Rorate Caeli

Orthodox Bishop comments on the recent change of the 1962 Prayer for the Jews

Russian Orthodox theologian and bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna's lecture on "Theological Education in the 21st Century" is concerned, among other things, with the relationship between lex orandi and lex credendi. The entire lecture is worth reading; an excerpt can also be found on Interfax. However, our interest lies in his brief but unambiguous assessment of the recent changing of the 1962 Missal's Good Friday Prayer for the Jews.

This is being posted on Rorate not in order to reopen the wars on the change of the 1962 prayer for the Jews, but to cast greater light on the very real theological issues involved in that change.

From Hilarion of Vienna's lecture:

"Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy. For an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a 'rule of faith' (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries..."

"...The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction."

"Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called 'antisemitic' texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article 'How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church,' in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint-Petersburg, 1999, in Russian). He also maintains that only a 'superficial and selective' reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ. In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion."

"This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to 'corrections' in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of 'political correctness' demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church's services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends."


Anonymous said...

Overall, some good points. However, I am uneasy with this remark: "...and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services." Perhaps I'm being overly simple in seeing a modernist tendency in that remark?

Anonymous said...

It would be fine to pray for the conversion of the Jews who killed Christ. But all those who committed that personal sin are long since dead. Any Jew alive today has as much guilt as you and I because we are sinners. We pray for Jews today as we pray for all. That we all might accept the Messiah and receive eternal life. Let us continue to pray for one another.

Anonymous said...

"For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, . . . also maintains that only a 'superficial and selective' reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ. In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion."

The Gospel According To Saint John, 19:11:

Jesus answered: Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin.


Stanislas Wojtiech, Stanislawów said...

Despite the fact that this dissident (i.e. schismatic) Russian bishop from the ROC holds some weird views, including the heresy of apokatastasis panton (Origenism) and denial of eternal hell, this part is very true. The Russian Orthodox lay faithful would split already over a minor change in a litany in the liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a locus fidei, although I do not think we must "idolize" the Liturgy as the only place to find sacred dogma. The Magisterium of the Holy Roman Church holds primacy over all, of course. But it is very necessary that the political correct maffia inside ecclesiastical structures, is corrected and criticized. A prayer for conversion of unfaithful Jews has nothing to do with violence or with any national-socialist race madness (racism, based on genes and origins, not faith). The combat between the Church and "those who say they are Jews, but are not" is 2,000 years old and a mystery of Christianity. At a certain date, a majority of Jews will convert. Probably in the end times' scenario during the Antichrist's (the one who will "come in his own name, him" the Jews "will accept") persecution of Christians.

St. Rafael said...

Amazing analysis by the Orthodox bishop.

It takes a schismatic to actually stand up for truth of our tradition. He articulates perfectly why many Catholics were opposed to Pope Benedict's revision. He calls it what it is, political correctness. I hope the Holy Father listens to this man and learns from him.

I pray that the schismatic bishop is given the grace to enter the one true Church for salvation. We can use some men like him!

Anonymous said...

This great man is my candidate for the first Pope of a reunited Church.

John L said...

"...and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services." This is actually confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that the liturgy is part of sacred tradition; which amounts to saying that it is divinely revealed. This isn't a new idea - it is found in St. Basil, 'On the Holy Spirit'. So it isn't modernism. It needs explaining - the liturgy contains within itself the possibility for some (minor) variations (as e.g. adding new saints' days when new saints come along); but the basic structure within which these variations is permitted is Tradition with a capital T. This is (one reason) why the Novus Ordo is illegitimate.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

From an October 30th interview with Bp. +Hilarion posted on Orthodoxy Today:

…After more than thirteen years of intensive ecumenical involvement I can declare my profound disappointment with the existing forms of “official” ecumenism as represented by the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other similar organizations. My impression is that they have exhausted their initial potential. Theologically they lead us nowhere. They produce texts that, for the most part, are pale and uninspiring. The reason for this is that these organizations include representatives of a wide variety of churches, from the most “conservative” to the most “liberal.” And the diversity of views is so great that they cannot say much in common except for a polite and politically correct talk about “common call to unity,” “mutual commitment” and “shared responsibility.”

