John 31-37: “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
The fact that the Church finally adopted the word leitourgia to name her cult “indicates her special understanding of worship, which is indeed a revolutionary one. If Christian worship is leitourgia, it cannot be simply reduced to, or expressed in terms of, `cult.’ The ancient world knew a plethora of cultic religions or `cults’…. But the Christian cult is leitourgia, and this means that it is functional in its essence, has a goal to achieve which transcends the categories of cult as such.“
Schmemann identifies this peculiar characteristic of the Christian cult by calling it antinomous. In an antinomy a contradiction is felt between two principles that seem equally necessary and reasonable. An antinomy integrates contradictory aspects into one total truth. In the words of the Russian theologian-philosopher, Pavel Florensky, that something is antinomous means “both the one and the other are true, but each in its own way. Reconciliation and unity are higher than rationality.” The thesis and the antithesis together form the expression of the whole truth. At the heart of the liturgy there is an antinomy between our cultic expression of Christianity and the radical abolishment of cult, as Schmemann says. “The Christian leitourgia is not a `cult’ if by this term we mean a sacred action, or rite, performed in order to establish `contact’ between the community and God… “
We celebrate a super-cultic reality in cultic form. This accounts for the defection by primitive Christians from classic religious jargon, no doubt making themselves enigmatic to their neighbors. Christians were charged with atheism. For one thing, notes Josef Jungmann, they did not call their cultic leaders by the name Iereus:
Among the pagans and even in the Old Covenant, the Iereus was someone who himself, in his own name or at the command of the community, acted as mediator with the deity. Such a possibility does not exist in the new Covenant. For there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and all others are merely His instruments, able to act not in their own name but only in His. The term iereus, was therefore applicable only to Christ and to the whole communion of the faithful, the holy Church, in so far as it joined to Christ.
Congar makes the same observation. “If it pertained to an Iereus, whether in Judaism or paganism, to immolate a victim in offering and so to be a’sacrificer,’ then in Christianity there was only one deserving that name, Christ…. The ministers of the Eucharist were not acting as ‘sacrificers’ because, in celebrating that efficacious memorial as the Lord had given his Apostles power and commandment to do, they were simply making Christ’s one sacrifice actual and present to the faithful.” Taft says the apostle Paul never once used “cultic nomenclature (liturgy, sacrifice, priest, offering) for anything but a life of self-giving, lived after the pattern of Christ.
When he does speak of what we call liturgy, … he makes it clear that its purpose is to contribute to this `liturgy of life’….” So on the one hand, liturgy directs its participants to a goal different from the cultic goal of attaining contact with God. Everything that religious cult foreshadowed has had its fulfillment in Christ. He is the new temple and the new sacrifice, as well as the new altar, priest, king, prophet, Torah, Sabbath, and tabernacle. Everything we use in Christian liturgy has passed through the hypostatic union. The goal of liturgy, in Schmemann’s words, is “the Church as the manifestation and presence of the `new aeon’ of the Kingdom of God.” Christ did not found another religion; he founded a new age, the age of the Church, which is populated by a new race of people in unity with himself. This is his body, the totus Christus. On the other hand, liturgy uses many of the same forms religious cult uses to accomplish this end.
Liturgy celebrates the supercultic end of temples, priests, and sacrifices by means of liturgical temples, liturgical priests, and liturgical sacrifices. I suppose this to be an instance of grace perfecting nature, and again I say, all cultic matter must pass through the hypostatic union in order to be serviceable to Christian liturgy. The liturgy is antinomous because what cult cannot contain is contained in liturgical cult, just as what heaven and earth could not contain was contained in the womb of the Theotokos.
Liturgy is not a species in the genus of religious ritual. That’s why the thick sense of liturgy is only partially grasped by studying its thin cult. For example, liturgical time is not merely religious festival, but it is celebration of the cosmic eighth day; liturgical space is not a history of sacred architecture, but it is standing on the ground of Mt. Tabor when we stand before the altar; liturgical assembly is only partially understood by a sociology of religion because it is the body of Christ; liturgical hymn is not music with a certain piety, but it is the angels’ Trisagion passed through human vocal chords.
Liturgy is the paschal mystery sacramentalized in ritual time, space, assembly, and the arts, like God was incarnated in the flesh. The stage of Christian liturgy is cosmic. In his study on liturgy in the book of Revelation, Erik Peterson measures the scope of the Christian liturgy when he says, “[This] is not the liturgy of a human religious society, connected with a particular temple, but worship which pervades the whole universe and in which sun, moon, and all the stars take part…. The Church is no purely human religious society. The angels and saints in heaven belong to her as well. Seen in this light, the Church’s worship is no merely human occasion. The angels and the entire universe take part in it.”
