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Author Topic: Questions about the history of the Liturgy  (Read 1419 times) Average Rating: 0
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GregoryLA
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« on: October 01, 2009, 11:46:58 PM »

I've been reading up on the history of the liturgy lately- worship in general in the early church a la the Didache, St. Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, etc.; the use of incense; vestments, etc.  But I have some questions that perhaps someone here could either answer or direct me to sources for...

-When did the unbaptized begin to be allowed to attend the Liturgy of the Faithful and why?  Are there any groups that continue to exclude the unbaptized (EO or OO or anybody else)?

Thanks in advance!  I might just use this thread as an ongoing repository for questions about the history of the liturgy as they come up.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2009, 11:47:14 PM by GregoryLA » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2009, 12:00:30 AM »

I'm going to have to do some research on this, but I think that as far as your first question goes, the allowing of non-Orthodox to stay throughout the entire Liturgy is very very recent.  In the times of the early church, the non-baptized were dismissed after the Gospel so that they could attend catechesis and also to prevent any misinformation or Roman government agents from staying and being able to collect evidence against them.  But even as the empire fell and Christianity spread throughout Europe and Asia and Africa, I believe that the exclusion continued. 

As far as who still observes this tradition of excluding the non-baptized, I think it is safe to say that the Russian churches and other old calendar jurisdictions are very observant of this (and I think with good reason) while the GOA and the Antiochians, at least here in America, allow for the non-baptized to stay because they believe it is educational and not be rude to visitors.
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« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2009, 12:15:06 AM »

Thanks for the reply scamandrius! 

Can anyone confirm from first hand experience that the Old Calendarists and the Russians still dismiss catechumens and visitors?

I'm also interested to hear from any Copts, Ethiopians and Armenians.  What is current and historical Oriental Orthodox practice?
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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2009, 12:23:33 AM »

As far as who still observes this tradition of excluding the non-baptized, I think it is safe to say that the Russian churches and other old calendar jurisdictions are very observant of this

I don't know about the actual Old Calendrists (perhaps Fr. Anastasios can enlighten us), but I think you are mistaken about the Russian churches. I have attended many ROCOR services and have never seen any more enforcement of the dismissal of the catachumens in those parishes than I have in OCA or GOA parishes. And while I've heard or read any number of criticisms of 'modernist practices' from members of ROCOR, I can't recall the non-dismissal of the unbaptized among them.

I'm not speaking from any particular research, but I think enforcement of the dismissal fell into disuse a very long time ago--probably around the time the Empire was so Christianized that most of the time you could assume that everyone in attendance was a baptized member of the Church.
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2009, 12:54:18 AM »

In the Armenian Church, at the beginning of the Eucharistic part of the liturgy, the deacon calls out:  "Let none of the catechumens, none of little faith and none of the penitents or the unclean draw near to this divine mystery."

In the old days, not only catechumens, but also those who were in a state of penance, would then have to leave the nave (I think that's the right word) and go into the narthex.  I know someone who once saw an ancient stone church in Armenia where the narthex was actually larger than the nave, since the practice of excluding the penitents used to be taken so seriously.

Excluding catechumens and penitents is no longer done today.  I can't tell you, though, when the practice fell into disuse.

As a footnote, a custom unique to the Armenians may have started because of this old practice.  If you go into an Armenian church during Lent, you'll notice that the curtain in front of the altar is closed during the entire liturgy and that no one takes Communion.  This custom is so old, no one knows for sure how it came about, but one theory has to do with the old practice of excluding catechumens.  The theory is that because the Church used to baptize catechumens at Easter, they would be allowed to stay in the nave during the entire liturgy during Lent, as a way to prepare them for worship as full members of the Church.  However, because catechumens really shouldn't be looking upon the altar, and because they can't take Communion, the curtain would be closed when they were present and Communion wouldn't be given.  (Of course if a member of the Church wants to take Communion during Lent, they really can.  It's not like there is a ban on it, or anything.  It's just not customary.)
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2009, 01:00:10 AM »


As a footnote, a custom unique to the Armenians may have started because of this old practice.  If you go into an Armenian church during Lent, you'll notice that the curtain in front of the altar is closed during the entire liturgy and that no one takes Communion.  This custom is so old, no one knows for sure how it came about, but one theory has to do with the old practice of excluding catechumens.  The theory is that because the Church used to baptize catechumens at Easter, they would be allowed to stay in the nave during the entire liturgy during Lent, as a way to prepare them for worship as full members of the Church.  However, because catechumens really shouldn't be looking upon the altar, and because they can't take Communion, the curtain would be closed when they were present and Communion wouldn't be given.  (Of course if a member of the Church wants to take Communion during Lent, they really can.  It's not like there is a ban on it, or anything.  It's just not customary.)

Regardless of whether there is a formal ban on receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord, if no one receives what is the point of serving the Liturgy?  I'm serious.  One of the reasons the reformers broke away from Rome in the west was because of private liturgies (which I know is not the same thing here) served only by the priest but if no one receives the Eucharist, shouldn't some other office such as the hours or typica be served in place? Having no one, absolutely no one receive communion, seems over the top to me.
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2009, 02:21:17 AM »

I'm going to have to do some research on this, but I think that as far as your first question goes, the allowing of non-Orthodox to stay throughout the entire Liturgy is very very recent.  In the times of the early church, the non-baptized were dismissed after the Gospel so that they could attend catechesis and also to prevent any misinformation or Roman government agents from staying and being able to collect evidence against them.  But even as the empire fell and Christianity spread throughout Europe and Asia and Africa, I believe that the exclusion continued. 

If this is true, then how were the emmiseries from Prince Volodymyr of Kiev-Rus able to witness the entire Liturgy in Hagia Sophia in 987?

