The Audible Recitation of Presbyteral Prayers
THE AUDIBLE READING OF THE PRESBYTERAL PRAYERS
1. It must be affirmed first that the restoration of the public recitation of the presbyteral prayers was a natural consequence of the translation of the Liturgy into the vernacular. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Liturgy transitioned into the vernacular, so that by the end of the century only some hymns were occasionally chanted in Church Slavonic. The passage into the vernacular was traumatic for some at the time, but it has probably saved the Church from becoming an ethnic museum piece. The reality of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America now is its diversity. The original Slav/Hungarian population has been diluted by demographic movement and inter-marriage: 1) in each generation, the youth after receiving vocational training, moved to cities where they could find jobs. Since our numbers are small this meant stretching the population over a vast country, and making it impossible to establish or maintain communities in any but the most populous metropolitan areas. 2) Likewise, people would not remain within their own ethnicity in marriage, leading to a less Slavic population in each generation.
This was augmented further by people from different backgrounds who were attracted by the Byzantine spirituality of worship to join the Church. This has resulted in an English-speaking Church that is diverse in ethnicity, with the Slavic population forming only one part of the Church, and in many cases, a minority of the population. It may be noted that the experience of the Ukrainian Church has been entirely different, as ethnicity is still considered the essential identity of the Church. Even among those of Slav origin, it must also be noted that the Liturgy was Church Slavonic was not in a vernacular language. The popular understanding of the liturgical texts was rudimentary and quite different from the spoken language. The result was that prayers said by the priest were often not articulated well, since the meaning was not understood. Fr. Robert Taft explains: “Hence, our problem is a new one, arising not only from the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, but from the use of the vernacular in modern cultures where most of the faithful are literate, have had at least some secondary schooling, and know the modern literary form of their language used in the liturgy even if they speak a dialect at home. Where that is not yet true, the whole problematic is pastorally irrelevant. One of the great figures of Vatican II, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Maximos IV Saïgh (1878-1967), urged the West to allow the vernacular in the liturgy, following the lead of the East, “where every language is, in effect, liturgical.” But that, taken literally, is flatly false. Modern Russian is not a “liturgical language” in the Christian East, nor is Demotike or Modern Greek. In Russian and Greek Orthodoxy the liturgy is celebrated in an older, now dead form of language the people no longer understand, so it makes little difference whether the prayers are said aloud or not unimportant.”
2. The bishops of the Pittsburgh Metropolia made the conscious and informed decision to restore the public recitation of most of the presbyteral prayers. In this they followed the directive of the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches § 54: “Considering that the Anaphora is a true masterpiece of mystagogical theology, it is appropriate to study the ways in which, at least in some circumstances, it could be pronounced aloud, so as to be heard by the faithful.” The Council of Hierarchs seriously considered this recommendation, and did restore the public recitation of the prayers, so a way was found to unfold this “true masterpiece of mystagogical theology.” Very few complaints have been heard from the faithful, who, if they are serious about the Liturgy, find the unfolding of the texts to perfect their liturgical spirituality. While some have pointed out that this was not mandated, the Sacred Congregation was avoiding to legislate for churches sui juris. Clearly, this option was preferred, and the practice of priestly prayers aloud was the ultimate goal for the Eastern Churches. Our bishops should be commended for their wisdom and pastoral concern in restoring this practice, which is also being done in many of the Orthodox Churches. It is being done in other Byzantine Catholic Churches. Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, commenting on the Melkite Synod, wrote: “I emphasize again, as I did last year and before, that the Anaphora must be completely chanted in a loud voice—this is a restoration of what was done but got lost over the centuries, mainly by accident and not for spiritual reasons. Certain other prayers should be prayed aloud: antiphon prayer, offering prayer, thanksgiving prayer. To chant the priestly prayers aloud is now mandatory; it is not what you like but what the Church tells you to do.” At the time of the writing of the Liturgical Instruction (1996), we must remember that this renewal was just beginning, that the Instruction was written for many various Eastern Churches, which had different anaphoral practices. (For example, in some Syrian rites, not all of the Anaphora was designated for public recitation.) Finally, the normative texts for the Eastern Catholic Churches were in Church Slavonic or koine Greek, which were not vernacular tongues, and hence would not have been easily understood by the faithful. Fr. Robert Taft again explains, “our problem is a new one, arising not only from the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, but from the use of the vernacular in modern cultures where most of the faithful are literate, have had at least some secondary schooling, and know the modern literary form of their language used in the liturgy even if they speak a dialect at home.” Since clearly the average faithful is able to understand the vernacular anaphora, this “true masterpiece” should not be hidden from them.
The bishops were able to make this decision with no change in the actual rubrics in the liturgical books. In the Slavonic tradition, the word taino (Greek, mysticos, English, “quietly”) does not appear explicitly for any of the prayers, except for a few words between the two formulas of the Prayers of Institution. Trembelas points out in his article that the rubric mysticos does not appear until the eleventh century, and is then used sparsely. He continues, “The word mysticos is not found in the printed liturgical books except as a weak support in certain codices, so that the majority ignore it completely.” The sparse use of this rubric is a witness to the normative practice that the prayers were to be said aloud.
3. The catechetical or, as the Liturgical Instruction says, the mystagogical value of the prayers cannot be underestimated. Mystagogy is catechesis of the baptized, and through the anaphora of the Liturgy and the other presbyteral prayers the faithful learn the true content of the Paschal mystery of our faith. Our faithful do need catechesis, and the reality is that knowledge of the faith, for most people, will come from their attendance at the Liturgy. The proposal that the faithful be instructed in adult classes outside the Liturgy ignores the pastoral reality that less than a third of the people who regularly attend liturgy will come to an adult class. They will learn the faith by participating more fully in the Liturgy.
4. Some have complained that the public recitation of the priestly prayer compromises the mystery. The common definition of “mystery” is “something hidden.” The Christian Gospel turns this upside down, as St. Paul writes, “I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)” The recitation of the priestly prayers, particularly the anaphora, is the revelation of the Paschal mystery to the faithful. The very revelation of God’s plan (economia) deepens the mystery, for in it we see God bringing wisdom out of the foolishness of the cross, strength out of weakness and life out of death. In hearing this good news proclaimed in our worship, we come to a deeper knowledge of God’s providence, which transforms our life and the way we act. The Liturgy consists of prayer, of hymns of praise, of the reading of God’s word and of petition (the litanies). To make the prayers silent is not “mystery,” but “obscurantism,” removing an essential component of the Liturgy from the consciousness of the faithful and restricting it to an elite. To think that we, as human beings, must put mystery into our worship by hiding the message is a form of hubris. Fr. Taft states strongly and clearly, “Such a view, of course, may meet with resistance from self-appointed “preservers of the mystery,” for whom secrecy was a necessary adjunct to the mystery nature of the anaphora. That view is both historically false and theologically untenable. Long after all the prayers have been heard and studied, and all the theologians have had their say, the divine mysteries remain mysteries because of their very nature, and not because we seek to make them unintelligible by hiding them under a camouflage of silence!” In the modern situation of a vernacular Liturgy, to suppress the public recitation of the presbyteral prayers would reduce the people’s participation to a series of relatively unconnected hymns.
5. The objection may be made that mystery is a manifestation of the “disciplina arcana” of the Church, where certain mysteries were kept hidden from the catechumens until they were baptized. The rationale here, however, is exactly the opposite. The mysteries were kept hidden from the “learners” until they experienced them to show that the practice of the faith was not entirely intellectual, and to heighten their reverence for the mysteries when they were revealed. Here we are speaking here not of the “learners,” but of those who have been baptized and thus entered into the mystery, for them the economia of God is fully revealed.
6. Another objection that is sometimes raised is that the public recitation of the priestly prayer is a “romanization.” Both the East and the West kept the prayers hidden until the Second Vatican Council, when, to foster the fuller participation of the faithful, the prayers of the Roman Liturgy began to be said aloud. This objection, however, is simply untrue. An article written by the Greek Orthodox theologian Pangiotis Trembelas in 1955 reveals that this question was indeed being raised by Orthodox theologians long before the Vatican Council. There is no doubt that for many centuries the prayers of the priest have been said silently, either during a hymn of the Liturgy or when the deacon says a litany. Have we been doing it wrong for so many centuries? The answer is, of course, not entirely. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the priest has been saying the words of commemoration. All the centuries have seen a valid Liturgy in which Christ transforms us through the sacrificial presence of his holy Body and Blood. But why do we ask the question now? The reality is that the question has been asked many times in tradition, but with special urgency now that the people can again understand the words of the Liturgy in the vernacular. For many years now, there has been a movement to restore the presbyteral prayers. The kollyvades, a movement on Mt. Athos, said the anaphora aloud in the eighteenth century. Mojzes, in his recent book Il movimento liturgico nelle chiese bizantine (Rome 2005, 112-123) describes the movement towards the public recitation of the Anaphora in the Russian Church from 1905, as preparation for the Synod of 1917. Bishops Nazarius of Nižnij-Novgorod and Sergius of Finland supported the proposal, along with theologians A, P. Golubtsov and V.I. Eksemplarskij and others. He quotes Tikhon, the future Patriarch, on page 112, “it is not undesirable to read some of the prayers aloud.” This proposal was also very active in the Greek Church. The Zoe (“Life”) movement dominated Greek liturgy life for almost fifty years (1907-1960) and proposed the public recitation of the anaphora. (cf. Mojzes 159-162) The proposal has not faded since. In Greece today, the Major Archbishop Christodoulos founded the Special Synodical Committee on Liturgical Rebirth. Among its first recommendations (Encyclical 2784, March 31, 2004) was the public recitation of the prayers, “In order to restore the Eucharist as a vital dialogue of life and love between God and His people, Celebrators, Bishops and Presbyters, are advised to read most of the Priestly Prayers of the Holy Eucharist with audible voice, so that the participation of the faithful in all that takes place is made possible, so that by hearing the Prayers they can actually pray through them, and reply ‘Amen’, consciously and willingly.” (Pavlos Koumarianos, Liturgical Rebirth in the Church of Greece Today, p. 4)
7. I have focused on the key program of renewal in the Divine Liturgy – the restoration of the audible recitation of the presbyteral prayers. This renewal certainly increases the people’s understanding and participation in the Divine Liturgy. It gives meaning to their “Amen,” the seal they place on the prayer of the priest by opening to them the meaning of the prayer to which they are assenting. This is the direction that the Spirit is leading the Church, as in the Vatican II Council, in the decree on the Liturgy, “the Church “earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 48, cited in the Liturgical Instruction 55.) This has always been the authentic consciousness of the church, as we see in the Emperor Justinian’s Novella, “This is confirmed for the patriarchate of Constantinople by Novella 167 of emperor Justinian I (527-565), dated AD 565, which legislates: “Moreover, we order all bishops and presbyters to say the prayers used in the the divine oblation and holy baptism not inaudibly, but in a voice that can be be heard by the faithful people, so that the souls of those who listen may be moved to greater compunction and raise up glorification to the Lord God…”
8. One of the wonderful results of the reading of the Anaphora aloud is that it answers two questions, if we indeed have been listening. Before the prayers were said aloud, the priest would suddenly intone, “Singing, shouting crying aloud and saying the triumphal hymn.” This left the listener with two questions: 1) who were “singing, shouting, crying aloud and saying,” and 2) why were they singing, shouting, crying aloud and saying?” The answers, of course were that the heavenly powers were “singing, shouting, crying aloud and saying,” and they were doing so because we were glorifying God, the Creator and Redeemer, who “loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have life everlasting.” The second question came later when the priest would suddenly intone “Especially for our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary,” leaving us to ask the question” “What is especially for the Theotokos?” The answer is the offering of the spiritual sacrifice, in which the Divine Liturgy makes present again the real sacrifice of our Lord for the life of the world.
9. For too long priests in reality abandoned their own role in the liturgy, to take up the deacon’s role. They said the prayers proper to their office silently and the deacon’s office publicly. The translation of the Liturgy into the vernacular and the restoration of the order of deacon forced that situation to change. Priests again have to learn to be good proclaimers. The people’s hymns are a worthy part of the Liturgy, for our spiritual worship is the giving of glory to God. The deacon’s petitions are also a worthy part of the Liturgy, for our total dependence on God for “every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)” is also a part of our true religion. It is the prayers said by the priest in the people’s name, however, that bring us into the very center of the mystery. Here we stand before God, the Creator, “who has brought us from non-existence into being.” If these prayers reflect the truth of our relationship with God, then here, in this Liturgy, God, “does not turn away from his creatures, nor “does he not forget the work of his hands,” but he “raises us up when we had fallen, and has left nothing undone until he brings us to heaven and gives us the kingdom to come.” Here we are swept up into a host of thousands of archangels and tens of thousands of angels, cherubim and seraphim.” Today God loves the world with such intensity that he send his only Son, “so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have life everlasting.” As we hear this prayer, echoing through the centuries, we sit with Christ at the mystical table, we recognize him in the bread and cup as did the disciples at Emmaus. Here the Holy Spirit begins to deify us, transforming our lives in a synergy with the divine, in a wind and fire that Chrysostom proclaims, “The priest stands, bringing down not fire, but the Holy Spirit; and he offers prayer at length, not that a fire may be kindled above and destroy the offering (1 Kings 18:34), but that grace may fall on the sacrifice through that prayer, and kindle the souls of all.”19 Like Job God answers us out of a whirlwind, and our prayer responds to the mystery, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be hindered … I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. (Job 42:1.3)”
10. I have been focusing on the reasons that the presbyteral prayers should be read aloud for the hearing of the people. However, there is some resistance to this principle. I see three problems which affect the practice:
1) There is a mentality-ideology that the content of the faith is less important than the fact of faith itself and the way that we express it through categories of beauty;
2) There is a mentality-ideology that the Liturgy partakes of the eternity of faith, and that any change in its practice will weaken that faith;
3) There are practical difficulties with the execution of the reading of the prayers.
11. In regard to 1). There is a mentality that the fact of faith is important, but that the content is not important. In this case, the execution of the Liturgy becomes more important than the words we use. It’s how we do the Liturgy – what are the proper rubrics, how do we execute the proper melodies or hit the right notes. The beauty of the Liturgy becomes a priority over its understanding. In this case, whether the people actually hear the words of the Liturgy is less important than that we be moved by its beauty. The goal of religion as such has always been access to esoteric knowledge of the reality of what exists – to mystery, one might say. The impulse toward gnosticism is very strong, exalted knowledge is for the elite. As a religion, Christianity also claims to answer ultimate questions – but it is not a “mystery religion” like others. St. Paul tells us, “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past … has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)” St. John tells us, “you have the anointing that comes from the holy one, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:20)” For us the mystery is clear, and it is expressed in words from the Word of God, in the foolishness of the cross, there is wisdom, in the weakness of love for one another, there is strength, in death there is life, for as Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25 et al.)” In the Divine Liturgy, in both the Anaphoras of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, we proclaim this mystery in perfect clarity, it is not to be hidden by obscurantism, or restricted to an elite by clericalism. Moreover, in the very proclamation of the mystery in perfect clarity, the depth of the true mystery becomes manifest. This is why the Anaphora must be proclaimed.
At the same time, our past history is complicated. We know that the truth of the faith is not relative, it is expressed in words, and we have fought bitterly over how to express the faith. We have accused those in err of heresy, and have often punished them. Yet at the same time, the proclamation of the mystery in the Liturgy has become less and less important. The Liturgy became couched in sacred language, known only to an elite. The beauty of execution has become dominant over understanding. I’ve seen this over and over again. Often when I attend a Liturgy, I put the book aside and only listen to the hymns. More than half the time, I cannot understand what is being said, because the singer is more interested in hitting the notes correctly than in enunciating the words. This is true not only in the Byzantine rite, but in all religious expression. Execution is the important value and precedes enunciation. This is, of course, complicated. We want a beautiful Liturgy, and my whole professional career has been built on properly celebrating – beautifully performing – the Liturgy, but I say now, that the proper articulation of the text must be the first priority in execution. We need the prayers to be said clearly and understood as well as our human minds are able. In the mid-twentieth century, a very important change took place. In the Orthodox and Catholic worlds, the value of understanding the Liturgy emerged, and there was a turn to the vernacular. Once the Liturgy was in an understandable language, it was inevitable that the proper articulation of the priest’s prayers, particularly the Anaphora, would arise. This is recognized by many who see the value of our liturgical renewal today, though many fought the vernacular and many still do. Many times, people born in America and speaking colloquial English have told me, “I don’t understand the Liturgy in English.” They don’t mean that, what they mean is “I don’t understand why the Liturgy should be in English.” In response to my posts on Facebook, one man even told me that we laypeople really don’t want to hear the prayers. There is a story – probably an “urban myth” of a man in Eastern Pennsylvania who left the Church when he first heard the Creed in English, saying, “I don’t believe that.” Over my fifty years as a priest, people have often told me that it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you have faith in something. This is what I mean by a mentality that does not value the content of faith – for them certainly the words of the prayers become unimportant. But does this not mean then that we really don’t believe the mystery. In 1957, the Liturgy began to be celebrated in English at my home parish, St. Eugene’s. My old and wise grandmother, who didn’t know English that well, welcomed this. She said, “The young people need to know what the Liturgy says.” To my grandmother, I respond, “Amen!” “Let it be so!” We need this today, we need to know what our faith is telling us, both intellectually and in our hearts.
12. 2) There is a mentality-ideology that the Liturgy partakes of the eternity of faith, and that any change in its practice will weaken that faith.
Number 2 deals with the mentality of liturgical change. The celebration of the Liturgy is one of the most important things we do in life, and so it is one of the things we are most reluctant to change. We say, with Hebrews, that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8)” We have the tendency, therefore, to sometimes conceptualize the Liturgy as it was in our youth as the way it has always been and as sanctioned, if not revealed, by God. The Liturgy in the Roman Church became very rigid after the Council of Trent, because the Catholic Church dug in its heels against the Protestant reformers, particularly the introduction of the vernacular. A similar thing has happened in Russia. In the mid-17th century, the Russian Patriarch Nicon reformed the Liturgy to be more in step with Constantinople, which caused a major – and sometimes violent – reaction from the group now known as the “old Believers.” In reaction, the Liturgy in Russia froze, while some changes were introduced in Greece. Today in both Greece and Russia there is agitation to put the Liturgy in colloquial Russian and demotic Greek, but this has so far been resisted by the authorities. Change is always difficult. When the Roman Church reformed the Liturgy following Vatican II, I think the majority felt it was necessary for the times, but others have strongly resisted and blame all the problems of the Church on liturgical change. In the Eastern Church, then, therefore, there are those who resist any change, feeling that it will open the door to devastating change. However, Vatican II did observe that the Church is always in need of reform, and the truth is that the Liturgy has changed in the last two generations, sometimes for the better, in the re-introduction of the vernacular and the public recitation of the presbyteral prayers, and the elimination of latinizations. Where it has gotten worse is in the general area of the lowering of religious knowledge and training among the population. This does not imply that up to now, we’ve been doing it all wrong, because the reality is that the Church has always responded to the needs of the time. Today we need a better participation of the people in the Liturgy, we need the people to hear the mystery of our faith. In this, I quote again Father Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Professor emeritus of Liturgy of Holy Cross Hellenic College in his recent book, The Liturgy in Dialogue (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2018), page 103:
“The fundamental aim of both renewal and reform is to help the Church maintain the vibrancy and the beauty of the liturgy, as well as its dynamic, logical, and spiritual character, so that the people of God, clergy and laity alike, may be drawn into the mystery of salvation and behold and experience the love, the righteousness, and the glory of God.
The ultimate purpose of liturgical renewal and reform, aided by effective catechesis, is to produce good, spiritual worship (… Romans 12:1). Good liturgy glorifies God and sanctifies those who glorify him. Good liturgy, good catechesis, and good preaching make it possible for the people to be more active and more conscious participants in worship so that they are better able to extract and absorb the doctrinal, ethical, and devotional riches of the liturgy and apply them to their everyday lives and experiences.”
13. 3) There are practical difficulties with the execution of the reading of the prayers.
The third problem is practical difficulties in the reading of the prayers. In the 1950’s, when our Church made the decision to go into the vernacular, there was a trauma for many of our clergy. They were taught to celebrate the Liturgy in a dead language, Church Slavonic. When I was in the seminary we were taught the Cyrillic alphabet in which the liturgical books were written. We were explicitly told, “Don’t worry about what you are saying, just learn to pronounce the characters (reasonably) correctly.” The faithful, in general, couldn’t read Cyrillic, and if you look at all the prayer books they had in Slavonic, the alphabet was transcribed in Latin letters. Since we didn’t understand what we were saying, the simple execution of the prayers was the norm, sometimes as quickly as possible. The faithful didn’t mind either, just so it was in “our beautiful Slavonic tongue.” Of course, when the Liturgy moved into the vernacular, we realized that we had never been taught enunciation. Priests really had a hard time making the transition, and they often continued to pray as swiftly as possible with little concern for clarity. Of course, now, after fifty years, the situation has changed. The inevitable result was that the prayers began to be read aloud, but very often the execution was poor. Even today, some priests simply are not skilled in public reading, and the prayers are droned or enunciated unclearly. This gives people a poor experience of the Liturgy.
We also have a shortage of clergy, so many priests are imported from abroad, and English is not their first language. Many certainly have very excellent language skills, but for some it is difficult and unpleasant to hear them. I remark here very explicitly that I do not in any way resent our fellow clergy from Slovakia or Ukraine, and I welcome them to our community and I admire their willingness to be of service to our people. However, I am pointing out practical difficulties that can limit their pastoral work. Even outside of the Liturgy, to pastorally counsel faithful can be very difficult and even native English speakers can find it difficult to pick up nuances and hidden meanings in someone’s narrative.
What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t simply tell priests – now read, without some awareness or program to help them read in the best possible way.
14. It was probably inevitable that the question of the presbyteral prayers should arise when the Divine Liturgy was translated into the vernacular. This was already a significant question as early as 1964, when Ouspensky noted: “Certainly the secret reading of prayers hinders the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy. All liturgical worship, and in particular its highest expression, the Eucharistic Canon, is the prayer of the whole Church, the whole congregation, the ecclesia, including both clergy and laity. In the secret reading of the prayers the people are allowed to hear only fragmentary exclamations torn out of context: ‘Let us give thanks unto the Lord . . .’ ‘. . . singing, crying out, calling aloud and saying the hymn of triumph . . ‘ ‘Take, eat . . .’ ‘Thine own of thine own . . .’ etc. In this sense worshipers are deprived of the most essential part in the Liturgy, and it then slips beyond their understanding, its structure becomes incomprehensible, and the restoration of vocal prayer seems quite necessary. Everybody seems to agree with that.” As Ouspensky points out, once people could understand the basic words, they realized they were hearing only “fragmentary exclamations torn out of context.” Taft also notes that there is no doubt that the prayers were originally said aloud.
This certainly is the only logical conclusion if the prayers were improvised. It was the way the faith was expressed and grew in worship, the primary theological source. Bouley observes,
“To a very great extent it was in their worship gatherings and in their celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that Christians came gradually to a deeper understanding of the meaning of Jesus, of his promised Spirit and of themselves as the people of the new dispensation. Prayer, like preaching and instruction, not only led to new insights, but it was also the vehicle of their expression.”
Taft also notes that in the early centuries, everyone always read aloud. In the Acts of the Apostles, Phillip hears the Ethiopian eunuch reading from the prophecy of Isaiah in his chariot. How would he know this unless he was reading aloud. The first record of “silent reading” was by Augustine, who said of the Archbishop Ambrose, “When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still … we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”
From this, we may conclude that the prayers of the liturgy were said aloud until the fifth century as a matter of fact.
15. Why, indeed, did the prayers become silent? Grisbrooke7 and Taft both report that the silent recitation began in Syria at the end of the fifth century. Here the liturgical commentator Narsai writes, “The bright(-robed) priest, the tongue of the Church, opens his mouth and speaks with God as a familiar.” Grisbrooke gives a reason, “The custom appears to have arisen from the desire to express and evoke an attitude towards the eucharistic mystery of awe and fear.” He later judges that “the silent recitation of the eucharistic prayer is undoubtedly a corrupt practice … This need (i.e. for silence and for its psychological fruits in worship) should, however, be provided for in other ways.” This reason is often advanced today by those who wish to keep the prayers silent. This is often extended to the character of the priesthood. The prayers, they say, are a part of the mystery and belong to the priesthood. The priest alone should say them. Taft disagrees with this position, “Today most Christians would agree that since the liturgy is for everyone, not just for a professional coterie of clergy, all the baptized have the right to hear and make their own the liturgy’s holy words.” I would go a step further. Yes, it can be admitted that the prayers of the Liturgy are “priestly” prayers, but the fact is that the whole community is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. (1 Peter 2:9)” It is only reasonable that the congregation, which “seals” the prayers said by the presbyter with its “Amen,” should hear the words they are affirming. Today, the church teaching on the general priesthood and the ministerial priesthood is common to both Catholic and Orthodox. The Second Vatican Council was quite clear on this, “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchial priesthood are none the less ordered one to another; each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.” One of these differences, manifested by the liturgical practice of the Church, is that the ministerial priest (the presbyter) reads the prayers publicly in the name of the community, and the people (the common priesthood) listen and affirm them with their “Amen.” St. John Chrysostom is quite eloquent on this point: “One sees that the people contribute much to the prayer…during the fearful mysteries, the priest speaks for the people, and the people speak on behalf of the priest, as can be seen from these words, ‘And with your spirit.’ The prayer of thanksgiving is again a common prayer offered by the priest and by all the people. The priest begins, and the people join him and respond that it is just and right to praise God: this is the beginning of the thanksgiving. Why are you surprised if the people mix their voice with that of the priest? Do you not know that these holy hymns rise to the heavens, where they mixed with those of the angels, the cherubim and the heavenly powers?”
Though I have found no direct evidence, I think there could have been other reasons for the prayers becoming silent. Perhaps one factor was the slow change in the nature of the vernacular language. The scriptural texts and liturgical prayers, however, would not have changed. They were written in a sacred language. How could the original of scripture be modified? It would be a betrayal of the word of God. Prayers would likewise be almost as conservative, for some were attributed to the apostles, and others to Fathers whose authority could not be challenged. As time went on, of course, even prayers that were composed later were written in a very classic style. We see this same conservatism even today. For many Bible Christians, the King James translation cannot be touched. It is seen as virtually inspired by God, and written in what is explicitly called a hieratic language. As The Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, recently rejected proposals to translate the Liturgy into modern Russian, stating that, however difficult it may be, the people could still understand Church Slavonic. As the prayers became more and more unintelligible to the common populace, their public recitation would have become less and less important.
16. It is remarkable that throughout the history of the Byzantine Church, there was an explicit awareness of the importance of the priest’s prayers. Taft observes that “in the Early and Late Antique Church one finds scant evidence that anyone was much concerned with how much of the service the congregation could or could not see or hear or participate in …, “13 but I would put a different spin on this. We do see an explicit concern, rarely attested to, to be sure, but constant, that people do hear the prayers. Therefore, in a time when silent praying must have been spreading, Justinian in his Novella 167, in 565, prescribes, “we order all bishops and presbyters to say the prayers used in the divine oblation and holy baptism not inaudibly, but in a voice that can be heard by the faithful people, so that the souls of those who listen may be moved to greater compunction and raise up glorification to the Lord God.”14 Five hundred years later, we see the same concern expressed, even more clearly, in the liturgical commentary entitled the Protheoria. The prayers are being “whispered softly” by the bishop, and the people ask what the aim of this practice is, adding that to know the prayers this way is like trying to know a garment from touching the fringes.15 And after a few centuries more, Trembelas invokes the opinions of the kollyvades, a reform movement on Mt. Athos from the eighteenth century, who also held for the public recitation of the presbyteral prayers, though by that time liturgical Greek was certainly no longer the vernacular.16 I think such explicit testimony from such different eras points to a consciousness of the importance of these prayers.
17. One might divide the Divine Liturgy into a symphony of three parts: the prayers presented by the bishop or presbyter; the litanies, the prayer petitions proposed by the deacon, and the hymns of glorification offered by the people. In the course of history, one of these elements has become mute: the prayers of the priest. We might better call them the prayers of the priestly people, for the congregation is expected to ratify them by their “Amen,” the seal of the prayer. How, indeed, can the people assent to these prayers without hearing them. One might object that the prayers are too difficult for the people to understand and just add time to the Liturgy. I simply do not accept this. They may be too difficult for some people, but most of the congregation is sufficiently intelligent to understand them, and their language is no more difficult than many of the Scripture readings or hymns, or perhaps even the homilies. I may offer an anecdote. I have become accustomed to proclaiming the presbyteral prayers aloud, and in one of my parishes one Sunday, my eyes skipped a whole phrase of one of the prayers. Immediately after the Liturgy, one of the servers, a high school student, asked me why I had skipped those words, and cited them to me out of memory, a modern reflection of John Moschos’ observation from around 600 ad, that a group of boys had memorized the anaphora from hearing it said aloud. Obviously, these prayers impress many people and I agree entirely with Father Taft that their public recitation adds to and does not detract from the mystery, “Long after all the prayers have been heard and studied, and all the theologians have had their say, the divine mysteries remain mysteries because of their very nature, and not because we seek to make them unintelligible by hiding them under a camouflage of silence!”
18. For too long now priests have in reality abandoned their own role in the liturgy, to take up the deacon’s role. They say the prayers proper to their office silently and the deacon’s office publicly. The translation of the Liturgy into the vernacular and the restoration of the order of deacon will force that situation to change, though some will surely resist. Priests will again have to learn to be good proclaimers. The people’s hymns are a worthy part of the Liturgy, for our spiritual worship is the giving of glory to God. The deacon’s petitions are also a worthy part of the Liturgy, for our total dependence on God for “every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)” is also a part of our true religion. It is the prayers said by the priest in the people’s name, however, that bring us into the very center of the mystery. Here we stand before God, the Creator, “who has brought us from non-existence into being.” If these prayers reflect the truth of our relationship with God, then here, in this Liturgy, God, “does not turn away from his creatures, nor “does he not forget the work of his hands,” but he “raises us up when we had fallen, and has left nothing undone until he brings us to heaven and gives us the kingdom to come.” Here we are swept up into a host of thousands of archangels and tens of thousands of angels, cherubim and seraphim.” Today God loves the world with such intensity that he send his only Son, “so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have life everlasting.” As we hear this prayer, echoing through the centuries, we sit with Christ at the mystical table, we recognize him in the bread and cup as did the disciples at Emmaus. Here the Holy Spirit begins to deify us, transforming our lives in a synergy with the divine, in a wind and fire that Chrysostom proclaims, “The priest stands, bringing down not fire, but the Holy Spirit; and he offers prayer at length, not that a fire may be kindled above and destroy the offering (1 Kings 18:34), but that grace may fall on the sacrifice through that prayer, and kindle the souls of all.” Like Job God answers us out of a whirlwind, and our prayer responds to the mystery, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be hindered … I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. (Job 42:1.3)”
19. I can believe there can be no reform, nor even a whisper of a reform of the Liturgy, without the restoration of the presbyteral prayers for the whole community. The Second Vatican Council has called our Church to a rediscovery of its tradition, and in all the Churches of the East, Orthodox and Catholic, that use the vernacular, the presbyteral prayers are being restored for public hearing. In the Council, the Church was proclaimed to be always in need of reform. “The Church … at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” Thomas Potts wrote a book recently on liturgical reform in the Byzantine Church. He defines reform as “the idea of a free effort, intentional and always perfectible, multiple, prolonged and always repeated which one does to reaffirm and augment pre-existing values in the spiritual-material order of the world.” What is important is that reform is not a new creation, it is the restoration of a pre-existing value. Reform is to be distinguished from spontaneous evolution, it is instead an active and reflective human intervention. Potts notes that “the nature of the liturgy and the mechanism of its transmission confers a great conservatism upon its forms. At certain moments its evolution can follow a path which does not originate in the synergy between faith and human identity, but the sinful nature of humanity which takes over that which is done in liturgy.” When this happens, an active and reflexive intervention made be needed to restore the liturgy to its authentic task.
20. The Council of Hierarchs of the Pittsburgh Metropolia made the decision, confirming the provisional translation of the Eparchy of Parma in 1987 and of Passaic in 1997 and the recommendations of the Inter-eparchial Liturgy Commission, to mandate the public recitation of most of the presbyteral prayers of the Divine Liturgy. This included the Prayer of the First Antiphon; the Prayer of Offering (better styled as the prayer of Access to the Holy Table); the Anaphora itself, except for the commemorations said during the chanting of the Hymn to the Mother of God, the Prayers before the Our Father, the Prayer of the Bowing of Heads, and the Prayer of Thanksgiving. In his article for the Question Box, published in the Eastern Churches Journal, Taft notes24 “the prayers to be said aloud should include the anaphora and those others that mark the pristine structure of the liturgy and define the meaning of its respective liturgical units, but exclude those that are later duplications of the early prayers fulfilling that function, or are private devotional prayers of the priest … “ For the record, by his criteria, prayers that may be said aloud, but which have not been included in the list above are the Prayer of the Second Antiphon, the Prayer of the Trisagion, the Second Prayer of the Faithful25, the remainder of the anaphoral commemorations. Prayers that were intended for private recitation are: the Prayer of the Third Antiphon, the Prayer before the Gospel, the First Prayer of the Faithful, the Prayer of the Cherubicon, the Prayer before “Holy Gifts …,” and the Prayer of the Consuming of the Gifts. The Ambon Prayer, of course, has always been said aloud. The system proposed by the Council of Hierarchs has been approved by the Sacred Congregation for Oriental Churches and corresponds to the practices of most Catholic and Orthodox Churches today that use the vernacular in the Liturgy.
21. “In the case of the Eucharist or Divine Liturgy, the crucial word accompanying the liturgical action is the anaphora, or main prayer of the Eucharist recited by the presiding priest or bishop at every Divine Liturgy, recounting all the salvific works of the Son of God, according to the will of the Father, in the Holy Spirit, throughout the ages. This prayer is not audible to the congregation in most Orthodox churches, in perplexing defiance of the Apostle Paul’s insistence on intelligibility in Christian worship, because in our churches the celebrant reads the prayer silently within the altar room or sanctuary. For this reason, a large part of our liturgical remembrance—the all-important-word part—falls through the cracks. And yet it is there to remind us—all of us—of the mysteries of our salvation through Christ. It is not there to remind just the celebrating priest of these things and certainly not to remind God of his salvific works. It is there for us who “do this in remembrance of him.”
Sister Vassa Larin, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 61:1-2 (2016), pp 230-231
22. “Liturgical renewal safeguards against abuses of liturgical practice and allows for the correction of erroneous liturgical practices that have found their way into the liturgical books. The secret or silent recitation of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy by the celebrant has long been a tradition; however, liturgical scholars have strongly challenged its use. This practice has led to some very significant abuses; for example, I have witnessed celebrants skimming through or mumbling the prayers, or even skipping the prayers instead of reading them, only chanting the ecphonesis (the doxological conclusion) of each! But even if all the prayers were to be properly read silently, two significant consequences would ensue: the dramatic elongation of chanted elements and responses and the mobility of prayers within the Divine Liturgy. In the first case, longer and thus more difficult chants inhibit the participation of the congregation in the responses; in the second case, prayers are read out of their sequence and in isolation from their proper place and context within the Divine Liturgy. In this way the structure of the Divine Liturgy and of each particular prayer is not respected, as the prayer is separated from its doxological conclusion, the ecphonesis. What is even more striking is that this theological and structural abuse of the Divine Liturgy found its way into printed editions, thus codifying and mainstreaming a clearly erroneous practice stemming from the secret or silent recitation of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy.”
Stephanos Alexopoulos, “Liturgical Renewal in the Church of Greece: Past, Present, Future?” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 61 (2016), 215-216
THE ANAPHORA: TRANSLATION ISSUES
23. “Offering you your own from your own. Always and Everywhere.”
The 2006 translation differs great from the 1965 Liturgicon. This phrase, one of the most ancient in the Liturgy, is left unspecific, because it intentionally has many layers of meaning. First, elevating in a sign of offering the gifts of bread and wine, we offer to God his own creation (wheat and grapes) which have been transformed into bread and wine by human labor, but the intelligence and bodies used for this transformation are also God’s own creation. We offer to God, therefore, what he has given us. The gifts, moreover, become the body and blood of Christ in the anaphora. We offer to God, then, his own Son, who has given us this liturgical, unbloody sacrifice so that he may be distributed to us in Holy Communion. Since we have entered the Body of Christ, which is the Church, by baptism and Communion, we, in turn, offer ourselves to God as now “God’s own people.” (Cf. Romans 12:1-3).
Louis Ligier, S.J. has shown that “in behalf of all and for all,” actually means “always and everywhere,” which phrase was attached not to “Offering you…,” but to the hymn that follows, “we praise you, we bless you….” In most Syrian rites, it is still attached to the hymn. His explanation of the translation is:
“Our formula however is distinguished by the use of the accusative: therefore it is to be interpreted as an adverbial locution. Then, “all” is not matter or a reason for praise, but the collateral circumstances in which God is to be praised. The prepositions kata and dia are to be given a temporal and local meaning which they admit with the accusative. A. Couturier translates them into French as “en tout temps et partout.” Then the Byzantine formula corresponds to the Latin formula of the Preface: “nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere.”
A proposed Pan-Orthodox translation also follows this explanation, translating it as “at all times and places,” without, however, attaching them to the hymn that follows. The words we sing in response: “we praise you, we bless you, we thank you, and we pray to you,” are very important. They are an integral part of the anaphora, and are the finite verbs on which the participles, “remembering” and “offering” depend.
24. “We offer you the holy Body and Blood of your Christ in this form.”
This the translation of what literally would be, “We offer you the antitypes of the Body and Blood of your Christ.” It has been pointed out, and correctly, that “antitype” does not mean “symbol,” or “figure.” The Greek word, “antitype,” means the reality from which a symbol or “type” derives. This translation expresses the concept that what we are offering is, in reality, the Body and Blood of Christ, and not a symbol of it, that is, “We offer you the Body and Blood of your Christ,” “In this form,” that is, by way of the liturgical mystery, retains the idea of “antitypos,” since “typos” can be rendered “form.” That the gifts we are in the process of offering is implied by the text of Basil, “show,” that is, reveal or manifest, by the power of the Spirit, that the bread and wine is the Body and Blood of Christ. It should be noted that the Ruthenian recension retains the integrity of the original Basil Epiclesis, other recensions have added the words, “changing them by the Holy Spirit,” in a polemic against the Roman teaching on the Words of Institution.
25. Epiclesis: The first fruit of the epiclesis is, in Greek, nepsin psyches, which translates literally as `vigilance (or sobriety) of soul. Fr. Juan Mateos was of the opinion that this was a misreading of nipsis, “washing, purification,” in Greek, since nepsis is a specialized ascetic word never found in reference to the soul. However, since that time, scholars have receded somewhat from that position. George Wagner has pointed out that Chrysostom does speak of the spiritual watchfulness and once uses the phrase nepsis psyches, which Mateos thought was a unique reading. Therefore, while Mateos’ thesis is still a possibility, Taft concludes that “it is preferable to adhere to the reading of the textus receptus. Therefore, the first fruit of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis, in the present translation, “the purification of the soul,” has been retranslated, “a spirit of vigilance.”