Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Lost Liturgies of the Orthodox Church

There is a wealth of liturgical material that is disused within the Orthodox Church, that we have every right to avail ourselves of, and should, as conditions warrant.  Aside from the Cathedral Office, which is being carefully documented and made available for use by the most excellent scholar of music and liturgy, Alexandar Lingas, who also directs the superb Capella Romana, we have several other beautiful liturgies which are, frankly, much more "ready-made" and easy to serve than the majestic ancient rite of the Hagia Sophia, which I pray will someday be served again in that Great Church, but which would scarcely work in a small parish church, such as those that predominate ROCA.

Ready for immediate use, with current litanies and other amenities, fully compatible with the Typikon, the complex system of lectionary readings, hymnody and other variable aspects of our services, which functions much like an elaborate clock or computer program, running on a 537 year cycle, are three sadly disused divine liturgies.

Before beginning a review of these disused liturgies, I should state my belief that the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the most exquisite and supremely beautiful liturgy in existence; it is doubtful it could ever be surpassed.    I fear to some extent that, by overusing this liturgy, we risk desensitizing the faithful to its unique glory.   I would not be opposed to the increased use of the Liturgy of St. Basil in all fasting seasons, in any parish desiring to make such a change, as a means of increasing the appreciation of that greatest of liturgies, composed by the greatest of preachers, St. John of the Golden Tongue.   Indeed, one could make a case to serve the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom were served at every major feast, including that of St. Basil, and only at those major feasts, given its glorious nature; however, I personally would not opt to go that far, and would content myself with a mild, gentle and gradual process of increasing the emphasis on the splendour of this liturgy, by reducing its ubiquity.   For as I see it, quantity can obscure quality; scarcity is the basis of all value.   Now, aside from St. Basil, and the special case of the Presanctified and the Western Rite liturgies, what might be used instead?

The Divine Liturgy of St. James is foremost of these; the oldest and grandest Orthodox liturgy, it is increasingly celebrated on the Feast of St. James, October 23rd, and knowledge of how to perform it is improving.  One must be careful to ignore the modernist Greek reconstruction of it, which has the ridiculous innovation of celebrating the liturgy on an altar erected in the nave, in front of the royal doors, versus populum, with 13 priests and a bishop; such a format may have once existed in Jerusalem, but is not typical of the rite as it has been historically used elsewhere, including in Russia (where, until the reforms of Nikon, it was in many of the service books).  

It is a myth that this liturgy takes four hours to serve; it may have during the age of St. Basil, leading to the latter's famous redaction of it, but in its present form, it can easily be served in a normal timespan.  The Syriac Orthodox Church, an Oriental Orthodox jurisdiction, routinely serves it in 90 minutes or less, albeit with one of several abbreviated anaphorae, including those of John Chrysostom, and the Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles, which appears to have been the basis for Chrysostom's superb liturgy.   In the Russian Orthodox format, the only really obvious difference between the liturgy of St. James and the other liturgies is the replacement of the Cherubic hymn by the hymn "Let all mortal flesh be silent," a hymn we also sing in the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on Great and Holy Saturday.  A case could be made for using the Divine Liturgy of St. James here, to bring our praxis more in line with that documented by Cyril of Jerusalem; one might observe that the parishioners would scarcely notice the difference, as only the prayers said by the priest would change, and only slightly, for the liturgy of St. Basil, according to tradition, and obvious examination, is a clear derivative of that of St. James.   Thus, we would do this oldest of liturgies justice if we were to celebrate it consistently, two or three times a year, on Great and Holy Saturday (when it once was celebrated, the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Be Silent" being a legacy of that era), on the Feast of St. James and/or the Sunday after the Feast of St. James (if October 23rd does not fall on a Sunday).

The Divine Liturgy of St. Mark was used by the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria until the 20th century; the most recent revision dates from the 1890s.  It thus features all of the neccessary facilities for use in a modern Orthodox service, including provisions for the three Antiphons, the correct Diptychs and Litanies, et cetera.   It is even closer to our standard liturgies than that of St. James, featuring the Cherubic Hymn in its usual form, and even the phrase "Thine own of Thine own gifts we have set before Thee", so similiar to the equivalent in St. Basil and St. John Chryostom as to be essentially interchangeable.   The most distinctive feature of the Alexandrian liturgies, the double epiclesis, was removed over the years from the Greek Orthodox version and exists only in the Coptic, thus, there is nothing in the service that a Russian Orthodox layman would find unnatural or jarring.  In recent years, many seminaries, particularly those associated with the Greek church, have served it on the Feast of St. Mark.  I would most humbly suggest that this liturgy be served on that feast, and on the following Sunday, and also on the feasts (and following Sundays) of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril, the three heroes of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.   It might also be used in lieu of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil as an alternative to the triumphant liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in lesser fasts, such as the Apostle's Fast.

Lastly, the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter was used in ancient times by the Russian church, before the reforms of Nikon.   A community of Old Believers in Turkey, in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch, continued using it for many centuries until their forced exile in the early 1960s, at which time the Turks confiscated and presumably destroyed their ancient service books.   Fortunately however, a copy, written in Slavonic, was found in a library at Mount Athos, and thus this beautiful liturgy was not lost to posterity.  My understanding is that it has been celebrated in the Western Rite of ROCOR, both before and after the Western Rite parishes joined the schismatic Metropolitan Laurus to subordinate themselves to a tyrant, leading sadly to their own impending dissolution.

However, this liturgy is not a Western liturgy, strictly speaking.  It is rather a Byzantinized version of the ancient Roman liturgy; the Anaphora contained therein is essentially the Roman Canon, devoid of the heretical accretions since the Great Schism of 1054, and of the regrettable comingling of the Roman and Gallican Rites.   The liturgy is fully configured for normal Orthodox worship and is fully compatible with the Typikon, featuring three antiphons, and the usual litanies.   The diptychs are missing from the online text at Occidentalis, presumably due to a typographic error, but inserting them in the usual position is a simple matter. 

The main advantage this liturgy offers is its brevity.  I do not suggest using it on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, for this would be ridiculous; it is named in honor of St. Peter on account of its Roman origin, but is the product of generations of liturgists and, while not fundamentally different from the Apostolic liturgy, is most certainly not by Peter's hands.   Indeed, as far as we know, St. Peter himself most likely was illiterate, unlike Paul, relying on Mark the Evangelist as his scribe.  The dissimilarity between the Alexandrian liturgy which bears Mark's name, and the Roman liturgy bearing Peter's name, suggests a later authorship for one or both, with the liturgy simply credited to its proper author.  Two additional unrelated liturgies are also named for Peter: the Syriac Orthodox Anaphora of St. Peter, which is rather similiar to that of St. Xystus, if memory serves, and the Maronite Anaphora of St. Peter, which is, uniquely for the Maronites, of an East Syriac structure.  The Western Rite of ROCOR has indeed added to the confusion by also naming their systematic restoration of the Sarum Rite for Peter.  

So let us return to the main blessing this liturgy provides.  Like the Mass of the Latin Rite, it is short.  One could say it in an hour or even a half hour, owing to the short nature of its anaphora, without the kind of liturgical butchery required to compress the the liturgies of Ss. Basil or John Chrysostom into such a timespan.   This is useful for what one might call an "emerging market": the lunchtime crowd.  In recent years, the numerous historic Church of England parishes in the City of London have been saved to a large extent by providing lunchtime services to the office workers, as the residential population of the Square Mile has dwindled to less than a thousand.   Increasingly, throughout the world, urban churches are finding success with these services.   However, such services are, by their nature, pressed for time.   The only possible way we might be able to do such a service and offer communion in the Orthodox church, communion which is so beneficial to those faithful laboring under the most intense, crushing burden of the world in their day jobs, is to use as short a liturgy as possible, and to this end we have three options: massacre that of St. John Chrysostom (which I have seen done, to a blasphemous extent, by priests from the Ecumenical Patriarch), write a new one, perhaps based on the Anaphora of Hippolytus, a dubious proposition given that our newest liturgy dates from the fourth century, or use the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter, a liturgy recently used in our church before the schism, and used by Russian Orthodox continuously until the 1960s, admittedly Old Ritualists, but Old Ritualists whose canonical status is unquestioned.  

On the subject of developing a midday urban ministry targeting office workers, I shall be writing another, longer and more detailed post within the coming days.   I envisage a cycle that would see an Akathist on Mondays, a preaching oriented service based on the Hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter, or on feast days when the liturgy must be celebrated at another time, a Typika service, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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