On the language of the liturgy: the language of the Bible

“The prayer of the church is always biblical – i.e., expressed in the language, images, and symbols of the Holy Scripture. If the Bible contains the Divine Revelation to man, it is also man’s inspired response to that Revelation and thus the pattern and the content of man’s prayer, praise, and adoration. Fro example, thousands of years have passed since the Psalms were composed; yet when man needs to express repentance, the shock of his entire being at the challenge of divine mercy, he still finds the only adequate expression in the penitential Psalm beginning “Have mercy on me, O God!” Every imaginable situation of man before God, the world, the other man, form the overwhelming joy of the God’s presents to the abyssal despair of man’s exile, sin, and alienation has found its perfect expression in this unique Book which, for this reason, has always constituted the daily nourishment of the Church, the means of her worship and self-edification”

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, p. 38. SVS Press, 1974

“The Orthodox Church uses many languages in her worship (Greek, Slavonic, English, etc.) and yet has basically one LITURGICAL LANGUAGE. It is that of the Holy Scriptures, of the Bible. In order to understand the liturgy, it is not enough simply to translate in into an “understandable” language (English in America, for example). One must yet learn its biblical form and contents, i.e. [expressions,] images, comparisons, references and, in short, the whole system of expressions taken directly or indirectly from the Bible. This biblical character of the Christian liturgy is explained, first, by the fact that the first Christians, being Jews, naturally used the forms and the expressions of the Jewish cult, of which the Christian worship is a direct continuation. In the second place, the great Christian writers who composed the liturgical hymns and prayers were deeply rooted in the Bible; saw in it the source of all Christian thinking and teaching. They naturally used the language to which they were accustomed. The Bible is thus the key to understanding on the liturgy, just as the liturgy is the living explanation of the Bible. Together they constitute the two essential foundations of the Church’s life.”

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life, pp.27-28. (Department of Religious Education, OCA, 1974)

Note: Conclusions to our prayers have a biblical character; but it is not always possible to cite chapter and verse. The Trinitarian language bears the stamp of the pastoral struggle against the Arian heresy (4 century and beyond).


In the Gospel of Mathew (Greek and Slavonic) the Lord’s Prayer concludes with the well-known doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory unto ages. Amen”. The prevailing opinion of the scripture scholars (cf. RSV, NEB, JB, NAB, Chicago), however, rejects this received reading of Mat. 6.13. It is regarded as a gloss, an addition from the later century, based on liturgical custom. Fact is, it is missing in all the best and oldest manuscripts of Matthew, and it does not appear at all in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke (11.2-4).

On the other hand, we find it in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 8.2 where the form is, “For thine is the power and the glory unto the ages”. Now when was the Teaching, or Didache as it is known, written? Lightfoot figures around 99/10 A. D., J. Quasten, 100-150 A.D. However, J. P. Audet took a fresh look, and in 1958 study he showed that portions of the Teaching (which is a composite document) reach back beyond 70 A.D. to 50 A. D. In his view, the Teaching is the older that the Gospel of Mathew and much of the New Testament; what is not older is contemporaneous. In any even the Teaching belongs to the first century, and not the second (J. Danielou, J. Jeremias). Question is, would the Lord Jesus himself have concluded his prayer without a doxology, as in Luke (or in critically edited Mathew)? Or, would he have added a doxology as Tradition suggests (the Teaching, received Mathew, and the Liturgy)? Joachim Jeremias gives the nod to the latter:

….it would be a completely erroneous conclusion to suppose that the Lord’s Prayer was ever prayed without some closing words of praise to God; in Palestinian practice it was completely unthinkable that a prayer would end with the word “temptation” (cf. Lk. 11.4). Now, in Judaism prayers were often concluded with a ‘seal’, a sentence of praise freely formulated by the man who was praying. This was doubtless also what Jesus intended with Lord’s Prayer, and what the congregation did in the earliest period: concluded the Lord’s Prayer with a ‘seal’, i.e., a freely formulated doxology by the person praying. Afterwards, when the Lord’s Prayer began to be used increasingly in the service as a common prayer, it was felt necessary to establish a fixed formulation of the doxology.

One can see, then how our liturgical practice in this regard makes legitimate claim to being in continuity with the Savior’s own.


Some New Testament doxologies:

To him be glory
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
to all generations of the age of ages. Amen.
(Eph. 3.21)

Glory to our God and Father
unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Phillip. 4.20

To the King of the ages,
The only God, deathless and unseen,
Be honor and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
1 Tim. 1.16

To him be glory
both now and to the dawn of the Age.
2 Pet. 3.18.

To the only God our Savoir,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Be glory, majesty, dominion and authority,
Before the entire age,
and now and unto all ages. Amen.
Jude 24, 25

To him who sits upon the throne
And to the Lamb
Be blessing, and honor, and glory and might
unto the ages of ages.
Rev. 5.13.

From the book “The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church” by Fr. Paul Harrilchak, Reston, Virginia. 1984.

Special thanks to Fr George Kokhno from Saint Nicholas Cathedral of OCA, who posted this text to Kiev-orthodox.org

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