By Fr. Vasilios Spiliopoulos
In recent years, more often and more priests celebrate the so-called Divine Liturgy of Saint James the Brother of God. The celebration of this Liturgy and its sudden appearance in the life of our Church on the one hand shows the secular spirit that pervades many clergy, and on the other hand it serves the plan of the "reformists" of our liturgical life, the self-appointed saviors of the Church. The plan is simple: this Liturgy has been "baptized" by the reformists as "archaic". However, when it is performed, it is performed in a manner envisioned by the reformists, so that the faithful people are thrilled by the originality and effects, and they conclude, quite wrongly, that this is the archaic and traditional way it is supposed to be performed. This leads people to ask their priests to liturgize this same way when they perform the Divine Liturgies of Saints John Chrysostom and Basil the Great. But is this really so? Can any priest perform any Liturgy they want and how they want? Let us analyze this in detail.
The Canonicity of the Liturgy of Saint James
Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, in his footnote to Canon 32 of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, gives us very interesting information in regards to how "canonical" it really is, that is, how consistent it is with the Sacred Canons and whether or not this Liturgy is accepted. Therefore, although the Saint says this Liturgy is "accepted", he also says that it has "fallen into disuse". Further on he confesses that according to Manuel Malaxos, this Liturgy fell into disuse during the time of Basil the Great. So why the sudden attempt to restore this Liturgy that the Church rejected?
Obviously the reasons are suspect. Let us note at this point that in our country [Greece] this Liturgy was performed for the first time in 1894 by Metropolitan Dionysios Latas of Zakynthos for the ceremony of the reaching of adulthood of the crown prince Constantine. It was therefore celebrated as an ecclesiastical spectacle for "blue-blooded" bystanders. Yet for these same reasons, namely to make an impression on the faithful, this Liturgy is performed today and this is why wherever it is performed it is advertized.
Saint Nikodemos also uses the testimony of Balsamon, whom he uses as a primary reference in the compilation of The Rudder. Let's see what Balsamon says about this Liturgy, when asked by Patriarch Mark of Alexandria if whether the Liturgies said to be authored by the Apostles Mark and James are accepted:
"The great Apostle Paul, the rhetor and teacher of the churches of God, said when writing to the Corinthians, 'Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.' So we say that neither from the Holy Scriptures nor from any synodically published canon have we been informed that a sacred ritual (Gk. ἱεροτελεστίαν) was passed down from the holy apostle Mark. Only Canon 32 of the Holy and Ecumenical Synod held in the Trullo of the Great Palace said that a sacred ceremony (Gk. ἱερουργία) was composed by James, the Brother of God. However Canon 85 of the Holy and All-Praised Apostles and Canon 59 of the Synod of Laodicea, which enumerate the books of the Old and New Testament and those of the apostles that must be in use among us, do not make any mention of a sacred ceremony (lit. ἱερουργίας) of Saint James or of Saint Mark. The Catholic Church of the Most Holy and Ecumenical See of Constantinople also does not in any way recognize them. Thus we rule that they are not acceptable. If it happens [that they are used], they are ordered to completely cease to use them, and also many other things. It is clear from Canon 85 of the Holy and All-Blessed Apostles and from Canon 2 of of the Holy and Ecumenical Synod held in the Trullo of the Great Palace. One, that is the Apostolic [Canon], designates the two epistles of Clement and his constitutions in eight books as to be read but not published, on account of the secret things therein. The other [i.e. the Synod in Trullo], however, intends that they should not be read because many corruptions have been introduced into it by the heterodox which are contrary to piety. Therefore, all the churches of God should follow the custom of New Rome, that is Constantinople, and celebrate according to the traditions of the great teachers and beacons of piety, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, as Chapter 41, Title 1 of Book 2 of the Basilikon1 says, 'With regard to those things for which there is not a written law, the custom followed in Rome should be kept.'"2
So the question arises: if this Liturgy was not accepted in the twelfth century due to the distortions done by the hands of the heterodox, which was when Balsamon wrote his reply to Patriarch Mark, how much more unacceptable should it be today and how much more adulterated must it be considered? Besides, Balsamon gives us more information in his interpretation of Canon 32 of the Trullo Synod where he says: "It is to be noted that only in this present canon has this divine ritual been received that is from Saint James the Brother of God, first bishop of the Church of Jerusalem, and it cannot be found before this, nor is it known how it is done"3 (emphasis mine). Then he gives us very valuable information how when Patriarch Mark of Alexandria was in Constantinople he asked to perform the Liturgy of Saint Mark, but was informed that the Ecumenical Throne and Imperial Law ordered that the Empire should perform that which is performed in the Imperial City. Patriarch Mark therefore apologized for not knowing about this law and conformed to the use of Constantinople.4 Behold the tradition of the Church, behold ecclesiastical men. One Patriarch refused the "reform" without the characteristics of a fanatic and without retreating to reasons of false kindness and false humility, and the other Patriarch was humbly obedient without objection and false argumentation and questioning. Noteworthy, however, is the uncertainty that exists over both of these texts who claim as authors the Apostles Mark and James. What, then, are the "modern" and "archaic" aspects of the Liturgy of Saint James?
1. A compilation of Byzantine Laws.
2. P.G. 138, p. 953.
3. P.G. 137, p. 621.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.