The Byzantine Rite boasts of two formularies of the Eucharistic sacrifice, namely, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In this leaflet we shall examine the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which at the present time seems to be more popular and is celebrated more frequently in the Byzantine Rite. Before the tenth century it was just the opposite : the Basilian Liturgy was celebrated more often. But because of its brevity, in time, the Chrysostomian Liturgy prevailed.
1. St. John Chrysostom was born in Antioch, the cradle of Christianity, at about 345 A.D. He delighted in sacred studies, which he acquired from some famous masters of the Antiochian School, since his youth. In order to put his Christian education into the practice of his daily life, the bright young man turned to the neighboring mountains, where in his time flourished a very active ascetic life. There an old hermit initiated the eager young man in the monastic life.
After six years of serious spiritual conditioning, John returned to Antioch under the protection of his spiritual father, archbishop St. Meletius (d. 381), who immediately ordained him a deacon. But it was archbishop Flavian, also a Saint (d. 404) , who ordained him to the holy priesthood and appointed him to the duty of preacher in the largest church of the city. There the young orator preached the word of God for twelve continuous years (386-397) with such zeal and ability that he was acclaimed “Chrysostomos,” the Goldmouthed.
He is considered the greatest Christian orator of all times. In 398, at the order of Emperor Arcadius, John was cunningly brought to the capital and consecrated archbishop of Constantinople.
As archbishop, Chrysostom immediately set about the religious reform and, among other things, re-established order and dignity in the liturgical worship. Hence St. John Chrysostom is also considered a reformer of the Byzantine liturgy.
2. In Constantinople St. John Chrysostom already found the Liturgy of st. Basil the Great, introduced there by st. Gregory of Nazianz during his brief administration of the Constantinopolitan Church (379-381). Chrysostom noticed that during the long prayers of the Basilian Liturgy the faithful were getting distracted and unruly. He, therefore, introduced the celebration of a somewhat shorter Syrian Liturgy in use in his Antiochian mother church, called the Liturgy of the Twelve Apostles.
He only revised it and replaced some prayers with his own. The eighth century manuscript known as -Codex Barberini ascribes only two liturgical prayers to Chrysostom, namely: a) the Prayer for the Catechumens, and b) the Prayer Behind the Ambo. It is only with the later manuscripts, starting with the eleventh century, that the entire Divine Liturgy is ascribed to St. John Chrysostom.
From the liturgical sources it appears that st. John Chrysostom did not compose the entire Divine Liturgy, not even its main part, called the Anaphora. The liturgical role of Chrysostom then should be restricted to the revision of al ready existing formulary of the Divine Liturgy and to the composition of some secondary liturgical prayers.
Due to its practicality and John’s authority the socalled Divine Liturgy of Sf. John Chrysostom by the 13th century superseded all the other Byzantine liturgies, except that of St. Basil the Great, which, nevertheless, was moved to the second place.
During the centuries the Chrysostomian Liturgy underwent certain evolution both in text and in ritual. Thus, in the fifth century, the Hymn of Trisagion was introduced into the Liturgy. In the following century the Liturgy became enriched with the Incarnation Hymn (0 Only Begotten Son), the mystical Cherubic Hymn, and the Symbol of Faith. It was only in the seventh century that the Rite of Preparation (Proskomidy) was moved to the beginning of the service and the Antiphons were added. Thus, by the end of the eighth century, we have already a definite formulary of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as to its external structure and prayers.
3. In 1850, at the Greek monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, another liturgical manuscript from the ninth century, known as the Porphirian Codex, was discovered. It is a formulary of the Divine Liturgy that was translated by SS. Cyril and Methodius into Old-Slavonic in 863, and became a common heritage of all Christian Slavs. Unfortunately, from the Cyrillo-Methodian times in Slavonic we have only some excerpts of the Holy Scriptures, but we do not have any Old-Slavonic text of the Holy Liturgy. The oldest Old-Slavonic liturgical texts are found in the Liturgikon of Anthony Romanovich (d. 1147) and of Barlaam Chutinsky (d. 1192), both from the twelfth century.
