Where does the Divine Liturgy come from?
1. The Liturgy is the apex of the age-old tradition of worship:
“Thy processionals have been seen, O God, the processionals of my God, of my King Who is in His sanctuary. Princes went before, and after them the chanters, in the midst of timbrel-playing maidens. In the congregations bless ye God, the Lord from the well-springs of Israel”
(Psalm 67: 25-27, LXX; written about 3,000 years ago).
Immediately after the exile of our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, from the Eden of delight, men built altars and prayed to God, accompanied by sacrifices of various kinds. Noah built an altar after the great deluge, as did Abraham and the patriarchs, our forefathers who received the first promises from God. Moses was instructed to build a specific tent of worship, the tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, King David’s son, Solomon, received the command to build God a house of worship, the first Temple in Jerusalem. All this was to teach man that liturgical worship, under the direction of the ministers duly appointed by God, comprises the highest form of prayer—the acme of spiritual experience: “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘let us go into the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 121: 1, LXX).
The Holy and Divine Liturgy practiced by Orthodox Christians is the composite of the formal worship taught by God to Moses in the ancient covenant, augmented by the practice of interpreting Holy Scripture, dating back to the ministry of Ezra the scribe (sixth century before Christ), and fulfilled and completed by the direct instruction given by Our Lord Jesus Christ on the eve of His philanthropic Passion and Crucifixion. After Christ’s glorious Resurrection on the third day (on Sunday), He appeared many times to His Apostles and taught them “concerning the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3). The Church has always understood this to mean direct instruction to them concerning the Liturgy, among other things. For example, in the Book of the Acts, we learn about the sending forth of St Paul in his apostolic journeys. He went out from Antioch, where the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, laid hands on him to commission him for that work. The text actually says “while they were celebrating the Liturgy [Greek, leitourgountes, “liturgizing”] unto the Lord, and praying and fasting” (Acts 13: 2, 3, my translation). So the Liturgy is the fundamental and most profound way in which the Church shows herself to be what she is: the New Israel, the Bride and Body of Christ.