by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis
The Heavenly Banquet is the most comprehensive Divine Liturgy commentary available in the English language. With over 300 bibliographical sources, an abundance of biblical citations, and quotations from Church Fathers and modern authors, The Heavenly Banquet is a treasure.
The Heavenly Banquet addresses head-on not only liturgical matters, but also social, moral and doctrinal issues, always in a clear, practical, informational, and uplifting way. In depth, yet easy to follow, written in simple, understandable language, this book will aid Catechists and instructors who can draw from its abundant material for presentation and discussion. This work will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christian who wants to obtain a better understanding of the Divine Liturgy.
"I think all priests should own this book."
“In 2008, an absolutely spectacular book was written, an extraordinary book, written in English on the Divine Liturgy, by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis. This book is called The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy. It’s a huge book, really huge book. It’s published by Orthodox Witness in the year 2008: The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Emmanuel, really this is a life work. It’s a spectacular book not only in what he himself comments, but all the glossary that’s there, the bibliography that’s there, all the quotations of the Church Fathers and modern writers that are there. It’s just totally awesome. The bibliography itself in this book has 305 entries. The book, which is a very large size book—the format is very large—is well over 400 pages long. I think it’s about 400 and—let me just look; I’ve got it in my hands right here—it’s 420 pages long. It’s a big book, and it’s just chock-full of information. It’s just chock-full of prayers, of commentary, of theological notations, of translation notations, of all kinds of things. It’s impossible even to say how much material is in this marvelous book.
I think anyone who’s really interested in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom [should read it]. That’s basically what he’s commenting here, although I do think he also refers to St. Basil’s liturgy, where there’s a little bit [of] differences, and of course St. Basil’s is longer, and the text is different in the actual anaphora, but as we’ll see in my reflections, I’ll show the differences between St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil, and they only exist in the Liturgy of the Faithful, in the actual Eucharistic prayers, of the second part of the Divine Liturgy. The first part of the Divine Liturgy is the same [of the liturgies of] St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, basically the same.
But Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis is also commenting on the Liturgy the way that it exists today, how it is given to us to serve today, and then he deals with a lot of variant practices and differences here and there between different traditions, Slavic or Byzantine, the Greek or the Russian. It is just a wonderful book. I could not recommend it too highly, that anyone who is really interested in this, and certainly church school teachers, priests—I think all priests should own this book, and just little by little read through it; it will be a treasure of learning from these books.
So there are plenty of books and writings about the Divine Liturgy. I’ve just mentioned the most well-known among the Orthodox authors. There’s some Roman Catholic authors who also write about the Byzantine rite. The three most famous that I would know of are Robert Taft, Juan Mateos, and Aidan Kavanagh. Fr. Mateos, Fr. Taft, they are from [the] Roman Catholic Church, working in Rome itself [at] the Oriental Institute. Then Aidan Kavanagh, [who] I believe recently departed this life, was for years teaching at Yale. He also wrote on liturgical themes.
Probably no one has commented the liturgies more technically than Robert Taft and Juan Mateos. They were the teachers of some of the people who are teaching liturgy now in Orthodox churches, Dr. Paul Meyendorff at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. Alexander Rentel at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Sister Vassa Larin, a nun in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). She did her doctorate with Fr. Taft also, studying in great detail the Divine Liturgy as it is celebrated in the Orthodox Church today, and studying it very technically. That means: how did it develop in history, what are the earliest sources, what are the manuscripts that we have of it: the famous Codex Barberini, which has the Liturgy in, I think it is, the tenth century pretty much the way it exists still today, basically the same. There are a lot of studies about it. If you get Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis’ book and look at the 305 entries in the bibliography—mostly in English, not only: some in Greek and other languages—you’ll see how much available material there is and how many studies there are and essays there are about the Liturgy.”
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The Divine Liturgy is a great mystery, but this does not excusing ourselves from learning what is taking place in it, what its purpose is, what the benefits derived from it are, what our participation should be, etc. In the pages of THB one will find both concise and expanded answers to these and other important questions, the end result of which is a fuller, more rewarding and more meaningful participation in the Divine Liturgy.
By reading the Introduction alone, one is introduced into the inexhaustible riches of the Divine Liturgy. But THB goes on, in its more than 300 dense pages that follow, to provide answers to a multiplicity of questions. For example:
Why do we pray for our armed forces? The question leads to a brief examination of the issue of war. The petition, For favorable weather leads to an exploration of the issue of God’s involvement in the world. Praying for the dead leads to a study on the souls, remembering the bishop leads to a brief study of the bishop’s role in the Church, calling God Father leads to an excursion on the first person of the Holy Trinity, and praying for healing leads to a study on miracles. Many other issues are addressed in a similar fashion, including suffering, grace, intercession and veneration of saints, inspiration, judgment, open communion, significance of dogma, and so on.
The commentary examines in depth certain crucial issues, such as:
The commentary returns to a few points with persistence. Active and joyful participation by the people stands out—participation through a fuller comprehension, by joining in the singing, by praying and, especially, through participation in the holy sacraments. The commentary insists that the so-called secret prayers be read out loud. Another important point stressed by the book is a joyful participation in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
THB opens new vistas, offering an eschatological perspective of the Eucharistic Mystery, and a renewed call for regular participation of the Eucharist. It contains extensive sections on how to prepare for Holy Communion, on how frequently to approach, it provides guidance on Communion fasting, and an explanation of the great mystery and what it does to those who partake of it.
The commentary does not balk at addressing difficult and controversial issues:
Follow THB and the Divine Liturgy won’t be boring to you ever again. THB will help you pray with understanding, with meaning, with fervor, with spiritual joy.