Introduction to Worship in Spirit and Truth
Fr. Thomas Hopko · January 10, 2011
Fr. Thomas Hopko begins a brand new series taking us through the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.
We are beginning today a new series of podcasts, new series of reflections for our beloved Ancient Faith Radio, and this series will be a reflection on the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy as it is celebrated today in the Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church. This Divine Liturgy that I will be commenting on is usually called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and it is served regularly in the Eastern Orthodox churches with the exception of ten times a year.
Ten times a year, when the faithful will gather for the holy Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great will be served. This Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served on the Great and Holy Thursday of Holy Week, the day of the Lord’s Supper. It’s served on the blessed Sabbath, the eve, the Paschal Eve, the eve of the feast of Holy Pascha, Holy Saturday; it’s a vesperal Liturgy. It’s also a vesperal Liturgy on Great and Holy Thursday. Also on the eve of Christmas, the Nativity of Christ; the eve of Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ on the Jordan, this Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served. And it is served on the Sundays of Great Lent—only the Sundays, not the Saturdays. And it is served on the festival of St. Basil the Great himself, which is the first of January, which is also the feast of the Circumcision of Christ.
So you have this Divine Liturgy of St. Basil being served ten times a year, and otherwise, when Eastern Orthodox Christians go to church, what is celebrated in church is what is known today as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This particular Divine Liturgy is also regularly celebrated with exactly the same discipline, the same rubrics, in the Byzantine Catholic churches that are united to Rome, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Rusyn or Ruthenian Catholic Church, and the Melkite—that’s the Arabic—Catholic Church, the Catholic Church united to Rome, I should say. In other words, the Eastern churches that belonged to the empire use this liturgy, the Constantinopolitan liturgy, throughout the Eastern churches. Today, in the 21st century, it’s used by the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Byzantine-rite Catholic churches.
When we speak about the Orthodox churches here, we are speaking very particularly about the Chalcedonian Eastern Orthodox churches, because the churches of Egypt, the Coptic Church; the Church of Ethiopia; the Church of Armenia; the Church of India; the Syrian Church that does not accept the Council of Chalcedon from the fifth century, each of these churches have their own liturgical tradition and their own ways of celebrating the divine services and their own way of celebrating the holy Eucharist.
I believe that most of those churches have several different ways of doing it, but their way of doing it is not at all the same as the Orthodox Church, what we call the Orthodox Church on Ancient Faith Radio, which would mean, basically, the Patriarchate of Constantinople; of Antioch; of Alexandria; of Jerusalem, that use the Byzantine rite and follow the Council of Chalcedon; and then the churches that are together in communion with those patriarchates, like the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Patriarchate of the Church of Georgia, the Catholicate; the Patriarchate of Romania; and Serbia; and Bulgaria; and the Church of Greece; and the Church of Cyprus; and then the churches of Albania; and the Czech Republic and Slovakia; the Church of Poland; churches in Finland; churches in Japan; and then of course plenty of churches in Western Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, the United States and Canada.
There are sixteen of these self-governing churches, fifteen or sixteen, depending on how you count, that use this Divine Liturgy. Of course, the Orthodox monasteries on Mount Athos also use these particular liturgies. It is basically the liturgical discipline or the liturgical rule of the Great Church of Constantinople, that the Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and the various other Orthodox—Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Albanian—are using this particular Divine Liturgy. It’s exactly the same in all these churches. It’s exactly the same as far as the words are concerned, as far as the ritual movements are concerned. It is basically one and the same Divine Liturgy.
There are plenty of books that comment the Divine Liturgy. A number of Church Fathers comment this particular liturgy, and then there are a number of books in various languages today that comment this liturgy, and a number of these books were written in English or translated from some other language into English. For example, from among the saints, we have in English—you could buy and you could read a commentary on the Divine Liturgy by St. Germanos of Constantinople. There’s also a commentary on the Divine Liturgy by St. Nicholas Cabasilas. These saints lived quite a long time ago. St. Germanos the first was the Patriarch of Constantinople who died around 733. St. Nicholas Cabasilas, I believe, lived in the 15th century. So there are commentaries on the Divine Liturgy.
