[Ancient Faith Radio; November 27, 2008]
FMG: I’m in a crowded and noisy banquet room here. This is the annual banquet for St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church in York, PA. I’m sitting here at the banquet table, we’ve just finished our… this was really a good meal. This was some kind of terrific filet mignon, sliced, a little garlic, almonds on the green beans, it was delicious. And in this little space we have between when they bring out the dessert- I love these banquets- I would like to talk to Fr. Elias Yelovich. What is the name of your parish, Father?
Fr. Elias Yelovich: The name of our church is St. James the Apostle.
FMG: St. James the Apostle, the Brother of the Lord. This is an Antiochian Orthodox, still a mission, isn’t it?
Fr. EY: Well, it is a mission. We have enough members to be a church, but it’s still considered a mission.
FMG: Okay. And this was a daughter church, a mission of my church, Holy Cross Orthodox Church. We got big enough that we were outgrowing our building, and the building is made of stone so you can’t expand it. So we thought that rather than try to cram more people into this sardine can we would try to get a mission started a little bit west of us. So you’re in Westminster, MD, and your mission is actually growing steadily.
Fr. EY: Yes. We started with five families, now we’re up to about 35-40 families. Maybe 50, 60 people on a Sunday morning.
FMG: What I wanted to talk to you about was something I had never experienced before last year, which is the Liturgy of St. James. The Liturgy of St. James is, we’re told that it is a first-century liturgy written by St. James the Brother of the Lord, who wrote the Epistle of St. James in the New Testament. Tell me, what is known about this liturgy and about its roots?
Fr. EY: Well, St. James, the brother of God, was martyred very early, he was the very first bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote the liturgy which was the favorite liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. St. John Chrysostom of course shortened the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great; St. Basil the Great shortened the Liturgy of St. James. The interesting thing about this liturgy is that there are elements…
FMG: Let me say something for a minute. So you’re saying that when we have the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom on Sunday morning, this isn’t just something that St. John sat down and wrote from the first word to the last word.
Fr. EY: No. These liturgies in the Orthodox Church developed over a period of time, and the root of the liturgy, the truth of the liturgy that is conveyed in the liturgy can be attributed to the saint after whom it is named. St. John Chrysostom actually did use the Liturgy of St. James. And what I think is so fascinating, is that like many Orthodox Christians, our bishop, Bp. ANTOUN was just commenting earlier how many of us are converts from the western churches. And those of us who are from the western churches, Catholic or Protestant western churches, when we celebrate the Liturgy of St. James, we note many elements from the western liturgies that were there at the very beginning and that have been retained. It’s very beautiful.
And it’s a wonderful liturgy, because the truth of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is held before the people. It’s celebrated. The deacons, when they invite the people to pray, face the people. They do not face the east. Much of the early liturgy as we know was celebrated on the solea, and it was only at the Eucharist itself that the priest and his deacons went to the altar and served the holy meal. Many of these elements are still in the Liturgy of St. James because the gospel book is actually brought at the time of the Great Entrance not from the altar back to the altar, but from the altar to the tetrapod or the analogion that is set up within the church. It’s in the midst of the people. And one of the deacons carries the Gospel, another deacon or the priest carries the Apostolos book. They are set up in the midst of the people, the lessons are read in the midst of the people gathering around.
FMG: All of that would be familiar to a liturgically high-church westerner of the Anglican or Lutheran or a similar traditions. Now all of these sound to me like they’re not part of the prayers of the service, but part of the rubrics. Have the rubrics actually been preserved for two thousand years?
