Worship In The Early Christian Church
By Lee Kopulos
There was liturgical worship in Israel after the giving of the Ten Commandments
(Exodus 20: 1-17). Instructions for the building of the altar were set forth by God in Exodus
20: 24-26. Then came instructions for keeping the Sabbath, feasts and furnishings. Thereafter,
in chapter 26-30, we find instructions for the tabernacle, altar, priest’s vestments, etc.
Heavenly worship is revealed in Isaiah 6: 1-8 and Revelation 4 where St. John
records his vision of the heavenly liturgy. Most people fail to see and understand that the New
Testament reveals much about liturgical prayer. Christ is called a priest and a liturgist.
Christian worship mirrors the worship of Christ in heaven. We participate in this worship with
Him in the Liturgy of the Word and the Gifts by partaking of Holy Communion.
The Early Pattern
The earliest record of worship is from St. Justin Martyr. Around 150 A.D.,
he revealed the pattern of Christian worship as follows:
• Greeting and response
• Hymns, interspersed with
• Readings from Scripture, the Apostles Memoirs
• The Homily
• Dismissal of those not (members) of the church
• Greeting and response
• Intercessory Prayers
• Offertory of the Bread and wine
• Consecration of Gifts
• Giving of thanks
This structure was confirmed by Hippolytus in 200 A.D., indicating that this
was the practice of the whole Church.
In the New Testament era, 70 A.D., the Eucharist is explained in the Didache
of the “Teaching of the Twelve.” It says:
Concerning the Eucharist. Give thanks like this. First the cup: We give
thanks to You, our Father, for your holy vine of David, your servant, which You made known to
us through Jesus, your servant. Glory to You forever.
Concerning the broken bread: We give thanks to You, our Father, for the life
and the knowledge that You made known to us through Jesus, Your servant. Glory to You
Do not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist meal except the ones who have
been baptized into the name of the Lord (in the Trinitarian Way).
After you are filled, give thanks like this:
“We thank You, Holy Father, for your Holy Name which you made to dwell in our
hearts, and for knowledge and faith and immortality as you made known to us through Jesus, Your
Servant. Glory to You forever.”
The word synaxis means “meeting” and is patterned after Jewish worship. The
Eucharist is the thanksgiving and is patterned after the Old Testament priest in the Temple—but
this time the offering is the “body and blood of Jesus.”
Thus, from the earliest of times, it is clear that worship was liturgical and
Holy Communion was the centerpiece of it all.
Another reference about the Eucharist is from St. Paul’s first letter to
the Corinthians, written about 55 A.D. Here we read in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 where the Lord
says, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you” and “after supper the cup,
saying, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant.’” There is no statement here that these gifts
merely symbolize His Body and Blood. And, this central act of worship took place “on the
first day of the week (Sunday) when the disciples came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).
Today we find many poor translations of parts of the Gospels. For example, in
Hebrews 8: 1-2, it is translated, “A minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which
the Lord erected, and not man.” The Greek word here is leitourgeo, which means to perform ritual
acts (in essence, a liturgist!). Therefore, the true meaning is that we have a High Priest (Jesus)
who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens, who is also a liturgist
of the sanctuary. This is also the case in Acts 13: 2 where it says, “as they ministered to the
Lord and fasted,” meaning “as they liturgized to the Lord and fasted.” We find now that God has
His hand in our worship. From the very beginning, God has told us how to worship Him so we could
participate in what was done in heavenly worship! Heavenly worship is described for us in
Revelation 4 and in Isaiah 6.
Finally, we can see that worship is many things:
• Worship is seeing. Isaiah saw Him high and lifted up with the
train of His robe filling the temple. Many of the disciples saw Him after the Ascension;
• Worship is hearing. Isaiah heard, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts” and
we hear litanies, Bible readings and especially the Lord’s Prayer.
• Worship is taste. Isaiah felt his mouth touched by the coal the seraph brought
off the altar. We hear the words “taste and see that the Lord is good” as we take Holy
• Worship is smell. Incense takes our prayers to God. We smell that wonderful
aroma of incense many times in the Divine Liturgy.
• Worship is mission. When his sins had been purged, God asked Isaiah for
help regarding the discouraging state of affairs in Israel. “Whom shall I send,” said the
Lord, and Isaiah replied, “here I am, send me.” At the end of the liturgy, we say, “Let us
commit ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God.” How much must we
give of ourselves to the Lord? Obviously, all of what we have and are capable of giving!
May all our prayers arise as incense!