With the multiplication of liturgical manuscripts we notice great variety in the formulation of the text and the rubrics. Even the ceremonial varied from place to place, and from one century to another. We must wait until the 14th century for a successful attempt to standardize the liturgical text and rubrics, which was made by Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (d. 1376) in his famous Order of the Celebration, called Diataxis (cf. P.G., 154, 745-766). With time the Philothean Diataxis was accepted by all the Particular Churches of the Byzantine Rite and thus it became a unifying force of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
The Philothean Diataxis was almost immediately translated into Old-Slavonic by metropolitan Cyprian Camvlak of Kiev (1390-1406). and introduced in the Slavic lands that followed the Byzantine Rite. Thus, the Diataxis marked a very important period of the evolution of the Byzantine Rite and became a model for the printed Liturgikons in the subsequent centuries.
4. The liturgical commentaries are of great importance for the proper understanding of the Holy Liturgy. They tell us how various liturgical rites and functions developed ; they explain to us why these functions and ceremonies developed in such a particular way; and, finally, they reveal to us their pristine liturgical meaning. The first liturgical commentaries are brief and deal only with the more important parts of the Divine Liturgy. Such is the commentary of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), preserved in his fifth Mystagogica/ Catechesis (cf. P.G., 33, 1109-1128).
The Pseudo-Dionysian work, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, probably from the fifth century, gives us a mystical and symbolic interpretation of the Divine Liturgy (cf. P.G., 3, 423-446). A similar commentary was written by St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 622) in his introduction to the mysteries of the Liturgy, called Mystagogy (cf P.G., 91 , 657- 718). This is the oldest commentary on the Constantinopolitan form of the Divine Liturgy. Actually, St. Maximus was the first to apply the PseudoDionysian symbolism to the Byzantine Rite Liturgy.
The best commentary on the Byzantine Liturgy is ascribed to St. Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople (d. 740), entitled The Mystical Theory (cf. P.G., 98, 383-454), which is of somewhat later date. In this commentary for the first time the Holy Liturgy is explained as a symbolic representation of the life of Jesus Christ.
The life of Jesus Christ is usually divided into three periods, namely: 1) the hidden life, 2) the public life, and 3) the salvific life or Christ’s work of salvation. Corresponding to these three periods of Christ’s life, the Divine Liturgy also can be divided into three consecutive parts: a) Proskomidy- the rite of preparation of the holy gifts (bread and wine) at the side altar, which symbolizes the hidden life of Jesus; b) Liturgy of the Word, with the readings of the Holy Scriptures and the sermon, symbolizes the public life of Jesus; and, finally, c) Liturgy of the Eucharist, which symbolized Our Lord ‘s salvific work, His passion, death on the cross, His glorious resurrection and ascension.
The charm and originality of approach of The Mystical Theory made the commentary very popular and spiritually beneficial for the faithful. Since its appearance, the symbolic interpretation of the Holy Liturgy prevailed not only in the East but also in the West. It was only recently that the liturgists started to use the scientific-historical method in their efforts to discover a true theological meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice as presented by the various liturgical formularies.
5. The oldest Carpatho-Ruthenian commentary on the Divine Liturgy belongs to Father Joannicius Basilovich, OSBM. (d. 1821), entitled Interpretation of the Holy Liturgy as a True & Unbloody Sacrifice of the New Testament, written in 1815.
Unfortunately, because of the intervention of the official Hungarian censor in Buda, this excellent work was never printed and remained in manuscript.
Presently it is preserved at the University Library in Uzhorod. Father Basilovich based his commentary on such outstanding liturgical authorities as St. Germanus, Simon of Thessalonica, and J. Goar. In his original work he also traced the origins and spread of the Byzantine Rite among the Slavic peoples.
In the middle of the nineteenth century we find two additional works on the Holy Liturgy, namely:
The Liturgical Catechism by Canon Alexander Duchnovich, published in Buda (1851) and in L’viv (1854); and The Liturhika or the Interpretation of the Liturgical Services by Rev. Eugene Fencik, published in Budapest, 1878. In 1902, Canon Simeon Szabo published his commentary on the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Latin, which was written for the seminarians of the Eparchial Seminary in Uzhorod.
Thus far the best Carpathian commentary on the Holy Liturgy belongs to the pen of Mons.
Nicholas Russnak, entitled The Liturgies of the Eastern Church, published in Hungarian in Budapest in 1915. Prof. Russnak in his excellent work described all three liturgies, namely the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. He also compared the Byzantine Rite liturgy with that of the Roman Rite.