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Vol. VII • 1984

Biblical Creation in the Russian Orthodox Liturgy

Alexander A. Bogolepov, Orthodox Hymns of Christmas. Holy Week and Easter. Russian Orthodox Theological Fund, Inc.. New York; distributed by St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. 575 Scarsdale Road, Crestwood, NY 10707. 76 pp.. paper. $1.95.

This little book, first published in Russian in Tallin (Reval, Estonia) in 1934, presents translations of Russian Orthodox hymns of Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, the most important holy day of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The entire book is a great joy to the Christian believer as it introduces us in a very warm, personal, joyful yet reverent way to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The surprise is how frequently and how totally inescapably He is presented as the Creator of all things. It is palpably evident that in these hymns there breathes "in particular. . the spirit of the Gospel of St. John. a lively sense that Eternal Life has entered into this life on earth, that God the Lord has appeared to men in the flesh, that men have seen Him with their own eyes, touched Him with their hands, have beheld the victory and glory of the Only Begotten Son of God (John 1:1 14,1 John 1:1-31.... reverent worship of what is for man's mind the incomprehensible union of the divine and human, which led to the birth of Him who has no beginning, the death of Him who is immortal, and life beyond the grave." (pp.7-8)

Let us now quote from the many Orthodox liturgical hymns relating us to Christ the Creator. The Christmas hymns refer to Him as "the Son who was born of the Father before all ages," emphasizing His eternal deity (p.10). He is called the Creator in His work of regeneration:

We find the following references to our Lord as Creator in the Orthodox hymns used in Holy Week:

The liturgy emphasizes that the Creator Himself is uncreated: "Be mindful, all ye faithful, of the heavenly summons of the uncreated, and self-existent Wisdom of God." (p.35) How beautiful and deeply moving is this passage from the liturgy used on Good Friday: "The violent throng of those who despised God and willed to kill Him in their rage surrounded Thee, 0 Christ; and brought Thee to death like a criminal, Thou who art the Creator of all." (p. 3?) Similarly a prayer on the theme, "0 Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me exclaims in awe:

"The mind cannot grasp" (writes Bogolepov) "how the Lord and Creator of all could undergo suffering, how He could suffer death at the hands of beings He Himself created, or how He could be buried like an ordinary mortal." (pp. 46-47) The liturgy says, "Joseph and Nicodemus buried the Creator as befits the dead." "Come. all ye creatures, . . . let us offer our lamentations to the Creator." (p47 And how can we not be moved as modern twentieth-century believers in Biblical creation when we read in the ancient, traditional Orthodox liturgy:

Seeing Thee suspended in the Place of the Skull, Thou who didst suspend the whole earth in space without support, all creation cried out in deepest dread: "There is none holy, save Thee, 0 Lord." (p.47) How can we not be moved by reflecting upon reading these words from the Orthodox Canon of Holy Saturday, "The blessed Tomb received the Creator as one who slept, and was revealed as the divine treasure-house of life, for the salvation of us who now sing: `Blessed art Thou, 0 God our Redeemer."' (p.50) And what about the Orthodox liturgy celebrating Easter, its highest and holiest feast day? Bogolepov writes:

Bogolepov ends his beautiful little book as follows:

He might have pointed out again that the Resurrection depended on the power of "the Author of Life Himself, the very Creator of the world," but truly such reiterated emphasis is not needed for one who has faithfully read the entire book. This book is a great and special blessing to the Christian who believes in Biblical creation. Indeed it is so alive with the spirit of Biblical creation that we might wish to give it to friends, and consider using it as a soul-winning instrument. It is filled with life, joy, truth, the simplicity of the Gospel. and a sense of living communion with Christ and with fellow believers. Whatever one's doctrinal or theological differences might be with the Russian or Eastern Orthodox Church, they need in no wise detract from enjoying this book, a fact which is a beautiful testimony to "mere Christianity" and its foundation truth of Biblical creation.

Reviewed by ElIen Myers

"Biblical Creation in the Russian Orthodox Liturgy"
CSSHS • Creation Social Science & Humanities Society • Quarterly Journal

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