used to, or moving (arms up praying, head bowing, signing oneself etc.), or deacons memorizing hymn melodies with those funny lines to signify the notes etc?

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  7. “Perhaps we should call this fast food hymns … McAlhan!”

    HAHAHAHAHHA… Classic Abouna! Is it on the McValue picks menu?? Or the seeyami menu? Hahaha.
    Seriously though, I do agree with you Abouna, especially on that note- how can a hymn written so long ago in Greek or Coptic, be translated, shortened, condensed, watered-down, moderated… and then squashed in to different verses!? The hymn itself was written so that the emphasis and stress of the tune fell on certain words, to go higher and lower at certain meanings. to be louder or softer about certain phraseologies; Coptic hymns are a total and complete form of prayer in themselves- no wonder the entire Mass is SUNG, not read!?
    This is the philosophy Uncle Makram (memory eternal) undertook with the Alhan- he didn’t just find any tune that fit the English to make it sound reasonably similar to the Arabic- he spent hours of days trying to match every translated word with its original Coptic or Greek word, in the exact same tune, in order to keep the sanctity and the meaning of the TUNE itself, not only the LYRICS.
    As such, the STYLE of singing should be the same, ie; the mourning hymns should be mellow and comforting, the Saints hymns should be wholehearted, the joyful hymns high and mighty, etc. The hymns of the Liturgy should therefore be reflective of this ideology, as the whole Church travels the journey in the life of Christ, and relives His ministry and events- not as a “symbolic remembrance,” but rather as an “anemnisis”, or a true existing reliving moment.

    I don’t know who Tony is, but when he said

    “I think, an I am the first to admit fault here, but deacons not being well trained, and not being in unison contributes to people’s frustration of long services.”

    I think he OBVIOUSLY wasn’t talking about St. Mary and St. Stephen’s choir of deacons, because we regularly practice and revise together, especially before major events. Maybe he’s talking about other deacons who don’t attend hymns class? Nonetheless, we will endeavour to fulfill our duty as the Choir and assist the congregation in praying.

    My conclusion- Sunday Liturgy should be the main focus of Sunday; not Sunday School, not servants meetings, not foool sandwich sales, and definitely NOT socialising- these should not even be compared to the value and importance of the Liturgy. Keep every Mass going for longer and stop looking at your watches! GOD IS LOVE.

    GOD BLESS
    SAMUEL

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  8. You can go on mentioning medical terms all you like, I have no idea what you’re talking about haha…I still think ADHD is an excuse for misguided kids…if something is a disorder we can’t blame anyone…when in fact it’s the parents who are to blame…

    Everything is a disorder these days…kids with so called ADHD just need some guidance and discipline, people with schizophrenia and kids with imaginary friends just need to be taken to a priest to be exorcised..

    Anyway that’s going on too much of a tangent now..

    The problem is just people’s lack of interest in the liturgy out of habit…the liturgy is very interactive, it involves the whole congregation…the lack of participation isn’t a reflection of anything wrong with the liturgy itself, but a refection of each individual person’s own lack desire for spiritual nourishment…

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  9. We’re gonna have to live to disagree on your view of adolescent psychiatry. haha.

    Oh, not speaking about your church in particular Samuel. 🙂 Just some other ones- not mentioning any names.

    Anyway, I just thought I would raise some possibilities.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  10. If i were a betting person I’d put money on the probability that you don’t have any kids Nathan.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  11. What’s your point Sandy?
    If I were a betting person I’d put money on the probability that you’re unnecessarily medicating your kids for so-called ADHD.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  12. Abouna, thanks for your thoughtful words, as always. Perhaps time for a blog that explains the challenges of parenting toddlers and preschoolers? As a mum of very active, delightful, chatty boisterous boys (18 months and 3.5), I cherish the understanding of most fellow parishoners who greet us with love and acceptance, and understand that we want our boys to be filled with love for our Lord and His house from an early age when it is simply unrealistic to expect an adult temperament and concentration span. I’m sympathetic to views of those without children, they were once my views. But I’ve now realised the most important thing is to go to church and not worry about those who may judge you based on how your children behave so my little ones know that it is their home too. I have to admit that I also pray hard that there are no major disasters or tantrums, and have been known to engage in some old fashioned bribery to keep them quiet!

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  13. Lol. Nathan is not getting much popularity these days.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  14. You’d loose your money Nathan.

    Nicely put Angela although I doubt a Blog would help those who haven’t experienced it understand the difficulties in taking care of children. As parents we just have to remind ourselves that perhaps they will understand one day and like us wonder that we ever thought we were in a position to judge.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  15. Tony my friend, I’m not looking for popularity! I’m just saying what’s on my mind…if you or others don’t like it, it’s your own affair…I’m just pointing out what most others are afraid to, because unlike most I don’t care what the Egyptian community thinks of me…I try to distance myself from them as much as possible anyway….

