WORSHIP & DIVINE LITURGY: 13

GREAT ENTRANCE – PART 2

 Do you ever worry about practical things like paying the bills, meeting deadlines for work, handling family issues and conflicts with others, dealing with injuries, illness and aging? Do these worries tend to overwhelm you? Well, I’ve got the answer for you. Or I should say, the Church and the liturgy have the answer.

 Last week we discussed the Great Entrance as the transition between the two parts of the Liturgy: the Word and the Eucharist. We reviewed the Prayers of the Faithful from the liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil. We talked about how God makes us worthy of Him, how the Holy Spirit prays within us, and how our whole body participates in prayer.

 This week we focus on some other aspects of the Great Entrance. After the priest exclaims, “So that always guarded by Your power, we may give glory to You…,” the chanters/choir begin immediately the Cherubic Hymn: We who mystically represent the Cherubim, sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity. Let us lay aside all the cares of this life that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic powers. Alleluia.

 There it is! If you’re worried, troubled and overwhelmed by all the stuff going on in your life, the Divine Liturgy and specifically the Great Entrance are the time to lay all those things aside and focus on God. In essence we’re putting all these concerns into the hands of Jesus Christ, to remove any barriers that would hinder us from receiving Him into our body, heart, mind and soul through the gifts of bread and wine that will become His Body and Blood.

 During the Cherubic Hymn, the priest recites the Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn:

 “No one bound by worldly pleasures and desires is worthy to approach, draw near or minister to You the King of glory. To serve You is great and awesome even for the heavenly powers. But because of Your ineffable and immeasurable love for us, You became man without alteration or change. you have served as our High Priest and as Lord of all and have entrusted to us the celebration of this liturgical sacrifice without the shedding of blood. For You alone Lord our God, rule over heaven and on earth. You are seated on the throne of the Cherubim, the Lord of the Seraphim and the King of Israel. You alone are holy and dwell among Your saints. You alone are good and ready to hear. Therefore, I implore you, look upon me Your sinful and unworthy servant and cleanse my soul and heart from evil consciousness. Enable me by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that, vested with the grace of priesthood, I may stand before Your holy Table and celebrate the mystery of Your holy and pure Body and Your precious Blood. To You I come with bowed head and pray: do not turn Your face away from me or reject me from among Your children, but make me Your sinful and unworthy servant, worthy to offer to You these gifts. For You Christ our God, are the Offerer and the Offered, the One who receives and is distributed and to You we give glory, together with Your eternal Father and Your holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

 Like so many prayers in our Orthodox Tradition, it wonderfully describes the majesty and action of God. It is mainly a prayer for the priest who is subject to the same temptations and sins as everyone else. Thus, he also must repent in order to receive God’s forgiveness, so that he can properly prepare to do the very thing that distinguishes him from the lay people--celebrate the liturgy and the sacramental mysteries through the grace of ordination. Like the lay people he prays for, the priest must also lay aside worldly pleasures and desires. Thus, both clergy and laity alike prepare to receive the King, but it is God alone who makes the finishing touches that truly change us.

 As he brings the offering, the priest is an icon/typos of Christ who is the great High Priest. Reading the book of Hebrews we understand that He makes the perfect offering because He is sinless but He becomes the perfect sacrificial lamb because He is without blemish/sin. Thus, Christ receives our offering of bread and wine, yet He is the Offering who offers Himself in the Eucharist of His body and blood.

 After this prayer, on Sundays, the priest recites the Troparion of the Resurrection- Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One. We venerate Your Cross O Christ and we praise and glorify Your holy Resurrection. You are our God and we call upon Your holy name. Come all you faithful, let us venerate the holy Resurrection of Christ. For behold, through the Cross, joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord let us praise His Resurrection. For enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death. On weekday liturgies, he recites: Come let us worship and bow down before our King and God. Come let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God. Come let us worship and bow down before Christ Himself, our King and our God.

 Then the priest begins the censing while reciting the 50th Psalm also called The Psalm of Repentance:

 1Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. 6Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. 14Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise. 18Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

 We do not have time to read this Psalm, but the fact that the priest recites it here and lay people chant it in the Orthros/Matins service earlier the same morning, greatly emphasizes the importance of repentance. If you do not sing/chant the Cherubic Hymn, I would strongly encourage you to open the bibles in the pew pockets and recite the Psalm (#51 in most bibles) with the priest during the censing.

 Let us take a moment to say a couple things about incense and censing. Incense, which is made from tree resin and flower extracts, was commanded by God Himself to be used in worship. Its unique and pleasing aroma immediately reminds of God’s presence. The priest censes the icons and the all the people to show honor and veneration because each one of them is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26).

 Let us also say something about chanting and singing. Like the incense, liturgical music is unique and beautiful, and if done with faith and devotion, reflects the voices of the angels who praise God constantly and eternally. This same music can evoke emotions, especially joy and contrition, within the worshipper. The hymnology of the Church is to be done with the best musical instrument ever invented—that is the human voice designed and created by God. For those who do sing and chant, they know that it requires something more, much deeper within us, than if we mentally or even verbally recite the hymns.

 Moving right along, after the censing is complete, the priest bows before the Holy Table three (3) times, saying:

 Like the Prodigal Son, I have sinned against You O Savior. Receive me Father as I repent and have mercy on me O God. With the voice of the Publican I cry out to You Christ my Savior. Take pity on me as You did to him and have mercy on me O God. These petitions, like the one that follows, are clarion calls for us to repent.

 Turning towards the people he says: For those who love and and those who hate, may God have mercy upon us all. At Prothesis, lifting the chalice and diskos he says: Let us lift our hands to the holies and bless the Lord [Psalm 134:2]. God has gone up in jubilation, the Lord with the voice of the trumpet [Psalm 47:5].

 As the acolytes lead the procession down north aisle and up middle aisle, the clergy exclaim: May the Lord God remember you all, and all pious and Orthodox Christians, in His Kingdom, always now and forever. At this point commemorations of the living and the dead are made but in the Greek Orthodox practice, only the bishop commemorates.

 After this, while the choir/chanters complete the Cherubic Hymn, the priest processes into the altar through the Holy Gate and places the Holy Gifts upon altar. While removing the kalimata/coverings and placing the Aer over the gifts, the priest recites: The noble Joseph lowered Your pure body and wrapped in a clean linen and spices; and placed it in a new tomb with sorrow. Censing the gifts, the priest recites the last lines of Psalm 50: Then they shall offer bulls upon Your altar (3); and have mercy upon me O God.

 In conclusion, the Great Entrance reminds us of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. He was greeted by multitudes of people bearing palm branches who laid them down in the path of the donkey upon which He rode, chanting “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” The paten/diskos that symbolized the manger of the Christ-child in the Proskomide, now represents Golgotha and His tomb. Here, we have not merely a symbolic reenactment of a past event. Rather, we perceive the eschatological fulfillment of the Kingdom where the Lord of the Powers enters upon His glorious Throne in the actualized and eternal Kingdom.

 In the Divine Liturgy we move from the earthly to the dimension of the Kingdom itself. The events of ancient Jerusalem are in the past, but the liturgical actions transcend all time and space. For a moment, our temporal world, subject as it is to change and decay, is able to approach and delicately touch that World which is beyond space and time, where change and decay no longer have any place, and where death and corruption are no more. Let us lay aside all the cares of this life so that we may receive the King as we draw near to His kingdom! Amen!