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History of Christian Worship

Worship in the Second and Third Centuries

Worship during the second and third centuries continued to follow the course set by New Testament liturgical traditions. Consequently, the discussion of worship during this period centered on the significance of baptism and of the Eucharist, understood in its full content of the service of Word and of the Lord’s table.

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Worship During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries Part I

The fundamental pattern of early Christian worship continued to develop through the fourth and fifth centuries. However, “families” of liturgical practice began to emerge, and styles of worship varied from one Christian region to the other. By this time, one can begin to speak of “Eastern” and “Western” characteristics of Christian liturgy.

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 Worship During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries Part II

The fundamental pattern of early Christian worship continued to develop through the fourth and fifth centuries. However, “families” of liturgical practice began to emerge, and styles of worship varied from one Christian region to the other. By this time, one can begin to speak of “Eastern” and “Western” characteristics of Christian liturgy.

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 Worship During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries Part III

The fundamental pattern of early Christian worship continued to develop through the fourth and fifth centuries. However, “families” of liturgical practice began to emerge, and styles of worship varied from one Christian region to the other. By this time, one can begin to speak of “Eastern” and “Western” characteristics of Christian liturgy.

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WORSHIP IN THE EASTERN ORTHODOX TRADITION

The liturgical traditions of the East (the Orthodox churches) are rich and varied. Although these traditions derived from common roots shared by several prominent ancient churches, they developed distinctive theological emphases and spirituality. God was seen as the distant and holy Other, yet also as the One “made flesh” who “dwelt among us.” The liturgy reflected other contrasts. Worshipers were invited to participate in the heavenly mysteries, but they were also reminded that they were unworthy to approach them; they rejoiced in the triumph of Christ, but also expressed a patient endurance until the day when that victory would be fully revealed; they stood erect before the majesty of God, but also bowed in humility and awed adoration. As these six entries demonstrate, the Eastern traditions emphasizes the divine Mystery of God the Creator, of Christ the Redeemer, of the Spirit the sanctifier, in a colorful and many-faceted manifestation.

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 Introduction to the Eastern Orthodox Churches

The liturgical traditions of the East derive ultimately from the forms of worship used in Antioch and Alexandria. As with all ancient Christian liturgies, the Service of the Word led into the sacramental offering of the Eucharist. The Eastern traditions comprise the East and West Syrian, the Byzantine (including the Greek and Russian Orthodox), the Armenian, and the Coptic/Ethiopian.

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Worship in the East Syrian Churches: Nestorian, Chaldean, and Malabar

The East Syrian Christians engaged in widespread missionary activity across the Asian continent, but the rise of Islam reduced their communities to small remnants. The liturgy of these churches is doxological in character, filled with expressions of praise and emphasizing the fulfillment of Christian hope in the kingdom of heaven.

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Worship in the West Syrian Churches: Syrian, Maronite, and Syro-Indian

The liturgy of the West Syrian churches derives from Antioch, although some elements are believed to have come from the Jerusalem church of which James, the brother of Jesus, was the head. The tone of the liturgy is optimistic, and different parts anticipate the triumphal return of Christ.

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Worship in the Byzantine Churches

The churches in the Byzantine tradition are those with an historic relationship to the church of Constantinople (originally Byzantium); they are familiar to North Americans as the Orthodox churches (among them the Greek and Russian). The Byzantine rite is complex and proceeds as two interwoven liturgies, one conducted with the congregation and the other performed by the celebrants behind the icon screen (iconostasis) that separates the altar from the rest of the church.

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 Worship in the Armenian Church

The liturgy of the Armenian church reveals the influence of many sources, but is basically of Syrian origin. It expresses the theme of sacrifice more than other Eastern liturgies and has the flavor of a temple rite.

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