At The Family Table:
The Byzantine Liturgy’s Sophisticated Insights into the Family Interrelations between the God-Man Jesus, His Human Mother, His Divine Father and Holy Spirit, and His Human Body the Church
The Development of the Trinitarian, Incarnational and Marian Doctrines and their Family Inter-Relationships with Us as Reflected in the Development of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy
Our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist as the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover Seder meal, and all very early Christian Eucharists were celebrated literally as a meal in the agape “love-feasts.” As the Church grew abundantly, for practical reasons Eucharistic liturgies became “symbolic” meals rather than literal meals, but remained the special family gathering at table of those who had been made into one new family in Christ, brothers and sisters of “Christ our brother,” adopted by His Eternal Father in our baptism. This regular Eucharistic Family Meal has from the beginning been the most consistent point of essential Christian worship of our God who through Christ we dare to call “Our Father” because through Christ He has made us “the children of God.” As Christians constantly celebrated the Family Meal with each other and in Holy Communion with Jesus through the centuries, they gained greater insights into the nature and extent of the Family they belonged to and with which they celebrated, and inserted these insights into their developing liturgies, especially to help settle controversies with heretics who misunderstood aspects of the Family and its Life. In this process the Byzantine Liturgy has developed particularly rich insights into the Trinity who is the primordial Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (having parenthood, childhood, and the bond of love which binds them within the One Godhead); into the Incarnation (enfleshment) of the Second Person of the Trinity through the Third Person of the Trinity’s overshadowing of Mary the Theokotos or Mother of God; and into the implications of the Incarnation both for Mary the mother of Christ our brother and for us who extend the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God in the world because we have mysteriously become the Bride of Christ the Church and thus (through the marital “one-flesh” mystery described in Ephesians 5:22-32) members of the very Body of Jesus Christ himself (which among other family connections makes His mother our mother) through our baptism, our “spiritual wedding” to Jesus as His Bride by which we have also been adopted by Jesus’ Father as His children. Since “death has no sting” for the Christian, even the death of the Christians before us does not cut them off from this loving fellowship of God’s Family and so the unseen “extended family” fellowship of the angels and saints gathered with us on Earth at the Family Meal has also come to be particularly celebrated in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, which overall reveals sophisticated insights into the family interrelations between the God-Man Jesus, His human mother, His Divine Father and Holy Spirit, and His human Body the Church – and invites us to participate and celebrate with them in the Family Meal.
All Christian liturgies have changed over time, because they are the primary living expression of the Living Body of Christ worshipping God while interacting with its ever-advancing historical environment. Liturgy is a privileged part of the Living Sacred Tradition, the living handing-on (Latin tradere) of the Christian faith as the Bride of Christ the Church dances with Him throughout history. Thus, as in any human growth and maturation, there is a “back-and-forth” process in liturgical development, as new elements are added as part of living out the faith in particular circumstances and maturing in understanding and love, and some older elements are gradually modified or even abandoned, if only to keep liturgies of practical length (not everything ever done can be retained, after all!). This process requires occasional periods of self-reflection and conscious reformation, where the Bride of Christ wonders if over time she might have let go of some expressions of her love which greatly pleased her Lord and should be begun again, and wonders if perhaps she held on too long to some elements which were more meaningful in a time long past, whose usefulness is over. Robert F. Taft SJ in the Preface to Thomas Pott’s Byzantine Liturgical Reform: A Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition notes the goal of this ecclesial reflection:
The dialectic of “new and old,” “organic progress and restoration,” are the two poles of Vatican II with regard to the liturgy . . . the fundamental goal of any liturgical reform is to return to normative practices . . . still vibrantly alive during the patristic era – and to ensure that the rites express more clearly the sacred reality they signify, so that the People of God are able to understand them more easily and better participate in the sacred mysteries though a full, active, conscious, and communal celebration.1
Pott himself in his introduction will add, inspirationally,
Christian newness is therefore essentially dynamic: it does not stagnate or age. For this spring, which is inexhaustible, fills those who plunge into it with new life and, in its own image, transforms them into springs. It does not abolish the old, but rather transforms it by renewing it from its very depths, not in order to make it last a bit longer, but to make it well up to eternal life (Jn 4;14)…ultimately liturgy is itself “a new creation.” For it is the eschatological banquet where, following his resurrection, Jesus drinks anew with his disciples (cf. Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25).2
Speaking of the affectionate and even intimate Christian family fellowship of the primary Sunday liturgy which, over two thousand years of weekly celebration has given the Church, the Bride of Christ her many liturgically expressed insights, Byzantine Melkite Archbishop Joseph Raya says
The Sundays of the year are different from other days. Sunday is the day of the Lord, the kyriake, the day that presents the person of the Risen Lord whom we meet, honour, and greet with affectionate fellowship. We approach Sunday as if we were entering the bridal chamber of the Bridegroom.”3
The Eastern, Byzantine Rite in general greatly emphasizes the Dogma of the Trinity, whereas the Western, Roman Rite in general emphasizes the Dogma of the Incarnation. Thus there is a Western Christian tendency of Roman Catholic Christians and especially the Protestant Christians who broke away from them in the 16th Century, while certainly acknowledging the Trinity, to focus on Jesus saving us, on Jesus as our Saviour, and certainly “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).4 There is nothing wrong therefore with this perspective, for of course the Incarnation of God in Christ who died to atone for our sins is the central Christian Mystery, and the Western, Roman emphasis on the Incarnation has resulted in very sophisticated and fruitful theological development of the Dogma of the Incarnation, especially in the Marian doctrines which flow from deep consideration of the Incarnation in her womb, the more recent doctrines of Mary as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix even suggesting a possible future dogmatic definition of the co-redeeming and mediating role of the whole Body of Christ (of whom Mary is the first purely human member).5
However, the Trinity is the primary Christian Mystery, the one from which all others – including the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ, and the nature of His atonement – flows. Thus the Eastern, Byzantine emphasis on the Trinity, complementing the fruit of the Roman emphasis on the Incarnation, helps us to fully realize that salvation is a Trinitarian event, and in fact the Holy Trinity is our Saviour. The Father sent the Son in order to give us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption which makes us also sons of the Father, saved from being outside of God’s Covenant Family. This is why in the Eastern, Byzantine Divine Liturgy, during the Anaphora, “the Great Eucharistic Prayer” before the consecration of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we pray to the Father, “For all this, we give thanks to You, to Your only-begotten Son, and to Your Holy Spirit,”6 and more poignantly, after receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus we sing, “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We worship the Undivided Trinity for having saved us.”7 This is a very deep insight into the nature of the Family we have joined, and the Bible clearly testifies it is in fact the entire Trinity, who is after all only one God, who indwells us as Christians to make us His Family:
The Father and the Son:
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
The Holy Spirit:
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24)
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)
“God’s Unity is involved in the mystery of the Trinity just as much as the Trinity of Persons is, since the Trinity is not a Trinity of Gods, but a Trinity of Persons within the Unity of a single nature.”1 We must not distinguish the three Persons too sharply, so as to separate them, for then we have three gods, which of course was the Jewish accusation of Christian polytheism from the beginning of Christianity. Thus in the more precise Byzantine Divine Liturgy we repeatedly sing about “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in being and undivided.”2 Even if, as in the Western Christian traditions, it is not our normal way of speaking, we must understand and affirm in faith that it is the Trinity, One God in Three Persons, who saved us and who indwells us.
