Monday 3 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 4

I was celebrating the Liturgy this morning and came to a passage which reminded me of something I had been reading in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus from about 217 AD. It was the words…

Priest : Lift up your hearts!
People : We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest : Let us give thanks unto the Lord!
People : It is meet and right so to do.

When I had some time later today I found my copy of the Apostolic Tradition, written almost 1800 years before the liturgy being offered today and found that Hippolytus instructs the bishop celebrating the liturgy in his own times to pray…

Bishop : Lift up your hearts.
People : We lift them up unto the Lord.
Bishop : Let us give thanks to the Lord.
People : It is meet and right.

What should we be surprised about in this? That a congregation of Orthodox believers in England in 2014 AD are using words which were already traditional in 217 AD? Yes, that is one reason to be surprised perhaps. But we should also be interested in the fact that in 217 AD, in still living contact with the Apostolic age as previously described, we find that the worship which is prescribed by Hippolytus as already being traditional is entirely what we would consider as liturgical. Not only is it so in some vague and indeterminate manner, but the actual words used are those which are repeated and have been repeated in every Orthodox liturgy in every time and place.

Where would Hippolytus have heard these words? Let us remember that he was a self-confessed conservative wanting only to preserve that which seemed to him to be rooted in the Apostolic teaching. Certainly in his own personal experience he must have heard these words repeated regularly. If he was born in 170 AD then he would remember this liturgical refrain from 180 AD onwards. And by the turn of the century, as an important priest and teacher, we can reasonably assume that he would have spoken with those who were perhaps sixty years of age in 200 AD. Their memories would take the authority for this liturgical element back to 150 AD. And at such a time the disciples of the Apostles were still alive, as we considered previously.

The evidence from the Didache suggested that the Church as early as 70 AD was liturgical, but this passage from Hippolytus reasonably requires us to insist that by the end of the Apostolic period the Church was not only liturgical in some general sense, but liturgical to such an extent that aspects of that earliest liturgy are found present in all the later Orthodox liturgies and have been used ever since.

If I was present in the Church when Hippolytus celebrated in 200 AD there would be passages of his Eucharistic liturgy which I could join in with, word for word! It seems necessary to say that had I been with him when he was a child in 170 AD I would have heard the same words. And bearing in mind his conservatism it would seem reasonable to conclude that in 150 AD or so I would also have heard them being used by the disciples of the Apostles such as St Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. If they were indeed used by such historic figures then their use would surely be driven back to at least the end of the first century and the age of the Apostles.

The Church is liturgical from the beginning.

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