Liturgical Worship in the New Testament

November 29, 2004 Length: 49:14





Program Notes - November 28, 2004
Liturgical Worship in the New Testament

  1. Sayings from the Fathers
    1. "According to the Gospel, it should be said that undoubtedly each person is given his own saving cross. This cross has grown on the soil of our heart, and it is only through this cross that we can be saved. From this it follows that if we refuse to carry our cross of obedience for no legitimate reason, we refuse to go by the way of Christ, by the saving way, and we want to invent for ourselves another way, free of labor, for attaining the Kingdom of Heaven. But this cannot be. The Kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Cf. Mt. 11:12)."
      St. Anatoly (Zertsalov) of Optina [A Collection of Letters to Nuns]


    (NOTE: We'd like to thank Phil Silouan Thompson for some of this material. Check out his webpage:

  1. Christianity did not spring from a vacuum. Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jewish. They all worshipped according to the tradition of the Jewish nation as handed down by Moses and the Prophets. No one doubts or denies that Judaism is a liturgical religion. Within the New Testament there is evidence that the Apostles continued to observe Jewish liturgical practices. When we approach the New Testament we must read it in the framework in which it was written: the early Church meeting in the Temple and Synagogue and putting Christ in the center of what they did as Jews. Christ FULFILLED the Law, He did not destroy it (Matt. 5:17). The OT was a type and shadow of the New as Hebrews teaches. Thus the first Christians worshipped according to the pattern of the Law, but saw the worship as directed to and fulfilled in Christ. NOTE: Liturgical prayer does NOT supplant or replace "personal prayer". Liturgical prayer is usually "corporate", private prayer is usually a combination of "set prayers" and personal expression.
  2. Liturgy in the New Testament Scriptural references:
    1. Acts 2:42 - continued in THE prayers (in the GreeK), were day by day IN THE TEMPLE…
    2. Acts 5:42, The apostles were continually in the Temple praying and teaching, 6:4 they appoint deacons so they can devote themselves to THE prayers (Greek) and ministry of the word
    3. Acts 10:2-3 Cornelius prayed continually, 9th hour., 10:9 Peter at the 6th hour went to the roof to pray. These were "liturgical hours of prayer".
    4. Acts 13:2 While they were "ministering" to the Lord, literally in liturgy, the Holy Spirit spoke to them. The Spirit works in liturgy
    5. Acts 15:22, 18:8, 17: "leaders" of synagogue, ie., liturgical worship leaders.
    6. Acts 18:7 "Worshipper of God" house next to the synagogue.
    7. Acts 16:25 midnight praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
    8. Acts 20:6, 16 After the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost are mentioned. Paul says in I Cor. 16:8 that he will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. The early Church kept a liturgical "church calendar".
    9. Hebrews 8:2 High Priest Jesus a "minister" (lit. "liturgist") in the heavenly sanctuary.


