The time from the conversion of Constantine until the dawning of the second millennium was the formative period of the church, the era of the church fathers. It was a time of lively faith but also a time of controversy. During this period the expressive worship tradition of the church was shaped and formed and given the roots it needed to grow in richness in the following centuries. An important aspect of this worship tradition was a form of wordless prayer known as jubilation, which the church fathers understood as a natural human response to the mystery of God.
John Chrysostom, known as the “golden orator,” was a master communicator, certainly one of the two or three greatest preachers in the church’s history. He was a follower of the Antiochian method of biblical exegesis. This tradition rejected the Platonic allegorizing of the Alexandrian school in favor of a concern for a grammatical, historical, theological method of interpretation.
The churches in the Byzantine tradition are those with an historic relationship to the church of Constantinople (originally Byzantium); they are familiar to North Americans as the Orthodox churches (among them the Greek and Russian). The Byzantine rite is complex and proceeds as two interwoven liturgies, one conducted with the congregation and the other performed by the celebrants behind the icon screen (iconostasis) that separates the altar from the rest of the church. The dominant theme of this liturgical tradition is the presence of Christ, both in his incarnation and in his heavenly ministry.