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Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, also referred to as The Rite of Constantinople or Byzantine Rite

(Adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

The Liturgies, Divine Office, forms for the administration of sacraments and for various blessingssacramentals, and exorcisms, of the Church of Constantinople, which is now, after the Roman Rite, by far the most widely spread in the world. With one insignificant exception — the Liturgy of St. James is used once a year at Jerusalem and Zakynthos (Zacynthus) — it is followed exclusively by all Orthodox Churches, by the Melkites (Melchites) in Syria and Egypt, the Uniats in the Balkans and the Italo-Greeks in Calabria, Apulia, Sicily, and Corsica. So that more than a hundred millions of Christians perform their devotions according to the Rite of Constantinople.


This is not one of the original parent-rites. It is derived from that of Antioch. Even apart from the external evidence a comparison of the two liturgies will show that Constantinople follows Antioch in the disposition of the parts. There are two original Eastern types of liturgy: that of Alexandria, in which the great Intercession comes before the Consecration, and that of Antioch, in which it follows after the Epiklesis. The Byzantine use in both its Liturgies (of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom) follows exactly the order of Antioch. A number of other parallels make the fact of this derivation clear from internal evidence, as it is from external witness. The tradition of the Church of Constantinople ascribes the oldest of its two Liturgies to St. Basil the Great (d. 379), Metropolitan of Cæsarea in Cappadocia. This tradition is confirmed by contemporary evidence. It is certain that St. Basil made a reformation of the Liturgy of his Church, and that the Byzantine service called after him represents his reformed Liturgy in its chief parts, although it has undergone further modification since his time. St. Basil himself speaks on several occasions of the changes he made in the services of Cæsarea. He writes to the clergy of Neo-Cæsarea in Pontus to complain of opposition against himself on account of the new way of singing psalms introduced by his authority (Ep. Basilii, cvii, Patr. Gr., XXXII, 763). St. Gregory of Nazianzos (Nazianzen, d. 390) says that Basil had reformed the order of prayers (euchon diataxis — Orat. xx, P.G., XXXV, 761). Gregory of Nyssa (died c. 395) compares his brother Basil with Samuel because he “carefully arranged the form of the Service” (Hierourgia, In laudem fr. Bas., P.G., XLVI, 808). Prokios (Proclus) of Constantinople (d. 446) writes: “When the great Basil . . . saw the carelessness and degeneracy of men who feared the length of the Liturgy — not as if he thought it too long — he shortened its form, so as to remove the weariness of the clergy and assistants” (De traditione divinæ Missæ, P.G., XLV, 849).

The first question that presents itself is: What rite was it that Basil modified and shortened? Certainly it was that used at Cæsarea before his time. And this was a local form of the great Antiochene use, doubtless with many local variations and additions. That the original rite that stands at the head of this line of development is that of Antioch is proved from the disposition of the present Liturgy of St. Basil, to which we have already referred; from the fact that, before the rise of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Antioch was the head of the Churches of Asia Minor as well as of Syria (and invariably in the East the patriarchal see gives the norm in liturgical matters, followed and then gradually modified by its suffragan Churches); and lastly by the absence of any other source. At the head of all Eastern rites stand the uses of Antioch and Alexandria. Lesser and later Churches do not invent an entirely new service for themselves, but form their practice on the model of one of these two. Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor in liturgical matters derive from Antioch, just as EgyptAbyssinia, and Nubia do from Alexandria. The two Antiochene liturgies now extant are;

  1. that of the Eighth Book of the Apostolic Constitutions and
  2. parallel to it in every way, the Greek Liturgy of St. James (see ANTIOCHENE LITURGY).

These are the starting-points of the development we can follow. But it is not to be supposed that St. Basil had before him either of these services, as they now stand, when he made the changes in question. In the first place, his source is rather the Liturgy of St. James than that of the Apostolic Constitutions. There are parallels to both in the Basilian Rite; but the likeness is much greater to that of St. James. From the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer (Vere dignum et justum est, our Preface) to the dismissal, Basil’s order is almost exactly that of James. But the now extant Liturgy of St. James (in Brightman, “Liturgies Eastern and Western”, 31-68) has itself been considerably modified in later years. Its earlier part especially (the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Offertory) is certainly later than the time of St. Basil. In any case, then, we must go back to the original Antiochene Rite as the source. But neither was this the immediate origin of the reform. It must be remembered that all living rites are subject to gradual modification through use. The outline and frame remain; into this frame new prayers are fitted. As a general rule liturgies keep the disposition of their parts, but tend to change the text of the prayers. St. Basil took as the basis of his reform the use of Cæsarea in the fourth century. There is reason to believe that that use, while retaining the essential order of the original Antiochene service, had already considerably modified various parts, especially the actual prayers. We have seen, for instance, that Basil shortened the Liturgy. But the service that bears his name is not at all shorter than the present one of St. James. We may, then, suppose that by his time the Liturgy of Cæsarea had been considerably lengthened by additional prayers (this is the common development of Liturgies). When we say, then, that the rite of Constantinople that bears his name is the Liturgy of St. James as modified by St. Basil, it must be understood that Basil is rather the chief turning-point in its development than the only author of the change. It had already passed through a period of development before his time, and it has developed further since. Nevertheless, St. Basil and his reform of the rite of his own city are the starting-point of the special use of Constantinople.<hardpoint=”ad-cathen-middle” categories=”4674472789+9252343365+0478201694″></hardpoint=”ad-cathen-middle”>

A comparison of the present Liturgy of St. Basil with earlier allusions shows that in its chief parts it is really the service composed by him. Peter the Deacon, who was sent by the Scythian monks to Pope Hormisdas to defend a famous formula they had drawn up (“One of the Trinity was crucified”) about the year 512, writes: “The blessed Basil, Bishop of Cæsarea, says in the prayer of the holy altar which is used by nearly the whole East: Give, oh Lord, strength and protection; make the bad good, we pray, keep the good in their virtue; for Thou canst do all things, and no one can withstand Thee; Thou dost save whom Thou wilt and no one can hinder Thy will” (Petri diac. Ep. ad Fulgent, vii, 25, in P.L., LXV, 449). This is a compilation of three texts in the Basilian Liturgy: Keep the good in their virtue; make the bad good by thy mercy (Brightman, op. cit., pp. 333-334); the words: Give, O Lord, strength and protection come several times at the beginning of prayers; and the last words are an acclamation made by the choir or people at the end of several (Renaudot, I, p. xxxvii). The Life of St. Basil ascribed to Amphilochios (P.G., XXIX, 301, 302) quotes as composed by him the beginning of the Introduction-prayer and that of the Elevation exactly as they are in the existing Liturgy (Brightman, 319, 341). The Second Council of Nicæa (787) says: “As all priests of the holy Liturgy know, Basil says in the prayer of the Divine Anaphora: We approach with confidence to the holy altar . . .”. The prayer is the one that follows the Anamnesis in St. Basil’s Liturgy (Brightman, p. 329. Cf. Hardouin, IV, p. 371).

From these and similar indications we conclude that the Liturgy of St. Basil in its oldest extant form is substantially authentic, namely, from the beginning of the Anaphora to the Communion. The Mass of the Catechumens and the Offertory prayers have developed since his death. St. Gregory Nazianzen, in describing the saint’s famous encounter with Valens at Cæsarea, in 372, describes the Offertory as a simpler rite, accompanied with psalms sung by the people but without an audible Offertory prayer (Greg. Naz., Or., xliii, 52, P.G., XXXVI, 561). This oldest form of the Basilian Liturgy is contained in a manuscript of the Barberini Library of about the year 800 (manuscript, III, 55, reprinted in Brightman, 309-344). The Liturgy of St. Basil now used in the Orthodox and Melkite (or Melchite) Churches (Euchologion, Venice, 1898, pp. 75-97; Brightman, 400-411) is printed after that of St. Chrysostom and differs from it only in the prayers said by the priest, chiefly in the Anaphora; it has received further unimportant modifications. It is probable that even before the time of St. John Chrysostom the Liturgy of Basil was used at Constantinople. We have seen that Peter the Deacon mentions that it was “used by nearly the whole East”. It would seem that the importance of the See of Cæsarea (even beyond its own exarchy), the fame of St. Basil, and the practical convenience of this short Liturgy led to its adoption by many Churches in Asia and Syria. The “East” in Peter the Deacon’s remark would probably mean the Roman Prefecture of the East (Præfectura Orientis) that included Thrace. Moreover, when St. Gregory of Nazianzos came to Constantinople to administer that diocese (381) he found in use there a Liturgy that was practically the same as the one he had known at home in Cappadocia. His Sixth Oration (P.G., XXXV, 721 sq.) was held in Cappadocia, his Thirty-eighth (P.G., XXXVI, 311) at Constantinople. In both he refers to and quotes the Eucharistic prayer that his hearers know. A comparison of the two texts shows that the prayer is the same. This proves that, at any rate in its most important element, the liturgy used at the capital was that of Cappadocia — the one that St. Basil used as a basis of his reform. It would therefore be most natural that the reform too should in time be adopted at Constantinople. But it would seem that before Chrysostom this Basilian Rite (according to the universal rule) had received further development and additions at Constantinople. It has been suggested that the oldest form of the Nestorian Liturgy is the original Byzantine Rite, the one that St. Chrysostom found in use when he became patriarch (Probst, “Lit. des IV. Jahrhts.”, 413).

The next epoch in the history of the Byzantine Rite is the reform of St. John Chrysostom (d. 407). He not only further modified the Rite of Basil, but left both his own reformed Liturgy and the unreformed Basilian one itself, as the exclusive uses of Constantinople. St. John became Patriarch of Constantinople in 397; he reigned there till 403, was then banished, but came back in the same year; was banished again in 404, and died in exile in 407. The tradition of his Church says that during the time of his patriarchate he composed from the Basilian Liturgy a shorter form that is the one still in common use throughout the Orthodox Church. The same text of Proklos (Proclus) quoted above continues: “Not long afterwards our father, John Chrysostomzealous for the salvation of his flock as a shepherd should be, considering the carelessness of human nature, thoroughly rooted up every diabolical objection. He therefore left out a great part and shortened all the forms lest anyone . . . stay away from this Apostolic and Divine Institution”, etc. He would, then, have treated St. Basil’s rite exactly as Basil treated the older rite of Cæsarea. There is no reason to doubt this tradition in the main issue. A comparison of the Liturgy of Chrysostom with that of Basil will show that it follows the same order and is shortened considerably in the text of the prayers; a further comparison of its text with the numerous allusions to the rite of the Holy Eucharist in Chrysostom’s homilies will show that the oldest form we have of the Liturgy agrees substantially with the one he describes (Brightman, 530-534). But it is also certain that the modern Liturgy of St. Chrysostom has received considerable modifications and additions since his time. In order to reconstruct the rite used by him we must take away from the present Liturgy all the Preparation of the Offerings (Proskomide), the ritual of the Little and Great Entrances, and the Creed. The service began with the bishop’s greeting, “Peace to all”, and the answer, “And with thy spirit.” The lessons followed from the Prophets and Apostles, and the deacon read the Gospel. After the Gospel the bishop or a priest preached a homily, and the prayer over the catechumens was said. Originally it had been followed by a prayer over penitents, but Nektarios (381-397) had abolished the discipline of public penance, so in St. Chrysostom’s Liturgy this prayer is left out. Then came a prayer for the faithful (baptized) and the dismissal of the catechumensSt. Chrysostom mentions a new ritual for the Offertory: the choir accompanied the bishop and formed a solemn procession to bring the bread and wine from the prothesis to the altar (Hom. xxxvi, in I Cor., vi, P.G., LXI, 313). Nevertheless the present ceremonies and the Cherubic Chant that accompany the Great Entrance are a later development (Brightman, op. cit., 530). The Kiss of Peace apparently preceded the Offertory in Chrysostom’s time (Brightman, op. cit., 522, Probst, op. cit., 208). The Eucharistic prayer began, as everywhere, with the dialogue: “Lift up your hearts” etc. This prayer, which is clearly an abbreviated form of that in the Basilian Rite, is certainly authentically of St. Chrysostom. It is apparently chiefly in reference to it that Proklos says that he has shortened the older rite. The Sanctus was sung by the people as now. The ceremonies performed by the deacon at the words of Institution are a later addition. Probst thinks that the original Epiklesis of St. Chrysostom ended at the words “Send thy Holy Spirit down on us and on these gifts spread before us” (Brightman, op. cit., 386), and that the continuation (especially the disconnected interruption: God be merciful to me a sinner, now inserted into the Epiklesis; Maltzew, “Die Liturgien” etc., Berlin, 1894, p. 88) are a later addition (op. cit., 414). The Intercession followed at once, beginning with a memory of the saints. The prayer for the dead came before that for the living (ibid., 216-415). The Eucharistic prayer ended with a doxology to which the people answered, Amen; and then the bishop greeted them with the text, “The mercy of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with all of you” (Titus 2:13), to which they answered: “And with thy spirit”, as usual. The Lord’s Prayer followed, introduced by a short litany spoken by the deacon and followed by the well-known doxology: “For thine is the kingdom” etc. This ending was added to the Our Father in the Codex of the New Testament used by St. Chrysostom (cf. Hom. xix in P.G., LVII, 282). Another greeting (Peace to all) with its answer introduced the manual acts, first an Elevation with the words “Holy things for the holy” etc., the Breaking of Bread and the Communion under both kinds. In Chrysostom’s time it seems that people received either kind separately, drinking from the chalice. A short prayer of thanksgiving ended the Liturgy. That is the rite as we see it in the saint’s homilies (cf. Probst., op. cit., 156-202, 202-226). It is true that most of these homilies were preached at Antioch (387-397) before he went to Constantinople. It would seem, then, that the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom was in great part that of his time at Antioch, and that he introduced it at the capital when he became patriarch. We have seen from Peter the Deacon that St. Basil’s Rite was used by “nearly the whole East”. There is, then, no difficulty in supposing that it had penetrated to Antioch and was already abridged there into the “Liturgy of Chrysostom” before that saint brought this abridged form to Constantinople.

