Byzantine Commentaries on the Eucharist (or: Of Studies, Liturgical, Part III)

This post continues our occasional romp through the topics of my Ph.D. comprehensive exams (begun here and continued here). Enjoy!

TOPIC 2 (Eucharist, Eastern):
Patristic and Early Medieval Byzantine Commentaries on the Eucharistic Liturgy

This topic exposes the examinee to four primary early and medieval commentaries (by Theodore of Mopsuestia, Pseudo-Dionysius “the Areopagite,” Maximus Confessor, Germanus of Constantinople and Nicholas Cabasilas) on the Divine Liturgies of the Byzantine rite, attending to what they reveal about the development of the liturgy itself, to the development of mystical commentary in the Byzantine tradition from “mystagogical” to “allegorical” and to the theology of the Eucharistic sacrament (including the topics of presence and sacrifice insofar as they are treated by the commentators).

Primary Sources

Cabasilas, Nicholas. A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, tr. J. M. Hussey and P. A. McNulty. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977.

Germanus of Constantinople. On the Divine Liturgy, tr. Paul Meyendorff. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984.

Maximus Confessor. “The Church’s Mystagogy,” 181-225. Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, tr. George Berthold. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1985.

Pseudo-Dionysius. “The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy,” 195-259. Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, tr. Colm Lubheid. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1987.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Baptismal Homily V” and “Baptismal Homily VI” (= Catechetical Sermons 15-16), 226-250. Edward Yarnold, SJ, The Awe Inspiring Rites of Initiation: The Origins of the R.C.I.A. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2001.

Secondary Sources

Bornert, René. Les Commentaires byzantins de la divine liturgie du VIIe au XVe siècle (Archives de l’Orient Chrétien 9). Paris: Institut Français d’Études Byzantines, 1966.

Golitzin, Alexander. Et Introibo Ad Altare Dei: The Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagita, with Special Reference to Its Predecessors in the Eastern Christian Tradition. Thessalonikē: Patriarchikon Idruma Paterikōn Meletōn/George Dedousis, 1994.

Loudovikos, Nikolaos. A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity, tr. Elizabeth Theokritoff. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2010.

Louth, Andrew. “The Reception of Dionysius up to Maximus Confessor,” 43-53. Re-Thinking Dionysius the Areopagite, ed. Sarah Coackley and Charles M. Stang Oxford Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Reine, Francis Joseph. The Eucharistic Doctrine and Liturgy of the Mystagogical Catecheses of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942 .

Rorem, Paul. Pseudo-Dionysius: A Commentary on the Texts and an Introduction to their Influence, 91-132. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Schulz, Hans-Joachim. The Byzantine Liturgy, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell. New York: Pueblo, 1986.

Taft, Robert F., “The Liturgy of the Great Church: An initial Synthesis of Structure and Interpretation on the Eve of Iconoclasm,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 34-35 (1980-1981): 45-75.

Tsirpanlis, Constantine N. The Liturgical and Mystical Theology of Nicolas Cabasilas. Athens: Theologia, 1976.


  1. Cody,

    Was interested to see a familiar name,
    Golitzin, Alexander,
    from the website Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism,

    While he has a lot of articles here and there, I am not familiar with this book, but it is available to me through OhioLink.

    Was this based on a dissertation?
    Why did you include it?

    1. I hate to admit, Jack, but I haven’t gotten to the Golitzin volume yet. It was recommended to me for the topic, which covers two of the required exam areas. At the end of the exams (in March) I hope to post a synthesis of the topics as I have addressed them.

    2. Golitzin, in an article on “The Spirituality of Eastern Christians” has an integrated vision of ecclesiology, liturgy, and spirituality that fascinates me because I am interested in all three.

      To borrow from a mid-fourth century, Syrian Christian ascetic work, the Liber Graduum, already in the New Testament one finds the adumbration of “three churches”: “the church on high”, i.e., heaven and the heavenly liturgy around the throne of Christ God; “the church on earth”, with its clergy and sacraments, and “the little church” of the heart or soul. Yet, in each “church”, it is the same glorified Christ Who is made present by the action of the Spirit.

      Then commenting on his experience on Mt. Athos

      Perhaps no polarity in Eastern Christian spirituality is more striking and more apparently contradictory than that of the hermit’s stark poverty and simplicity, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the gorgeous splendor of the late Byzantine liturgy, dripping gold and conducted in the presence of mosaics and murals fabricated with all the expense and subtlety available to a millenial civilization.

      Yet, neither the hermit nor the episcopal celebrant would at all accept this as a paradox, let alone a contradiction. The former would — and does — understand the magnificence of the earthly church’s liturgy as a mirror, both of the angels’ worship in the heavenly temple before the throne of God, and of the divine presence within the purified heart.

      The bishop and, perhaps even more so, the devout laity see in their turn the Kingdom of God reflected equally in the glory of the Church’s common worship, and in the hallowed ascetic elder, the geron or staretz, bright and fragrant already with presence of the world to come.

      1. Cody and Jack –
        Thank you both for this.
        It is refreshing to be reminded of the spiritual polarity treated on in the Liber Graduum. As an organist and choirmaster whose liturgical preferences are high Anglican (or high Benedictine!), I yet often feel the tug of the hermit. I suppose most of us do. Thank you for sharing this! It is a welcome perspective, and noteworthy that the hermit does not scorn high ritual, nor the high ritualist the hermit.

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