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     (A Guide For Participating In The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom)
by the Very Reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier

9.  The Homily


Following the readings, it is customary for the priest to proclaim the Gospel in a homily. Preaching is an inseparable part of the Liturgy of the Catechumens and therefore can never be dispensed with. Based firmly on the readings for the day, the homily should meet the needs and the circumstances of the congregation.

In the early Church, it was a general belief that preaching was a charismatic gift proper to the bishop. The special authority of the bishop to preach the Gospel was expressed by the custom of the bishop preaching from his cathedra (Greek for “seat”),137 his seat of authority which was modeled on that of “Moses’ Cathedra” mentioned by Jesus.138

According to the Midrash Rabbah, the Israelites “made [for Moses] a cathedra like that of the advocates, in which one sits and yet seems to be standing.”139  “Moses’ Seat” was to be occupied by someone with authority to safeguard the word of God, the Torah which had been given to Moses. Sitting on Moses’ Seat symbolized the succession of authority, starting with Moses, to officially expound the Torah to the people of Israel. This authority was in many ways absolute, so that the one sitting on it exercised the power of a judge, officially interpreting the Torah even in civil matters.140 The responsibility to preside over the official interpretation of the word of God was represented in the synagogue by a special seat occupied by the rabbi and called either Moses’ Seat or the Throne of the Torah. This seat was located in the center of the synagogue on a raised platform called a bema. Thus the practice of bishops preaching from their cathedra’s as a sign of their authority is derived from the Old Testament Church. In fact, the word “cathedral” comes from this Greek word cathedra: the cathedral is the church where the bishop has his cathedra.

That this preaching authority of the bishop was taken quite seriously in the early Church can be gleaned from the following examples: During the third century, a brilliant theologian named Origen, who was not a bishop, thoroughly scandalized the church in Caesarea by preaching a homily at the invitation of the local bishop. The same reaction greeted Augustine of Hippo when he preached a homily in North Africa before being elevated to the episcopate. After the condemnation of Arius, the heretical priest from Alexandria condemned at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), even priests had been forbidden to preach in North Africa, a situation which prevailed until the beginning of the fifth century.

The Orthodox Church possesses in its patristic literature (i.e., the writings of the Church Fathers) an abundant and priceless treasure-trove of spirituality which can be preached from the pulpit, an inheritance which must be studied by each new generation. This is why Orthodox homiletics has traditionally been characterized by variety and richness. In doing proper preaching, priests not only follow Church “standards,” but become bearers of the genuine Orthodox Tradition


137 While John Chrysostom is known to have preached from the ambo, this was simply a concession to practical considerations. The practice of the bishop preaching from his cathedra was normative in both the East and West in the early Church. An exception, though, would be the custom in Egypt where the bishop held the Gospel book while preaching as a sign of his authority.
138 Matthew 23:2-3.
139 Exodus Rabbah, 43:4. Cited by David Stern in The Jewish New Testament Commentary, 67.
140 Cf. Deuteronomy 17:8-13.


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Page created: 24-12-2012.

Last update: 24-12-2012.