Brilliant lecture on the connection between Temple Judaism and Orthodox liturgical life

Brilliant lecture on the connection between Temple Judaism and Orthodox liturgical life

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, in his role as President of the Seminary, presented Dr. Barker with a fitting icon of “Christ the High Priest”.

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.

1 thought on “Brilliant lecture on the connection between Temple Judaism and Orthodox liturgical life

  1. I agree that the divine liturgy has elements of the temple worship but is radically different in the following factors: 1)-The temple service (avodah) has several sacrifices
    2)- There is very few prayers, no litanies, only reading of the Law and singing of psalms
    3)- Reading of the Law is done by educated Laymen
    4)-There are many artifacts but no images except .the cherubim over the ark..

    It is ridiculous to compare the bareness of a protestant church with long sermons and spontaneous dances with the rituals of rabbinical judaism. Reformed, reconstructionist and conservative judaisms are not rabbinical are western protestantized rituals.

    An orthodox synagogue is open seven days a wee (k for daily prayer: Shacharit(Orthros); Minha (Ora) Maariv or Arvit (Vespers), The compline is private and is called the prayer before going to sleep.
    A synagogue has all the elements of a house of worship..It has an “Aron Hakodesh” where the Torah Scrolls are kept, A central Bemah for the reading of the Torah,and a separation for the women. Women only pray on Shabbat and festivals.. All men are covered in their prayer Shawls (Taleithim) and they wear philacteries (tefilim) . In the Shabbat prayers and biblical readings are longer. Sermons are very short or are only announcements. . All prayers and readings are in Hebrew. Some synagogues have stained glass windows. Rabbinical Judaism has blessings before eating, a long prayer after meals, miscellaneous prayers etc. Boys and Men are encouraged to attend talmudic and scriptural lectures daily and there are lectures for women too.

    An orthodox Jewish layman has a regime of prayer comparable to an Athonite monk.

    Some Jews add a prayer at midnight and/or other pious practices. The monastic prayer rule emerges from the practices of rabbinical Judaism that coexisted with the Temple that was only one in the world and was located on MT Zion.

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