Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, the Trinal and only light of Godhead, existing, one essence in Trinity, and undivided. The Trinity is the one Almighty God, whose glory the heavens relate, and the earth is his power, and the sea his might, and every sentient and intelligent creature heraldeth his greatness. For to Him belongeth all glory, honour, dominion, greatness, and majesty, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
With these words the ancient Eucharistic liturgy of Jerusalem is begun. The Divine Liturgy of the Holy and Glorious Apostle James, the Brother of God and First Hierarch of Jerusalem is served on the Feast of St James (23rd October) and on the Sunday after Christmas. It is customary in the Byzantine kalendar, on the days following certain feasts, to observe lesser commemorations of the other holy ones somehow involved in the events of the feast. Tradition tells us that St James was with the Saviour, the Mother of God, and St Joseph as they fled into Egypt, so we remember him on the Sunday after the Nativity of the Saviour, and we celebrate the Holy Eucharist using the Liturgy named in his honour and celebrated in his ancient see.
The St James Liturgy is from the Antiochene family of rites, and almost fell into total disuse apart from occasional celebratons in Jerusalem, until it was discovered to have remained in continuous use (although in a somewhat byzantinised form) on the island of Zakynthos in the 19th century. From there, it was imported into the practice of the Russian Church, and, through its external missions, to the world. Its twice-yearly celebration forms an interesting variation within our usual cycle of worship, as it is not part of the Byzantine Rite so shows patterns of development quite different from those of the Liturgies of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom. A such, it contains a number of features that I think are of note.
One is that, while this Liturgy developed without doubt over time into what we have today, there are still indications that some portions of the text predate the peace of the Church, as we pray for those in hiding, presumably from the persecuting Roman authorities under the pagan emperors.
In the form in which it is served in the Church Abroad, the St James Liturgy retains its early character in a number of ways. Among them are the fact that the Liturgy is not preceded by the Hours and there are no prayers of preparation or vesting for the clergy. The much later Byzantine Proskomide service is absent and the oblations are instead prepared very simply before the Liturgy begins. They are not veiled. Properly, there is no hot water added to the chalice and the Holy Things are delivered into the hands of the faithful for them to receive, much like traditional practice in the western rites. Indeed, this seems to agree with the practice described by St Cyril, also of Jerusalem, in his fourth-century catechetical lectures:
Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then, after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee gold dust, wouldest thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss? How much more cautiously then wilt thou observe that not a crumb falls from thee, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
Despite this, the later Byzantine practice of commingling the Body and Blood in the chalice and communicating the faithful from a spoon seems to be customary when this Liturgy is served today. This is perhaps from pastoral concern, as this is the only method of receiving Communion known to most Orthodox people. Also, while this method was introduced out of practical necessity, a quasi-doctrinal symbolism has developed around it, of the Body and Blood being received together, for it is the whole, risen, ascended and glorified Christ Who comes to us in Communion. Perhaps a separate distribution of the Holy Things may unsettle people.
Also omitted, in keeping with the antiquity of the service, are many of the later accretions in clergy vesture. The pectoral Cross is not worn. Neither are the mitre or kamilavka worn by clergy who are usually permitted to wear them. If a bishop serves, he vests as a priest, does not wear the mitre or pectoral icons, and the trikiri and dikiri are not used. The only elements of the episcopal insignia that are used are the staff, which remains unveiled, and the great omophor.
Another surprising observation is that the deacons, when giving the petitions for the litanies, stand facing the people. From his studies of liturgical development, my parish priest thinks that this is due to the fact that the Great Church in Jerusalem, like many of the early Roman basilicas, was reverse-oriented, which is to say that, because of the lay of the land, the church was, of necessity, built the "wrong" way round, with the "west" doors at the east end and the altar at the west end. This meant that the priest and deacons, while praying towards the east in the liturgically correct manner, were also facing the people. One would assume that, when serving this Liturgy in a properly oriented church, (which includes most churches today), the clergy would face east with the people. Indeed, this amendment has been made to the rubrics for the priest in the version of the Liturgy blessed for use by the ROCOR synod but, strangely, not the deacons, who have been left facing the people, even though this means they are facing away from the east. Presumably, as most of the litany petitions are exhortations to the people to pray rather than direct petitons to God, this isn't too problematic and is a rather touching, if curious, nod to antiquity.
Because the Byzantine lectionary makes no provision for an Old Testament lesson at the Divine Liturgy, and the St James Liturgy calls for such a reading, one common practice today is to have the Old Testament lesson be of the Reader's choice. Because my parish seldom offers services during the week, we do not serve this Liturgy on the October feast of St James unless it falls on a Sunday. Consequently, this coming Sunday after Nativity will be my first time serving this Liturgy as a reader. A naughty part of me is tempted to read this but I am sure I shall find something more suitable nearer the time.
I would urge as many as possible to try to make it to the Liturgy on the Sunday after Christmas to experience this ancient and beautiful rite.
From strength to strength advancing, and having completed all the divine service in thy house, we now entreat Thee, O Lord our God: make us worthy of thy perfect love for mankind, direct our way, root us in the fear of Thee, have mercy on us all, and count us worthy of thine all-heavenly Kingdom, with Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom is due glory, honour and dominion, together with thine all-holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.