THE ENGLISH LITURGY IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
The principle Western Rite texts approved for use in both the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Antiochian Orthodox Church are the Roman and English Liturgies. The basis for these texts are found in two important documents:
The Liturgia Missae Orthodoxo-Catholicae Occidentalis by J. J. Overbeck and approved by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1869; and Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book, the 1904 response of the Russian Holy Synod to Archbishop (now Saint) Tikhon (Belavin) concerning the use of the 1892 American Book of Common Prayer by Orthodox Christians in the West.
In both cases the Russian Holy Synod took a theological and pastoral approach, and made their decisions on the basis of dogmatic theology and pastoral need. The Orthodox Roman Rite, commonly called the “Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great,” is essentially the Missal of Pius V corrected and adapted for Orthodox use. Likewise, the Holy Synod determined that the English Liturgy, now commonly called the “Liturgy of St. Tikhon,” could be authorized after being corrected theologically and adapted for use in the Orthodox Church. The issue of authorizing these liturgies for use in the Orthodox Church was not examined from the perspective of liturgical history, but solely from the perspectives of dogmatic theology and pastoral need.
The 1549 Book of Common Prayer, a principle source for the Orthodox English Liturgy, is older than the Missal of Pius V (1570), and has its origin in the Sarum Missal. Sarum is an English Usage of the Roman Rite going back to the era of what is commonly called the “undivided” Church, and was the predominant Usage in 16th century England.
ST. TIKHON AND THE ENGLISH LITURGY
St. Tikhon of Moscow served as the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of North America until 1907. While in America he became close friends with Bishop Charles Grafton, the Anglican bishop of Fon du Lac, Wisconsin. Bishop Grafton, a monk, was deeply committed to Anglican reunion with the Orthodox Church. Through Bishop Grafton, Archbishop Tikhon became intimately acquainted with Anglicans in America, visiting Anglican parishes and observing their worship.
Archbishop Tikhon (Belavin) and Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny), assisted by Fr. John Kochuroff - all three of whom would later be canonized as Orthodox Saints - petitioned the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to permit an Orthodox version of the American Book of Common Prayer to be used by Orthodox Christians in the West. Archbishop Tikhon’s request was assigned to a Committee appointed by the Holy Synod on Old Catholic and Anglican questions. The Committee reported in favor of the adaptation of the English Liturgy for Orthodox use and set out the criteria for its correction and adaptation in 1904. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church formally received and endorsed the report of the Committee.
Unfortunately, with Archbishop Tikhon’s return to Russia in 1907, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, with the subsequent brutal persecution of the Russian Church, the correction and adaptation of the English Liturgy was not actually undertaken at that time. It would have to wait another seventy years.
The Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book produced by the Committee on Old Catholic and Anglican questions was translated from Russian into English and published in 1917, with a Preface and Notes by the Anglican liturgical scholar and bishop Dr. Walter Howard Frere. In the Preface, Bishop Frere wrote, “The Observations are not controversial - they are practical in their character and brotherly in their spirit… Further, if we repudiate some of the criticisms, because we may think it arises from prejudice or lack of knowledge and intercourse, we are bound to find also a good deal of criticism which we must lay to heart.”
The Observations were positively received, and much of what they called for was incorporated in the 1928 American, 1928 English Proposed, and 1929 Scottish revisions of the Book of Common Prayer. Even more progress was made with the publication of the Anglican and American Missals, leaving little theological correction and pastoral adaptation remaining for the Orthodox Church to undertake before authorizing the English Liturgy for use.
The Antiochian Orthodox Church was the first to complete the adaptation of the English Liturgy, authorizing it for use forty years ago in 1977. That year, the Church of the Incarnation, an Anglican parish led by its rector Fr. Joseph Angwin, was received into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, and was the first to use the newly authorized English Liturgy.
