Rorate Caeli

Russian Orthodox theologian weighs in on the liturgical reform after Vatican II

Divine Liturgy being offered by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Patriarchia.Ru, the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church) has posted a very interesting interview with Archpriest Maksim Kozlov, a Russian Orthodox theologian and commentator on Catholic-Orthodox relations. The interview was posted on the said website last May 7, 2009.

Mr. Oleg-Michael Martynov of Una Voce Russia has kindly translated the article for Rorate Caeli.

According to Mr. Martynov, "Rt. Rev. Maksim Kozlov, born in 1963, ordained in 1992, is a popular preacher whose target audience are young educated people. A man of scholarship himself, he graduated Moscow State University with a degree in Latin and Greek, and has been teaching at the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy since 1985. Among his subjects there have been Catholicism in the course of Western Confessions History and then Comparative Theology, two fields where he showed himself as a dedicated anti-Catholic but not a good expert in these areas, something quite fitting the needs of modern ROC education."

It should be noted that the interview also contains many factual errors, which will be noted in the comments box.
Nevertheless, Fr. Maksim's ideas on the liturgical and ecclesiastical reforms in Catholicism post-Vatican II, and his view of Marcel Lefebvre are of interest in that these have now been published on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. Hence this post.

Text of the interview in Russian is here

Translation of the interview, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Martynov, with portions pertaining to the liturgical reform of Vatican II highlighted by Rorate:

Protoiereus Maksim Kozlov. How is the Catholic Church’s reform experience useful for us publishes this interview of protoiereus (archpriest) Maksim Kozlov, professor at the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and rector of St. Tatiana Martyr church in the Moscow State University. It was first published by the Neskuchny Sad magazine, issue 5, 2009.

The Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962-65) has caused the most radical reforms in her history. One of the main tasks was to bring in a ‘Church open to the world’ by ‘modern exposition of religious truths’. One of the results, reproaches cast upon the Church for becoming too modern and worldly. Protoiereus Maksim Kozlov believes the main mistake to be thinking that the society in general is willing to live in a Christian way.

What do you think was the reason behind Vatican II’s radicalism?
– We need to understand the situation of the Catholic Church by early 1960s, as well as the general situation in the world. It was the time when people both in Western Europe and, to a certain degree, in the Americas were abandoning regular participation in church life in mass. It was the era of the starting sexual revolution, of considerable parts of the society, especially the young, showing extreme sympathy towards radical left ideas, both pro-Soviet and Maoist. It was since then that Che Guevara started to be perceived as a kind of a self-sacrificing symbol, one perhaps even greater than that of Christianity. It was the time of a profound spiritual crisis, churches were deserted, and under these circumstances the Catholic Church had to react to the situation, try to find new possibilities of dialoguing with the society as it was then – perhaps, even at the price of errors. Vatican II became an attempt at the Church’s answer to the world’s secularism, like once upon a time the Catholics’ Trent answered to the Lutheran Reformation. This move itself, requiring courage and resolution, can definitely be praised.

Which of the reforms of Vatican II do you think to be positive?
– Among the most positive turnabouts I would number the understanding, in a new way declared and, to a considerable degree, experienced by the Catholic Church, of all-Christian unity in the face of danger, of which Alexander Solzhenitsyn was writing during the same period: there are considerable powers in the world that would like no Christians to exist at all. Facing the challenges of modern era, in spite of all our doctrinal differences and their indisputable importance, there is something that unites the Christians. This is a new approach to, let me utter some terrible words, the ecumenical problem, and it was expressed by the Catholic Church and should, of course, be welcomed: at Vatican II, the Catholic Church has renounced equating herself and the Universal Church. Before the Council, Catholics have been stating: Catholic Church is the Universal Church, and now the Catholic Church describes herself as a ‘part of the Universal Church’, recognizing also the way of Orthodox East. The Orthodox are no longer schismatics (heretics) for the Catholics. The direct consequence of this is that the Catholics now recognize the validity of Sacraments celebrated in the Eastern Churches (both Orthodox and Oriental), i. e., in the Churches that retain historical episcopate. An Eastern Church Christian can receive the Sacraments in the Catholic Church without first accepting her teaching as it has been before. Of course this does not mean that we should take a similar approach to recognizing all the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Orthodox theology goes not currently provide an unequivocal answer to the question of the existence of Eucharist in Christian Churches that retain historical episcopacy but are outside of Universal Orthodoxy, such as the Catholics and the Monophysites.

As far as the changes in Vatican’s internal ‘policies’ are concerned, here I would mention a move to overcome Rome’s centuries-old clericalism as a very important issue. I mean a very stern division of the Catholic Church into two unequal parts, the teaching Church, which is the clergy, and the taught Church, which is the laity, framed already in Trent. Vatican II has repeatedly emphasized the importance of lay people, who were now able to take a more active part in the Church. The status of lay organizations has been increased, the ecclesiastic communities were recognized as an important component of the Church. This penetrates the life of Catholic Church considerably. For example, in the town of Rimini, Italy, there are annual conventions of Christians with about a million participating every year. These includes exhibitions and lectures on the Bible, there was, by the way, a large section dedicated to Solzhenitsyn this year. These conventions are initiated and conducted by lay volunteers only, the priests are not an organizing force there. Priests can be invited, take part, etc., but the lay people are the main organizers and inspirers.

As something positive, I would also mention Vatican II’s new approach to liturgical worship. Before the Council, Catholic mass was celebrated in Latin, which even among the Europeans few could understand by the middle of 20th century. And after the Catholic Church’s mission to Latin America, Africa, Asia – countries with obviously connection to Romance culture – it became clear that Latin liturgy has come into obvious conflict with the pious needs of many millions of Catholics. This [caused] switching into national languages, which, by the way, was carried out in the spirit of Eastern Christian tradition, that supposes liturgy to be celebrated in the national language of the faithful.

But the methods by which these, reforms, per se right, were carried out, were of diverse value, and the implementation of the reforms itself can not be numbered among the Council’s positive results.

When reforms are declared, there often appears a certain managerial ardor, and at times it’s not the most wise people who find themselves in the lead of the process. In practice, alas, it was not simply permitted to celebrate in national languages, but pre-reform Latin mass virtually prohibited, for it was required to get very many permissions virtually from Vatican itself in order to celebrate it. People who wanted to pray in the old way, especially the clergy, appeared so disloyal and suspicious in the eyes of the predominating trend that Latin worship has virtually ceased to exist.

From the very beginning already, the Council’s reforms have invoked criticism from two directions. The ‘left’ majority were unhappy with lack of radicalism. People who lived in the Western secular society with its priority of human rights as a humanist secular value, and still identifying themselves as Catholics, wondered why has not the Council permitted female priests, abolished celibacy, granted even more rights (like those enjoyed by the priests) to the laity, or allowed divorce and abortions.

The ‘right’ criticism is connected with the name of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991). He and his followers criticized Vatican II in a number of aspects: for its excessive ecumenism, for the liturgical reforms that have, in their view, caused the loss of sacral language of worship as well as the secularization of liturgical awareness. Indeed, the secularized understanding of liturgy was one of the reforms’ negative consequences. This manifested in excessive emphasis on the ‘horizontal’ component, i. e. the fellowship of the faithful, to the prejudice of ‘vertical component’, which is the congregation’s aspiration for Heaven. The altars were taken out of the sanctuary into the middle of the churches, the priests were now celebrating facing the people and not what we would call the synthronon, as it was before, there were unrestrained and numerous variants of translations and ordos for celebrating mass. There was a rupture, loss of the liturgy’s identity and sameness. Before, for example, a Catholic could everywhere, from Africa to Polynesia, come to a service and realize that he was attending a mass, but this is not so now.
Lefebvre is absolutely correct in his criticism of the progress ideology, adopted by the Catholic Church, where ‘progress’ as progressive motion of the society is considered as a religious value regardless of this society’s religious status. This means that growth of material benefits, gentler morals, tolerance towards different value systems, human rights – regardless of their connection with Christianity are taken as a positive value. The society is estimated more by the presence or growth of these categories of progress than by the grade and quality of its piety. This is something which the Orthodox Church, of course, can not agree with.

The idea of progress is associated with the notion of ‘anonymous Christianity’, developed at Vatican II. It means that not only people who visibly belong to the Church, but also those who do not openly run counter to her, to her spirit, are recognized as those not alien to her. This can perhaps be true for non-Christian countries, for communities that have not encountered the Gospel. But this is absolutely inapplicable to European and American society that is, step by step, turning away from Christianity. This is not anonymous Christianity but rather apostasy from God and the Church.

The Catholic Church’s experience after the reforms shows: in spite of the Church’s coming to meet the society trying to become more modern, intelligible, and close to this society, the society did not come to meet the Church. This is to be realized and admitted, practically, historiosophically, and eschatologically: to expect that the society in its majority will be willing to reaccept Christian values not as declarations but as norms implemented in real life means to live in an illusion.

Another important lesson that we can learn from the experience of Vatican II is how cautiously should we approach the centuries-old Church Tradition, first of all in the field of liturgy. It is important to recognize that we are on the same side with the Catholics, also suffering from certain impenitence among a considerable part of churchgoing folk, a view that service is something not to be understood but rather to incite a kind of pious mood. On the other hand, it is important to realize that the way to modifying the liturgy should not be through its adaptation to the society’s simplistic conceptions formed by the mass media and simply by the very low level of education in the humanities. Christianity as such is something complicated. But understanding Church Slavonic it is not the most complicated thing in Christianity. Rather we should put the question, and look for the answer, on how to bring the beauty and significance of this liturgy to the people.
(Note: The final paragraph refers to the current debates in the Russian Orthodox Church on whether to allow the celebration of the liturgy (within Russia) in modern Russian instead of only in Church Slavonic. Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Hilarion have both indicated that they are against the use of modern Russian in the liturgy. CAP)
H/t to my friend J. Felix Valenzuela for first tipping me to the existence of this article.