Thoughts on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Attending a Greek Orthodox Church this past Sunday a few things stood out to me in their Divine Liturgy in contrast to our typical Sunday Mass.  The Liturgy celebrated at this Church (and at most of the Churches of Byzantine heritage) was the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: the ancient rite of worship refined under St. John’s guidance during his reign as Patriarch of Constantinople (398-404).  It is a long and repetitive Liturgy, filled with the ancient high mysticism distinctive of Eastern Christianity.  The first thing that will most likely stand out to any Westerner familiar with the Mass of Paul VI is that the entire Divine Liturgy is sung or chanted.  This adds an interesting cadence to the prayers of the Liturgy.

Another distinctive feature of this particular rite, and of Orthodox theology as well, is its heavy and overwhelming emphasis on the doctrine and nature of the Blessed Trinity.  Westerners will be very surprised at the amount of Signs of the Cross and invocations of the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Mass in the West tends to take the congregations knowledge of the Trinity for granted and focuses first and foremost on the mystery of the Eucharist.  Of course the Orthodox believe in the Eucharist as well, but it is greatly overemphasized in the West.  Also, try as I might, I cannot recall any concrete references to the Sacrament as a re-presentation of the sacrifice at Calvary.  This is perhaps the greatest theological difference between the two rites of worship.  One is a Eucharist-centered service, the other a Trinity-centered service.  Other than this, the only differences are local customs and practices.

The Orthodox have, correctly, retained the use of incense in the Liturgy, and have not severed themselves from their roots by removing any and all Greek.  The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom represents a convenient balance between vernacular and formal language.  It is also significantly longer than our Ordinary Form, probably because it is chanted in such a way.  Hopefully one of these days, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches will come back into full communion with each other and we can end this silly schism.  The Orthodox too cling to the faith once delivered to the saints, at least as far as Eastern Christianity has come to understand it.  As far as I and many others are concerned, what separates us is mere politics.  How unfortunate and destructive is human pride.

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