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  • Valentina Covaci

Byzantine Worship in Captivity

Valentina Covaci reviews Daniel Galadza Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is far from the composed reverence of most churches. At the most sacred shrine in Christendom, a cacophony of rites, languages and architectural styles bewilders the visitor. They signal theological and liturgical differences that set apart the different Christian denominations serving at the Holy Sepulchre: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopians. Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem by Daniel Galadza tells the story of one of these communities, the Greek Orthodox, and it is an essential book for anyone interested in the history of the Christian worship and presence in Jerusalem.

Galadza examines the devotional and social transformation of the Hagiopolite church between the seventh and the thirteenth centuries, which took the form of ‘Byzantinization’, that is the adoption by the Hagiopolite church (the church of the Holy City, hagia polis) of the Constantinopolitan liturgical rite. These rites included the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great to the detriment of the local liturgy of St. James the Brother of the Lord. The process of adoption was gradual, at times all three liturgies being celebrated in the territory of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ending in the twelfth century. But the Constantinopolitan rite ultimately replaced the liturgy of St. James. Galadza sees the abandonment of the local liturgical tradition as a direct consequence of Palestine’s split from the body of the empire, following the conquest of the Holy Land by the Arab Muslim armies of the caliph ‘Umar in 638. Paradoxically, the conquest led to an increased allegiance to the Byzantine emperor and an increased reverence towards the liturgy of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia. A fine example of liturgical scholarship, Galadza’s book goes beyond the narrow confines of typical liturgical studies, opening new avenues for the historical analysis of Christian observances in Jerusalem.


Galadza characterizes the liturgical life of the Hagiopolite church as “worship in captivity,” first under Muslim rule from 638 to 1099, and then under the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187. Under foreign governance, the local Church had to obey by the restrictive rules imposed on the religious observances of non-Muslims by Islamic law and, during the Latin Kingdom, to accept the imposition of Roman liturgy at the Holy Places. The ecclesiastical landscape, which these foreign powers came to dominate, had long been marked by theological rifts. Galadza focuses on the Greek Orthodox community, the Church of the empire, regionally known as the “Melkites” (mălkāyā, “royal, imperial”), those who kept their allegiance to the emperor in Constantinople. The Council of Chalcedon of 451 marked the breaking point. Called to settle the disputes on the divine and human nature of Christ, the council led in fact to a lasting split in Eastern Christendom which continues to this day. Those who did not accept the Orthodox teachings of the council, which held that Christ had two distinct natures, human and divine, but affirmed the existence of a single nature in Christ, were declared heretics. The Melkites were almost singular in Palestine and Syria to accept the Chalcedonian doctrine. They were the “Orthodox”- the “upholders of the right belief”, distinct from the other Christian communities of Jerusalem, who rejected the decisions of the council: the Syrian Orthodox (“the Jacobites”), the Copts or the Armenians. Hence the derogatory name assigned to them by their enemies: “Melkites”, those who follow the religion of the Byzantine emperor.

Daniel Galadza. Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 464 pp. $ 99.

In Byzantium, the emperor was deemed the “guardian of Orthodoxy.” Thus, keeping his allegiance and remaining in communion with the Great Church guaranteed the Orthodoxy of a community. A telling example is the adoption of Christmas in Jerusalem during Justinian’s reign (527-65). In 560, the emperor issued a decree in which he asked the Jerusalem Church to change the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, observed locally on the feast of the Theophany (6 January) to 25 December, the date observed by Constantinople and the rest of the Chalcedonian churches, including Rome. The emperor saw in the celebration of Nativity on 6 January a manifestation of Miaphysitism (the belief that Christ had only one nature), which had been condemned at Chalcedon. The church of Jerusalem had to follow the practice of the Orthodox, celebrating the birth of Christ as man on 25 December, and his revelation as the son of God at Theophany, on 6 January. The liturgical commemoration of the two natures on two different feast days made, thus, manifest the Orthodox teachings of Chalcedon. Galadza points out that the Hagiopolite church remained in communion with Constantinople even when the emperor and the Great Church prohibited the veneration of icons. Jerusalem denounced the iconoclasm of the metropolitan church and preserved its Orthodoxy. However, notwithstanding the Constantinopolitan errors, Jerusalem never severed its ties to the capital, seen as the seat of Orthodoxy. That is why, when left outside the empire’s boundaries after 638, Jerusalem gradually forsook the liturgy of St. James and adopted the Constantinopolitan rite. This adoption was done to preserve the Orthodoxy of the local church: “Observing the liturgy of Constantinople could have been seen as a sign of Orthodoxy.”


