The Reading of Prayers13
Another innovation sought for by the innovators, which is presented as part of the "archaic" Liturgy of Saint James, is for the people to be able to listen to the secret prayers of the Divine Liturgy being recited out loud. Even clergy who read the secret prayers silently during the regular Divine Liturgy, when they perform the Liturgy of Saint James, they become lured by the novelty of it and recite the prayers out loud in order to better impress and move people. Yet the prayers of the Liturgy are to be read silently, and this tradition has been maintained from the first century until today.
In his study On the Sacred Memorials, Saint Nektarios reveals the following about the secret reading of prayers when referring to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite: "The secret prayers and blessings, invocations and sanctifications and rituals of the Mysteries are part of the unwritten tradition, according to the seventh chapter of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, which says: 'Now, as regards the consecrating invocations, it is not permitted to explain them in writing, nor may we bring their mysterious meaning, or the powers from God working in them, from secrecy to publicity; but, as our sacred tradition holds, by learning these, through quiet instructions, and being perfected to a more Godlike condition and elevation, through Divine love and religious exercises, you will be borne by the consecrating enlightenment to their highest science.'14 From this most ancient text of the disciple of the Apostle Paul until our contemporary Saint Nektarios, the Church never discussed the issue of the reading of the prayers, because their secret reading is obvious, and everyone respected that which they received from those before them with simplicity and humility without judging and over-evaluating them.
Saint Nikodemos, in his Rudder, says exactly the same thing while also referring to Saint Dionysius, and he concludes that: "Hence these actions of the Church have always been done in secret, and these prayers have never been recited out loud, like Sunday sermons, as our silent and unwritten and secret tradition has maintained ambiguously."15
Even Saint Nicholas Cabasilas, in his Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, says that: "The priest himself within the sanctuary prays in silence for those present and for the holy house." And when he finishes "his silent prayer, the priest recites this explanatory verse in an audible voice, that all may hear, since it is a conclusion and doxology; he wishes in this way to bring all the faithful to share in his hymn of praise, that God may be worshiped by the whole Church. And the congregation do indeed unite themselves to his prayer, for when he has recited this doxology all the faithful say, 'Amen', and by this acclamation take to themselves as their own the prayers of the priest." And further on Saint Nicholas makes clear: "First of all, within the sanctuary, he [the priest] addresses himself to God and prays secretly on his own behalf. Then he leaves the sanctuary and standing in the midst of the congregation he says aloud, so that everyone can hear, the prayer of common supplication for the Church and all the faithful."16
Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, in admiration of the perfection of Sacred Tradition, when reading Saint Nicholas Cabasilas on this matter, is "forced" to say: "See how wonderful is the order of the ritual and how through the mediation of the priest, who secretly prays within himself, the prayers of the faithful are presented to God."17 Of course, Saint Symeon mentions a countless number of testimonies in regards to the secret prayers not only for the Divine Liturgy, but for all the sacred services and mysteries, such as the first prayer at a Baptism ("Then the hierarch prays to himself"18), the second prayer of Unction ("With this and also another secretly"19), the prayer for the Bending of the Neck ("bending our heads as a sign of servitude and supplication"; "wherefore he prays with reverence and silence"20), and the service of the Third-Sixth Hour (the phrase is constantly repeated: "The priest prays silently"21).
Basil the Great, in his work On the Holy Spirit, adheres to the unwritten apostolic tradition, and debunks the silly assertion that the word "secret" refers to "mystical experience" and not rather to the manner of the reading. In response, then, to the question raised by many as to how we received certain apostolic traditions, he responds by asking: "Does not this come from that unwritten and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to everyone?"22 Hence one Basil the Great feels the need for the Church to continued adherence and be obedient to and revere what has been received, in opposition to many of our modern little "basils", in opposition to glory-seeking "innovators" of our worship, who "meddle" and "investigate", because nothing gives them rest and they adopt nothing.
Saint John Chrysostom debunks the interpretation of the word "secret" as being "mystical experience" by bringing up the example of the Prophetess Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel, saying: "Let us not then make our prayer by the gesture of our body, nor by the loudness of our voice, but by the earnestness of our mind, neither with noise and clamor and for display, so as even to disturb those that are near us, but with all modesty, and with contrition in the mind, and with inward tears. But are you pained in soul, and canst not help crying aloud? Yet surely it is the part of one exceedingly pained to pray and entreat even as I have said. Since Moses too was pained, and prayed in this way and was heard; for this cause also God said unto him, 'Wherefore do you cry unto me' (Exodus 14:15). And Hannah too again, her voice not being heard, accomplished all she wished, forasmuch as her heart cried out (1 Samuel 1:13). But Abel prayed not only when silent, but even when dying, and his blood sent forth a cry more clear than a trumpet." In vain, therefore, do certain priests cry out these prayers, and even so loudly that, with the use of technology, these prayers of the Divine Liturgy can be heard not only by people who are participating in the Divine Liturgy, but also by unbelievers, and people who are sleeping, or people involved in their daily inappropriate occupations in relation to the sacredness of the Divine Liturgy, either through the radio or through loudspeakers. As Chrysostom says: "For not unto men are you praying, but to God, who is everywhere present, who hears even before the voice, who knows the secrets of the mind."23
For hundreds of years believers experienced the Miracle of the Divine Liturgy, taught silently by the Bodiless Powers, as explained by Chrysostom: "Do you see not that even in the houses of kings all tumult is put away, and great on all sides is the silence? Do thou also therefore, entering as into a palace—not that on the earth, but what is far more awful than it, that which is in heaven,— show forth great seemliness. Yea, for you are joined to the choirs of angels, and art in communion with archangels, and art singing with the seraphim. And all these tribes show forth much goodly order, singing with great awe that secret strain, and their sacred hymns to God, the King of all. With these then mingle yourself, when you are praying, and emulate their secret order."24 That is, they experience the Liturgy as the Body of Christ, as persons and not as individuals who try to understand with their brains the rituals. They are not detached from the Body, like those who are dedicated to "following along" with their booklet, as certain Christian organizations encourage, but they consider it better to participate wholeheartedly.
Saint Mark of Ephesus mentions the outcries of priests in certain passages, which leaves no room for those who want to devalue the participation of the people in worship: "The voice of the priest, therefore, is an image to those praying of a divine response and causes complete assurance and certain hope to the soul of those who perceive. In this manner the priest communes with our odes and supplications through the outcries, and we also commune in his prayers by listening in stillness to his outcries, with us voicing back to him our 'Amen'."25
In summary, therefore, we summarize Basil the Great: "The Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awesome dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad randomly among the common folk is no mystery at all."26 And the "manifesto" of the divine Chrysostom is: "Whenever God reveals something, it is necessary to accept what is said in faith, not to pry impetuously; to understand what has been revealed, not occupy ourselves with what is concealed; this is why they are concealed."27
13. See also: Η ΑΝΑΓΝΩΣΙΣ ΤΩΝ ΕΥΧΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΘΕΙΑΣ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑΣ.
14. Regopoulos edition, Thessaloniki 1973, p. 105.
15. Pedalion, Regopoulos edition, p. 645.
16. 16th and 24th Discourses of the Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy.
17. Complete Works of Symeon Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Regopoulos edition, 1985, p. 297.
18. Ibid., p. 91.
19. Ibid., p. 231.
20. Ibid., p. 273.
21. Ibid., p. 292.
22. Pedalion, p.
23. P.G. 54, p. 646.
24. Complete Works of Symeon Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Regopoulos edition, 1985, p. 349.
25. Ibid., p. 459.
26. P.G. 32, p. 189.
27. P.G. 56, p. 136.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.