Monday, September 20, 2010

Want Chalcedonian Theology? Better come to more than just the Liturgy!

This past weekend, we were very fortunate to have a visit from Fr. Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago. Fr. Patrick is the author of many books (none of which I admit I have read, but will get to eventually) including, Christ in the Psalms, Christ in the Saints, Chronicles of History and Worship, etc.. His talk was on the saints and what that means especially in an age of apostasy in which we now live.

The Q&A session was all over the place with questions ranging from hymnography to dogmatic theology to systematics to hagiography to icons to Scriptural exegesis. In short, there was something for everyone.

I cannot remember exactly how this came up, but Fr. Patrick revealed something that I have never fathomed before: The main liturgies of the Orthodox Church (i.e. the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great) are pre-Chalcedonian. This, of course, refers to the Fourth Ecumenical Council which convened at Chalcedon in 451 to discuss and clarify the doctrine of Christs' Hypostatic Union which was an extension of clarifying Mary as Theotokos at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431. I never had thought of that before.

The Liturgies of St. John and St. Basil then predate Chalcedon. I should be very clear that despite the clear presence of Chalcedonian theology, there is NOTHING heretical or unorthodox about either of these. The liturgies were in place for a long time, but the hours, such as Vespers and Orthros did not come into their settled format until much later, way after Chalcedon.

My priest makes it very clear that if people want to really know their faith, they should come to Orthros on Sundays. Few do, preferring the Liturgy only. And that's fine because the Liturgy is a great gift to us from God in which we receive the life giving Eucharist of our Lord. Coming to Orthros and not staying to pray Liturgy with the rest of the Christian family is not a good idea.

But the hymnography of Orthros and Vespers is so rooted in the Ecumenical tradition following both Sts. Basil and John. Such great hymnographers as Romanos the Melodist, St. John Damascene, St.Cosma, etc. synthesize and weave such great tapestries of the dogmas of the church together to really proclaim the fullness of the faith. Again, if one really wants to understand their faith, Orthros and Vespers are a must.


  1. Hi Chris,

    My parish (OCA) doesn't do Orthros, ever. Just Vespers, Liturgy, and the hours before these services. Is this "enough" in your view? I've heard comments before about the richness of the Orthros hymns, and I'm starting to wonder what I'm missing.

  2. The hymn of Justinian is post-calcedonian, though, no? Only-begotten Word? And that's part of the liturgy.

  3. Peter,

    I know many parishes just serve Sunday Liturgy and that's it. Is it enough? I'm not trying to say what is enough, but when you are confronted with the fullness of the faith in the prayer offices, I don't understand why Orthros and Vespers are not celebrated in conjunction with the Liturgy?

    Fr. William,

    I was referring to the sections of the Liturgy (e.g. the Anaphora) specifically composed by Sts. Basil and John. The individual hymns that are sung at the Liturgy of the Word may well be Chalcedonian or post-Chalcedonian, but the heart, the meat, if you will, of those liturgies is pre-Chalcedonian.