Recitation of Scripture
Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi, in his Tarazi Tuesday podcast which is a subsection of the Bible as Literature podcast, and in his small-group Biblical Hebrew classes (of which I am a student) has emphasized the role of scripture and de-emphasized the role of the preacher and teacher. He reminds us that if the Lord Jesus is our shepherd, that makes us sheep, and the communication expected of sheep is baa baa. He is convinced that the story will teach us, and that too often we preachers and teachers mangle the meaning to contort it to our own will and presuppositions.
I put a smile on his face after I told him the history of the Alexandrian Rite in its Coptic and Ge’ez manifestations. It is difficult to put exact parameters around this practice, but both traditions boast around 1000 years of, for all intents and purposes, no homilies and a ton of communal scriptural reading aloud.
On normal Sundays, at every parish of the Ge’ez Rite, you will hear readings from the four gospels, the psalms of David, the acts of the apostles, the Pauline letters, and the non-Pauline letters. At the large monasteries and cathedrals this practice is daily. On Good Friday, do not be surprised to hear the psalms of David read aloud in their entirety four times over! It is a day practically dedicated to reading the entirety of scripture. In the traditional school of trgwamé bét, master and apprentices (divided into senpai and kohai as in the Japanese martial sciences) spend 7-14 years memorizing the OT & NT verbatim in Ge’ez and Amharic, plus an Amharic interpretation or two or three.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that homilies were introduced to Holy Trinity cathedral in Adees Abeba, Ethiopia, by the recently reposed Bishop Melchizedek of blessed memory. Surely, this has had an overall positive effect, but it has also led to much doctrinal wildness and arguing, the likes of which have always been present but were arguably in recent decades exasperated. Maybe we should take a page out of Fr. Paul’s book, and our own tradition, spending the next few years implementing a moratorium on preaching and teaching, instead reading scripture aloud to our diverse peoples in Ge’ez, Amharic, Tigriña, Oromo, Afar, and Somali…