Byzantine Rite

An iconostasis separates the sanctuary from the nave in Byzantine Rite churches. Here is shown part of a six-row iconostasis at Uglich Cathedral. North Deacon's Door (left) and Holy Doors (right).

The Byzantine Rite, also known as the Greek Rite or Constantinopolitan Rite, is the liturgical rite used by the Eastern Orthodox Church and certain Eastern Catholic Churches. It has also been employed, although less frequently, in the Anglican Communion and Lutheran denominations. (e.g., it is utilized by the Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism, [1] and the Ukrainian Lutheran Church). [2] [note 1] Its development began during the fourth century in Constantinople and it is now the second most-used rite in Christendom after the Roman Rite.

Byzantine Rite was originally developed and used in Greek language and later, with introduction of Eastern Orthodoxy to other ethnic groups it was translated into local languages and continued further development. Historically, most important non-Greek variants of Byzantine Rite are: Byzantine- Slavonic and Byzantine- Georgian.

The rite consists of the divine liturgies, canonical hours, forms for the administration of sacred mysteries ( sacraments) and the numerous prayers, blessings and exorcisms developed by the Church of Constantinople.

Also involved are the specifics of architecture, icons, liturgical music, vestments and traditions which have evolved over the centuries in the Eastern Orthodox Church and which are associated with this rite. Traditionally, the congregation stands throughout the whole service, and an iconostasis separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church. The faithful are very active in their worship, making frequent bows and prostrations, and feeling free to move about the temple (church building) during the services. Also, traditionally, the major clergy and monks neither shave nor cut their hair or beards.

Scripture plays a large role in Byzantine worship, with not only daily readings but also many quotes from the Bible throughout the services. The entire psalter is read each week, and twice weekly during Great Lent.

Fasting is stricter than in the Roman rite. On fast days, the faithful give up not only meat, but also dairy products, and on many fast days they also give up fish, wine and the use of oil in cooking. The rite observes four fasting seasons: Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast. In addition, most Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year are fast days and many monasteries also observe Monday as a fast day.

History

There are two ancient liturgical traditions from which all of the Eastern Rites (plus the Gallican Rite in the West) developed: the Alexandrian rite in Egypt and the Antiochene Rite in Syria. These two Rites developed directly from practices of the Early Church. Of these two traditions, the Rite of Constantinople developed from the Antiochene Rite. Prior to the see of Constantinople's elevation to the dignity of patriarch by the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, the primary jurisdiction in Asia Minor was the Patriarchate of Antioch. With the council's elevation of Constantinople to primacy in the East, with the words "The Bishop of Constantinople ... shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome", [3] the Constantinopolitan Rite gradually came to be the standard usage in every place under its jurisdiction.

Because the Rite of Constantinople evolved as a synthesis of two distinct rites — cathedral rite of Constantinople called the "asmatiki akolouthia" ("sung services") and the monastic typicon of the Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified near Jerusalem — its offices are highly developed and quite complex.

Further developments continued to occur, centered mostly around Constantinople and Mount Athos. Monasticism played an important role in the development of the rituals. In Constantinople, the work of the monastery of the Studion greatly enriched the liturgical traditions, especially with regard to the Lenten observance. Iconography continued to develop and a canon of traditional patterns evolved which still influences Eastern religious art to this day.

Historical events have also influenced the development of the liturgy. The great Christological and Trinitarian controversies of Late Antiquity are reflected in the glorifications of the Trinity heard in the numerous ekphonies encountered during the services. In response to Nestorius' attack on giving the title of Theotokos to the Virgin Mary, the Byzantines increased the use of the term in the liturgy, and now almost every string of hymns ends with one in her honour, called a theotokion.

All liturgical rites change and develop over time. As new saints are canonized, new hymns are composed; as new needs arise, new prayers are written. The rite also profits from the fact that the Christian East is not so centralized in ecclesiastical polity as the West. This allows for greater diversity, and as members of one church visit another, a natural cross-pollination occurs with resultant enrichment on all sides. In spite of its great emphasis on tradition, the Byzantine Rite comprises a constantly growing and expanding ritual, with room for local practice.

Divine liturgies

Fresco of Basil the Great in the cathedral of Ohrid. The saint is shown consecrating the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy which bears his name.

The tradition of the Church of Constantinople ascribes the oldest of its two main Divine Liturgies to St. Basil the Great (d. 379), Metropolitan of Cæsarea in Cappadocia. This tradition is confirmed by the witness of several ancient authors, some of whom were contemporaries. [4] [5] [6] 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. [7] St. Basil himself speaks on several occasions of the changes he made in the services of Cæsarea. [8] [9] and other contemporary witnesses attest his arrangement of the services. Basil had as his goal the streamlining of the services to make them more cohesive and attractive to the faithful. He also worked to reform the clergy and improve the moral life of Christians. He shortened the services and wrote a number of new prayers. The most important work attributed to him is the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. He took as his basis the Liturgy of St. James as it was celebrated at his time in the region of Cappadocia, as well as some liturgical elements recorded in the Apostolic Constitutions. [7]

Over time, the Liturgy of Saint Basil gained wide usage in Asia Minor and Syria. Peter the Deacon mentions that Basil's Liturgy was "used by nearly the whole East". [7] However, the Alexandrian rite uses another Liturgy which is also attributed to Saint Basil, [10] so Peter the Deacon's reference may not be to the Liturgy of St. Basil used in the Byzantine Rite.

Saint Basil's liturgical work was continued by John Chrysostom (died c. 407), Patriarch of Constantinople. He wrote new (and shorter) prayers for the Divine Liturgy, as well as other prayers. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the most common form of the liturgy used in the rite today.

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