Early Christian Liturgics

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Early Christian Liturgics.

Material from: http://www.liturgica.com


Early Christian Liturgics.

History and Development.



Development of Christian worwsip.

Early History of Jewish Worship.

The Old Testament Basis for Christian Worship.

The Shape of Temple Worship.

Jewish components of Christian Woeship.

The Passover.

The Jewish Berakoth.

Worship in the Early Church.

Sacrifice in Christian Worship.

Early Worship in Antioch.

The Eucharist and the Resurrection.

The Impact of Persecutions on Worship.

The Core of Christian Worship.

Focus on the Eucharist.

Worship and Belief.

The Great Entrance.

The Antiphons.

Heavenly Worship.

Worship on Earth — As It Is in Heaven.

The Ascent to Heaven.

The Royal Priesthood.

Priesthood and Vocation.

The Priesthood In Action: Worship.

The Presence of the Lord in Worship.

Church, Empire and Culture.

The Conversion of Constantine.

Clerical Vestments.

Beauty in Worship.

Architecture and Worship.

The Synaxis and the Eucharist.

Eastern Orthodox Liturgics.


Early Eastern Orthodox Liturgics.

Early Hymns.

The Greek Influence.

Combating Heresies.

Early Liturgical Documents.

The Litanies.

The Trisagion Hymn.

The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil.

The Continuity of the Eucharistic Prayers.

The Byzantine Synthesis.

Division of the Roman Empire.

The Church and the State.

The Influence of Byzantium in the West.

The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Changelessness in Orthodox Worship.

The Schism of 1054.

Orthodox Evangelism to Russia.

Iconography and Worship.

Worship in the Kingdom.

Worshiping and Praying with the Saints.

The Mother of God.

Affirming the Incarnation.

The Communion of the Saints.

Iconography and the Incarnation.

The Physical Dimension of Worship.

Iconography and Jesus Christ.

The Gospel in Color.

The Byzantine Typicon.

Chant Development.

Byzantine Music History.





The Kontakion.

The Kanon.

The Oktoechos.

Early Orthodox Chant and Music.

Words and Music.

Byzantine Chant.

Znamenny Chant.

Bulgarian Chant.

Carpathian Chant.


Nationalism and the Return to the Old Russian Chant.

Russian Znamenny Chant.

Introduction to Znamenny Chant.

History of Russian Chant.

Musical Analysis of Znamenny Chant.

Melodic Motion and Rhythm.

The Notation of Znamenny Chant.

Western Latin Liturgics.

The Early Church in Jerusalem.

Local Variations in the West.

From Greek to Latin.

Early Western Liturgics.

The Dawn of Western Christianity.

Worship in the Second Century.

Growth and Latinization.

Worship after the Legalization of Christianity.

Worship Outside Rome and North Africa.

Gregorian Reforms. Changes Before Gregory the Great.

Reforms of Gregory I and His Successors.

Changes in Secondary Liturgical Elements.

Reasons for Liturgical Reforms.

Evolution of Gallican Liturgies.

Carolignian Reforms. The Franks Adopt the Roman Rite.

Charlemagne’s Program of Reform.

Gallican and Allegorical Characteristics.

Monastic Influences.

The Addition of the Credo.

Other Western Rites.

History and Development.

Liturgics refers to those things having to do with a liturgy, and the obvious point of departure in gaining an understanding of liturgics is to understand the word itself. This is particularly relevant in terms of liturgical music, because the terms religious music or sacred music, while describing the type of music, do not do much to explain the origins or practice.

The word liturgy is from the Greek word leitourgia, and the most common translation is “the work of the people.” It is that common act of God’s people together offering praise to Him in the manner which He revealed that they should. This is the type of worship which took place in the Jewish temple and synagogue, and which came into the early Christian Church.

Note that the emphasis is on “work,” “praise” and “revealed.” The original Greek term includes the term work, and conveys something much more vigorous than a congregation being entertained by a performer — rather, the people working together. Praise is that which is offered to God in thanksgiving for what He has done for us. Revealed makes clear that it is not a collection of actions of our own choice or convenience, but based on direction given to us by God. It is the collective work that assembled believers do together in offering praise and worship to God. Liturgical music is the music developed and either chanted, sung and/or played during this time, while liturgical ritual describes the action that takes place.

For non-Orthodox Christians liturgical worship may be a foreign concept. The question asked is often “why does liturgical worship follow such a set structure or order?” The question reflects an underlying assumption for many Christians that in the New Testament period worship was spontaneous, or reflects lack of knowledge about the origins of liturgical worship within the Judeo-Christian traditions. The fact is, this “order” has its very roots in the Bible, and much of Judaism and Christianity have been worshipping this way — more or less unchanged — for almost over 2000 years.

The core of liturgics is not just beautiful music or awe-inspiring ritual, rather it is a commitment to origins. Two concepts need to be kept in mind as one considers the “why” of liturgical worship and practice: origin and changelessness. Remember, first and foremost, that the Apostles and the first Christian disciples were Jews. That is, they were Jews who recognized and accepted Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. From their heritage with its history of liturgical interaction with God, came the Jewish form of biblical worship, the basic structure, the “origin” of Christian worship. For this reason, we see in Church history a highly developed Christian liturgical order in use even by the end of the first century — that is, within sixty years of Christ?s resurrection.