Fr. EY: Well, that’s a good question. Yes I believe they have been, but they haven’t been preserved in the same purity, the same accuracy, that they have been preserved with the other ancient liturgies. We had to kind of piece together these rubrics. What we did was we went to New Skete. We found some of the rubrics in the New Skete version of the Liturgy of St. James. We found some rubrics from the Greek church in Australia. We found some rubrics from an old Russian monastery in New Jersey. Then, with the help of my spiritual father, Fr. Ted Pulcini, and Fr. Gregory Mathewes-Green, we sat down, we worked these out, we put them in the form of a booklet, and sent them to the Metropolitan. And the Metropolitan reviewed the rubrics and reviewed the text, and made some suggestions, and we followed of course what he said. And then he gave his blessing to us to celebrate this liturgy. Typically the liturgy is celebrated only on the feast of St. James on April 23rd, in a community that is under the patronage of St. James. Of course, the Church of St. James and the holy relics of St. James are in Jerusalem, so there in Jerusalem, the liturgy is celebrated more frequently. But here in the States, in the Orthodox world in the United States, we have the blessing to celebrate it only once a year. But those of us who celebrated it on the 23rd tend to wish we could celebrate it more than just once a year.
FMG: It is a longer liturgy than the St. John liturgy, or even the St. Basil, isn’t it?
Fr. EY: It took us about two hours to go through the liturgy. We had four deacons serving, the night of the St. James liturgy, and four priests also serving. And the thing that was so beautiful, really magnificent, were the prayers during the Anaphora, when the priests, one after another, offer petitions which pray entirely, not just for the whole people of God, but for all the people in the world and for all the conditions of the world, one after another. And it’s almost as if you’re drawn into the beauty of something very, very different. Very ancient. Everyone that was there was changed as a result of this liturgy.
FMG: Would you say that that is the biggest difference, that the intercessions are more amplified and varied than they are in the Chrysostom liturgy or the St. Basil liturgy?
Fr. EY: I would. In fact, the liturgy is basically an Anaphora with the synaxis kind of added on to the beginning of it. It begins with the little entrance. The service itself begins with the little entrance, and after the entrance, the reading of the texts, a number of ektenias, the preaching of the Word of God. And then the rest of the service. Really about an hour and a half of the service is one large Anaphora, magnificent and beautiful beyond words.
FMG: And it’s the anaphora that expands like an umbrella to cover every other prayer that needs to be done. Now, you made a point just now that I think some of the listeners may not be familiar with. You said that the liturgy starts with the Little Entrance. I think most of us say that no, before that you have antiphons, you have other litanies, you have all sorts of stuff going on. How could it begin with the little Entrance?
Fr. EY: Well because in the ancient days, we know that the liturgy began with what we call the little Entrance, because in the days of persecution when we could not build churches we brought the Gospel Book to the home of whoever was hosting the service. When the bishop or the priest, the presbyter would enter the place, he would actually carry the Gospel Book. That was the beginning of the liturgy. And this characteristic of the liturgy is preserved in the Liturgy of St. James. So we are actually returning to an earlier practice. Which is very powerful, because you see the analogion set up in the midst of the people, and you see the Gospel Book, which is normally the foremost icon of Christ in any Orthodox Church. You see the Gospel Book, no longer tucked away on the altar in some secret place, but out there with the people, so that the people actually reverence the Gospel Book, the icon of Christ, when they come forward to receive the precious Body and the precious Blood of Christ. This is just, to me, so powerful.
FMG: That really is exciting. And I think that for some of us who had been Protestants, one of the things that had concerned us in the ancient Western Christian tradition, is that the Bible was in Latin, and nobody could understand it, nobody spoke Latin. So the people would be allowed to be in the presence of the book, but they wouldn’t know what it was about. But because in the Orthodox tradition the Bible was always translated into the vernacular, the liturgy was always translated into the vernacular, and bringing the bible into the midst of the people really meant something.
Fr. EY: There was and is and always has been in Orthodoxy an equality of the Word and the Sacrament. They were never pitted against each other. What you have in ancient Catholicism was for instance, the lack of the Word being proclaimed in the assembly of the people. And what you have in many of the Protestant traditions, if only by virtue of circumstance, not so much by virtue of theology but by virtue of circumstance, was an over-emphasis of the Word to the exclusion of the Sacrament.