In short — and here I come closer to the grammar I seek — liturgy is not the religion of Christians; liturgy is the religion of Christ perpetuated in Christians. The religion Jesus enacted in the flesh before the Father is continued in the Church, liturgically. “The Church .. has a part too in the religion of Christ towards His Father in order to continue upon earth the homage of praise that Christ in His Sacred Humanity offered to His Father.” There is therefore no altar in the Church as the pagans knew it, but there is the hagia trapezia (holy table), which presents Christ, who is the altar of God. There is no sacrifice as cults knew it, but there is the Eucharist, which is the body of Christ, in which sacrifice the Church liturgically participates. There is no temple as religious impulse builds, but the assembly becomes a living temple and the building thereby becomes sacred place. Christ is the intermediator between heaven and earth, between thick liturgy and its ritual form.
Liturgy is not our religious expression, but God’s theology. And when this divine grammar is imprinted upon liturgists, then they are on their way to becoming a theologian. But the imprinting is an ascetical process. Every liturgist is called to be a theologian (even if not of the academic variety) and every liturgist is called to be an ascetic (even if not of the monastic variety).
This is not a denunciation of ritual in Christianity. In just a moment I shall agree with Jean Corbon that “the liturgy cannot be lived at each moment … unless it is celebrated at certain moments.” But Christ did not come that we may have ritual and have it abundantly. “His followers were aware that he came not to invent or overhaul a liturgical system but to redeem a world.”
Christianity is a religion, and liturgy is a ritual, in the way that Jesus was a man: fully, but not only. G. K. Chesterton said it is true to call a peacock’s tail blue — there is blue in it. It is true in the same way to call liturgy a ritual — there is ritual in the work done by the people of God. But it is imprecise, and would be misleading, to use the terms liturgy and ritual interchangeably, as people sometimes do when they call any repetitive, organized, and ruled event a liturgy. Ritual form alone, without a divine content, does not make a liturgy. The liturgy uses cultic ritual to do something more than cult can ritualize. Therein lies the antinomy. [Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology.]
Liturgical antinomy is parallel to, because based upon, the incarnation. As in the latter, so in the former the illimitable is circumscribed, and the eternal resides in time, and the incorporeal is spatially located. The incarnation is the paradox of God present in the flesh, .and the liturgy is the paradox of He who cannot be contained in thought of space or time or matter, presenting Himself to us in doctrine and temple and feast day and sacrament. Liturgy is icon, and “a place lit meeting or joining [sum-bole) of different realities."
Apophatic Theology[The theological tradition demands that we also speak of God in a second way, called “negative” or “apophatic.” In this way the positive affirmation we can legitimately make is nevertheless denied. The denial derives from the conviction that God’s absolute otherness demands silence rather than description. In the apophatic way we respond to the positive affirmation that “God is the maker of heaven and earth.” with the denial that “God is not the maker of heaven and earth in any manner known to us.” The denial serves to protect us from reducing God to the level of our human ideas. The positive and the negative are joined dialectically in the third way of speaking about God which the tradition calls “analogical.”]
Apophatic Theology is required to see the reality behind the reality, the prototype behind the icon, the divine action within the human ritual. Andrew Louth has made this clear in his study of Maximus the Confessor’s commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Apophatic theology “is the realization in the Christian soul of what is accomplished and celebrated in the Church’s liturgy, …” which means the Eucharistic liturgy is a corporate, ecclesial encounter with God that draws each participant towards the attainment of the reality that it sets forth, and that attainment involves passing beyond everything we can conceive or understand, the rejection of everything that is simply about God, for the sake of an encounter in love with God Himself, an encounter in which we become transparent to God, and are deified. The Eucharistic liturgy is an encounter to be experienced (pathein), but not information to be learned (mathein).“
But it is not an encounter that is open to anyone on any terms: it is an encounter that demands faith and ascetic struggle.… it is a way open to any baptized Christian, and indeed a way required if we are to remain faithful to our baptism, but it is a way of human, or personal, transformation that is costly.“
The locus of liturgy is the Church, but the location of the Church is in the world, so the liturgist’s calling is to rule in right relationship (righteously) over material creation and contribute its splendor to the great cosmic sobornost, which is the gathering of heaven and earth, angel and human, round the throne of God.
The principal meaning of the existence of the world is to build the kingdom of God, says Leonid Ouspensky, and the principal meaning of the Church in that world “is the work of drawing this world into the fullness of the revelation — its salvation.”
The Church is not in the world like a marble is in a lump of bread dough. The Church is a piece of the dough, removed, leavened, and returned to raise the whole loaf. It is why Schmemann speaks of liturgy as a journey of leaving the world for the sake of the world. It is why Kavanagh was fond of saying that liturgy is the Church doing the world the way the world was meant to be done. The ultimate object of liturgy is not itself (that would be liturgical egotism), but the world. The liturgical community does not gather to do something irrelevant to the world; it is the heart of the world above the altar, beating without sin’s arrhythmia.
