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The Byzantine Rite: A Short History (American Essays in Liturgy) Paperback – December 1, 1992
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Much has been written regarding the western liturgy; the same cannot be said of the Byzantine liturgy. Father Taft contributes to a remedy of that shortfall through this work. In it he traces the origins of the Byzantine Rite during its period of formation: from its beginnings until the end of Byzantium (1453 C.E.). While the rite has undergone some change in the period since then, its outlines remain essentially the same.
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First, this book is short, yet manages to bring to the page how colorful and impacting of the culture the liturgies of the time were, at least in the city.
Second, the book gives broad strokes to the buildings used and how they changed with the liturgical changes. Even the art work inside the churches changed over time, becoming more focused on the images of Saints, and less focused on the play of light along the stone of the building.
Third, the author does not bog the reader down with the many tiny changes that took place, sticking instead to the big shifts that took place.
If you NEED the tiny details of how the liturgies changed over time, this same author has other books, very detailed books, but I am very happy with this useful little over-view-- I can almost see and hear the stations' liturgies working their way down the major streets, progressing with great pomp toward the Hagia Sophia where eventually they would arrive for the Mass.
Recommend for students of Byzantium who do not want to read huge tomes on liturgical history and development. Recommend for home schoolers who want to look at the Church life of this long lived Christian empire. Recommend for anyone who wants to appreciate the historical liturgies of the Church.
Seriously wonderful little book.
The Byzantine rite:
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica online, The Byzantine rite originated in the Greek city of Antioch, but it was developed and perfected in Byzantium, or Constantinople. The rite was associated primarily with the Great Church of Constantinople and used the Greek language. As Constantinople extended its influence, however, the rite lost its exclusive Greek character and became Byzantine as it was translated into the vernacular of the diverse peoples who adopted it.
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. 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. The New Advent elaborates, "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."
St. Basil's Liturgy:
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 Egypt, Abyssinia, and Nubia do from Alexandria. Adrian Fortescue asked, a century ago, "What rite was it that Basil modified and shortened?" And replies unhesitantly, "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. Antioch was the head of the Churches of Asia Minor as well as of Syria...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.
Taft's Byzantine Views:
So why should some liturgy fan, 'seeking the correction of his pre Vatican II myopic sight,' according to the author, desert Fortescue's entery, Fr. Schmemann synthesis, and Dr. Klauser's history, whom Taft starts his pamphlet with his mocking sarcasm, for such Kleine Byzantinissche Liturgie-geschichte?
I was disappointed in the boastful presentation of this brochure to someone 'for liking what HE writes,' irrespective of the readers who are looking for, "a similar overview of the history of eastern liturgical tradition," in Taft's own words, then decides to, "follow in the footsteps of Theodore Klauser."
I borrow Fortescue enquiry, 'The main questions that present themselves' are:
a. The relation of St. Basil's Byzantine liturgy to the Coptic anaphora in his name. which was the original, and what are the proofs?
b. Did John Chrysostom write any liturgical prayers, let alone an anaphora, and what was its date, origin, and composers?
c. The liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts, how to resolve the question of its origin, which the Roman Catholics deny its relation with Pope Gregory, "The apocryphal attribution of the Byzantine Presanctified to Pope Gregory I does not antedate the twelfth century." (The H/C encyclopedia of Catholicism, 1995) Professor Uspensky's compelling study gives its Alexandrine origin, debating that the author was not John Chrysostom but more logically Severus of patriarch of Antioch (Evening Worship, in the orthodox Church, SVS 1985, pp. 143)
d. The author's claim of his international recognition, is appreciated. Could he answer the liturgical tradition in imparting solemn blessings during liturgical service, the episcopal candelabras used by Byzantine-rite bishops, in addition to the trikirion which the Coptic Bishops use, add a dikirion in the left hand, based on a Byzantine dogmaticon.