- Press Release on the union of Coptic and British Orthodox Churches
- On the Trail of Seven Coptic Monks in Ireland
- With Lynch to Holy Etchmiadzin
- The Coptic Orthodox Church under Islam
- Journey Into Artsakh
- Biographies of former BOC members
- The Liturgy of St James – Abba Seraphim
- The Liturgy of St James – Fr John Ross
- The Fraction in The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy
- The Ministry of the Deacon in the Liturgy of Saint James
- The Divine Liturgy of Saint James
- That They May be One – 3:2 St. Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria
- That They May be One – 3:1 St. Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria
- That They May be One – 2. The Humanity of Christ
- That They May Be One – 1. Reflections on Christian Unity
- New Age or Old Faith
- One Lord, One Faith: Why Orthodox don’t practice Open Communion
- Pope Shenoudas El Kosheh Declaration
- Christian Spirituality in a Changing World
- The Saints – Pattern of Christian Virtue
- Reconstructing Celtic Spirituality: Searching for a Western Early Church
The Liturgy of St James – Fr John Ross
Amongst many liturgists in Britain, the Liturgy of the ancient Church of Jerusalem, the Liturgy of St. James, has been of lasting interest. Indeed, its influence upon some Anglican rites has been formative. Considered against the background of the history of liturgical development this should not really surprise us since, for many centuries, the Church of Jerusalem exerted great influence upon the liturgical usages of various Churches throughout the Christian world of both East and West.
As the physical location of many of the principal events in Our Lord’s earthly ministry, passion and His resurrection, naturally Jerusalem attracted many thousands of Christian pilgrims, especially after the Emperor Constantine decreed that Christianity be a legal religion. The construction of a huge and splendid church by imperial authority and munificence over the site of the Holy Sepulchre not only increased the flow of pilgrims, but greatly accelerated the process of liturgical development on a scale hitherto not possible for the Church. Pilgrims to the Holy City were impressed by the splendour of the rites celebrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and they carried descriptions of them back to their own lands, where certain aspects of the Jerusalem usages were incorporated into their native liturgies.
The Paschal liturgies of the Western churches were strongly influenced by those in use at Jerusalem and the Spanish nun, Etheria, who visited the Holy City in 385, describes these rites – the Divine Offices, the Liturgical cycle, etc. – in great detail. We can be sure that her reporting of what she saw and heard in Jerusalem, combined with the stories of other returning pilgrims, must have made a considerable impression on the Church authorities in her own land. Gradually adaptations of the rites of the Jerusalem Church began to be used in the Churches of the West. Of course, we must not ignore the fact that other influences were at work also. The ancient Gallican liturgies of Western Europe show strong traces of Syrian influence for example. All this was part of that process which the late Maxime Kovalevsky has described as “le compenetration des liturgies”.
This reception of Eastern influence survived for a while the break-up of the Roman Empire in the West and the almost total disintegration of imperial power outside the area which came to be known as the Byzantine Empire. Transmission of liturgical knowledge and tradition continued, though in much more difficult circumstances. However, this gradually came to an end with the conquest of key areas of Roman territory by Islam, which effectively cut off large parts of the Middle East from communication with the West. Still later, the re-establishment of a Roman Empire in the West under Charlemagne virtually extinguished any hope of continuing this liturgical cross-fertilisation. Charlemagne imposed the use of the Diocese of Rome upon all the churches throughout his domain. Thereafter, the richer Gallican rites, so similar in ethos to the Eastern liturgies, were to be supplanted by the more austere liturgical traditions of Rome.
It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that there was to be a revival of Western interest in the Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem and this was to be felt especially amongst Anglicans, particularly the Non-Jurors and Scottish Episcopalians. In their efforts to recover and preserve the Orthodoxy of their “continuing Anglicanism”, the Non-Jurors attempted to recover a more Orthodox liturgical worship freed from the restraints of a Prayer Book Liturgy which, at best, was a patched-up compromise service book. Given their suspicion of Rome, they looked further East to the earlier liturgies of Christendom and they focussed their interest on the Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem. Perhaps it was because Jerusalem is where the Church began and, in some sense, may be considered the “Mother Church” of Christendsom, that these seventeenth and eighteenth century divines directed their thoughts in that direction.
The Liturgy of St. James certainly had the reputation of being, if not the oldest liturgy, one of the most venerable forms of the Eucharistic service. It is still in use, occasionally at Jerusalem and is used on St. James’s day by a growing number of Byzantine parishes. In one or another of its versions it is used by the Old Syrian and Malankara Orthodox Churches (Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox).
In the British Isles the Liturgy of St. James was the obvious model for the Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and one can see its influence very clearly in the 1764, 19I2 and 1929 recensions of the Scottish Liturgy. This influence has been somewhat obscured and watered-down in the modern 1982 Scottish Liturgy in which a rather different liturgical ethos is produced. This is to be regretted since, along with many other departures from Apostolic tradition either projected or accepted, the work of the eighteenth century Scottish Episcopal divines who initiated a movement towards the full recovery of Catholic Orthodoxy, has been destroyed and brought to nothing. Alas ! such is the corrosive and corrupting effect of Modernism which, once admitted into the body of a church, can act like a deadly virus infecting the whole body and bringing about an irreversible and steady decline into total unbelief.
Another group of Christians in the West influenced to some extent by the Liturgy of St. James was the Catholic Apostolic Church (erroneously called ‘Irvingites’), which flourished during the nineteenth century. This truly charismatic body drew upon various sources for its Liturgy and one can see the influence of St. James even although this is overlaid by other borrowings and adaptations.
