Thursday, July 20, 2006

F.E. Brightman, Eastern Liturgies

Review: Eastern Liturgies: Being the Texts Original or Translated of the Principal Liturgies of the Church, by F.E. Brightman. Gorgias Press: 2004. 603pp. Hardcover. $88.00 USD.

Reviewed by Shawn Tribe

Some liturgical books are desireable for reason of their contents and some for their scarcity, whereas some are desireable for both reasons. One such book was F.E. Brightman's classic in comparative liturgy, Eastern Liturgies, now republished by Gorgias Press, a publisher that specializes in Eastern and specifically, Arabic, Christian offerings.

F.E. Brightman's book was originally published under the full title of Liturgies Eastern and Western in 1896, of which one volume was to be of Western liturgies and the other of Eastern. The former was never came to fruition and the latter is represented in this volume and is divided into a four-fold division: the Syrian, Egyptian, Persian and Byzantine rites.

Brightman's work is, as has been said, a classic in comparative liturgy, though it is not for the faint of heart. It should be understood that this book is an academic text, and like such texts produced in an era of greater study of the classical languages, many of its Greek and Latin references remain untranslated. Likewise, a number of the liturgies incorporated in the text are also only in Greek and remain untranslated. That being said, even if you are not a scholar of Greek, the book has a significant number of Eastern liturgies which have been translated into the English language and which will be of interest. These include:

The Syriac Liturgy of St. James; or the Liturgy of the Syrian Jacobites including the Anaphora of St. James

The Coptic Liturgy of St. Mark or St. Cyril; or the Liturgy of the Coptic Jacobites including the Anaphora of St. Mark or St. Cyril

The Anaphora of the Ethiopic Church Ordinances

The Ethiopic Liturgy of the Apostles; or the Liturgy of the Abyssinian Jacobites

The Liturgy of the Nestorians including the Anaphora of Ss. Addai and Mari

The Byzantine Liturgy of the Armenians

As for the liturgies which are not translated, there quite a number of them. If there was a point of critique for this work, it would be this fact, for it makes the book only partially usable to the average reader who has an interest in the study of liturgical texts. Still, this critique is rooted in a popular consideration of the book and not in view of it as a scholarly treatment. As well, what texts are available in English are certainly venerable and bring together some rarer bits of liturgica that are valuable and worthwhile in their own right. Also quite handy in this volume is a glossary of technical liturgical and ecclesiastical terms (in English as well as Greek) and an epistle of James of Edessa to Thomas the Presbyter which describes a historical liturgy in detail.

As regards these liturgical texts, it should be noted that Brightman does not simply include the ordinary parts of the liturgy, but attempts to give the particular liturgy as it might appear on a particular liturgical day, thus including the propers of that day such as readings and hymns. As well, the rubrics are also included, as are the priests private prayers (distinguished by their smaller font in the book).

Any decent library of liturgical works cannot miss having this volume on its shelves. Liturgical scholars will surely want to have it in their own personal collections for study and reference. As for the layman whom is deeply interested in the sacred liturgy, and in particular the multiplicity of liturgical rites that has particularly characterized the Christian East, the primary interest of this book for you will be the opportunity to examine the liturgies mentioned above, comparing them with your own liturgical rite, thus seeing not only the differences, but also the similarities in the liturgical families of East and West. Further, you will surely find profitable the excellent glossary. One can either use this as a point of reference for unknown terms in either this work or others, or one would equally as profit by reading through the glossary from start to finish, thereby gaining insight into the liturgy itself and that which surrounds it.

I can think of little better testimonial than that already provided by Dr. Ugo Zanetti, a monk of Chevetogne, Belgium: “In one volume it brings together... the main types of the Eucharistic liturgy of the various Eastern Christian Churches. For more than a century now, it has served as a reference work to students and scholars in comparative liturgy and has been quoted thousands of times in publications, classes, and research projects.” Kudos to Gorgias Press for making titles such as Brightman's Eastern Liturgies again available to the general public.

For more information, please visit Gorgias Press:

To order this particular volume: Eastern Liturgies, F.E. Brightman

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