Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium

Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium

Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium

Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium

Synopsis

Liturgical Subjects examines the history of the self in the Byzantine Empire, challenging narratives of Christian subjectivity that focus only on classical antiquity and the Western Middle Ages. As Derek Krueger demonstrates, Orthodox Christian interior life was profoundly shaped by patterns of worship introduced and disseminated by Byzantine clergy. Hymns, prayers, and sermons transmitted complex emotional responses to biblical stories, particularly during Lent. Religious services and religious art taught congregants who they were in relation to God and each other.

Focusing on Christian practice in Constantinople from the sixth to eleventh centuries, Krueger charts the impact of the liturgical calendar, the eucharistic rite, hymns for vigils and festivals, and scenes from the life of Christ on the making of Christian selves. Exploring the verse of great Byzantine liturgical poets, including Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete, Theodore the Stoudite, and Symeon the New Theologian, he demonstrates how their compositions offered templates for Christian self-regard and self-criticism, defining the Christian "I." Cantors, choirs, and congregations sang in the first person singular expressing guilt and repentence, while prayers and sermons defined the collective identity of the Christian community as sinners in need of salvation. By examining the way models of selfhood were formed, performed, and transmitted in the Byzantine Empire, Liturgical Subjects adds a vital dimension to the history of the self in Western culture.

Excerpt

Some time after the emperor Justinian’s death in 565, Eutychios the patriarch of Constantinople added a new communion hymn for the celebration of the eucharistic liturgy on Holy Thursday, the annual commemoration of Christ’s Last Supper. After a priest had consecrated the bread and wine and the Holy Spirit transformed them into the body and blood of Christ, a choir chanted, “At your mystical supper, Son of God, receive me today as a partaker, for I will not betray the sacrament to your enemies, nor give you a kiss like Judas, but like the Thief I confess you: remember me Lord in your kingdom.” in their song, the patriarch provided the laity with a ritual mechanism for identifying them selves as redeemable sinners. This self- conception employed two models drawn from the biblical narrative: one strikingly negative, the other rather more complex. Congregants should hope to approach the body of Christ not like Judas, with the kiss of betrayal (Mt 26:27), but like the Good Thief who had been crucified next to Jesus, and who, the Gospel explained, would be with him in Paradise (Lk 23:43). the hymn thus prepared Christians to approach Good Friday and Easter, or Pascha, under standing themselves as culpable and de serving of punishment while pardoned through Christ’s sacrifice.

Changes to liturgy often meet with resistance, but also come with rationales. Those rationales reveal indigenous theories of ritual. According to the contemporary historian John of Ephesus, a non- Chalcedonian sharply critical of Eutychios, this innovation caused controversy and even unrest. John complains that Eutychios attempted to change the antiphon “which by ancient custom was in use in all the churches,” mostly likely a verse from Psalm 148 that had served as the standard and fixed communion chant in the capital: “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the highest, Alleluia!” He circulated his new hymn, At Your Mystical Supper, “to all the churches,”

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