Divine Liturgy of St James

We got to witness a celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St James, the ancient Liturgy of the city of Jerusalem. It’s a wonderful Liturgy that powerfully integrates the priesthood of the people with that of the clergy, especially how the clergy start among the people and enter the Holy Place to perform the service on their behalf. The dialogue throughout was profound.

The Liturgy started with the priests vesting in a “vestry.”  After that, and a prayer, they started in the Narthex with a prayer.  The first hymn to be sung was “O Only-begotten Son”, the troparion that concludes the second antiphon of the modern Byzantine rite Divine Liturgy.  During this hymn, the clergy processed with the Gospel book to an area that had been set up in the middle of the church.  The clergy sat in chairs lined up parallel and facing each other, with an analogion (lectern) at the west end of the area.  There was a version of the Litany of Peace (almost all the Litanies were a version of the Litany of Peace), followed by the Trisagion.

At this point the Liturgy proper began.  There was an Old Testament reading from Isaiah, followed by a protracted Prokeimenon.  The Prokeimenon and Allelularion were more like the modern Roman Catholic responsorial psalm, in that the first part was a refrain, and there were four groups of psalms verses in between.  After the prokeimenon, there was a reading from the catholic epistle of James.  After the Alleluia, there was a litany in preparation for the Gospel.  There was an option for the Gospel, reading, and it was from Luke, were Jesus instructs us to pray that the tribulations not come during winter, or when a woman is pregnant.  Our thoughts turned to our brethren in Syria.  Then the homily, and the first part closed with a litany in thanksgiving for the Gospel, with the Angel of Peace litany, and the dismissal of the catechumens and the other people who were not supposed to stay (heretics, and other people not receiving communion).  The diaconal command held the congregation responsible for ensuring this: he (in this case one of the priests since we did not have a deacon) commanded that the faithful recognize one another.

The Great Entrance is apparently simpler for the priests than at the regular Liturgy.  Transfer of the gifts is simpler-although there is a prayer of the prosthesis, and the final preparation of the Gifts at this time.  There follows the Creed, and the Kiss of Peace.  In our case the Kiss was only exchanged among the clergy.  The clergy prepare for the offering.  The priest sings “Magnify the Lord with me.” And the people replay with “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  Curiously some Byzantine Catholic parishes sing this verse prior to the homily.  However, here it is clearly the people praying for the Holy Spirit to act through the hands of the priest.  After that, another litany of peace, and the prayers of the offertory.

The Anaphora begins with the usual dialogue.  This anaphora has many more points where the people respond and petition.  Besides the “Holy, holy, holy”, and the “Amen”s of the Words of Institution, there is a sung Anamesis that responds to the Words of Institution:

Deacon: We believe and confess.

People: Your death, Lord, we proclaim, and your resurrection we confess.

The people also add petitions for remembrance, and give their assent during the Epiklesis.  During the long list of dipychs (those commemorated during liturgy) the people repeated please “Remember, O Lord, our God.”  The whole Anaphora left me with the impress that it is not the priests’ prayer, but the prayer of the whole congregation that the priest voices, and the people have an integral part in that prayer, and not just singing over the priest’s prayer.

After the Anaphora is a litany with the “Our Father.”  Between the Our Father and its doxology, there is an embolism, similar to the Roman Rite.  This was surprising.

Communion was different.  The people receive the Eucharist the same way as the clergy.  The Body is given by being placed in the hand of the communicant, and the priest says, “Body of Christ.”  The communicant replies, “Amen.”  The Blood is given separately, and the priest said, “The Blood of Christ.  The Cup of Salvation.” And the communicant replied, “Amen.”  All of communion was given from one lamb alone (no other particles), and from one chalice alone.  Our main celebrant said before communion, that the people would receive as the clergy do (though he had the spoon for younger children if needed).  It was another powerful symbol of the connection between the common priesthood of the people and the ministerial priesthood of the celebrants.  There followed another prayer of Incense (there were several before any significant part, like the Entrances, and the Gospel), and the Litany of Thanksgiving.  After this the command to depart, a prayer, and a final blessing (the current Liturgy has three or four dismissals).

I have been curious what a St Basil or St John C. Liturgy would be like if the medieval layers were peeled away. I think we got a feel for the dynamic. There was a greater balance between the Liturgy of the Word/catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Word had a lot more force and impact, with three readings (OT) and longer psalmody, and the litany of after the Gospel (giving thanks for the Word). The parallelism between the two parts was stronger. Also, between the length of the prayers, and the numerous litanies, there felt like there was more freedom to come and go, when we needed to tend to the children. It was easier to reinsert oneself into the Liturgy, even if out for a few minutes.  Overall there was a stringer connection between clergy and laity.  There was a stronger sense of priests acting on behalf of the laity, and not separately and over them.  They hear the Scriptures from among the people.  The people give their assent for the celebration of the Eucharist, and their assent at many points before and during the Anaphora.  Receiving Communion the same way as the clergy do is also a powerful symbol of the connection between clergy and laity.

Christ is Risen!

Well, I broke down in tears during the Paschal Aposticha.  Here are the two verses that impacted me most:

Let us joyfully embrace one another. O Passover, save us from sorrow; for today Christ has shown forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber and filled the women with joy by saying:  Announce the good news to my disciples.

This is the Resurrection day.  Let us be enlightened by this Feast, and let us embrace one another.  Let us call Brethren even those who hate us, and in the Resurrection forgive everything and let us sing:  Christ is risen from dead ! By death he trampled Death, and to those in the tombs, He bestowed life.

I got so choked up, I could barely croak the hymns out.  The Resurrection Matins is the pinnacle of the year for me.  The Byzantine Catholic Church, and all Greek Catholic Churches, for that matter, are Churches of resurrection.  We are unwanted, called aberrations, and an offense to others  We are a scandal, a stumbling block to larger Churches, to the larger religious world in which we find ourselves struggling to make and keep our identity .  But so was Christ. Christ is a scandal to the wisdom of the Greek, and to the Jewish religious world from which Christianity came.  Christ was beaten, cursed, afflicted, tortured, and buried, guarded by the authorities lest He make a come back.

Yet He did come back.  He did return.  The powers of this world were no match for Him, for he is the strongman who robbed Hades of its treasures.  He burst the iron bars locking the doors, and the bronze gates crumpled before Him.  And He took our father, Adam, and our mother, Eve by the hand, and lead them to Paradise, with all the righteous Fathers and Mothers who went before Him in this world, and lay the road for all humanity to be save.

So it is with our Church.  Our Churches were beaten, tortured, killed, and buried by the authorities, whether in the Communist era in Eastern Europe, or today in the Middle East and Africa, where all Christians, despite confessional lines, have their blood mixed up the ground.  Christ will descend to raise us as He did our Father Adam.  It will not be a violent victory, or a militant victory, for these victories do not guarantee peace.  It is a victory by embracing each other.  It is a victory that calls brethren-brothers and sisters-everyone, even those who hate us, do not want us, find us offensive, who torture and kill us.  It is a victory of forgiveness.  It is a victory where we all sing the risen Christ!.