07 September 2003

The western rite, the Decalogue and Reformed influence

Although western Christians are generally aware of the several eastern- or Byzantine-rite churches in communion with Rome, far fewer know of the existence of western-rite Orthodox churches in communion with Constantinople and Moscow. From the website of St. Peter's Orthodox Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, we recognize a number of distinctive western elements: (1) the term Mass, rather than the Divine Liturgy; (2) a worship space that is spare by eastern standards and lacks an iconostasis; and (3) the appearance of typical western features in the liturgy itself, including the Kyrie, the Gloria and the Sanctus. The liturgy is actually a bit of an amalgam, including some typical Catholic hymns, such as the Angelus and the Regina Caeli, as well as some traditional Anglican elements such as the General Confession of sin, and even the Prayer of Humble Access.

What I find most surprising, however, is the appearance of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, near the beginning of the service, which is taken directly from the Book of Common Prayer. In the service of Holy Communion the BCP moved the Gloria to the end of the service where it functioned as something of a post-communion hymn, and in its place it inserted the Decalogue. This occurred under the influence of the continental reformers.

Indeed in most Reformed liturgies the reading of the law comes at the beginning of every sunday morning worship service. This comes after the confession of sin and assurance of pardon, which illustrates that for Reformed Christians the Law functions, not only to convict them of their sins, but as genuine instruction for living the new life. The BCP has the congregation respond after the recitation of each commandment: "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law."

The eclectic liturgy used by this particular community of western-rite Orthodox Christians thus bears the unmistakable imprint of the Reformed tradition, by way of the BCP. I cannot help wondering whether its members are aware of this.

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