Yesterday we went to the second part of David Levey’s paper on “Reading Irreligiously” (for the first part see TGIF: reading irreligiously | Khanya). Much of the paper was devoted to a comparison of Milton’s Paradise Lost with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
I’m not going to try to summarise David Levey’s paper, but will rather try to respond to some of the questions he raises. Perhaps the first thing I should do is confess that I have not read Paradise Lost because I am prejudiced against Milton. I blame Milton for the conception that many English-speaking people have of the devil or satan as Lucifer, and many seem to believe that this understanding is biblical.
In the Bible “Lucifer” is an epithet of the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14). The whole passage is a satire on the fall of a tyrannical ruler who thought himself the brightest star in the political firmament. This is seen theologically and typologically as an image of the fall of Satan, the type and model of earthly tyranny (Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Rev 12:9).
I suppose my prejudice was, at least in part, inspired by C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his novel Perelandra:
He had full opportunity to learn the falsity of the maxim that the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman. Again and again he felt that a suave and subtle Mephistopheles with a red cloak and rapier and a feather in his cap, or even a sombre and tragic Satan out of Paradise Lost, would have been a welcome release from the thing he was actually doomed to watch. It was not like dealing with a wicked politician at all. It was more like being set to guard an imbecile or a monkey or a very nasty child.
What Lewis describes is what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”.
In David Levey’s comparison between Milton, Lewis and Pullman it soon became evident that there was also a cultural difference, linked to the time and the place in which the works were written.
David Levey’s paper says of Narnia, “No sexuality whatever: at the end Susan does not pass through to Aslan’s country because she has taken too much interest in lipstick and boys. Boys/men take lead (except for Lucy, sometimes). No violence”. But that is not true. In The Last Battle Jill Pole takes the lead in exposing “Tashlan” as a donkey in a lion skin, which rather goes against Tirion’s culture. Of Pullman’s work Levey mentions increasing sexual awareness, explicit violence, and strong emphasis on truth.
Concerning sexual awareness, I think Levey is right, but it has little to do with Susan (more on her below). For me the lack of sexuality in the Narnia series was most apparent when I rather hoped and expected that Polly and Digory would grow up and marry and live happily ever after. But they didn’t. Lewis quite explicitly expressed his distaste for any writing that suggested sexual feelings or sexual relations among children, and in the case of Polly and Digory his distaste seemed to extend even to when the children had grown up. But the thing that struck me most about His Dark Materials on first reading is Pullman’s thinly-veiled railing against Christian asceticism throughout the series, yet in the end Will and Lyra, despite their feelings for each other, opt for something very similar to Christian asceticism, and end up like Polly and Digory, though with more angst.
The fate of Susan in the Narnia stories is somewhat different. Of this Pullman said (The Cumberland River Lamp Post – An Appreciation Of C.S. Lewis):
And in The Last Battle, notoriously, there’s the turning away of Susan from the Stable (which stands for salvation) because “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.
This is a rather misleading account, because in The last battle Susan is allowed to grow up, but two of the other characters, one younger and one older, comment on what she has grown up into. For Jill Pole, who, as far as I can determine, was aged about 11 in the story, says, somewhat disparagingly, “she’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations”. I can recall having similar thoughts about older teenagers when I was 11. And Pullman’s own heroine, Lyra, who is the same age, has little time for the kind of world that Susan was interested in, which she experienced when she went to stay with Mrs Coulter in London., and quickly became aware of the superficiality of its attractions and the dangers luking beneath the surface.
If Pullman got this wrong, others got it even more wrong. So we read in The Ramshackle Vampire: Sorry, Ladies, C.S. Lewis Finds You Tedious and Icky:
The Narnia novels, which C.S. Lewis wrote as children’s stories, generally avoid sexual themes. An episode in the final book that Lewis’s readers call “the problem of Susan” thus becomes multiply alarming: it brings sexuality (teenage romance) into the series and then condemns it, and the women who express it. In The Last Battle (1956), Susan Pevensie was denied re-admission into Narnia – and thus allegorically into Heaven – because she dared develop an interest in “makeup” and “boys,” neither of which left her time for Narnia or Aslan. Several authors have subsequently addressed Lewis’s callous dismissal of Susan in their own stories.
