Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Orthodox’

The Silent Canon: Is Worship Supposed to be Awful?

January 5th, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie

A post from the New Liturgical Movement website.


Harris (Charles Harris) brings forward an abundance of quotations from the earliest liturgical sources to support his contention that the silent recitation of part or all of the Anaphora or Canon of the Eucharistic liturgy became the norm very early on in both East and West. This evidence—and more importantly, the underlying theology and spirituality to which it points—is a clarion call for Catholics of the Roman Rite to continue to work zealously for either the preservation and spread (in the usus antiquior) or the reappraisal and restoration (in the Novus Ordo) of the silent Canon. This ancient and longstanding custom, like the ad orientem stance and the exercise of liturgical roles by ordained ministers, expresses the great reverence due to our Lord Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament.

Harris first talks about the psychology of silence…

Read the entire post here.

The Eternal Liturgy vs. Contemporary Worship

April 15th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Here is a very informative and clearly written description of the biblical basis of the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church. I think it also applies to the Latin Rite, as well, especially the traditional Latin Mass.  The comparison, however, is by far with contemporary Protestant and non-denominational worship.

Orthodox Worship vs. Contemporary Also OT eternal pattern

photo: from the Preachers Institute

by Robert Arakaki

 Within the past few decades, a new form of worship has become widely popular among Christians.  Where before people would sing hymns accompanied by an organ, then listen to a sermon, in this new worship there are praise bands that use rock band instruments, short, catchy praise songs, sophisticated Power Point presentations, and the pastor giving uplifting practical teachings about having a fulfilling life as a Christian.  This new kind of worship is so popular that people come to these services by the thousands.  They go because the services are fun, exciting, easy to understand, and easy to relate to.  Yet this new style of worship is light years away from the more traditional and liturgical Orthodox style of worship.  How does an Orthodox Christian respond to this new worship?  Is it acceptable or is it contrary to Orthodoxy?  How should an Orthodox Christian respond to an invitation to attend these contemporary Christian services?


According to the Pattern

First we need to ask: Is there a guiding principle for right worship?  St. Stephen, the first martyr, gave a sermon about the history of the Jewish nation.  In this sermon he notes that Old Testament worship was “according to... READ MORE

Breathing With Both Lungs

March 22nd, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

There are many differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches but usually it is a difference of emphasis rather than (in my view) serious substance. Most often the differences are complementary. We need both views to understand more completely.

The most common subject dominating the apse wall behind or over an Orthodox altar is the Holy Virgin of the Sign or a slight variation of it –the Madonna holding the Christ Child in her lap. In Western (Catholic) churches the single most used subject is the crucifixion. Protestant churches almost always employ the plain cross.

view toward apse and iconostasis screen cropped

Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, Rochester

Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church, Rochester

Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church, Rochester

The different imagery reveals the different emphasis each places on the same economy of redemption and salvation.

In the East it is the Incarnation as a whole that effects redemption. Man was redeemed when God took on human flesh, lived a human life in all respects except sin, suffered the worst death, and resurrected and ascended back to the Father. With the Incarnation, human flesh became capable of deification (sanctification). It became possible for man to enjoy eternal life with God in heaven.  The icon of the Incarnation in the East is the Virgin of the Sign or the Holy Virgin holding her Son in her lap. It is the Eastern iconic image of redemption.


“Mother Of God The Sign”

The Western Church does not believe something different but she most often chooses a specific moment, the moment of Christ’s horrible death, to symbolize the redemption. Catholics and Protestants emphasize an atonement theology as part of the Incarnation; that Christ paid for our sins through His sacrificial death. This is especially true in Protestant churches.


Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pierrefonds

Catholic churches, in addition to the crucifixion, have a very rich tradition of highlighting other images of redemption (including images of the “Virgin of the Sign”) behind or above the altar, such as scenes from the life of Christ and images of the sanctified –the saints.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" Caravaggio, 1610, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Besides the Crucifixion Catholic chancel imagery often displays snapshots from the history of redemption or salvation.

“The Conversion of Saint Paul”, Caravaggio, 1610, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Besides the Crucifixion which is the most represented subject, Catholic chancel imagery often displays snapshots from the history of redemption or salvation. Here we see an analogy to that history; brilliant Divine light pierces the darkness of Paul’s pre-Christian life as Christ’s Incarnation deified fallen flesh.

