Liturgy Authorship

Hi everyone,
I know that tradition tells us that our 3 Liturgies were written by Sts. Basil of Caesarea, Gregory the Theologian, and Mark the Apostle, with the third being translated from Greek into Coptic by HH Pope Kyrillos I, the Pillar of Faith. But I have some questions about the details:
1- The Commemoration of the Saints obviously couldn’t have been written in its current form by any of the original authors. But besides that, St. Mark would not have had many saints to talk about- the list would essentially be St. Mary, St. John the Baptist, and his… dead friends. Where did the Commemoration come from? Who wrote down the list? In the days before the Internet, did churches just list their holiest departed or was there a semi-standard list? The current list ends with either St. Samuel (K and G) or St. Shenoute the Archimandrite (B)- will it ever formally be expanded to include other saints (ex: no female saints appear in the Commemoration except St. Mary so perhaps Sts. Demiana and Marina, St. Abraam the Bishop of Fayum, St. Habib Girgis the Archdeacon, etc)? *Edit: I just saw there’s a thread about 3 down that includes an extended Commemoration that includes more modern saints. It’s clear that the list is expanding- who decides when it does, and who gets added?*
2- Coptic Reader lists 2 Prayers of Reconciliation for the Kyrillosy liturgy, one by HH Mar Severus of Antioch and another by “the Thrice-Blessed John”. Did St. Mark ever write a prayer of reconciliation? Did his liturgy just go straight from the Gospel response (the Creed is a result of the Ecumenical councils) to an Aspasmos/the Anaphora?
2.1- St. Kyrillos died 100 years before St. Severus. How did the former get something written by someone who didn’t exist?
2.2- Is this “Thrice-Blessed John” the same as John the Beloved? If so, when and how did they communicate about this? I’m guessing it wasnt, “Hey John I’m writing this liturgy, can you write me a little something for it? -John Mark”
3- Who wrote the Aspasmoses? Why was there a need to have an Adam and a Vatos in the same liturgy? Who decided that it should be one of each, wrote them, and decided their tune?
4- Did St. Mark write the standard Kyrillosy Fraction, or did St. Kyrillos, or someone else? Was it used year-round? When did the alternate (festive, short, etc.) Fractions appear?
5- Is the Distribution Rite a later invention or does it come from the Kyrillosy Liturgy?

I hope these questions don’t seem pointless- any clarity or resources would be greatly appreciated.

Ⲧⲱⲃϩ ⲉ̀ϩ̀ⲣⲏⲓ ⲉϫⲱⲓ,


  • Hi Daniel,

    I think what will help is to clarify what we mean when we say someone wrote a liturgy. This is referring to the core of the anaphora, with the understanding that other components can be added and changed. For example in the liturgy of St. Mark we acknowledge that the litanies were added later, the Institution Narrative is its own unit, the prayer of reconciliation is its own unit with its own authors, the fraction prayers can be substituted as needed. It's more that the 'author' of a liturgy lays the foundations and the church then uses it in worship and adapts it.

    1 - Historically, different regions commemorated their own saints. With the rise of printing and the standardization of the liturgy, the synod now decides who is added to the commemoration. The 'long' commemoration is included in the Euchologion of Fr. 'Abd al-Masih Salib al-Baramousi which was acknowledged as the "official" euchologion by the Synod in 1997 (don't quote me on the exact year).

    2 - I don't think we know what liturgy looked like in the first century to that level of detail. If you're interested in reading more about what worship in the early church you should check out the research of Paul Bradshaw, Maxwell Johnson, and Robert Taft. 
    2.1 - Again think of the liturgy as units that can be plugged in and altered (like lego pieces) and that we are talking about the core anaphora when we say St. Mark wrote the liturgy.
    2.2 - No, they are different people. The "thrice-blessed John" is most likely John bishop of Bostra.

    3 - Adam and Watos refer more to poetic style than they do 'day of the week.' If you count the 'beats' in a Watos Psali for example, regardless of the season, you'll find that each line in a quatrain is 8 beats, 6 for a Adam Psali. We start placing them on days later. I think Danny Girgis and his upcoming English Psalmody might help clarify this. With that in mind it is totally fine to have both in the same liturgy. The interesting question is why are they both called "Aspasmos" when the Aspasmos Watos is not said during the kiss of peace. I don't think anyone has researched that and you would do everyone a service if you were able to answer this question.

    4 - The Fraction prayers as a genre are very old, I'm not sure when each specific fraction prayer was written. If I had to guess, this seems like a place where priests had options of fractions that they could use and the most popular ones became the "standard" over time. This paper can hopefully help you get started if you want to do more research:
    5 - I'm not sure what you mean by Distribution Rite, are you talking about how we give communion or the hymns or what exactly? Either way, rites develop and change over time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the rites we have come from liturgical reforms that come about during the 13-15th centuries. If you can read Arabic, look at the Euchologion of Fr. 'Abd al-Masih and you'll see that even though this is "official" and it was written in 1902, there are some differences in practice, so even within the last 100 years some of the rites have changed. Rites are cultural expressions of theological truths which means there is a certain level of flexibility.

    Praying that you are able get the information you're looking for to enrich your experience of the liturgy. 
  • Thanks a lot to @mossa012 for the detailed answer..
    Just one small point that many people are oblivious to as far high as great servants in the church.
    The commemoration is much more an assembly for clergyman who passed down the faith, following on from St Mary who is the basis of our Christian faith altogether, and it should not include saints or lady saints for that particular reason. St George, St Mina, St Mercurius have received the faith like us rather than passing it down through their teachings as the clergy does. Of course their lives became a teaching for us but they are not clergy or anchorites. The only exception is St Stephen because the hands of the apostles were laid on him directly, and we know that St John the Baptist is considered the leading clergyman of Christianity (intercessor like Virgin Mary). Archdeacon Habib Guirguis should not be included full stop, his addition is recent because our authorities are kind-hearted and do not care a great deal about rigidity of canons. No further comments on this point from me..
    Ⲟⲩϫⲁⲓ ϧⲉⲛ ⲡϭⲥ
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