The English Liturgy has commonly become known as the Liturgy of St. Tikhon, not because St. Tikhon had created it or celebrated it, but in his honour because it was through his efforts that it was ultimately authorized for use. Today, the English Liturgy is fully authorized for use in both the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church authorizes both the Roman and English Liturgies for use. The authorized Roman Liturgy, commonly called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, can be found here:
The English Liturgy, commonly called the Liturgy of St. Tikhon, can be found here:
THE NON-JURORS AND THE ENGLISH LITURGY
The English Liturgy had nearly been authorized for use in the Orthodox Church some two centuries earlier. From 1716 to 1725 the English Non-Jurors carried on a correspondence with three Orthodox Patriarchates, first with Alexandria and then later with Jerusalem and Constantinople also. The Non-Jurors described themselves to the Orthodox as “the remnant of the ancient and once Orthodox Church in Britain.” Reunion of the “British Katholicks” with the Orthodox Church was their goal, and Tsar Peter the Great of Russia became a champion of the idea.
In 1718, the Orthodox Patriarchs wrote to the British Katholicks about the Non-Juror version of the Book of Common Prayer. They said, “When therefore, we have considered it, if it needs correction, we will correct it, and if possible will give it the sanction of a genuine form.”
Later the Patriarchs wrote to the Non-Jurors saying that in matters of “custom and ecclesiastical order, and for the form and discipline of administering the Sacraments, they will easily be settled when unity is effected. For it is evident from ecclesiastical history that there have been and now are different customs and regulations in different places and Churches, and yet the unity of the Faith and Doctrine is preserved the same” (Orthodoxy & Anglicanism, by V. T. Istavridis; SPCK; 1966; p.5).
In an effort to derail this reunion effort, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote the Orthodox Patriarchs at the request of the British government, warning the Patriarchs that the Non-Jurors were disloyal British subjects and schismatic churchmen, and asking them to end their discussions with them. Tragically, fearing becoming embroiled in British politics, the Patriarchs broke off their dialogue with the Non-Jurors, ending the possibility of restoring Western Orthodoxy at that time.
THE ENGLISH LITURGY
The English Liturgy is not a distinct Rite, but is a Usage of the Roman Rite with the Sarum Missal as its principle source, and first published in English in 1549 as the Book of Common Prayer. Various Usages of the Roman Rite were common throughout Western Europe before 1570, and in England there were six Usages in 1549, of which Sarum was the most important and most widespread.
A vernacular Order called “Prone” had been inserted into the Latin Mass on Sundays and Holy Days for centuries in France and Germany. Prone consisted of vernacular prayers in preparation for receiving Holy Communion. References to Prone can be found in documents going back to the ninth century. The Order varied widely from place to place. An English version of the Order of Prone, called The Order of Communion, was inserted into the Latin Mass in March of 1548. The Order included an Exhortation to self examination, an Invitation and General Confession, the Absolution and Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the words of administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion in English.
When the Latin Mass was replaced in England by a completely vernacular Liturgy on Pentecost Sunday 1549, the Eucharistic Liturgy continued to include The Order of Communion (Prone). The vernacular Order of Prone had never been part of the Latin Mass in Italy, and was ultimately abolished in the Roman Church by the Missal of Pius V in 1570.
The Mass in England was celebrated entirely in English beginning on Whitsunday (Pentecost) 1549. The Windsor Commission that did the translation work had a wonderful grasp of the English language which enabled them to reproduce the rhythm of liturgical Latin, and to produce an English language Liturgy that was reverent, uplifting and majestic. “Thus, the Book was a reverent adaptation of the Latin rite, possessed of liturgical fitness and a deep Eucharistic piety” (Liturgies of the Western Church, Bard Thompson, Meridian Books, 1961, p. 236).
In the 16th and early 17th centuries England produced three shining jewels of Christian devotion that are still used in the Orthodox Church today: The Coverdale Psalter, the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible, and the English Liturgy. For centuries the English Liturgy has been described by English speaking Christians as “our incomparable Liturgy.”