A distinctive feature of Jerusalem’s local liturgical tradition was and continues to be its stational liturgy. Each station, represented by a church raised on a spot ascribed by tradition to biblical events from the life of Christ or of the Virgin, was liturgically connected through processions. Likewise, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, various chapels commemorating the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, marked stations in the liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre. Galadza argues that the Arab conquest of the city unsettled the stational liturgy of Jerusalem. Under Islamic law, Christian liturgy was restrained to the confines of churches, due to the ban on public religious displays imposed on non-Muslims. Moreover, many of the churches featured in the stational liturgy were either destroyed or fell into disuse. For instance, the Church of Sion, an important stop in Hagiopolite stational liturgy (by tradition the place of the Cenacle and of the Dormition of the Virgin) was finally destroyed in the early eleventh century when its stones were used to reinforce the city walls. Galadza also points out that the arrival of the Crusaders disturbed the stational liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre, where a new church, dedicated in 1145, replaced the layout of the Constantinian basilica. The new construction gathered under the same roof the previous individual structures which commemorated, in the original Constantinian basilica, different moments from the Passion of Christ, such as the Calvary, the Stone of the Unction or the Edicule. While this view holds true from the perspective of the Greek Orthodox clergy, who indeed ceased to lead processions in the new construction, it ignores the very elaborate stational liturgy developed and conducted at the Holy Sepulchre by the Latins. Likewise, various historical sources point out that processing continued in Jerusalem even under Muslim rule. Although officially banned, the Palm Sunday procession was occasionally celebrated, but not under the guidance of the Greek Orthodox clergy. For instance, Saladin allowed the Armenian clergy to process on Palm Sunday, privilege which they kept at least until the fourteenth century. Although Galadza is right in asserting the loss of the original stational character of the Hagiopolite liturgy (i.e. conducted by the Greek clergy in the setting of Latin Antique Christian Jerusalem), it is worth stressing that it did not vanish altogether, being preserved in the stational liturgies conducted by the other Christian denominations.


Galadza is a follower of the “comparative liturgy” methodology, pioneered by Anton Baumstark in the early twentieth century and later championed by liturgical scholars such as Robert Taft, S.J. He abides sedulously by its precepts, comparing the liturgical rite of Jerusalem to that of contemporary Constantinople through the textual analysis of samples taken from their Calendar and Lectionary. In Christian liturgy, both the lectionary and the calendar reflect the local tradition, recording the celebration of local saints and feast days. Galadza uses them as barometers of change, to register the gradual abandonment of the Jerusalem usage in favor of the Constantinopolitan tradition. A relevant example is the commemoration of the ecumenical councils. The Jerusalem church commemorated only six councils, leaving out the seventh council held at Nicaea in 787, which restored the veneration of icons. Because the Patriarchate of Jerusalem never adopted the iconoclasm of the capital, there was no need to commemorate their subsequent restoration. However, starting with the fourteenth century and the Byzantinization of the local liturgy, Hagiopolite liturgical manuscripts include the commemoration of the seventh council. Likewise, the changes undergone by the Lectionary reflect the transition to Constantinopolitan practice. Thus, scriptural lections taken from the Old Testament were read customarily in the Hagiopolite liturgy of St. James, whereas, with very few exceptions (the vigils of Christmas, Theophany and Easter), the church of Constantinople did not read liturgically the Old Testament. By the thirteenth century they disappear from the Byzantinized liturgy of Jerusalem as well. The same principles are employed by Galadza to compare the liturgy of the cathedral of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the liturgical practices of the Greek Orthodox monasteries of the Judean Desert and Mount Sinai.