Unless a milennium is "recent" to you, I think it's fair to say that it's been a while.
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« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2009, 02:26:04 AM »


As a footnote, a custom unique to the Armenians may have started because of this old practice.  If you go into an Armenian church during Lent, you'll notice that the curtain in front of the altar is closed during the entire liturgy and that no one takes Communion.  This custom is so old, no one knows for sure how it came about, but one theory has to do with the old practice of excluding catechumens.  The theory is that because the Church used to baptize catechumens at Easter, they would be allowed to stay in the nave during the entire liturgy during Lent, as a way to prepare them for worship as full members of the Church.  However, because catechumens really shouldn't be looking upon the altar, and because they can't take Communion, the curtain would be closed when they were present and Communion wouldn't be given.  (Of course if a member of the Church wants to take Communion during Lent, they really can.  It's not like there is a ban on it, or anything.  It's just not customary.)

Regardless of whether there is a formal ban on receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord, if no one receives what is the point of serving the Liturgy?  I'm serious.  One of the reasons the reformers broke away from Rome in the west was because of private liturgies (which I know is not the same thing here) served only by the priest but if no one receives the Eucharist, shouldn't some other office such as the hours or typica be served in place? Having no one, absolutely no one receive communion, seems over the top to me.

I know what you are saying, but I wouldn't call it a private liturgy and it wouldn't be accurate to say that absolutely no one receives communion.  Like I said, a layperson may commune if they want to, and I'm pretty sure the priest and deacons are communing.  It's just a custom that developed over the centuries as a way of dealing with catechumens coming into the nave during Lent.

I know that there are places in the Orthodox world where frequent communion has fallen into disuse and during most liturgies only the priests commune.  I would compare the Armenian Lenten practice more to that, than to the private liturgies you are referencing, although it's not even the same thing as the infrequent communion situation. 
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2009, 11:13:06 AM »

Thanks for the reply scamandrius! 

Can anyone confirm from first hand experience that the Old Calendarists and the Russians still dismiss catechumens and visitors?
I think it depends. I attend a Russian Orthodox Church in Italy, and since my first visit at Pascha my friend and I have been literally submerged by love. We were never expelled after the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and so weren't the other RCs present at the liturgy on that occasion.
I think the practice could still be held in the original countries due to the psychological consequence of the Soviet experience, anyway.

In Christ,   Alex
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« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2009, 02:15:28 PM »

Thanks for the reply scamandrius! 

Can anyone confirm from first hand experience that the Old Calendarists and the Russians still dismiss catechumens and visitors?

I'm also interested to hear from any Copts, Ethiopians and Armenians.  What is current and historical Oriental Orthodox practice?
In the Coptic Liturgy no one is dismissed. There is not even a remnant of any such dismissal in the Liturgy. The Deacon does ask everyone to stand and face East, but no one is dismissed.

In my experience with EO Churches, while some very traditional groups might have non-Orthodox visitors observe the Liturgy from the Narthex, I've never seen anyone asked to leave.
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« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2009, 12:28:19 AM »

It is my understanding that the practice of dismissing catechumens was done until fairly recently -- the last few hundred years.  A lot of people assume that the majority of people became Christian in the fourth century, and the practice fell into disuse after that, but paganism has never really left us, and was/is still going strong in Europe, Africa and Asia. A large percentage of people throughout Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia never abandoned the old ways. 

'pagan' was a Latin word that referred to people living in the countryside.  Christianity was an urban phenomenon for a very long time.  People in the rural areas were the last to become Christian.  Hence, old beliefs survived longer in the rural areas.   
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« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2009, 03:33:56 PM »

-When did the unbaptized begin to be allowed to attend the Liturgy of the Faithful and why? 

According to St Germanus of Constantinople (fl. 715), the dismissal of the catechumens had fallen out of use for some time. Robert Taft says that "the dismissals were an inoperative formality from at least the seventh century" (cf. R. Taft, How Liturgies Grow: The Evolution of the Byzantine 'Divine Liturgy' Orientalia Christiana Periodica (1977) pp. 368-69).

However, as St. Germanus writes, the deacon would still mount the ambo to proclaim the intercessions for the catechumens and their dismissal.

Are there any groups that continue to exclude the unbaptized (EO or OO or anybody else)?

Yes, I have been to many EO monasteries where non-Orthodox Christians were asked to leave at the dismissal of the catechumens. Mainly on Mt. Athos. On Mt. Athos, non-Orthodox are also typically not allowed in the Pronaos or Naos of the Katholikon at any time -- definitely not during divine services. Rather, they are asked to stay in the Narthex at all times (and to leave even from the Narthex during the Liturgy of the Faithful).
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« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2009, 03:47:21 PM »

As far as who still observes this tradition of excluding the non-baptized, I think it is safe to say that the Russian churches and other old calendar jurisdictions are very observant of this (and I think with good reason) while the GOA and the Antiochians, at least here in America, allow for the non-baptized to stay because they believe it is educational and not be rude to visitors.

I've never been to any Slavic parish (including ones in the Ukraine and Bulgaria, as well as OCA, MP Patriarchal, ROCOR, Bulgarian and Ukrainian parishes in the U.S.) where catechumens and/or non-Orthodox left before the Great Entrance.

However, all of these churches did (and do) continue to chant "All catechumens depart," etc. Perhaps that's what you mean? No action accompanies the words, though.
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« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2009, 01:06:22 AM »

i like how my parish does it -- for the Litany of the Catechumens the catechumens all come up to the ambo, and then they are prayed over, and then at "Catechumens depart" they depart from the ambo and go back to their normal spots.
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