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The Silent Prayers Of The Divine Liturgy
By Father Andrew Harrison

Question: Should the "Priest"or "inaudible" prayers of the Divine Liturgy be prayed silently or aloud?

For the past ten years, Saint Luke parishioners have been hearing the "priest" prayers as they are intoned aloud. The "priest" prayers are those prayers which appear in italic script in the service books. The worshipper will see these prayers at the end of most of the litanies that our deacons chant. They also appear during the Anaphora and include the prayers of consecration that are invoked over the offered bread and wine.

Until the 20th century these prayers were called "silent or inaudible" prayers and read by the priest while the choir sung hymns. If the priest was not able to complete them by the time the choir finished singing, there would be moments of silence. If he were rushed and lagged behind the choir, the prayers were simply skipped. After all, who would know?

During the 1960's under the leadership of Father Alexander Schmemann (of blessed memory), the Orthodox Church underwent liturgical renewal. The Divine Liturgy was celebrated in English instead of old Slavonic and frequent communion was encouraged. This opened the doors for worshippers to not only understand the liturgy, but participate as well. With this deeper understanding came a need to make the liturgy more meaningful. Priests then began to read the silent prayers aloud, especially the Anaphora prayers.

This practice is now under attack in certain sectors of the Orthodox Church in America. In some dioceses priests are given strict instructions (under the threat of suspension) not to read the prayers aloud. Opponents to this practice consider it a departure from Orthodox Tradition. So is reading the "priest" prayers aloud a departure from Orthodox Tradition? As the rector of Saint Luke I certainly consider it my responsibility to follow Orthodox Tradition. I have been questioned about the practice and told that reading the prayers breaks the rhythm of the liturgy.

In writing this article I sent an e-mail to Dr. Paul Meyendorff, Professor of Church History at St. Vladimir's Seminary, requesting his expertise. This was his response:

"In ancient culture all reading was done aloud, even by individuals in their private homes. It was the practice in the early church to read the anaphora prayers aloud. In the 5th century, Emperor Justinian issued a law mandating reading prayers aloud and blaming silent reading on the laziness of the priests. The law had little effect, and by the 8th century the practice of silent reading was widespread. The issue did not come up again until the 19th century and the liturgical movement in both East and West that called for a return to ancient practice of reading prayers aloud and involving the laity more in the liturgy. Archbishop Tikhon of North America and several other Russian bishops called for prayers to be read aloud in their 1905 responses to Pobedonostsev. In this country, Fr Schmemann was the big promoter, and by 1990 about 70% of OCA priests were reading all or part of the Anaphora aloud. The practice also has been catching on elsewhere, including Greece and Russia. Even Patriarch Alexy reads them aloud. I saw this myself."

In addition to Greece and Russia, it is also catching on in the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Australia. I have a CD of the Divine Liturgy in Byzantine chant sung in English recorded by Fr. Miltiades Chryssavgis in which he reads the silent prayers aloud.

It is disturbing that 70% of OCA priests were reading the Anaphora prayers aloud in 1990 and today there is a movement to ban the practice. At a time when our Church should focus on mission in America, we are hung up on a practice directly apposed to mission.

I have discussed this issue with other priests and asked where the words "born again" appear in the baptismal service. Those clergy who do not read the silent prayers were unable to answer the question.

I have strong feelings about the need to read the prayers aloud - not just the Anaphora prayers. After thirty eight years of celebrating the Divine Liturgy, I have come to believe that the "silent prayers" are the core of the liturgy. When I first came to Saint Luke, I read only the Anaphora prayers aloud. It was not until we were given permission by Archbishop Job to use modern English that I discovered the impact of these prayers. I had read them silently over the years. I did them by rote. Sometimes I skipped them when I was rushed or if the choir finished before I finished. I was just going through the motions. If the word "liturgy" means work of the people, then for me it was becoming a dead work. I was like a Pharisee following the letter of the law without the content or meaning.

As I became more accustomed to the modern English, I found that I was really praying the prayers. Since I don't normally speak to God in my personal prayers using "Thee" or "Thou", the silent prayers began to match my personal prayers. I found I could no longer pray the prayers without listening to them. I had returned to the practice of the ancient Church of reading the prayers aloud for myself and for the worshipper. I found that I could concentrate on them without my mind drifting. Each word came alive with meaning. I was praying in the spirit. This experience continues to this day as I pray the prayers aloud each Sunday.

One question raised regards the content of the prayers. Some prayers are for the "people standing here present" while others are for the priest's strength to celebrate the liturgy. One could argue that the prayers for the priest should be recited silently by the priest since they are for him. I disagree. My stand is supported by the prayers of our Lord Jesus Christ found in the scripture. Jesus gave us the "Lord's Prayer." He directed us to say this prayer secretly but he did not say silently. We have a choice.

There is a second prayer which is the real "Lord's Prayer". It appears in the Gospel of John chapter 17. It is that long prayer that the priest reads aloud on Holy Thursday. It is a personal prayer by Jesus Christ to his Father. In the prayer he prayed about His relationship to His Father that He has done His work and will return to Him. He also prayed for us to be as one as He is with his Father. There are other times when He prayed aloud. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed to His Father "to take this cup from me" and on the Cross when he cried out "my God, my God" as he was reciting Psalm 21. If Jesus said these prayers silently, we would never know that He prayed for Himself and that He prayed for us.

The silent prayers are rich in theological content. They teach us about the Holy Trinity and the Theotokos. It has been said that in the Orthodox Church a theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian. Theology has never been removed from liturgy. As Orthodox Christians we pray our theology. It is not an opera on the life of Christ which is concerned about rhythm. The Divine Liturgy is the Kingdom of Heaven made present. The Divine Liturgy has been one of the most effective evangelistic tools. It was because of the Divine Liturgy that the Church survived under Ottoman and Communist rule. How can we witness to the world? How can we fulfill the Great Commission to preach and teach if we keep silent?

I am not an expert on liturgical theology. This is certainly not the last word on this subject. I invite comments and criticism of this editorial.

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