Church rite

Church rite. The external manifestation of faith and worship. The term is used to refer to (1) the canonical rite of the church (see Canon law) and (2) a distinctive liturgical form (eg, the Eastern and Western rites). The term acquired the latter meaning in the Western church after the Second Vatican Council.

Although Rus’ received the Christian faith from Byzantium, where the liturgical ritual was precisely defined, some departures from Byzantine norms appeared, particularly in the trebnyk (euchologion) and chynovnyk (service book) as a result of the influence of local Ukrainian customs. These departures are discernible as early as the second half of the 11th century. Among them were the prince’s presence during the chirotony (consecration of a bishop) and the declaration of the clergy’s deputies that the priests approved the consecration of the elected bishop. There was also a difference on fasting: if an important feast fell on a Wednesday or Friday, the Kyivan church, contrary to Byzantine practice, suspended the fast. The local population assimilated only those elements of the church rite that were in harmony with its traditions and adapted the Christian themes to its world view. Besides the liturgical models adopted from Byzantium, Rus’ produced its own original texts of services to individual saints, hymns (acathisti), etc. Church singing, which is a part of the church rite, developed independently in the Ukrainian church.

Attempts were made in the Kyivan Orthodox church—for example, under Metropolitan Gregory Tsamblak—to sort out the wealth of customs and rituals, but it was not until the mid-17th century that Metropolitan Petro Mohyla succeeded in standardizing the liturgical books with their distinctive ritual. In his polemical work Lithos (The Stone, 1644) Mohyla emphasized that it was not rite but dogma that divided the churches. The church rites (divine liturgy, calendar, etc) were discussed at length in the religious polemical literature of the 17th century. The church sobors of 1596, 1629, and 1636 expressed concern for the preservation of local peculiarities in the church rite. The Orthodox sobor that met in Kyiv in 1640 devoted its attention to the church rite and approved certain practices that did not exist in other Orthodox churches but were consistent with the practices of the Uniate church. Hence, the Euchologion of 1646 and Liturgicon (Missal) of 1639 retained a number of church customs that were practiced at the time and were found in earlier church books such as the Euchologion of 1606, the Liturgicon of 1604, and the hand-copied euchologia of the 16th–17th century (now lost). The Euchologion of 1646 contains 20 rituals that are not mentioned in other books and that were derived from local rites. Altogether it contains 37 local Ukrainian ceremonies, whose inclusion caused consternation in Moscow. Yet, some local church practices, such as prayers over those who had pronounced a curse on themselves, processions around the church from east to west, the priest’s following rather than preceding the coffin at a burial procession, and communion with holy water for unconscious individuals (found in the Euchologion of 1606), were omitted from this book.

The peculiarities of the Ukrainian church rite began to disappear at the end of the 17th century, following the submission of the Ukrainian Orthodox church to the patriarchate of Moscow. Ukrainian customs were suppressed not only because of the centralizing tendencies of the Russian Orthodox church, but also because of its confusion of rite with dogma. Because ritual was given the same weight as dogma, Moscow condemned baptism by the pouring of water, the ordination of several priests during the same divine liturgy, the celebration of the Proskomide (the Rite of Preparation) with five consecrated wafers, the use of the vernacular Ukrainian in some ceremonies and sermons, and many other practices peculiar to the Kyivan church. The authorities in Moscow watched for any peculiarities ‘in words and services’ (as with the Kyiv Liturgicon of 1692) and issued prohibitions (1721) against distinctive church practices and the use of a ‘different dialect’ in the liturgical language. For this reason the old rites of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, which were suppressed in the Russian Empire and then in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, survived until the Second World War only in Western Ukraine, which was located outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Holy Synod or patriarch. The old rites were partly preserved also in the Ukrainian Catholic church, which absorbed many practices of the Roman Catholic church and yet retained its distinctiveness. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church (UAOC), which was revived in 1919–21, introduced the Ukrainian vernacular into the divine liturgy and tried to restore and develop the traditional peculiarities of the Ukrainian church rite in singing, preaching, lay participation in the church, and so on. This process was halted with the suppression of the UAOC in the Soviet Union. From 1943 the Soviet government showed some favoritism towards the Russian Orthodox church in Ukraine; hence, Ukrainian church rites were cultivated only outside the USSR. The work of the Mohyla Society in the interwar period in Lutsk and Warsaw was interrupted by the war; it has continued in the Ukrainian Orthodox church in the West, but no uniformity of the church rite has been achieved.

