Worship in the Apostolic Writings
Fr. Thomas Hopko · July 4, 2011
How did the New Testament Church worship? Fr. Thomas shows a specific structural practice that Orthodox worship today is based on.
When we begin our detailed commentary on the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great—and we’re getting closer to actually beginning that; don’t despair!—I still think that it is important for us to do one more thing, and that is to take the time today to reflect on worship in spirit and in truth according to the apostolic writings of the New Testament Scriptures, the writings attributed to St. Paul and to Peter to James and to Jude and to the Apostle John.
We have, of course, in the New Testament writings, in addition to the four gospels and the book of Acts, 14 writings attributed to St. Paul. Scholars believe that certainly seven of the 14 are clearly from his own hand, or perhaps an immediate scribe, and then the others are those from his followers, among his disciples. They are Pauline epistles, but they may actually have been written by his disciples, perhaps even after Paul had departed this life. Then there’s the Letter to the Hebrews, a Pauline writing; many think Apollos may have written it. But in any case, we have 14 writings that are from Paul. Then we have three letters of John, and we have the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation. Then we have the two attributed to Peter, and to James, and to Jude: 27 writings altogether.
When we go through the Liturgy and when we comment on it, we will see how these writings and what are said in these writings and even the very words of these writings—I mean verbatim words—are actually quoted and included in the prayers and the hymns of the Divine Liturgy, of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Then, of course, we will see how also the psalms are brought in there and are used, probably 75% of the actual words of Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, if you count the services of the hours, that is, vespers, compline, matins, and the first, third, sixth, and ninth hour, are primarily psalmody. We will see that in the Divine Liturgy, especially in the Liturgy of the Word, the first part of the Liturgy, we have the quotations from the holy Scriptures.
So we will be showing, as we comment on the Divine Liturgy and as we pray, how the words and the expressions and the teachings are coming from the Bible, from the Old and particularly the New Testaments. We will show, for example, in the Eucharistic prayers of Chrysostom and St. Basil that they are actually quotations of the New Testament writings kind of strung together, put together into doxological and petitionary prayer, anamnesis, remembering, using the words of holy Scripture.
But today we just want to take a look at those Scriptures, those writings, the so-called apostolic writings. And at every Divine Liturgy, we have a reading from the Apostle. Most of the Apostle readings at the Divine Liturgy are taken from the letters, the epistles. The readings are primarily from epistles, or letters, but we also have readings from the book of Acts. From Pascha to Pentecost, for example, all of the readings at the Divine Liturgy, all of the Apostle readings are from the Acts of the Apostles, and then for the rest of the year they are from Paul and the other writings, letters, of the New Testament. Then, of course, the Gospel readings are from the Gospel. Then that is a part of every single Divine Liturgy, the proclamation of the word, the preaching of the word, the contemplation of the word, the hearing of the word, and then, through the hearing of the word, we enter into the sacrifice of the holy Eucharist and the participation in the mystical supper of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ, holy Communion.
Those are the two parts of the Divine Liturgies: the Liturgy of the Word, where anyone who would like can be present and listen, as long as they behave themselves; and then we have the Liturgy of the Faithful, where we will see that in the old days only the faithful communicants were present for that Liturgy of the Faithful, namely, the Eucharistic sacrifice, the sacrificial offering, and the sacrificial meal of the broken body and spilled blood of Christ. We will have to comment on that in some detail later on, because, of course, today people just come to the Orthodox Liturgies and, whether they believe or don’t believe or care or don’t care, they just stay and are present throughout the whole thing, which certainly was not the case in the first centuries of Christianity. We will have to think about that, and what to do about it, perhaps make some suggestions about what we might do about it in these last times of the Christian era.
We want to just pick out today some of the important, significant, you might say relevant, parts of the apostolic writings to, again, lay a foundation for this detailed commentary that we’re going to engage in, when we go line by line and word by word and act by act through the Divine Liturgy. What we have to see, of course, is that in the writings attributed to the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures, particularly Paul and then John and the Apocalypse, Book of Revelation, of course—that’s a Johannine writing; it’s in the tradition of St. John—and then the other epistles, Peter, for example, and James, Jude: what do we find in them that show us what the apostolic worship was like?
