The Byzantine Liturgy (Ninth Century) Part III

Themes: Biblical, Denomination, Liturgy, Scholar, Services

The Byzantine Liturgy is the product of a complex evolution that began before the time of Christ. Like its Western counterpart, the eucharistic service of the Eastern Orthodox churches consists of two parts. The first, the Liturgy of the Word, developed from the services of the Jewish synagogue. The second, the Liturgy of the Faithful, evolved from the prayer of blessing or bfrakah of the Passover and other Jewish religious meals.

People:     We praise You. We bless You. We give thanks to You, O Lord. And we pray unto You, our God.

The Epiklèsis
While the celebrant said the Anaphora in a low voice, the people sang hymns related to the meaning of the central prayer of the Liturgy.
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) Therefore, all-holy Master, we also, Your sinful and unworthy servants, whom You have considered worthy to serve at Your holy Altar, not because of our own righteousness, for we have nothing good on earth, but because of Your mercies and compassion, which You have so richly poured out on us, now approach Your holy altar with boldness, and presenting the signs of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ, we beg You and call upon You, O Holy of Holies, by the favor of Your goodness, to cause Your Holy Spirit to descend upon us and upon these gifts now offered,
Deacon:     Bless Master, the Holy Bread.
Celebrant:     that He may show us this Bread to be the precious Body of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Deacon:     Amen. Bless Master the Holy Cup.
Celebrant:     And this Cup to be the precious Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
Deacon:     Amen. Bless both, Master.
Celebrant:     Shed for the life of the world.
Deacon:     Amen. Amen. Amen.
Commentary: All stood or prostrated themselves in silent awe as the celebrant prayed the Epiklesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit to descend and transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Although the Eastern church, which emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Eucharist, avoided a rationalistic explanation of the exact nature of the change, all believed that the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of the risen Christ.

The Commemoration of the Departed and Living
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) And unite all of us to one another, who partake of the one Bread and the one Cup in the communion of the one Holy Spirit. Grant that none of us will partake of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ for judgment and condemnation. Instead, may we find mercy and grace with all the saints that have been pleasing to You in all the ages: the ancestors, the fathers, the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the preachers, the evangelists, the martyrs, the confessors, the teachers, and every righteous spirit perfected in the faith,
(aloud) especially with our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious lady, the Mother of God, Ever-virgin Mary.
Commentary: The commemorations are a remnant of the diptychs, originally read by a deacon.

Text: A deacon censes the gifts, while other deacons wave the fans. Meanwhile the celebrant blesses the antidoron.
People:     In you rejoices, O full of grace all creation, the angelic hosts, and the race of men, O hallowed Temple and super-sensual Paradise, glory of Virgins of whom God was incarnate and became a little child, even our God who is before all ages; for he made your womb a throne, and yours he made more spacious than the heavens. In you rejoices, O full of grace, all creation. Glory to you.

Commentary: Originally a utilitarian act to drive away insects, the fans became a symbol of the seraphim and cherubim, who fly around the throne of God in heaven. The hymn to the Theotokos (“God-bearer”), or Megalynarion, entered the Byzantine Liturgy around the turn of the sixth century. The people began to sing it to fill the time taken for the commemorations when the celebrant began to say the anaphora in a low voice. The antidoron, which means “instead of the gifts,” is the bread that remained after the preparation. It was blessed for distribution to the faithful.

