Divine Liturgy

Icon of Ss. Basil the Great (left) and John Chrysostom, ascribed authors of the two most frequently used Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgies, c. 1150 (mosaic in the Palatine Chapel, Palermo).

Divine Liturgy (Greek: Θεία Λειτουργία Theia Leitourgia; Bulgarian: Божествена литургия Bozhestvena liturgiya; Georgian: საღმრთო ლიტურგია saghmrto lit'urgia; Romanian: Sfânta Liturghie; Russian: Божественная литургия Bozhestvennaya liturgiya; Serbian: Света Литургија or Sveta Liturgija; Armenian: Սուրբ Պատարագ Surb Patarag;[1]) is the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine Rite which is the Rite of the The Great Church of Christ and was developed from the Antiochene Rite of Christian liturgy. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church[2] and of the Armenian Catholic Church,[3] use the same term. Some Oriental Orthodox employ the term "holy offering" (Syriac: qurbana qadisha) for their Eucharistic liturgies instead. The term is sometimes applied also to Roman Rite Eucharistic liturgies, though the term Mass is more commonly used there.

In Eastern traditions, those of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Divine Liturgy is seen as transcending time, and the world. All believers are believed to be united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with departed Saints and the celestial Angels. To this end, everything in the Liturgy is seen as symbolic, yet also not just merely symbolic, but making the unseen reality manifest. According to Eastern tradition and belief, the Liturgy's roots go back to Jewish worship and the adaptation of Jewish worship by Early Christians. This can be seen in the first parts of the Liturgy termed the "Liturgy of the Catechumens" that includes reading of scriptures and, in some places, sometimes the Sermon/Homily. The latter half was added based on the Last Supper and the first Eucharistic celebrations by Early Christians. Eastern Christians participating in the Liturgy also believe that the Eucharist is the central part of the service, as they believe it truly becomes the real Body and Blood of Christ, and through their partaking of it, they see themselves as together becoming the Body of Christ (that is, the Church). Each Liturgy has its differences from others, but most are very similar to each other with adaptations based on tradition, purpose, culture and theology.[4][5]

Byzantine Rite

There are three Divine Liturgies in the Byzantine Rite that are in common use in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholic churches:

The Hierarchical Liturgy. As numbers in a diocese increased dramatically the bishop as presiding over the Eucharistic assembly appointed presbyters as celebrant in the local community (the parish). Still, the Church is understood in Eastern Orthodoxy not in terms of the presbyter, but the diocesan bishop. When the latter is present, he is chief celebrant. Phrases and hymns are also added. The hierarch commemorates his hierarch demonstrating unity with the greater Orthodox community.


Note: Psalms are numbered according to the Greek Septuagint. For the Hebrew Masoretic numbering that is more familiar in the West, usually add '1'. (See the main Psalms article for an exact correspondence table.)

The format of Divine Liturgy is fixed, although the specific readings and hymns vary with season and feast.

While arrangements may vary from liturgy to liturgy, the Divine Liturgy always consists of three interrelated parts:

A typical celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy consists of:

Liturgy of Preparation

This part of the Liturgy is private, said only by the priest and deacon. It symbolizes the hidden years of Christ's earthly life.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

This is the public part of the Liturgy, where both catechumens and baptized faithful would be in the nave:

Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only baptised members who could receive Holy Communion were allowed to attend this portion of the Liturgy. In common contemporary practice, with very few local exceptions (e.g., Mount Athos), all may stay. However, in most places, catechumens are formally dismissed for further study.

  • First Litany of the Faithful
  • Second Litany of the Faithful
  • Cherubikon chanted by the Choir as spiritual representatives (or icons) of the angels
  • Great Entrance—procession taking the chalice and diskos (paten) from the Table of Oblation to the altar
  • Litany of Fervent Supplication—"Let us complete our prayer to the Lord"
  • The Kiss of Peace
  • Symbol of Faith (the Nicene Creed)
  • Sursum Corda ("Let us lift up our hearts..." (Greek: "Ἄνω σχῶμεν τὰς καρδίας")
  • Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer)
    • The Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy…")
    • The Eucharistic Canon, containing the Anamnesis (memorial of Christ's Incarnation, death, and Resurrection, and the Words of Institution)
    • EpiklesisCalling down the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Gifts (bread and wine) to change them into the Body and Blood of Christ
    • Commemoration of Saints and Theotokion (hymn to the Theotokos)
    • It is Truly Meet (Αξιον Εστιν) (on certain days replaced with various hymns in honer of the Mother of God)
    • Commemoration of bishop and civil authorities—"Remember, O Lord…"
  • Litany of Supplication—"Having called to remembrance all the saints…"
  • Lord's Prayer
  • Bowing of Heads
  • "Holy Things are for the Holy"
  • Communion Hymn
  • Holy Communion
  • "We have seen the true light"
  • "Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord…"
  • Litany of Thanksgiving
  • Prayer behind the Ambon
  • Psalm 33
  • Dismissal

Note that almost all texts are chanted throughout the Divine Liturgy, not only hymns but litanies, prayers, creed confession and even readings from the Bible depending on tradition. In ancient rubrics, and contemporary Greek practice, the sermon, Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer are spoken/read, rather than chanted. Slavic traditions will chant or sing everything except for the sermon.[6]

  1. The priest making the Little Entrance with the Gospel Book
  2. Priest reading the Gospel
  3. Litany of the Catechumens. The antimension is opened three-quarters of the way; the final portion will be unfolded at the petition: "That He will reveal unto them the Word of Truth."
  4. The priest and deacons reciting the Cherubic Hymn (as the choir sings it) before the Great Entrance
  5. The priest making the Great Entrance while subdeacon holds censer
  6. The priest standing at the Holy Table after the Great Entrance
  7. The faithful preparing to receive Holy Communion. In the foreground are wine and antidoron which the communicants will partake of after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ
  8. Distributing Holy Communion to the faithful
  9. The priest (in this photo, a bishop) makes the Sign of the Cross with the Gospel Book over the antimension after the latter has been folded
  10. The priest giving the dismissal with the blessing cross

Oriental Churches

The Oriental Orthodox and Oriental Catholic Churches use the term "Divine Liturgy" for their Eucharistic services, even if also other names such as Holy Qurbana and Badarak are usual in some Oriental traditions. The Oriental Churches own a richness of different liturgies, which are named after the anaphora included.

At present, the Coptic Orthodox Church and Coptic Catholic Church have three Divine Liturgies:

The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on most Sundays and contains the shortest anaphora. The Liturgy of St. Gregory is usually used during the feasts of the Church but not exclusively. In addition the clergy performing the Liturgy can combine extracts of The Liturgies of St. Cyril and St. Gregory to the more frequently used St. Basil at the discretion of the Priest or Bishop.

The Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church of the West Syrian Rite which is developed from the Antiochene Rite use a version of the Divine Liturgy of St. James which differs substantially from its Byzantine Rite counterpart, most notably in being substantially shorter (it can be completed in under two hours, whereas the historic form of the Byzantine Rite liturgy prior to the revisions of St. Basil and St. John Chrysosotom took more than four hours), and in that it can be used with more than eighty different anaphoras; the most commonly used are those of Mar Bar Salibi (which is the shortest), and that of St. James, which resembles that of the Byzantine Rite liturgy, and is mandated on certain occasions, such as major feasts, the consecration of churches, and the first liturgies offered by newly ordained priests.[7] Due to the long Isolation of the Saint Thomas Christians the Rite of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church shows some differences, so that this Rite is called the Malankara Rite.

Coptic Liturgy

The main liturgy used by the Coptic Churches is known as Liturgy of Saint Basil.[8] The term Liturgies of Saint Basil in a Coptic context means not only the sole anaphora with or without the relater prayers, but also the general order of the Divine Liturgy in the Alexandrine Rite.[9]


The Egyptian (or Coptic) anaphora of Saint Basil, even if related and using the same Antiochene (or "West Syrian") structure,[10] represents a different group from the Byzantine, West Syrian and Armenian grouping of anaphoras of Saint Basil. The Egyptian version does not derive directly from the latter and has its own peculiarities: its text is more brief, with less Scriptural and allusive enhancements, and it lacks well defined Trinitarian references,[11]:113 which are typical of other versions and reflect the theology of the First Council of Constantinople of 381.

The structure of the Bohairic Coptic version used today in the Coptic Churches can be summarized as follow:

The 7th-century Sahidic Coptic version found in 1960[12] shows an earlier and more sober form of the Bohairic text: the manuscript, incomplete in its first part, begins with the Post Sanctus, and is followed by a terse Institution narrative, by a pithy Anamnesis which simply lists the themes and ends with the oblation. The next Epiclesis consists only of the prayer to the Holy Spirit to come and manifest the gifts, without any explicit request to change the gifts in the Body and Blood of Christ. The intercessions are shorter and only Mary is named among the saints.[11]:112

Divine Liturgy

The term Liturgy of Saint Basil may refer also to the whole Eucharistic Liturgy which by the Coptic Churches has the following structure:[13][14]


Offertory (or Prothesis) is the part of the liturgy in which the Sacramental bread (qorban) and wine (abarkah) are chosen and placed on the altar. All these rites are Middle-ages developments.[15]

It begins with the dressing of the priest with vestments and the preparation of the altar, along with prayers of worthiness for the celebrant. At this point is chanted the appropriate hour of the Canonical hours, followed by the washing of the hands with its prayer of worthiness, and by the proclamation of the Nicean Creed.

Then takes place the elaborate rite of the choosing of the Lamb: while the congregation sing 41 times the Kyrie eleison, the priest checks the wine and chooses among the bread one loaf which will be consecrated (the Lamb). The Lamb is cleaned with a napkin and blessed with the priest's thumb wet of wine. Afterwards the priest takes the Lamb in procession around the altar and the deacon follows with the wine and a candle.[8] At the altar, the priest, with appropriate prayers, blesses the Lamb and the wine, places the Lamb in the Paten and pours wine and a few drops of water in the chalice (the chalice is placed in a wooden box named ark on the altar).

The last part of the offertory resembles an anaphora: after a dialogue, the priest blesses the congregation and proclaims a prayer of thanksgiving, giving thanks to God for his support to us, and asking him for a worthy participation to the liturgy. Then comes the prayer of covering, said inaudibly by the priest, which has the form of an epiclesis, asking God to show his face on the gifts, and to change them in order that the bread and wine may became the Body and Blood of Christ. This text might come from an ancient anaphora or simply be a later High Middle Ages creation.[15] The paten and the ark with inside the chalice are here covered with a veil.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

In the Liturgy of the Catechumens the readings from the New Testament are proclaimed. This portion of the Divine Liturgy was in the ancient times the beginning of the liturgy, and the only part which could be attended by the catechumens. This part is roughly equivalent to the Liturgy of the Word in the Western Rites.

It begins with a Penitential Rite in which first the priest prays inaudibly to Christ for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Son) and then all the participants kneel in front of the altar and the celebrant, or the bishop if present, recites a prayer of absolution (The Absolution to the Ministers).

The reading from the Pauline epistles is preceded by the offering of incense at the four sides of the altar, at the iconostasis, at the book of the Gospel and at the faithfuls in the nave; in the meantime the faithful sing a hymn to Mary and a hymn of intercession. The Pauline epistle is followed by a reading from the Catholic epistles, and by one from the Acts of the Apostles. Another offering of incense is conduced (the Praxis Incense), similar to the Pauline incense except that only the first row of the faithful is incensed. A reading from the Coptic Synaxarium can follow.

After these readings, the Trisagion is sung three times, each time with a different reference to the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, thus addressing the Trisagion to Christ only. After the Trisagion follows a litany, the recital of a Psalm and the singing of the Alleluia, and finally the proclamation of the Gospel from the doors of the sanctuary. The sermon may follow.

Liturgy of the Faithful

The Liturgy of the Faithful is the core of the Divine Liturgy, where are placed the proper Eucharistic rites.

It begins with the prayer of the Veil,[15] in which the priest offers the liturgical sacrifice to God. The Long Litanies follows, where all pray for the peace, for the ecclesiastic hierarchy and for the congregation. The Nicean Creed is proclaimed, the priest washes his hands three times and sprinkles water on the congregation reciting the Prayer of Reconciliation which is a prayer of worthiness for all who attend the liturgy. Next is the Kiss of peace during which the faithful sing the Aspasmos Adam (Rejoice O Mary) hymn.

The Anaphora is conduced. After the anaphora takes place the consignation,[15] i.e. the moistening of the Lamb with some drops of the consecrated Wine, which is show to the worship of the faithful. The Fraction of the consecrated Lamb ensues, during which the priest says a prayer which varies according to the Coptic calendar. All of the congregation stands and prays with open hands the Lord's Prayer.

To be prepared for partaking of the Eucharist, the faithful bow while the celebrant says in low voice the prayer of submission, then the priest and the participants offer each other a wish of peace and the priest inaudibly prays to the Father for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Father).

The Elevation is similar to that in the Byzantine Rite, with the celebrant who raises the portion of the Lamb engraved with a cross (the ispadikon) crying: "The holy things for the holy ones". The priest makes a second consignation and puts gently the ispakidon in the chalice (the commixture),[16] then he recites aloud a Confession of faith. The partaking of the Eucharist follows, first the Body of Christ given to the celebrants, to the deacons and to the faithful who approach the sanctuary without shoes and then the Blood of Christ in the same order. Psalm 150 is sung in the meantime. The distribution of the Eucharist ends with a blessing with the Paten.

The dismissal rites include The Prayer of Laying the Hands and the final blessing.

Armenian Divine Liturgy

The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church have at present a single liturgical structure, called the Armenian Rite with a single anaphora (the Athanasius-Anaphora)[17] for the divine liturgy: Holy Patarag or in Western Armenian, Holy Badarak, meaning 'sacrifice'. This is in distinction to the other liturgies of the Oriental Churches (Coptic, East Syrian, West Syrian, Ethiopic), which have retained multiple anaphorai.

This means that the text of the Patarag can be contained in a single, unified liturgical book, the Պատարագամատոյց (Pataragamatooyts, Western Armenian Badarakamadooyts, meaning 'the offering of sacrifice'). This book contains all of the prayers for the Patarag assigned to the bishop (if celebrating as a bishop), the celebrating priest, the deacon(s), and the people, the last typically led by a choir with accompaniment.

Before the end of the 10th century there were also other liturgical forms, such as the Anaphora of St. Basil, the Anaphora of St. Gregory the Illuminator and other in use.[18][19][20][21][22][23]

The elements of the Armenian eucharistic liturgy reflect the rich set of influences on Armenian culture. The roots of the liturgy lie in the West Syrian and Byzantine forms, with the influence of the Roman Catholic Mass, the latter having arrived likely during the period of the Fourth Crusade or shortly thereafter.

Among the distinctive practices of the Armenian Patarag is the tradition that on the Sundays of the fast before Easter (the Great Fast), the curtain which hangs down in front of the elevated altar area (Armenian խորան khoran) is never opened - even for the reading of the Gospel, certain movable parts of the liturgy are omitted, the parts of the liturgy sung by the choir are said or chanted simply without adornment, there is no general confession, and there is no distribution of communion to the faithful. This practice of fasting from the eucharist in preparation for Easter may reflect an ancient custom of the church in Jerusalem. A special prayer of repentance is sung by the clergy on the morning of Palm Sunday (Armenian: Ծաղկազարդ tsaghkazard, Western Armenian dzaghgazard), after which the curtain is opened for the first time since the last Sunday before the Great Fast.

One element which almost certainly derives from the influence of Western liturgy is the reading of a last Gospel at the conclusion of the Patarag. However, quite prevalent in parishes is the celebration of a short memorial service for one or more departed persons (Հոգեհանգիստ hogehangist, Western Armenian hokehankist, meaning 'rest of the spirit'), which replaces the reading of the last Gospel.

Assyrian Liturgy

Today the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East and also their catholic counterparts (the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church) which use the East Syrian Rite have three different Liturgies mostly called Mass or Holy Qurbana:

The slightly different assyrian-catholic Indian-influenced Rites of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church are called Malabar rites.

See also


  1. Pronounced Sourp Badarak in Western Armenian
  2. Western Diocese | Home
  3. Armenian Catholic Church in Russia | Welcome!
  4. "OCA Q&A on the Divine Liturgy". Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  5. "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America: Worship". Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  6. Krivoshein, Basil (2 July 1975). "Some differences between Greek and Russian divine services and their significance". Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  7. Archdeacon Murad Barsom (1997-12-01). "Anaphora of St. James, First Bishop of Jerusalem". Sor.cua.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  8. 1 2 Chaillot, Christine (2006). "The Ancient Oriental Churches". In Wainwright, Geoffrey. The Oxford history of Christian worship. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 137–9. ISBN 9780195138863.
  9. Cody, Aelred (1991). "Anaphora of Saint Basil". The Coptic encyclopedia. 1. Macmillan. 121b-123b. ISBN 002897025X.
  10. Mazza, Enrico (1995). The origins of the Eucharistic prayer. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. p. 612. ISBN 9780814661192.
  11. 1 2 Stuckwish, D. Richard (1997). "The Basilian anaphoras". In Bradshaw, Paul F. Essays on early Eastern eucharistic prayers. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0814661536.
  12. J.Doresse and E. Lanne, Un témoin archaique de la liturgie copte de S.Basile, Louvain, 1960
  13. Sleman, Abraam (ed.). "St. Basil Liturgy Reference Book" (PDF). CopticChurch.net. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  14. Malaty, Tadrous Y. (1973). Christ in the Eucharist. OrthodoxEbooks. p. 119.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Spinks, Bryan (2010). "Oriental Orthodox Liturgical Traditions". In Parry, Ken. The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 361–2. ISBN 9781444333619.
  16. "The Fraction in The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy". britishorthodox.org. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  17. Hans-Jürgen Feulner: Die armenische Athanasius-Anaphora. Kritische Edition, Übersetzung und liturgievergleichender Kommentar. Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 2001. ISBN 88-7210-332-0.
  18. Gabriele Winkler: Die Basilius-Anaphora. Edition der beiden armenischen Redaktionen und der relevanten Fragmente, Übersetzung ..., Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 2005, ISBN 88-7210-348-7. - Die ältere Redaktion trägt bei den Armeniern den Namen Gregors des Erleuchters.
  19. P. Ferhat: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 1. Eine dem hl. Gregor von Nazianz zugeschrieben Liturgie. In: Oriens Christianus NS 1 (1911) 201-21
  20. P. Ferhat: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 2. Die angebliche Liturgie des Katholikos Sahaks. In: Oriens Christianus NS 3 (1913) 16-31.
  21. A. Baumstark: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 3. Die armenische Rezension der Jakobusliturgie. In: Oriens Christianus NS 7-8 (1918) 1-32.
  22. A. Rücker: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 4. Die Anaphora des Patriarchen Kyrillos von Alexandreia. In: Oriens Christianus 3. Ser. 1 (1927) 143-157.
  23. A. Rücker: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 5. Die Anaphora des heiligen Ignatius von Antiochien. In: Oriens Christianus 3. Ser. (1930) 56-79.
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