Mary B. Cunningham
‘Sermon as Sacrament: The Middle Byzantine Liturgical Homily as an Encounter with the Divine Word’
Paper proposed for a workshop being organised by Dr Niki Tsironis
on ‘Homilies as Sacred Performance’
This paper will explore the concept of the middle Byzantine sermon (focusing especially on eighth- and ninth- century Marian festal homilies) as a form of sacrament, or divine encounter, in which the congregation may participate. Preachers such as Andrew of Crete and Germanos of Constantinople are conscious of their role not only as interpreters, but also as mediators, of the divine Word within a liturgical context. Whereas scripture is the basis for this mystical encounter, rhetoric is its vehicle. It will be argued that such a sacramental understanding of preaching developed especially in relation to festal sermons from about the late sixth century onward. It is likely that changes in the imperial liturgy of Constantinople, along with the influence of the writings of ps-Dionysius the Areopagite, contributed to the process. It resulted in the idea that, following ascetic preparation of the kind that was increasingly expected before participation in the eucharist itself, the Christian faithful might encounter truth, or divine wisdom, by listening to the preacher’s words. Such a concept of preaching served to emphasise both the preacher’s authority and the liturgical importance of the festal sermon.