WHAT IS THE DIVINE LITURGY?
WHAT IS THE DIVINE LITURGY
Today’s Epistle reading that we just heard is very interesting. It is read for some Feasts of the Theotokos, including today’s Feast of ‘Agia Skepe’ or Holy Protection.
9:1Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. 2For a tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence this is called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. 4In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot speak now in detail. 6Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties; 7but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people.
The passage is from Hebrews 9:1-7 and is meant to connect the Old Covenant Judiac temple with the New Covenant temple of the Virgin Mary, where Christ would dwell for nine months before His birth. This is a great example of last week’s topic on Worship and Liturgy, demonstrating that it comes from ancient Judaism.
Literally defined, Liturgy means “work of the people”. That’s right Liturgy is work—hard work. However, it is not just any job, but a work inspired by God and for God—for His glory—that’s what makes it Divine. However, many people come to Divine Liturgy wishing to pray like they pray at home—with quiet solitude. However, as most of us know, Sunday morning in Church is about the last place you’re going to get quiet solitude. The liturgy contains many prayers, but most of them are read/prayed by the priest. The Liturgy also contains petitions, hymns/songs, readings, processions, movements and other elements. So, don’t come here on Sunday morning expecting to pray quietly by yourself. That’s what you’re supposed to do the rest of the week at home to prepare for Liturgy. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday.
If Divine Liturgy is work, what are we working for/towards? Essentially, we are working together towards the God’s Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why the liturgy begins with “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Specifically, we are working remember the Mystical Supper of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The way we remember it is by calling it (summoning) into our present reality and at the same time, being mystically transported into the heavenly reality of the eternal Mystical Supper. In the Gospel of Luke (22:19), at the supper before His Passion, Jesus, 19And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Celebrating the Divine Liturgy is following the command of Christ our Lord.
Orthodox Christian liturgical prayers, just like their Jewish antecedents, tend to be very long and wordy. We spend most of the prayer re-calling or remembering God’s divine acts, revelations, and interventions in history. Then at the end, we finally get to the point, “God please do this or that!” Why is it so important for us to remember the past? Because historical consciousness is essential for future growth and learning. Someone once said, “Wisdom is knowledge tempered by experience.” God, through the Mosaic Law, the teachings of Christ and the lives of Saints and Prophets, teaches us how to live life. If we do not remember and learn from the our past and the history of our ancestors, we are bound to repeat the mistakes. Remembrance of God also helps us understand His faithfulness to us and inspire our faithfulness to Him. It is in remembering, that our faithful trust helps us come into the presence of God or vice versa.
Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday to remember the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, culminating in His Resurrection and Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Liturgy is the context by which our offering of Bread and Wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John6:53). So great is this mystery that we are left without any possible response which would express what God has done. Therefore, we offer the only answer we can: Thank you! Euxaristia! Eucharist!
Today’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28), also chosen for the Feast of the Protection is the account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary, the sisters of the Righteous Lazaros. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching. Martha was busy with trying to host Jesus and complained to Him that Mary was not helping. Jesus replied, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (41-42).
Divine Liturgy is us coming into God’s house to kneel at the feet of Jesus and listen to His word. It the place and the moment where we lay aside all earthly cares to build a personal relationship with God in the communal prayer and worship of His Church. Sooner or later, all of our material possessions will be taken from us, even our own bodies in death. But our soul and our relationship with God cannot be taken away. Amen!