One of my common trends in my writing whether it be here or on other media such as Instagram, I tend to write about what the West can learn from the East. However, one notable fact that I failed to mention previously (and it is an important note) is that the West has or at least had all of these. They just fell into disuse either culturally or liturgically, and an implementation of some of these would be simply a return to tradition (and no, simply returning to the usage of the TLM is not what I’m implying. Sad to say, but the TLM as we know it today is also wrought with deficiencies due to a multitude of reasons. But since this is an EC blog, I’ll stay in my lane and stick to EC issues).
One thing that I haven’t touched on is what we can learn from the West. As a Byzantine Catholic, I can personally attest that we lack some things, maybe not liturgically, but in our own spiritual lives as a result of the Oculture. The one which I want to write about today is silence.
One of the greatest charms of our liturgy (keep in mind I’m writing about the Byzantine Rite, particularly the Ruthenian Church) is that we sing everything and there is basically no silent moments of any significant length. As a cantor, I stand throughout the entire service, excluding the homily, and there is no time for contemplative silence. There is nothing wrong with that. That is the tradition as it was handed down to us and it makes sense that our Eucharist is completely focused on offering to God rather than trying to draw meaning for ourselves (although we receive a lot from God).
Yet, if you look at the Latin low mass, you see pretty much the opposite. I live in relatively close proximity to the Latin mass church and I worked out an arrangement where I would bring one of their sopranos to our church to assist us with our singing (we are working on 3 part harmonies) and then I would go to her church later that day to assist her with the same thing. The first thing I noticed was the power of the silence. There was little to no noise in the church aside from the quiet whispers of prayer. In their particular rite, the emphasis is on internal participation at Mass. It was almost like I found something akin to a missing ingredient, that I needed in my prayer life.
ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
Silence and stillness is one of the hardest things for us to accomplish, especially at a divine service. With all the singing and fervent worship, I (especially as a cantor) sometimes lose sight of the worship while focusing on the music quality. The sad thing is that music is easy to turn into a performance. While singing about God, we forget that we are singing TO God. Anyone can fall into this issue, whether it be a cantor, reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest, etc. Whenever there is a group of people, there is always a desire to shine. I’ve seen people in pews (and I have been one, sadly) who will act especially reverent not because they love God, but they want to impress the others around them. To steal from my priest’s sermon from last Sunday “we say and do all of the right things, but do we really believe them in our hearts?” The cause of this? A lack of interior silence.
St. Gregory Palamas is known for his teachings on hesychia, which literally means stillness. His prayer method, known as hesychasm, is intended to bring stillness and silence to the innermost of our souls. He taught that as we breath, we breath the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Some of the most advanced hesychists are actually able to pray this with their heartbeats, which is why this prayer is also referred to as the “prayer of the heart.” He believed that in the stillness and silence, we will be able to see God.
If our hearts and souls are still, we aren’t concerned about how good the music sounds or about how other people perceive our worship. In fact, we also won’t be taking note of the worship of others either. However, this isn’t something that can be forced on us. Only we know if we are doing this. No one will know if you are still in your heart. That is between you and God. But this is a way to bring silence into the hustle and bustle of liturgy and your every day life.
We like to drown ourselves in noise and in media, whether it be the news, music, or memes. When we get into our cars, a lot of us will turn the radio up and allow the music to fill us. Or we spend every waking minute texting or talking to someone. Why do we do this? Is there something inside of us that we are trying to escape from? Why not drive in silence, put the phone down for half an hour, put down the controller, etc. Instead, breath and say “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Silence the seething passions in your soul, and then you will be able to hear the small voice of God calling out to you.