The New Testament Christian religion, in accordance with its close historical connection to that of the Old Testament, retained several forms and much of the content of Old Testament worship. The Old Testament temple in Jerusalem, which Christ the Savior Himself and the Holy Apostles attended on all the major feasts of the Old Testament, was at first a holy place for Christians as well.
The sacred books of the Old Testament were accepted into the structure of common Christian worship, and the first sacred hymns of the Christian Church were those same psalms which were so widely used in Old Testament worship. Despite the purely Christian hymnography which was growing ever stronger, these psalms retained their significance in Christian worship in the times that followed and even unto the present day. The hours for prayer and the feast days of the Old Testament likewise remained sacred for Christians in the New Testament. However, all that Christians accepted from the Old Testament Church was given a new meaning and a particular significance that were in keeping with the spirit of the new, Christian teaching, yet in complete accordance with the words of Christ the Savior, that He came, “not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it,” i.e., to “fill it up,” to fill everything with a new, deeper and more exalted understanding (Matt. 5:17-19). At the same time that they were attending the temple in Jerusa-lem, already the Apostles themselves, and with them the first Christians, were beginning to gather separately in homes for the “breaking of bread,” i.e., for what was already purely Christian worship, the center of which was the Eucharist. Comparatively early on, however, historical circumstances forced the first Christians completely and in all ways to separate themselves from the Old Testament temple and the synagogues. In A.D. 70 the temple was destroyed by the Romans, after which the worship of the Old Testament with its sacrificial offerings ceased entirely. The synagogues, however, which for the Jews were places not of worship, in the strictest sense of the word (worship could take place in only one place — the temple in Jerusalem), but merely places of assembly for prayer and instruction, soon became hostile towards Christians to such a degree that even those Christians who were of the Jews ceased to visit them. The reason for this is clear: Christianity as a new religion, perfect, purely spiritual, and also universal in terms of time and nationality, was naturally obliged to develop new forms of worship in keeping with its spirit: it could not be limited to the sacred books and psalms of the Old Testament alone.
“The basis and foundation for common Christian worship,” as Archimandrite Gabriel shows clearly and in detail, “was laid by Jesus Christ Himself partly by His example, partly in His commandments. In performing His Divine service on earth He builds the New Testament Church (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:17-20; 28:20), and selects for her the Apostles and, through them, successors to their service — pastors and teachers (Jn. 15:16; 20:21; Eph. 4:11-14; I Cor. 4:1). In teaching the faithful to worship God in spirit and in truth, He accordingly sets Himself above all else as an example of the worship being established. He promises to be with the faithful where “two ore three are gathered together in His name” (Matt. 18:20), and “to be with them alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). He Himself prayed, at times throughout the night (Lk. 6:12; Matt. 14:23), praying with visible outward signs, such as lifting up His eyes to heaven (Jn. 17:1), kneeling (Lk. 22:41-45), and bowing His head (Matt. 26:39). He also arouses others to prayer, showing it to be a grace-filled medium (Matt. 21:22; Lk. 22:40; Jn. 14:13; 15:7), divides it into common (Matt. 18:19-20) and domestic prayer (Matt. 6:6), teaches His disciples prayer itself (Matt. 6:9-10), and forewarns His followers against abuses in prayer and honoring God (Jn. 4:23-24; II Cor. 3:17; Matt. 4:10). Further, He proclaimed His new teaching of the Gospel by the living word and through preaching, commanded His disciples to preach the same “to all nations” (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15), gave them His blessing (Lk. 24:51; Mk. 8:7), laid His hands on them (Matt. 19:13-15), and, finally, upheld the sanctity and dignity of the house of God (Matt. 21:13; Mk. 11:15). In order to impart divine grace to those that believe in Him He established the sacraments, commanding that those who enter into His Church be baptized (Matt. 28:19); in the name of the power given unto them He entrusts them with the power to bind and to loose the sins of men (Jn. 20:22-23); of the sacraments He especially commands that the sacrament of the Eucharist be performed in remembrance of Him, as an image of the sacrifice on the Cross at Golgotha (Lk. 22:19). The Apostles, having learned the New Testament service from their Divine Teacher, in spite of their primary work of proclaiming the word of God (I Cor. 1:27) specified rather clearly and in detail the rite of external worship. Thus, we find mention of several aspects of external worship in their writings (I Cor. 11:23; 14:40), but the greater part of it remained in the practice of the Church. The successors of the Apostles, the pastors and teachers of the Church, preserved the apostolic decrees concerning worship; and, in the time of peace which followed the terrible persecutions, on the foundation of these decrees defined in writing, down to the smallest details, the whole of the permanent, unchanging rite of worship, which the Church has preserved even until now” (Handbook of Liturgics, Archim. Gabriel, pp. 41-42, Tver, 1886).
In accordance with the decree of the apostolic council in Jerusalem (Acts, chapter 15), the ritual law of Moses has been repealed in the New Testament. Sacrifices of blood can no longer be made, since the Great Sacrifice has already been offered for the expiation of the sins of the whole world. There is no longer a tribe of Levi for the priesthood, because in the New Testament all men, having been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, have become equal with one another: the priesthood is equally accessible to all. Neither is there any longer a single chosen people of God, for all nations are equally called to the Kingdom of the Messiah, revealed through the sufferings of Christ. The place for service to God is no longer in Jerusalem alone, but everywhere. The time for service to God is always, and ceases not. At the center of Christian worship stands Christ the Redeemer, and His whole earthly life, which is unto the salvation of mankind. Therefore, all that has been adopted from Old Testament worship is suffused with a new spirit — a spirit purely Christian. Such are all the prayers, hymns, readings and rituals of Christian worship.
Their primary purpose is salvation in Christ. Therefore, the central point of Christian worship became the Eucharist — a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
Too little information has been preserved on precisely how Christian worship took place in the first three centuries, in the epoch of savage persecution by the pagans. Permanent temples were impossible. For the performance of the divine services Christians assembled in private homes and in sepulchral caves under the ground — the catacombs. We know that the first Christians performed vigils of prayer in the catacombs throughout the night — from evening until morning —, especially on the eves of Sundays and great feasts, and likewise on days of commemoration of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ; these in fact usually took place on the graves of the martyrs, and finished with the Eucharist. Already in this ancient period there existed definite liturgical rites. Eusebius and Jeronimus give accounts of the Justinian book “Psalter”-”Chanter,” which contained church hymns. Hippolitus, bishop of Ostee, who reposed around 250, left behind a book in which he expounds on apostolic tradition concerning the rites of ordination of a reader, subdeacon, deacon, presbyter, and bishop, and also concerning prayers, or short liturgical rites, and the commemoration of the departed. Regarding prayers he states that these should take place in the morning, at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, in the evening, and at cock-crow; if there can be no assembly, let each sing, read, and pray in his own home. This naturally suggests the existence of corresponding liturgical books.Tags: christians, christ, holy, feasts, worship