    Anyway, Angela and Sandy, whether I have children or not is beside the point, it doesn’t make me ignorant. You see parents in Church with children who are so well behaved and then you see other parents who just let their children fidget and annoy everyone around them. It’s all about knowing how to discipline your children. You can still make your children feel at ‘home’ at Church while still teaching them to respect it and behave.
    I know when I was a child I was taught to sit next to my mother and not make a sound…just because it’s my ‘home’it doesn’t mean I can do what I like!..it can be done!
    Walk into any other Church and you will not hear a sound, whether there are children there or not…Egyptians just don’t care…which is also why our churches are so poorly maintained and dirty and filled with shoddy construction and handywork….

    That’s what I think….whether it’s a popular opinion or not….

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  16. haha. Just was commenting on the “ratings” after your posts. Just made me laugh.

    Btw, the Egyptian community has its faults, as we are all painfully aware lol, but I think it is as diverse as any other community. And I think most ethnic Churches are like ours actually (no proof admittedly).

    I do have difficulties with loud children too, but I read some articles long ago about how mothers are not inclined to bring their children to Church, because they are afraid that their kids will embarrass them. This might partly explain your experience in other Churches. So I think some sympathy is at hand, but you are right too. But it is a bit more complicated than simply respect and discipline.

    And we do care. Problem with distancing from a community man, is you get a distorted understanding of them. Your swift generalizations, I know are not to be taken so strictly, but I don’t think it represents a very good number of parishioners who do care about the noise.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  17. The ratings on my posts make me laugh too sometimes…but hey, I don’t care..I’m using this forum to tell people what I think…why sugar coat it?

    Every ethnic community has its faults, but when it comes to their Churches all others but ours have nothing but upmost respect.
    I’ve experienced some other Churches, I occassionally attend church services with friends from other Christian backgrounds, and every time I leave wishing that our Church was more like theirs. Walk into other Churches and you will see it for yourself, it’s nothing but upsetting.

    During the service no chatter can be heard, children sit next to their parents without fidgetting and the experience is always a good one…even for me who is not of my friends’ same Christian background.

    More often than not, when I attend a service at our Church I leave annoyed. Children, as well as adults are constantly fidgetting, making noise and moving about, and the Santuary (where I often try and go to escape this) is full of people also fidgetting, moving about and making noise.

    So what is one to do? What’s the point of me coming to Church if I’m going to leave annoyed?

    You know what, I hate doing this, but I am going to lay the blame here on the Parish Fathers. Because they do nothing to stop it. They allow the noise, the fidget and noisy kids moving in and out of the Santuary. All it takes is a few harsh words to put people in line, but that never happens, so the noise gets worse and people are now used to being disrespectful because no one has ever told them to stop. So I’m sorry Abouna’s, but its not going to change unless you all collectively do something about it.

    And it’s not just about the noise either, its about the dirty, untidy, unmaintained Church grounds with shoddy construction everywhere. The cupboard in the Santuary with the vestments always looks like a hurricane went through it, the candle shrines at the back of the Church are disgusting with sand and wax everywhere, the whole Church is messy and dirty and whenever anything seems to be built or maintained it always seems to be of poor quality labour and materials. I mean seriously, what use is the Church committee if they don’t attend to these things. I’m sorry, but all they seem to do is sit at the back of the Church during Sunday liturgy and collect money. There are collection boxes all around the Church for that, if this is the committee’s only function then we may as well not have one.

    So no! Egyptian’s don’t care!! They treat their Church with utter disrespect!!

    What are I doing just sitting back and complaining you are probably asking yourself right now. The noise I can’t do anything about…approach me in terms of providing proper maintenance, or construction and I’d be more than happy…

    Anyway, that’s enough from me…now start clicking away on the negative votes…

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  18. I wholeheartedly agree with Nathan’s last post.

    What’s happening in churches these days is beyond ridiculous! Sometimes the noise at the back of the church is so much that I feel as if we’re running a nightclub at the back! Half the noise is from kids who are let loose by their parents; whatever happened to discipline? If you won’t teach them how to behave in God’s house when they’re young, then where and when will you ever teach them to behave? I remember when I was younger my dad used to pull me in line whenever I talked, why is it so hard to do that these days?

    People talking during the liturgy, chewing gum during the liturgy, then during Holy Communion a total lack of respect. The deacons in our church are pretty loud during the Communion hymns so when Abouna finishes and is about to dismiss the angel, the noise from the back blasts you! The talking is so loud that it’s almost like the people are outside yelling to each other. It’s absolutely disgraceful!

    And our church has the EXACT same problem with cleaning. Yeah they clean the carpets and the floor but the cupboards, the benches, the Sanctuary and the rooms next to them are a complete MESS! Everyone just does whatever they want without telling anyone else; so as a result, whatever we tried to organise goes missing the next week putting us right back at square 1.

    But, I have to add, our Committee aren’t just collecting money. So in that regard we have SOME improvements (can’t say they’re doing their job, but their not failing miserably either).

    We can only pray to God that such problems disappear so that His house can be a source of blessing not anger and annoyance. As St. Paul says when giving instructions as to how the Church should be run: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  19. Correction to my last post:

    What I meant about what happens during Holy Communion is this: The deacons are so loud that it’s only when we finish that we hear it. People using our loud voices to mask their talking, so it’s only when we finish and they’re uncovered that we hear their talking and it’s so loud that it’s like a blast from the back!

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*