I see that there is now a deep-seated discrepancy between those churches which strive to preserve the Holy Tradition and those that constantly revise it to fit modern standards. This divergence is as evident at the level of religious teaching, including doctrine and ecclesiology, as it is at the level of church practice, such as worship and morality.

In my opinion, the recent liberalization of teaching and practice in many Protestant communities has greatly alienated them from both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world. The voice of Christendom is nowadays deeply disunited: we preach contradictory moral standards, our doctrinal positions are divergent, and our social perspectives vary a great deal. One wonders whether we can still speak at all of “Christianity” or whether it would be more accurate to refer to “Christianities,” that is to say, markedly diverse versions of the Christian faith.

Under these circumstances I am not optimistic about the dialogue with the Protestant communities. I am also far less optimistic about the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue than my beloved teacher Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. In my opinion, the only two promising ecumenical dialogues are between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, and between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families. While there are well-known theological differences between these three traditions, there is also very much in common: we all believe in Christ as fully human and fully divine, we all uphold the apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto recognize each others’ sacraments.

But even with regard to relations between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, both Eastern and Oriental, we need new forms of dialogue and cooperation. It is not sufficient to come once every two years for a theological discussion on a topic related to controversies that took place fifteen or ten centuries ago. We need to see whether we can form a common front for the defense of traditional Christianity without waiting until all our theological differences will disappear. I call this proposed common front a “strategic alliance” between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. I deliberately avoid calling it a “union” or a “council,” because I want to avoid any historical reminiscences and ecclesiastical connotations. Mine is not a call for yet another “union” on dogmatic and theological matters. I am rather proposing a new type of partnership based on the understanding that we are no longer enemies or competitors: we are allies and partners facing common challenges, such as militant secularism, aggressive Islam and many others. We can face these challenges together and unite our forces in order to protect traditional Christianity with its doctrinal and moral teaching.

May God grant him many many years!


Son of Trypho said...

Writing from a (technically) Jewish perspective I can say that I personally don't have any problem with the prayer or people praying for me or my conversion. And I'll even say that I don't agree with changing the liturgy to accomodate people's feelings. There is nothing particularly hateful or offensive in the prayer.

I'm not fond of the loose use of the term "the Jews" however because it is too inclusive and not reflective of the reality that it was a minority of the Jerusalem Jewish leadership elite (with the Romans) which led to Jesus' death, not the average Jew who bore no responsibility.

Have a little bit of sympathy for Jews like myself - its not all of us that have been blessed/privileged to have actual visions of Jesus to convince us (like Paul) or the opportunity to touch the wounds ourselves (like Thomas).

I'm personally interested in Catholicism and have a great fondness for Christianity and am exploring the faith but I am disturbed by some of the anti-Jewish comments which pop up on any topic related to Jews which can be very discouraging.

Anonymous said...

Hey man, don´t forget what is a "church" and waht is THE CHURCH. If they return to the Church, we have a Pope awaiting... but I hope him replacing Revd. Kasper, our local jacobite sheperd ;-)

Joe Andrews

David A. Werling said...

"Overall, some good points. However, I am uneasy with this remark: '...and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services.' Perhaps I'm being overly simple in seeing a modernist tendency in that remark?"

It's not modernist. It's Eastern Orthodox. They lack a clear authority, and thus try to attach authority to anything that seems a fitting candidate.

Does the new Good Friday prayer changed the lex credendi by introducing a new doctrine (as does the novus ordo prayers)? I don't see that it does.

Philip-Michael said...

