- Tasting Heaven on Earth: Worship in Sixth-Century Constantinople by Walter D. Ray
Tasting Heaven on Earth offers a carefully orchestrated presentation of the Byzantine Eucharist liturgy in Justinian’s Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The text consists of two main parts: a description and analysis of the liturgy, architecture, and décor of Hagia Sophia followed by a rich compendium of primary sources. The latter starts with the early-seventh-century exegesis of the divine liturgy by Maximus the Confessor, followed by the ekphraseis of Hagia Sophia by Procopius and Paul the Silentiary. Following these is a section reconstructing the fourth-century elaborate liturgy of St. Basil enriched with St. John Chrysostom’s version of the anaphora. Next come the sung sermons or kontakia of Romanus Melodus and the Pentecost sermon of presbyter Leontius. The book appeals to the broad audience interested in the Eastern Orthodox rite. Its open and accessible approach will appeal both to novices and to educated readers who would like to expand their knowledge of the Byzantine liturgy. The harmonious combination of texts with artifacts and architecture (the latter presented through a series of excellent photographs and reconstructions of the liturgical furnishings of the interior) will give the reader a much more concrete picture of the architectural space. The lavish setting of Hagia Sophia is then animated by the primary sources. The basic premise of this book is that Hagia Sophia and its sixth-century Eucharist liturgy staged such a rich performance that it led its participants to experience a transcendence—of dwelling in heaven on earth. Walter D. Ray shows how the liturgy consistently presents—through the poetry of psalms, hymns, and prayers—the interweaving of human actions with the angelic worship of God in heaven.
The book is an excellent introduction to Byzantine worship with its good selection of primary sources, bibliography, timeline of major events, maps, and [End Page 112] images. Thus the book perfectly fulfills the mandate of the series The Church at Worship, which is intended to reveal with depth worship practices in a single time and place.