Given the breadth of his knowledge and the self-avowed allegiance to the comparative method of liturgical analysis, it is unfortunate that Galadza resigns himself to forego a serious scrutiny of Greek-Latin interactions in liturgical context at the time of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem, in July 1099, resulted in the replacement of the Orthodox clergy with the Augustinian canons installed by the new power at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, under Latins governance, the Greek clergy were readmitted to the service of the Holy Sepulchre. Moreover, the Latins put an end to Greek liturgical monopoly at the Holy Sepulchre by admitting the clergy of other Eastern Christian denominations (Armenians, Syrian Orthodox, Copts) to celebrate in the church. Although the Eastern clergy had to accept the Latins’ precedence, we know from numerous Latin sources that they continued to celebrate alongside and even together with the newly arrived.

Galadza emphasizes the scarcity of references to the Latin presence in Greek liturgical manuscripts. In his opinion, the silence was reciprocated in the Latin sources: “Latin and Greek liturgical sources from the Holy Sepulchre of the twelfth-century Latin kingdom make no mention of each other’s existence”. Although this might be the case when it comes to the Greek sources, it is certainly not the case of the Latin. Liturgical manuscripts, such as the so-called Ritual of the Holy Sepulchre published a century ago by Charles Kohler, indicate that essential parts of the liturgical service at the Holy Sepulchre, among which the scriptural lections, were conducted both in Latin and in Greek. Throughout his study, Galadza sees the bilingualism recorded in the liturgical practice of the Hagiopolite church since the time of Egeria (the fourth century pilgrim) as proof of the involvement of foreign clergy. Although the Greek Patriarchs, in exile in Constantinople at the time of the Latin Kingdom, did not preside over the liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre, it did not follow that the rest of the Eastern clergy, including the Greek Orthodox, were not involved in the liturgical services of the Hagiopolite cathedral. Moreover, the liturgical sources that record the bilingual services are complemented by the testimony of chroniclers who noticed the involvement of the Greek clergy in the liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre. For instance, Fulcher of Chartres, himself a canon of the Holy Sepulchre and chaplain to King Baldwin (1100-18), registered the participation of Greek clergy in the ritual of the descent of the Holy Fire in 1101, when the Latin Patriarch failed to bring about its appearance in the accustomed manner. This type of liturgical coexistence continued after the fall of the Latin Kingdom and restoration of the Greek clergy to preeminence at the Holy Sepulchre by Saladin. This liturgical rubbing of shoulders is, in the end, a permanent feature in Jerusalem, which should be explored more thoroughly.

Christian worship in Jerusalem has received the uneven attention of scholars, who focused disproportionally on Late Antiquity and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Galadza’s book not only covers these periods but goes well beyond the usual fragmentary approach, as it follows the history of Christian Jerusalem from Constantine to Saladin. Although his focus laid on the remits of the Greek Orthodox community, he discusses their ritual interactions with the other Christian denominations of the Holy City. The book highlights the role of liturgy in asserting religious and political identity and how ritual life at the Church of the Holy sepulche reflected the turmoil of Jerusalem throughout centuries. Liturgy and Byzantinization makes a great contribution to the field of Jerusalem studies in general and will become a reference for anyone interested in the history of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.


Valentina Covaci  received a PhD in History from the University of Amsterdam in 2017 and is currently a fellow of New Europe College. She researches the history of the Christian community of Jerusalem in the medieval period, particularly Latin-Greek relations.


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