The point about not caving in to political or social pressure is taken and accepted. There is though something that I don't like about his tone and that is his orthodox method of thinking. He places the liturgy over and above the Magisterium and the Holy Roman Pontiff. I am not saying I agree with certain liturgical changes. I always argue along the line of an organic development which maintains Tradition. In no way does this man recognize that. In fact he wants to hold the liturgy in this place where it doesn't belong. So high not even Christ himself could touch it. I am not in favor of Popes or the Church making "willy-nilly" changes to the liturgy whenever they so desire without any sense of Tradition, the hermeneutic of continuity and respect for organic development, but this guys is like all the Orthodox, believing that no theological or liturgical development after Nicea II is possible. This is false. His attitude toward Tradition would see Aquinas written off as a modernist. Faithful organic development cannot be denied. This guys mentality is akin to those who argue against homousious because it is not biblical language.

Theology, the Liturgy, are living organisms. Founts of Dogma. The instruments to our understanding and attaining salvation. But we cannot place the liturgy over and above the Pope and the Magisterium. Once again, I am not saying that I favor "willy-nilly" changes or a spirit that says we must deny our past to communicate to modern man. But we cannot be calling ourselves Catholic and deny the true organic development of the Liturgy under the hands of right authority.

Anonymous said...

How sad it is that it takes a schismatic to remind a Roman Pontiff of the importance of tradition.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a Russian schism over this that persists to this day (Old Believers)? Given the principles expressed by this bishop, wouldn't he be saying his side is wrong and the Old Believers were right? Or perhaps the Old Calendarists as well?

benedictus said...

"we all uphold the apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto recognize each others’ sacraments."

Really? I thought many orthodox considered Catholic sacraments invalid. Anyone know more about this?

Carlos Antonio Palad said...

I think we should remember that this man is Russian Orthodox, so he isn't someone we would expect to believe in the very concept of the Magisterium.

His comments are posted here simply to illuminate his thoughts on the recent change to the Prayer for the Jews in 1962 Missal.

Carlos Antonio Palad said...


I don't know what Bishop Hilarion thinks of the Old Believers, but I am aware that not a few Russian Orthodox thinkers admit that the decision of their Patriarch Nikon to conform to Greek usages in the 17th century, was greatly harmful to their church.

I am aware that Hilarion champions a return to Znammeny chant -- which, by and large, has been preserved only by Old Believers -- so I guess that says something about his views.

And, he IS "Old Calendarist" -- most Russians (and most Ukrainian Catholics, for that matter) still use the Julian Calendar for the liturgy.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

A few quick observations from an Orthodox Christian...

I am not going to get into the whole Rome vs Orthodoxy debate. It's been (and continues to be) hashed out by people over my pay grade and the owner of this blog has in the past expressly asked me not to get into Orthodox apologetics on this forum.

But I will make a few minor points for FYI purposes.

Philip Michael,
We did not stop with Nicea II. You are ignoring the 8th Oecumincal Council which resolved the Photian Schism and reaffirmed the Symbol of Faith in its unaltered form and the solemn anathemas pronounced by the Fathers of the 3rd Council on any who dared tamper with it. And also there is the 9th OEcumenical council (really a series of councils) which exonerated St. Gregory Palamas's hesychastic theology and condemned the rationalistic philosophy of Barlaam of Calabria.

The 8th council was ratified by Rome and accepted in the West for about two centuries before being retroactively condemned around the time that Rome ratified the new creed of the Council of Lyons with the Filioque.

Carlos Antonio Palad,
You are mostly correct in your observations. The ROC has officially acknowledged that its handling of the Old Believer controversy and the so called Nikonian reforms was a disaster. It has declared that the Old Believers were not heretics and there has been a great deal of effort made to reconcile those Old Believers who are willing to the canonical Orthodox Church. There is a magnificent Old Believer parish under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church Abroad in western Pennsylvania (I think in Pittsburgh but I could be wrong).

The calendar issue has cooled somewhat but nonetheless remains a sore point for many Orthodox. The ROC is indeed on the Old Calendar (as are most of the world’s Orthodox). But it is not "old calendarist." That term refers to those groups which reject the reformed calendar as heretical. Almost without exception these groups are schismatic.