This One God in Three Persons is Love. This also is recognized in the Byzantine Liturgy in the “Kiss of Peace” – a sign of the loving unity of the Body of Christ that has gathered together for the Family Meal. “Let us love one another so that we may be of one mind in confessing: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in being and undivided.”3 This calls us to remember that God the Trinity is Love,4 and we the Body of Christ must confess the Trinity before men by our love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35, NIV)
“The kiss of peace is one of the most primitive rites of the Christian liturgy…mentioned in all the ancient liturgical sources…[it] forms part of what Dix calls the “first stratum” of the primitive eucharist.”5 The love of the Trinity who is love in us, expressed to each other, is truly foundational to our Christian faith and life, and so has always been part of the liturgy. “Its original place was…at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word,” but it was moved
“proximate to the anaphora [Eucharistic prayer] because of its interpretation by almost all commentators as a preparation for offering at the altar according to the text of Matthew 5:23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”6
The Church had always had a personal loving relationship with Jesus, His Father and His Holy Spirit, but the immature, primitive Church knew God like a baby knows its mother, but cannot yet intellectually articulate the experience. The Church Family long reflected on its living relationship with God and gradually became able to express its loving personal knowledge of God more precisely in doctrinal terms like “Trinity” and “Incarnation” and formulas like “Jesus is fully God and fully man.” The Body of Christ was often motivated to do so by doctrinal conflicts with heretics within the Church. Heretics were Christians who in new eras asked new, more explicit questions of the faith and came up with answers to those questions which did not properly take into account the at least implicit sense of the faith as handed down in the Living Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ the Church as each generation of Christians introduced the next personally to Jesus. The new, more precise terms and phrases that more clearly expressed orthodox Christian beliefs, or hymns or other liturgical elements expressive of them, eventually found their way into orthodox Christian liturgies.
The 5th Century in Constantinople saw the Trisagion Hymn added to the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, which started out as “a polemical chant against the monophysites and … a criterion for orthodoxy.”7
The first mention of the hymn occurs in the acts of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) … The Byzantine Church historians … give us a legendary account which ascribes the origin of the hymn to a miracle … In the time of St. Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446), the city was visited with an earthquake. The populace, in great terror, abandoned the city. Outside the city they implored God’s mercy. While they were praying, a small boy fell into an ecstasy and an unearthly power seized him and lifted him up above the people. In his ecstasy, he turned to Proclus and the multitude saying that he saw and heard angels singing before the throne of God the hymn of the Trisagion: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.” At once people and clergy started to sing this hymn, the earthquake ceased immediately and St. Proclus ordered the hymn to be introduced into the Liturgy8.
In any case Proclus lived shortly before the 4th Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon, where the first solid mention of it is given. Against the Monophysite heresy the Council was called to settle (and against the Monophysite version of the Trisagion later condemned at the Council of Trullo in 692),
from the very beginning the hymn had a Trinitarian and not a Christological connotation … The Liturgy itself gives the Trisagion … Trinitarian meaning … A beautiful commentary on the hymn is found in one of the verses sung during the vespers services of the Pentecost, where we sing: Holy God, who created all things through the Son and Holy Spirit; Holy Mighty One, through whom we know the Father, and the Holy Spirit came into the world; Holy Immortal One, the Spirit of Joy, who comes from the Father and rests in the Son, Holy Trinity, Glory be to You … The words of the Trisagion are not to be taken in the exclusive sense but as referring to all Three Persons. This means, that the epithets used to describe each Divine Person, do not refer to one Person to the exclusion of the others, for each Person shares in the same Divine Nature, and so each is equally and substantially Holy, Mighty, and Immortal. In other words, all three epithets in the hymn can be attributed to each Divine Person – the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is the reason why we sing the hymn three times. In this way we refer the “thrice-Holy” to all the Divine Persons together, and to each One individually.9
So this hymn in the Byzantine Liturgy also adds great depth of insight to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Yes, “in the fifth century the hymn Trisagion was introduced, and in the sixth century, the Liturgy was enriched with such new additions as the Monogenes, and Cherubikon, and the “Symbol of Faith,”10 also to combat the heresies of the day and express the Church’s more mature understanding of its faith. The “Symbol of Faith,” that is, the Nicene Creed begun at the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea (325 AD) and completed at the 2nd Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (381 AD), perhaps because of the ongoing nature of so many heresies, was finally added to the Divine Liturgy itself. Previously “the transfer of the gifts took place in dead silence”11 and to “fill the audible gap” the faithful added the Cherubikon or Cherubic Hymn, “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the Thrice-holy Hymn to the lifegiving Trinity, now lay aside all cares of life,”12 in order to express the Church’s developing understanding that we mystically represent the Cherubim. The Liturgy also tells us that God is borne on the throne of the Cherubim,13 and we participate in their heavenly worship.
Most exceptional of these 6th Century additions to the Byzantine Liturgy is the Monogenes Hymn, composed by the famous Byzantine Emperor Justinian and added to the Liturgy between 535-536 AD:
Only begotten Son and Word of God, You are immortal, and You willed for our salvation to be made flesh of the Holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and without change You became man. You were crucified, O Christ our God, and trampled death by death. You are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.14
This hymn in a very brief space has exceptional insights about the Incarnation, and the family inter-relations of Mary and the Trinity with Christ in the Incarnation. Against the errors of the Nestorian and Monophysite heretics who still had a great deal of influence in various places in Christendom at the time, “It contains profound truths concerning Christ’s nature, incarnation, death and resurrection. Although it is short, it is very expressive and thematic – a resumé of all the dogmas regarding Jesus Christ. The whole of the dogmatic treatise on Christology is epitomized in this hymn.”15
Reflecting on the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus like this of course led to many deep insights about Jesus’ Mother, God’s human instrument in Christ’s human enfleshment. Thus the further Hymn to the Mother of God was added to the Liturgy:
It is truly right to bless you, O God-bearing One, as the ever-blessed and immaculate Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim and by far more glorious than the seraphim; ever a virgin, you gave birth to God the Word, O true Mother of God, we magnify you.16
Though it was largely Roman Catholic theologians, thanks to the Roman Rite’s greater emphasis on the Incarnation than the Trinity, who developed the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception of Mary” in its current more advanced Catholic form, this was developed from the less developed and more implicit ancient Eastern and Western Christian understanding that the human vessel God used to make His Eternal Son human was herself made pure through God’s Grace, as a unique part and consequence of the process of the unique Incarnation of the pure human and Divine Son of God in her womb. Early heretics often attacked the true Incarnation of God Himself in Jesus Christ, son of Mary, and so in defense of the true Divinity and humanity of Christ theEarlyChurch’s understanding of the Incarnation and of Mary’s human part in it grew up together.