It was this Chrysostom Liturgy that gradually became the common Eucharistic service of Constantinople, and that spread throughout the Orthodox world, as the city that had adopted it became more and more the acknowledged head of Eastern Christendom. It did not completely displace the older rite of St. Basil, but reduced its use to a very few days in the year on which it is still said (see below, under II). Meanwhile the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom itself underwent further modification. The oldest form of it now extant is in the same manuscript of the Barberini Library that contains St. Basil’s Liturgy. In this the elaborate rite of the Proskomide has not yet been added, but it has already received additions since the time of the saint whose name it bears. The Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us) at the Little Entrance is said to have been revealed to Proklos of Constantinople (434-47, St. John Dam., De Fide Orth., III, 10); this probably gives the date of its insertion into the Liturgy. The Cherubikon that accompanies the Great Entrance was apparently added by Justin II (565-78, Brightman, op. cit., 532), and the Creed that follows, just before the beginning of the Anaphora, is also ascribed to him (Joannis Biclarensis Chronicon, P.L., LXXII, 863). Since the Barberini Euchologion (ninth cent.) the Preparation of the Offerings (proskomide) at the credence-table (called prothesis) gradually developed into the elaborate rite that now accompanies it. Brightman (op. cit., 539-552) gives a series of documents from which the evolution of this rite may be traced from the ninth to the sixteenth century.

These are the two Liturgies of Constantinople, the older one of St. Basil, now said on only a few days, and the later shortened one of St. Chrysostom that is in common use. There remains the third, the Liturgy of the Presanctified (ton proegiasmenon). This service, that in the Latin Church now occurs only on Good Friday, was at one time used on the aliturgical days of Lent everywhere (see ALITURGICAL DAYS and Duchesne, Origines, 222, 238). This is still the practice of the Eastern Churches. The Paschal Chronicle (see CHRONICON PASCHALE) of the year 645 (P.G., XCII) mentions the Presanctified Liturgy, and the fifty-second canon of the Second Trullan Council (692) orders: “On all days of the fast of forty days, except Saturdays and Sundays and the day of the Holy Annunciation, the Liturgy of the Presanctified shall be celebrated.” The essence of this Liturgy is simply that the Blessed Sacrament that has been consecrated on the preceding Sunday, and is reserved in the tabernacle (artophorion) under both kinds, is taken out and distributed as Communion. It is now always celebrated at the end of Vespers (hesperinos), which form its first part. The lessons are read as usual, and the litanies sung; the catechumens are dismissed, and then, the whole Anaphora being naturally omitted, Communion is given; the blessing and dismissal follow. A great part of the rite is simply taken from the corresponding parts of St. Chrysostom’s Liturgy. The present form, then, is a comparatively late one that supposes the normal Liturgies of Constantinople. It has been attributed to various persons — St. James, St. Peter, St. Basil, St. Germanos I of Constantinople (715-30), and so on (Brightman, op. cit., p. xciii). But in the service books it is now officially ascribed to St. Gregory Dialogos (Pope Gregory I). It is impossible to say how this certainly mistaken ascription began. The Greek legend is that, when he was apocrisiarius at Constantinople (578), seeing that the Greeks had no fixed rite for this Communion-service, he composed this one for them.

The origin of the Divine Office and of the rites for sacraments and sacramentals in the Byzantine Church is more difficult to trace. Here too we have now the result of a long and gradual development; and the starting-point of that development is certainly the use of Antioch. But there are no names that stand out as clearly as do those of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom in the history of the Liturgy. We may perhaps find the trace of a similar action on their part in the case of the Office. The new way of singing psalms introduced by St. Basil (Ep. cvii, see above) would in the first place affect the canonical Hours. It was the manner of singing psalms antiphonally, that is alternately by two choirs, to which we are accustomed, that had already been introduced at Antioch in the time of the Patriarch Leontios (Leontius, 344-57; Theodoret, Church History II.24). We find one or two other allusions to reforms in various rites among the works of St. Chrysostom; thus he desires people to accompany funerals by singing psalms (Hom. iv, in Ep. ad Hebr., P.G., LXIII, 43) etc.

With regard to the Divine Office especially, it has the same general principles in East and West from a very early age (see BREVIARY). Essentially it consists in psalm-singing. Its first and most important part is the Night-watch (pannychis, our Nocturns); at dawn the orthros (Lauds) was sung; during the day the people met again at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, and at sunset for the hesperinos (Vespers). Besides the psalms these Offices contained lessons from the Bible and collects. A peculiarity of the Antiochene use was the “Gloria in excelsis” sung at the Orthros (Ps.-Athan., De Virg., xx, P.G., XXVIII, 276); the evening hymnPhos ilaron, still sung in the Byzantine Rite at the Hesperinos and attributed to Athenogenes (in the second cent.), is quoted by St. Basil (On the Holy Spirit 73). Egeria of Aquitaine, the pilgrim to Jerusalem, gives a vivid description of the Office as sung there according to Antioch in the fourth century [“S. Silviæ (sic) peregrin.”, ed. Gamurrini, Rome, 1887]. To this series of Hours two were added in the fourth century. John Cassian (Instit., III, iv) describes the addition of Prime by the monks of Palestine, and St. Basil refers (loc. cit.) to Complin (apodeipnon) as the monks’ evening prayer. Prime and Complin, then, were originally private prayers said by monks in addition to the official Hours. The Antiochene manner of keeping this Office was famous all over the East. Flavian of Antioch in 387 softened the heart of Theodosius (after the outrage to the statues) by making his clerks sing to him “the suppliant chants of Antioch” (SozomenChurch History VII.23). And St. John Chrysostom, as soon as he comes to Constantinople, introduces the methods of Antioch in keeping the canonical Hours (16, VIII, 8). Eventually the eastern Office admits short services (mesoorai) between the day Hours, and between Vespers and Complin. Into this frame a number of famous poets have fitted a long succession of canons (unmetrical hymns); of these poets St. Romanos the singer (sixth cent.), St. Cosmas the singer (eighth cent.), St. John Damascene (c. 780), St. Theodore of Studion (d. 826), etc., are the most famous (see BYZANTINE LITERATURE, sub-title IV. Ecclesiastical etc.). St. Sabas (d. 532) and St. John Damascene eventually arranged the Office for the whole year, though, like the Liturgy, it has undergone further development since, till it acquired its present form (see below).