How may we understand how the apostles themselves and the apostolic Church, the immediate disciples of Christ’s apostles, how they worshiped and how they understood worship and how they understood worship in relation to Jesus Christ as raised and glorified? And in relationship to Jesus Christ as Christ fulfills the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets and all the history and all the worship of the Old Covenant? What are the things that really stand out?
Well, the first thing that we have to see, what really stands out, is that Christian worship was Christian. In other words, it was done by those who believed in the Gospel. So you have here the record of the worship of those who believed in the Gospel. Therefore we could say immediately that Christian worship was the worship of the Christian community, and the Christian communities—first the community in Jerusalem and then in the various Christian communities that emerged and were established on the foundation of the preaching of the apostles, indeed, throughout the whole Roman Empire, even to the very capital city of Rome itself.
In other words, the Jews, the original Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and the Lord and the Son of God, the Savior of the universe, how did they worship? What did they do? Then, when they formed communities, and then of course communities included God-fearers, that is, non-Jews who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel as the one, true God, and then there were those who converted to Christianity just simply from paganism. For example, the Corinthian community was basically a Gentile community. So already in the New Testament we have a testimony to the Christian communities, the Christian churches, that were made up already very early in large part by Gentiles, by non-Jews, those who came to believe in Jesus listening to the preaching of the apostles.
Of course, the Apostle Paul preached to the Gentiles. He went to Athens and went to the Areopagus and announced the Unknown God to the Athenians, and apparently some of them believed, and the church of Athens began, with the tradition being that the very first bishop was Dionysios from the Areopagus, Dionysios the Areopagite, not to be confused, of course, with the writer of the sixth century who wrote writings under the name of Dionysios the Areopagite. But there was an original Dionysios in Athens. In Thessaloniki there were plenty of Jews in the community, but Gentiles were coming in. So you have the whole phenomenon of the Galatian epistle, where it certainly says, “Neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free, nor male nor female, but those who believe in Christ and are baptized into Christ and are sealed by the Spirit and participate in the Eucharistic meal, the Lord’s Supper,” that they constitute the Church, and that is how the Church is constituted.
I like that verb, “constitute.” One very great modern Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamos, he has many writings on these themes, and one thing that he said that really struck me that I think is very important is that Jesus didn’t institute sacraments. He didn’t institute a church. He didn’t found a church. Jesus in that sense is not the founder of a church; he’s not a typical founder of a church. He is the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God who came into the world, was crucified, raised, and glorified, and sent the Holy Spirit, and then those followers of Jesus, they constituted the Church. They made it up, and they originally were Jews who believed in Jesus, as witnessed to in the Scripture, including the Apostle Paul who was definitely a Jew; he was a Hellenized Jew from the Diaspora, from Tarsus, but also a Pharisaic Jew.
What we see is that the Christian Church understood itself in the beginning as being the real Israel of God, that there was only one Israel of God, and they were the Israel of God because they believed in the Messiah of Israel. They believed in Jesus as King of the Jews. Then they believed that the King of the Jews, the Messianic King, could be believed in by the Gentiles and they could enter into Israel. As it says in the psalm, they could stand before the face of God and worship as children of Abraham. In other words, Gentiles could become children of Abraham by faith, and it was not by biology, it was not simply by biological inheritance. So the New Covenanted community in the Messiah of Israel included all the nations of the earth. We have that certainly witnessed to on the pages of the New Testament Scriptures.
Certainly the apostolic writings bear witness to that, that the Gospel is to be preached to all the nations of the entire world. You have that even at the end of Matthew’s gospel:
Go, ye, therefore and make disciples of all the peoples, all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you forever, even unto the end of the age.