The general picture given by these critics is that C.S. Lewis is against life and growing up and adult sexuality. This connotation of “adult” sexuality seems to be the one found in “adult” bookshops.
But The last battle does not actually mention “boys” in this context. When I first read The last battle (at the age of 24) what Jill’s comment about “nylons and lipstick and invitations” conveyed to me was the lifestyle of a fashion-obsessed social-climbing airhead.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built ’round discotheques and parties.
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion. (The Kinks)
Yet that is the lifestyle that Lewis’s critics seem to regard as “grown-up”.
The other odd thing about these critics is that they claim that Susan was refused re-admission to Narnia because of “lipstick” and “boys”. This again is reading into the text something that is simply not there. Her siblings, who were presumably interested in other things, were likewise refused readmission to Narnia because they were too old. We are told nothing about what eventually happened to Susan other than that she was no longer interested in Narnia because she was so wrapped up in her fashion-conscious social-climbing lifestyle. While the others were on the train, she was possibly at a cocktail party, perhaps similar to those thrown by Mrs Coulter. It might have fallen to her, as their only surviving relative, to make the funeral arrangements, for her siblings at least.
And that brings us to popular culture, where the most admired lifestyle is apparently one of a dedicated follower of fashion, a dedicated consumer of goods like nylons and lipstick. This is apparent in the dissing of the humanities in academia — universities should rather be offering courses in producing and marketing lipstick and other cosmetics, rather than teaching useless stuff like history and literature.
But this is perhaps where popular culture of the 1990s until now differs from from that of the 1950s, when the Narnia stories were written. People speak of generations like X and Y, and they have different cultures. I don’t know what letter my generation has, but it fell somewhere between the Beat Generation and the hippies.
There was popular culture, and there was the counterculture, which commercialised pop culture was always trying to coopt to make money out of it.
“Lifestyle” originally referred to a countercultural lifestyle, rejecting the dominant values of society. But it wasn’t long before the banks were advertising “lifestyle banking” with images of yachts, expensive cars and mansions — a Susan Pevensie lifestyle for the middle aged, perhaps. That was really grown up.
Last Thursday we had the opening parliament and the State of the Nation Address (SONA) amid cries of #PayBackTheMoney and #ZuptaMustFall. But just as impoerant, and demanding almost as many colum centimetres, was the fashion parade SUNDAY TIMES – From SONA to Zika: 10 things that happened this week you should know about
The State of the Nation Address may be focused on political topics but with every important event come important fashion moments. From Thuli Madonsela’s canary yellow gown to the long gold dress of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s wife, Noma, designer Gert-Johan Coetzee dominated the red carpet. Here are our best and worst looks from the night.
Back in the 1960s some of the countercultural Christians were called Jesus Freaks, but it wasn’t long before they were coopted by suit ‘n tie Christians, who were soon marketing a new line in plastic hippie Christian kitsch in the Christian bookshops.
I think I’ll stop there. If you want more, try Pilgrims of the Absolute by Brother Roger, CR.
I think I’ve read this book before, in fact I’m pretty certain I have, as many of the scenes rang bells for me, but the plot did not. Though there was so much that seemed familiar, i had no idea what was going to happen next, and so it was like reading the book for the first time. I had made no note of having read it before, so could not even tell when I had read it in relation to other books by Phil Rickman.
But whenever I read it before, reading it now makes me think that the book marks a turning point in Rickman’s novels, the point at which he switched from writing supernatural thrillers to writing whodunits. Being aware of what he wrote before and what he wrote after this book makes that clear, and as a result the book is rather jumbled and messy.
Merrily Watkins, for those who don’t know Rickman’s books, has taken over the job of diocesan exorcist for the Church of England Diocese of Hereford, but, since “exorcist” doesn’t fit with the modern image the church is trying to project, she is given the rather twee title of “Deliverance Consultant”, and is called in to deal with haunted houses and demonised individuals. She is also the Vicar of Ledwardine, a picturesque tourist village on the Welsh border, and single mother of a teenage daughter making the transition from New Age to atheism.