The second concept is “changelessness.” Perhaps one of the most striking and unique things about much Christian liturgical worship, especially that of the Eastern Orthodox Church in this age of rapid change, and even change for its own sake, is its permanence and changelessness. For example, it has been said that one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Eastern Orthodox Church is “its determination to remain loyal to the past, its sense of living continuity with the church of ancient times.” [1] This commitment to protecting the Gospel and keeping its message and praise to God the same stems from the conviction that the faith which we have is that which our Lord Jesus Christ delivered to us, and to which we will add nothing nor take anything away. If Christians desire to be “apostolic,” then they have to agree to belong to the same Church that Christ founded. That church began in the first century, and “there is a sense in which all Christians must become Christ?s contemporaries...” as a recent Orthodox Christian scholar points out. He goes on to remind us that “the twentieth century is not an absolute norm, the apostolic age is.” [2, 3]

Over the course of the last millennia there has been change in liturgical worship. However, it is change that has taken place carefully, within this context of “changelessness.” Within the traditional liturgical churches, the change has not been a change in the real nature or substance of the faith and practice. Never change for change’s sake, only change in order to remain the same. The underlying commitment has been the exhortation of St. Paul to Timothy to “guard the deposit of the faith” (I Timothy 6:20). But, at the same time, there has been a willingness to enhance the practice of worship in order to make it more heavenly, more spiritual, and more edifying.

The early Christian Church came into being as a liturgical church because Jews worshipped liturgically. The New Testament records numerous instances of liturgical worship, which range from pure Jewish practices (such as Peter and John going to the Temple because it was the hour of prayer) to Christian liturgical worship (which confirms that the early Christians met and worshipped following Jewish liturgical practices, and added to them the rite of the Eucharist).

Many present-day Christians do not understand why the worship services of the “liturgical churches” are so different and so structured. A common assumption is that in the New Testament, worship was spontaneous. However, worship in the early Christian Church, like Judaism, followed a specific order or form. This “order” has its very roots in the Scriptures. In fact, all of Christianity worshipped this way for 1500 years; the Eastern Orthodox Church has been worshiping this way — more or less unchanged — for nearly 2000 years.

Two words need to be kept in mind when one first experiences liturgical worship: origin and changelessness.


Early Christian worship had an origin: Jewish worship form and practice. The early disciples did not create new worship practices any more than did Jesus Christ. They all prayed as Jews and worshipped as Jews. The earliest Christians were Jews who recognized and accepted Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, and the worship that they practiced was liturgical because Jewish worship was liturgical. For this reason we see in the New Testament that the early Christians continued their Jewish worship practices, even while they added some uniquely Christian components. The most central new content was the sacrament of the Eucharist (or Communion) as instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. However, in the early Church this was celebrated as a separate service for many years.

This living continuity of worship from Temple to Synagogue and into the early Christian Church is why there is a highly developed Christian liturgical order in use by the end of the first century, within sixty years of Christ’s resurrection.


Perhaps one of the most striking and unique things about liturgical Christianity, and especially in this age of rapid change and even change for its own sake, is its permanence and changelessness. This is especially true for the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day. (This was also true of the Western Roman Church until the past century when the reforms of Vatican II significantly altered the liturgical form of the Roman mass). It has been said that one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Orthodox Church is “its determination to remain loyal to the past, its sense of living continuity with the church of ancient times “[1]. This commitment to protecting the Gospel and keeping its message and praise to God the same stems from the conviction that the faith was delivered to Christians by Jesus Christ. If Christians are going to be “apostolic,” then they must belong to the same Church that Christ founded. That Church began in the first century.

The musical forms of early Christian worship were initially Jewish, such as the chanting of Psalms. As the Gentile missions began, Christians began incorporating Greek music forms. The language of worship became almost universally Greek, which was the common language of the Roman Empire, and more and more Greek music forms and theory came into use in the Church. Within twenty to forty years, the Christian worship service was a composite of Jewish and Greek liturgical music forms, following the basic shape of Jewish Synagogue and Temple worship. Within a hundred years, as the Church spread across the Roman Empire and most of its members were Gentiles who spoke Greek and lived in a Greek culture, most of the musical style and theory had become Greek. It still retained some Jewish form and content such as chanting. After the legalization of Christianity in the early 4th century, this music form and style developed into Byzantine music, the Church’s first formal music form. Byzantine music was very broadly and consistently used throughout the Church through the seventh and eighth centuries.

Although Greek music was predominant, it was not the only form in use. In Egypt, there was a decidedly different form, as was the case in other parts of the Empire. However, most of the Empire used Greek as its common language, and the Byzantine music became almost universal throughout the Church. The two earliest Christian hymns, “O Gladsome Light” (referred to by St. Justin in about 150 A.D.) and a “Hymn to the Holy Trinity” (from Oxyrrhyncus, Egypt, probably mid-4th century), are decidedly Greek in musical form.

The term “early Christianity” generally refers to the time prior to the legalization of the faith by the Emperor Constantine. Theological development occurred during this time, as well. As the Christian Church worked through the implications of what had occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and as they grew in their knowledge and understanding under the leadership of the Apostles such as James, John and Paul, their worship began to incorporate these new understandings. For instance, the earliest church had two Sabbath services: a “Synagogue-type” service and a separate communion service. Over time these were combined. Another page in this section describes Worship in the Early Church, documenting the processes and influences by which Christian worship became formalized, and how the various rites in use locally became standardized throughout the Roman and Byzantine Empire. A further page details later developments in Christian worship as theology and doctrine became defined, and external cultural influences were exerted on the Christian Church.

Credits: Parts of this page are excerpted from: Williams, B. and Anstall, H.; Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church; Light and Life Publishing, Minneapolis, 1990.

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