So we have the worship here, not just of individual believers in somehow their own individual, pietistic way, but what we have witnessed to on the pages of the New Testament writings is the worship of the Church, the Qahal Israel, that remnant of the Ekklesia (that would be the Greek word of “Qahal”), the gathering of the faithful that now include Gentiles and all those who become members of Israel because they become members of Christ. They constitute Christ’s body.
And when they gather together before the face of God to worship, they worship God the Father through the risen and glorified Messiah, Christ, by the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So they worship the one, true, and living God who is the Abba-Father of Jesus, and they enter into Jesus’ own relationship with God in the heavens, raised and glorified, the same relationship in communion he had with God the Father before the creation of the world, and this all happens by the power and indwelling of God’s own Holy Spirit, who is breathed upon the disciples of Jesus, descended into tongues of fire once Christ was raised and glorified.
And that Spirit of God is given to the original community in St. John’s gospel, the theological gospel, it’s given to the apostles on the very night of Pascha, on the very day of the Resurrection. In Luke and Acts, and in Matthew and in the gospels, Jesus appears for a period of 40 days and then he ultimately is finally enthroned not to appear to the apostles and disciples any longer as a witness of his resurrection, but to send forth the Holy Spirit so that the believers could know and worship God through him in the heavens with him having been baptized into him in the name of Jesus and therefore in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that very quickly became the baptismal formula of the Christian Church.
Then they were sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given as a gift, a personal gift, to each of the believers, and then each believer, his very body or her body became a temple of the Holy Spirit, and then the community of the believers, the community of the Christians, constituted the Christian Church, and then they became the living temple of God. The people then become the temple. The people become the dwelling-place. It is no longer a building. It is certainly no longer the Jerusalem temple. Of course, by the time of the close of the New Testament canon of writings, in other words, by the time the writings of the New Testament that were canonized were finished, Jerusalem was no more, the earthly Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed.
The Christian Scriptures, especially the Apocalypse and the Letter to the Galatians even will speak about the Jerusalem on high which is our mother which is free, but Apocalypse will simply speak about the heavenly Jerusalem that Christians enter into when they worship because they have the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the guarantor, the earnest, the token, the foretaste of the coming kingdom of God when Christ comes at the end of the ages.
What we wanted to say here is a very simple thing. What we have witness to in the pages of the apostolic writings of the New Testament is the worship of the Christian Church, of the community of the faithful. This worship began in Jerusalem, but then it spread, and every single Christian church worshiped in the same way. They worshiped within the same reality. They worshiped according to the same events in which they entered into by their faith and they followed one and the same Gospel and one and the same interpretation of the Old Covenant Scriptures in their communities.
What we can say, very generally speaking, is that the worship in spirit and truth of the Christian Church, testified to on the pages of the apostolic Scripture is the worship of the community of the baptized and the community of the sealed. It’s the community of the faithful. It’s the prayer and the worship, and more than just prayer: it’s total worship, action, activity. Leitourgia is a New Testament word which means a common action. It’s the common action of the believing community.
That’s very important, because it means that early Christians just weren’t, you know, making up prayer groups or meeting together to pray as they saw fit or informing God what was on their mind or, worse yet, it’s absolutely not the case that early Christian worship was unstructured and it was free and the first Christians just prayed however they felt like or however they felt inspired by God. Oh, no, no! Not at all! That’s simply not true. Read the New Testament. There was a structure of worship of the community itself, done first in Jerusalem, and then in all the churches in which they apostles preached and over which they appointed overseers and elders and in which they had deacons. There was a very structure to the Christian communities in all of the places where they existed, and this is what we see in the pages of the New Testament.
If we take as an example of this the Book of Acts, the Acts of the Apostles is the acts of the apostles after Pentecost. It begins with a narrative about Pentecost, that those who believed in Jesus gathered together. They were in the upper room. They had elected a successor to Judas, so that there would be the twelve. They were in one accord. They devoted themselves to prayer. The women were there; Mary the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus’ brethren were there with the twelve, the eleven plus Matthias. They held all things in common, and they constantly met to celebrate their faith in Jesus as the risen and glorified Messiah.
