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Archbishop Averky

By Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Jordanville

Preliminary remarks.

“Liturgics” is the name given to the theological science which concerns itself with the teachings on [Orthodox] Christian worship. Of these, the Divine Liturgy occupies the place of primary importance. The word “liturgics,” a derivative of the word “liturgy,” comes from the Greek words “leitos,” which means public, social, “common,” and “ergon” — “work.” Thus, for the ancient Hellenes the word leitourgia meant “common work,” a common service performed for the people or with the participation of the people. This term is made use of in both the Old and the New Testament, though not in the same sense. In the Old Testament the word “liturgy” signified common service in the tabernacle, in honor of God and for the benefit of the people (see II Chron. 35:3). In the New Testament this term is applied to the service of Zacharius in the temple of Jerusalem (Lk. 1:23); further, to the service in the Tabernacle in which the vessels have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ (see the epistle to the Hebrews); and to the service of Christ the Savior, Who performs the priestly rite by means of His every service to His neighbor (I Cor. 9:1, Heb. 12:24). The word “liturgy” is applied especially clearly to the Eucharist by Clement of Rome (second century) in his first epistle to the Corinthians, in which the service of apostles, bishops, and presbyters is described by the term prosferin ta dora = leitourgein (to perform the offering and the liturgy). From this, the term came to define our Eucharistic divine service — the Divine Liturgy. The name indicates the “common” character of Christian worship, as a “common work” in which all must participate. In a broader sense, the word “leitorgia” describes any service established by the Holy Church to the glory of the Trihypostatic God.

Thus, liturgics is the science of Christian worship as a whole. The term “liturgical” indicates that something is concerned with the divine services in general — not simply with the Divine Liturgy alone.

And so, “liturgics,” as Archimandrite Gabriel explains, “considers the Christian religion particularly with regard to how it should outwardly manifest itself, correctly and based on lawful foundations, in a community of many people who are united together into one grace-filled kingdom of Christ, or the Church of the Living God (II Cor. 6:16). The Church, or the community of believers in Jesus Christ, in maintaining the Christian faith, must first discover in itself the inner spirit of that faith, and, second, must exhort and nourish the pious souls of the faithful. To this end it has the religious ceremonies and sacred rites… Thus, liturgics must concern itself with the examination of how the religion of Christians is to be expressed in the sacred rites and ceremonies of the Church, as of the community of believers.

“But we know that so-named Christian churches differ in accordance with their differing confessions of faith. Thus, liturgics must be and is the science of the worship of the Orthodox Church. Consequently, when speaking of the divine services, we speak exclusively of the divine services of the Orthodox Church. The latter designation will prove fitting for our science only when that science examines (studies) and explains the order of the divine services of the Orthodox Church, when it presents a definite conceptualization of every sacred thing and every sacred rite that is a part of the structure of the divine services and, in a similar way, of each rank of service, simultaneously indicating where possible the times at which they should be performed, the reason or holy design with which they were included in the cycle of the divine services, their inner worth, and their spiritual-mystical significance.” (Handbook of Liturgics [Руководство по Литургике], Archm. Gabriel, Tver, 1886, p. 3-4)

The science of liturgics may be approached in various ways. Inasmuch as this science covers a variety of fields in the everyday life of the Church and in her divine services, it is divided into several sections. In textbooks and manuals on liturgics one many observe 1) a historical-archaeological approach, 2) a ritualistic or orderly approach, and 3) a theological approach.

1. The historical-archaeological method in the study of liturgics concerns itself with the firmly established forms and structure of the divine services, which liturgics are obliged to explain. The historical approach attempts to indicate from where a given form has its beginnings, how it transformed, and when it was ultimately established. By using the historical-archaeological method it becomes easier for us to understand the inner meaning of the liturgical form, which is confirmed by the authority of antiquity. Furthermore, this approach elucidates the gradual development and transformation of the liturgical orders and hymns, the church implements, vesture, various styles of temple construction, iconography, and so forth.

In some textbooks on liturgics we encounter the view that the ceremonies of the church are the equivalent of dogmas, since this or that form of divine service or this or that ceremony entered into general use as the result of a conciliar decree. However, we must bear in mind that church ceremonies generally were formed throughout history, and they are subject to the laws of historical development. The inner life of the Holy Church would give rise to a certain custom or ceremony, which eventually would receive the recognition of the Church.

As an example, let us take the explanation of the “small entrance” at the liturgy, as we now interpret it. The small entrance represents our Lord Jesus Christ going out to preach, while the candlestick symbolizes St. John the Baptist. In actual fact the ceremony appeared first, and then its explanation. How did the small entrance come to be? The small entrance is a historical phenomenon, and arose in answer to the needs of Church life at the time. In ancient times during the small entrance the sacred vessels were transferred from the diakonika, the room where the vessels were kept, to the Church, for from this moment began the most important part of the liturgy. Over time this practice of necessity became a ceremony, and later received a symbolic meaning.

2. The second approach, the orderly or ritualistic approach, has as its purpose the study of our Orthodox worship exclusively within the context of contemporary church service order, or the Typicon, with the application of those rules and rites which we use and by which we are guided for the majestic, orderly, prayerful performance of the services. The approach is often limited to this; however, it is essential when possible to likewise give attention here to the history of the development of the Ustav itself, the Typicon; how it gradually gained form, was enriched and, finally, how it was defined and established in its current form.

3. The Theological approach to the study of liturgics is not only an examination of liturgics as a subject historical or archaeological in origin and content, nor yet as simply a code of rules regulating the performance of the divine services according to the direction of the Typicon. Rather, it assimilates the teaching concerning our divine services and treats it as a theological discipline. Why exactly must we regard liturgics in this way? Because liturgical texts, in particular the three-canticled canons, vividly and graphically proclaim to us the great truth of the Trinity in Unity, the Triune Divine Essence; while the Theotokia, foremost of which are the Dogmatica, tell us of the great mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God from the Unwedded and Most Pure Virgin Mary. These tell us also of the dogma, confessed by the Church, of the ever-virginity of the Most Holy Theotokos; and many other theological truths are likewise contained in them.

It should be noted that liturgical texts contain within themselves a wealth of theological thought, especially with regard to dogmatics and moral theology, on the foundation of which material it would be possible to compile an entire discipline which might be titled “liturgical theology.” Unfortunately, liturgical material has been studied and developed but little in this area. There are, however, several works on the subject; for instance, Readings on Liturgical Theology by Bishop Benjamin (Milov), Brussels, 1977; In the World of Prayer by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Jordanville, N.Y., 1957; and others.

The Subject and Objective of Liturgics

The objective of liturgics is the scientific explanation of the external forms of worship which have been established in Christianity. These liturgical forms may be examined 1) from a dogmatic, symbolic, moralistic viewpoint, 2) from a practical point of view — how a given form of service applies to life —, and 3) from a historical point of view.

In Protestantism, in Papal liturgics, the accepted approach to the study of the services is the practical. This is explained by the character of Catholicism as a “form of religion.” A thorough representation of worship and its history has not, until fairly recently, been given by Catholic liturgicists. To be sure, some scholars at the beginning of this century began to systematize liturgical material on the basis of historical fact. However, the Catholic church has now started down a path of reforms, following the Second Vatican Council and beginning in the 1960’s. Hence, their services have been reformed, and new practices introduced. The alter has been transferred to the center of the temple, the worshippers sit surrounding it, and the clergy stand or sit with their backs to the alter, facing the people. For such worship not only organs are used, but the use of guitars and other instruments is also permitted; vocal performances likewise occur. In this manner Roman Catholicism went the way of Protestantism. Roman Catholics can now alter the divine services at any time depending on the circumstances. We know of meetings the Roman Pope has had with various heterodox representatives, and of his participation in prayer even with non-Christians — pagans, Jews, and Muslims, for example.

