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The Byzantine Rite: A Short History (American Essays in Liturgy) [Paperback]

By Robert F. Taft (Author)
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Item description for The Byzantine Rite: A Short History (American Essays in Liturgy) by Robert F. Taft...

Much has been written regarding the western liturgy; the same cannot be said of the Byzantine liturgy. Father Taft contributes to a remedy of that shortfall through this work. In it he traces the origins of the Byzantine Rite during its period of formation: from its earliest recorded beginnings until the end of Byzantium (1453 c.e.). While the rite has undergone some change in the period since then, its outlines remain essentially the same. The author writes from a lifetime of worship and scholarly research in the Byzantine liturgical tradition. This "Short History" of the originas and evolution of the Byzantine liturgical synthesis is the fruit of over 30 years' immersion in the sources of its history and theology.

Publishers Description

Much has been written regarding the western liturgy; the same cannot be said of the Byzantine liturgy. Father Taft contributes to a remedy of that shortfall through this work. In it he traces the origins of the Byzantine Rite during its period of formation: from its earliest recorded beginnings until the end of Byzantium (1453 c.e.). While the rite has undergone some change in the period since then, its outlines remain essentially the same.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Liturgical Press
Pages   88
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.16" Width: 5.7" Height: 0.22"
Weight:   0.25 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 1, 2000
Publisher   Liturgical Press
Edition  New  
Series  American Essays In Liturgy  
ISBN  0814621635  
ISBN13  9780814621639  

Availability  0 units.

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Byzantine Rite: A Short History (American Essays in Liturgy)?

Wonderful historical summary  May 3, 2008
This is an excellent and well researched historical summary of the the Byzantine Liturgy - ie that of the Eastern Rite and most orthodox churches. The author's erudition shines in this tract. For those who live this liturgy weekly it is very helpful to know the rich history and origins of its modern form. This knowledge will aid in the appreciation of this gift which has been handed down to us Eastern Christians through the centuries. It is a quick read and a captivating one. I would have liked more specific details around many of the hymns and parts of the liturgy, but nonetheless - this is a great work. I would recommend this be in the library of all Eastern Christians.
tracing the Origins of Byzantine Liturgy during its formation  Nov 7, 2007

"The earliest MS (Liturgy of Basil) was written in Coptic in the seventh century, though underlying Greek text seems to have been several centuries earlier. It has been used as the model for several modern liturgical texts, including the Roman Catholic... This 'Egyptian Basil' is described by Cuming as 'West Syrian in structure, though showing signs of Egyptian influence." E. Yarnolds, SJ, The Study of Liturgy, 1992

The Byzantine rite:
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica online, The Byzantine rite originated in the Greek city of Antioch, one of the earliest and most celebrated centers of Christianity; but it was developed and perfected in Byzantium, or Constantinople. The rite was associated primarily with the Great Church of Constantinople and used the Greek language. As Constantinople extended its influence, however, the rite lost its exclusive Greek character and became Byzantine as it was translated into the vernacular of the diverse peoples who adopted it. Several autocephalus Eastern Orthodox churches follow canonical rites derived from the original Byzantine rite. ... In the early Christian church, liturgies developed gradually and were essentially formed by the 6th century, although further developments occurred. Of the three liturgies in use by Byzantine-rite churches, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated most frequently and is the normal church service. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is longer and is used on 10 special occasions each year. The Liturgy of the Presanctified is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent and from Monday to Wednesday of Holy Week. A fourth liturgy, that of St. James the Apostle, is very rarely used.

Antiochene Derivative?
While New Advent elaborates, "This is not one of the original parent-rites. It is derived from that of Antioch. Even apart from the external evidence a comparison of the two liturgies will show that Constantinople follows Antioch in the disposition of the parts. There are two original Eastern types of liturgy: that of Alexandria, in which the great Intercession comes before the Consecration, and that of Antioch, in which it follows after the Epiklesis. The Byzantine use in both its Liturgies (of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom) follows exactly the order of Antioch. A number of other parallels make the fact of this derivation clear from internal evidence, as it is from external witness. The tradition of the Church of Constantinople ascribes the oldest of its two Liturgies to St. Basil the Great (d. 379), Metropolitan of Cæsarea in Cappadocia. This tradition is confirmed by contemporary evidence. It is certain that St. Basil made a reformation of the Liturgy of his Church, and that the Byzantine service called after him represents his reformed Liturgy in its chief parts, although it has undergone further modification since his time."

