Reinhard Messner

Imagining Late Antique Liturgies via Oriental Sources: The Case of Alexandria and Egypt


The major problem in reconstructing late antique liturgies is the paucity of reliable sources describing actually celebrated liturgies, not – like, e. g., the church orders – prescribing ideal norms never put into ecclesiastical practice. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the decisive period in the development of the most important liturgical traditions, the liturgy of the great centers of the Roman Empire changed rapidly; ancient liturgical practices and codifications were replaced by more modern ones and so are lost in the original Greek or Latin. But in peripheral zones, especially in Oriental churches far away from the great late antique centers like Alexandria or Rome, ancient materials were much longer in use and some of them are conserved until today. Everyone knows the fundamental importance of Armenian and Georgian source materials for reconstructing the late antique Jerusalem Liturgy. For Alexandria and Egypt, too, important sources are available in Ethiopic manuscripts, but till now they are more often than not neglected by scholars. Notable examples are a sermon about the active participation of lay people in the Eucharist in the Ethiopic synaxary or the baptismal liturgies and other euchological materials in the Ethiopic Senodos, partly inserted into the so called Apostolic Tradition. A recently found but not yet edited euchologion translated from Greek into Ancient Ethiopic will probably shed more light on Egyptian and Alexandrian liturgies in late antiquity. The paper thus wants to call to mind the importance of the study of Oriental – non-Greek – sources for writing the liturgical history of the ancient church.

Reinhard Messner is on the faculty of biblical studies and historical theology at the University of Innsbruck. More information is here.