THE ORTHODOX ENGLISH LITURGY
The Orthodox English Liturgy is a Usage of the Roman Rite derived from the Sarum Missal with the 1549 Book of Common Prayer as a principle source, and contains all of the prayers of the Roman Liturgy, with the exception of the Canon because it has its own, corrected and adapted for use in the Orthodox Church according to the criteria set forth in the document, Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book in 1904.
The English Liturgy is in fact a longer liturgy than that of its Roman parent in that it contains additional prayers and Scripture, and because it includes the ancient liturgical Order called Prone that has been lost elsewhere. The most notable differences between the English and Roman Liturgies authorized for use in the Orthodox Church stem from The Order of Communion or Prone, which remains a part of the English Liturgy, but is not found in the Roman.
THE ENGLISH LITURGICAL TRADITION
While the English Liturgy is rooted in the Sarum Missal and is a Usage of the Roman Rite, the English liturgical tradition has a number of distinctive emphases and elements:
The English liturgical tradition emphasizes the liturgy as the prayer of the whole Church, the work of the people. No Services are conducted by the priest and choir or the priest and acolyte while the congregation remains silent or engages in private devotions. The entire liturgy is celebrated aloud and the congregation makes the responses together. In the English liturgical tradition the laity are not merely spectators “hearing Mass,” but are active worshippers, participating in common prayer
The Holy Scriptures.
The English lectionary differs from the parent Roman Rite in both the amount and variety of Scripture read. No liturgical tradition places more emphasis on Scripture or reads more Scripture in the daily Services of the Church than the English liturgical tradition.
The English Liturgy itself places a strong emphasis on the Holy Scriptures. Early in the Ordinary of the English Liturgy the Celebrant prepares the congregation for worship by reciting the Summary of the Law given by our Lord, and on occasion the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.
The Gospel at Holy Mass is commonly proclaimed from the nave in the the midst of the congregation, reminding everyone that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be carried out among the people and that the Great Commission is to be advanced.
Biblical preaching is an important part the English liturgical tradition. Sermons are delivered at least every Sunday and Feast Day, and the emphasis is on Biblical preaching where the Scripture readings for the day are unpacked, explained and applied to the lives of listeners.
The Prayers of the Faithful.
A series of intercessions for the living and the dead in the form of a long Collect called the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church follows the Offertory. The Prayers of the Faithful had been found early in the Liturgy of the Faithful in the primitive Roman Rite, but had been moved to the Canon by late in the sixth century, leaving the Oremus (Let us pray), but no Intercessions. In the Mozarabic Rite the Intercessions are also found near the Offertory. The English Liturgy preserves this ancient Western practice.
The Order of Communion or Prone.
The ancient Order of Prone is still used in the English Liturgy. These Communion devotions follow the Liturgy of the Word and begin just before the Sursum Corda and the Canon (Anaphora) of the Mass, and conclude after the reception of Holy Communion.
It is the proclamation of the Word of God in the readings from Holy Scripture and in the preaching, followed by the response of faith in professing the Nicene Creed, and offering alms, Oblations and prayer, that leads the congregation to contrition, repentance, and deeper conversion to Christ. It is here that the Order of Communion, the ancient Order of Prone begins with the exhortation, “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins…” This is followed by a General Confession which on weekdays is prayed kneeling. After the General Confession comes the Absolution and Comfortable Words. The penitential rite being concluded, the Celebrant begins the Sursum Corda and the Canon of the Mass.
Following the Agnus Dei, the Prayer of Humble Access is said. On weekdays this prayer is said by everyone kneeling. The Prayer of Humble Access is one of the most beautiful and moving in the English Liturgy, and is noted for its rich Eucharistic theology. The Order of Communion or Prone then concludes after the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the communicants pray together the Prayer of Thanksgiving.
The English Canon.