As a matter of personal opinion I believe that the calendar should never have been altered without the consent of the universal church. The manner in which it was done was certainly extracanonical since much in the calendar is laid down in church canons and can not be unilaterally altered by any one church. That said calling it heretical is like calling my watch heretical. Calendars are a means of keeping time.

The Old Calendar has serious problems. Some form of adjustment was going to have to be made (and still needs to for those on the Old Calendar). But it should have been handled by a pan Orthodox Church Synod at the least. My own jurisdiction uses the reformed calendar, though I remain hopeful that this modernist innovation will be reversed until such time as the Church gathers again in a Great Council.


Ogard said...

BENEDICTUS : “I thought many orthodox considered Catholic sacraments invalid. Anyone know more about this?”

There are two views among them. The common principle is the same as ours: the Church is a Sacrament (Holy Mystery), in which are, and from which come all sacraments. There can be no sacrament that is outside the Church. One can call them – tentacles by which the Church reaches out.

They insist, as we do, that the Church is one, visibly and invisibly, undivided and indivisible.

The more conservative view is that this one Church is the Orthodox Church; other Christian bodies are – out. So, there can’t possibly be sacraments in them or from them. So, the Catholic sacraments are not sacraments.

Another view is that while we know where the Church is, we can’t know its boundaries, i.e. where the Church is not, so that the Christian bodies formally separated from the Church, possess in various degrees a certain elements of Orthodoxy, and that is how the sacraments can exists in the bodies formally separated from the Orthodox Church: they are still “tentacles” of the true Church, which, of course, is the Orthodox Church.

This view is now prevailing I believe.

In point of fact, that is how I understand the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism; with a difference that, of course, it is the Catholic Church which is true one, but the Orthodox Church possesses a great degree of Catholicism, including all sacraments.

To put it in my own way, from the Orthodox viewpoint the Catholic Church is a defective part of the Orthodox Church. From our viewpoint the Orthodox Church is a defective part of the Catholic Church.

Recently, however, one more and more hears on both sides about the divided Church of which the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are the “lungs”, which seems to contradict the dogma of Oneness of the Church. The position is not clear to me.

Gillibrand said...

Oxford educated, and the Russian Orthodox representative to the EU.

Anonymous said...

I think that he makes some good points, but his ideas about the Jews are not actually 100% correct.

If you read the Gospels it is plain that it was in fact NOT the Jews who crucified Christ, but instead it was a group from the Jewish Sanhedrin, and in the end they had to get Pilate to actually order Christ's death on the Cross to complete their scheme.

The problem with the Good Friday prayer was that it focused the guilt on the entire Jewish people - including those alive today.

Jordanes said...

Anonymous, you're right that the Gospels do not blame the Jews collectively for Christ's death, but I don't know where you got the idea that the traditional Good Friday prayer "focused the guilt on the entire Jewish people - including those alive today." That has been prevalent throughout much of the history of the Church, but the prayer itself doesn't touch on guilt for Christ's death at all.

Anonymous said...

The "Orthodox" liturgy is full of overtly antisemitic passages reflecting the abysmal Russian history of pogroms against Jews.

Of course, he would object. Anything that Catholics do liturgically is just more fodder for "Orthodox" Catholic-bashing. And if you say "it didn't happen in the days of the Tridentine Mass" you are living on a different planet. Just read some books on Catholic worship before Vatican II written by "Orthodox" and you will find that they don't think the Mass is valid because the Roman Canon does not invoke the HOly Spirit explicitly.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

As has been noted in another excellent post (by Ogard) there is a diversity of opinion on the grace or lack thereof of the Latin Church's sacraments. I will make two quick points.

