Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: A Practical Handbook for Divine Services

I recently finished reading "A Practical Handbook for Divine Services" by Fr. Gregory Woolfenden. This is a book that is primarily written for the benefit of priests and deacons, and gets into the details of how the services are actually done on a level that you usually do not find in service books or books on the rubrics of the services. The practice it reflects is largely the same as what is typically found in ROCOR, but there are differences. The author is a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate, serving in Great Britain, and is based on material published in Russian which is published by the Moscow Patriarchate. Nevertheless, in those areas where there are differences, it is useful to be aware of other practices that are out there, and in most cases, the practices are essentially the same. This book fills a gap in the material that has been available in English. I hope that one day we will see something like this published from someone who details the practices found in ROCOR in a similar fashion, or perhaps a future edition of this book that enhances the footnotes in that direction (though the footnotes are quite extensive as it is). I found it very helpful myself, just to review some of the fine points, and where the book differs from what I have seen, it has prompted me to ask questions of other clergy to see what is normally done in their experience.

As Bishop Jerome says, when speaking of various liturgical differences, there are seven ways to do everything, and there are seven ways to do each of the seven ways. A book that detailed all of these variation might be a bit cumbersome, but at least you will find one of the seven ways laid out in detail in this book. Diversity of liturgical practice is a healthy thing, but hopefully this book will help fight differences that are just matters of sloppiness or ignorance.

Laymen who are interested in better understanding the services will also benefit from this book. The services function on many different levels, and this book will help the laity better understand a dimension of the services that often happens out of their view. A great deal of the symbolism of the services are found in the liturgical actions of the clergy, and all Orthodox Christians should seek to better understand them.