Typikon: A Few Notable Changes in Practice

Typikon DecodedThis is the 3RD  blog in this series on the Typikon, reflecting on the book THE TYPIKON DECODED by Archimandrite Job Getcha.  The first blog is Typikon:  E Pluribus Unum, and the previous blog is Typikon: A History of Change.

The Typikon as noted in previous blogs is the most recent of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical books for it governs the use of all the other books and so only comes into existence after the others already existed.  The Typikon endeavors to guide the use of the other books which have undergone significant change over time and which reflect a wide variety of practices.  For example if one considers the many “euchologies” (books which contain the prayers of Orthodox clergy for liturgical and sacramental rites) which exist in Orthodox tradition, we find diversity and variation is the norm.

“The Russian liturgical scholar A. Dmitrievskii showed that, of the 162 euchologies he examined, no two are identical in either content or size.  This tremendous variety in the rites contained in the manuscripts witnesses to the evolution of liturgical practice and makes practically impossible the publication of a single, critical edition of the Byzantine Euchologion.” (p 48)

The same is true of the liturgical books which were developed for the seasons of Great Lent and Pascha.

“As we have just seen, the Triodion and Pentecostarion are a compilation of texts assembled over a period of ten centuries and which underwent considerable redaction before reaching their contemporary form.   … the Triodia of the tenth and eleventh centuries are so varied in both form and content that it is impossible to establish a genealogy on the basis of a single original.”  (p 37)

We can compare the themes for the Sundays of Great Lent in the more ancient rubrics with the contemporary Typikon and note the following differences.  The ancient Typikon had no pre-Lenten Sundays of preparation while the modern one does – some of which are the Gospel Lessons from Great Lent now displaced to the pre-Lenten period.   The themes for the Sundays of Great Lent in ancient and contemporary practice:

Ancient Triodia                         Contemporary Triodia

1  Holy Prophets                             Sunday of Orthodoxy

2  Prodigal Son                                St. Gregory Palamas

3  Publican and Pharisee              Cross

4 Good Samaritan                          St. John Climacus

5 Rich Man & Lazarus                   St. Mary of Egypt

6  Palm Sunday                               Palm Sunday

What can be noted, and consistent with the history previously presented about the Typikon, we see an increasing “monasticization” of the Typikon.  The more ancient  biblical themes for the Sundays of Great Lent are replaced by more monastic themes.   Additionally Great Lent itself underwent numerous changes.

“In Jerusalem, a fast of six weeks was observed originally, or the equivalent of 40 days before Pascha.  Later, the practice evolved to eight weeks, with five days of fasting per week, because in accordance with Apostolic Canon 64, one did not fast on Saturday or Sunday.  … at the beginning of the fifth century, Palestine shifted from an eight-week to a seven-week fast.” (p 152)

The notion that the Orthodox do not fast on Saturday or Sundays of Great Lent is mentioned as late as the 15th Century.  St. Symeon of Thessalonika (d. 1429AD) mentions in his anti-Latin polemics that the Latins have abandoned the ancient canonical practice of not fasting on Saturdays and Sundays and keep Saturdays as a fast day during Great Lent. He says the Orthodox do not fast on Saturdays even during Lent as we honor the Creator – a foretaste of the new creation of the Resurrection.

And there was not in the ancient church complete agreement on how to keep Holy Week, or when the Lenten fast was to end.  According to Archimandrite Getcha (p 230-231),  St. Dionysius of Alexandria (3rd Century) notes there is no common practice among Christians throughout the Empire or in any one city regarding how to keep holy week.  Some fast 6 days, some 2, some 4, some not at all.  And when exactly does the fasting end?  Christians who kept a fast in Alexandria broke the fast soon after sunset on Holy Saturday, while in Rome they did it at sunrise on Sunday morning.   The Council of Trullo (692AD) decreed the fast should be broken at midnight on Holy Saturday perhaps as a compromise between these various times.

As for the celebration of Pascha itself, Archimandrite Job notes, “The ancient Typika say nothing about a procession.” The current practice of a midnight procession which for most Orthodox is THE liturgical rite of Pascha, is apparently  a modern addition to Orthodox practice.  Some of the most popular rituals for Holy Friday and Pascha first appear in the Typikon only in the 19th Century.  They no doubt reflect what had become customary practice by that time, but they don’t reflect the more ancient Tradition of the Church.   The fact that the Typikon in various centuries changes to reflect what had become current practice also tells us that the Typikon does not always govern practice but sometimes follows it.  The Typikon changes to keep up with the times rather than proscribing practices which had become normative.

Following Pascha there also have been notable changes in the way the Paschal Feast and cycle were kept.

“Indeed, in conformity with the ancient tradition of the Church, the 50-day paschal period was a time of rejoicing, during which both fasting and kneeling were eliminated.  Egeria, St. John Cassian, as well as Canon 20 of the Council of Nicea, all testify to this.”  (p 283)

The return to normal fasting practices on Wednesdays and Fridays after Bright week is thus a more recent innovation in church liturgical practice and doesn’t reflect the more ancient and even canonical practice.

Finally, a note about a change that has occurred in the way Christmas is kept.  Today in most Orthodox cultures, following the more recent monastic practice, Christmas Eve, December 24, is now considered a strict fast.

“In the ancient Studite tradition, as it is found in the Typikon of Alexios the Studite, we see that the eve was a day of feasting… In contrast, in the Sabaite tradition it was a strict fast day.” (p 131)

Thus by studying the Typikon we come to recognize that change in liturgical practice and piety has been a regular part of the history of Orthodoxy.  We can see that there have been through time a variety of liturgical experiences, but today our liturgical practices are dominated by one current in monastic practice that rose to prominence throughout the Orthodox world in the 14th Century.  As the Orthodox Byzantine world was collapsing under the onslaught of the Turks, Orthodox liturgical practice became more fixed in the Sabaite monastic tradition.