A parishioner, Gomer Parry, who runs a plant hire business, and features in even more of Rickman’s novels than Merrily Watkins, hears that his workshop has burned down, and suspects a business rival Roddy Lodge, whose shoddy workmanship Parry has criticised. But the discovery of a woman’s body excites Detective Inspector Frannie Bliss of the West Mercia police, who thinks he has a serial killer on his hands, an imitator, or even disciple of the infamous Fred West, serial killer of Gloucester.
The whiff of old evil brings Merrily’s mentor in deliverance ministry, the Revd Huw Owen, hot-footing it over the border from Wales, and all the while her boyfriend, Lol Robinson, a failed rock-folk musician, is making a reluctant come-back. To add a further complication a new parishioner at Ledwardine, Jenny Box, has seen a vision of an angel over the village, which inspired her to move there from London.
[Potential spoiler ahead]
This tangle of people with different aims and vested interests ends up in a spaghetti-like mess in the unlovely village of Underhowle, with a spectacularly botched funeral and an even more botched exorcism, with Merrily Watkins and Huw Owen working at cross purposes, in a series of scenes that are rather like a bad dream, where an important event is continually interrupted or sidetracked by a series of distracting happenings, and each interruption is itself interrupted by something else.
If I did read this book before, it didn’t look like a turning point, but reading it this time it now looks like the point at which Merrily Watkins makes the transition to becoming a 21st-century Miss Marple, only a bit younger and less astute.
Some of my other reviews of Phil Rickman books:
This morning we went to TGIF to hear David Levey speak on Why I read irreligiously: doubt, apologetics and fiction.
TGIF (just in case you didn’t know, the letters stand for Thank God It’s Friday) is a weekly gathering in three different centres in Gauteng, held in bookshops with coffee bars attached. Some one speaks on a topic usually related to the Christian faith and society and culture. It lasts an hour, from 6:30 am to 7:30 am, so people can get to work afterwards. We’ve been a few times, when people have spoken on topi9cs that particularly interested us.
From the TGIF blurb:
What does literature have to say to theology – and vice versa? And how do we take literature on its own terms without hastily imposing theological categories; how do we leave room for and engage with doubts and genuine questions in literature? Don’t miss David Levey as he offers a tour of various authors ranging from postmodern writers to feminist theologians to new atheists. Drawing on his own journey of faith and reading, David will invite us to listen for the deeper questions.
This is part 1 of a 2-part mini-series. The first part will explore the relationship between theology and literature more generally, while part 2 (next week) will offer a particular focus on outspoken bestselling atheist Philip Pullman.
Prof David Levey has recently retired from the Dept of English Studies at Unisa but remains an Associate Professor and Research Fellow, with strong focuses on the faith-literature interrelation, especially as regards popular culture in general and Philip Pullman in particular.
We’ll have to go next week to hear the second part.
Afterwards we discussed the possibility of meeting regularly to discuss the general topic of Christianity and Literature. TGIF is all well and good, but it covers a wide range of topics, not all of which are interesting to everyone. Perhaps what we want is a kind of Tshwane Inklings, with no speaker, no set agenda, just getting together to chat on the broad topic of Christianity and literature. Perhaps, like the Oxford Inklings of the 1930s, we may read some of our own writing to each other.
In order that it should not just be a vague desire, we set a time and a place for our first meeting: 10:30 am on Thursday 3 March 2016 at Cafe 41 in Eastwood Avenue, Arcadia, Pretoria, and thereafter on the first Thursday of every month. We will meet for coffee and literary/theological chat, and those who want to stay for lunch can do so.
If there’s anyone reading this who might like to participate, come and join us. If you live too far away, start your own, and join our electronic NeoInklings Forum, where you can discuss things online.
 TGIF meets most Fridays at three different venues in Gauteng.
All venues start 06:15 am for 06:30 am and end 7:30 am sharp. Free entrance, all welcome. No need to book – just walk in.
