The Apostolic Origin
of Orthodox Liturgical Services
liturgical services of the Orthodox Christian Church are ancient. They
derived initially from the practices of Jewish Temple and Synagogue
services, and were well developed in their present form during the
the 1st three centuries mainly scattered fragments of the liturgical
services have survived into the present age. This was, obviously,
because of the difficult circumstances endured by Christians during
that era, and the frequent persecution of the faithful and destruction
of their churches and liturgical resources.
few fragments that have survived are completely consistent with both
the order of worship as well as the phraseology of prayers and hymns
from the 4th century onward.
and thorough documentation of liturgical services exists from the 4th
century, when Christianity became both legalized and normative in the
Roman Empire, through the present age.
the worship practices of the 4th century were simply a continuation of
what existed previously, as the fragmentary documentation from the
earlier centuries attests.
have been only two significant “changes” to these service books since
the eighth century. The first, obviously, is the addition of hymns
appropriate to saints who have lived since that time. The second,
significantly, is the translation of these service books into the
vernacular (the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a
particular country or region), especially into Church Slavonic in the
ninth century and since the mid-twentietth century into English and
other contemporary languages.
doubt, present-day Orthodox worship is essentially and
substantially the same as it has always been since the
liturgical service books found being used in an Orthodox
monastery, cathedral, or parish church today are nearly
identical with those compiled (not composed) by
Saint John of Damascus (AD 676–749) at the
Mar Saba (Saint Savas) monastery
Saint John of Damascus
typical (characteristic) or canonical (official) texts of the Divine
Services are those that have been traditional (faithfully transmitted
or handed down) in the Greek language within the Church.
should be noted that these services of the Orthodox Church are the
foundation of Roman Catholic and Protestant worship. This is obvious,
since the Roman Catholic Church did not become a separate,
identifiable entity from the rest of Christendom until after the
eleventh century and, likewise, since the Protestant denominations
directly evolved from the Roman Church in the sixteenth century.
a Roman Catholic or Protestant Christian attending liturgical services
in an Orthodox Church is witnessing the faithful and living
continuation of their own historical worship tradition.
The Consistent Character
of Orthodox Liturgical Services
services celebrated in the Orthodox Church are ancient. They evolved
simply and logically from Old Testament Temple and synagogue
traditions, services, and customs.
all else, Orthodox Christian worship is an active participation in,
and personal experience of, the perfect communion between God and man
that is the essence of our eternal existence in the Kingdom of heaven.
the Divine Liturgy, the Mystery (or “Sacrament”) of the Holy
Eucharist, is our regular, corporate participation in that
eternal reality. The Divine Liturgy is the continuation of the
“Mystical Supper” (referred to in Western Christendom as the
“Last Supper”), the first earthly participation in that
liturgical (worship service) texts, prayers, and rubrics we use today
are identical to those that were common usage in the universal,
undivided Christian Church of the first millennium.
those first thousand years there was only one “catholic” (universal)
and “orthodox” (right-worshipping) Christian Church, which stretched
from Western to Eastern Europe, throughout the Mediterranean and North
Africa, as well as into the Middle East, Arabia, Persia, Asia Minor
and Central Asia
is much archaeological evidence, consisting of many written
fragments clearly showing that the shape of our worship was
established in the first-century Apostolic era and into the
second and third centuries. Well-preserved manuscripts show
how these services were eventually compiled (not
composed) between the fourth and seventh centuries into
the familiar service books we still use today.
services have been preserved and “handed down” (“tradition”)
in their original New Testament
only significant change to the Orthodox services from
the first millennium of Christianity is that the services were
translated in the ninth century from Koiné Greek into
Slavonic for Slavic peoples by
Saints Cyril and Methodios. Just as 2,000-year old Koiné
Greek is still used in Greek churches, 1,000-year old Church
Slavonic is still used in Russian, Serbian, and Bulgarian
addition, the first-millennium services were likewise
translated beginning in the mid-twentieth century from Koiné
Greek into English for use in our parishes today. These are
the worship services you may experience at Saint Nicholas
the “Western” (or Latin) churches (viz., the Roman
Catholic Church and her Protestant denominations), however,
worship practices and beliefs radically changed during the
second millennium, and continue to evolve. As a consequence,
Western Christians may be unfamiliar with Eastern Orthodox
worship and our liturgical terminology.
web page is therefore provided to provide easy access to texts
of the services, as well as to explanations of Orthodox
worship and terminology.