Wednesday, July 1, 2009

FATHERS: Liturgy of St. James


Prayer of the incense at the beginning

Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, O Word of God, who didst freely offer Thyself a blameless sacrifice upon the cross to God even the Father, the coal of double nature, that didst touch the lips of the prophet with the tongs, and didst take away his sins, touch also the hearts of us sinners, and purify us from every stain, and present us holy beside Thy holy altar, that we may offer Thee a sacrifice of praise: and accept from us, Thy unprofitable servants, this incense as an odor of a sweet smell, and make fragrant the evil odor of our soul and body, and purify us with the sanctifying power of Thy all-holy Spirit: for Thou alone art holy, who sanctifies, and are communicated to the faithful; and glory becomes Thee, with Thy eternal Father, and Thy all-holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and ever, and to all eternity. Amen. (The Liturgy of Saint James, Brother of our Lord- CA. 60 AD.)


The earliest surviving liturgy is the Liturgy of St James, and it not only dates back to CA 60 AD, but is still currently used by the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox church. In this liturgy we find the apostolic tradition and truth embodied in worship rather than in gospel, history, or epistle form. It is conceivable that all of the apostles said this prayer as they began their worship of the Lord.

The prayer begins by addressing the Lord Jesus as the eternal God, the word, and by calling him a particular kind of self offering. A cleansing sacrifice and a sanctifying sacrifice. It is clear here that sanctifying goes beyond cleansing; unlike cleansing, it does not leave us neutral and without evil, instead it makes us worthy to approach God. The reason for this worthiness is to enable us to offer an acceptable sacrifice as opposed to a foul sacrifice. In other words, it was Jesus' sacrifice that makes our sacrifice good and even desireable to the Lord.

So then, in the opening act of the apostle's worship, we have the foundational basis for the nature and purpose of the sacrifice of Christ in general. Unlike the emphasis given by the west after St. Anslem to the sacrafice of Christ as being a payment to the Father for sin, what we find is a self offering of love that cleasnses, enables, and escorts others into the glory of God. Jesus' sacrifice allows man to taste divinity.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1


  1. We still use it as well, Fr Carlos. The Liturgy of St James is one of those occasional liturgies that are used on particular days. We use it on the Feast of St James (23rd October) and, I think, the Sunday after Christmas. I like it very much.

    I must say, though, that I far prefer to Alexandrian Liturgy of St Mark, which is used on the Feasts of St Mark and of St Cyril of Alexandria. The epiklesis is by far the most beautiful that I have encountered. When our patronal festival has been and gone and we have had our visit from the relics of St Elisabeth, I shall resume my work on the formatting, rubricisation, and typesetting of the translation of Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, making it ready for publication, hopefully in time for St Mark's feast next year.

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  3. Er, "...far prefer the Alexandrian Liturgy of St Mark".

  4. Michael, this ancient liturgy is truly beautiful; however, the point of interest that I wanted to stress is that the view of sacrifice found in its content is very different from the view of sacrifice that most folks know in the west. In the west, the sacrifice of our Lord is payment to the Father for sin, pure and simple. That falls short of the Apostolic tradition that we find in the earliest liturgy.