Thus it is that the Eastern Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (which speaks so often and so soaringly of the Divine Holy Trinity whom “we worship…for having saved us”), when it speaks of the human Church of the saints it repeatedly refers to Mary (first believer in Jesus and first member of that human Church) in terms variously translated into English by Eastern Christians (Orthodox and Catholic) as “most pure,” “most holy pure,” “most holy, most pure,” “spotless,” “all-undefiled” or “immaculate.” Saint Augustine, the premier Western theologian of theUndividedEarlyChurch (loved by Protestants), also had an equivalent view of Mary, stated in different terms.
Chrysostom’s ancient Christian liturgy is celebrated in song weekly by both most Eastern Catholic and most Eastern Orthodox Christians (who are both from the ancient Byzantine Patriarchate of the Undivided Early Church), using either the term “immaculate” or something essentially equivalent for Mary, so this doctrine is certainly not a difference between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, even though the Catholic understanding of it is now much more developed and Eastern Orthodox Christians tend to avoid using the word “immaculate” to distance themselves from the Catholic position. But Russian Orthodox theologian Father Sergius Bulgakov insisted on the importance of Eastern Orthodox Christians understanding Mary according to terms such as pan hagia (“all holy”) which are essentially equivalent to immaculate. 17 (Scroll down to Endnote 25 for additional Mariology).18
The Byzantine Liturgy in the repeated antiphons bears witness to the truth that Mary the first Christian and first entirely human member of the Body of Christ the Church, attached to Christ the human-and-divine Head of that Body (Colossians 1:18, 2:19, Ephesians 5:23, 4:15, 1:10, 22), together with all Christians also indwelt by the divine Holy Spirit which uniquely overshadowed Mary, all being Jesus’ “mother and brothers,” in fact even participate in the saving mission of Christ the Head of the Body. The Sunday First Antiphon beseeches, “Through the Prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us.”19 The Weekday Second Antiphon prays, “Through the prayers of Your saints, O Savior, save us.” The Sunday Second Antiphon implores, “Son of God, risen from the dead, save us who sing to You; Alleluia.” Byzantine Christians also pray to God in their Liturgy “Sanctify [us]… through the intercession of the holy Mother of God and of all the saints, who throughout the ages have found favor with You.”20 In the Divine Liturgy Jesus Christ the Head of the Body is always our Saviour, but we ask Him to save us through the prayers of Mary or the saints – our fellow members of the one Body of Christ, praying for each other and thus participating in the mediation of the salvation from Christ the Saviour – the Divine Christ, who is “one of the Holy Trinity” whom alone we worship, since we in fact worship not simply Christ the Saviour but “we worship the Holy Trinity for having saved us.”
It is very important to note that in the Byzantine Liturgy it is not only the dead and canonized members of the Body of Christ the Church who proved their sanctity in lives of holiness or the complete self-giving love of martyrdom who participate in the saving mission of Christ the Head of the Body through their prayers – it is also we, the living and practising and praying members of the Body of Christ the Church who as the Bride of Christ and who as members of the Body of Christ Himself, who as living members of “the Communion of Saints” described in Hebrews 11:1 – 12:1 whose dead members “surround us” (as later proclaimed in all the ancient Apostle’s Creed of the Early Christian Church), it is we who in fact intercede for the whole Church and the whole world.
“In fact a sense of the “communion of saints” is one of the most profound impressions of Byzantine worship. Iconographic representations of the saints cover the walls of the church: patriarchs and prophets of the Old Law join fathers and doctors of the New; Gregories and Cyrils of catholic [universal] fame rub shoulders with the local saints and martyrs who may have lived in the very town where the church stands. The hymns and canticles sung in their honor are to the faithful a part of their own family history. Their legends are retold again and again, their intercession constantly implored. Integral to this mentality is the great devotion to the dead in the Christian East. Devotion to the saints and to the dead really amount to the same thing: the sense of unity with a common past that is so strong in the worship of the East.21
We baptized Christians on Earth, members of the Body of Christ Himself, are part of this Communion of Saints proclaimed in the ancient Christian Creeds as an essential part of Christian faith, and we have the power to commend others to God in prayer like Mary and the canonized Saints whose prayers we ask for. In fact in the Family Meal of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, immediately after the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) and Epiclesis (calling on the Holy Spirit to consecrate the “supper” gifts of Bread and Wine), in the Commemorations (Diptychs) we offer the sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy and we pray for all those who have gone before us in the Christian Family and for the whole world. As we have asked for the intercessory prayer of Mary and the Saints in our one Communion of Saints, God’s Family, so we pray for Mary and the Saints in our one Communion of Saints, God’s Family – one Family of Love in Christ for whom “death has no sting” so as to separate us (cf.1 Corinthians 15:55), but instead “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1 – which in Greek is martyrs). Saint John Chrysostom himself, whose name identifies the primary Byzantine Divine Liturgy we are studying as he wrote at least its anaphoral core, confirms “Even though they are martyrs, still [we pray] ‘for the martyrs.’ ”22 Even the martyrs who were empowered by God’s Grace to love like God and give themselves up totally, holding nothing back, not even their very lives, for love of God, are not beyond our prayers for them within the loving Family communion of the Body of Christ. And as for the other dead in Christ, our loved ones who may not have shone so brightly of the love of God in their lives on Earth, again Chrysostom himself says
For what we do is not a mere stage show, God forbid! For the Spirit ordains that these things be done . . . For if the children of Job were purged by the sacrifice of their father, why do you doubt that our offering for the departed is of some relief to them? … [after the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) Christ] the common Purifier of the oikoumene is here present. That is why we confidently pray for the whole world at that time, and name them [e.g. dead loved ones] together with martyrs, confessors, priests. For we are all one body, even if some members are more glorious than others, and it is possible from every source – from the prayers, from the gifts on their behalf, from those [e.g. the Saints] named with them – to gather pardon for them.23
The prayers of us baptized Christians, on Earth and in Heaven, who have the awesome dignity of being members of the Body of Christ Himself, attached to and drawing power from Christ the Head, have real power which we utilize together in the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist which we together offer for the entire Church and the entire world. The Western, Roman Christian tradition describes the whole Communion of Saints in three parts: The Church Triumphant in Heaven; the Church Suffering in Purgatory; and the Church Militant still on Earth engaging the whole world for Jesus. The prayers of the Byzantine Commemorations (Diptychs) offers the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus (whose Body we are) for all.