The Eastern Church chooses to display as its most important icon in the church building an image that views redemption as a whole piece. In the Western tradition redemption appears as a crescendo climaxing in the sacrifice of the cross. Neither emphasis diminishes the importance of the other. We should see them as complementing each other  –“breathing with both lungs”.

We Westerners, especially Protestants, may be puzzled or even scandalized by the prominent emphasis of the Holy Virgin in Eastern Orthodox or Byzantine Catholic churches until we realize the meaning behind the icon.


Ascent to the Heavenly Jerusalem in Eastern “Temple” Architecture

April 1st, 2013, Promulgated by Bernie

In my last post on the theme of the church building as a metaphor for the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Temple, I described the role of the Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Iconostasis Screen in enabling the ascent from the earthy to the heavenly, from the visible to the invisible. In this post I will attempt to describe and explain how traditional Byzantine/Orthodox church architecture and the program of imagery/icons contained therein also aid us in the ascent.

(Click on pictures to view sharper images)

Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), 532-37

Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), 532-37. (Picture Source)

Cross section, Hagia Sophia.

Cross section, Hagia Sophia.

Generally speaking, the traditional architecture employed in the Eastern Rite Catholic and Orthodox churches had its origins in the 6th century and is associated with the building of the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople (now, Istanbul) by the emperor Justinian I. That’s fair enough given that Hagia Sophia was a mammoth architectural expression of an architectural concept first employed by some earlier and much smaller churches, the most important being The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. Still standing (now a mosque), and about a 15 minute walk from Hagia Sophia. The much smaller building is thought to have been the model for Hagia Sophia.

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus. (Picture Source)

Ground Plan of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus

Ground Plan of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus. (Picture Source)

The notable feature of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is the combination of the architectural forms of 1) the Roman basilica ground plan, and 2) the dome of a martyrium. The result is an impressive feeling of height over the center of the church. The domes in such churches quickly became associated with the “dome” of heaven –and the floor below, with earth. These early domed churches were probably not decorated with figurative imagery. However, a church built between 876-80 is thought by at least one art historian1 to be the prototype for the program of figurative images that became the norm in the Eastern churches.

Sixth century Manuscript of Cosmas Indicopleustes. The world conceived as a box with the Almighty at the top and the earth as a mountain and the 'waters under the earth'.

Sixth century Manuscript of Cosmas Indicopleustes. The world conceived as a box with the Almighty at the top and the earth as a mountain and the ‘waters under the earth’.

The Nea (New) Church sponsored by the Byzantine Emperor Basil I in Constantinople was the first monumental church built in the Byzantine capital after Hagia Sophia. It was destroyed in 1490 but we know something of its decorative imagery from contemporary accounts and a few surviving fragments. The decorative program apparently conveyed the concept of the church as a microcosm of the world with heaven above and the earth, below.2  It included a sense of the church building as the New Jerusalem with Christ’s life depicted as if eternally renewed or relived, thus complementing the liturgy of the Mass in which the sacrifice of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is made always present.


Monastery at Daphni, Greece.

In the Nea Church the image of Christ Pantocrator was placed in the apex of the dome, thus dominating the entire interior space of the church. The walls rising from the floor were covered in veined marble revetment symbolizing the earth and “the waters under the earth”.  Just above the marble covered walls was the zone of the saints, our brothers and sisters who have gone before us in the faith, ready to intercede between heaven and earth. In the register above the saints are scenes from the life of Christ, ever present in time: the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism of the Lord, Raising of Lazarus, miracles, Miraculous Catch of Fish, Washing of the Feet, etc. Then, in the dome –between the windows– appeared the apostles and the Holy Virgin. Old Testament scenes may have been depicted in side chapels. The Fathers of the Church who formulated the liturgy and were the first to enact it were represented in the apse, on the other side of the Iconostasis Screen, behind the altar.

Fathers of the Church as well as the Virgin of the Sign depicted in the apse behind the altar.

