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Icon of Ss. Basil the Great (left) and John Chrysostom, ascribed authors of the two most frequently used Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgies, c. 1150 (mosaic in the Palatine Chapel, Palermo).

Divine Liturgy (Greek: Θεία Λειτουργία, translit. Theia Leitourgia) or Holy Liturgy is the usual name used in most Eastern Christian rites for the Eucharistic service.

Church of Saint Sava, Christmas, Belgrade, 7 January 2021

The Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches see the Divine Liturgy as transcending time and the world. All believers are seen as united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with the departed saints and the angels of heaven. Everything in the liturgy is seen as symbolic, but not merely so, for it makes present the unseen reality. According to Eastern tradition and belief, the liturgy's roots go back to the adaptation of Jewish liturgy by Early Christians. The first part, termed the "Liturgy of the Catechumens", includes like a synagogue service the reading of scriptures and, in some places, perhaps a sermon/homily. The second half is based on the Last Supper and the first Eucharistic celebrations by Early Christians and it is called "Liturgy of the Faithful". Eastern Christians believe that the Eucharist is the central part of the service in which they participate, as they believe the bread and wine truly become the real Body and Blood of Christ, and that by partaking of it they jointly become the Body of Christ (that is, the Church). Each Liturgy has its differences from others, but most are very similar to each other with adaptations based on tradition, purpose, culture and theology.[1][2]

Byzantine Rite

Three Divine Liturgies are in common use in the Byzantine Rite:

As well as these, there are two others that are used locally and rarely, the Liturgy of St. James and the Liturgy of Saint Mark.

The Hierarchical Liturgy

As numbers in a diocese increased dramatically, the bishop who presides over the Eucharistic assembly appointed presbyters to act as celebrants in the local communities (the parishes). Still, the Church is understood in Eastern Orthodoxy in terms not of the presbyter, but the diocesan bishop. When the latter celebrates the liturgy personally, the service is more complex and festive. To demonstrate unity with the greater Orthodox community, the hierarch commemorates the hierarch he is subordinate to or, if he is head of an autocephalous church, he commemorates all his peers, whose names he reads from a diptych.

Typical structure

Note: Psalms are numbered according to the Greek Septuagint. For the Hebrew Masoretic numbering that is more familiar in the West, usually add '1'. (See the main Psalms article for an exact correspondence table.)

The format of Divine Liturgy is fixed, although the specific readings and hymns vary with season and feast.

The Divine Liturgy consists of three interrelated parts; when not in conjunction with vespers, the liturgies of John Chrysostom and Basil the Great are structured thus:

A typical celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy consists of:

Liturgy of Preparation

Main article: Liturgy of Preparation

This part of the Liturgy is private, performed only by the priest and deacon. It symbolizes the hidden years of Christ's earthly life.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

This is the public part of the Liturgy, in which both catechumens and baptized faithful would be in the nave:

When the liturgy is at the usual time (following matins or the sixth hour), this order is followed:

  1. "O come let us worship and fall down before Christ", or a Psalm verse on feasts.
  2. The refrain of the second antiphon, sung as "who art risen from the dead" on Sunday and "who art wondrous in Thy saints" on weekdays with no feast.

But when the liturgy is joined to vespers (on Christmas Eve, Theophany Eve, the feast of the Annunciation (except when these days fall on Saturday or Sunday (or, in the Annunciation's case, during Easter Week)), Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday) after the Old Testament readings the Little Litany is said and the liturgy continues from this point:

Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only baptized members who could receive Holy Communion were allowed to attend this portion of the Liturgy. In common contemporary practice, with very few local exceptions (e.g., Mount Athos), all may stay. However, in most places, catechumens are formally dismissed for further study.

