Father Vasily Vasilievich is back with another helpful response to readers’ questions about saints, the place of the Bible in Orthodoxy, how to make tofu more bearable, and that oddity of oddities- why shrimp are considered “vegetables” for Lenten fasting purposes! Courtesy of “Your Intrepid Blogger” at The Onion Dome 2.0.
How did the Israelites worship in the time of the Second Temple? While we know from the Gospels that they were using synagogues (which in the post-Temple Diaspora became meetinghouses and places of study and sanctuary for dispersed rabbinical Jews throughout the Levant), unlike post-Temple Jewish practice which continues down to today, the reading of the Torah does not seem to have been the focal point of public worship. It was the Temple at Jerusalem, not synagogues, that was the focal point of ancient Israelite worship.
Rather than sermons and discussions on the Law, ceremonies of blood sacrifice at the sacred Temple were offered, involving many elements which the earliest Christians (many of them Jewish converts) adapted in their worship and which Orthodox Christianity uniquely continued and preserved through the centuries. These practices and traditions include the constant offering of incense throughout the temple and especially in the holy of holies, elaborate processions within and outside the temple, bowing and prostrations before the altar, antiphonal singing, icons and other religious images’ immense theological significance in temple worship, and many other set and complex liturgical rituals.
Contrary to all scholarship on the subject of the Israelite Temple and early Christian worship which was patterned off of it, some Protestant Christians have formed the mistaken impression that worship at the Temple itself, and early Christian worship following after it, were unadorned, spontaneous gatherings without any of the later “accrued trappings” of “ritualism” and “superstition”, which Calvin and other Protestant reformers associated with what they saw as the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It is rather amusing to see in some Protestants’ arguments against liturgy the misguided assertion that their way of worshiping in more ‘low church’ evangelical gatherings — in auditorium-like churches unadorned with any religious images in which the people listen to long sermons and then perform spontaneous, highly emotive dances — is somehow in continuity with biblical tradition and the tradition of worship at the Temple. Such Protestant methods of ‘doing church’ have far more in common with rabbinical Judaism (long sermons being the focus of worship) and pre-Christian pagans (emotional spontaneity in worship) than the highly ordered, deeply symbolic and liturgical worship offered at the Temple and continued by early Christians.
Why were the rites of worship at the Temple so elaborate, and why are the rites of worship in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and her other services today so elaborate, so complex, so highly infused with typological and symbolic language? To bring the worshipers as close as possible to the divine, to act out and renew the covenant between the people of Israel and their God, and to worship Him in majesty and splendor as all Israel oriented to the Temple, bowing before the throne of the one God. Just as the ancient Israelites once worshiped facing east, facing the rising sun and facing Jerusalem, so today, since Pentecost, have the people of the Church, the new Israel of the new Covenant, worshiped God facing east, facing the Temple in Jerusalem.
In January 2012, an eminent scholar of Temple Theology offered a thorough assessment and analysis of first century Jewish worship at the Temple and compared it with Orthodox worship today. British scholar Dr. Margaret Barker, who read Theology at the University of Cambridge, delivered this past January’s 29th annual Fr. Alexander Schmemann memorial lecture to students and faculty at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS) in Crestwood, New York.
Her brilliant presentation, titled “Our Great High Priest: The Church is the New Temple”, focused on Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the “priest-king” Melchizedek in relation to the evolution of Jewish Temple worship and theology. Dr. Barker also demonstrated the many connections and continuities between first century Israelite worship and Orthodox liturgical worship through the centuries and made the case that, related to its unique continuation of many elements of first century Israelite worship, the Orthodox Church is the “New Israel”.
Courtesy of Ancient Faith Radio, you can listen to the entirety of Dr. Barker’s lecture here. A St Vladimir’s Seminary transcript of her lecture can be found here. A related podcast discussion on Ancient Faith Radio by Fr. Gabriel Rochelle on the history of Christian worship (and the Divine Liturgy’s roots in much of Jewish Temple worship) can be found here.