Fathers of the Church as well as the Virgin of the Sign depicted in the 6th century apse behind the altar in the 6th century chapel of Mar Musa Monastery in Syria. (Picture Source)

This program of representation received, through tradition, the sanction of the Church.3  Those responsible for the interior decoration of churches were not permitted to deviate from it in any significant way. The program was eventually formulated into a set of written rules or guidelines. The earliest copy known is from the 16th century and is called the Painters’ Guide, a handbook of sorts outlining how a church should be adorned with images and how each saint and scene should be depicted.4 The guidelines have the force of tradition but are not canonical, as far as I know.

Byzantine and Orthodox churches are not all of the same design, of course (some don’t have domes for example), but the general concept of hierarchical ascent generally governs the decorative program of imagery in the Eastern tradition.


1  Talbot, David, Art of the Byzantin Era, (Singapore, Thames and Hudson, 1963), p 88

2 Talbot p 88

3 Talbot p 88

4 Talbot p 89

Patriarch Germanos on the Church as Temple

February 26th, 2013, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously in this series Temple, Garden, OLV/SJ

The Church of the Holy Wisdom1 in Istanbul (Constantinople) remains one of the great achievements of world architecture. In it we can see the perfect church. Germanos, patriarch of Constantinople from 715 to 730, wrote from the perspective of the Church of the Holy Wisdom an interpretation of the symbolism of the Byzantine church:

The church is the Temple of God, a holy place, a house of prayer, the assembly of the people, the body of Christ. It is called the bride of Christ. It is cleansed by the water of his baptism, sprinkled by his blood, clothed in bridal garments, and sealed with the ointment of the Holy Spirit, according to the prophetic saying: ‘Your name is oil poured out’ and ‘We run after the fragrance of your myrrh’, which is ‘Like the precious oil, running down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron’.

The church is an earthly heaven in which the super-celestial God dwells and walks about. It represents the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ: it is glorified more than the tabernacle of the witness of Moses, in which are the mercy-seat and the Holy of Holies. It is prefigured in the patriarchs, foretold by the prophets, founded in the apostles, adorned by the clergy, and fulfilled in the martyrs.2


The Church of the Holy Wisdom, Istanbul (Constantinople), consecrated in 537. The Arabic medallions, furnishings and script were added when it was converted into a mosque, after the Turkish conquest. (Picture Source)

The patriarch’s reflection lays out the general understanding of the Church concerning church symbolism. Even accounting for local variations this basic understanding has traditionally been reflected in the sacred art and liturgy of both the Eastern and Western Church.

1 Hagia Sophia or Sancta Sophia

2 P. Meyendorff, St. Germanus of Constantinople on the Holy Liturgy (New York, 1984) 56-7

Icons of the Great Feasts: Raising Aloft of the Precious Cross

September 14th, 2012, Promulgated by Bernie

Constantine and his mother stand on the left in the icon. The architecture in the background represents the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

(click on the icon for a sharper image)

(This post was originally published September 2011.)

Today, September 14, is the Great Feast of the  Exultation of the Cross.

We in the Western Church call the feast the Exaltation (or Triumph) of the Cross but in the Eastern Rite Catholic and Orthodox Churches it is usually called the Raising (Aloft) of the (Precious) Cross. Anglicans call the feast Holy Cross Day while Lutherans refer to it as the Feast of the Glorious Cross.

Tradition holds that St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great discovered the Cross of the crucifixion in Jerusalem while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326. Constantine was interested in uncovering as many of the important holy places associated with the life of Christ as he could. The site of the discovery was included in the construction of the building complex of the Church of the Resurrection (The Church of the Holy Sepulcher). The feast of the Raising of the Cross and the dedication of the church, which happened in 335, became associated with each other.

In a pilgrim’s account of her journey to Jerusalem in 400, reference is made to the solemn celebration of the feast of the dedication of the church “because the Cross of the Lord was discovered on that day.” Before long, however, the annual celebration of the dedication was entirely eclipsed by that of the Feast of the Cross.

But let’s go back to the day after the dedication in 335 when the people were first admitted to venerate the sacred wood of the Cross. Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem, while standing on an ambo at the rock of Golgotha and, with the help of some of his clergy, raised high the actual Cross and announced “Behold the Holy Cross!” and the people responded with “Kyrie eleison” (Lord have mercy) at least three times, and probably more. On September 14, 614 the ceremony was performed for the first time in Constantinople. It was repeated there again in 633 when a portion of the Cross that had been carried off by the Persians was recaptured and brought to the capital. The patriarch of Constantinople carried it in procession through the streets of the city. The rite was celebrated for the first time in Rome under Pope Sergius (687-701).