The venues are:
- Hodges Coffee House, 345 Jan Smuts Ave, CRAIGHALL PARK
- Seattle Coffee Company, CRESTA Shopp’ng Centre
- OM Link Building, 1211 South Street, HATFIELD
 You can read about some other TGIF gatherings we have attended here:
This is an election year in the USA and the media have been speculating on how “Evangelicals” will vote.
To judge from media reports the Evangelicals will vote either for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. There have been some protests about this stereotyping of American Evangelicals, and I have written about the media stereotyping here. In some cases this has led to the phenomenon of Evangelicalophobia — fear and loathing of Evangelicals.
The phenomenon of Evangelicalophobia is not new, however. I became sharply aware of it in 1999 when the so-called Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance began promoting fear and loathing of Evangelicals. It turned out that their notion of “religious tolerance” did not extend to Evangelicals when in 1999 they began propagating rumours to the effect that Evangelicals, disappointed that the world had not ended in the year 2000, would stage terrorist attacks in the USA. These repeated warnings were clearly calculated to promote fear and loathing of Evangelicals, and seemed a pretty swivel-eyed notion of religious tolerance to me, and, in my view at least, completely undermined the credibility of the Centre.
So Evangelicalophobia had been around for some time, it didn’t just start with the current US election. But what is an Evangelical? This article So What, Then, Is “American Evangelicalism?” can help, and a British blogging friend, who lives in Cyprus and has experienced both British and American Evangelicalism, comments on some of the differences here: God-Word-Think: Evangelicals?
Perhaps people who want to know what evangelicalism is will find those helpful.
Part of the difficulty is that “evangelical” has a fairly wide range of meanings in Christian theology and history. It was originally an adjective, and its use as a noun is more recent. Here are some of the meanings.
- Relating to the four written gospels of the New Testament. People sometimes speak of the “evangelical sacraments”, meaning baptism and the Eucharist, which are the only ones mentioned and also commanded in the Gospels. Others, like anointing of the sick (unction) are mentioned in the New Testament epistles, but not in the Gospels, so they are not “evangelical”.
Pertaining to the Gospel or Good News of the Kingdom of God. Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The gospel (evangelion) is both the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and the good news of his coming, which, according to St Luke, actually goes back a bit further, to the Annunciation (Evanglismos), the announcement of the angel to the virgin Mary of the coming of Jesus Christ. These events marking the coming of Jesus Christ have traditionally been celebrated by Christians annually on 25 March, 25 December and 6 January. One who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ in speech or in writing is called an Evangelist. So the writers of the four written gospels are called Evangelists, and those who follow them in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ are called evangelists. Note that there is a difference between an evangelist and an evangelical, which at least some journalists are not aware of.
- Protestant, and especially Lutheran Churches in Germany. Martin Luther disliked the term “Lutheran” and preferred “Evangelical”, indicating that he thought the Lutheran Church was truer to the gospel than the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore “Evangelical” can refer to Lutherans, as opposed to Roman Catholics or Calvinists (Reformed).
- Among Anglicans, “Evangelical” meant “Low Church” rather than “High Church”. High Church Anglicans believed that the church was important, and that (in England) it was more than simply an arm of the State, but important in its own right. The Evangelical Revivals of the 18th century produced evangelistic preaching aimed at conversion or “awakening” of dormant nominal Christians, and this led to the interpretation of the term “born again” as meaning making a conscious decision to follow Jesus. This has sometimes been called “decisional regeneration”, to distinguish it from the traditional teaching of “baptismal regeneration”. With their emphasis on the importance of individual conversion rather than membership of the church, Anglican Evangelicals tended to be “Low Church”.
- Evangelicals versus Ecumenicals. In the 19th century Protestant churches had become mission conscious, and sent missionaries all over the world to preach the gospel. In 1910 an International Missionary Conference was held in Edinburgh to discuss matters of common concern, one of which was that competition between the numerous different Protestant denominations from various countries was hindering mission. This gave rise to the Ecumenical Movement, which culminated in the formation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948. At a meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC), which had been formed as a result of the Edinburgh conference in 1910, it was proposed that the IMC join the WCC, which happened in 1961, and the IMC became the WCC’s Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (see here for more details). Some Evangelicals objected, saying that this was making mission subordinate to the unity of the church. Thus there was a split between Ecumenicals, who saw unity as taking priority over evangelism, and Evangelicals, who saw evangelism as taking precedence over unity. The evangelicals arranged a series of mission conferences, now loosely referred to as the Lausanne Movement (from the venue where one of the conferences was held).