The exceptional Eastern liturgical scholar Father Robert F. Taft SJ likewise notes that
Liturgy is about praying, and not just about praying to but also about praying for. One of the traditional ways Churches in their liturgies have prayed for the major personages with whom their destinies are, for better or worse, intertwined are the diptychs.24
Taft further notes that
These liturgical diptychs contain all sorts of categories of persons and names – saints, bishops, rulers, clergy, widows, orphans, whatever – but not always the same categories of persons even in any one tradition [all the Eastern Patriarchates had Diptychs, not just the Byzantine]. Since the only shared characteristic of these persons is the fact that they are all either living or dead, the only rational division of the liturgical diptychs . . . is also the only one found in the liturgical sources themselves: diptychs of the living … diptychs of the dead.25
Taft’s exceptionally thorough scholarly work in various places makes historical fine distinctions (which no longer apply) between the anaphoral intercessions and the diptychs proper, the latter of which were always read by a deacon, and typically included a long list of specific names which often had political significance in Christendom, being indicative of things like Churches in communion with the Church praying them or the excommunication of great persons omitted from the list. The current anaphoral intercessions or Commemorations immediately following the epiclesis are often simply called “the Diptychs” in current service books like The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology for Worship, and they include what Taft often calls the “remnant”26 of the diptychs proper, after their decomposition from their earlier form (“By the eleventh century . . . the proclamation aloud of the diaconal lists [for the dead] had fallen into disuse”).27 The Diptychs of the living in their previous form had likewise already declined and became obsolete after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople. This study uses the terms Commemorations and Diptychs as does the current service book The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology for Worship, approved by Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch (and Cardinal) Lubomyr Husar, for both the anaphoral intercessions and the diptychs which used to be more separable but which are now combined in a reduced form.
The development of the diptychs in the Byzantine Liturgy throughout history did not only include their eventual reduction. They were located at different places in the liturgy through history, but as the Rite matured they were made part of the Anaphora portion of the Liturgy itself, immediately after the Epiclesis which invokes the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The modern, mature understanding reflected in this change is shown in this subtitle to the Diptychs: “The Lord’s Presence Compels us to Remember the Entire Body of Christ.”28 In another development, the first Theokotos Commemoration (different than the current hymn) was added to the Diptychs in the late 5th century by Byzantine Patriarch Gennadius I (458-471), in response to the non-Chalcedonian Antiochene Patriarch not granting Mary the Theokotos title. This eventually developed into a full hymn, as today, starting in the 16th Century.29
Another development is that throughout history we see variations which interestingly reflect the varying historical structure of the church and the world the Byzantine diptychs pray for. Circa 1166 medieval manuscripts of the Diptychs from a Pontifical liturgy from the Palestinian diakonikon codex Sinai Gr. 1040 include prayers indicative of Byzantine Christendom
for the salvation, authority, victory and preservation of our most pious and Christ-loving emperors N. And N.; for the peace and tranquillity of whole world and of all God’s holy Orthodox Churches; for the redemption of our brethren in captivity, and for all orthodox Christians suffering tribulation and in need of God’s mercy; for the success and supremacy of the Christ-loving army; for the forgiveness and remission of the sins of the people here present, and for those whom each one has in mind, and for each and all! [the Congregation repeats “and for each and all!”]30
The Byzantine Liturgy of the Armenians (translated from 1850-1873 sources derived from manuscripts as old as 1306 (see the Introduction p.xcvi-xcviii) after the Epiclesis has diptychs which read
Through this [the just-consecrated gifts] grant love stability and longed-for peace to the whole world, to the holy church and to all orthodox bishops, to priests, deacons, kings of the earth and princes, to peoples, to travellers, to seafarers, to prisoners, to those in danger, to those that labour and to them that are at war among barbarians. Through this grant also mild weather and to the fields fruitfulness and to those afflicted with divers diseases a speedy return to health. Through this give rest to all those who aforetime have fallen asleep in Christ, to our forefathers, to the patriarchs prophets apostles martyrs bishops presbyters deacons and the whole clergy of thine holy church and to all laity, men and women, who have died in faith … let remembrance of them be made in this sacrifice [The Congregation responds: “in all and for all.]31
One almost gets a feel for the medieval lives of the Christians of this time, having to deal with warring barbarians, plagues and diseases, and critically dependent upon a good harvest. All of the diptychs older and newer pray specifically for people commonly in mortal danger such as the military, whether that military be the above “the Christ-loving army” of the Byzantine Empire, “them that are at war among barbarians” in medieval times, or the powerful Russian Navy which appears to be reflected in this 1906 Russian diptych for “our most God-fearing Ruler, N.; and all the Authorities, and all their Council and Army and Navy.”32
A more significant development in the diptychs, apparently indicative of a more mature Christian prayer for the whole world, is the change seen between identical 1859 and 1869 English editions of the Byzantine Liturgy which prayed “ Remember, LORD, them that voyage … are in prison and their safety”33 and later (1906 to current) editions which instead read “and their salvation” – a deeper, spiritual well-being prayer (which includes the sense of safety).
A current Byzantine service book lists the Commemorations (Diptychs) in their more mature form, much shorter than the ancient form which used many more specific names, but rich and thorough in its variety of intercessions (too long to give in entirety here)
Further, we offer You this rational worship for those who have gone to their rest in faith: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous soul that finished this life in faith. Especially for our most holy and immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary [Hymn to the Mother of God inserted here]. For Saint John, the prophet, forerunner and baptist …and for all Your saints. Through their supplication, visit us, O God [note the asking for their prayers in the midst of praying and offering sacrifice for them – we with them are one Communion of Saints, God’s Family, praying for each other] And remember all who have fallen asleep in the hope of rising to eternal life [names can be added here]. And grant them rest in a place enlightened by the light of Your countenance. Further, we pray to You: Remember O Lord, the entire orthodox episcipate, rightly imparting the word of Your truth … [it cycles through the orders] … Further, we offer You this rational worship for the whole world, for the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, for those who live chaste and holy lives, for our nation under God, for our government, and for all in the military… Among the first, remember, O Lord, [the major Church hierarchy are named] … For the sake of Your holy churches … all men and all women … this city … the faithful … seafarers and travellers, the sick and the suffering, those held captive, and their salvation … Send down Your mercy upon all of us [specific living can be named] … And grant that with one voice and heart we may glorify and sing the praises of Your most honored and magnificent name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.34
It may be that the prayers for the Church and the world are somewhat mixed up together since the Byzantine Rite originated in the Christendom of the Byzantine Empire, where essentially the whole known world had been Christianized, so there may at one time not have been as much of a distinction between the Church and the world in the minds of those praying, but certainly for centuries now diptychs like these offer the Eucharistic sacrifice and pray for all in the world and the Church, whatever their position or needs, and now specifically for “their salvation” so that all in the end, can be saved and glorify God forever. The diptychs conclude “And may the mercies of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, be with all of you,”35 so that those present who have been praying for the whole Church and the whole world are thus also remembered and blessed.
The alternate Byzantine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, currently used on only ten special days per year, makes all the more explicit the Communion of Saints, in Heaven and on Earth, because it goes through a very similar diptychal list but instead of framing it as offering the sacrifice for and praying for all the dead and living mentioned, it is framed as a prayer to God to “unite all of us, who share in this one bread and cup, with one another into the communion of the one Holy Spirit …”36 It ends with the same entreaty “And grant that with one voice and heart we may glorify and sing the praises of Your most honored and magnificent name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Because some, especially Protestant Christians, misunderstand and object to the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom’s above-mentioned prayer to Jesus, “through the prayers of the Mother of God, O Savior, save us” (also “Through the prayers of Your saints, O Savior, save us.”), this is worth more discussion that further illustrates the inter-relationships within God’s Family which are illumined in the Byzantine Liturgy. It is true that in this prayer, Jesus’ saving act is specifically linked to the prayer intercession of His mother (or of His Saints). But this is no cause for scandal as long as one remembers the Bible’s revelation of the Mystery of the Body of Christ, (well understood and lived by the Early Church). We (including Mary and the Saints) are in Christ and Christ is in us (including Mary and the Saints), such that Christ does nothing except through His Body (the first member of which is Mary, the first Christian who first believed the Good News about Jesus delivered to her by the Angel). To object to Jesus’ saving act being linked to Mary’s prayer is to object to all the prayers of Christians for anyone’s salvation. All Christians in fact pray that God will bring the gift of salvation to our non-Christian friends and family and we are not wasting our breath when we utter such prayers, for the same reason that the Byzantine Churches pray for salvation “through the prayers of the Mother of God” – both she and we (and the Saints) are members of the Mystical Body of Christ through whom Christ the Head prays for, intercedes for, loves and draws people into God’s Family the Church. The Byzantine Christian faithful in their Liturgy acknowledge that Mary’s and the Saints’ prayers for human salvation are effective for the same reason that our own Christian prayers for human salvation are effective: We are all part of the Body of Christ Himself.
As noted above, in the same Liturgy, the Byzantine Christian faithful also pray for Mary37 (and the Saints) who are fellow members of the Body (since all Christians are called to pray for each other). Cognizant of this Mystery of the Body of Christ and of Jesus’ mother Mary’s role in the Body, Byzantine Christians are known to express, “Mother of God, save us.”
“At the end of most offices of the Byzantine liturgy, there is a prayer to the Mother of God that is very short but is also the highest acclamation given to her. We seem to rank her with the Savior when we say “Most holy birthgiver of God, save us” (Greek Hyperagia Theokote, sosun emas).38
This sentiment is even in the Byzantine liturgy (Tone 1, Matins, sessional hymn), “thou dost save thy servants.” Vladimir Zelinsky, a Russian Orthodox theologian explains of this phrase: “where is Christ? Christ is in Mary and Mary is in Christ, without confusion, without separation, in the same Mystery of salvation.”39 Such expressions are part of “the Mystery of Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27) which makes it legitimate for Paul to call those saved through his ministry and prayers “his children,” as if Paul had saved them. “It is no longer [Paul] who lives, but Christ who lives in [Paul]” (Galatians 2:20).40 Thus likewise, and all the more so than Paul because she is already glorified body and soul in Heaven, “it is no longer Mary who lives, but Christ who lives in Mary.” Her union, as a human being, with God in Heaven is so perfect, she lives the life of God so much as a “partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), that the members of the Body of Christ still on Earth can even express “Mother of God, save us” because of “the Mystery of Christ in Mary” (cf. Colossians 1:27) as a member of Christ’s Body. In the Bible 1 Timothy 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 7:16 both use the language of Christians personally “saving” themselves and others. So it cannot possibly be wrong for Christians to occasionally use the language of individual Christians “saving” people as Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians do of Mary (Ethiopian Rite Christians even more than Byzantine), since the Bible itself uses such language. It is permissible to speak of Mary or other members of the Body of Christ “saving” other people, as long as one recognizes that members of the Body “do all things through Christ” the Head of the Body. The Head and the Body make the “whole Christ,” as Saint Augustine said, the Head and the Body share the same life, the same Mystery, and thus it is permissible to speak of or to members of the Body as one would speak of or to Christ the Head, as long as one is cognizant of the distinctions between Head and members of the Body (including Mary the “neck”), as long as one recognizes that the Body draws its whole life from and is entirely dependent upon Christ the Head.
The Early Church was very aware of these distinctions, and thus the same early Byzantine Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which asks Jesus to save “through the prayers of the Mother of God” also affirms that Byzantine Christians “worship the Undivided Trinity for having saved us” – recognizing that salvation is a Trinitarian event (God the Father sent God the Son to give us God the Holy Spirit, the Divine indwelling Spirit of adoption into God’s Family through which we are saved from being outside of God’s Family). Mary’s participation is simply that of being part of the human mystical Body of God the Son Incarnate (Jesus Christ), and all Christians likewise participate in this mystery of co-redeeming with Christ as members of His Body: through our suffering with patient love which participates in and “completes what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24); through our prayers for the world which mediate between God and men (in union with Christ the “one mediator” – 1 Timothy 2:5 – whose Body we are); and through our witness to Christ in the world and our acts of love through which Christ Jesus Himself reaches out in love to the world through us His Body.
As with the Theokotos doctrine, and as with the common fundamental doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity themselves (the Trinity and the Incarnation of Jesus “fully God and fully man”), various devotions of consecration to Mary which imply her mediation of all graces from Jesus pop up in the life of the Church quite early on, long before the doctrine is developed and clarified, indicating that as with the fundamentals this was part of the implicit though not yet explicit understanding of the Living Body of Christ the Church since the beginning. In the East Saint Gregory Palamas eventually notes that “no divine gift can reach either angels or men, except through her mediation.”41. Similarly in the West, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “God has willed that we should have nothing which would not pass through the hands of Mary”42, and in the East Theophanes of Nicea explicitly calls Mary “the neck” of the mystical Body of Christ,43 as do other authors in the West. Although believing the “mediatrix of all graces” doctrine is not required of Catholic Christians as an article of Catholic faith, in the modern age the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church has continued, with increasing frequency, to refer to Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces, evidencing that this implicit insight which goes back to the earliest centuries of the Church (East and West) is becoming increasingly explicit as Christians continue to reflect upon Jesus their Incarnate Savior, given to us by God the Father unquestionably through the human instrument of Mary His mother – as so tellingly expressed in the Byzantine Liturgy since ancient times.44
To continue and finish this consideration of the the Byzantine Liturgy’s sophisticated insights into the Family interrelations between the God-Man Jesus, His human mother, His Divine Father and Holy Spirit, and His human Body the Church, let us look at the pre-Communion rites. The end of the Litany of Supplication declares, “Having asked for unity of the faith and for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God,”45 which recalls the earlier, repeated “Remembering our most holy and immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, together with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.”46 Again, we baptized Christians can commend or offer both ourselves (cf. Romans 12:1) and others to God – with confidence in our offering being accepted – because we are members of Christ’s Body the Church, adopted children of God the Father through our baptism.
In fact, our whole offering and our whole worship in the Byzantine Liturgy takes place in the context of our gathering at the Family Table for the Family Meal, a fact which will become explicit as we move on to the “Our Father” before partaking of that ritual meal. In the development of the Byzantine Liturgy the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father was added “into the communion services in East and West not earlier than the second half of the 4th century.”47 The introduction to the Our Father indicates that we “partake” in “this sacred and spiritual table” for forgiveness of sins, for the pardon of offenses, for fellowship of the Holy Spirit, for the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, for confidence before You… and we “dare call You, the heavenly God, Father, and say: Our Father…”48
I prefer the translation used by Taft when he writes “To dare with filial confidence, uncondemned, to call you …‘Father’ shows the influence of the Antiochian rites of initiation,”49 the Antiochian being the original Rite of Byzantium before it developed its distinctiveness.50
This translation makes clear we come to the Holy Communion Table with not just confidence but with filial confidence, that is, sonly confidence, the confidence of a son who knows he will be recognized as family by his Father. So at this point in this paper it is the Family Table we have come to … and now the banquet is ready. Shortly after boldly affirming our place in the family of Our Father the priest invites us to Holy Communion with Jesus our brother (and the entire Trinity, as above) with the words, “The holy Things for the holy!”51 Who are the “holy” the “holy Things” are for? The Greek word hagios (Latin sanctus), in English either holy or saint, literally means “set apart for sacred use” or “what belongs to God.” Taft notes
In early Christian Greek, the “holy ones” are initially the baptized faithful, a usage encountered frequently in the New Testament, where Christians are simply called “the saints” without further ado…as late as the end of the 4th century, some commentators still understood the “holy ones” in this Pauline sense: they are the baptized, who are holy because they have received the Holy Spirit…despite…later nuances and restrictions in the interpretation of “the saints,” [which have at times in history resulted in few actually communicating] there can be no doubt that in an earlier period, only major crimes excluded one from communion.52
Taft further notes that “A church is not a temple, at least in its original conception. The community, rather than some material shrine, is the dwelling of God’s presence.”53 Thus we dare to call the Holy and Immortal God “Our Father,” because the Holy Spirit within us “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans8:16), and we have loving family Communion with Him. This is the exquisite beauty of the Byzantine Liturgy. In the words of Byzantine Melkite Archbishop Joseph Raya,
I share with you, dear reader, what the Eastern Byzantine Church has discovered and experienced of the life and love of the Lord. I am giving you an account of the fruits of her prayer, contemplation, the echo of her silence before God . . . Theologians, artists and poets, together with saints and monks of two thousand years, combined their geniuses to produce a theology, an iconography, and a hymnology, unmatched in the literary history of mankind. Byzantine theology, liturgy and the icon are not the product of one nation or culture. They express East and West, far East and far West, Africaand the arid Eskimo lands. All the nations and cultures find in them today an echo of their mind and heart because icon, liturgy, and hymnography are expressions of the sublime and the beautiful. The intrinsic qualities of the sublime are the unmeasured, the dynamic, and the serene. The sublime appeals to the intellect, to the imagination and to all the human faculties; it directs them towards the inner mystical and spiritual world. The sublime belongs to an even higher level of being than the beautiful. It is a pure spiritual beauty. All cultures and levels of civilization are attracted by the sublime which characterizes Byzantine religious expression . . . In prayer we enter into the mystery of life where God reveals himself to us and where we find our human dignity and infinite divine value. In such a relation of life with God we become superior human beings who can “let go” and thus attain to the summit of “knowledge,” to the feast, to religious experience. This . . . is the unfolding of religious experience, of the feast of Christ and of the superabundance of love of our God.
Byzantine ceremonial and liturgies are the water that will carry anyone into religious experience and into the joy of the feast. Byzantine ceremonies are poems that every one can read and delight in, though not necessarily understand. They are the “letting go.” They are poetical inspirations that can communicate life and invite to the sharing of life.”54
This is not mere poetry. In the East, liturgy is theophany, the privileged ground of our encounter with God, in which the mysteries are truly seen, albeit with the transfigured eyes of faith.55
“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the Feast”! (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 KJV). Christ our Passover, Christ our dear brother, is sacrificed for us so that we can join His Family. Therefore, let us join in “the feast of Christ and of the superabundance of love of our God”!56
© 2011 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Bradshaw, Paul F. The Search for the Origins of Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy. Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press, 2002.
Calivas, Alkiviadis C. Aspects of Orthodox Worship.Brookline,MS: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2003.
De Montfort, Louis. True Devotion to Mary.Rockford,IL: Tan Publishers, 1985.
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Hammond, Charles Edward. Liturgies Eastern and Western : Being the Texts Original or Translated of the Principal Liturgies of the Church. Vol. 1, Eastern Liturgies. Edited by F.E. Brightman.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896.
Hapgood, Isabel Florence. Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church: Compiled, Translated, and Arranged From the Old Church-Slavonic Service Books of the Russian Church and Collated with the Service Books of the Greek Church, 5th ed. Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and All North America, 1975. (5th Edition Reproduction of the 1922 2nd Edition, Revised from the 1906 1st Edition)
Hasseveldt, Roger. The Church: A Divine Mystery. Notre Dame: Fides Publishers, 1954.
The Holy Bible: King James Version.Oak Harbor,WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.
The Holy Bible: New International Version. electronic ed.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.
Miravalle, Mark, ed. Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Towards A Papal Definition?. Santa Barbara,CA: Queenship Publishing, 1995.
Miravalle, Mark, ed. Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations II, Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical. Santa Barbara,CA: Queenship Publishing, 1996.
Mitchell, Nathan and John F. Baldovin, eds. Rule of Prayer, Rule of Faith : Essays in Honor of Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996.
Neale, J.M., ed. The Liturgies of S. Mark, S. James, S. Clement, S. Chrysostom, S. Basil: or According to the Use of the Churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and the Formula of the Apostolic Constitutions.London: J.T. Hayes, 1859.
Neale, J.M., and R.F. Littledale, trans. The Liturgies of SS. Mark, James, Clement, Chrysostom, and Basil, and the Church of Malabar, 7th ed. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002. (Based on the 1869 7th Edition)
Petras, David M. “Mary in Eastern Liturgical Tradition.” Liturgical Ministry 6, (Winter, 1997): 11-20.
Pott, Thomas, O.S.B. Byzantine Liturgical Reform: a Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition; Translated by Paul Meyendorff. Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010.
Raya, Joseph M. Abundance of Love : the Incarnation and Byzantine Tradition.West Newton,MA: Educational Services, Diocese ofNewton, 1990.
Salaville, Sévérien, A.A. An Introduction to the Study of Eastern Liturgies. Translated by Mgr John M.T. Barton.London: Sands & Co. (Publishers) Limited, 1938.
Schulz, Hans-Joachim. The Byzantine Liturgy : Symbolic Structure and Faith Expression. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell.New York :Pueblo Pub. Co, 1986.
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Swainson, Charles Anthony, ed. The Greek Liturgies: Chiefly from Original Authorities; with an Appendix Containing the Coptic Ordinary Canon of the Mass from Two Manuscripts in the British Museum, Edited and Translated by Dr. C. Bezold. Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press, 1884.
Synod of the Hierarchy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Etobicoke,ON: Basilian Press, 1988.
Taft, Robert F., S.J. The Byzantine Rite : A Short History.Collegeville,MN: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Taft, Robert F., S.J., The Diptychs. Roma: Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1991.
Taft, Robert F., S.J. The Great Entrance : A History of the Transfer of Gifts and Other Pre-Anaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Roma : Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1975.
Taft, Robert F., S.J. Beyond East and West : Problems in Liturgical Understanding. Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2001.
Taft, Robert F., S.J. Liturgy in Byzantium and Beyond.Aldershot: Variorum, 1995.
Taft, Robert F., S.J. The Precommunion Rites. Roma : Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2000.
Taft, Robert F., S.J., and Gabriele Winkler, eds. Comparative Liturgy Fifty Years after Anton Baumstark (1872-1948): Acts of the International Congress, Rome, 25-29 September 1998. Roma : Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2001.
Wybrew, Hugh. The Orthodox Liturgy : the Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite.London : SPCK, 1989.
1.Thomas Pott, O.S.B., Byzantine Liturgical Reform : a Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition, trans. Paul Meyendorff (Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010), 10.
2.Pott, Byzantine Liturgical Reform, 13, 14.
3.Joseph M. Raya,, Abundance of Love: the Incarnation and Byzantine Tradition (West Newton, MA: Educational Services, Diocese of Newton, 1990), 95.
6.Peter Galadza,, ed., The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (Ottawa : Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies,Saint PaulUniversity, 2004), 145.
7.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 164.
1.Roger Hasseveldt, The Church: A Divine Mystery (Notre Dame: Fides Publishers, 1954), 107.
2.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 139, 145.
3.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 138-139.
4.Which is in fact the Western theologian and doctor St. Augustine’s key for understanding the “three-in-oneness” of God – every act of Love has three components: a Lover, a Beloved, and the Bond of Love which binds them.
5.Robert F. Taft, S.J., The Precommunion Rites (Roma : Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2000) 375.
6.Taft, Precommunion Rites, 376, 377.
7.Hans-Joachim Schulz, The Byzantine Liturgy: Symbolic Structure and Faith Expression, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (New York :Pueblo Pub. Co, 1986), 22.
8. Meletius M. Solovey, O.S.B.M., The Byzantine Divine Liturgy: History and Commentary, trans. Demetrius Emil Wysochansky, O.S.B.M. (Washington, D.C. : Catholic University of America Press, 1970), 185-186.
9.Solovey, History and Commentary, 187.
10.Solovey, History and Commentary, 54.
11.Robert F. Taft, S.J., The Great Entrance: A History of the Transfer of Gifts and Other Pre-Anaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Roma : Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1975), 53 .
12.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 132.
13.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 134.
14.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 104.
15.Solovey, History and Commentary, 174.
16.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 150.
17.Mark Miravalle, ed., Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations II, Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing, 1996).
In any case, the roots of this doctrine expressed in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy are in the New Testament itself. The Catholic understanding of Mary’s “immaculate conception” is in fact strongly implied by the very word with which the Angel Gabriel addresses Mary, Kecharitomene (Κεχαριτωμενη), in the original Greek of Luke 1:28. Ke-chari-tomene grammatically is the past, perfect participle of charis, which is translated into English as grace or favor, more commonly grace. The grammar of this word shows that this grace or favor which resides with Mary is something she already had – in the past, before Gabriel greeted her, she was already graced or favored, and she was already completely or perfectly graced or favored. So Kecharitomene in Luke 1:28 means that before Mary hears Gabriel’s message and believes it and conceives Jesus in her womb, she is already, in the past, completely or perfectly favored or graced by God, and therefore the word is usually translated as “highly favored one” or “full of grace,” in an attempt to translate the full grammatical sense of the Greek word. The more developed Catholic theology of the Immaculate Conception, still held in essence in the less developed theology of the Byzantine Churches no longer in the Catholic Communion, makes the most sense out of why the Angel Gabriel would address Mary in terms equivalent to “greetings, Fully Graced (one),” as if it were a title – she is a human being already, completely graced by God, through the future merits of her son Jesus which are constantly before God in all Eternity, in preparation for her unique role as the unstained channel from which God the Son will take on (unstained) human nature.
Mary was thus prepared by God for her role as the first Christian, the first believer in Jesus Christ, from when she believed the Angel’s message to her about Jesus and consented to her Heavenly Father’s will for her in her fiat, “let it be done to me as you have said.” Her unique and particularly Blessed Divine Motherhood as the unique physical Theokotos or God-Bearer prepared her also to be the first Christian and the model of every Christian. As the first Christian disciple, Mary is best known in the Bible precisely for “hearing the word of God and obeying it,” (cf Luke 1:38) so Jesus’ statement in response to the woman’s cry “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you,” “Blessed rather are those who hear the word and God and obey it” (Luke 11:28) includes Mary as a prime example and model along with all those who like her “hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus here puts the emphasis on just why His mother Mary is blessed, and His statement is certainly not meant to contradict the word which Elizabeth prophesied while full of the Holy Spirit, that Mary is indeed “blessed among women” (Luke 1:41-45, see also 1:48). Jesus makes precisely the same point in Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, and Luke 8:19-21, which all relate the same incident of how Jesus, when told that his mother and brothers had come to see him but could not get through the crowd, said of the disciples around Him, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). Despite the Protestant attempts to use all these passages against Catholic and Orthodox Marian devotion, this statement likewise does not denigrate Mary in any way, who is best known for heroically “hearing God’s word and putting it into practice,” but includes those who like Mary “hear and obey” together with her, emphasizing that all those who hear and obey become also members of Jesus’ family.
Being part of the spiritual family of Jesus (the Church) which anyone can join and which is meant to encompass all humanity (2 Peter 3:9) is far more important than being part of the natural, physical family of Jesus (which is limited), and so Jesus emphasizes this fact to His followers when they mention His natural family. Indeed, Mary became part of Jesus’ natural family (His mother) only because she first believed the word of God spoken to her by the Angel and obediently accepted it – she did not conceive Jesus physically in her womb, becoming physically related to Jesus as His mother, until after she had demonstrated heroic faith and obedience to the will of God (Luke 2:21, 1:38). Mary did not become Jesus’ natural, physical mother until after she had “conceived” Jesus in her heart, through faith, as all later disciples of Jesus will – becoming also Jesus’ “mother and brothers” (Luke 8:21), His family, through faith. So Mary is not excluded by “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” – she is most famous in all of history for doing precisely that! Her greatest claim to fame, the reason everybody knows who she is, is because she accepted and did the will of God – that she bear and raise the Son of God. So Jesus’ statements do not take anything away from Mary who is indeed, and uniquely “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42), whom “all generations” will indeed call “blessed” (Luke 1:48). They instead invite others to join Mary – the first Christian through her faith – in the family of God. Jesus is saying, “yes, blessed is the womb that bore me (my natural mother), as are all who like her do the will of God. They are also part of my family, so they are also my ‘mother and brothers’.”
19.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 100.
20.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 117.
21.Robert F. Taft, S.J., Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2001),152 (emphasis added).
22.Robert F. Taft, S.J., The Diptychs (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1991), 95.
23.Taft, Diptychs, 42 (emphasis added).
24.Taft, Diptychs, XXVI-XXVII.
25.Taft, Diptychs, 6-7.
26.e.g. Taft, Diptychs, 194.
27.Taft, Diptychs, 118.
28.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 149.
29.Taft, Diptychs, 101, 118.
30.Taft, Diptychs, 14 (emphasis added).
31.Charles Edward Hammond, Liturgies Eastern and Western: Being the Texts Original or Translated of the Principal Liturgies of the Church. Vol. 1, Eastern Liturgies, ed. F.E. Brightman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), 439.
32.Isabel Florence Hapgood, Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church: Compiled, Translated, and Arranged From the Old Church-Slavonic Service Books of the Russian Church and Collated with the Service Books of the Greek Church, 5th ed., (Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and All North America, 1975), 108.
33.J.M. Neale, ed., The Liturgies of S. Mark, S. James, S. Clement, S. Chrysostom, S. Basil: or According to the Use of the Churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and the Formula of the Apostolic Constitutions (London: J.T. Hayes, 1859), 118.
J.M. Neale and R.F. Littledale, trans., The Liturgies of SS. Mark, James, Clement, Chrysostom, and Basil, and the Church of Malabar, 7th ed. (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002), 117 . (Based on the 1869 7th Edition)
34.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 149-153 (emphasis added).
35.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 154.
36.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 293.
37.Mark Miravalle, ed., Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Towards A Papal Definition? (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing, 1995), 27.
38. David M. Petras,“Mary in Eastern Liturgical Tradition,” Liturgical Ministry 6, (Winter, 1997): 18.
39.Miravalle, Theological Foundations II, 207.
40.Even Protestant and Evangelical Christians, encouraged by this passage, will sometimes refer to the person through whose witness and ministry they were brought to Christ as their “spiritual father” or “father in Christ,” without fearing it contradicts Jesus’ words to “call no man father” in its proper context. Protestant Christians often have instincts very close to those of Catholic Christians even when their formal doctrine differs.
41.Miravalle, ed., Theological Foundations, 136.
42.Miravalle, ed., Theological Foundations, 284.
43.Miravalle, ed., Theological Foundations, 139-40.
44.As a practical devotional expression of the Marian insights of the Byzantine Liturgy and Byzantine theology as expressed by Theophanes of Nicea calling Mary “the neck” of the Body of Christ, I present, for interest, “Baptiste’s Version of Saint Louis De Montfort’s ‘Consecration to Jesus Through Mary’:The “Crown” of the Catholic Church’s Marian Devotion in a Theologically Precise and Ecumenically Sensitive Format Which Should Be Unoffensive to Protestant Christians and Which May Draw Them (and Catholic Christians) Deeper into the Holy Mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Body of Christ the Church.
My own personal development of Saint Louis de Montfort’s Christian devotion of “consecration to Jesus through Mary” (promoted by Blessed Pope John Paul II) incorporates a more developed understanding of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the “profound mystery” (see Ephesians 5:22-32) of the Body of Christ the Church, wherein I pray:
“Mary, my mother and Queen, and ‘neck’ of the Body; Jesus, my brother and King, and Head of the Body; Great High Father of Jesus the Only-Begotten Son: In the Holy Spirit whose indwelling makes me also a member of the Body of Christ I consecrate myself to you – I offer you all my life, all my love, all my service, all my suffering, and any small merit that is mine for freely cooperating with the empowering Grace of the Holy Spirit who indwells me.
(that Holy Spirit who is “spouse” of you, Mary my mother and Queen, who overshadowed you who then bore Jesus and are now the first merely human member of the Body to live fully (body and soul) in Heaven the life of the Holy Spirit; that Holy Spirit of You, Jesus my human and Divine Lord and King, who overshadowed Your human mother to make You human while remaining Divine; that Holy Spirit of You, my Divine Father, who is the love proceeding between You and Your Divine Son in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity of Love – that same Holy Spirit of supernatural adoption [Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6] who proceeds from the Father [John 15:26], who indwells me and makes me a child of God the Father [John 1:12-13]). (cont.)
I pray that you (Mary my Queen, Jesus my King, Great High Father of Love) through the Holy Spirit whose life you share and who also indwells me, will lovingly guide and guard my life which I offer to you; I know that you will accept all my love which I offer to you and return it beyond my ability to contain; I pray you will clearly direct my service to you as my Queen, my King, and my High Father; I thank you that all my suffering which I offer to you is not wasted or meaningless but, since I am a member of the Body of Christ together with Mary the ‘Neck’ and Christ the Head, my suffering participates in the sufferings of Christ the Head for the redemption of the world, “making up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24); I ask you Mary, as Mediatrix of All Graces because you are the ‘neck’ of the Body of Christ and interceding Queen of the Kingdom (as the Queens of Israel interceded for the subjects of the Kingdom with the Kings their sons), on behalf of Jesus your Son and your King and Head of the Body, and through Him on behalf of His High Father, to take any small merit of mine (for, as a member of the Body, freely cooperating with the Grace of the Holy Spirit which enlivens the Body), and distribute it throughout the Body of Christ and the world beyond as your Son and King and His Father direct you, wherever you and your Son and His Father see it has the most need of further Graces.”
Please note that “consecration to Jesus through Mary” is the highest form or “crown” of all Catholic Marian devotion, but it is not about Mary in any way that interferes with a Christian’s relationship with Jesus as Protestants worry about. Rather, by including Mary in this prayer together with God, because of her pivotal role in the Church as the first member of the Body of Christ, the central Christian mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation are remembered and clarified and our important role as individual members of that one Body of Christ is emphasized. Our participation in that Body which includes Mary the ‘neck’ and Jesus the Head, our participation with Mary the first merely human member of that one Body of Christ, Head and Members, which lives, loves, and suffers for the redemption of the world (see Colossians 1:24), is emphasized.
45.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 155 (emphasis added).
46.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 99, 107 (emphasis added).
47.Taft, Precommunion Rites, 137.
48.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 156.
49. Taft, Precommunion Rites, 149.
50.“the liturgy of Byzantium was a typical Late Antique, Antiochene-type rite with no especially distinguishing traits . . . but in the last two decades of the fourth century . . . the rite of Constantinople began to acquire the stational character and theological lineaments that will mark its later history … the origins of the “Byzantine Church,” as we know it [are] in the period from 381-451 [that is, from the Second to the Fourth Ecumenical Councils].” – Robert F.Taft, S.J., The Byzantine Rite : A Short History (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 19, 23.
51.Galadza, ed., Divine Liturgy, 158.
52.Taft, Precommunion Rites, 234, 235, 239.
53.Robert F. Taft, S.J., Liturgy in Byzantium and Beyond (Aldershot: Variorum, 1995), I – 47.
54.Raya, Abundance of Love, 1-3(emphasis added) .
55.Taft, Beyond East and West, 159 (emphasis added).
56.Raya, Abundance of Love, 2.