The first paragraph of the English Canon or Prayer of Consecration takes up the theme of glorifying God from the Sanctus and Benedictus: “All glory be to Thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father,” in thanksgiving for His tender mercy in sending His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ for our redemption.
The Words of Institution in the English Liturgy follows the Eastern practice rather than the Western. “The Gallican and Roman introduces the words of institution with the phrase, ‘Who, the day before he suffered’ instead of the eastern (and Mozarabic) formula, ‘Who, the the night in which he was betrayed…” (A Short History of the Mass, Orthodoxy, Vol. VII, Number 1, Spring 1956). The English Canon introduces the Words of Institution with+, “For in the night in which he was betrayed.”
The English Canon follows the Words of Institution with a descending Epiclesis, an Invocation of the Holy Spirit over the Oblations of bread and wine. There are no elevations of the bread and chalice after the Words of Institution because Orthodox sacramental theology considers the Epiclesis to be essential to the Consecration. There was a descending Epiclesis in the English Liturgy before it was authorized for Orthodox use, but it was strengthened and made clearer so as to avoid any possible ambiguity. A descending Epiclesis had to be imported into the Canon of the Roman Liturgy.
THE DIVINE OFFICE
The English Liturgy has beautifully adapted the ancient Benedictine monastic Offices for use in a parochial setting. The Offices of Matins, Vespers and Compline as found in the the book, The English Office Noted are used not only by congregations utilizing the English Liturgy, but by those using the Roman Liturgy as well. In the Western spiritual tradition many of the laity pray the daily Office at home along with the clergy.
By praying these daily Offices, Western Rite Orthodox Christians pray through the entire Psalter each month, and read through the New Testament twice every year, as well as through the greater part of the Old Testament. Ancient Benedictine spirituality has always permeated the English liturgical and spiritual tradition, with the Divine Office serving like a golden setting for the precious jewel of the Holy Eucharist.
The Gospel was brought to the British Isles by St. Joseph of Arimathea and his companions directly from Jerusalem. St. Aristobulus, one of the seventy, was the first bishop in Britain. The Church took root and thrived, with British bishops taking part in the Council of Arles in the year 314.
At the time of the Great Schism in 1054, the Church in the British Isles remained Orthodox. This led to the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Norman Invasion had been preached as a crusade to bring an “erring” English Church under Roman authority and was blessed by the pope. All but one of the English bishops were removed from their Sees and imprisoned, and a Norman usurper was placed on the throne of St. Augustine in Canterbury. On October 15, 1072, the last English Orthodox bishop, Ethelric of Durham, died in prison at Westminster after anathematizing the pope. For the next half millennium the English Church maintained an uneasy and often stormy relationship with Rome which had been forged by invasion and conquest.
In 1534, the English Reformation began. Unlike the Reformation on the Continent, the English Reformation was carried out by the bishops themselves with the goal of freeing the English Church from Roman domination, and restoring the Faith and Order of the early Church. Having been forcibly separated from the Orthodox Church for nearly half a millennium, restoration was difficult and the journey was a long one. Missteps were made, but also much progress.
The goal of the English Reformation was advanced by the Caroline Divines of the 17th century, the Non-jurors of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Oxford movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the Continuing Anglican Movement of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries. The English Liturgy was authorized for use in principle by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1904, but historical circumstances delayed its implementation.
The English Liturgy was finally corrected theologically and adapted for Orthodox use by the Patriarchate of Antioch, with the first parish using what would become commonly called the Liturgy of St. Tikhon forty years ago in 1977. Today. the English Liturgy is authorized for use in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Antiochian Orthodox Church, with the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being the largest, most widespread and fastest growing.
The Vision Glorious of the Oxford Movement has been fulfilled. What was lost to the Orthodox Church in the wake of the Great Schism and the Norman Conquest has been restored, and Western Orthodoxy is being rebuilt. The English cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony has been preserved in full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Church.
For more information on the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia please visit the website of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities: