STARTING THE WORK
STARTING THE WORK
When we started our sermon series on Worship and the Divine Liturgy, who thought it would take six weeks before we actually started talking about the text of the Divine Liturgy itself? But it was important to set a solid foundation upon which we build our understanding of the liturgy and its meaning. So, let’s briefly review that foundation: 1) Worshipping God is one of the central struggles in spiritual warfare against the devil and we must arm ourselves with understanding of its meaning and importance. 2) We are created by God in His image and likeness and therefore, by nature, we are religious, spiritual and relational beings. We were made to believe and worship. 3) Our worship comes from God Himself, revealed to Israel through Moses and handed down by the Apostles through the life of the Church. 4) Divine Liturgy is work, a holy effort we undertake to arrive at our destination--the reception of the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. 5) To do our work well, we must be prepared through several disciplines. These include fasting from food and sin, going to sleep and waking early, prayer, reading the scriptures, sacrifice, observing the Sabbath of rest and participation in Vespers and Orthros.
In today’s Gospel from the Eighth Sunday of Luke 10:25-37, the lawyer asks Jesus how he may inherit eternal life. Jesus poses the question back to the lawyer and he answers: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ [Dt.6:5] and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” [Lev.19:18] (v.27). Isn’t that what worship and liturgy are all about? Loving God with every fiber of our being, both soul and body?
Now let’s start building on our foundation. The Divine Liturgy, written by St. Basil the Great and modified by St. John Chrysostom, begins with the exclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.” Other Orthodox worship services start with, “Blessed is our God…” but the Liturgy and the other major sacraments/mysteries start with these special words. When we worship, we are entering, in a unique way, the Kingdom of God. Not just any God, but the one true God of Israel and His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit. We Eastern Orthodox Christians worship the Holy Trinity. This Kingdom is not a worldly one, but a heavenly one. It operates beyond space and time and by different principles than those that govern our earthly existence. When we worship, we are living that part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” (Mt.6:10). God is holy. Therefore, His Kingdom is blessed, meaning it is full of His grace and His gifts. It is complete and whole, lacking nothing. In addition, by being in church to pray and worship, sincerely and with a humble heart, we bless God. That’s why we also say in the Our Father Prayer, “holy is Your name” (Mt.6:9). And we ask for His blessing upon ourselves, but God will not bless sin. Therefore, we should not come and worship unless we are ready to be changed through repentance.
Interestingly, before the Liturgy actually begins, while you are singing the Great Doxology, there is a dialogue that occurs between the Deacon, Priest and Bishop. The Deacon says in Greek, “Kairos tou poihsai tw Kyriw euloghson Despota.” or “It is time for the Lord to act, bless master.” Divine Liturgy is not a drama done by the clergy for the people to watch. Rather it is God Himself acting upon and through His people. For this to happen, we must be present and participate to help effect a synergy or “co-working” between God and humanity takes place. However, God does the real work. All we need to do is leave our ego, agendas and sinful habits at the door when we enter His Holy Sanctuary and then not pick them up again on our way out door.
“Now and forever, and to the ages of ages.” This means the Kingdom of the Trinity is eternal. It is not temporary. This is important because everything else is finite, it has a beginning and an end. Unfortunately, our life often is focused on the things that will not last. When they inevitably go away, if we are too attached to these temporal, material items, even our own bodies, then our own souls will go with them into the outer darkness. But if we attach ourselves to God, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, if we attach ourselves to the principles of His Kingdom (love, peace, joy, repentance, forgiveness, etc.) then we will prepare ourselves for living eternally with Him, in His heavenly house.
After the opening exclamation, the Great Litany follows. Sometimes the Great Litany is called the Litany of Peace (Greek ‘eirinika’) because “peace” is mentioned in the first three petitions. We must remember two things during the Litany. First, during the Litany, the priest is not praying to God on our behalf. Every petition ends with “let us pray to the Lord.” In fact, each petition of the litany is a beckoning or a call by the priest/deacon to the people to or how to pray or what to pray for. The actual prayer or petition to God is when the lay people respond, “Lord have mercy.” Secondly, these calls to prayer remind us of an important responsibility. As the people of God, we are called to pray, not just for ourselves, but for everyone in the whole world. We pray for our salvation, the stability of our parish, unity, our temple building. We also pray for each other, our bishop, priests, and deacons, our country, president, all civil authorities, our city, every city and country, the people of faith, good weather, food, travelers, sick, suffering, prisoners, safety, help, protection, and mercy.
I cannot believe that our nation has experienced a second major terroristic attack with multiple murders since we started this sermon series. The shooting in Thousand Oaks California was terrible, sad, and tragic and it hit close to home for Greek Orthodox since one of the young persons killed, Telemachus Orfanos, is from our sister parish of St. Nicholas in Northridge, CA. This type of violence and every other one like it, whether one person is hurt/killed, or it involves multiple people, is a direct challenge to we who pray. As I have said before and I continue to assert, these types of violent acts are inspired by demonic influence.
The devil sends demons to take advantage of people who are vulnerable because of mental illness, ideological extremism, lack of religious upbringing, and/or giving up hope in the purpose and meaning of life. The killer posted on social media shortly before or during his attack, “Fact is I had no reason to do it, and I just thought... life is boring so why not?" and “Yeah... I'm insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is 'hopes and prayers' ... or 'keep you in my thoughts' ... every time... and wonder why these keep happening." Remember, what I said when we started this series that the devil does not want us to pray? He hates it when we pray because he has no power when we pray and unite ourselves to God.
Chaotic, senseless violence undermines our faith and trust in God who can help restore order, justice and mercy in the world. Yes, of course, our prayers must translate into action to help put an end to violence and murder but those strategies must address the foundation of the problem, and that is the disposition of the hearts, minds, and souls of suffering people in order to protect them (and help them protect themselves) from demonic influence.
Today’s Gospel reading ends with Jesus telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who fell among thieves (v.30) could be anyone around us who has been robbed of faith and hope, and who suffers from the wounds of despair. We must be like the Samaritan, who was stranger and yet had compassion (v.33) and went out of his way to help this victim (v.34). It says that he brought the man to an inn (v.34). My brothers and sisters, the inn that we know is the Church and the innkeeper is Jesus Christ. Pray that God reveals suffering people to you, go to them, help them, have mercy on them and bring them to Christ and His Church. Amen!