In the English language also, we would really have to mention a number of these commentaries that exist in English that are easily accessible. Probably the most famous commentator on liturgical things—on baptism and chrismation and Eucharist and other liturgical topics like Great Lent and like the feasts of the Theotokos, Mother of God, and so on—was the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He wrote a very famous book called The Introduction to Liturgical Theology. There are other books that he wrote—Liturgy and Life. His very famous, probably most well-known book was called For the Life of the World, which was a commentary on the Divine Liturgy and how the liturgy relates to all the other mysteries of Christian faith: baptism, chrismation, confession of sins, healing of the sick people, marriage, ordination, and so on. It’s a wonderful little book and highly recommended, called For the Life of the World. It was originally published under the title Sacraments and Orthodoxy, but its most famous title is For the Life of the World.
Then he has a book just on the Divine Liturgy, called The Eucharist. It was actually published after he died. He wrote most of it while he was still healthy. Part of it was written while he was already suffering with cancer, and then he didn’t finish it, so it was put together after he died. This book, called The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, published in 1987, is really a wonderful, marvelous book that anybody interested in the liturgy should read.
Also there is a hieromonk from Mt. Athos named Gregorios who wrote a book called The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary on the Liturgy in the Light of the Church Fathers, and this book was originally published 25 years ago. It was originally published, I believe—let me find it here—I think it was 1986, and it was just recently translated into English by a very famous translator from Greek, Elizabeth Theokritoff, who did many translations. It was from the fourth edition in 2006, and the English translation came out in 2009, so that’s just last year that this book has come out. It’s been published in English by the [Koutloumousiou] Monastery on Mt. Athos, and it’s easily, readily available in English. Just click on any bookstore and put up the title and you’ll probably find a place where you can buy it. I know that it is being sold in many different bookstores: The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary on the Liturgy in the Light of the Church Fathers by Hieromonk Gregorios.
Then there are other commentaries in English. Fr. Lawrence Farley wrote a book about the liturgy, a popular book called Let Us Attend. Fr. Stanley Harakas wrote a commentary on the liturgy. Fr. Calivas, who taught liturgy at Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, Massachusetts, has a wonderful introduction to the liturgy in some of the translations of the liturgy into English that were done by Holy Cross.
In 2008, an absolutely spectacular book was written, an extraordinary book, written in English on the Divine Liturgy, by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis. This book is called The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy. It’s a huge book, really huge book. It’s published by Orthodox Witness in the year 2008: The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Emmanuel, really this is a life work. It’s a spectacular book not only in what he himself comments, but all the glossary that’s there, the bibliography that’s there, all the quotations of the Church Fathers and modern writers that are there. It’s just totally awesome. The bibliography itself in this book has 305 entries. The book, which is a very large size book—the format is very large—is well over 400 pages long. I think it’s about 400 and—let me just look; I’ve got it in my hands right here—it’s 420 pages long. It’s a big book, and it’s just chock-full of information. It’s just chock-full of prayers, of commentary, of theological notations, of translation notations, of all kinds of things. It’s impossible even to say how much material is in this marvelous book.
I think anyone who’s really interested in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom [should read it]. That’s basically what he’s commenting here, although I do think he also refers to St. Basil’s liturgy, where there’s a little bit [of] differences, and of course St. Basil’s is longer, and the text is different in the actual anaphora, but as we’ll see in my reflections, I’ll show the differences between St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil, and they only exist in the Liturgy of the Faithful, in the actual Eucharistic prayers, of the second part of the Divine Liturgy. The first part of the Divine Liturgy is the same [of the liturgies of] St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, basically the same.
But Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis is also commenting on the Liturgy the way that it exists today, how it is given to us to serve today, and then he deals with a lot of variant practices and differences here and there between different traditions, Slavic or Byzantine, the Greek or the Russian. It is just a wonderful book. I could not recommend it too highly, that anyone who is really interested in this, and certainly church school teachers, priests—I think all priests should own this book, and just little by little read through it; it will be a treasure of learning from these books.