How did the Israelites in the time of the Second Temple at Jerusalem worship? They did not yet have synagogues (which in post-Temple Judaism became meetinghouses and places of sanctuary and study), nor was the reading of the Torah the focal point of public worship. Rather, ceremonies of blood sacrifice at the sacred Temple were offered, involving incense, processions, bowing and prostrations, antiphonal singing, and many rituals.
This other-worldly Cherubic Hymn is in the Old Bulgarian Chant style. Abbot Silvanus of Optina Hermitage arranged this composition in 1993. The Male Choir of Optina Monastery in St. Petersburg sings this transcendent, compellingly beautiful Cherubikon.
http://www.optinachoir.ru/ CD “Russian church singing”
Херувимская песнь. Староболгарский распев. Изложение игумена Силуана (1993 г.)
Мужской хор Санкт-Петербургского Подворья монастыря Оптина Пустынь
Rightly, Cherubic Hymns are considered the most ethereal, mysterious liturgical music offerings in the Church – the choir’s attempt to imitate the host of angels singing before the heavenly throne of God.
This beautiful chanting of a Cherubic Hymn takes place in Tbilisi’s seventh century Church of St Michael the Archangel.
Here is a link to a choir of Georgian nuns chanting the same Cherubic Hymn.
Renowned choralist Nana Peradze chants His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II’s beautiful composition “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord Have Mercy).
The head of the Orthodox Church in Georgia since 1977, His Holiness has composed several hymns, many poems, and has played an active role in the increase in Georgia’s post-communism population following his 2007 announcement that he would personally baptize any new infants born to Georgian families with two or more children.
The Patriarch is widely considered the most morally authoritative and honorable public figure in Georgia. In the wake of deepening popular cynicism toward corrupt politicians and ethical scandals, in 2007 His Holiness expressed his support from the pulpit for the adaption of constitutional monarchy and a restoration of the ancient royal House of Bagrationi. This caught the Saakashvili administration off-guard and they have not dismissed or ridiculed the Patriarch’s comments.
During the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war which saw Russian ground troops invade the country, the Patriarch delivered food and medical supplies to the besieged city of Gori and appealed to Russian Church leaders to intervene with Moscow civil authorities to put an end to the carnage. He attended Russian Patriarch Alexei II’s funeral in December 2008 prior to meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev. Ilia II has since worked extensively to heal relations between Georgia, Russia, and the disputed territory of Abkhazia, which is currently recognized internationally as an autonomous republic within Georgia but which Russia considers independent.
This is a beautiful Georgian choral composition of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”).
The video was uploaded on Youtube by Kartvelian Heritage.
Nana Peradze, renowned choralist and founding director of the Georgian Harmony Choir, sings this hauntingly beautiful Theotokion. It is one of the most compelling I have heard.
Ms. Peradze and her choir performed this in 2010 at a music festival in Chartres, France.
In this video the renowned Rustavi choir in Georgia sings this beautiful, internationally beloved Theotokion, an Orthodox hymn honouring the Virgin Mary. Sandro Vakhtangov directed this video, Anzor Erkomaishvili the camera work and artistic arrangements, and Vato Kakhidze produced it.
The hymn’s Georgian words translate:
Thou art a vineyard newly blossomed.
Young, beautiful, growing in Eden,
A fragrant poplar sapling in Paradise.
May God adorn thee. No one is more worthy of praise.
Thou thyself are the sun, shining brilliantly.
Prevailing ecclesiastical and historical tradition holds that St. King Demetre (Demetrius) I (r. 1125-1156) composed the hymn during his period of exile at a monastery when his son David briefly usurped the throne. Demetre’s other son ultimately succeeded him as King Giorgi III in 1156, reigning until his death in 1184, when his daughter St. Queen Tamar the Great succeeded him as monarch.
At St. Nicholas Cathedral we have many Georgian parishioners, so the choir has often used the music as a Cherubikon and sometimes even for the “It is truly meet”/Axion Estin to the Theotokos.
Images of the beautiful country of Georgia:
This Cherubic Hymn is sung by Nana Peradze and her internationally-acclaimed Georgian Harmony Choir.
Georgian polyphonic chant is one of the most beautiful and ancient traditions within Orthodox liturgical worship.