The theoretical approach is more widely accepted in Protestant liturgics. Protestantism appropriated the right to create various systems of worship, which are allegedly in agreement with the establishments of Christ and His Apostles; but they reject holy tradition and discard its forms, considering them dead weight. Consequently their services consist of assemblies, the reading of Holy Scripture, sermonizing, and the singing of cantatas, or spiritual poetry. In recent times, inasmuch as Protestantism is inclined towards unification with various denominations, their services have acquired a character of ecumenical prayer, in which not only Christian but also non-Christian faiths participate. The so-called “ecumenical meetings” organized by the “World Council of Churches” lead to the organization of ecumenical prayer meetings, in which unfortunately currently take part not only Protestants, sectarians, and members of all kinds of non-Christian religions, but also several Orthodox participants in these meetings.

The main objective of Orthodox liturgics lies in the expounding of the worship of the Orthodox Church, that is, the expounding of the structure and content of every kind of service. As Archimandrite Gabriel correctly noted, “In the explanation of the divine services there must be clearly indicated the idea that visible actions, things connected with the order of the performance of a certain sacrament, are but symbols, or tools, and the conductors of the invisible grace of the Holy Spirit into our souls. If liturgics are to explain the structure and content of the different forms of prayer, and of the various hours of public services, they must show that all of these church services, in spite of their adaptation to the various necessities and circumstances of the earthly life of a Christian, have one principle meaning, one essential purpose: to remove us as often as possible from earthly vanities and calm our mind and heart in God; as often as possible to tear our spirits away from all that is earthly and to strive towards that which is lofty and Divine.” (SeeHandbook of Liturgics, Archim. Gabriel, p. 14, Tver, 1886.)

Through the Orthodox divine services, as Archim. Gabriel goes on to show, we are lifted up to living communion with God, and this in its turn is the preparation of the faithful for eternal communion with Him in the eternal life of the age to come, for the blessedness for which man is destined. Thus, in liturgics it is essential to approach the explanation of the church services from various angles: contemplative, prototypical, spiritual and mystical, i.e., in the sensual to perceive the pretersensual, “to ascend from the material to the contemplation of the spiritual; to see in the mysteries of the earthly Church the elements of the heavenly mysteries; in the prayerful service to our Lord — the prototype of our eternal service in heaven; in the standing before the alter — the beginnings of the glorious standing before the Lord in the life of the age to come; and in the hymnody of those born of earth — the likeness of the ceaseless hymnody of the hosts on high” (Archim. Gabriel, p. 15, Tver, 1886).

Additionally, liturgics must present an interpretation of the services from a dogmatic, moralistic, and historical viewpoint, for without such an approach to the study and exposition of the divine services much of their contents seem to us unclear, unintelligible, and unauthoritative.

Liturgics, in explaining the ceremonies of the Orthodox Church, are obliged to indicate the origins of these liturgical rites. For the Orthodox person it is important to know the origins of all the church rites, who composed them, in what form they were performed in the ancient Church, and how they came to us. If there were changes in these rites, of what sort were they, and why? For by knowing the history of the gradual development and refinement of the church services it will be easier for us to interpret and expound them to those who do not know them but are interested in the subject. At present even among the Orthodox, but especially among the heterodox, a hostile attitude towards our Orthodox divine services may be noted; sectarians often subject our rites to attacks, saying that our services are not currently being performed as they were in the ancient Church. They point to an alleged introduction in the Byzantine period of many superfluous, pompous rituals; this they say with particular reference to the costly beautification of the church implements, vestments, and various ceremonies. Therefore, in order to enlighten those astray and to preserve our Orthodox children from such temptations, liturgics must show that all the rites have their origins in their essential parts in the very depths of ancient Christian times. They have remained the same as they were in the ancient Church.

But inasmuch as the Church lives a life of grace, so her services were in some ways supplemented and developed. New services were compiled for newly glorified saints, new rites and prayers appeared in answer to various needs, and so forth. The construction of the temple was also improved; on the outside churches were made more majestic, while on the inside they were beautified with iconography and casings with images of the saints and particularly venerated or renowned icons. In their turn, zealous Christians made offerings to their temples and adorned them with precious icons, church implements, and vestments. These adornments were not an end in themselves; rather, the most important element was the desire that the performance of the divine services, and especially of the Divine Liturgy, take place in a fitting setting, one suited to the sanctity of these services. Thus, for the temple, for the services, for offerings to God, earnest Christians strove to offer what was best, most valued, and most beautiful.