Then it says the Holy Spirit [descended] upon them, and the house was filled with a mighty wind. The Spirit in the form of fiery tongues came. They spoke in other tongues, and it showed that this Gospel was to be preached all over the place. You have these places listed, and they heard it in their own languages, which means they’re to hear it in their own languages. Parthians, Medes, Elamites in Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans, Arabians—we hear them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God, and the ultimate mighty work of God in raising and glorifying the Messiah. This is what there was. Then, of course, they begin to preach this Gospel.
When you get finally to the third chapter of the Book of Acts [of the] Apostles, you have something very, very important for the Christian worship in spirit and in truth. The Apostle [Peter] preaches the Gospel. You can read it for yourself: the third chapter of the Book of Acts; he preaches the Gospel, the good news of salvation, the victory to the whole world, that the Resurrection of Christ, that Jesus was not abandoned in Hades, in death; his flesh did not see corruption. God raised up Jesus and we all are witnesses of this. He is exalted at the right hand of God, and we have received the promise of the Holy Spirit which he has poured out on us that you now see. Then you have this most-repeated sentence of the Old Testament: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” So it says, “Let the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him (Jesus) both Lord and Christ, this very Jesus whom you’ve crucified.” That’s the Christian Gospel.
But then it continues, and it says, “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ ” Now that’s the question, you see: What shall we do? And then you can also say: What did they do? What did Peter tell them to do and what did they do? Well, Peter said to them: “Repent—Metanoite.” It’s the first word of John the Baptist in the gospels, the first word of our Lord Jesus himself: “Change your mind, because the kingdom of God is now here.” In the face of the kingdom, in the face of this marvelous last saving event of God in Christ the Messiah, change your minds. Look at things differently. No longer be the way you were. Change your behavior. Change your attitude. That’s what repentance means.
Then it says, “And be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.” So there was the teaching of baptism, and we know that the Apostle Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus, once he came to believe in Jesus, was struck down and had to go into the city to Ananais. He had to be baptized. So all of the Christians were baptized. The apostles were baptized by fire and the Holy Spirit directly, and then they preached the baptism of water and the Spirit, which we find in St. John’s gospel. You have to be baptized from above. You have to be born anew. You have to be born into God’s kingdom. It’s no longer biology. It’s now eschatology. It’s ecclesiology. In other words, we’re not simply biological beings with flesh and blood; we are now those who belong to the Church which is the kingdom of God which is the foretaste of the coming age which is a totally new identity and a completely new reality, and that begins by this birth of baptism which is a death, a death, dying with Jesus and being raised with him and being sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Peter says, when they say, “What shall we do?” he says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.” Of course, very early “In the name of Jesus Christ,” the formula came to be from Matthew’s gospel: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and this is what the Church ultimately began to do universally all through Christendom.
Then it says, “And you shall receive the gift”—singular—“of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God’s very own Spirit will be given to you as a gift, “for the forgiveness of your sins. And this is the promise to you and your children and to all who are far off”—that means the peoples, the Gentiles—“everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him,” and it says he witnessed and testified with many other words and exhorted them: “Save yourself from this crooked generation.” So that’s the beginning of the whole thing.
So Christian worship is of those baptized and those who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the letters of St. Paul this will be explicitly taught: the letter to the Romans, the letter to the Galatians, the deutero-Pauline epistles—Colossians, Ephesians—it will say that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. There’s like a brand put on us, and of course the earliest Church will not only baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they will lay their hands on the people to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit of God himself. Even in the Book of Acts for example, Apollos comes to Ephesus, and he doesn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He only knows about the baptism of John the Baptist. So Prisca and Aquila have to teach him more accurately about the way—the Christian covenant people were called “the way”: the way of God—and then he has to be baptized into Christ.