The theological and political meaning of the ceremony could not possibly have been lost on the crowd and the clergy that first time in Jerusalem. The Cross was the instrument by which Christ accomplished the redemption of man: “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor.1:25). The Cross was the glorious weapon whereby the evil one was defeated and the curse incurred by Adam, abolished. Eternal life with God was possible again. The new Adam accomplished redemption through the agency of the new Tree of Life –the Cross. All creation was again incorruptible and blossoming with new flowers. That’s the theological meaning.

But, there was a political sense, as well. It was by the Cross that Constantine had conquered and been victorious. His conversion and patronage of the Christian Church ended 300 years of intermittent and sometimes horrendous persecution.

The Cross is the ultimate symbol of “invincible victory.”



The Meaning of Icons, Leonid Ouspensky & Vladimir, (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989) pp.148-50

Picture Source

Unfortunately, I don’t have any information regarding the artist, studio or company that produced this icon.

Eastern Orthodox Tidbit & Some Words About Martyrs

October 22nd, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

I thought you may find the following bit of information interesting:

A passion-bearer is one who faces his death in a Christ-like manner. Unlike (outright) martyrs, passion-bearers are not explicitly killed for their Orthodox faith, though they hold to that faith with piety and true love of God.

While the Eastern Orthodox Churches in Russia, Greece, Ukraine, etc. may not be in absolute and perfect communion with Rome, they still have several beautiful facets to their faith. This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful.

Pray for Christian unity. Pray that the Church may, once again, learn to breathe with both lungs together, not both lungs separately.


Mysteries of the Rosary in a Hong Kong church

June 14th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

While in Hong Kong in May, my wife Pat, and I attended Sunday Mass at Rosary Church in Kowloon. The origins of this church go back to the time of the Boxer Uprising –1900– when British military regiments were mobilized to Hong Kong and stationed in Kowloon. A Father Spada secured property from a Canossain mission to serve the needs of the Catholic military and laity. In 1901 a church was built but was soon too small to meet local and expatriate needs. In 1903 a Portuguese Catholic made a generous donation for the building of a new church. The foundation stone of the new structure was laid in December of 1904. Rosary Church was completed in 1905. A large scale renovation took place in 1991. The parish has about 2,600 registered members.

Click on image for a sharper, larger display.

One of the noteworthy things about this church, in addition to its architectural style, are the tondo paintings over the altar depicting the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary. The five Luminous Mysteries were recently added below the others. (If you know of any church in the Rochester diocese that assigns such a prominent place to the Mysteries of the Rosary, please let me know.) The paintings were rather small and so the scenes depicted are not easily discernible from very far away. Nonetheless, the upfront presentation of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary is quite appropriate, liturgically, and not just because a church might be named for the Rosary.

The Mysteries of the Rosary are in fact celebrated as feast days in the Church’s calendar –at least many of them are: the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism of Christ, the Triduum, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption, etc..

"Festival Days" represented in the squinch areas of an Orthodox church.

This reminds me of the Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox canon for the decoration of churches. The Eastern Church adopted a canon whereas the Western Church never did. In the Eastern the feasts  —Festival Days— of the Church calendar are usually represented in the naos (nave) of the building in the pendentive or squinch areas below the dome, if the church has a central dome. The Festival Days of the Church are, in addition, often depicted in a row running the width of the iconostasis screen (the wall of icons that represents the point at which heaven and earth meet), above the Deacon and Royal Doors.

"Festival Row" of an iconostasis screen.

Images of the Mysteries of the Rosary are a great way to decorate the interior of a church near the chancel area, as the entire Gospel is constantly on display. The whole year is visually presented even as the assembly celebrates just one of the feasts or just one of the days of the Liturgical year.

We understood not a word of the Chinese language used at Mass in this church but the images of the mysteries depicted over the altar helped us to actively participate when the spoken word took over as the dominant means of expression in the ceremony. Without any real conscious effort we were able to mediate on the truths of the Faith even as the rest of the congregation listened to those truths proclaimed by the reader or expounded upon by the priest. If those images helped us, who understood not a word of the language, how much more did they enrich the participation of those in attendance who did speak the language?


Book Suggestion: Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B. Anstall.