WORSHIP & DIVINE LITURGY: 14
LET US COMPLETE OUR PRAYER TO THE LORD
Right after the Great Entrance, the first petition says, “Let us complete our prayer to the Lord.” For the uninitiated, they might think, “O great, we’re getting close to the end.” We too, after thirteen weeks of talking about the Divine Liturgy, might be thinking something similar. Not so fast though. Orthodox Christians know that virtually nothing in our tradition goes fast or quickly. I heard one person say that Orthodox time is ‘geologic.’ Yet, take a moment to reflect on the depth and richness of our Faith and worship. It’s an endless land of riches that can be explored for a lifetime and beyond. It can never be exhausted. If it was, we would get bored pretty quickly. If we are experiencing boredom, it’s due to the disposition of our heart and soul, not the worship and traditions of our Orthodox Faith.
Worship is not entertainment. And there is a direct positive correlation between what we gain from worship and the effort we put into it. Worship is like exercise. We can’t just walk into a health club like Lifetime, Anytime Fitness or the YMCA and automatically get in shape. Likewise, in the spiritual life we must exert great effort to pray, sing and concentrate. The good exercise and diet habits established at the health club, must be implemented throughout the week. If don’t stretch, exercise and eat right at home, exercising at the health club will be more difficult and less effective. Same thing with church and worship. We must pray, read and fast at home in order to exert ourselves 100% in liturgy to gain the maximum benefit possible.
Anyways, returning to completing our prayer to the Lord, this set of petitions after the Great Entrance is called the ‘Plerotika’ in Greek or ‘Litany of Completion,’ named after the first word of the first petition. The rest of the petitions have a more personal tone, praying for such things as a holy, perfect, peaceful and sinless day, protection by our guardian angel, forgiveness, good things for our souls, peace in the world & our lives, repentance, a Christian end to our lives and a good account before the Judgment Seat of Christ. These petitions are eschatological--that is, they deal with our ultimate destiny at the end of our earthly life and at the Second Coming. They address the problems of our present situation that may determine the final disposition of our existence. For this reason, the response of the people take on a more urgent tone, moving from “Lord have mercy,” to “Grant this, O Lord.”
At the end of the petition, the priest prays:
The Prayer of the Proskomide (Chrysostom)
“Lord God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented and with all Your people.”
Prayer of the Proskomide (Basil)
“Lord our God, You created us and brought us into this life. You have shown us the way to salvation and have bestowed upon us the revelation of heavenly mysteries. You have appointed us to this service by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Grant therefore, O Lord that we may be accepted as servants of Your new Covenant and ministers of Your holy mysteries. Accept us as we draw near to Your holy altar according to the multitude of Your mercy, that we may be worthy to offer You this spiritual sacrifice without the shedding of blood, for our sins and for the transgressions of Your people. Grant that, having accepted this sacrifice upon Your holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as an offering of spiritual fragrance, You may in return send down upon us the grace of Your Holy Spirit. Look upon us, O God, and consider our worship; and accept it as You accepted the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace offerings of Samuel. As You accepted this true worship from Your holy apostles, accept also in Your goodness, O Lord, these gifts from the hands of us sinners, that being deemed worthy to serve at Your holy altar without blame, we may obtain the reward of the faithful stewards on the fearful day of Your just judgment.”
Besides themes that we have previously mentioned in our sermon series, we see quite prominently here the mediatorial role of the priest between God and the people. Some may say, “I don’t need a priest or a minister to mediate for me. I can pray directly to God.” On one hand, that is true, we can, and we should pray directly to God. On the other hand, name one Christian denomination or even major non-Christian religion that does not employ a priest, a minister or a shaman to pray for people, especially in corporate worship. In Judaism and Christianity, we know the role of the priest is part of God’s design for worship. The fact that the same happens in other religions reveals God’s design for worship that is imprinted upon every human person. Basil’s prayer here speaks to the history of worship, from ancient Israel to the early Church, up to and including our present liturgy. It also speaks to our sought-after goal of salvation and eternal life at the Second Coming.