  3. THE Prayers and Liturgy — Liturgy is not antithetical to Scripture. In fact nearly the entire Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which is normally used in Orthodox Churches, is either direct quotes or allusions to Scripture. On any given Sunday, the Matins and Liturgy will contain between 400-500 verses of Scripture depending on the readings for the day.
    1. Is it "vain repetition"? Matt. 6:7 The issue is not repetition, it is intent of the heart. Some things said once are vain. Rev. 4:8 we see in heaven the angels and elders surrounding the throne continually saying "Holy…."
  4. "Holy" or "The Sanctus" in Early Jewish Prayer: the Kedusha
    1. Even a stranger to liturgical worship will recognize the prayer called the Sanctus. Its origin lies in Isaiah 6:3, "Holy, holy, holy Lord of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory." This passage is not repeated or quoted anywhere in the Hebrew Bible after Isaiah's time. Yet there are abundant allusions and quotations in the deuterocanonical and pseudepigraphic literature between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. A few of them include the Apocalypse of Abraham 17:7; 1 Enoch 39:12 [Ethiopic version]; 2 Enoch 20 [Slavonic version]; Testament of Adam 1:4; Testament of Isaac 8:3. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the Sanctus occurs in the Hymns of Thanksgiving and the Angelic Liturgy. In Hebrew this prayer is called the Kedusha.
    2. All these works are pre-Christian, and some of them were known to the writers of the New Testament. The first quotations of Isaiah 6:3 in early Christian writing occur in 1 Clement (c.67 AD), and later on, in the Revelation (c.100 AD). But the Sanctus must have been part of the early Christian synagogue liturgy. Long before St John's quotation of Isaiah 6:3 in the Revelation, St Luke had paraphrased a Jewish liturgical version of this prayer - the Kedusha deSidra - it in his Gospel, as part of the angels' hymn (the Gloria). "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, good will to men. "
    3. The Sanctus can be found in every modern Christian liturgy, and appears to have been part of the very earliest Christian liturgical prayers. Very early on, it appears in writings from Rome (1 Clement 34:6,7), Asia Minor (Revelation 4:8, Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:2), Alexandria (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7:7:12), and in the Martyrdom of St Perpetua. Clement of Alexandria says of this prayer:
    4. The liturgical cycle of prayer seems to be something that the Church inherited from the Synagogue, and even the modern Synagogue has cycles of prayers three times a day (See "Weekday Prayer Book--Expanded Edition, Pages 1-232, United Synagogues of America, Prayer Book Press) St. Daniel the Prophet also had a consistent cycle of prayer 3 times a day (Daniel 6:11-13). See also (Daniel 9:3, 20-2)
  5. Early Fathers:
    1. Even as early as St. Clement of Rome (1st century AD), we find testimony of the OT custom informing the liturgical life and praxis of the Church (see 1st Epistle, Chapter 40, ANF 1:16), and in the NT, the Apostles still attended Temple worship at prescribed hours. Clement of Alexandria testifies that there were those who prayed at the 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours, and there were spiritual brethren who prayed all the time (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 7, ANF 2:534). It was also the custom to pray at sunrise and sunset (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 7, ANF 2:535). Tertullian also mentions that though there is no command except that we should pray all the time, it was customary to offer prayer at the 3d, 6th, and 9th hours, which he states that Scripture deemed more solemn than the rest (On Prayer, Chapters 23-25, ANF 3:689-690). For more of Tertullian, see (On Fasting, Chapter 10, ANF 4:108-109). St. Cyprian of Carthage also testifies to the liturgical hours and that such was the daily practice of the Church (Treatise 4, On the Lord's Prayer 34-35, ANF 5:456-457). The Apostolic Constitutions instructs Christians: "Offer up your prayers in the morning, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, the evening, and at cock-crowing..." (Book 8, Chapter 34, ANF 7:496) See also St. Hippolytus of Rome (The Apostolic Tradition 35, Dix pp. 61-68). Thus, I see the practice of the Church in offering cyclical prayers as such to be in firm continuity with the OT, the NT and the "early Church."
  6. Revelation, the Liturgical Book - If you read Revelation through "liturgical eyes" you will see everything in an Orthodox worship in the Book. St. John received the Revelation while "in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day", which means while in the liturgy worshipping. When he looks around he sees what he would normally see in a worship service, but these items take on new meaning. Here are the things he saw and heard.
    1. "Vain Repetition"- Rev. 4:8: "Never cease to say "Holy, Holy, Holy"
    2. Altars - Rev. 6:9 Under the Altar, the souls of the martyrs. (8:3, 9:13)
    3. Incense/censers - Rev. 5: 8 The 24 elders with bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints. 8:3 Angel with incense before the altar before the throne. The offering of incense was actually commanded by Divine mandate in the OT. It was not an option at that time It was when St. Zacharias was offering incense that the angel appeared to him, and brought him the tidings that he was going to be a father (Luke 1:9-13). St. Athanasius, citing Hosius, mentions the burning of incense as a prerogative of the Church, and not the Emperor (History of the Arians, Part 6:44, NPNF II 4:286). Egeria's Diary makes mention of the prolific use of incense during worship in 4th century Palestine (Diary of a Pilgrimage, Chapter 24, ACW 38:92). . The apostate act of offering a grain of incense to a statue of the emperor was considered worship by the early Church and the pagans. Evening Prayer (Vespers) Psalm: "Lord I have cried unto Thee--hearken unto me; hearken unto me, O Lord! Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me; attend to the voice of my supplication when I cry unto Thee: Hearken unto me, O Lord. Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up my hands as an evening sacrifice; hearken unto me, O Lord." (Psalm 140:1-2) And Scripture prophesied that the Gentiles everywhere would offer incense to God. "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles. And in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering; for My Name shall be great among the heathen,' saith the Lord of hosts." (Malachias 1:11)
    4. Other Liturgical References: Candle stands, candles (1:12, 4:5), Vestments and Robes which were mandated by God for His OT priests (1:13,15:6, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9-13) Prostrations (5:8, 7:11), Golden bowls (5:8, 8:3), Scrolls( 5:2, Thrones (where leader sits 11:16, 5:1)), temple (15:5).

7. Thus the point of all of this is that modern Bible translators have "messed with the Bible" in order to eliminate liturgy from the life of the first Christians. Liturgy and "Spirit filled worship" were not set against each other by the first Christians. The real question for we as modern Christians is not "When did the Church START doing rituals and repetition etc.", but "When did it STOP worshipping like that?" The question then is, how do we in the 21st Century recover the Apostolic and Biblical model of worship? We submit to our listeners that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel of worship. The Orthodox Church has an unbroken continuity of worship practice and understandings that are rooted in the First Century Church’s practice and Apostolic direction.