The traditional Ukrainian church rites continue to be practiced in the churches of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church abroad: the priest reads the Gospel facing the congregation; the sermon follows the reading of the Gospel; the iconostasis are kept mostly open; the eucharistic prayers are read aloud; before the Credo the congregation is addressed with the words ‘Christ is among us’; the feast of Saint Mary the Protectress (1 October) is solemnly kept (it is not recognized by some non-Ukrainian Orthodox churches); flowers are blessed on the feast of the Maccabean Martyrs on 1 August; and so on.

When the Ukrainian church entered into union with the Roman Catholic church in 1596, it reserved the right to keep the Eastern church rite, guaranteed by Pope Clement VIII in the Church Union of Berestia. At first the Uniate priests used the old liturgical books, but with time innovations and borrowings from the Latin rite began to appear. The bishops began to send candidates for ordination to Roman Catholic seminaries, where these future priests became accustomed to Latin-rite practices. Priests who came from Polonized Ukrainian nobility became champions of the Latinization of Ukrainian rites. Gradually, the so-called silent or read divine liturgy was introduced, hands were folded in the Western manner, communion was accepted in the kneeling position, altar bells and sometimes organs were introduced, the iconostasis was removed, and the altars were placed against the walls. Such innovations were more prevalent in the northern Uniate eparchies (Lithuania and Belarus) and Kyiv metropoly than in Galicia, Volhynia, and Transcarpathia.

The Uniate Synod of Zamostia in 1720 devoted some attention to innovations in the church rite and approved only four of them—prayers for the pope in the liturgy, the addition of ‘filioque’ to the Credo, and the elimination of the sponge and the so-called zeon (pouring of warm water into the consecrated wine) during the divine liturgy—although it did not prohibit others. Opponents of the Latinization of the church rite planned to summon a provincial council in the second half of the 18th century to explore this issue. At the end of the 18th century Heraklii Lisovsky, the archbishop of Polatsk and a proponent of the ancient practices, took an interest in liturgical reform, but political events and the persecution of the Uniate church made such reform impossible. In the first half of the 19th century the Russian government encouraged liturgical reform in the Uniate church of Yosyf. Semashko (1839) in the spirit of Russian Orthodoxy. The suppression of the Uniate church in the Kholm region and Podlachia in 1875 began with the changing of the church rite.

In Galicia the church rite was Latinized to a lesser extent than in the Kholm region. In the works of the Lviv Synod of 1891 there is an evident striving to return to the old church rites based on Greek examples. This intention is apparent in the Liturgicon of 1906. After the First World War the Ukrainian church hierarchy tried at several councils to agree on a uniform church rite. The Intereparchial Liturgical Commission in Lviv worked towards this goal in 1930–5. There were two camps in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church: the ‘Easterners,’ who favored a conservative position on rites, and the ‘Westerners’, proponents of changes under the influence of the Latin rite. The Liturgical Commission was established in Rome and headed by Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, the secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Its task was to produce a normative edition of the liturgical books. So far 10 books have been published, among them the liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great, and the Presanctified Host, as well as the code of liturgical rules. This code—Ordo celebrationis, published in 1944—encompasses the principal rules of the church rite of the Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine-Slavonic rite. The commission based its work on Ukrainian texts of the pre-Union period and generally standardized church practices according to the spirit of the Eastern rite.

In the mid-1960s the episcopal conferences and councils of the Ukrainian Catholic church turned their attention to restoring the traditional Ukrainian rites and making them uniform. The Intereparchial Liturgical Commission resumed its work. The archibishop major of the Ukrainian Catholic church in Rome, Yosyp Slipy, supervised the publication of liturgical books. In 1966 the hierarchy permitted the Ukrainian vernacular and partly the language of the country of residence to be used in church services. By 1980 Ukrainian translations of the divine liturgy, the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles, the euchologion, and the Archieratikon (episcopal service book) had appeared.

Since the 18th century the rites of the Orthodox church in Ukraine have been unified with those of the Russian Orthodox church. Only the movement for an autocephalous Ukrainian church brought about a Ukrainianization of the church rite, a tendency to abandon Russian synodalism, and a search for pre-1685 Kyivan forms. Because of inexperience, insufficient research, and a lack of unified leadership the churches of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church have not had a uniform rite. The new direction in which the church rite of the Ukrainian Catholic church is developing brings it closer to the rite of the Orthodox church and particularly to the Kyivan tradition.

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Yurii Fedoriv, Iivan Korovytsky, Matvii Stasiv

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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