Lectionary ravings: Liturgy in the Primitive Church

Many the thousands of Christian sects believe that their group is the true descendant of the original, or primitive, Church. This, of course, is impossible, because only one such Church can possibly exist (it does), and according to Scripture, this Church that cannot be defeated because it is in fact the body of Christ-God. Most of the Church “primitivists” closer to the Protestant vein also believe that the primitive Church did not have much of a liturgy — services were all about Scripture & preaching (and maybe even ancient proto-altar calls?). But in fact, the liturgy was, back then, rich and highly choreographed, not off-the-cuff and ad hoc like millions of self-described primitive churches today.

Let us examine this passage in Acts:

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost
said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have
called them.
(Acts 13:2)

The word “ministered” here uses a form of Greek λειτουργέω (leitourgeo), which is where the English term “liturgy” is derived. It is one of several pieces of evidence of the liturgical nature of the primitive Church. Apophatically speaking, the primitive Church was not, in fact, a network of like-minded Jesus lovers who met informally, quoted their bibles, and preached to each other. The Church used scripture, preaching, and met in private homes, yes, but it also relied heavily on the Jewish liturgical traditions as witnessed and taught by the apostles.”Liturgical worship did not originate in Antioch. Its roots are in ancient Israel. Saul and Barnabas, who came from Jerusalem, taught the Antiochian Christians — among other things — true worship,” says the Orthodox Study Bible. This first sentence here could have just as easily been translated, “As they celebrated the liturgy to the Lord and fasted…”

In other words, the Church used what we would call liturgical practices in the infancy. These include the Eucharist, which consisted, as always of bread and wine that transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the service. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom used by the Orthodox Church, was written in the fifth century, was based on the Liturgy of St. James, the brother of the Lord and first Bishop of Jerusalem. We know that the liturgical life of the Church developed over time also. The Orthodox liken the Church to a human being — the primitive Church was an infant and it would develop over time. That the Church is a living being, actually the body of Christ — occurs in one of the most renowned passages in Acts, the conversion of Saul.

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the goads. (Acts 9:5)

We know that Saul, or so he thought, was not persecuting Christ directly, but the Church. Here Christ is clearly telling him that if he was picking on the Church, he was picking on Him. But that is getting us a little sidetracked. The fact is, the Church is now and has always been a liturgical Church. And I also believe, that this Church exists now as the Holy Orthodox Church, the same Church mentioned and described in Acts.

About Pete Mladineo

2 responses to “Lectionary ravings: Liturgy in the Primitive Church

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