The Byzantine tradition embraces an incarnational focus in its worship. Iconography, incense, gestures, and music all lend to the prayerful experience of “heaven on earth.”
ICONS are unique religious images. By reflecting on icons of our Lord, the saints, and those sacred events that are part of Christian Tradition, we strive to achieve a powerful and prayerful contemplative mood while, at the same time, learning of Christ’s teachings and salvific acts. We never worship the images. Through these “windows into heaven” we direct our prayers to God Who became visible and approachable in the Son and Who, alone, we worship and adore. In a special way our attention is focused on those icons forming the icon screen. The “holy doors” in the middle of the screen represent the gates to the kingdom of heaven and, like the icons themselves, draw us into the heavenly mystery rather than separating us from it. Behind the icon screen is the sanctuary or “holy of holies.” From here, the clergy serve the liturgy.
BOWING and making the sign of the cross several times during liturgy is our sign of faith in the Christian Mystery as we receive and accept God’s blessings through the ministry of the priest who acts in the person of Christ. We also bow slightly and bless ourselves every time we glorify the Trinity, especially at the end of prayers. We do not genuflect in the Byzantine tradition. Rather, we bow deeply at the waist and sign ourselves at those times when it is proper to show more devotion.
INCENSE is used as a sign of reverence for the sacred place and for the people who are made in the image and likeness of God. It is also a sign of purification and preparation for important liturgical moments. It reminds us that our prayers ascend like the smoking aroma of spiritual fragrance before the throne of God.
CONGREGATIONAL SINGING is one of the beauties of liturgy celebrated in the Byzantine Church. Similar to the adornment of sacred objects, God’s Word, related sacred texts, and inspired songs are adorned with music. Services are sung a cappella and responses are led by a cantor. The priest, deacon, and faithful together share a musical dialogue in their worship of God. When Christianity first came to the Ruthenian people from Saints Cyril and Methodius, the original text and music was written in Greek. This was gradually replaced by the Slavonic language for the church. Today, in Byzantine Catholic Churches in America, the predominant language is English. During solemn occasions, responses to the Divine Liturgy may be led by a choir in arranged harmony.
The Byzantine Catholic Seminary welcomes Eastern Catholic seminarians from non-Ruthenian jurisdictions. The 2nd mostly highly represented jurisdiction in the Seminary is Melkite. A notable number of Seminary liturgical services are celebrated according to the Melkite recension. The predominant language remains English, but some sacred texts are sung in Greek or Arabic.