In Orthodoxy the equality has always been retained. The Word is alive because the Holy Spirit has entered the assembly, is called down, and enters not only into the gifts that are offered, but into the people that offer those gifts. This equality is evident in the Liturgy of St. James. To me it’s the most powerful characteristic of the Liturgy of St. James. The fact that that gold Gospel Book sits there in the middle of the people and the people gather around it. In our little mission, we don’t have room for chairs, so the people stand, not only for the Anaphora, but they stand for the preaching of the Word and they stand for the reading of the lessons, and they actually come into the Word, they enter into it like a moth would be drawn to the fire. This is what I took away from the liturgy. This will be the second year that I have presided over the liturgy. It will be my last year because next year the bishop will be there to preside. He’s already promised that he’s coming. And interestingly, the Liturgy of St. James is never celebrated as a hierarchical liturgy. The bishop celebrates as a bishop, but not hierarchically. He is a priest, he is the protos, the priest of priests, the head. And he stands of course in the front of the altar. But in that way it goes back to that ancient time when the bishop himself was the head of the local congregation. Not just the head of a diocese, but the head of a local congregation.
FMG: I’ve seen that in my trip to Turkey. I saw many ruined churches from the fourth or fifth century. And there was always, in the apse, a semicircular bench where all the priests would sit and a big “chair” in the middle for the bishop.
Fr. EY: I remember that in the Church of Hagia Irene in Constantinople. I remember that when I was a protestant I visited that church. And I wondered what that was. And now I understand, of course, because in the ancient tradition the bishop would sit in a holy place, and the priests would be lined up in a particular order at his right and at his left. This is beautiful.
FMG: It is beautiful. Well, I want to wrap up. It looks like they might be bringing dessert and I don’t want to miss a minute of that! (laughs) What I wanted to ask you in conclusion was, before this mission was founded, a little bit more than two years ago, did you have a special devotion to St. James, or have you gotten to know him in the course of this?
Fr. EY: This is an irony of my life. I was a Lutheran pastor for many years, and as a Lutheran pastor, we diminished the importance of St. James and we of course emphasized the importance of St. Paul. And when I was ordained a priest, by an “accident” of history, I happen to have been ordained on the feast day of St. James, on Oct. 23rd. And I always thought, well, how else would God bring an ex-Lutheran pastor into His Church but by ordaining me on that day?
I knew in theory of the Liturgy of St. James but I didn’t know about it in any academic or ecclesiastical sense of the word other than in theory. Then when Saidna said to us, your congregation should consider what names it wants to propose, St. James was at the top of the list. And I’m happy that he is. He was chosen because in our little mission, we have many people that come into our mission from lives that have been hurt, that have been in some sense ruined by sin, and many times as we gather for bible study or as we gather for instruction, impromptu, we will often also gather for holy unction, for those of us who of course have been chrismated in the faith. And at that service we always read that incredible passage from the letter of St. James that speaks about the healing ministry that the Holy Spirit brings to us through the holy unction. So I’m grateful that Saidna chose this name for our mission. It really does matter to us.
FMG: St. James is a wonderful saint, isn’t he? I should say for those who don’t know, that in Orthodox Tradition St. Joseph had been married before, and his wife had died. So when the Virgin Mary came into his house as this new bride, she was probably only sixteen years old, there were probably children in the house: St. James, St. Jude, St. Simon, these were all the step-brothers of Jesus.
Fr. EY: One of the icons that a member of your church in Linthicum has astounds me. It shows Our Lord being held by His Mother as she is riding a donkey, St. Joseph is walking next to her, but there leading the donkey is a little boy. And I asked her, I said, who is that little boy? And she said “That is St. James, the patron of your church.” She’s from Lebanon, she’s from a parish in Lebanon, and she says this is a pious tradition. “My church,” she said to me, “is also the Church of St. James and we have that icon of St. James leading the Mother of God in the flight into Egypt as they escape the evil King Herod.”
FMG: It’s a wonderful thing, and it’s an example of how, in the Orthodox Church, you come into the Church and you get a family. And those of us who have loved the Lord Jesus Christ for decades didn’t know there was also a brother. We didn’t know how real St. James was and how much a part he was of the Lord’s life from his birth onward. So our family is always expanding as we become Orthodox.
Fr. EY: It is indeed. It’s exciting.
FMG: Thank you so much, Father.
Fr. EY: Thank you.