Almost all texts are chanted throughout the Divine Liturgy, not only hymns but litanies, prayers, creed confession and even readings from the Bible, depending on tradition. In ancient rubrics, and contemporary Greek practice, the sermon, Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer are spoken/read, rather than chanted. Slavic traditions chant or sing everything except the sermon.[3]

Oriental Orthodox Churches

"Divine Liturgy" is the normal word for church service in Oriental Orthodoxy. In their own languages, followers of the Byzantine Rite apply it to their Eucharistic services but, while in English the same word (as also the word "Mass") is at times used to speak of the corresponding services of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the normal names used in those Churches refers either to the aspect of offering/sacrifice (Qurobo Alohoyo in the Syriac Orthodox Church), Badarak[4] in the Armenian Apostolic Church, Prosfora[5] in the Coptic Orthodox Church) or of sanctifying (Keddase in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church).[6]

The Oriental Orthodox Churches own a richness of different liturgies, which are named after the anaphora included.

Coptic Liturgy

At present, the Coptic Orthodox Church and Coptic Catholic Church have three Liturgies:

The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on most Sundays and contains the shortest anaphora. The Liturgy of St. Gregory is usually used during the feasts of the Church but not exclusively. In addition the clergy performing the liturgy can combine extracts of the Liturgies of St. Cyril and St. Gregory to the more frequently used St. Basil at the discretion of the priest or bishop.

The main liturgy used by the Coptic Church is known as Liturgy of Saint Basil.[7] The term Liturgies of Saint Basil in a Coptic context means not only the sole anaphora with or without the related prayers, but also the general order of the Alexandrine Rite liturgy.[8]


The Egyptian (or Coptic) anaphora of Saint Basil, even if related and using the same Antiochene (or "West Syrian") structure,[9] represents a different group from the Byzantine, West Syrian and Armenian grouping of anaphoras of Saint Basil. The Egyptian version does not derive directly from the latter and has its own peculiarities: its text is more brief, with less Scriptural and allusive enhancements, and it lacks well-defined Trinitarian references,[10]: 113  which are typical of other versions and reflect the theology of the First Council of Constantinople of 381.

The structure of the Bohairic Coptic version used today in the Coptic Church can be summarized as follows:

The 7th-century Sahidic Coptic version found in 1960[12] shows an earlier and more sober form of the Bohairic text: the manuscript, incomplete in its first part, begins with the Post Sanctus, and is followed by a terse Institution narrative, by a pithy Anamnesis which simply lists the themes and ends with the oblation. The next Epiclesis consists only of the prayer to the Holy Spirit to come and manifest the gifts, without any explicit request to change the gifts in the Body and Blood of Christ. The intercessions are shorter and only Mary is named among the saints.[10]: 112 

Liturgy of Saint Basil

The term Liturgy of Saint Basil may refer also to the whole Eucharistic Liturgy which in the Coptic Church has the following structure:[13][14]


Offertory (or Prothesis) is the part of the liturgy in which the Sacramental bread (qorban) and wine (abarkah) are chosen and placed on the altar. All these rites are Middle-ages developments.[15]

It begins with the dressing of the priest with vestments and the preparation of the altar, along with prayers of worthiness for the celebrant. At this point is chanted the appropriate hour of the Canonical hours, followed by the washing of the hands with its prayer of worthiness, and by the proclamation of the Nicean Creed.

Then takes place the elaborate rite of the choosing of the Lamb: while the congregation sing 41 times the Kyrie eleison, the priest checks the wine and chooses among the bread one loaf which will be consecrated (the Lamb). The Lamb is cleaned with a napkin and blessed with the priest's thumb wet with wine. Afterwards the priest takes the Lamb in procession around the altar and the deacon follows with the wine and a candle.[7] At the altar, the priest, with appropriate prayers, blesses the Lamb and the wine, places the Lamb on the Paten and pours wine and a few drops of water in the chalice (the chalice is placed on the altar in a wooden box named ark).

The last part of the offertory resembles an anaphora: after a dialogue, the priest blesses the congregation and proclaims a prayer of thanksgiving, giving thanks to God for his support to us, and asking him for a worthy participation to the liturgy. Then comes the prayer of covering said inaudibly by the priest, which has the form of an epiclesis asking God to show his face on the gifts, and to change them in order that the bread and wine may became the Body and Blood of Christ. This text might come from an ancient anaphora or simply be a later High Middle Ages creation.[15] The paten and the ark with the chalice inside are here covered with a veil.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

In the Liturgy of the Catechumens the readings from the New Testament are proclaimed. This portion was in ancient times the beginning of the liturgy, and the only part which could be attended by the catechumens. It is roughly equivalent to the Liturgy of the Word in the Western Rites.

It begins with a Penitential Rite in which first the priest prays inaudibly to Christ for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Son) and then all the participants kneel in front of the altar and the celebrant, or the bishop if present, recites a prayer of absolution (The Absolution to the Ministers).

The reading from the Pauline epistles is preceded by the offering of incense at the four sides of the altar, at the iconostasis, at the book of the Gospel and at the faithfuls in the nave; in the meantime the faithful sing a hymn to Mary and a hymn of intercession. The Pauline epistle is followed by a reading from the Catholic epistles and by one from the Acts of the Apostles. Another offering of incense is conduced (the Praxis Incense), similar to the Pauline incense except that only the first row of the faithful is incensed. A reading from the Coptic Synaxarium can follow.

After these readings, the Trisagion is sung three times, each time with a different reference to the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, thus addressing the Trisagion to Christ only. After the Trisagion follows a litany, the recital of a Psalm and the singing of the Alleluia, and finally the proclamation of the Gospel from the doors of the sanctuary. The sermon may follow.

Liturgy of the Faithful

The Liturgy of the Faithful is the core of the Liturgy, where are placed the proper Eucharistic rites.

It begins with the prayer of the Veil,[15] in which the priest offers the liturgical sacrifice to God. The Long Litanies follows, where all pray for the peace, for the ecclesiastic hierarchy and for the congregation. The Nicean Creed is proclaimed, the priest washes his hands three times and sprinkles water on the congregation reciting the Prayer of Reconciliation which is a prayer of worthiness for all who attend the liturgy. Next is the Kiss of peace during which the faithful sing the Aspasmos Adam (Rejoice O Mary) hymn.

The Anaphora is conducted. After the anaphora takes place the consignation,[15] i.e. the moistening of the Lamb with some drops of the consecrated Wine, which is shown for the worship of the faithful. The Fraction of the consecrated Lamb ensues, during which the priest says a prayer which varies according to the Coptic calendar. All of the congregation stands and prays with open hands the Lord's Prayer.

To be prepared for partaking of the Eucharist, the faithful bow while the celebrant says in low voice the prayer of submission, then the priest and the participants offer each other a wish of peace and the priest inaudibly prays to the Father for the forgiveness of sins (The Absolution to the Father).

The Elevation is similar to that in the Byzantine Rite, with the celebrant who raises the portion of the Lamb engraved with a cross (the ispadikon) crying: "The holy things for the holy ones". The priest makes a second consignation and puts gently the ispakidon in the chalice (the commixture),[16] then he recites aloud a confession of faith. The partaking of the Eucharist follows, first the Body of Christ given to the celebrants, to the deacons and to the faithful who approach the sanctuary without shoes and then the Blood of Christ in the same order. Psalm 150 is sung in the meantime. The distribution of the Eucharist ends with a blessing with the Paten.

The dismissal rites include The Prayer of Laying the Hands and the final blessing.

Syro-Antiochene liturgy

Main article: Holy Qurobo

The Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church of the West Syriac Rite which is developed from the Antiochene Rite use a version of the Divine Liturgy of Saint James which differs substantially from its Byzantine Rite counterpart, most notably in being substantially shorter (it can be completed in under two hours, whereas the historic form of the Byzantine Rite liturgy prior to the revisions of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom took more than four hours), and in that it can be used with more than eighty different anaphoras; the most commonly used are those of Mar Bar Salibi (which is the shortest), and that of St. James, which resembles that of the Byzantine Rite liturgy, and is mandated on certain occasions, such as major feasts, the consecration of churches, and the first liturgies offered by newly ordained priests.[17] Due to the long isolation of the Saint Thomas Christians the rite of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church shows some differences, so that this rite is called the Malankara Rite.