First the history of this debate seems to go back mainly to the Constantinopolitan Synod of 1756 which repudiated the grace of Roman Catholic sacraments and required that Latins converting into The Church be received by full Baptism as well as Holy Chrismation. This judgment however, never gained acceptance outside of the Greek churches and has been almost universally repudiated since then. Today only the Jerusalem Patriarchate (where anti-Catholic sentiment runs high) the monastic communities of Mt Athos and the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) continue this practice. The Church Abroad it should be noted, only began baptizing Catholics (in direct contravention of the guidelines of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church) in the early 1970's. This was during a period of great controversy and self imposed isolation from most of the canonical Orthodox world. I do not think it too severe to say that ROCOR was effectively schismatic at the time. Some Serbian parishes here in N. America still baptize Catholics but the practice is controversial and in Serbia is officially discouraged.

The thrust behind the rejection by some Orthodox of the grace of Catholic sacraments is less the wording (though some do point to it) than more a very strict application of the doctrine that there are no Mysteries outside The Church. Rome being heretical, they argue that it is impossible for her sacraments to be "valid."

Again though, this very narrow interpretation of doctrine is rejected (IMO rightly so) by the vast majority of Orthodox Christians. It is certainly true that there are no Mysteries outside The Church. But where the exact boundaries lie has never been defined. It remains ambiguous. Fr. George Florovksy of blessed memory wrote ( that while we know with certainty where The Church is (canonical Orthodoxy), we do not always know with certainty where it is not.. I would add to that that there are some situations where we may state with a high degree of certainty where it is not. For instance there is no doubt that the Protestant step children of the Western Church are completely outside The Church by reason of their heretical ecclesiology and rejection of the nature of the Holy Mysteries. (Thus I favor receiving ALL Protestant heretics by full baptism barring some unusual circumstance.)

However while little if any doubt can be entertained about the grace of Protestant sacraments this is clearly not the case with the Roman Catholic Church. Just as with our separated sister churches in the Oriental Orthodox communion Rome has very real historic and apostolic links to The Church. These links and the careful preservation of a (more or less) Orthodox understanding of the Holy Mysteries and her apostolic lines DO count for much. See the essay by Patriarch Sergei of Moscow on the significance of Apostolic Succession in Heterodoxy (

As a matter of common sense a rigorist interpretation of the doctrine of no Mysteries outside the Church would create headaches of all kinds. What about a priest who was briefly heretical in his thoughts and who baptized a number of people in that state? What about a bishop who may have been a heretic on a point that bears no relation to the nature of the Mysteries? Are his orders and by extension all of those whom he ordained void of grace? Proponents of this narrow interpretation of the doctrine generally (and not surprisingly) prefer not to address its broader implications if one applies it outside of the case of the Roman Catholic Church.

Then there is the simple truth that while we know what goes in inside The Church, Orthodoxy is generally agnostic about what goes on outside of it. We do not claim to know where God moves or what he does beyond saying that true sacramental grace does not exist among those clearly separated from The Church. But this does not mean that heterodox mysteries have no benefit. Many saints have opined that God may and sometimes does, out of an abundance of mercy, work great miracles for those outside The Church.

Finally(!) it is worth noting that while being in universal agreement that Rome has strayed from the Orthodox Catholic Faith, we have never with one voice defined the exact nature or extent of the schism. It is certainly true that almost all Orthodox believe that some of the unilateral doctrinal innovations of the Western Church are heretical. But none have as of yet been formally condemned by an OEcumenical Council with the sole exception of the Filioque (which expressly violates the canons of the Third & Eighth Councils prohibiting changes to the Creed under pain of anathema).

Under the mercy

P. S. Apologies for any errors/typos. I am somewhat pressed for time.

Ogard said...


I find you comment enlightening. It clarifies my attempt to explain to many of my fellow Catholics that the position some Orthodox Churches or Diocees take on validity of our sacraments is not an intransigent hardlinership, but a logical consequence of your notion of the Church. It all boils down to what is the Church.