We are all, in the letter to the Romans, which we still read in church at baptisms, we are all baptized into Christ; we’re baptized into his death. Or in the Galatian letter: “As many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all baptized, and they all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they could call Jesus “Lord and God,” and that they can call God Almighty, the Father of Jesus, “Abba, Father,” and they can pray to God with the quintessential Christian prayer, “Our Father, who art in the heavens. May your name be holy. May your kingdom come. May your will be done, as in the heavens, in the risen and glorified Jesus, so also in us, his members and his body on earth.” And then we pray, “Give us this day the supersubstantial bread.” Christ is the bread. He is the bread of life. It’s the Eucharistic bread. This is what we find on the pages of the Scriptures.
So you have baptism into Christ in the name of the Trinity very quickly—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—which is a death and resurrection with Jesus, and then you have a sealing with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the personal Pentecost of every believer. Very early the rituals would be developed with the laying on of hands and then the use of chrism, oil, myrrhon, the unction, because in the apostolic Scriptures, particularly those attributed to John, like the first letter of John, it’ll say, “You received the unction, the anointment, the chrisma of the Holy Spirit.” That will become the mystery of chrismation, the sealing.
So you have the baptism and the sealing, the Pascha of Christ, the Pentecost of the Spirit, and Christians are those who entered into that death and resurrection, the Paschal experience, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit which is the Pentecostal experience, and then the whole of Christian worship is constituted and is structured and is framed and exists and comes into existence on the basis of these realities, which are all, as we tried to show already, prefigured in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the Old Covenant Scriptures.
The worship of the earliest Church was the worship of those baptized and sealed who had repented and who had believed in the Gospel. They became Christians, and Acts says in Antioch they were first called Christians. They were a sect of Jews who now were the covenanted community, and they believed that they were the true Israel of God, and so do we until this very day.
Here, in this second chapter of Acts, you have this written, very, very important, crucial for us. It says:
So those who received his word—in other words, who believed in the Gospel—were baptized. And there were added that day about 3,000 souls.
So it begins with baptism, this new birth. And then it says.
And those who were baptized and had received the gift of the Spirit…
It says literally these words. In the RSV it says:
They devoted themselves to.
Now, that’s not a very good translation. In Greek the word is proskarterountes, which means “they continued steadfastly in.” They continued steadfastly in. They were constant in. They remained completely committed to. That’s what that expression actually says in Greek. Let me read it to you here, and you can see what it actually says. It says that:
They will receive the gift (dōrean) of the Agiou Pnevmatos (of the Holy Spirit), and that those who were baptized, and they proskarterountes tē didachē tōn apostolōn—they continued steadfastly in.
And that’s what the King James says, and that’s a much better translation.
What did they continue steadfastly in? It says four things, which are crucial for worship in spirit and truth. It says they continued steadfastly in, first of all, it says in Greek: hē didachē tōn apostolōn, and that means the didachē, the teaching, the doctrine, of the apostles. So it begins with a continuation in the doctrine, a devotion to and a commitment to the doctrine, remaining steadfast in the doctrine of the apostles: apostolic teaching. That means there is no apostolic worship without apostolic teaching, and the worship community always begins with teaching. It begins with reading the Scriptures, expounding the Scriptures, singing the Psalms, and it begins with teaching.
That’s why, until this day, the first part of the Divine Liturgies of the Church—Chrysostom and Basil—is called the Liturgy of the Word. Sometimes they’ll call it the Liturgy of the Catechumens, those who are being [catechized], those who are being taught, those who are disciples. So the worship always begins with the doctrinal teaching, and it’s always the teaching of the apostles, so there’s no apostolic worship without apostolic doctrine, and there’s no apostolic doctrine or apostolic worship without apostolic tradition.
Here in the New Testament writings, the letters to Timothy and Titus will say that they continued steadfastly in the traditions of the apostles. They maintained the traditions, that which was handed over to them, both orally and in writing. So you have the written scriptures; then you have the oral teaching that exegetes and interprets and explains these Scriptures. That’s absolutely essential to worship in Christian spirit and in truth.
