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Robert Taft S. J.

The Evolution of the Byzantine “Divine Liturgy”

Orientalia Christiana Periodica XLIII, Roma 1977, p. 8-30

The enarxis

There many ways in which one can approach the history of how this came about. My one approach is structural and historical, that is, I try to identify and isolate individual liturgical structures or units, then trace their history as such, rather than attempt to study the entire rite as a unit in each historical period. For it has been my constant observation that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant. Let us see how this happened in the concrete.

We shall prescind from the elaborate Rite of the Prothesis or preparation of bread and wine that precedes the liturgy. With the exception of the Prothesis Prayer or prayer of offering, it began to evolve only after the 8th century, lagerly as a result of monastic influence.

More important is the enarxis that introduces the Liturgy of the Word. Today the reading of the epistle is preceded by an office of three antiphones, each with its litany and collect. The minor introit takes place during the singing of the third antiphon. This entrance is also accompanied by a collect, the Prayer of the Entrance, said outside the central doors of the iconostasis before the procession enters to the altar. There follow various troparia or refrains, and then the Tisagion chant with its accompanying prayer, giving us the following structure.

Initial blessing
Litany and prayer I
Antiphon I
Litany and prayer II
Antiphon II
Litany and prayer III
Antiphon III with added troparia (refrains), entrance procession, entrance prayer
Trisagion prayer and chant
Procession to the throne
Greeting: “Peace to all”

During the Trisagion the celebrants proceed to the throne behind the altar for the readings. With this procession to the throne we rejoin the primitive introit of the liturgy as described in the homilies of Chrysostom at the end of the 4th century the clergy enter the church together with the people, and proceed directly to the throne in the apse. There the bishop greets the people with “Peace to all”, then sits down for the readings: no antiphons, no litanies, no prayers, nothing. But by the time of our earliest manuscript of the Byzantine liturgy, the 8th century codex Barberini 336 (1), we already have our enarxis almost as it is today. Where did it come from?

First of all. We can see at a glance that the enarxis is made of up later, secondary additions to the liturgy, for its formulae are all common to the liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil, which are independent only from the prayer over the catechumens (2). Now any time we see common elements in two liturgies, it is obvious that they went from one formulary to the other, or were introduced to both simultaneously from some third source after they had begun to share a common history as variant liturgical formularies of the same local church, to whose liturgical shape the both were thenceforth made to conform.


1. For the literature on this and other sources of the Byzantine liturgy, see R. TAFT, The Great Entrance. A History of the Transfer of Gifts and other Pre-anaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Onentalia Christiana Analecta 200) Rome 1975: "Introduction" and "Index of Manuscripts".

2. Some ancient Italian MSS fill in the enarxis of the Chrysostom formulary with prayers from other liturgies. A. Jacob has traced the origins of this local peculiarity, which formerly had led liturgists to suppose that the Chrysostom formulary was once different from that of Basil in its entirety. See A. JACOB, Histoire du formulaire grec de la liturgie de S. Jean Chrysostome (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Louvain 1968); La tradition manuscrite de la Liturgie de S. Jean Chrysostome (VIIIe-XIIe siècles), in: Eucharisties d'Orient et d'Occident (Lex oramdi 47) Paris 1970, 109-38; L'evoluzione dei libri liturgici bizantini in Calabria e in Sicilia. in: Calabria bizantina. Vita religiosa e strutture ammnistrative (Atti del primo e del seconda incontro di Studi Bizantini) Reggio Calabria 1974, 47-69; cf. TAFT, Great Entrance, op. cit., pp. xxxi-ii.

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