The Divine Liturgy is the highest form of prayer in which a sacred exchange takes place. Mankind offers to God “his temporal and limited life (in exchange) for the eternal and infinite life of God” (Elder Zacharias of Essex).
The Liturgy is the common prayer of Christians
Christians have gathered together on the first day of the week, and at other special times, to offer their prayers in common and to bring gifts of bread and wine, according to the commandment of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is the holy tradition of worship, the “sacrifice of praise,” which accomplishes these things.
When an Orthodox Christian places his first priority on the remembrance of God, he begins the new week by attending the service of Vespers on the eve before the first day of the week, keeps a holy silence in his heart until the Liturgy “on the morning of the Day of the Sun” and defers all other obligations in his life until after accomplishing the mystical sacrifice. By putting God first he finds meaning in all his labors in the new week now unfolding before him. As the Apostle James teaches us, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all liberally…” (James 1: 5). Every one of us needs wisdom to face the myriad problems which present themselves to us every day: personal, familial, work- or school-related. If God comes first, then we can meet every problem with confidence, knowing that His merciful grace will guide us toward what is pleasing to Him and good for our salvation.
Why must one pray at church? Why not pray alone, in one’s home, or in the woodlands, or in any beautiful place indoors or out? Why must a person pray at a certain place? Does not the Bible say that “God does not live in houses made by man”? These questions are constantly posed by many in our times. And, to tell the truth, the answer is simply that one may pray to God in any place, at any time, and under any circumstances. However, God has always summoned man to pray to Him and to offer Him due worship at specific times and in specific places for specific purposes. Not all prayer is of the same depth—or height. Our Lord told us through his disciples, “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 20).
The Liturgy is better experienced than understood
Above all, the Liturgy is known through experience. Jesus said to His very first followers, in response to their inquiry, “Come, and see!” Our Lord did not engage them in a theological dispute or a long-winded talk; rather, He invited them to experience Him, the Life. However, St Peter, one of those early followers, also admonished us to “add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge” (2 Peter 1: 5). So it helps a great deal if one attends the Liturgy with some knowledge of what is going on. The posts bearing this category (Orthodox Christian liturgics) will attempt to provide you interested readers with basic information about the Liturgy, as an aid in participating in it with deeper awareness.
Ask the Lord to help you to put into practice the holy things taught here and to be obedient to these exhortations. If you do so, you will find “the peace which passeth understanding” in all that you do.
This post will be followed by many others on this theme. Taken together, they will form a small book to be published, should our Bishop grant the blessing. In the meantime, I humbly solicit your comments, both critical and commendatory, as the case may be, in order to improve my work for the edification of the Orthodox Christian faithful.
To be continued…