So there are plenty of books and writings about the Divine Liturgy. I’ve just mentioned the most well-known among the Orthodox authors. There’s some Roman Catholic authors who also write about the Byzantine rite. The three most famous that I would know of are Robert Taft, Juan Mateos, and Aidan Kavanagh. Fr. Mateos, Fr. Taft, they are from [the] Roman Catholic Church, working in Rome itself [at] the Oriental Institute. Then Aidan Kavanagh, [who] I believe recently departed this life, was for years teaching at Yale. He also wrote on liturgical themes.
Probably no one has commented the liturgies more technically than Robert Taft and Juan Mateos. They were the teachers of some of the people who are teaching liturgy now in Orthodox churches, Dr. Paul Meyendorff at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. Alexander Rentel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Sister Vassa Larin, a nun in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). She did her doctorate with Fr. Taft also, studying in great detail the Divine Liturgy as it is celebrated in the Orthodox Church today, and studying it very technically. That means: how did it develop in history, what are the earliest sources, what are the manuscripts that we have of it: the famous Codex Barberini, which has the Liturgy in, I think it is, the tenth century pretty much the way it exists still today, basically the same. There are a lot of studies about it. If you get Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis’ book and look at the 305 entries in the bibliography—mostly in English, not only: some in Greek and other languages—you’ll see how much available material there is and how many studies there are and essays there are about the Liturgy.
Then there’s ancillary studies, like, for example, Metropolitan John of Pergamos, John (Zizioulas), because he writes about the Eucharist and the bishop and the Church structure, and how the Orthodox Church structure is structured on the Eucharistic gathering, and how the bishop and the presbyters and the deacons and then all of the faithful people of the Church, how they gathered for the Liturgy in the earliest Church. He has a wonderful book on the first three centuries called Eucharist, Bishop, Church. It was his doctoral dissertation, written in 1965, and it was just recently published in English, also by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Let me see exactly what its date of its publication was—very recently: 2001, about nine or ten years ago or so. It’s [an] incredible book to see how the Church structure and the activity of the Church was always connected with what we call today the Divine Liturgy, the celebration of the holy Eucharist.
With all of these marvelous books, filled with information and reflection and teaching and historical studies, rubrical studies—about the ritual, about how it should be done, about movements—textual studies—how the text of the Liturgy was and how it changed and what variant readings you might have, and [the] kind of additions that came into it, like, for example, the Russian Church or the Romanian Church has certain additions that are put into the Liturgy that are not found in the Greek Church, and so on. There are many studies about this. Fr. Taft even has a whole study about how the Great Entrance was done in the various Eastern liturgies, meaning how the bread and the wine was carried in procession and offered on the altar.
Then there’s loads of reflections about what that meant and how that was to be understood. Then there were different ways of understanding it. There was a kind of spiritualistic, mystagogical understanding, symbolical understanding. When I was young, the liturgy was almost always presented to us, even in the church school materials—and by the way, there are church school materials. The Orthodox Christian Education Commission, I think, for the fourth grade, has a book on the Divine Liturgy. My popular catechism in the four little volumes, called “The Rainbow Series,” the volume on worship has a simple commentary on the Divine Liturgy, the various parts of the Liturgy.
So there are popular reflections and commentaries. Fr. Farley’s is, Fr. Harakas’ is. There’s plenty there, and wonderful to read, in very technical way, very popular way, some symbolical way, some even psychological way. Fr. Harakas, for example, reflects a lot about what people might be thinking about or what they might be contemplating as they go through a Divine Liturgy. Of course, there was a difficulty in my youth, and the Liturgy was in a language nobody could understand, or very few; even the people who spoke the language couldn’t understand it. Ancient Church Slavonic, ancient Greek, wasn’t the same as modern Greek or modern Slavonic. So there were little book sometimes that helped the people get through the Liturgy.
Then there’s the problem also of westernization of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies. There was a piety that was brought into textbooks that was somehow even alien to what was being done at the Liturgy, but it was explaining the Liturgy through a kind of doctrine that was basically Western in its orientation. Seeing the Liturgy, for example, the Eucharist is one of seven “sacraments,” and with a “form” of sacrament, and how it should be understood as “mystery” and a “sacrament of God,” and the whole issue [of] is it “symbolic”; is it “real,” and about the “real presence in the Eucharist.” There’s a lot of theological problems and challenges to understand what is going on there and how best to explain it.
