Fun Facts about the Liturgy of the Apostle James

Many Orthodox are aware of the existence of a special order of worship called the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James the Brother of God and the First Bishop of Jerusalem. What is this service? What are its characteristics and differences from the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great? Why did they discontinue it in the East and when did it begin to return to the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church?

It was believed that the Liturgy was composed by the Apostle James based on the words of the Lord, but this version is a relatively recent legend that contradicts historical facts known to both ancient canonists and modern scholars (PG. 138. Col. 953; Leroy, 1962), so the service bears the name of the Apostle James somewhat figuratively, as it does not trace its origin directly to the Apostle of the Seventy but to the Jerusalem congregation of the fourth century, whose first bishop had been James. Many Churches looked up to the liturgical practice of Jerusalem. Following the Arab conquest of Palestine, Christians migrated to other countries and brought their own liturgical customs. That was how the Liturgy of the Apostle James spread to places as wide apart as southern Italy and Georgia (The Rev. Michael Zheltov. Liturgy of the Apostle James). Little by little, this Liturgy gave way to Byzantine anaphoras and by the 13th century it had disappeared. It was reborn in the 19th century in the Hellenic Church; the ROCOR began to practice it in the 1930s; and the Moscow Patriarchate, particularly the Leningrad Theological Schools, started to use it in the 1970s. The initiative to revive this Liturgy was spearheaded by a few archpastors who considered it expedient from the pastoral point of view, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy approved their initiative. What are its features?

Proskomedia

There is no proskomedia in the Liturgy of the Apostle James, because the proskomedia in its modern form developed only after the said service was out of use in Byzantium. However, proskomedia is an integral part of the Eucharistic worship service of the Orthodox Church, which is why the contemporary editions of the Divine Liturgy of the Apostle James prescribe that the proskomedia be performed in accordance with the established order; however, the ninth particle is taken out in honor of the Apostle James, the prayer of the offering and the dismissal are not recited, but the Gifts are simply covered with covers and veil (according to publications of St. Petersburg Theological Academy). This practice is known in the St. Petersburg Theological Academy.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

An important feature of this Eucharist is that the deacon delivers litanies facing the people. On the one hand, it underscores the important role of the faithful and their participation in the Common Cause, because the petitions of the litanies are more about inviting people to pray than the prayer itself: the deacon leads the prayer of the faithful rather than prays on their behalf. However, this practice is quite unusual, as is the sitting of the clergy facing the people in the middle of the temple on the so-called bimah during the liturgical readings. A special isolated place for the clergy in the center of the temple was known in the ancient times. Even some ancient temples, including those in Russia, have a bimah. Previously, clerics sat with the people and listened to the Scriptures, and went to the altar only at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful to perform the Eucharist, which led to the emergence of the rite of the Great Entrance. One more important difference is the readings from the Old Testament, which implies the ancient Jerusalem Lectionary.

The Liturgy of the Faithful

Prayers and, above all, the Eucharistic prayer are read out loud, not in secret or in low voice, as is most often the case at a typical Orthodox liturgy. Although the practice of “secret” reading of priestly prayers began to permeate the liturgical life of the Church quite early on – already Emperor Justinian (†  565) tried to restore the ancient norm of vocal reading of prayers – the Liturgy of the Apostle James retains the public reading of the anaphora and other prayers, “so that the souls of those who hear may be blessed with more reverence, praising and bliss” (Novel 137 by Emperor Justinian). The main distinctive feature of this Liturgy is the communion of laypeople with the Body from the Diskos and then with the Blood of Christ directly from the Chalice. It looks pretty unusual for us; we are all used to the communion spoon, but this is exactly how lay people received communion during the first eight or nine centuries.

So, this Liturgy has a number of important and interesting features that make it stand out. Despite the fact that it has been celebrated in several Local Churches since the 19th century with the blessing of church hierarchy, it is worthwhile to treat it calmly and sensibly. On the one hand, it brings some diversity to the Eucharistic life of a Christian, but on the other hand, it is a service that is not present in the Typikon. Many researchers have identified a large number of late interpolations in the text of the service, so it is not a matter of celebrating an ancient liturgy in its purest form, but an artificial attempt to interpret the ancient rite, the official approval of which is in the hands the universal authority of the Church.

John Nichiporuk

About the author

John Nichiporuk,
Master of Theology specializing in Biblical Studies; a member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team

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