We live in a post-literate society, by which I mean that the printed medium is no longer the dominant communication medium. Print has been displaced by the audio-visual world of television, and both now compete with an increasingly diverse range of media. Post-literate society is not the same as functionally illiterate society, by which I mean a society that is unable to access information in print or written form. There is a debate – being covered by the medium of television – in this country at the moment as to whether or not we are becoming functionally illiterate, and how to address this problem.
An immigrant community naturally faces the problem of functional illiteracy – in this case, how much Greek do the children of the Church, born and schooled in England, know; and to what extent will this – or any other immigrant community – teach them their ‘mother-tongue’? (Churches, mosques, temples often play a key role.)
But, is there anything to be learnt from the patterns of worship of the Greek Orthodox for the context of worship in a post-literate society?
There may be something significant to learn from the use of icons, and other ritual objects. Icons are more than symbolic: as I understand it, an icon is viewed as both a window, through which the worshipper looks onto a spiritual dimension (in this regard, similar to stained glass windows); and a door, through which grace is imparted from the spiritual dimension to the worshipper (in this regard, different to stained glass windows). So they are not merely an alternative way of representing something, or of telling a story. But they include that element. Icons carry the story of the community with a permanent accessibility that the weekly-changing sermon cannot.
Should we expect people to follow readings in the Bible – checking up on what is being read, what is being said? Or should we encourage people to listen to the spoken-aloud word (a very different experience from reading, even following along while listening)? Should we teach people to read non-literate codes, to interpret sensory information – an art arguably lost to the western Church since the Reformation? Should there be more art in worship? I’ll pin my colours to the mast on that last question, and respond with a resounding, yes!
Greek Orthodox , spirituality , church , post literate church
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