May 15, 2012

(2) Orthodoxy's Worship: Liturgical Order and Historical Evolution

By Protopresbyter George Metallinos

2. Liturgical Order and Historical Evolution

Ecclesiastical worship has its own order, i.e., the sum of ritual formalities that govern it. “Typikon” (Greek=formal) is the name of the special liturgical manual which provides the outline and the structure of the Church’s worship, according to how the holy Fathers had formulated it over the centuries. With its established “order” and liturgical unity, the Orthodox ideology was preserved successfully - despite all the circumstantial readjustments and local particularities, i.e., the natural flow of events that were observed in the past - thus enriching the liturgical act and also fending off the various cacodoxies and confronting the various heresies. However, the development of ecclesiastical worship took place organically, with an inner order and consistency, without its unity being disrupted. New elements resemble the branches of a tree, which may spread out but still allow for its unimpeded growth. So it is with Orthodoxy, where the Slavic-speaking Churches observe the order of the “Holy Monastery of Jerusalem” (of Saint Savvas), while the Hellenic-speaking ones are based, mainly, on the order of the Great Church of Christ (in Constantinople), of the Holy Studite Monastery. This difference in the order observed does not disrupt the unity of Orthodox worship. The liturgical structure is specific, and is common to all Orthodox Churches, as one can discern in an inter-Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

Various liturgical forms had already appeared, as early as ancient Christian times (the “Eastern” form: Alexandrian, Antiochian or Syrian and Byzantine; the “Western” form: African, Roman, Paleo-Hispanic or Mozarabian, Ambrosian, Paleo-Gallic, Celtic, etc.). The expulsion of all the heresies that had arisen during the Church’s historical course had also contributed towards the appearance of local differences, but in a spirit of freedom. This is why the various liturgical forms are useful for discovering and verifying the liturgical evolution of the local Churches, as well as their interaction within the framework of the unity of the Orthodox Faith.

One landmark in the evolution of ecclesiastic worship was the era of Constantine the Great, with the inauguration of Constantinople-New Rome (in 330 A.D.) which opened up new, cosmogonic perspectives. The development of every area of ecclesiastic life (=the work of the holy Fathers) had an organic continuance, without this meaning in the slightest a “falling away from primeval Christianity”. The post-313 victory over idolatry gave birth to a universal feeling and theology of “victory” and triumph, which permeated even the very structures of worship. Its development went hand-in-hand with the Synodic formulation of the Triadic Dogma, the cultivation of theological letters, the organizing of monasticism, the erecting of a multitude of temples, etc. With a slow but steady pace, the particularities of worship were minimized and ecumenical forms appeared, based on a stable and unchanging core, which assimilated and united all local particularities. The fruits of these developments are the varying architectural forms of temples, the development of liturgical cycles (daily, weekly, annual), and the addition of new feastdays and services. These developments are chronologically classified as follows: the 4th and 5th centuries are discerned for the vast liturgical flourishing and the profound changes in worship; in the 6th and 7th centuries, the various forms are stabilized; in the 8th and 9th centuries, the final “Byzantine form” is established, which, after the 14th and 15th centuries (Hesychasm, Symeon of Thessaloniki), led to the liturgical order that continues to apply to this day.

The “Byzantine form” of Ecclesiastical Worship was reached through Monasticism, which comprises the authentic continuation of the ecclesiastical community and the permanent safeguarding of the purity and the witness of ecclesiastical living. Throughout the ages, it was Monasticism that preserved the eschatological conscience, through its fending off of secularization. This is why its impact on the Church’s course has proven to be not only definitive, but also beneficial.

Monasticism incorporated worship into its ascetic labors, putting a special emphasis on prayer and, through the “Prayer”, turned its entire life into worship. Monasticism cultivated and enriched the liturgical act, by offering the Church Her liturgical “order” and practically all of Her hymnographical, musical and artistic wealth.

Following Monasticism’s victory and the end of the Iconoclastic issue (9th century), the monastic “form” was passed on to the secular dioceses as well, and this “form” was to eventually prevail throughout the Orthodox Church. The monasteries cultivated the main structural elements of Orthodox worship; also its hymnography (poetry) and its music, and it is in them, that the truth is preserved to this day: that worship is not just “something” in the life of Orthodoxy, but that it is the very center and the source of renovation and sanctification of every aspect of our life.