Byzantine Christian Worship
- Peter GaladzaPeter GaladzaMetropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Saint Paul University
Eastern Orthodox and Catholics of the Byzantine Rite practice a liturgical tradition historically synthesized and disseminated via the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Various traditions of Jerusalem, and Palestine more generally, became a significant part of the synthesis. After Constantinople’s fall in 1453, the Greek liturgical books printed in Venice came to codify the textual and structural bases for the various families of this Rite. These families nonetheless employ different languages and music. They are also distinguished by ritual particularities. The Byzantine tradition stresses the sacramentality of the entire worship space and retains a transcendent ethos. The latter derives from the belief that earthly liturgy is a copy of the heavenly.
While the full, codified Rite reveals an obvious regard for Scripture, approximately 85 percent of the Old Testament is not part of the lectionary—even if allusions to those unused passages are occasionally found in the hymnography.
Historically, various genres have evolved in Byzantine hymnography, but—with some exceptions—the evolution of new forms ceased after Constantinople’s fall. As in all classical Rites, the Eucharist consists of a Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, though an elaborate preparation of the gifts precedes the Liturgy of the Word. A distinctive Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts is a prominent part of Lenten observance. As for the Hours, Vespers and Matins (Orthros) are the “hinges” of the office. Especially in the ancestral territories of the Rite, these have remained prominent—even in parochial churches.
The Orthodox Church does not grant the same status to the Septinarium as does the Catholic, but all seven sacraments are celebrated with significant rites. Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), and the Eucharist are always administered together as initiation into the Church.
The immovable cycle of feasts begins on September 1, imitating the old Byzantine civil calendar, while Easter, the actual start of the Church year, inaugurates the cycle of movable commemorations. The latter includes a cycle of eight melodic tones, with one tone used per week. For the reckoning of the date of Easter, the Julian calendar continues to predominate, even though the Gregorian has been used by many Orthodox Churches for the immovable cycle since the post-World War I period.
The theological academies of the Russian Empire spawned a flowering of liturgical scholarship at the end of the 19th century. The Bolshevik Revolution curtailed this, and the baton passed to Rome’s Oriental Institute and to Orthodox institutions in Paris, Athens, and Thessaloniki, not to mention individual scholars throughout Europe.
Among the greatest challenges for the Byzantine Church today is the development and appropriation of solid research—both historical and theological—with a view to revitalizing worship in cultural environments significantly different from those in which it was born. Sociological factors, however, impede liturgical reform.