Therefore, it is essential for every Orthodox Christian to know at least in brief the history and origins of the divine services, so that by participating in the common services they might clearly comprehend their mystical significance. For without this one cannot know how or for what purpose they are performed, nor will one remember their meaning.

But it is even more necessary for pastors of the Church to study liturgics, and especially for those who are preparing to become pastors. For pastors must not only themselves perform the church services with complete understanding and reverence, but must at the same time teach their flock; they must be able to explain everything, to show those who are interested where a more detailed explanation of everything may be found, and so on.

Liturgics as a theological, not to mention practical, science are closely linked to all the other related theological sciences. Thus, they are linked with dogmatic theology, from which they draw their substance. Like dogmatics, liturgics expounds on how, in the divine services, in the mysteries and ceremonies, dogmatic truths are graphically revealed; or, regarding forms of expression of veneration for God, liturgics indicates ways of pleasing God by prayer, fasting, and by other means. They likewise show how it is vital to take abstract moralistic rules and apply them to life, linking itself thereby to moral theology. Liturgics provides homiletics with material for church sermons. Liturgics are forever linked with Church history, for they turn to it when explaining the divine services. Therefore, one may clearly see that between the divine services, with which liturgics is occupied, and the other elements of spiritual-religious, Christian life, that is to say, between faith, with which dogmatics are occupied, and Christian activity, with which moral theology concerns itself with, there is a close association.

Our Orthodox services are the expression of our religious experiences, our spiritual feelings, our faith in the Triune God, and our devotion to God. Such a perception, such a purposefulness is called in liturgics ‘latreutical,’ from the Greek word latreuein, or service, worship of the Trihypostatic God.

In addition to this, in the divine services one may note the sacramental purpose, seeing as they join us to the redeeming labor of our Savior, and are the channel of grace into the world and to individual believers.

Further, the services have a didactic, i.e. instructive, character. Our cycle of services contains a great wealth of hymnography, which is interwoven with readings from the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and with lessons from patristic writings, ascetic anthologies and the lives of the saints, from which a great spiritual wealth of knowledge may be drawn. Thus, the divine services are a source of knowledge of God, and enable one to likewise deepen one’s knowledge of theology. In this instance liturgics are completely interrelated with patristics. Patristics concern themselves with the study of the development of Christian theological thought by various religious writers and teachers of the Church at different times, and should not be separated from liturgical theology. The revealing of the contents of patristic works enriches our theological awareness, and provides us with material for the system and history of Orthodox theology.

In particular, much may be obtained from the hymns of the Ochtoechos, from its stichira and dogmatica which are sung on “Both now” and “Lord, I have Cried,” in which are expounded thoughts on the incarnation of the Son of God, on the redemption of man, on the ever-virginity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and more. The ascending antiphons of the resurrectional services likewise give us valuable material for learning about the Holy Spirit. In the Lenten Triodion we find material that expounds to us the origin of sin in man, the struggle against it, fasting, and prayer. The Pentecostarian recounts the Resurrection of Christ, while other liturgical books likewise contain a wealth of theological material.

The authors of liturgical hymns are spiritual teachers and inspired poets who expound their teachings on various dogmatic issues in a way similar to that in which theological writers of the Church expound their teachings in theological tracts.

Archimandrite Kyprian (Kern) states, “that worship in the widest sense of the word, that is, hymns, readings from Scripture and edifying patristic books, the inexhaustible wealth of our iconography and of the symbolic actions in the mysteries, at the daily services, and at divine services in general, as well as the common folk wisdom in customs connected with individual feasts and sacred rites — all of this is the source of our theological edification and knowledge of God.” (Liturgics [Литургика], p. 5, Paris, 1964.)