As you can’t but believe that the Orthodox Church is the true Church established by Christ – and I consider it to be a blessing – and those who are out can’t possibly have the sacraments which are, directly or indirectly, established by Him for our salvation. The issue is who is “out”.

Much of what I learned about the Orthodox Church came from the book by the Metropolitan Kallistos (ex. Timothy Ware), and from a direct experience of the Byzantine Liturgy, which is – to put if fairly – magnificent, both by it beauty and a doctrinal depth.

What I find frightening is that, occasionally, one reads in the Orthodox sources about the need of a liturgical reform. John (ad orientem), please, don’t: once you start tampering with it, you will eventually make an unholy mess of it as we did. (See the Post above about the sacrilege in Vienna, and details about it in Fr. Z.’ Blog; and another Post ther about the Mass in one of the American parishes). Let it evolve at its own in-built pace, don’t fabricate it in office. As Ratzinger said in his time: it is something given to us as a gift, and not an object for manipulation. How shocking the Vienna scandal must be in the eyes of His Lordship Hilarion, whose view about the normative charter of Liturgy is, in principle, the doctrine of DV 8. I said: in principle, because his position requires clarification: he must be aware that the Liturgy as it is celebrated now is not the same as it was at the time of Cabasilas, not mention earlier, so I can’t believe that the detail in our Liturgy which he refers comes under the censure of untouchability.

JOHN I, I can’t agree more, except the last sentence, which, in my opinion, was not necessary in the context. But I’ll come back to it later.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

There is little danger of the kind of liturgical mischief that has been so devastating to the Christian West cropping up in Orthodoxy. Who would impose such a revised liturgy? We have no one with the authority claimed by your Pope.

In fairness our liturgy is not immune to change. The liturgy named for St. John which we sing most Sundays and Feast Days of the year is not the same as the one he used. There have, over the long centuries, been minor changes... a word here a gesture there. And yes, if you look carefully you will see minor variations depending on the ethnic background of the parish or local church. (The Greeks go long and the Russians go short during the Great Entrance.) But anyone transported from the Imperial Court of the 5th century to a modern Orthodox Church would recognize our liturgy even if there were minor differences.

Change is not inherently evil. Many of the various slight adjustments which have crept into our liturgy over time were the consequence of specific situations or practical issues. Communion in the 5th century was still given in the hand. That practice was suppressed because of the danger of sacrilege, accidental or otherwise.

But any changes must be organic in their nature. In Orthodoxy anything which even remotely touches on the Faith of the Church as a whole must be agreed to by the entire Church. It can not be imposed. And in Orthodoxy, the liturgy is, after the Creed, probably the most significant source of doctrine we have. Lex Orandi Lex Credendi.

The idea that any significant change could be affected on our liturgy is almost beyond comprehension. Not merely is there the question of who would make such changes, but also how they would be imposed on the Church absent a Great Council? One need merely look at the recent controversy over the calendar, a certainly far less weighty matter.

The Ecumenical Patriarch (who at times seems to hold quasi papal pretensions) with some of the other Greek jurisdictions unilaterally (and very un-canonically) embraced a new calendar based closely on the Roman Catholic Calendar of Pope Gregory in the 1920's.

The result was the most extreme crisis in the Church since Rome went her way. There have been innumerable schisms by groups claiming (wrongly IMO) that the reformed calendar is heretical. In some Orthodox countries there have quite literally been riots over this! Although the calendar wars have cooled a bit there remain numerous schisms as a result of the arrogance of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s arrogance. My guess is that it may well require a Great and OEcumenical Council of The Church (the 10th) to repair the damage done by him. (There being no real need and historical circumstances being a major impediment, we have not had one in nearly 800 years.)

But I digress and you will no doubt have seen my point.