St. Basil's Liturgy:
Adrian Fortescue asks, a century ago, "The first question that presents itself is: What rite was it that Basil modified and shortened? And replies unhesitantly, "Certainly it was that used at Cæsarea before his time. And this was a local form of the great Antiochene use, doubtless with many local variations and additions. That the original rite that stands at the head of this line of development is that of Antioch is proved from the disposition of the present Liturgy of St. Basil, to which we have already referred; from the fact that, before the rise of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Antioch was the head of the Churches of Asia Minor as well as of Syria (and invariably in the East the patriarchal see gives the norm in liturgical matters, followed and then gradually modified by its suffragan Churches); and lastly by the absence of any other source. At the head of all Eastern rites stand the uses of Antioch and Alexandria. Lesser and later Churches do not invent an entirely new service for themselves, but form their practice on the model of one of these two. Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor in liturgical matters derive from Antioch, just as Egypt, Abyssinia, and Nubia do from Alexandria. .... These are the starting-points of the development we can follow. But it is not to be supposed that St. Basil had before him either of these services, as they now stand, when he made the changes in question. ... In any case, then, we must go back to the original Antiochene Rite as the source. But neither was this the immediate origin of the reform. It must be remembered that all living rites are subject to gradual modification through use. The outline and frame remain; into this frame new prayers are fitted. As a general rule liturgies keep the disposition of their parts, but tend to change the text of the prayers. St. Basil took as the basis of his reform the use of Cæsarea in the fourth century. ... When we say, then, that the rite of Constantinople that bears his name is the Liturgy of St. James as modified by St. Basil, it must be understood that Basil is rather the chief turning-point in its development than the only author of the change. It had already passed through a period of development before his time, and it has developed further since. Nevertheless, St. Basil and his reform of the rite of his own city are the starting-point of the special use of Constantinople."

Taft's Byzantine Views:
So why should some liturgy fan, 'seeking the correction of his pre Vatican II myopic sight,' according to the author, desert Fortescue's entery, Fr. Schmemann synthesis, and Dr. Klauser's history, whom Taft starts his pamphlet with his mocking sarcasm, for such Kleine Byzantinissche Liturgie-geschichte?
I was disappointed in the boastful author who presents his brochure to someone 'for liking what HE writes,' irrespective of the readers who is looking for, in Taft's own words, "a similar overview of the history of eastern liturgical tradition," then decides to, "follow in the footsteps of Theodore Klauser."
To the major authority on Byzantium and its worship I borrow Fortescue enquiry, 'The main questions that present themselves' are:
a. The relation of St. Basil's Byzantine liturgy to the Coptic anaphora in his name. which was the original, and what are the proofs?
b. Did John Chrysostom write any liturgical prayers, let alone an anaphora, and what was its date, origin, and composers?
c. The liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts, how to resolve the question of its origin, which the Roman Catholics deny its relation with Pope Gregory, "The apocryphal attribution of the Byzantine Presanctified to Pope Gregory I does not antedate the twelfth century." (The H/C encyclopedia of Catholicism, 1995) What about professor Uspensky's compelling study which gives its Alexandrine origin, debating that the author was not John Chrysostom but more probable Severus of patriarch of Antioch (Evening Worship, in the orthodox Church, SVS 1985, pp. 143)
d. To prove what he says about his international recognition, which is appreciated, answer this liturgical tradition in imparting solemn blessings during liturgical service, the episcopal candelabras used by Byzantine-rite bishops, in addition to the trikirion which the Coptic Bishops use, add a dikirion in the left hand, based on a byzantine dogmaticon.
Good title for a "short history"  Jul 22, 2002
In his Introduction, Taft made it clear that he regarded this as something of a companion piece to Theodor Klauser's "Short History of the Western Liturgy".

Klauser's book is about twice as long as Taft's (about 150 pp vs about 80 pp), and includes discussions of developments that Klauser regards as mistakes. Taft, by contrast, is infailingly respectful toward his subject, always remembering the insults that "Byzantine" matters have suffered from Western authors for so many centuries. This makes his account perhaps less titillating, though no less informative.

Taft concerns himself chiefly with developing his thesis that the rite known today as "Byzantine" is the product of a series of syntheses of rites at Mt Sinai and Constantinople, sometimes in response to offerings from one side, sometimes from the other. Those who wish to learn more will find a good bibliography to guide their further reading.


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