The following is an address delivered to an ecumenical symposium, Cammino a Roma, celebrated in Rome in November 2000, under the auspices of the Religious Community "Miles Jesu".
It has become a tradition of the ‘Cammino a Roma’, the Path to Rome, mindful of the exhortation and commendation of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, to include the solemn celebration of the Eucharist according to the Byzantine rite. The mission of the "Miles Jesu" itself is a response to the invitation of the Holy Father to the Reverend Father Alphonsus Maria Duran, the founder and superior general of the community of the "Miles Jesu", notwithstanding their miniscule numbers and the immense missionary demands on this nascent community, to embrace the Churches of east and west in the entire world. And as I join with you this day in celebrating the Divine Liturgy of our father among the saints, John Chrysostom, I wish to reflect upon the ecumenical dimensions of this celebration and a deeper understanding of this Eucharist, not only for those who by tradition are eastern Christians, Catholic or Orthodox, but for all Catholics and Christians.
In his Apostolic Letter ‘Orientale Lumen’ (May 2, 1995), the Holy Father invites “the members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition to become fully acquainted with this treasure; and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church, which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West. A Pope, son of a Slav people, is particularly moved by the call of those peoples to whom the two saintly brothers Cyril and Methodius went. They were a glorious example of apostles of unity who were able to proclaim Christ in their search for communion between East and West amid the difficulties which sometimes set the two worlds against one another. Several times I have reflected on the example of their activity, also addressing those who are their children in faith and culture. Pondering over the questions, aspirations and experiences I have mentioned, my thoughts turn to the Christian heritage of the East.
He continues: “I do not intend to describe that heritage or to interpret it. I listen to the Churches of the East, which I know are living interpreters of the treasure of the tradition they preserve. In contemplating it, before my eyes appear elements of great significance for a fuller and more thorough understanding of the Christian experience. These elements are capable of giving a more complete Christian response to the expectations of the men and women of today. Indeed, in comparison to any other culture, the Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the Church was born. The Christian tradition of the East implies a way of accepting, understanding and living Faith in the Lord Jesus. In this sense it is extremely close to the Christian tradition of the West, which is born of and nourished by the same faith. Yet it is legitimately and admirably distinguished from the latter, since Eastern Christians have their own way of perceiving and understanding, and thus an original way of living their relationship with the Saviour. Here, with respect and trepidation, I want to approach the act of worship which these Churches express, rather than to identify this or that specific theological point which has emerged down the centuries in the polemical debates between East and West.”
This was the vision of another Slav, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, called by Divine Providence to head the Ukrainian Catholic Church in its homeland in western Ukraine, and to shepherd the first Ukrainian emigrants constrained by need to leave their homeland to provide for their families. For a half century, until his death, November 1, 1944. Metropolitan Andrew was the precursor of the ecumenical movement and the great apostle of unity of the Churches of the east with the See of Peter in the twentieth century; and has left for future generations a legacy of profound teaching and wisdom in his pastoral letters and spiritual writings for generations to come. The Velehrad and other unionistic conferences, organized and held under his patronage, deepen our understanding of the authenti spiritual, liturgical and canonical treasures of the east. They began a new dialogue among the different churches and cultures of the Christian east and west. For him, as for Pope John Paul II, this patrimony or tradition of the Churches of the east was the expression of the prayer and spirituality of the early Christian Church, born in Jerusalem, nurtured in the principal patriarchal centers of Antioch and Alexandria, in Rome and Constantinople, in the new churches established by Peter and Paul and the other apostles. The Church of Byzantium from the fifth century collected the many streams that flowed from the more ancient traditions Jerusalem and Cappadocia, from the sacred traditions of the Mosaic covenant and the religious history of Israel, the synagogues and the Temple. The spiritual and theological traditions of the principle centers of antiquity of the eastern half of the Roman Hellenic empire, Alexandria, Antioch, and Byzantium; and finally the traditions of the desert Fathers of Egypt, of Cappadocia and Saint Saba in the desert of Judea are the mainstreams of monasticism and liturgical worship. These found their syntheses over the ensuing five centuries in the liturgical, spiritual and canonical patrimony of Constantinople. The Church of Constantinople sent its missionaries to the Slavs, the Georgians and other peoples to the east, with its patrimony, the Liturgies, the spirituality of the early church of primitive Christianity.
Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
Today’s Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is not just the Liturgy of Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine rite or of the Greek Orthodox. It is the Liturgy of the first Church of Jerusalem, the Liturgy of Saint James the Apostle adapted by Saint Basil and Saint John Chrysostom to the changing circumstances of the fourth century. It is the Liturgy of the early Church.
I wish to share with you some of my personal experiences as a priest and bishop of this tradition. I came to appreciate its riches and to overcome the negative criticisms of my generation, especially of the descendants of the immigrants in the new world, about repetitiveness, sameness and monotony, the external show and archaism of a liturgy which no longer suited our modern times and tastes.
This Liturgy was born in the Cenacle of Jerusalem. It was handed down to successive generations in fidelity to that which they had received from their fathers in the faith. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, like the earlier apostolic liturgy is imbued with the teachings and catechesis of the apostles. It borrows generously from the prayers and wisdom of the Old Covenant. To pray the Mass or the Eucharist is to pray with Scriptures, to pray in the Spirit. The apostles and fathers of the Church culled from the Scriptures of both Covenants, old and new, in this marvelous and perfect communal prayer, which we call the Mass. Like the ‘Our Father’ taught us by Christ, this Liturgy is a perfect prayer, offering to the Father in union with the perfect prayer and sacrifice of Christ, all the needs of the Body of Christ, the Church, of each faithful in all the path of our lives. Secondly this Liturgy, like the prayer of the apostles, united with the Mother of God, in prayer for the Gift of the Holy Spirit, is Marian. The petitions of the ministers and the faithful resonate with their pleas to the most holy and immaculate, most glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary together with all the saints, commending one another and our entire lives to Christ our God.
Thirdly, each word and action of the Liturgy is born of the Spirit who spoke through the prophets andthe apostles. The desert fathers who enriched the liturgy found their sources for all the prayers and petitions in the Spirit-filled Books of both Covenants.
To pray the Liturgy is to pray in the Spirit. The French Trappist Abbot Maurice Wulf in his classic on prayer, researches the models of community and personal prayer. He was especially convicted of the simple but spirit-filled prayer of the eastern monks with their repeated 'Kyrie, eleison'. The experiences of the charismatic movements of our days have rediscovered and made new the simple prayer of the name of Jesus, the Jesus prayer, the prayer of the heart, the hesychast tradition of desert Fathers.
As I have listened to communities or bodies praying in the Spirit I was struck by the simplicity of the charismatic prayer to which Spirit calls the community to appeal to the Holy Name of Jesus: … Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. We admire the profound theological compositions of the western Liturgy, but I sometimes wonder whether we are called to teach God theology. These beautiful liturgical treatises teach us. But the Father is listening to our hearts. The repeated and repetitive ektenes or litanies in the on-going dialogue of prayer between priest, deacon and people in the Divine Liturgy are an application and development of this mode of the prayer of the heart. The people respond to the simple invocations of the deacon, which in succession include all the personal needs of each individual, of the needs of the Church and all of humankind, invoking the Name of Jesus. Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy. Grant this O Lord. Amen.
Our contemporaries view the eastern or Orthodox liturgies in images of billowing smoke of abundant incense, the tinkling of bells on the bishop’s saccos or the deacon swinging the thurible with bells on the chains, the panoply of oriental royal splendour, with the rich brocade vestments of the ministers, the heavy ritual and polyphonic chant. Perhaps some or much may be true. Maybe it could be simplified. Yet up to the great schism of 1453 our liturgical garb was quite simple, as witnessed by the frescos of the eastern Fathers of the Church, of the priests and deacons, in ancient churches. The invocations, the actions and the billowing and fragrant incense are also taken from the Scriptures. In the Book of Revelations, “the twenty-four elders offer their praises before the Lamb, holding a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones” in the Heavenly Sion.” (Rev. 5,8) And again: “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones…” (Rev. 8, 3-5).
In addition to the Gospel narrative of the Last Supper and the readings from Scripture, each word of prayer of the Liturgy is culled from the sacred texts. I give one example, the petition from the litany or ektene of peace: “ That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath and misfortune, let us pray to the Lord”.