After this prayer, the priest turns to the people, blesses them and exclaims, “Peace be with you all.” The people respond, “And with your spirit.” This is a remembrance of Christ’s granting peace to His disciples (John 20:21). The fingers of the priest’s right hand are articulated to form the Greek letters “ICXC,” the first and last letters of the two words: Jesus Christ. Thus, the priest fulfills his iconic form by granting, not his own peace, but the peace of Christ Himself. The gesture is reciprocal as the people pray that the same peace be granted to the priest. All of us together must strive for the peace of Christ in our hearts and minds because without it, we cannot approach the Throne of God with any guile, hatred, impurity, doubt or despair. We must be reconciled to one another, we must be one body in Christ without difference or distinction between us. We must be one family: brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers—united not by blood, but by love and peace as adopted children of God.
This is expressed tangibly amongst the concelebrating clergy with the Kiss of Peace after the priest says, “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess.” The people respond, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and undivided Trinity.” The priest bows and reverently kisses the Gifts saying, “I will love You Lord, my strength. The Lord is my Foundation, my Fortress and my Deliverer.” The concelebrating clergy say to one another, “Christ is in our midst.” And the response is “He was, He is and forever shall be.”
Next, the priest exclaims, “The Doors, the Doors, in wisdom, let us be attentive.” This phrase hearkens back to the early times of persecution, when at this point the doors to the Church were shut and locked to keep out all who were not believers, and who might betray the Church. Later, it became the time to make sure all the catechumens left the sanctuary, for they were not baptized and could not receive the Eucharist.
During the recitation of the Creed, the priest lifts up the Aer and holds it extended over the Holy Gifts, waving it with a fanning or vibrating motion. On completion of the Creed, the veil is folded, kissed reverently and laid to one side of the altar table. This action is to symbolize the rolling away of the stone from the tomb, by which Jesus rose from the grave—unto life. Just as the removal of the veil of the Gifts allows us access to new life in the reception of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Let us close today with a brief examination of The Creed, also known in Greek as “To Pisteuvo” again because it’s the first word. The official name is “The Symbol of Faith” because it is concise summary of the central doctrines and dogmas of the Christian Faith. It was originally drafted at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325AD. The bishops gathered in response to the prevailing heresy of that time- Arianism. It was added to at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381AD. Thus, it is also known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. I will recite the Creed and interpolate some explanatory comments.
“I believe (not, I know) in one God (MONOTHEISM, not Polytheism), the Father Almighty (1ST PERSON & SOURCE OF HOLY TRINITY), Maker of heaven and earth (CREATOR OF ALL). And in one Lord (MASTER) Jesus (SAVIOR) Christ (ANOINTED ONE), the only-begotten Son of God (2ND PERSON OF HOLY TRINITY), begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made (CO-ETERNAL & CO-EQUAL W/ GOD THE FATHER, not an Arian created God). Who for us men (HUMANKIND) and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man (INCARNATION). He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was buried (CRUCIFIXION-SACRIFICE-HISTORICAL). On the third day He rose (RESURRECTION) according to the Scriptures (AUTHORITY OF BIBLE). Who ascended (ASCENSION) into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again (PAROUSIA- SECOND COMING) in glory to judge (JUDGMENT) the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets (3RD PERSON OF HOLY TRINITY). In one, holy (FROM GOD, NOT MAN), catholic (WHOLE, UNIVERSAL), and apostolic (FOUNDED APOSTLES & THEIR TEACHING TRADITION) Church (WE BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH). I accept one baptism (1ST SACRAMENT) for the remission of sins. I look (EXPECTATION, ANTICIPATION, PREPARATION) for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. (ULTIMATE DESTINY—ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD’S KINGDOM ON EARTH AND ETERNAL LIFE). Amen!
If anyone asks, what do Orthodox Christians believe, or what do you believe? Start with the Creed. Now, let us complete our prayer to the Lord. Amen!