This is a very sketchy summary of some of the different meanings of “Evangelical”. Follow the links for more information.
Note that in the first two the word “evangelical” is an adjective, and these meanings are common to all Christians. In the last two “Evangelical” with a capital E is also used as a noun, and it refers to a subset of Western Protestants.
In this article I have made no reference to the rise of the “religious right”, which is a movement of right-wing political activism, which started among Fundamentalists rather than Evangelicals, but has extended its appeal to some groups of Evangelicals, especially in America. For more details see The Founding Father of the Religious Right. Before then, Evangelicals tended to be a-political. They were more interested in saving souls than in playing politics, and indeed one of their criticisms of Ecumenicals was that the latter were too concerned about politics. At Lausanne conferences there have been some differences of opinion between people with right-wing tendencies and the rest, but the right-wingers have generally been in the minority, and their views have not found much of a hearing. For more information see Documents of the Lausanne Movement.
For this reason I think the media stereotype of Evangelicals as right-wing in politics is inaccurate and unfair. Perhaps the word “Evangelical” has been skunked, and now means so many different things to different people that one needs to qualify it before using it. But I hope this article may bring a little clarity to those who have asked about it. And Evangelicalophobia, like Islamophobia, is an attempt to stir up religious hatred, and no good will come of it.
Point of view of the author
Since I have said that “Evangelical” can mean so many things to different people, it may help anyone reading this to know where I am coming from.
I am not an Evangelical, but an Orthodox Christian, and so in a sense I don’t have a dog in this fight, and that gives me a measure of neutrality.
Having said that, I should also acknowledge that I might not have been Orthodox, or any kind of Christian at all had it not been for an evangelical teacher who evangelised me and rattled the cage of my atheist/agnostic upbringing to present to me the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was Steyn Krige, a conservative Evangelical and progressive educationist, a radical leftist of the religious right.
But I am not writing this to give an “Orthodox” view of Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m writing it as a church historian and missiologist. I haven’t tried very much to “bracket out” my Orthodox views, since for the most part there has been little need — there has been little contact, and for the most part Orthodox and Protestant Evangelicals inhabit different worlds. But as a missiologist I do see at least one overlap: In the 18th century John Wesley and St Cosmas the Aetolian, quite independently, one in Britain and the other in the Balkans, went around preaching revival in the open air. John Wesley was one of the founding fathers of the Evangelical Movement.
Someone posted a link to this article on Facebook, and I strongly disagree Five reasons you should write in your books | Joel J. Miller:
Some will be scandalized. I’m an inveterate scribbler. That’s especially true when it comes to nonfiction, but even novels suffer a few slashes and asterisks. If writing in books ever becomes illegal, you’ll find me in the prison library, lurking in a corner, sharpening a smuggled pencil.
The author is mainly talking about writing in his own books, and since he owns them, that’s OK, but I find it excessively annoying when people write in library books. Finding a book where someone else has underlined things usually distracts from what the author is saying, and very often you don’t know whether the underliner was marking passages they agreed with or disagreed with.
And even if it is my own book, I don’t generally underline things or highlight them, because if it is a good book, on a second reading something quite different might stand out for me, which I might have missed on a first reading. If I have underlined things, then I’m more likely to miss anything new.
The author of the article also mentions indexing noteworthy passages in books, and I have less objection to that. Most books have several blank leaves at the end where this can be done. That can be a useful tool and does not distract other readers, and can be useful to them if they are looking for the same things.
Another exception I might be willing to make is where the book has factually incorrect information, for example a date or the name of a person or a place. But this should be rare, and should be reserved strictly for matters of fact rather than matters of opinion. Who was responsible for starting a war is a matter of opinion, but the date of a significant battle in that war is usually a matter of fact.