The apostles had asked Jesus about the last times. St. Matthew in his Gospel lists all the woes, calamities and tribulations that are to come before the coming of the Son of Man. Christ responds, “Pray…for there shall be such a great tribulation as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be.” (Mt. 24, 20-21) [The Greek texts of this petition are taken from the Septuagint, the accepted text (textus receptus) of the Churches of the Byzantine tradition. The Latin translations are from the Latin Vulgate, and the English versions from the Douay Rheims (Challoner) English translation.]
In the liturgy the deacon leads the people in prayer for peace, for peaceful times, for the union of all of God’s holy Churches, for the hierarchy and the ministers of the Church for the daily needs of the people. All the needs of the individual, his family, his social needs, the needs of the Church are commemorated in the several litanies and in the secret prayers of the priest. The deacon exclaims: “That we may be delivered from all tribulation, wrath, and misfortune, let us pray to the Lord.” The deacon repeats the synonyms: tribulation, wrath, misfortune, constraint. Christ’s response speaks of the great tribulation but as we read Scriptures speak of wrath, misfortune need. All four conditions are repeated in a variety of texts in Greek of the New Covenant and in the Hebrew and Greek of the Septuagint. And the people respond: “Lord have mercy. Kyrie, eleison “. Lord, forgive us our sins, our wretchedness and constraint; pour out upon us the healing balm of Your steadfast love and compassion. I refer you again to the concordances for the many uses of the Kyrios. Eleison in Greek; pomyluj in Slavonic and Ukrainian, are derived from the word eleon, elej, oil or balm in both languages. Invoking God’s mercy we are pleading not only for forgiveness, but we are beseeching God the Divine Healer to heal us, to make us whole, to pour out upon us and our wounds the medicine, the balm of His divine love and grace. Jesus, the Salvator, or Soter, is He who restores to the wholeness of the original integrity of our first creation, which sin has wounded and mortified. And in the Gospel of Saint Matthew we read: “...and the men followed Him calling out have mercy on us, Son of David. (Mt. 9, 37) Lord, have mercy on us… Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” Kyrie, Eleison.
Appeal to God’s Mercy
This introduces the third dimension of the Prayer of the east. Our endless appeal to God’s mercy. The chaplet of Divine Mercy, which Christ gave to His Church through Saint Faustina Kowalsky, is the appeal and act of trust and hope in the mercy of God. The world no longer believes. It has opted for the culture of death. It has lost all hope. There is no more love or charity. Our only hope, now and always, is the Infinite Mercy of the Father, revealed and obtained for us by the Son. We plead that the Lord pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon all human flesh. Would we but pray for it from our hearts. Our God is a merciful God. Christ Himself calls out: “…and learn what this means, ‘ I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ” (Mt. 9, 13)
The Liturgy of the eastern Churches, the Eucharist, the Hours, are an endless appeal to Divine Mercy. Saint Mary of Egypt, a saint of the fifth or sixth centuries, before her conversion from a life of sin, embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy City, not in pilgrimage but looking for filthy gain. She was prevented by an invisible hand from entering before the portals of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Frightened by this Divine intervention, which would not allow her to enter the Holy Shrine of Our Salvation, she fell to her knees before an image of the Blessed Virgin in anxious prayer. It was only then that she could gain entry. She spent the last eighteen years of her life in the desert across the Jordan, praying one prayer. ’Kyrie Eleison’, Lord have mercy. Christ revealed to a holy father of the desert her great holiness before her death and sent him to Mary of Egypt with the sacraments. [The story of the life and conversion of Saint Mary of Egypt was written by St. Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638), from the accounts of the desert fathers. It is read annually during the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete during the Matins of Thursday of the fifth week of Lent. According to the Byzantine liturgical calendar she lived 18 years in the desert at the time of the Emperor Justinian (527 – 565). The Bollandists place her in the fifth century, 344-421.] The Church now commemorates her annually on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Christ continues to send His new apostles to remind us to pray for mercy.
Kindhearted Mother of the Merciful God, have mercy on me, and give me compunction and contrition in my heart and humility in my thinking and recollection in the distraction of my thoughts. Enable me to receive without condemnation until my last breath the immaculate and sanctifying Mysteries for the healing of my soul and body. Grant me tears of repentance and confession, so that I may sing and glorify you all the days of my life, for you are blessed and glorified forever. Amen