Celebrant:     (in a low voice) May we also find grace and mercy with the holy prophet, forerunner and baptist John, the holy apostles worthy of all praise, St. (N.) whose memory we celebrate, and with all Your saints. Through their prayers, be pleased to protect us, O God. We offer You this spiritual worship for the salvation, protection, and remission of sins of the servants of God (N.N.). Remember all those who have fallen asleep before us in the hope of resurrection to eternal life, especially (N.N.), and grant them rest, O our God, in a place of light where there is no sighing or sorrow, where the light of Your countenance shines. Again we entreat You: Remember, O Lord, Your Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, from one end of the inhabited earth to the other, and grant peace to her whom You have purchased with the precious Blood of Your Christ, and strengthen this holy house until the end of the world. Remember, O Lord, those who have brought You these gifts, those for whom, by whom, and in whose intention they were brought. Remember those who bring tithes and offerings and do good works in Your holy churches and those who remember the poor; grant them in exchange Your heavenly riches and gifts: give them heavenly things in return for earthly things, incorruptible things for corruptible things. Remember, O Lord, those who are in the deserts, mountains, caves and pits of the earth. Remember, O Lord, those who live in virginity, godliness, asceticism, and holiness of life. Remember, O Lord, this country and all those in civil authority: grant them a secure and lasting peace; speak good things to their hearts concerning Your Church and all Your people, so that in the serenity they will provide us, we may live a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and holiness. Remember, O Lord, every principality and authority, our brethren who serve in the government and the armed forces. Preserve the good in their goodness, and make the wicked good through Your goodness. Remember, O Lord, the people here present and those who are absent for an honorable reason. Have mercy on them and on us according to the multitude of Your mercy. Fill their houses with all good things; preserve their marriages in peace and harmony; bring up their children, guide their youth; strengthen their elderly; encourage the faint-hearted; reunite the separated; lead back the wayward and unite them to Your Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Deliver those who are afflicted by unclean spirits; sail with those who are at sea; accompany those who travel by land or by air; defend the widows; protect the orphans; free the captives; heal the sick. Remember, O God, those who are under persecution, in courts, in mines, in exile, in harsh labor, and those in any kind of tribulation, need, or distress. Remember, O Lord our God, all those who have need of Your great compassion, those who love us, those who hate us, and those who have asked us in our unworthiness to pray for them. Be mindful of all Your people, O Lord our God, and pour out Your rich mercy upon all of them, granting them all the petitions which are for their salvation. And remember, O God, all those whom we have not remembered through ignorance, forgetfulness, or the multitude of names, for You know the name and age of each, even from his mother’s womb. For You, O Lord, are the help of the helpless, the Savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, the physician of the sick. Be all things to all men, for You know each one and his request, his household, and his need. Deliver this city, O Lord, and every city, land, town from famine, plague, earthquake, and shipwreck, flood, fire, sword, foreign invasion, and civil war.
(aloud) Among the first, remember O Lord, Our Bishop (N.) and grant him to Your holy churches for many years in peace, safety, honor, health, and in rightly teaching the word of Your truth.
Commentary: When the deacon ceased to read the diptychs aloud, the commemoration of the chief bishop of the see evolved to fill the void.

Deacon:     And remember also those men and women whom each of us has in mind.
People:     And all Your people.
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) Remember, O Lord, every Orthodox bishop who rightly teaches the word of Your truth. Remember me also, O Lord, in my unworthiness, according to the multitude of Your mercies; forgive my every transgression, both voluntary and involuntary. Do not take away the grace of Your Holy Spirit from these gifts here presented on account of my sin. Remember, O Lord, the presbytery, the diaconate in Christ, and every order of the clergy. Let none of us who stand about Your holy altar be put to confusion. Visit us with Your goodness, O Lord; manifest Yourself to us in the richness of Your mercies. Grant us seasonable and healthful weather; send gentle showers upon the earth so that it may bear fruit. Bless the crown of the year with Your goodness. Cause schisms in the churches to cease. Put an end to the attacks of the unbelievers; quickly bring to an end the rise of heresy by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Receive us all into Your Kingdom, consecrating us as children of the light and children of the day. Grant us Your own peace and Your own love, O Lord our God, for You have given all things to us.
This petition is found originally in the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions (VIII. 12.40–42).
(aloud) And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify Your all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
The celebrant blesses the people as he says:
Celebrant:     And may the mercies of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.
People:     And with your spirit.
The Litany Before the Lord’s Prayer
A deacon stands outside of the sanctuary to lead the people in the Litany Before the Lord’s Prayer.
Deacon:     Calling to remembrance all the Saints, again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     For the precious Gifts that have been offered and sanctified, let us pray to the Lord.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     That our God, who loves mankind, receiving them upon his holy, heavenly, and ideal Altar for an odor of spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us in return his divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
Deacon:     For our deliverance from all affliction, anger, danger, and need, let us pray to the Lord.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     Help us, save us, have mercy on us and keep us, O God, by Your grace.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     That this whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us ask of the Lord.
People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     For an angel of peace, a faithful guide and guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord.
Commentary: The mention of the angels during this litany is yet another indication of the belief that the clergy and faithful joined in the worship of heaven during the Liturgy.


People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     For pardon and remission of our sins and transgressions, let us ask of the Lord.
People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     For all that is good and profitable for our souls and for peace in the world, let us ask of the Lord.
People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     That we may spend the remainder of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.
People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     For a Christian end to our life, painless, blameless, and peaceful, and for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord.
People:     Grant this, O Lord.
Deacon:     Asking for the unity of the Faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.
People:     To you, O Lord.
Celebrant:     And make us worthy, O Lord, that with boldness and without condemnation, we may dare to call upon You, the heavenly God as Father and say:
People:     Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Celebrant:     For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
People:     Amen.
The Prayer at the Bowing of the Head
Celebrant:     Peace be to all.
People:     And to your spirit.
Deacon:     Let us bow our heads to the Lord.
People:     To You, O Lord.
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) O Master, Lord, the Father of compassions and God of every consolation: Bless, sanctify, guard, strengthen, and defend those who have bowed their heads to You. Withdraw them from every evil deed; apply them to every good work; and graciously grant that without condemnation, they may partake of these, Your most pure and life-creating Mysteries, for the remission of their sins, and unto the communion of the Holy Spirit.
(aloud) Through the grace and compassion and love for mankind of Your Only-begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
People:     Amen

The Elevation
Commentary: Sometime after the fifth century the celebrant began to elevate the consecrated bread. Originally a call to the faithful to prepare for communion, the elevation became a symbol of the lifting up of Christ’s body on the cross. The celebrant then broke the bread to prepare it for distribution during Holy Communion. A part of the Eucharist from the very beginning, this too took on a symbolic meaning as an image of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Celebrant:     (in a low voice) Hear us, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, from Your holy dwelling place and from the glorious throne of Your Kingdom, and come to sanctify us, You Who sit on high with the Father and are here invisibly present with us. And make us worthy by Your mighty hand to be given Your most pure Body and precious Blood and through us to all Your people.
Deacon:     Let us attend!
Celebrant:     The holy Gifts for holy people!
People:     One is holy. One is holy. One is the Lord Jesus Christ. To the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The celebrant then breaks the consecrated bread and places portions of it in the Chalice as he says:
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) For the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
The celebrant then pours warm water, the zeon, into the Chalice.
Commentary: The origin of the warm water, or zeon is unknown. Some believe that it began in Cappadocia to keep the wine from freezing. Others argue that it stems from the Aphthartodocetae, an extreme form of Monophysitism, that taught that the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ was warm because the body of Christ remained incorrupt even in death. In any case, it was an established custom by the middle of the sixth century, when the Armenian Catholicos Moses II stated that he would not drink warm wine in Constantinople.

The Communion
During Communion a psalm is sung.
Commentary: The faithful of ancient Constantinople took Holy Communion very seriously. They believed that they received the actual body and blood of the risen Christ. Therefore they prepared themselves by strict fasting and through special prayers. In time they would consider the sacrament so sacred that they began to receive Holy Communion only a few times a year. Originally the clergy placed the consecrated bread in the crossed hands of the faithful and then gave them the chalice. By the ninth century, the clergy placed the consecrated bread in the chalice and administered Communion to the laity with a spoon.

Text: Following Communion, the celebrant blesses the people as he says:
Celebrant:     O God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance.
People:     Amen. Let our mouths be filled with your praise, O Lord, that we may sing of your glory: for you have permitted us to partake of your holy, divine, immortal, and life-giving Mysteries. Establish us in your Sanctification, that all the day long we may meditate upon your righteousness. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

The Ektenia of Thanksgiving
A deacon stands outside of the sanctuary to lead the people in The Ektenia of Thanksgiving.
Deacon:     Let us attend! Having received the holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, and awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks to the Lord.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     Help us, save us; have mercy on us; and keep us, O God, by your grace.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Deacon:     Asking that the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.
Celebrant:     (in a low voice) We thank You, O Lord our God, for the participation in Your holy, pure, immortal, and heavenly Mysteries, which You have given us for the welfare and sanctification and healing of our souls and bodies. O Master of all, grant that the communion of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ may be for us unto a faith which cannot be put to confusion, a love unfeigned, an increase of wisdom, the healing of soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the fulfillment of Your commandments, and an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ.
(aloud) For You are our sanctification, and we give glory to You, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
People:     Amen.
Celebrant:     Let us go forth in peace.
People:     In the Name of the Lord.

The Prayer Behind the Ambon
The clergy then process out of the Church. When they reach the ambon, the celebrant pauses for the Prayer Behind the Ambon.
Deacon:     Let us pray to the Lord.
People:     Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant:     O Lord, Who bless those Who bless You, and sanctify those who put their trust in You: save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the whole body of Your Church, and sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them by Your divine power and do not forsake us who hope in You. Give peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the priests, to our civil authorities and to all Your people. For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of Lights; and to You we send up glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
People:     Amen.
(Adapted from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Service Book of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church and Apostolic Church [New York, 1975].)

Although it had reached most of its present form by the ninth century, the development of the text of Byzantine Liturgy continued through the Middle Ages. The preparation of the bread and wine was expanded and proceeded by the Kairon, or prayers of the clergy, before entering the sanctuary and a set of vesting prayers. The Great Litany moved to the beginning of the service and disappeared from the Prayers of the Faithful. Little Litanies introduced the second and third prayers of the antiphons. The Litany before the Lord’s Prayer was duplicated following the Great Entrance. The text of the Liturgy reached its contemporary form by the publication of the Diataxis by Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (1354–1376). Changes in architecture also influenced the development of the Byzantine Liturgy. In smaller churches, the sacristy moved from outside the building to an area in the sanctuary to the left of the Holy Table. Thus the Entrances became processions from inside the sanctuary through the nave and back to the sanctuary. The barrier between the nave and the sanctuary became the iconostasis as icons were placed on the barrier, reaching its final form in Novgorod in the fourteenth century. The symbolic interpretation of the Liturgy also developed further, especially through the commentary of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, also in the fourteenth century.

  1. The Byzantine Liturgy (Ninth Century) Part I
  2. The Byzantine Liturgy (Ninth Century) Part II
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