Armenian Liturgy

The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church have at present a single liturgical structure, called the Armenian Rite, with a single anaphora (the Athanasius-Anaphora)[18] for the liturgy: Holy Patarag or in Western Armenian Holy Badarak, meaning 'sacrifice'. This is in distinction from the other liturgies of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic, West Syrian, Ethiopic) which have retained multiple anaphora.

This means that the text of the Patarag can be contained in a single, unified liturgical book, the Պատարագամատոյց (Pataragamatooyts, Western Armenian Badarakamadooyts, meaning 'the offering of sacrifice'). This book contains all of the prayers for the Patarag assigned to the bishop (if celebrating as a bishop), the celebrating priest, the deacon(s), and the people, the last typically led by a choir with accompaniment.

Before the end of the 10th century there were also other liturgical forms, such as the Anaphora of St. Basil, the Anaphora of St. Gregory the Illuminator and others in use.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

The elements of the Armenian eucharistic liturgy reflect the rich set of influences on Armenian culture. The roots of the liturgy lie in the West Syrian and Byzantine forms, with the influence of the Roman Catholic Mass, the latter having arrived likely during the period of the Fourth Crusade or shortly thereafter.

Among the distinctive practices of the Armenian Patarag is the tradition that on the Sundays of the fast before Easter (the Great Fast) the curtain which hangs down in front of the elevated altar area (Armenian խորան khoran) is never opened – even for the reading of the Gospel, certain movable parts of the liturgy are omitted, the parts of the liturgy sung by the choir are said or chanted simply without adornment, there is no general confession, and there is no distribution of Communion to the faithful. This practice of fasting from the Communion bread in preparation for Easter may reflect an ancient custom of the church in Jerusalem. A special prayer of repentance is sung by the clergy on the morning of Palm Sunday (Armenian: Ծաղկազարդ tsaghkazard, Western Armenian dzaghgazard), after which the curtain is opened for the first time since the last Sunday before the Great Fast.

One element which almost certainly derives from the influence of Western liturgy is the reading of a last Gospel at the conclusion of the Patarag. However, the celebration of a short memorial service for one or more departed persons (Հոգեհանգիստ hogehangist, Western Armenian hokehankist, meaning 'rest of the spirit') is quite prevalent in parishes and replaces the reading of the last Gospel.

Equivalents in other Liturgical Rites

Roman Catholic Church

Holy Mass

Present-day forms of the Roman Rite Mass
Mass of Paul VI (post–Vatican II)
Tridentine Mass (1962 missal), Solemn Mass form

The following description of the celebration of Mass, usually in the local vernacular language, is limited to the form of the Roman Rite promulgated after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) by Pope Paul VI in 1969 and revised by Pope John Paul II in 2002, largely replacing the usage of the Tridentine Mass form originally promulgated in 1570 in accordance with decrees of the Council of Trent in its closing session (1545–46). The 1962 form of the Tridentine Mass, in the Latin language alone, may be employed where authorized by the Holy See or, in the circumstances indicated in the 2021 document Traditionis custodes,[25] by the diocesan bishop.

In the modern form the priest usually (though not obligatorily) faces the people (versus populum); in the earlier form the priest most often faces in the same direction as the people, towards the apse of the church, a stance that since the twentieth century is often called ad orientem, although not necessarily eastward.