I have found that most of the things that Joel Miller finds useful about writing in books can be accomplished more easily and more efficiently by computer software.
There are several note-taking programs available, and one that I use for notes and quotes from books is askSam.
Using such a program it is easy to enter notes and quotes from books, with comments as well, and then to search for themes across several books. So, for example, if I want to find something that I read about myth and concepts, I can enter those two words as search terms, and it throws up this:
The nature of myth.
Source: Berdyaev 1948:70.
Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is
high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention,
with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything,
in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The
creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life,
more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational
thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better
than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that
of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original
phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural
world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and
creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together
Even if I’d underlined the passage in the book it would not have helped, because it was a library book, and even if I had the time to travel to the library, I might find that someone else had taken the book out.
John de Gruchy writes in his blog:
For those who have enquired about my books and publication, or are interested in them, may I draw your attention to the following:Being Human: Confessions of a Christian Humanist (2006). In this I set out my understanding of what it means to be a Christian today over against fundamentalism and secularism.Led into Mystery: Faith Seeking answers in life and death (2013). I wrote this in response to the tragic death of my son Steve.A Theological Odyssey: My life in writing (2014) This was published in celebration of my 75th birthday. It gives full details of all my publications (books, essays, articles), and something about how and why they were written.Sawdust and Soul: Conversations about Woodworking and Spirituality (2015) With William J. Everett. Together with my friend American fellow theologian and woodworker, Bill Everett, I explored what woodworking has taught us about life.I have Come a Long Way (2015). This is an autobiography.
Source: Books etcetra
And John de Gruchy and I are working on another book we hope to publish later this year, one the history of the charismatic renewal and related movements in South Africah church history. Click here for more details.
A couple of weeks ago we restarted Orthodox services in Atteridgeville, about 15 km west of Pretoria.
The parish was started by Fr Nazarios and Fr Elias, two missionary monks, and services were held in a children’s home, or the congregation was transported to the monastery in Gerardville. In 2009 we had a teaching week, which was quite well attended, and the parish seemed to be growing, but after the death of Fr Nazarius and the closure of the children’s home, there was nowhere for the church to meet, so it stopped meeting, yet there were two people who were able to lead Readers Services: Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena.
With the blessing of our bishop, Metropolitan Damaskinsos, we arranged with the African Orthodox Church in Atteridgeville to use their church for services, and began a fortnight ago, on 7 January 2016.
My wife Val bought some wood, and made two ikon stands (analogia) and hangings, and mounted prints of ikons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Theotokos (painted by our daughter Julia Bridget Hayes) on boards, and this Sunday we set them up in the church. Fr Frumentius Taubata joined us this Sunday, and so he was able to bless the ikons and ikon stands.
We were joined by some of the members of the African Orthodox Church congregation, including their deacon, the Revd Enock Thobela. Even though we did have a priest with us this time, we still used the Reader Service, because it will take some planning and preparation before we are able to serve the Divine Liturgy there.
The African Orthodox Church began in South Africa in 1924, and its l;eader, Daniel William Alexander of Kimberley, went to America to be consecrated bishop in the African Orthodox Church there, the seme year that the first Orthodox bishop of the Patriarchate of Alexandria was established in Johannesburg.
Daniel William Alexander went to Uganda in 1932 and Kenya in 1934, and established Afrikan Orthodox Churches there, which were received into the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1946. You can read more of that history here. The South African branch of the AOC, however, remained independent, and after 1960 split into several separate groups, with a long and complex history.
For the last 20 years I think my main ministry in the church has been teaching leaders of mission congregations to lead reader services in the absence of a priest. This might seem odd to many Orthodox Christiasns, who, if there isn’t a priest, either go to a service in another parish, or stay away from church altogether. I think the importance and rationale of the Reader Services is best explained in the following description by a bishop in America. If you manage to read to the end of it, you will also find a link to where you can download a Reader Service book in pdf format, which you can read and use as the bishop suggests (with the blessing of your own parish priest and/or bishop, of course).
Comments on Reader Services by Archbishop Averky
(An excerpt from The Typicon of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Services: The Orthodox Christian and the Church Situation Toda.)
