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The Byzantine Rite, Byzantine Divine Liturgy

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) traces its beginnings to the baptism of Kyivan-Rus in 988. The Kyivan Church received the gift of baptism and its ecclesiastical traditions, its rite, from Byzantium.

"Rite," according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, means in its contemporary sense "the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living is manifested in each church."(canon 28) The Eastern Catholic Churches, among which the UGCC is the largest, are of these rites: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean. Those peoples who received baptism from Byzantium adapted the Byzantine rite to their own particular circumstances, adding their own unique character to it, and so we refer to the Ukrainian-Byzantine rite and others.

Just like the rites of the other Christian liturgical families, the Byzantine rite includes: the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist or Mass); the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, matrimony, anointing of the sick, reconciliation and holy orders; matins, vespers and other daily services; the liturgical year, with its cycle of movable and immovable feasts; and other blessings and prayers.

The cradle of the Byzantine rite is Constantinople. Over the centuries a synthesis went on there; the basis of the Byzantine rite was the fourth-century rite of Antioch (in present-day Syria). At the end of the 4th century the rite of Constantinople began to stabilize and this had a strong effect on the form of the Divine Liturgy. Its distinguishing characteristic is the fact that the liturgical action occurred in a city, its streets, squares and in a specific church building: this building was the final destination to which the whole church community processed to celebrate the eucharist. These numerous stationary points for prayer have left an enduring mark on the Divine Liturgy and other services of the Byzantine tradition.

The main eucharistic service of the Byzantine rite is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Like all Christian eucharists, it is composed of two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrifice. Before the Liturgy of the Word the priest prepares the gifts of bread and wine; this is called the "proskomidia." This is done on the side altar, without the participation of the faithful. A liturgy celebrated with a hierarch (bishop or other dignitary) opens with the blessing of the four corners of the world with three candles joined together, in honor of the Holy Trinity, and with two candles joined, in honor of the two natures of Jesus Christ.

Then the great ektenia (a litany with various intentions), or the litany of peace, begins, after which the antiphons are sung; antiphons are psalms with refrains. At the beginning of the so-called "third antiphon" (in a shortened Divine Liturgy this is actually chronologically the second antiphon) the Little Entrance occurs: the priests, preceded by the deacon carrying the gospel, come out from the sanctuary and stand before the royal doors, the main (central) doors of the icon screen. This procession is a ritual remnant of former times, when there were stations of prayer in Constantinople and it was a real entrance into the church building. While the antiphons were being sung, the people in procession entered through the doors of the church and the bishop then finished reciting the entrance prayer. The bishop took his place in the apse (a central seat in the back part of the altar space), blessed the faithful and the scripture readings began.

St. John Chrysostom thus described the beginning of the Divine Liturgy in one of his sermons from the end of the 4th century. St. John, who came to Constantinople from Antioch, brought with him an ancient liturgy called the "Anaphora of the Apostles"; today it is called the Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom

Before the scripture is read, after the return to the sanctuary, the troparion, a hymn dedicated to some event or saint, is sung and the trisagion prayer ("Holy God"). In the Byzantine eucharistic liturgy today all the scripture readings are taken from the New Testament. After the "apostol," that is, the epistle or the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Alleluia is sung. The Gospel reading, the homily and the insistent ektenia complete the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Sacrifice begins with a ceremonial transfer of the gifts of bread and wine, called the Great Entrance. In Constantinople this was also once a real entrance procession into the church building with the gifts which had been prepared for the Divine Liturgy in a separate building. This building was located next to the church and fulfilled the function of the modern sacristy. The Hymn of the Cherubim is sung before the gifts are transferred. In the Byzantine tradition this hymn is given a typological interpretation: the liturgy on earth is celebrated together with the liturgy in heaven which the angels serve. The hymn has the words "to receive the King of All": this refers to receiving Christ later in the liturgy, during the time of communion.

After the gifts have been placed on the altar, the short ektenia and the kiss of peace occur. (In the modern practice only the clergy exchange this kiss.) Then the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is sung. The Creed has an apologetic character in the Liturgy (as do some other elements, for example, the hymn "Only-begotten Son" in the Liturgy of the Word). The Creed was added in reaction to various heresies which threatened the purity of the faith.

The deacon's call to attentiveness and the blessing taken from the Epistle to the Corinthians starts the Anaphora. The Epiclesis, the prayer for the sending down of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered and for the transformation of the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, is recited by the celebrant after the words of institution ("Take eat... Drink of this all of you...") It is in the anaphora, perhaps, that we feel most strongly one negative result of the evolution of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy: the priest recites most of the prayers at this time silently, while the faithful sing liturgical hymns. So only a part of the riches of the Church's prayers reach the laity.

Two more ektenias and the Our Father precede holy communion. In the Byzantine tradition all communicants receive the eucharist under two species, the Body and the Blood. The introduction to communion is a prayer in which Christ is asked to receive the communicant as a partaker of His mystical supper.

After the rite of communion the celebrant blesses the faithful with the chalice and sings the ektenia of thanks. The phrase "Let us depart in peace" precedes the prayer behind the ambo. These words also were once connected with a real exit, from the altar to the ambo, formerly located in the middle of the church. After the prayer behind the ambo has been recited, the clergy process out to the sacristy. So the Divine Liturgy ends in the very place where it had started with the preparation of the gifts. In contemporary practice it concludes in a manner similar to other Byzantine services: with a blessing and a dismissal, in which we hear mention of our true God, Christ the Lover of Humanity.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved