Liturgy in Early Christian Egypt

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Joint Liturgical Studies 33

The last twenty years of liturgical scholarship on early Christian worship reveal a decisive ‘Exodus’ in reverse. Scholars have returned increasingly to Egypt, where the origins and development of the Egyptian or Alexandrian Christian liturgical tradition, and its occasional wider influence in the liturgical life of the early Church, have received renewed focus and emphasis. Egyptian liturgical sources have been freshly edited, translated, and re-visited with new critical eyes, and traditional assumptions about their dates, role, and overall significance have been challenged ‘. Especially among liturgical scholars in the English-speaking world, this renewed emphasis has been concerned primarily with the rites of Christian initiation/, with the eucharistic liturgy and anaphoral construction”, and with the evolution of the liturgical year.’

What this recent scholarship has tended to reveal for early Christian Egypt is an indigenous liturgical tradition which often defies categorization as anything other than “Alexandrian’ or ‘Egyptian’. Although some similarities and parallels do of course exist between this tradition and those generally termed ‘Eastern’ or ‘Western’, Egyptian liturgy, with its own unique structures and theologies, merits separate attention as an important witness to what is increasingly being viewed as the rich diversity and pluriform nature of early Christian liturgical life and theology in general.’

This brief study investigates the Egyptian liturgical tradition up to the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) primarily by summarizing and critically evaluating the contributions of recent scholarship on a variety of topics. Written as an introductory text for students of liturgy, the three short chapters on the rites of Christian initiation, on the eucharistic liturgy and its anaphora, and on orders, hours, and the liturgical year, seek to provide only the current state of the question with regard to these issues.

Maxwell E Johnson