Even in St. John’s gospel, that famous event of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, he begins by teaching her. He tells her. He explains things to her. So that’s always the beginning. So it said, “They continued steadfastly in…the didachē, the teaching, of the apostles.” Then it says, “and in tē koinōnia,” dative case. Hē koinōnia means the communion. Sadly, it says “fellowship” both in the RSV and the King James. “Fellowship” is a very weak word. I don’t know about you, but when I think about fellowship, I picture little old ladies drinking tea at a Bible study or something, having “fellowship” in church. It’s more than that. It’s deeper than that. It’s koinōnia; it’s communion.
And in the last line of the second letter to the Corinthians, which will be used in the Divine Liturgies, it is the communion of the Holy Spirit. It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. That’s the communion. It’s the communion of the Father and the Son. It’s the communion that is spoken about in St. John’s gospel that we spoke about last time in that final prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John, the unity of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. That’s the communion that they continue in, and it’s objectively given: it’s the communion.
Notice here: there are definite articles. It doesn’t say they simply continued in “apostolic teachings” generally. It says the teaching of the apostles. It doesn’t say that they just had “fellowship” or they were “in communion.” It says the communion, you see? Tē koinōnia.
Then it also says, “tē klasei tou artou”: they continued steadfastly in “the breaking of the bread,” the artoklasia, or the klasei tou artou, and again the definite article: the breaking of the bread. And that certainly means in the apostolic Scriptures the Eucharistic meal, the meal of holy Communion, the Communion meal. They continued in the communion, the communion of the covenanted community, of the Qahal Israel in the Messiah, and in that communion it was brought together in the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist.
So you have, for example, the eleventh chapter of the first letter to [the] Corinthians, where St. Paul simply describes the communion service. The tenth chapter he says, “My beloved, shun the worship of idols.” He’s talking to pagans, now, Corinthian pagans.
I speak as to sensible people. Judge for yourself what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless: is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break: is it not participation in the body of Christ?
Interestingly, it says “participation” in the Revised Standard Version of the holy Scripture. In the King James Version, that word there, which the RSV calls “participation,” is “communion”: “The cup of blessing which we bless: is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break: is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” So the King James Version gets it right again, because the word in Greek is koinōnia; it’s the communion that was spoken about in the Book of Acts: is the cup of the blessing of the blood of Christ and the bread that is broken of the body of Christ. That is the klasei tou artou, the breaking of the bread of Acts. He says because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we are all communicants, or partakers, of the one bread.
Then it says:
Consider the people of Israel. Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I apply, then? The food offered to the idols is nothing. The idol is not anything. Pagan sacrifices are offered to demons and not to gods, but we offer the offering to God. We sacrifice to God, and we offer to God our own bodies, the communion of our own bodies, as the sacrificial offering.
And St. Paul will say that explicitly in the letter to the Romans. He will say that the worship of Christians, the logikē latreia, which we will comment on very much later on, this spiritual or reasonable worship that is the worship in spirit and in truth and that expression comes from St. Paul. In the twelfth verse of the letter to the Romans, St. Paul will say:
I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters—the baptized, the sealed—by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your logokē latreia, your spiritual or reasonable worship.
And that this thysia, this sacrifice, which is living sacrifice—it’s a living sacrifice; it’s your very own body. So he says don’t be conformed to this world, because we now belong to the body of Christ, and in that very same chapter he says:
For as in the one body we have many members, not all of the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, individually members one of another and of Christ.
He will say that our bodies even are members of Christ in the Corinthian letter. Then, of course, in the Corinthian letter in the eleventh chapter, he describes the gathering of the holy Eucharist, the gathering for communion. He chides the Corinthians by saying there’s “factions and divisions among you,” and here you already have that witnessed to in the early Church. Yes, you have the baptism; you have the sealing of the Spirit; you have the Eucharistic meal, but there are people who are already messing it up. In the Book of Acts, the 20th chapter, the Apostle Paul will say:
Grievous wolves are doing to enter in, and even men from among yourselves are going to lead people astray. They’re going to lead them to follow themselves and not the Gospel of Christ.
