Saint Maximus the Confessor writes his commentary on the Liturgy in order to stress the importance of it for monastic life, to correct a trend which had little use for Eucharistic piety. His commentary remains an important source for reflection on the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.
Saint Maximus approaches the liturgy on two levels. The ‘γενικώς’ (general) and the ‘ιδικώς’ (particular). The general level refers to the mystery of salvation to the whole cosmos. This method is typological, and refers the Liturgy to each individual analogically. An example of this, is the Holy Church of God, where the Liturgy takes place, being ‘a figure and image of the world, which is composed of visible and invisible things. ‘It’s sanctuary is the world above, allotted to the powers above’ reminding us of of the sky. Saint Maximus makes the Church building symbolic of the individual, on this ‘Journey to the Kingdom’ as Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou writes, where Heaven and Earth meet. Similarly, St Maximus’ interpretation of the first procession, with the Gospel, the Bishop and his clergy, is that the Hierarch’s entrance into the Sanctuary represents the first coming into the world of Christ, the Son of God. Again, we see his two-fold understanding of the central act of worship. The reading of the Gospel, the descent of the bishop from the throne, and the expulsion of the catechumens symbolise the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, on the ‘particular’ level, the Liturgy shuts off the visible world, ‘getting rid of thoughts which will incline towards the earth, turning the mind to a vision of spiritual things.’ The Great Entrance of the Holy (but un-consecrated) Gifts, emphasises that these are indeed a foretaste of the Kingdom. Hence the clergy sing ‘May the Lord God remember all of you in His Kingdom.’
For Saint Maximus the Confessor, the ‘general’ history of salvation becomes, through the Liturgy, a ‘particular,’ or mystical history. ‘Each soul expresses the saving plan of God. Thus the Eucharist represents the mystical ascension of the soul, to contemplation of God, and so to union with Him.’ Maximus (unlike Dionysius) pays particular attention to the economy of salvation, as he sees the Divine Liturgy as representing all salvation history, from the incarnation to the world yet to come. It is certainly a timeless, unifying, mystical communion and connection, between Heaven and Earth, between the living and the dead. If the Church is communion in Christ, then the Liturgy is the central act of the Church.
‘O taste and see how gracious the Lord is!’ (Psalm 34:8) Therefore the Λειτουργία unites the Church in love - in communion.
The Divine Liturgy, described by Saint Maximus, is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the whole Church, into the dimension of the Kingdom. It is a separation from the world. We often think that Christianity should be more appealing and contemporary, and should reflect the cultural and musical tastes of our time, however Maximus would highlight that in accepting this view, we forget that Christ and His Kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18:36). The early Christians realised that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20) they must ascend to Heaven with Christ; with this ascension being ‘the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world.’ The Divine Liturgy is therefore an ascension, and once Christians have participated in it, their aim is to share and reflect this Heavenly and eternal worship, glorifying the Triune God, through joyful, loving and self-sacrificial acts.
- St Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy - St Maximus the Confessor (New York:SVS, 1984) 39.
- R.Bornert, “L’anaphore dans la spiritualite liturgique de Byzance: le temoignage des commentaires mystagogiques du vile au xve siècle” Eucharisties d’Orient et d’Occident (Paris,1970) 245.
- Alexander Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London: DLT, 1965) 17.
- Alexander Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London: DLT, 1965) 32.