Liturgy of Saint James
The late Pope Shenouda III authorised the British Orthodox Church to continue its use of the ancient Liturgy of Saint James, the brother of the Lord. This liturgy is used by both Orthodox families and, in its Syriac version, is the common liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church and its daughter church in India. We use Greek Saint James because, in spite of having been Byzantised, it is still closer to the primitive rite than Syriac Saint James, which has been heavily embellished. In considering the vestments, altar furnishings and ceremonial of Saint James as celebrated in the British Orthodox Church it was felt that as far as possible it should follow the traditions of our Mother Church, especially as in all other services we were committed to follow the rites and ceremonies of the Coptic Church.
One regular communicant has written, “After nearly twenty years of worshipping with the Liturgy of St. James the words of this beautiful edition have formed and guided my own personal prayers. The references and allusions to scriptural passages, which are many and apposite, provide a continuous source of spiritual sustenance, week in and week out, couched in poetic language which is expressed with that essential quality of conveying a sense of the numinous. … It is, I believe, ideally suited to public worship in English as it is both sublime and intelligible.”
Other services of the Church
Other than the Divine Liturgy, the British Orthodox use the same rites and ceremonies as the Mother Church, though not using Coptic chant, which is unfamiliar to British ears and when used with English texts tends to subordinate the words to the melody. The Protocol also provided for a permanent liturgical commission under the chairmanship of the Metropolitan of Glastonbury to consider appropriate translations of the Coptic Orthodox service books and the use of alternative forms of services drawn from ancient Western Orthodox sources which may be adapted to the local situation.
The Church Calendar
Pope Shenouda III also permitted the British Orthodox Church to use the Gregorian rather than the Julian calendar. Great Britain had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 and it was felt to be more appropriate for a missionary church to follow the local calendar, especially with regard to Christmas. For the observance of Great Lent, Holy Pascha and Pentecost, however, we share the same observance as the Coptic Church and the majority of the Orthodox churches.
As part of our worship we draw on the rich tradition of English Congregational hymnody, which grew up in the eighteenth century under the influence of Isaac Watts and the brothers, John and Charles Wesley. During the nineteenth century many ancient Orthodox hymns were set to traditional English tunes which together with others, expressing sound theology, are used to supplement our worship. The late Armenian Catholicos Karekin I was especially fond of English hymns and carols and commended them to his people whilst the late Pope Shenouda approved the use of familiar hymns as an acculturation necessary to our mission.