Archbishop Averky of Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, New York, makes some remarks in a report concerning the “Internal Mission” of the Church which was approved by the whole Council of Bishops of the Russian Church Outside of Russia in 1962:
“It is extremely important for the success of the Internal Mission to attract, as far as possible, all the faithful into one or another kind of active participation in the Divine services, so that they might not feel themselves merely idle spectators or auditors who come to Church as to a theater just in order to hear the beautiful singing of the choir which performs, as often happens now, totally unchurchly, bravura, theatrical compositions. It is absolutely necessary to re-establish the ancient custom, which is indeed demanded by the Typicon itself, of the singing of the whole people at Divine services… It is a shame to the Orthodox faithful not to know its own wondrous, incomparable Orthodox Divine services, and therefore it is the duty of the pastor to make his flock acquainted with the Divine services, which may be accomplished most easily of all by way of attracting the faithful into practical participation.”
Further, in the same article Archbishop Averky dispels the popular misconception that Orthodox Christians are not allowed to perform any church services without a priest, and that therefore the believing people become quite helpless and are unable to pray when they find themselves without a priest. He writes, on the same page of this article:
“According to our Typicon, all the Divine services of the daily cycle — apart, needless to say, from the Divine Liturgy and other Church sacraments — may be performed also by persons not ordained to priestly rank. This has been widely done in the practice of prayer by all monasteries, sketes, and desert-dwellers in whose midst there are no monks clothed in the rank of priest. And up until the most recent time this was to be seen also, for example, in Carpatho-Russia, which was outstanding for the high level of piety of its people, where in case of the illness or absence of the priest, the faithful themselves, without a priest, read and sang the Nocturnes, and Matins, and the Hours, and Vespers, and Compline, and in place of the Divine Liturgy, the Typica.
“In no way can one find anything whatever reprehensible in this, for the texts themselves of our Divine services have foreseen such a possibility, for example, in such a rubric which is often encountered in them: ‘If a priest is present, he says: Blessed is our God… If not, then say with feeling: By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.’ And further there follows the whole order of the Divine services in its entirety, except of course, for the ectenes and the priestly responses. The longer extenes are replaced by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ twelve times, and Little Ectene by the reading of ‘Lord, have mercy’ three times.
“Public prayer, as none other, firmly unites the faithful. And so, in all those parishes where there is no permanent priest, it is absolutely necessary not merely to permit, but indeed to recommend to the faithful that they come together on Sundays and feast days in church or even in homes, where there is no church, in order to perform together such public prayer according to the established order of Divine services.”
This normal church practice, which like so much else that belongs to the best Orthodox Church tradition, has become so rare today as to seem rather a novelty, is nonetheless being practiced now in several parishes of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, as well as in some private homes. This practice can and should be greatly increased among the faithful, whether it is a question of a parish that has lost its priest or is to small to support one, of a small group of believers far from the nearest church which has not yet formed a parish, or a single family which is unable to attend church on every Sunday and feast day.
Indeed, this practice in many places has become the only answer to the problem of keeping alive the tradition of the Church’s Divine services….
The way of conducting such services should preferably be learned from those who already practice it in accordance with both the written and oral tradition of the Church. But even in the absence of such guidance, an Orthodox layman, when he is unable to attend church services, can derive much benefit from simply reading through some of the simpler services, much as he already reads Morning and Evening Prayers. Thus, he can read any of the Hours (First, Third, and Sixth Hours in the morning, Ninth Hour in the afternoon), which have no changeable parts except for the Troparion and Kontakion; he can simply read through the stichera of the great feasts on the appropriate day; or he can read the Psalms appointed for a given day….
From Orthodox Word, Jan.-Feb., 1974, Reprinted in A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services, compiled by Archpriest D. Sokolof, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, 1975.
Click here to download a .pdf file of the text of the Readers Service, in English and North Sotho.
And if you would like to hear what it sounds like, click here to download an MP3 file of of the Typika/Obednitsa sung in North Sotho and English. No, it’s not s super polished choir, just our Mission congregation at Mamelodi meeting in a school classroom.