Georges Florovsky said, “the doctrine of the Church itself is but an ‘extended Christology,’ the doctrine of the `total Christ,’ totus Christus, caput et corpus.” Liturgical theology is ecclesiological self-analysis. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that “Christ and his Church thus together make up the `whole Christ’.” It affirms this with Augustine (“Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace towards us? Marvel and rejoice: We have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man …”) and with Gregory the Great (“Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself”) and with Thomas Aquinas (“Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person”). Liturgy is the manifestation of the new creation, which is the God-Man perpetuated temporally, personally, sacramentally, and socially until the Lord of the Church returns as Lord of the World (Pantocrator).
Liturgy is not one cult among others to be inserted into the deck of religious practices in the human hand; it is the manifestation of a new creation and a new race. Church is the noun form of the verb liturgy, like Christian is the noun form of the verbs faith, hope, and charity. The job description of a liturgist is someone who strives for this life of Christ, and who, to the measure he or she attains it, is witness to the world of its final destiny. Here we have visited liturgical asceticism again.
Liturgical ritual cannot be isolated from our Christian life because liturgy ritualizes identity. According to Taft, “the purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives,” and this lived liturgy is always what the apostle Paul seems to have had in mind.
To express this spiritual identity, Paul uses several compound verbs that begin with the preposition syn (with): I suffer with Christ, am crucified with Christ, die with Christ, am buried with Christ, am raised and live with Christ, am carried off to heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father with Christ…. This seems to be what Christian liturgy is for St. Paul. Never once does he use cultic nomenclature (liturgy, sacrifice, priest, offering) for anything but a life of self-giving, lived after the pattern of Christ. When he does speak of what we call liturgy … he makes it clear that its purpose is to contribute to this “liturgy of life,” literally to edify; to build up the Body of Christ into that new temple and liturgy and priesthood in which sanctuary and offerer and offered are one.
The world’s future is to become the temple of God, and the human future is to become participants in the eschatological liturgy. The world exists to be transfigured into the kingdom, as John of the eagle eye witnessed in his apocalyptic vision where the heavenly Jerusalem in its entirety had become God’s dwelling place (Revelation 21:1-2). ‘I’he present creation is the heavenly Jerusalem in potency, and God is at work in unseen ways to bring it to its omega. Kavanagh used to say that God works on both sides of the Church-world equation, and he writes, “Christian theology cannot talk of God, any more than Einstein could talk of energy, without including the `mass’ of the world squared by the constant of God’s eternal will to save in Christ.” This creation is oriented to its fulfillment and transfiguration, and our eternal beatitude will consist of being perfect liturgists, as Macarios of Egypt states.
The soul that has not yet acquired this citizenship in heaven and is not yet conscious of the heart’s sanctification should be full of sorrow and should implore Christ fervently…. [The soul will then go forward,] receiving unutterable gifts and advancing from glory to glory and from peace to greater peace. Finally, when it has attained the full measure of the Christian life, it will be ranged among the perfect liturgists and faultless ministers of Christ in his eternal Kingdom.
Now the human creature is invited by the Creator to serve as priest of material creation. Liturgy is the Son’s energy possessing those baptized into him, enabling them to do before the Father, by divine breath, the very work which he himself does before the Father. Liturgy, then, is to enter into the Trinity, and liturgy began at the moment that this potency was tendered humankind, which Jean Corbon describes.
The mystery that had been wrapped in silence through everlasting ages, and then had been concealed in creation, now journeyed with human beings and entrusted itself patiently to our fathers in the faith during the time of the promises. Its coming in the fullness of time was made known in the kenosis of the incarnate Word until it became event in the hour of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. At that point the liturgy streamed forth.
To see by the light of this mystery (to see God’s revelation, ourselves, the world) is liturgical theology, and to be capacitated for this eternal vocation is liturgical asceticism. Schmemann complains that liturgical study has moldered into rubricism [a tenacious adherence to rules of behavior or thought; formulism] on the one hand, and historical studies on the other. Liturgy has been disconnected from both theology and life. For that reason he wishes for liturgical theology to be seen “as a slow and patient bringing together of that which was for too long a time and because of many factors broken and isolated — liturgy, theology and piety, their reintegration within one fundamental vision.”
To reintegrate these factors would not consist of combining disparate things (like gluing a stick to a stone); it would be an act of reuniting things that were made for each other and should never have been separated in the first place (like healing a fractured bone). Reuniting, as opposed to combining, means that things which appear to be separate are in fact related by their nature, their ground, and their end. Under the thick definition of liturgy that we are seeking, liturgy is the locus for both Christian theology and Christian asceticism.