Monday, 9 June 2008

Readings in Liturgy

NeoChalcedonian has posted this comment on our last post:

Orthodox Monk,

Could you point me in the direction of works on the development of liturgical traditions, prayers, etc.? I am extremely ignorant on these matters. Knowing the history & meaning of the symbolism helps me appreciate the service more.


Actually, responding is a little difficult. We are not really aware of works in English that interpret symbolically the Divine Liturgy and the Services. There is the work of St Symeon of Thessalonica writing in the 15th Century just before the fall of Thessalonica who does that sort of thing, but we are not sure how much of his work has been translated into English. There is also St Nicholas Cabasilas on the Divine Liturgy.

From an academic point of view, there really is no synoptic work on the development of the Greek Typikon. The best writer is Fr Robert Taft, SJ, who is (the last we heard) at the Gregorian in Rome. He is an American. But we are not aware of a general history of the Byzantine Liturgy.

In brief, there were historically two orders of service in the Byzantine Church, the ‘sung’ or Cathedral Service and the Monastic Service. The ‘sung’ or Cathedral Service was last used in Thessalonica in St Symeon’s day and now only exists as an academic reality.

All the services in the Orthodox Church now follow the Monastic Typikon. That is why they sometimes present difficulties for members of the Orthodox Parish—because the Services were originally designed for a monastery. There is a complicated history to the development of the Monastic Typikon that has it begin in the Monastery of St Savvas in Jerusalem in St Savvas’ day and then get modified in the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Constantinople by the Abbot, St Theodore Studite. It then returns to St Savvas in Jerusalem. St Philotheos Kokkinos (14th Century), the Abbot of the Great Lavra on Mt Athos, establishes the present typikon for the Divine Liturgy while he is at Lavra. He later becomes Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the author of the Life of St Savvas the Fool for Christ. We suspect that he is the one who was responsible for the canonization of St Gregory Palamas, but we are not really sure. It’s very complicated, but that’s the basic story. The Russian Typikon is, we understand, the Greek Monastic Typikon at the time of the Conversion of Russia, as modified by Patriarch Nikon in the 17th Century.

For these sorts of questions, the best thing is to approach an Orthodox Seminary or Theological Faculty, where the Professor of Liturgy will have a reading list. Part of the problem, given that the synoptic literature is meagre, is that many of the studies are in foreign languages. It’s a difficult topic to find literature on in English.


  1. OrthodoxMonk,

    What is your advice for one who earnestly seeks the monastic life, and has been for a year now (2 years learning about the Church), yet is prevented by parents to be received into the Church, and wishes to pursue the monastic life immediately following high school graduation?

  2. We have responded to this comment in detail at

    Orthodox Monk