If our rather decentralized ecclesiology is at times infuriatingly slow in the eyes of Roman Catholics who are used to asking a question on an issue and getting a definitive answer in short order, it is also a magnificent guard against modernist innovation and heresy. It may take us a century or five to get back to you on an important theological point. But when we do get back to you the Church as a whole will be speaking, not just a bishop, however important his See. Almost nothing of consequence happens in Orthodoxy absent the consensus of the entire Church. And yes there have been times when the faithful laity have revolted against the bishops when they were making bad decisions. This is as it was in the age of the Undivided Church.

So while I concur that any sort of tinkering with the liturgy is a really bad idea, I also believe that there is scant chance of it happening.


Ogard said...


To your surprise, I am familiar with what you say, but this slow evolution you talk about is not what I had in mind as you can see in my comment. There is a phenomenon of mass behaviour, which, once triggered, is difficult to stop. That is exactly happening in the Catholic Church, a sort of compulsive, obsessive, unstoppable drive for a change. It did not come from Rome. Rome has laid down the rules, which could, indeed, have been more precise, but what took place was exactly the unstoppable drive for change beyond the Papal control, which cannot be attributed to this lack of precision alone. Documents were not in short supply, one after the other, trying to stop the drive, but to no avail. This is what I had in mind; which, God forbid, could nevertheless affect you, particularly in the Diaspora.

Incidentally, how would you explain Bishop Hilarion’s comment on relatively insignificant modification of one prayer that is used once every year, in the context of what we agree about the gradual change, and, I am sure, His Lordship too?

And once you mentioned the communion in the hand, is the present practice in the Orthodox Church without exceptions? I read in the blog The Orthodox Roman Catholic, re: Communion in the hand, a comment by one who presented himself as a bishop, that in the Liturgy of St. James (once a year) it is given in the hand. True or false?

Now, he might have had in mind the Syrian (Jacobite) Liturgy, but I was present at that Liturgy in Diaspora, and it was given – unless my memory has drifted in the meantime – by intinction, or directly, in the mouth by the priest. The only Eastern Church that gives the Communion in the hand consistently is the Assyrian (Nestorian) Church. Armenians too have it their rubrics, as an option (and surprisingly, it is given in the form of very small pieces of Consecrated Bread, which the priest takes with fingers from the chalice soaked with the Precious Blood, and puts on the palm of a communicant).

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think the monastic core that exists in Orthodoxy would put the breaks very quickly on any effort to make sweeping changes to our liturgy. I really just can't see it happening though. It is far more likely that the mass movement of which you write would be one in open revolt against any precipitous alterations to the liturgy.

On your more specific question...

Having never attended one, I am not sufficiently familiar with the rubrics of the once a year Liturgy of St. James (celebrated almost exclusively by bishops) to be able to say whether or not communion is still given in the hand. However as that liturgy is much older than that of St. John and its use was effectively superseded, first by the liturgy of St. Basil and then by that of St. John, it would not surprise me if such were still the case. Organic development tends to stop when a liturgy ceases to be used with any regularity.

Also though I have not read the post to which you refer, bear in mind that in the Orthodox Liturgy the celebrating clergy commune the Body in the hand and the Blood from the chalice before the mingling of the Holy Gifts. Few see this though, as it occurs behind the closed Royal Doors of the iconastasis. Is it possible that this is what was refereed to?

I have not been to any of the liturgies of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. However, I am told that the Armenian liturgy is more Western in its form than Eastern.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

Oooops I missed this...
Incidentally, how would you explain Bishop Hilarion’s comment on relatively insignificant modification of one prayer that is used once every year, in the context of what we agree about the gradual change, and, I am sure, His Lordship too?

I think His Grace was probably overreacting a bit. But this is indicative of the intense sensitivity we have to even minor changes. Recall as we have both noted that in Orthodoxy the liturgy is a deep expression of our theology. Hence any tinkering tends to bring quick scrutiny and often criticism.

I belong to a church where people have broken communion over what day Christmas is on. You can't expect to significantly change an accepted liturgical prayer (frequency of use is not really relevant long as it is in fact used) without comment and criticism. If the Pope were Orthodox and he tried that there would have been an explosion of criticism.

Under the mercy,

Ogard said...

John (Ad Orientem).

I hope that my fears are unreal, and that what you are confident that it can't happen - will not happen.

Probably, His Grace (is he Archbishop ?) is using the occasion to make the point: let's not tamper with Liturgy - the point very relevant in Austrian Catholic Church.

Roland de Chanson said...

Son of Trypho: I'm not fond of the loose use of the term "the Jews" however because it is too inclusive and not reflective of the reality that it was a minority of the Jerusalem Jewish leadership elite (with the Romans) which led to Jesus' death, not the average Jew who bore no responsibility.

As one who grew up with the traditional Catholic Mass, I would like to agree wholeheartedly with Trypho's comments. We always heard the Good Friday prayer and I always understood it to be a sincere wish for the conversion of the Jewish people, and not as an anti-Semitic diatribe.

The few Sanhedrin elite and the thuggish throng gathered before Pilate are to be contrasted with the many Jews that welcomed Jesus' message and those that thundered hosannas at his entrance to Jerusalem.

Bishop Hilarion is correct: there is no justification for Pope Benedict to tamper with the Good Friday prayer. The lex credendi has been subverted enough with Protestant and secular innovations; orthodoxy (small O) has already been compromised. Papa Ratzinger's meddling in the calendar and texts of the Summorum Pontificum liturgy is egregious; let him bowdlerize the bastardized Bugnini Novus Ordo service but leave the true Mass unexpurgated.

And let us remember that Yeshu'a Eloheinu himself said, "salvation is from the Jews."

Anonymous said...

"The Jews" did this, "The Jews" did that. Who are you referring to, sir? If to all Jews at whatever time, then that includes Jesus (Yeshua), his mother (Miriam), his disciples, and almost all the first Christians. Instead of emphasising the actions of certain Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus, why not emphasise the fact that without Jewish thought, practice and liturgy the Christian tradition loses its entire core. Shame on those who try to offload their *own* guilt for Christ's death onto some collective or other, "Jews", "Romans" or otherwise. Despite their self-conception, they have no part in Christ

Jordanes said...

A good point, Anonymous -- though we must also keep in mind that referring to non-Christian Jews who oppose the Gospel as "the Jews" has ample biblical precedent.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Ogard (and to anyone else who may stumble upon this old post),

This thread has long since run its course but I was immediately reminded of the discussion here where some expressed concerns about modernism seeping into the Orthodox Church, when I stumbled upon this piece of news which I append below. Emphasis is mine.

Moscow, December 29, Interfax - There will be no reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church when a new Patriarch takes office, Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Kirill told the media in Moscow on Monday.

"I strongly oppose any church reforms. Besides, I do not think that any of the 145 archbishops that may be nominated for Patriarch have reform aspirations," he said.

Russia has twice learned "the necessity of careful attitude to traditions, especially church traditions," the Metropolitan said.

"The first lesson we learned was the church split by Old Believers. Our second lesson was the notorious innovations of the 1920s. Both processes caused agitation and divided people but neither of them reached the goals set by the reformers," he told.

"Church reforms cannot attain their goals unless these goals are rooted in people's life," Metropolitan Kirill remarked.

"Our Church is strong with its ability to preserve the belief and the flawless moral paradigm and to pass them over from one generation to another," the Metropolitan said.

"The Church is conservative by nature, as it maintains the apostolic belief," he added.

"If we want to pass the belief from one generation to another for centuries, the belief must be intact. Any reform damaging the belief, traditions and values is called heresy," he said.

Meanwhile, secular reforms that undermine traditions of "theological and moral values" are dangerous for the country, Metropolitan Kirill said.

"Life has shown that Russia accepts ideas that do not break its backbone. People rejected everything suggested in the 1990s as kind of an intellectual project," he said.

Under the mercy,

Alan Aversa said...

Bp. Williamson should consecrate an Orthodox priest; the Orthodox have, after all, valid orders. ☺