Implied in the Orthodox liturgical tradition, and axiomatic as well in the modern Liturgical Movement, is the basic principle that what we do and what we say in corporate worship directly influences our beliefs, our attitudes and our daily behavior. That influence is indeed one of liturgical worship’s intended effects. Liturgy teaches. Liturgy is designed to affect life. Bad liturgy therefore has bad effects…
A couple of months ago I thought of posting something that asked: What is it about Protestants and pews? By strange coincidence, in a fairly short course of time as I had been investigating some South African Christian blogs, I had come across three rather negative references to pews from Protestant Christians. And what struck me was that although they all used pews as a symbol for something negative, none of them seemed to question the inevitability of pews. From an evangelical-cum-conservative perspective pews seemed to symbolise routine and lack of commitment (those attending church were seen as simply “pew warmers”) while from a more liberal-cum-engaged in the world perspective, pews seemed to symbolise a “churchiness” that was separated from the world. And yet nobody seemed to see what to me would have been the obvious solution: if pews are such a problem, then why not get rid of them?
I thought of responding to this at the time but, as so often happens, I didn’t get to it. But I also realised that contemporary Orthodox praxis often doesn’t present that much of an alternative to the Protestant and Catholic reliance on pews. Moreover, this touches on so many issues, including the role of the body in worship, and the impact of modernity on us, and much of my own reaction is a gut level one rather than one of carefully thought out theory. I know from my own experience that worshipping in a church without pews or chairs affects me at a level that is deeper than just theory but which is not so easy to explain. And I also know that being expected to sit during prayers that one should stand for hits at something deep in my being.
Anyway, this week someone posted a link to the above article on Facebook that expresses this better than I could and that is definitely worth reading. And someone else posted link to this fascinating paper given by the Anglican John Mason Neale in 1841 in which he argued
For what is the HISTORY OF PUES, but the history of the intrusion of human pride, and selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of GOD? a painful tale of our downward progress from the reformation to the revolution: the view of a constant struggle to make Canterbury approximate to Geneva, to assimilate the church to the conventicle. In all this contest, the introduction of pues, as trifling a thing as it may seem, has exercised no small influence for ill; and an equally powerful effect for good would follow their extirpation.