What we’re dealing with here is something that’s been dealt with a lot, very much, without any doubt. So the question then would be: Why, in heaven’s name, am I going to now do a long, long series—and it’s going to be very long and very detailed, on the Divine Liturgy for the radio? Why would I be reflecting on the Liturgy through a series of talks on the radio? Well, there’s a number of reasons for that. One of the reasons would be to help people who don’t have too much time to read these books to have a kind of a synthesis or synopsis or presentation about what I, personally, have learned from reading these books. In other words, I’m passing on my understanding from this literature. Again, it’s simply a way of trying to help people to understand and perhaps even to bring a lot of data together and to offer it in a relatively simple form just to help the listeners of Ancient Faith Radio to understand what is happening and why things are done the way that they are done and what they mean.
However, for the sake of full disclosure, I have to add other reasons why I have got the blessing of the leaders of Ancient Faith Radio to do this particular series called Worship in Spirit and in Truth, God’s Gospel in Christ and the Divine Liturgy, reflections on the Divine Liturgy. A reason also is because I think that sometimes some of these books are not very helpful. I think also sometimes they belong to a different time, a different culture, and maybe the way that they are approached at a certain period of time isn’t the way a 21st-century person would experience what is happening in that particular celebration, even though the celebration is exactly the same, the people who come to it are very different, with different questions, different formation of mind, different understandings of reality, because of culture, because of modern education, science, whatever. So different questions grow up.
I have to honestly say that I think sometimes what is found in these books is not very helpful simply because, in my opinion, God forgive me, some of the things that are said are just not accurate. I think that there are some kind of customary things and traditional understandings that may really not be what the Liturgy itself is intending to say and to do, so there’s still the problem of a proper understanding of what is going on. When you say that, then you have the question of: what should be going on? How is the ritual done? How is done today? Is it being done today in a proper way that actually reveals what it is supposed to be, or is it sometimes done in churches where what is actually being done sometimes even under the pretext of helping people to be more involved and to understand it better are actually activities that may be obscuring rather than illumining what is actually done, especially when they’re done without a proper understanding.
Now, I’m an old guy. I’m 71 years old, and I’ve probably served thousands of Divine Liturgies in my life. I mean, if I’ve been a priest for 48 years, and did at least 60, 70, 80 a year, how many does that add up to? And I’ve traveled around a lot. I’ve been to Liturgies in every jurisdiction that exists in the United States and Canada; that’s for sure. I’ve traveled around the world. I’ve been at liturgies on Mount Athos, I’ve been at liturgies in Jerusalem, I’ve been in Divine Liturgies in Russia, in Ukraine. I think I’ve been at Divine Liturgy in every Orthodox church on earth except Poland and except Serbia, but I’ve been in churches that serve in those traditions, certainly in the United States.
So there’s a sense in which, to put it vulgarly or too simplistically, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen a lot of practices. I’ve seen a lot of ways that things are done. Whether I’m inspired by God or by the devil, I don’t know, but you’ll have to decide that. I just hope I’m not being inspired by the evil one but inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to make these reflections in order to help us out a little bit today, to help us straighten out a few things concerning the Liturgy, and hopefully to help us here in the beginning of the 21st century in the United States of America, serving in the English language, to have a better grasp, a better comprehension, a better performance, a better practice, a better understanding about what we are doing when we gather and we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.
In a sense, my commentary will be very personal, in the sense that I will pick things out that I think are deserving of comment, because they are not always, in my opinion, understood well—maybe rightly, but not deeply enough, not accurately enough—or maybe are misunderstood; maybe there’s some misunderstanding going on that needs to be cleared up.
Having said that, I would also say that in this series of reflections that I will do, I would like to insist, right now, that I will not be doing much commentary at all on historical development. I don’t know much about about it. This is not my field. I studied it all my life. I’ve been with great people, all the above-mentioned people who I mentioned wrote these books—I know all of them. I know all these people. I’ve met them. They’re really amazing people.