In the New Testamental Scriptures, like the letters of Timothy, Titus, Jude, it’s all about apostasy of Christians who are false brethren, false apostles, false bishops: people who are not doing the right thing. It’s already in the earliest Church. In the 14 letters attributed to Paul… Well, let’s count the 13; let’s exclude here the letter to the Hebrews, and that letter to the Hebrews tells us about Christian worship because Christ is the High Priest, and we enter into his priesthood, and we offer ourselves with him to God in the heavenly temple not made by human hands, and he is the Lamb who sacrifices himself, and we drink his blood and eat his body. That’s the letter to [the] Hebrews, the most liturgical, priestly, sacrificial book in the New Testament, certainly.
But here in the Corinthian letter, you see, he’s already saying that there’s factions and divisions, schism and heresies. He says there must be so that those who are genuine can be revealed, that they can be proved. So there’s a testing to be faithful to this. Here St. Paul would say: if you’re faithful, you discern the Lord’s body. St. Paul says—it’s worth reading—he said:
When you meet together, is it not the Lord’s supper that you eat? For I received from the Lord what I also deliver to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup after supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me, and as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the gospel, you proclaim the Lord’s death, his crucifixion, until he comes in glory as the raised and glorified Messiah.”
Therefore (the Apostle writes) whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the very body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup, and anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body—the body of Christ, the body of the Church, the body of the faithful—eats and drinks judgment to himself.
Then the Apostle Paul even says:
That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died, but if we judge ourselves truly we should not be judged.
So you have this in the New Testament already. The Eucharistic bread and cup is the body and blood of Christ. It’s in St. John’s gospel also, sixth chapter. Christians become this body and constitute this body by being baptized and sealed and participating in the Eucharist. The body is one and has many members. All the members are of the body, and they are many, but it is just one body—the Church—as it is with Christ. That’s just one body. So St. Paul says:
For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, Jews and Greeks, slave or free. We are all made to drink of the one Spirit.
So the body doesn’t consist of just one member only, but many members, and it’s all arranged properly.
Now, in the New Testament, this is how the Church is constituted, and that’s how the worship takes place. There’s the preaching of the Gospel, there’s the doctrine of the apostles, and then there’s the breaking of the bread, and then, way back in the Book of Acts again, there’s the fourth thing. Those who were baptized and sealed continued steadfastly in the apostolic doctrine, the communion, the breaking of the bread, and then it says: the prayers. And, again, it’s a definite article: the prayers. Not simply “and prayers,” but “the prayers.” The prayers were given. They were the prayers of the Church herself.
Certainly, the earliest Christians constituted these prayers. They formulate them on the basis of the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, but the prayers are given. People don’t come to church to pray their own prayers. People come to church to pray the prayers of the Church, because the Liturgy is the act of the Church, of the community. Now, they bring their prayers, they bring their petitions, they offer them, they include them, but these prayers are objectively that of the very body itself, the community and the communion itself. That’s what we see witnessed to on the pages of the New Testament.
Then, of course, we see on these pages that these communities, very early, became structured. They had elders, presvyteroi, presbyters. They had episkopoi, bishops, overseers. They had deacons and servants. Then there were the virgins. There were the widows. In Timothy and Titus, already in the New Testament, we see that there’s a structure to the community. There’s a structure. There are bishops. There are presbyters, now called priests. There are ministers, now called deacons. There are the faithful gathered together into one body. In that one body they are entering into the relationship of Christ with God in the kingdom of heaven. For example, Hebrews 12 says it very specifically. It says the Christians, when they worship, when they come together, what do they come to? And this is what it says:
You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the Church (the assembly, the qahal) of the first-born (and Christ is the first-born, and we are all first-born in him) who are enrolled in heaven, to a Judge who is God of all. You come to the spirits of the righteous men made perfect.
That means all the saints are gathered there with the angels.
You come to Jesus the Lord, the Mediator of this New Covenant, and to his sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.
