>2003.01.09 OCA: BIBLE AND LITURGY
> January Article #1 - BIBLE AND LITURGY
>By Fr John Breck
>A defining characteristic of Orthodox Christianity is the intimate and
>inseparable relationship it preserves between Bible and Liturgy, between
>divine revelation as the canonical or normative source of our faith, and
>celebration of that faith in the worship of the Church. Faith, grounded in
>Scripture, determines the content of our worship; worship gives expression
>to our faith.
>This principle, once again, is expressed most succinctly in the Latin
>phrase lex orandi lex est credendi, our rule of worship is nothing other
>than our rule of belief. Our prayer is shaped by and expresses our
>theology, just as our theology is illumined and deepened by our prayer.
>In our liturgical services we praise, bless and adore the God from whom we
>receive saving grace and the gift of eternal life. Accordingly, our
>eucharistic Divine Liturgy concludes with a "Prayer before the ambon" --
>in the midst of the people -- which begins,
>"O Lord, who blessest those who bless Thee, and sanctifiest those who
>place their trust in Thee: Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.
>Preserve the fullness of Thy Church...."
>The deeper meaning of "faith" (pistis) is "trust," total and unwavering
>confidence in God's utter faithfulness towards us. In response to our
>trust, expressed through the worship by which we "bless" Him, God bestows
>upon us still further blessings. Our relationship with Him involves a
>reciprocal movement. Through worship we offer ourselves to Him, yet
>through that same worship He offers Himself to us. We "bless" Him by our
>thanksgiving, our adoration and our praise; and we are blessed by Him
>through the continual outpouring of His divine grace.
>This mutual gesture of self-giving reaches its apex in the Divine Liturgy,
>when we offer to God the fruit of the earth that He has already bestowed
>upon us, "Thine own of Thine own...." In return we receive nourishment
>from His hand in the form of "communion," which enables us actually to
>participate in His life through partaking of the Body and Blood of His
>risen and glorified Son. In the eucharistic service, we experience the
>reality and fullness of the Gospel. There above all, we are made aware of
>the vital link, the virtual unity, that exists between Bible and Liturgy,
>between the written, canonical source of our faith, and the actualization
>of that faith in the prayer of the Church.
>This intimate relation between Bible and Liturgy is evident in the Holy
>Scriptures themselves. The Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, is filled with
>liturgical hymns, the most familiar of which are the Psalms. The
>intertestamental period gave rise to an abundant hymnography, incorporated
>into canonical and non-canonical writings, including the Song of Azariah
>and the three young men (Dan 3 in the Septuagint version), the Prayer of
>Manasseh, the Hodayot or Hymn Scroll and the Songs of the Sabbath
>Sacrifice from Qumran, and the first century Psalms of Solomon.
>In the New Testament we find fragments or portions of text that were
>adapted from early Christian hymns, such as the songs of Mary, Zachariah
>and Simeon in St Luke's narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy (Lk 1-2).
>St Paul refers to "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs," difficult to
>identify but which clearly denote liturgical elements familiar to early
>Christians. Hymnic fragments seem present as well in passages such as 1
>Corinthians 15:54-55, Ephesians 5:14, Hebrews 1:1-4, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1
>Peter 2:22-24, and throughout the book of Revelation.
>Confessional or creedal hymns very likely appear in the well-known
>passages Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 2:15-19(20). And some reputable
>biblical scholars hold that the Prologue to St John's Gospel (1:1-18) was
>adapted from an early (quasi-Gnostic?) Christian hymn. However, since
>these are structured according to the literary pattern known as
>"chiasmus," it is difficult to say whether their rhythm is actually
>"hymnic," meaning that their original form was sung in liturgical services
>(many scholars hold that Phil 2, for example, was sung antiphonally in the
>worship of certain Pauline communities), or whether that rhythm derives
>from the poetic balance resulting from concentric parallelism. In either
>case, lying behind these biblical passages are very likely elements of the
>early Church's communal worship, some sung, others recited as confessions
>It is essential for us to recognize and preserve this close relationship
>that exists between the Church's canon and its liturgical tradition. What
>we confess with our lips in the form of creedal statements, what we sing
>in the form of antiphons and prokeimena (derived from the Psalter),
>stichera (e.g., verses from the Otoechos on the Lucernarium ["Lord I
>Call"] and Aposticha of Vespers), and similar liturgical elements, all
>express the deepest convictions of the heart. And those convictions derive
>directly from God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture.
>If other Christian confessions today often find themselves in a state of
>crisis, it is largely due to the fact that in their historical tradition
>this vital link between Bible and Liturgy has been severed. When this
>occurs, the inevitable result is to produce biblical studies that are
>little more than exercises in text criticism or literary analysis, and
>worship services that are practically devoid of authentic spiritual
>content. The logical outcome of this break between the Church's Scriptures
>and its worship is phenomena such as the Jesus Seminar on the one hand and
>the jazz mass on the other. A hermeneutic that is not grounded in worship
>will inevitably limit its field of interest to the "literal sense" of
>biblical passages; just as worship that does not proclaim the Gospel will
>inevitably degenerate into pious noise, void of serious content, or simply
>aim to provide a psychological "uplift," equally devoid of spiritual depth
>and transcendent purpose.
>It would be easy to fault Protestant and Catholic Christians for allowing
>this separation to develop over the years within their respective
>traditions. That would be to overlook the fact, however, that the intimate
>and reciprocal relationship between Bible and Liturgy, faith and worship,
>has been preserved in Orthodoxy not by our own doing but as a gift of
>sheer grace -- without which the Orthodox Church itself would have long
>ago disappeared under pressures of persecution and martyrdom. If
>"Orthodoxy" is truly "right worship" and "right belief," it is because it
>has been sustained as such through the ages by the Holy Spirit.
>Our task as Orthodox Christians is not to criticize and condemn those who
>have lost a sense for the vital unity that should exist between the Gospel
>and worship. It is rather to celebrate, with joy and humble gratitude, the
>gift of the God who blesses and sanctifies those who place their trust in
>Him. It is to acknowledge in the words of the apostle James, also taken up
>in the Prayer before the ambon, that "every good and perfect gift is from
>above, coming down from the Father of Lights," including faith born of the
>Gospel. Our task, then, is to express this biblical faith through the
>liturgy of the Church, and thereby to "ascribe glory, thanksgiving and
>worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and
>ever and unto ages of ages."