So I know them all, and they do great technical studies, which I just simply can’t do, but I will draw on some of their technical studies, hopefully to illumine for us now, today, in our parishes, in our churches and monasteries in America and Canada, what can help us to do what we’re doing with greater understanding and greater accuracy, and therefore greater power for the sake of the people who participate. I want to share the riches of these people’s blood with you. They wrote in blood. They studied. They worked. They read manuscripts. They learned Greek. They did all these kinds of things to help us understand, and gathered these things together all of their lives, so we want to take advantage of that.
But what I want to do is to bring it to bear on what we’re actually doing today. What you can see today in our churches, in our missions, in our monasteries, in America and Canada primarily, but also in other places on earth. I will comment a little bit, even, on what I’ve seen, for example, on Mt. Athos, or what I’ve seen in Russia or Ukraine, because now people are traveling over there and they’re coming back home to America, and they’re bringing a lot of the practices that you see there into [the] United States and Canada.
The question is: are they good practices or are they not? Are they something that’s helpful or are they maybe—how can you say?—they may be old, but as St. Cyprian of Carthage said, way back in the third century, “An old custom may be nothing but an old error.” That’s what he told the Pope of Rome. An old custom, or something that’s practiced for a couple hundred years, may be a mistake. It may be something that’s obscuring rather than illumining. Maybe there needs to be some change made, or some correction in some way.
I have a whole list of things like that that I want to comment on and present to you, just for your own reflection. And as usual, I want to say, I could be wrong. I could be very wrong in what I’m going to say. Sometimes I’m going to try to give you two sides or maybe more than two; maybe three or four sides or interpretations on the same activity. For example, a very debated point would be participation in Holy Communion. Who should participate? How should we participate? How should we be prepared for it? What is the place of a blessing of a geronda for receiving Holy Communion? Should Holy Communion be frequent or infrequent? These are really big issues. Do they require confession all the time or not? These are issues that are very alive still in our churches in America today, as well as certain practices of the Liturgy. Should the Eucharistic prayer be read aloud so that people could hear it? Should it be whispered? Should it be mumbled? Should it be run through quickly? Sometimes it’s even skipped. There’s a lot to comment on.
What I’m going to do—God forgive me and God help me—is I’m going to comment on a lot of things that I see as I travel around. Then I’m going to also comment on the English translations. You know, there are well over 100 translations of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom into English. Some jurisdictions have a translation that they insist that their members use, but some jurisdictions don’t.
Some Orthodox churches in America, like the Orthodox Church in America—to which I belong, the former Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church in America, the Alaskan Mission, that started at the end of the 18th century and lived in America now for 200 years—there are plenty of translations that were done during those two centuries of the Divine Liturgy. Then new translations were done. Then variant translations were done. Some of those translations were taken and reworked.
So in the Orthodox Church in America today, just as an example, the Diocese of the South uses a translation that was done by Archbishop Dmitri, and most of the other churches, certainly the Northeast, use a translation that was done by the Orthodox Church in America before it became the OCA in 1967, and that’s pretty much a standard book. In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, there are several translations that are used. Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School did a couple.
The Greek Orthodox Church in Australia did a translation into English. In England, Fr. Ephrem Lash, together with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and other people, they put together the Thyateira translation for the use in English in Great Britain with the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In America, the Antiochian Church has its Liturgikon. It also has previous translations done and published by the Antiochian Church. The Hapgood translation, for example, which we used 50 years ago when I was young, was originally ordered to be done by Archbishop Tikhon who became the Patriarch of Moscow when he was the Archbishop in America. He got [Isabel Florence] Hapgood to make this translation, and then later on the Antiochian Orthodox Church—or at the time it was called the Syrian-Antiochian Orthodox Church of America, under the leadership of Metropolitan Antony (Bashir), the predecessor of Metropolitan Philip; he had three or four different translations done of the Divine Liturgy. When I was a young priest, that was the one we used at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, before the Russian Orthodox Church did its own.
So there are plenty of translations. The Romanian Episcopate has its own translation. The Albanian, done by Bishop Fanouli, has its own translation, a very idiosyncratic translation. For five years, I was a pastor in a parish of the Albanian Orthodox jurisdiction in America, and we had a great controversy about the translation of the Liturgy and which books we should use and which were most accurate and not accurate and what seemed to be really the best to use. So these are debated issues.
