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The Divine Liturgy of Saint James

The Liturgy of St James is the most ancient of the liturgies which include the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great. The most common liturgy we are familiar with and use regularly is that of Chrysostom. 
 
Basil’s liturgy is celebrated ten times a year, mostly during Great Lent. The other liturgy that is used in the Orthodox Church is the pre-sanctified liturgy, used exclusively during Great Lent. In this liturgy the Body and Blood of Christ are already consecrated the previous Sunday. During the weekdays of Lent, liturgy is not celebrated for penitential reasons. However, the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts provides the means for the faithful to receive Holy Communion.
 
There are several saints named James. The one who composed the liturgy is James, the brother of the Lord. He is also known as James “the Lesser” or James the Just. In reality he was Jesus’ step-brother since he was the son of Joseph the Betrothed. Joseph had a wife before he was betrothed to Mary. His exact title is: ὁ Ἀδελφόθεος, “brother of God.” 
 
James (Iakovos) was the first Patriarch of Jerusalem and the author of the Epistle of St James. The Sacrament of Holy Unction follows the Apostolic Tradition mentioned in this Epistle: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:14-16). 
 
The Liturgy of St. James is based on the ancient traditions of rite of the early Christian Church of Jerusalem. It forms the basis for the Liturgy of Antioch. In fact, the Oriental Orthodox Churches such as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church use the Liturgy of St James as their primary liturgy. 
 
This liturgy is much longer than that of Chrysostom and Basil. This is one of the reasons it is not regularly used today in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. However, the liturgies of both Basil and Chrysostom are derived from that of James. In some Eastern Orthodox Churches today, the Liturgy of St James is celebrated on his feast day which is October 23rd . It is also celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas. In Jerusalem it is celebrated on a daily basis, except weekdays during Lent of course.  
 
Each liturgy has its own unique epiclesis or consecration of the Holy Gifts. In the Liturgy of St James, we hear: And we Thine unworthy servants beseech Thee, most merciful Father, to hear us, and to send Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that, being blessed and hallowed by His life-giving power, they become the + Body and +Blood of Thy most dearly beloved Son, to the end that all who shall receive the same may be sanctified both in body and soul, and preserved unto (+ signs both the Body and Blood) everlasting life. 
 
This epiclesis is somewhat similar to Chrysostom’s: once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood and we ask, pray and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen. And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen. 
 
In James’ Liturgy the key words are αγιάση and ποιήση (sanctify and make); in Chrysostom: ποίησον and μεταβαλών. In the latter, there is more emphasis on the change from bread to Body and wine to Blood. Although they become the Body and Blood of Christ, they still retain their properties as bread and wine. 
 
In Basil’s Liturgy we hear: that You Holy Spirit may come upon us, and upon these gifts here presented: to bless them, sanctify them and show them: this bread as the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. And this cup the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ which was shed for the life and redemption of the world. Amen. Amen. Amen. The key word is άναδείξαι, to show. Like with James’s liturgy, to sanctify (αγιάσαι) is used. 
 
The word άναδείξαι was originally used in Chrysostom’s Liturgy but later changed to μεταβαλών because the latter seemed more formidable and definitive. With Basil, the transformation is already an accomplished fact. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine reveals them already to be the Body and Blood of Christ. 
 
However, with Chrysostom the transformation is taking place in the present. With Basil, there is no specific moment of change with the Gifts. On the other hand, James’ and Chrysostom’s liturgies seem to emphasize the moment of transformation, either to change into the Body and Blood or make them the Body and Blood. Nevertheless, in all three liturgies, the Holy Spirit is called upon to descend upon the Gifts.
 
Another similarity James’ Liturgy has with Basil’s is the Cherubic Hymn: Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία). This hymn is chanted in Basil’s Liturgy but only on Holy Saturday morning. For James’ Liturgy this is the usual Cherubic Hymn and this is just the first part of a much lengthier hymn. 
 
It is also common in James’ Liturgy to have a Prophecy, Epistle and Gospel reading. This format is seen in the Vesperal Divine Liturgies of St Basil such as Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. The communal hymn in James’ Liturgy is: Taste and See that Christ is the Lord, Alleluia (Γεύσασθε καί ίδετε ότι Χριστός ό Κύριος. Αλληλούια). This is the same hymn as that of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. There are some other minor differences but certainly more similarities in format with the liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil. 
 
May we all be blessed to experience this rare and unique liturgy in our life.
 
O Holy Apostle Iakovos, Brother of God, intercede for us!
 

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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