Then the Apostle continues: Be careful that you don’t refuse all of this, because you have received this in heaven, not just on earth. And he says that if the people didn’t follow Moses, how much worse will it be for us if we don’t follow the Messiah, Christ. Then he says:
Therefore, let us be grateful (evcharistisomen), let us be eucharistic—that’s what it means—for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and fear (awe), for our God is a consuming fire.
Now, in this very same letter to the Hebrews, it describes also what that activity is, you see; what it is that the people have come to. It’s in the tenth chapter; it’s in the sixth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. I’ll just quote to you the sixth chapter. It says:
When we have gathered together those who have once been enlightened (that means baptized), who have tasted the heavenly gift (that means participate in holy Communion), who have become partakers of the Holy Spirit (sealed in the Spirit in the community), who have tasted the goodness of the word of God (that’s Christ himself and that’s the Gospel) and the powers of the age to come (that’s the holy angels), if they then commit apostasy, they’re lost, because they crucify again the Son of God on their own account.
So the claim is that in the Christian Church, we have been enlightened, we have tasted the heavenly gifts, we have become partakers or communicants of the communion of the Holy Spirit, we have tasted the goodness of the word of God who is Jesus Christ which is the Gospel itself, and we participate together with the holy angels in heaven. So that’s what is witnessed to on the pages of the New Testament Scripture.
Within that community you have the structure, and then you have the charism, the gifts. Everybody gets the gift, singular, of the Holy Spirit, but there are charismata, charismatic gifts: for teaching, for prophesy, for preaching, for healing, for administration, for speaking in tongues, for interpreting tongues—we can talk about that later on at another time—but there are these various gifts in the community of the various members of the community. There are the prophets, the teachers, the evangelists, the miracle-workers, the healers.
These people have gifts. They’re members of the Church, and such people existed all through history down through the present day, but it’s within a Church that is structured where each church is [headed] by a bishop, with presbyters and deacons, and has the structure of its prayer and its worship. They continue in the teaching of the apostles, the communion, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. Then within that community, we hear the Gospel. We learn the teaching. And then we offer ourselves and our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, together with Christ on the altar, body broken, blood shed, in order to enter into the communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, constituting the body of Christ on earth and proclaiming his Gospel of his death and resurrection until he comes again in glory. That is Christian worship according to the New Testamental Scriptures.
We have not only the letter to the Hebrews, but we have the Book of Revelation. Many people think the Apocalypse was itself a description of early Christian worship, and then once it was described it became the scriptural pattern for Christian worship. The elders together, with their white robes, with their crowns, burning their incense, singing, “Alleluia!” to him who sits upon the throne, which is God, and to the Lamb who was dead and alive again, who is Jesus, who is enthroned with God on the holy altar. They’re all filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is in all of the churches, according to the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation. And then they sing, “Holy, holy, holy!” to God Almighty and to the Lamb, and then they participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem, which is described in the last chapters of the Apocalypse.
Here you have a vision of Christian Liturgy in the Book of Revelation, and if you go to an Orthodox Church today, you will see that very reality right before your very eyes. That is all actually accomplished. It is performed. It is enacted. God is acting there in the worship of spirit and truth in the final covenanted community of the baptized and the sealed, who believe the Gospel, who offer themselves to God together with Christ, and who participate in the holy Eucharist.
So this is what we see on the pages of the New Testament. Just saying this, generally and in summary fashion, we will unpack this, as they say nowadays. We will show in detail how all of this works itself out in the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This is our project now, to comment in detail on how this is done today. We see it on the pages of the New Testament. We can study how it was done through history. There’s various documents: Justin the Martyr in the second century, Hippolytus. We have many documents. By the time you get to the end of the first millennium, we have even manuscripts which are essentially the same as what we have today.
But what we are going to do now is to comment on: how is all this done today? Where is it done? How is it done? By whom is it done? To what end is it done? What are the ritual actions? What are the prayers? What are the hymns? What are the psalm verses? How do we worship in spirit and in truth in the 21st century in the Divine Liturgies of the Orthodox Church, called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great? So this is what we’re going to do; may God help us.