The very issue of the translation, not only whether we should use “You” or “Thee” and “Thou,” whether we should use old King James English or whether we should use more modern English, but there’s other translations. The New Skete Monastery in upstate New York does a very modern translation and rendering of the Divine Liturgy, and they changed the rubrics, even, quite significantly. This is not such a simple issue in the 20th century in the United States and Canada. The Ukrainian churches have their own translations, too. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church in America has its own translation, and they have their own rubrics, too.
“Rubrics” comes from the word [for] red in Latin, which means rubric is the instruction about how to serve: what to sing, when to sing it, how to make entrances, how to process, when to bow, and so on; that’s what “rubrics” means. It’s the instruction about the ritual, the ritual instructions. Then we have variations of those. Some of them are okay; some of them are not okay. If they’re not okay, why are they not okay? What are the best? What seems to be the most accurate? This is what I want to share with you.
But I have to say, or and I have to say another thing by way of introduction of this series. And that is that I have a very, very particular slant, so to speak, a particular interest in the commentaries that I’m going to present to you. And what is that interest? What is the particular thing that I can pretty much accurately say none of the books that I have mentioned so far take this particular approach? I would dare to say, or I would be bold enough to say that I want to do something that I think really hasn’t been done before, very self-consciously, very purposefully, like directly.
What I would I would like to do in my reflections is to show two things very, very specifically, which I think are critically important and are not taken seriously enough by us, nor even by many of us who comment the Divine Liturgy. And that is that the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic Liturgy, and certainly we Orthodox would say the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that we now use, literally all the time—St. John Chrysostom all the time, St. Basil the Great ten times a year—how this Divine Liturgy is a celebration of God’s Gospel in Jesus, that it is a celebration ritual of the victory of Christ, the good news of Christ’s victory over all of God’s enemies; that it is an evangelical celebration, a celebration of the Gospel, and it is quintessentially so, essentially so. That’s what it is.
If you want to say, “I go to church for the Holy Eucharist. What am I doing?” I think in the simplest form, one of the ways of answering is: “I’m celebrating God’s Gospel in Jesus. I’m celebrating the incarnation, the teaching, the activity, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the enthronement, the glorification, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
So what I want to do, and that’s why we’re calling this series “Worship in Spirit and Truth,” because my claim here is that the Divine Liturgy is worship in spirit and truth that Jesus spoke about in the Gospel and very particularly in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Let’s just now, to get ourselves started, remember that encounter. This is what happened. It’s in the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. It said that Jesus was passing through Samaria with his disciples, and he came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
I’m reading from the Revised Standard Version. “Sixth hour” means noon: high noon, really hot, right?
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water from the well. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman [said] to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
Now, we could spend a lot of time discussing this conversation, but we’re going to leave that for another time, because the conversation continues. At that point, Jesus says to her, “Go and call your husband and come back here.”
The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”
And then she asks a question about worship, because the Samaritans and the Jews had no dealings with each other. They hated each other. The Jews called the Samaritans dogs; they were considered to be heretics. Here is Jesus, Jesus Christ himself, the Messiah, the Son of God, having this conversation with this Samaritan woman. He tells her to go and call her husband. Now, she says to him, “I don’t have a husband.”
Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; and he whom you now have is not your husband, and this you said truly.” The woman says to him, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.”
Now, he asked her to call her husband, but when she realizes that he sees her, knows her, and knows that she’s on her fifth husband, she wonders that he’s a prophet, so she grabs the opportunity to speak about worship, a burning question between the Samaritans and the Jews.
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain…”
And that mountain was Gerizim in Samaria.
“...and you (meaning the Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where people (men) ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know. We (Jews) worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
So the saving of the whole world is coming from the Jews, and the savior of the whole world will be the Jewish Messiah, but Jesus continues.
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
That’s where we get the title of our series, that the hour has come to the world where neither in Jerusalem—in Judea, in Israel—nor on Mount Gerizim in Samaria will the worship take place. The worship will take place in spirit and truth, and it will take place, as we very well know, throughout the entire world. Even the Jerusalem temple is soon to be destroyed. It’s going to be over. The New Covenant is here. The Messiah has come. He’s going to be crucified, raised, and glorified, and there’s going to be a brand-new worship coming into the world for those who believe in the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ, his Son, which is not man’s Gospel—not according to men, as St. Paul says in Galatians—but from God.