These instances show that the Liturgy of St. James has exercised a fascination for those liturgists seeking to recover the lost Orthodox heritage of the West, and particularly within the British Isles. This interest is not due to a mere love of the romantic notion that St. James is the liturgy of the Church in the Holy City, nor because of its great antiquity. It is a profoundly Orthodox liturgy expressing the spirit and theology of the Orthodox Faith througho ut its text. Unlike the present forms of the Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom or Saint Basil (as used by the Byzantine Orthodox), St. James is not encumbered with several angtiphons and small litanies at the first part of the Liturgy. It may be longer than the skeletal rites used by modern Western Christians, with their love of liturgical brevity and minimalism in worship, but it flows smoothly bringing the worshipper ever deeper into the heart of the Eucharistic mystery. It is this liturgy which provides the Eucharistic milieu in which that great Father of the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.315-386), who was bishop of the city from 349-386, gaves his famous Catechetical Lectures.
The Liturgy of St. James begins (after the celebrant’s Prayer of Preparation) with the Invocation :
“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, Eternal Trinity and only light of Godhead, one in Essence and undivided. The one Almighty God is the Trinity, Whose glory the heavens declare, and the earth His power, and the sea His might, and every sentient and intelligent creature proclaims everywhere His greatness. For to Him belongs all glory, honour, might, greatness and magnificence, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
The veil and the holy doors are opened at this point and we are at once aware of the majesty of God in the words of the invocation. Indeed, this is the hallmark of the Liturgy of St. James. A deep sense of the majesty of God and the awesomeness of the Holy Mysteries which we are privileged to celebrate pervades the whole liturgy and we are taken further and further into the contemplation of the Divine Presence.
In the Anaphora, or great central prayer of the Liturgy, we are reminded of the glories of God’s creation and our bounden duty to render thanks for it and for all the many blessings He showers upon us. As we allow ourselves to be carried into this prayer we can almost hear the ceaseless voices of the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim singing the Hymn of Victory. We think of the holiness of God and the divine condescension enabling us to stand before His holy altar and to participate in the Holy Mysteries, and we sing :
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the Highest !”
Within the sanctuary the priest prays the great eucharistic prayer, recalling the events of the institution of the Sacrament : at that Last Supper of the Lord with His disciples, the forthcoming crucifixion, His descent among the dead, His resurrection and His glorious ascension into heaven. We hear the words of Christ :
“This is my Body which is broken for you and given for the remission of sins”
and then the blessing of the cup :
“[He] gave thanks, hallowed, blessed and filled it with the Holy Spirit and gave it to His holy and blessed disciples saying: Drink ye all of it; this is my Blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins”.
Then the deacon leads the people in acknowledging the meaning of Christ’s words, that our Lord means what He says – This is my Body and This is my Blood and he exclai ms, “We believe and confess !” the people continuing, “Thy death, we proclaim and Thy resurrection we confess !” The great prayer continues with the remembrance of the saving events of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, and as we contemplate His glorious second coming to judge both the living and the dead, we ask God to spare us and to receive this “awesome and unbloody sacrifice”.
Then follows a very full Epiklesis, or invocation of the Holy Ghost, which reminds us of His action upon Christ in the River Jordan, and at Pentecost when He descended upon the assembled disciples in the likeness of tongues of fire. The priest invokes the Holy Ghost upon us and upon the gifts of bread and wine which lie upon the holy altar :
“Send down, O Lord, upon us and upon these gifts that lie before Thee Thy self-same Spirit, the All-Holy, that hovering with His holy and good and glorious coming He may hallow and make this bread the holy Body of Christ … And this cup the precious Blood of Christ”.
As the people begin to sing over and over again “Remember, O Lord our God”, the priest prays for the whole Church, its Patriarch, its bishops, priests, deacons and all the clergy and people and for the needs of all. The prayer contains commemoration of the Patriarchs, Apostles, Martyrs, Saints and especially “Our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary”. Then the departed are remembered and the prayer culminates in a plea for our pardon which leads on to the Lord’s Prayer.
As the Liturgy proceeds, the priest elevates the Holy Bread and says, “Holy things for holy persons !” to which the people respond : “There is One Holy, even One Lord Jesus Christ; in Whom are we, to the glory of God the Father”. Then follows the Fraction (the breaking of the Bread) and the comixture as the priest drops one portion of the Holy Body into the Chalice. Next we have the devotions and prayers before the reception of Holy Communion, and the priest invites the people to partake of the Holy Mysteries saying :
“Taste and see, that the Lord is good; He is broken but not divided, distributed to believers, yet unconsumed, for the remission of sins and eternal life, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”
After the communion of the clergy, the people receive Holy Communion and they do so in the manner described by St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem. The Holy Body is received in the hand, with the left hand making a throne for the right hand, “as for that which is to receive a King”. The Precious Blood is received from the Chalice in the way prescribed by St. Cyril.
The Liturgy of Saint James may strike many Westerners as being very full in contrast to the somewhat brief rites used by modern Western Churches. Indeed it is full, and in an age when millions of people in the West are losing all sense of the mystery, and when their understanding of the Faith in general, and the Eucharistic liturgy in particular is almost entirely lost, bare and scant Eucharistic rites will not serve to bring them back into the fulness of the Faith. Yes, our prayers are directed to God, but there is (and must be) a didactic element in them too, for we surely ought to know what we do in the Liturgy and to Whom we pray. In this respect the Liturgy of St. James leaves us under no mistaken impression as to what we do and of the Orthodox Faith which underlies it. It tells us about the depth of God’s love for us and the divine action in the world undertaken for our salvation.
Considered ecumenically, the use of the Liturgy of Saint James might go a long way to assisting the recovery of an Orthodox understanding of the Christian Faith in the West and so bring us a few steps nearer to the much-to-be-desired reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches.