St Mark’s liturgy: Theology and Gospel at Prayer

Christ in Glory, Ethiopic Gospel ms, British Library Or. MS 481, f.110v. 17th century

Today is the feast of St Mark. According to tradition, St Mark who wrote the Gospel that bears his name was a disciple of St Peter, and he went to Alexandria to preach the Gospel there. As a result, the traditional Egyptian Eucharistic liturgy bears his name. Our oldest surviving copy of this liturgy dates to the fourth century; given the highly traditional(ist) nature of ancient Christian liturgical texts, I am fairly sure we can safely say that most of what we find in this liturgy is ante-Nicene — that is, before all of the alleged Constantinian corruptions of the “pure” liturgy.

You can read this liturgy in the Victorian translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers over at New Advent. This version is definitely post-Nicene — it contains the sixth-century Trisagion as well as calling Jesus “co-eternal”, and I suspect that Arius would not have got so far as he did if the traditional liturgy of his hometown contained that word?

It contains a number of lovely prayers, such as this prayer of the entrance:

O Sovereign Lord our God, who hast chosen the lamp of the twelve apostles with its twelve lights, and hast sent them forth to proclaim throughout the whole world and teach the Gospel of Your kingdom, and to heal sickness and every weakness among the people, and hast breathed upon their faces and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit the Comforter: whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained: Breathe also Your Holy Spirit upon us Your servants, who, standing around, are about to enter on Your holy service, upon the bishops, elders, deacons, readers, singers, and laity, with the entire body of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

We see that the ancient church in Egypt believed in the Real Presence, as well:

We pray and beseech You, O Lord, in Your mercy, to let Your presence rest upon this bread and these chalices on the all-holy table, while angels, archangels, and Your holy priests stand round and minister for Your glory and the renewing of our souls, through the grace, mercy, and love of Your only-begotten Son, through whom and with whom be glory and power to You.

One of the things I love about reading historic liturgies is the family resemblance they have — the Apostolic Tradition, the BCP, the Roman Mass, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and there, the Divine Liturgy of St Mark, begin the anaphora in the same manner:

The Lord be with all.

The People.

And with your spirit.

The Priest.

Let us lift up our hearts.

The People.

We lift them up to the Lord.

The Priest.

Let us give thanks to the Lord.

The People.

It is meet and right.

The Priest begins the Anaphoral prayer.

O Lord God, Sovereign and Almighty Father, truly it is meet and right, holy and becoming, and good for our souls, to praise, bless, and thank You; to make open confession to You by day and night with voice, lips, and heart without ceasing;

From there, as in the other members of the family, we launch forth into the Gospel (as I discussed in relation to the Divine Liturgy of St Basil), describing salvation history:

To You who hast made the heaven, and all that is therein; the earth, and all that is therein; The sea, fountains, rivers, lakes, and all that is therein;

To You who, after Your own image and likeness, has made man, upon whom You also bestowed the joys of Paradise;

And when he trespassed against You, You neither neglected nor forsook him, good Lord,

But recalled him by Your law, instruct him by Your prophets, restore and renew him by this awful, life-giving, and heavenly mystery.

And all this You have done by Your Wisdom and the Light of truth, Your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, Through whom, thanking You with Him and the Holy Spirit,

We offer this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice, which all nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun, from the north and the south, present to You, O Lord; for great is Your name among all peoples, and in all places are incense, sacrifice, and oblation offered to Your holy name.

Next come sundry supplications, and then we have a very dramatic prelude to the Sanctus:

For You are far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come. Round You stand ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of holy angels and hosts of archangels; and Your two most honoured creatures, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim. With two they cover their faces, and with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly; and they cry one to another for ever with the voice of praise, and glorify You, O Lord, singing aloud the triumphal and thrice-holy hymn to Your great glory:—

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

(Aloud.)

You ever sanctify all men; but with all who glorify You, receive also, O Sovereign Lord, our sanctification, who with them celebrate Your praise, and say:—

The People.

Holy, holy, holy Lord.

After the Prayer of Consecration comes the epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts. I know that there is some historic controversy over the use of the epiclesis in Protestant liturgy. Nevertheless, the description of the Holy Spirit warms the heart:

O Lord our God, we have placed before You what is Yours from Your own mercies. We pray and beseech You, O good and merciful God, to send down from Your holy heaven, from the mansion You have prepared, and from Your infinite bosom, the Paraclete Himself, holy, powerful, and life-giving, the Spirit of truth, who spoke in the law, the apostles, and prophets; who is everywhere present, and fills all things, freely working sanctification in whom He will with Your good pleasure; one in His nature; manifold in His working; the fountain of divine blessing; of like substance with You, and proceeding from You; sitting with You on the throne of Your kingdom, and with Your only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Send down upon us also and upon this bread and upon these chalices Your Holy Spirit, that by His all-powerful and divine influence He may sanctify and consecrate them, and make this bread the body.

The grace of God is, as ever in Eastern liturgies, visible in abundance, saving us and setting us free:

O God of light, Father of life, Author of grace, Creator of worlds, Founder of knowledge, Giver of wisdom, Treasure of holiness, Teacher of pure prayers, Benefactor of our souls, who givest to the faint-hearted who put their trust in You those things into which the angels desire to look: O Sovereign Lord, who has brought us up from the depths of darkness to light, who has given us life from death, who has graciously bestowed upon us freedom from slavery, who has scattered the darkness of sin within us, through the presence of Your only-begotten Son, do Thou now also, through the visitation of Your all-holy Spirit, enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may partake without fear of condemnation of this heavenly and immortal food, and sanctify us wholly in soul, body, and spirit, that with Your holy disciples and apostles we may say this prayer to You: Our Father who art in heaven, etc.

I like the tendency to pile on the properties of God:

O Sovereign and Almighty Lord, who sittest upon the cherubim, and art glorified by the seraphim; who hast made the heaven out of waters, and adorned it with choirs of stars; who hast placed an unbodied host of angels in the highest heavens to sing Your praise for ever; before You have we bowed our souls and bodies in token of our bondage. We beseech You to repel the dark assaults of sin from our understanding, and to gladden our minds with the divine radiance of Your Holy Spirit, that, filled with the knowledge of You, we may worthily partake of the mercies set before us, the pure body and precious blood of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Pardon all our sins in Your abundant and unsearchable goodness, through the grace, mercy, and love of Your only-begotten Son:

(Aloud.)

Through whom and with whom be glory and power to You, with the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit.

In case it hasn’t become abundantly clear, I appreciate the richness of this theology. This sort of liturgy makes it hard for me to maintain contentment at low-church evangelical worship events. Would your pastor ever pray something like this:

O mightiest King, co-eternal with the Father, who by Your might has vanquished hell and trodden death under foot, who has bound the strong man, and by Your miraculous power and the enlightening radiance of Your unspeakable Godhead has raised Adam from the tomb, send forth Your invisible right hand, which is full of blessing, and bless us all.

This has gone on long enough. Go read the whole thing. May it stir you up to greater love and devotion of the God Who made everything, Who breathed life into the first man, Who become incarnate, died, rose, breathed the Spirit into His Apostles, and now dwells with us daily.

A swanky new Patristics website: ‘patristics.co’

UntitledI was just made aware by Keith in the comments of this blog that there is a Patristics site aptly named Patristics. It is very visually appealing and swanky. Given its swankiness and the fact all of the blog posts are from 2016, I imagine that it is new.

This website wants to be for everyone, and in many ways it is, but its editorial choices betray the fact that its authors and editors are Orthodox. For example, on the Apostolic Succession page, only the successions of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem are listed; one would have thought that Rome, as one of the three ante-Nicene proto-patriarchates, would have made the cut. Thankfully, though, even if these guys are Orthodox, they aren’t the dytikophobic John Romanides kind, as seen in the well-balanced blog post about St Augustine of Hippo.

You can’t criticise people for having their own bias. I’m Anglican, after all, and it would be disingenuous to write from any other perspective.

Strengths

As a resource for the Church Fathers, the goal of this website is to gather together Patristics sources in readable English. Not everyone likes ANF and NPNF or other Victorian translations out there; I like them well enough, but find them to be among the more difficult texts to read from a screen instead of a book. As far as comprehensiveness is concerned, the site is clearly still under construction; not only are the proposed authors few, but many still lack texts. This is not a criticism; undoubtedly it will grow over time. Putting proofread texts on the Internet takes time, and I am glad to see a website that seems to be taking the time required. As you wait for Patristics to grow, don’t forget my page on where to find various Church Fathers online!

That said, this website happily fills in some of the gaps in ANF and NPNF: The Didache, Patristic selections from The Philokalia (St Antony the Great, St Mark the Ascetic, St Isaiah the Solitary, ‘St'[?] Evagrius the Solitary, St John Cassian, St Nilus the Elder), Sayings of the Desert Fathers (the source of which is unattributed), St Maximus the Confessor, and St Isaac the Syrian.

Other content I appreciate are links to applicable podcasts (chiefly Ancient Faith Radio); it would be cool to see these expanded to include Catholic and Protestant podcasts and even YouTube videos. But that may be too much to organise for the administrators and could overwhelm users.

Besides the content of the texts, there is also a page listing different ancient heresies. One idea for expanding this is to link to both heretical texts and their ancient opponents. First, of course, the website should grow its database of Church Fathers.

Weaknesses

These criticisms are put forward in love — this website is so aestethically pleasing that I would be very glad to see it succeed and grow! Hopefully the editors and engineers can take these comments graciously and apply them. 🙂

It is not immediately obvious how to reach your goal of reading the Fathers themselves while navigating the Church Fathers page, unfortunately. Nonetheless, some texts are there if you click on an author and then click once again in the left sidebar.

The text of 1 Clement, the only one of his texts available, is written in Victorian English, surprisingly. It is attributed to Daniel Loych, whoever that is — presumably one of the intrepid volunteers engaged in the usually thankless task of uploading content. The translation is the Ante-Nicene Fathers one by John Keith. Translator credits are essential.

This raises serious concerns for me — why do we need a new, sexy website to give us access to public domain translations already posted online by Calvin College at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and New Advent? Is a third online version of ANF and NPNF really necessary? Is the market people who want sexy websites? Indeed, their homepage even states:

Many people struggle with reading archaic sentence structure. Our English versions are carefully worded to provide the most relevant understanding of ancient texts.

My other concern is the extent, but I hope that that will merely be fixed with time. The only Latin Fathers they provide are Tertullian, Hilary of Poiters, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and John Cassian. Missing Jerome is a bit of a blow, but if one were to start with any group of Latin Fathers, this would be it.

One proofreading concern is that hierarch is misspelled heirarch.

Texts I’d like to see. I am most interested in seeing readable, online editions on here — besides the authors in ANF and NPNF — of these monastic texts: The Rule of St Benedict, the ascetic corpus of St Basil, the Rule of Pachomius, The Life of Simeon the Stylite, and the hagiographical texts of Three Byzantine Saints (The Life of Daniel the Stylite, The Life of Theodore of Sykeon, The Life of John the Almsgiver [but he’s not a monk]).

Non-monastic texts: Salvian of Marseilles, Romanos the Melodist, ancient liturgies, Prudentius, Paulinus of Nola, Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelii and Gospel Problems.

Apocryphal texts: I think it would be really helpful to make available apocryphal texts such as the Protoevangelion of James that are the sources for stories accepted by tradition.

Canon law: It would also be helpful to see some western canon law texts appearing; these are, however, available in NPNF2, vol. 14.

As I say, this is a swanky, visually appealing website. I look forward to watching its library of Patristic texts grow in time to come!

The Two Ways — of Life and of Death

Spinning off from my reflections on Friday, I am a firm believer in disciplined living, albeit a bad practitioner. Once, I was on my friend Rick’s excellent and much more practical blog than mine, and there was mention in the comments about learning how to live by the Spirit and follow the Way of Jesus (I suppose in Franciscan terms, that would have been Via Apostolica). As a suggestion, I put out reading the Didache.

My fellow-commenter said that he had read said text in seminary (or Bible college or whatever), and that it had left him dry. He then addressed Rick, tossing me and my lifeless, book-ridden version of Christianity aside, and said that Rick was a man who would understand this sort of question.

Perhaps I don’t.

Nevertheless, I think the Didache is to be recommended on two points. One point is that this document, which is a sort of church handbook from between 90 and 100, is the recorded experience and advice of a Church community, which was so popular that later documents, such as the Apostolic Constitutions, seem to have ripped it off. The wisdom of those who have gone before can help us learn how to live, it can inform our experience.

The second point is the fact that ‘living by the Spirit’, which certainly includes an openness to His movement in our lives in areas besides morality and ethics, is never less than morality and ethics. The foundations of the holy life (which I have extolled here) are upright living and prayer. Something like the Didache or the Rule of Benedict or William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life can help us order these foundational aspects of holiness, through which we can keep or make ourselves attuned to the power and movements of the Holy Spirit.

The Didache begins with a discourse on ‘the two ways’ — the Way of Life and the Way of Death. Christians are called to the Way of Life. The Way of Life is a lovely gathering together of much of the moral teaching of our Lord Christ, with a strong emphasis on generosity, along with some proverbial statements and warnings against witchcraft and the like. The Way of Death takes less space, so I quote Andrew Louth’s revision of Staniforth’s translation in the Penguin Early Christian Writings:

The Way of Death is this. To begin with, it is evil, and in every way fraught with damnation. In it are murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcraft, sorceries, robberies, perjuries, hypocrisies, duplicities, deceit, pride, malice, self-will, avarice, foul language, jealousy, insolence, arrogance, and boastfulness. Here are those who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning their wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentless and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk in iniquity. Flee, my children, from all this!

And there we have it. The Didache goes on to discuss baptism, fasting, the Eucharist, apostles and prophets, Sunday worship, local officials, and eschatology. It is an interesting window into early Church life, probably from Syria (as I recall). I find that reading this sort of thing spurs me on to greater holiness.

And if you are Reading the Fathers starting 2 December (as I recommended earlier), read the Didache in the meantime; it is short, and it is not included in that program. I do hope you will read it, and that you will join me and many others on a seven-year pilgrimage from 1 Clement to John of Damascus as we read the Fathers together!

 

Read the Fathers!

The world of Patristics on the internet is always interesting, and today I learned of an exciting development that I fully endorse. Over at Read the Fathers, some people are organising an online community to go through a seven-year cycle of readings of the Fathers that will take you through most of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) series.

You are not committed to use the sawdusty versions of ANF and NPNF (but they are available free through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library), for the organisers have kindly let us know book.chapter.verse for each day’s readings, so you can find a better translation with more up-to-date notes based on a more recent critical edition for each of the Fathers. E.g. for Augustine, grab the Oxford World’s Classics translation of the Confessions. For Tertullian, a lot of it is as yet not updated, but the Apology and De Spectaculis are available in a Loeb volume. And, if my life follows the swiftest trajectory possible, by the time we reach Leo, you can read my translation of the letters! 😉

The commitment is seven pages per day. A lot, but not really. My fun reading is often 10 to 100 pages per day. And this will be far more profitable if more time consuming than briefer devotionals such as the (recommended) Ancient Christian Devotional from IVP. Here you’ll read entire works of the Fathers and get into the messy stuff — but through bite-sized, daily readings. This is why it will take seven years.

If you fall behind, pick up with that day’s readings (or at least a reasonable starting point). The organisers recommend you don’t play catch up, otherwise you will probably lose heart and abandon it all together. My former priest says the same thing about reading the Bible.

I cannot recommend this idea enough. The challenges and wonders and mind-stretching ideas that come from reading the Fathers are exactly what the pocket scroll is about. I started this blog not only to have a place to work through some ideas but as a place to encourage others to meet with the texts that have formed the Christian faith and made it what it is today to help bring them to a place of deeper faith in God, greater awe before Him, fuller strength in the face of trouble, truer holiness in a licentious society.

So go Read the Fathers.