The woman [said] to him, “I know that Messiah…”
—which is the Hebrew word and also Aramaic word for “Christ”, I know Christ, Messiah—
“...is coming (he who is called Christ)...
St. John’s Gospel even translates it here, for the readers and the hearers who don’t know Hebrew or Aramaic.
“...when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus [said] to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Or actually, in Greek, it says, I am the one speaking to you, and “I am,” of course is the name God, the Lord, which in St. John’s Gospel Jesus uses many times; “I am he,” “Before Abraham was, I am,” “When I am lifted up, you will know that I am,” “Unless that you believe that I am, you will die in your sins,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the living bread who comes from heaven,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the door,” “I am the true vine,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the door,” all these “I am"s that you find in St. John’s [Gospel]. So he says, “I am the one speaking to you. I am he, the one speaking to you.”
So you have Christ meeting this Samaritan woman, and we could ask the question: why a Samaritan woman? And if we know the Bible, we know that it’s a kind of typos in the Bible that the holy men of the Bible met their wives, their brides, at wells. Rebecca is found at a well. Rachel is found at a well. Sepphora, whom Moses married, is found at a well. How many are found at a well where they encounter the woman at a well. So you could think, “Gee, is Jesus meeting his bride?” And the answer, theologically, spiritually, is: of course he is, because his bride are all the people of the world, all the sinful people, and you don’t get being more sinful than being a woman, Samaritan, with five husbands, living with a guy to whom she’s not married.
He’s come for the sinner. He’s come to save the world. The sinners are going to be the bride. That’s what he came for. This is the Gospel. So you have in this encounter the very heart of the very Gospel. Even in the Old Testament, the language of marriage was used for the relationship of God and his people. Hosea is told to marry a woman who’s an adulteress. Then the Lord says in [Hosea’s prophecy], “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and truth, and you shall know the Lord.” Isaiah says, “Your maker is your husband. The Lord of hosts is his name. The Holy One of Israel is your redeemer, the God of the whole earth, he is called.” And this is who Jesus is, and he’s calling the whole earth.
The Gospel is the good news of God that the victory of God is over, that God has taken the whole of creation and all of humanity as his beloved bride. He is the bridegroom. That’s one of the first titles of Jesus in Scripture. We had the series on the names and titles of Jesus. So what you have here is that Jesus is actually saying to this Samaritan woman, “I am the Messiah. I’m speaking to you. The true worship of the world has come. It is the worship in spirit and truth. It is the worship of the New Covenant Church in Christ, and it is the worship of those who believe in the Gospel.” And this, we Orthodox Christians believe, is what the Divine Liturgy is.
It’s the worship in spirit and truth. It’s the worship of the final covenant of God in the Messiah-Christ. It’s the worship of the Church which is Christ’s body and Christ’s bride. It’s actually the worship, even, of the Bridegroom himself, Christ, worshiping and adoring in his human form God the Father by the Holy Spirit, with that same Spirit poured on us, that through Christ we enter into communion with God, through the broken body and spilled blood of Christ who is the Word of God, and through his Word, which is the Word of truth, which is the Word of the Gospel, the eternal Gospel, this is what Christians believe that they have.
So the very simple thing here that we will say to end today is this: The claim of the podcasts to come is that we are commenting on worship in spirit and truth. We are commenting on the proper worship of the final covenanted community. We are commenting on appropriate, proper Christian worship.
It’s very interesting that when the Russians, when they were translating the term “orthodox,” they didn’t translate it as “right-opinion”—orthodoxia. They translated it pravoslaviye, because “doxa” in Greek also means “glory.” So the Slavs have the word for “orthodoxy” meaning “right worship, proper worship.”
But proper doctrine and proper worship go together. St. Irenaeus said in the second century our doctrine is established by the Holy Eucharist, and the Holy Eucharist establishes our doctrine. Prosper of Aquitaine in the West said lex orandi lex credendi est: the law of our worship is the law of our faith, and the law of our believing is the law of our worship. And we worship what we believe, and what we believe is actualized and realized and given to us in our worship, and the center of our worship is the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist. It is the worship in spirit and truth of the final covenant of community of Christ the Messiah with his people, all those who become by grace christs, filled with the Holy Spirit, and become sons of God and live in communion with God.
So this is what we’re going to comment. This is going to be our commentary. My specific intention is to show how the Divine Liturgy is evangelical worship par excellence. It’s the worship of those who truly believe in the true Gospel, the Gospel as the Gospel really is, that’s given to us by God and Jesus Christ. Therefore, my intention also is to show how the Divine Liturgy is biblical. Not only how it’s actually stringing together words from the Bible, quotations from the Bible. Fr. Constantelos wrote a wonderful book showing how many times the Bible is directly quoted in the Divine Liturgy: hundreds of times. In fact, the words of the Divine Liturgy are nothing but biblical words all strung together, with very, very little exception.
But that’s not what I’m interested in showing. Others can show that better than I. What I want to show is how the biblical reality, the biblical truth, the biblical texts, come alive in the worship of the Divine Liturgy. Here I have a very specific intention, that if we don’t understand how these words are used in the Bible, we will not understand how they’re supposed to be understood in the Liturgy.
Here I have to say something rather critical. I think that some folks commenting on the words of the Divine Liturgy don’t realize that they’re quotations of the Bible and to understand what these words mean you have to first understand what they meant in the Bible. Then you can understand what they mean in the Liturgy. I will show that there are numbers of words like that in the Liturgy that people comment without even referring [to] how they’re used in the Bible.
What I want to do is take the words of the Liturgy and bring them back into the Bible, and where the biblical words are used, I want to try to show how they are originally used in the Bible, so then we can understand what we’re saying when we use these same words in the Divine Liturgy in our worship. So our worship is totally evangelical, and it’s totally biblical.
Of course, the Gospel of God in Jesus is totally biblical. And the four gospels and St. Paul’s gospel are interpretations of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of the Old Testament. So therefore, Christian worship from the earliest time is exactly that. It’s evangelical, biblical worship. It’s how people who believe in the Bible, so to speak, who believe the Bible and the witness of the Bible, how they are called to worship. This is extremely important, because lots of folks don’t realize that the Divine Liturgy is totally, completely biblical. It’s evangelical and biblical.
You have to admit that the way some of us Orthodox explain it make it hard to see and hard to understand, especially when we get mystical and symbolical and give all symbolical meanings to various acts of the Liturgy without even connecting them to their fundamental, biblical context, their place within the Bible and their meaning within the Bible.
So what I’m going to do in my reflections, or what I’m going to try to do, is to show how the Divine Liturgy is evangelical and biblical; how everything in it has to be understood primarily by understanding how these words and texts and teachings and actions were done in the Bible; where they are referred to and how they’re understood in the Bible. Then that will lead me to be critical about translations, be critical about how the rituals are done, to be critical about certain things that we do that, because we no longer understand what we’re doing, we do things in a misleading manner, and how, particularly in the last several hundred years, since the Turkish domination over the churches in the East and the western captivity of the churches in eastern Europe and Russia, how a lot of times our ritual itself became obscured, so we have to recover the ritual and recover the proper meaning of the ritual, the meaning that is given essentially and primarily and fundamentally in the Bible.
This is what I’m going to try to be doing in the days to come. There will be many, many reflections. I don’t know how many, but I’ve begun working on this. I’m trying to write about it, and I think that this may go on for a very, very long time, because I intend to do each aspect of the Liturgy and the preparatory aspects and then the text itself and the rubrics [themselves]. I intend to comment on them in a very detailed manner, a critical manner, but only commenting on what we do today. I will not go into past history except when it can illumine our understanding and our practice today.
So may God help us. Pray, hard, people! and let’s hope that [this] series of reflections will be giving glory to God and will really help us to understand how the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy of word and supper and meal is really the worship in spirit and in truth that the Lord Jesus spoke about when he met that Samaritan woman that day at the well in Sychar in Samaria. “For the hour is coming, and now is,” the Lord said.
The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers of the Father will worship him in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.