As mentioned, the Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in the Catholic Church also in other Latin liturgical rites and in those of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the importance of the Mass in the Catholic tradition under the headings:

I. The Eucharist - Source and Summit of Ecclesial Life
II. What is This Sacrament Called?
III. The Eucharist in the Economy of Salvation
IV. The Liturgical Celebration of the Eucharist
V. The Sacramental Sacrifice Thanksgiving, Memorial, Presence
VI. The Paschal Banquet
VII. The Eucharist - "Pledge of the Glory To Come"[26]

Church of the East

Holy Qurbana

Main article: Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana is the Eucharistic celebration in the Edessan Rite. The Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East and their larger Catholic counterparts, the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syro-Malabar Church, which use the Edessan Rite that they all inherit from the Church of the East, employ one or more of three different Eucharistic anaphorae when celebrating Holy Qurbana:

See also


  1. ^ "OCA Q&A on the Divine Liturgy". Archived from the original on 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  2. ^ "Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America: Worship". Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  3. ^ Krivoshein, Basil (2 July 1975). "Some differences between Greek and Russian divine services and their significance". Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  4. ^ Hovhanessian, Vahan (2011), "Badarak (Patarag)", The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, American Cancer Society, doi:10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0112, ISBN 9780470670606
  5. ^ From Greek προσφορά
  6. ^ Bradshaw, Paul F.; Johnson, Maxwell E. (2012-06-01). The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their Evolution and Interpretation. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814662663.
  7. ^ a b Chaillot, Christine (2006). "The Ancient Oriental Churches". In Wainwright, Geoffrey; Westerfield Tucker, Karen B. (eds.). The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 137–9. ISBN 9780195138863.
  8. ^ Cody, Aelred (1991). "Anaphora of Saint Basil". The Coptic encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Macmillan. 121b-123b. ISBN 978-0028970257.
  9. ^ Mazza, Enrico (1995). The origins of the Eucharistic prayer. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. p. 612. ISBN 9780814661192.
  10. ^ a b Stuckwish, D. Richard (1997). "The Basilian anaphoras". In Bradshaw, Paul F. (ed.). Essays on early Eastern eucharistic prayers. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0814661536.
  11. ^ Psalm 146:6
  12. ^ J.Doresse and E. Lanne, Un témoin archaique de la liturgie copte de S.Basile, Louvain, 1960
  13. ^ Sleman, Abraam (ed.). "St. Basil Liturgy Reference Book" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  14. ^ Malaty, Tadrous Y. (1973). Christ in the Eucharist. OrthodoxEbooks. p. 119.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ a b c d Spinks, Bryan (2010). "Oriental Orthodox Liturgical Traditions". In Parry, Ken (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 361–2. ISBN 9781444333619.
  16. ^ "The Fraction in The Coptic Orthodox Liturgy". Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  17. ^ Archdeacon Murad Barsom (1997-12-01). "Anaphora of St. James, First Bishop of Jerusalem". Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  18. ^ Hans-Jürgen Feulner: Die armenische Athanasius-Anaphora. Kritische Edition, Übersetzung und liturgievergleichender Kommentar. Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 2001. ISBN 88-7210-332-0.
  19. ^ Gabriele Winkler: Die Basilius-Anaphora. Edition der beiden armenischen Redaktionen und der relevanten Fragmente, Übersetzung ..., Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 2005, ISBN 88-7210-348-7. - Die ältere Redaktion trägt bei den Armeniern den Namen Gregors des Erleuchters.
  20. ^ P. Ferhat: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 1. Eine dem hl. Gregor von Nazianz zugeschrieben Liturgie. In: Oriens Christianus NS 1 (1911) 201-21
  21. ^ P. Ferhat: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 2. Die angebliche Liturgie des Katholikos Sahaks. In: Oriens Christianus NS 3 (1913) 16-31.
  22. ^ A. Baumstark: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 3. Die armenische Rezension der Jakobusliturgie. In: Oriens Christianus NS 7-8 (1918) 1-32.
  23. ^ A. Rücker: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 4. Die Anaphora des Patriarchen Kyrillos von Alexandreia. In: Oriens Christianus 3. Ser. 1 (1927) 143-157.
  24. ^ A. Rücker: Denkmäler altarmenischer Messliturgie 5. Die Anaphora des heiligen Ignatius von Antiochien. In: Oriens Christianus 3. Ser. (1930) 56-79.
  25. ^ Traditionis custodes
  26. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church".
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Greek Liturgies; English translation of the Principal Liturgies
Eastern Orthodox Christian
Oriental Orthodox Christian