Archive for June, 2008|Monthly archive page

Liturgy of the Faithful–the third and climactic part of the Liturgy: a continuation of Part V of the series

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 22, 2008 at 4:55 am

And now the third section of the Divine Liturgy, which forms the climax of our worship, the Liturgy of the Faithful.

After the dismissal of the catechumens, the faithful continue in prayer toward the high point at which the mystical sacrifice will be accomplished. When we say, “mystical sacrifice,” we mean the timeless sharing in the once and for all sacrifice of Christ Himself. He is the one high priest; “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.”  This priesthood of Christ is mystically visible in the presidency of the bishop or priest at the Holy Table. That is why we adorn him with very decorative vestments, to obscure his human personality and to show forth his divine ordination to serve as the very hands of Christ.

After a series of litanies in which petitions are offered “for all men…with uplifted hands” (I Timothy 2), the solemn offering is made. The bread and wine, prepared earlier, now are taken up and placed on the Holy Table. With very great compunction of heart, the faithful join with the celebrant in remembering the saving life, death and resurrection of the Lord, including His command to “Take, eat” and to “Drink.” The celebrant calls down the Holy Spirit upon the “people here present” and upon the gifts, remembering the saints and all the faithful. The faithful then join in saying the Lord’s Prayer together, and with other prayers all make ready the chamber of the heart and body to receive Holy Communion. After the Precious Gifts are distributed to all, with concluding prayers the dismissal is said and all “depart in peace.”

Thus, we have presented an overview of the entirety of the Divine Liturgy, the highest, noblest, most sublime act of worship ever practiced by mankind. The Liturgy is the product of divine revelation and has remained stable and deeply rooted among the faithful for 2,000 years. As we now look more carefully into its details, let us resolve to learn it, to be formed by it, and to pray it all the days of our lives, until we lay down our body at the end. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

a prayer on the apodosis (leave-taking) of Pentecost

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 21, 2008 at 6:36 am

O Heavenly King… I am earthly, clay-like, subject to gravity and heavy with sins. I am guilty of treason before Thee, my King, by alienating Thee by my continual hypocrisy and vanity.

O Comforter… I long for Thy comforting, encouraging, exhorting Presence, but my longing is out-balanced with that other longing: for the comforts of sensuality: pleasure-seeking, love of praise, passing delights, false gods of this world. What I think as comforting is but really only that which induces a grey fog of death. My mind in vertigo; my heart enshrouded with dullness…

Spirit of Truth… Thou art indeed the Spirit of Jesus, He Who is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” Do I say with Pilate, “what is truth?” or, do I confess Thee as did San Dimas on the Cross at Thy right hand, “remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”? Do I show love of truth by obedience to it, or only prideful and vain curiosity without responsibility to what I learn?

Who art everywhere present and fillest all things… but dost Thou fill me? Only the human creature has the power to exclude Thee! Be that power far from me! But my longing does not suffice; there must be struggle, since my will is fickle and my pride is overwheening.

O Treasury of good things and Giver of life… I know that in Thee every precious gem is stored and ready to be distributed. I know that in Thee the very Fountain of Life springs forth, assuaging the thirst of my xerophagic soul–xerophagic, since it only eats the dry dust of vain sensory pleasure and drinks in the vapors of sin! Why do I continually “eat the bread of fools”? I know that Thou art my life, not only that Thou givest life. For I desire THEE, my life! Veni, Creator Spiritus!

Come, and abide in us… Make Thy home in me, as St Ephraim the Syrian of old did entertain: “God Who dwellest in the heavens finds His most comfortable abode in the heart of man,” so may I provide Thee with a throne in my heart! And, not mine only, but that of “this people which Thou hast brought up with me.”  I am not alone, but tied with a holy people, upon whose faith, hope, and love do Thou look, rather than upon my uncleanness!

Cleanse us from every sin… Since the Apostle and Evangelist John taught us that Thou dost cleanse from all unrighteousness them that confess their sins, grant to me to be humble, courageous, honest, and both ruthless and strict with myself to approach holy Confession. May I put out the flames of corrupt passions through humility and fear of God! “When I did not confess my sins, my bones melted like wax within me… so I confessed my sins unto the Lord.”

And save our souls, O Good One!  And, if I be saved, then all is well; for Thou only art Good, as our Lord Jesus taught. To Thee, O Good One, do I repair with hope for salvation. Receive me, O Spirit of Jesus!


Yet more about catechumens; and about inquirers to Orthodoxy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 21, 2008 at 5:56 am

This whole catechumen business needs more clarification. Here is some explanation:

When the Church was incarnated on the fulfillment of the great feast of Pentecost (Shavuot: 50 days after Pascha), the catechumenate of the first Jewish believers (they were ALL Jews then) had lasted many centuries. You can read about this in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2. You see, the first believers had been catechized by the Law of God and their deep knowledge of Sacred Scripture. Their pious pilgrimage to Jerusalem to keep the feast shows this.  Once the apostles proclaimed the resurrection, and they believed, everything fell into place. They were ready for baptism. We see this take place through the early portion of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Now when Philip the evangelist encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on his way home, reading the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, he catechized him regarding the things of which he was ignorant, thus elevating him to baptismal readiness. It is important to see all the personal encounters of the New Testament and the early Church in this way. The Church as a living presence personally receives persons! This means each and every person possesses certain needs and requirements which must be addressed in the way of readiness.

There are three stages of preparedness which the Church has always recognized from the earliest times:

1. those who show interest, but without exercising any level of commitment are called in antiquity, “hearers” (in Greek, akroomenoi; in Latin, auditores). These hearers, nowadays in our American Orthodox context called “inquirers,” are free to attend the holy services of the Church. They are encouraged especially to listen to the reading of Holy Scripture (psalms, Old Testament readings, apostolic readings, and the Holy Gospel), the homily (sermon), as well as the theological hymns in which our holy doctrine is poetically expressed. The hearers, since they have no level of expressed commitment, do not have any personal relationship with the Church as of yet, although any Orthodox parish or monastery sees it as their bounden Christian duty to show them all the hospitality possible, without “smothering” them. We are not proselytizers, since we respect the express freedom and dignity due to each and every human person. We speak to hearers of the “holy things” to the degree they show respect for and interest in, these holy things. We take seriously the teaching of our Lord Jesus, “Do not throw pearls before swine.”  That is to say, we do not speak of things which the inquirers are not ready to hear, lest we offer a scandal by arousing their passionate (and potentially blasphemous) response. Usually, for many anyway, sufficient time must pass before it can be clear that inquirers learn all that is necessary before encouraging them to take the next step.  Hearers / inquirers are seeking; we respect that.

2. those who express a desire for undertaking the formative path toward entering into communion in the Holy Church are called catechumens. Since these are now making an initial commitment, they are received in a special relationship with the Church. This relationship is expressed by the writing down of their names on a special roll. This process, called “enrollment,” is important, since it is a signal to the holy community where they are enrolled that these new persons present a new responsibility of love and care. Katakhoumenos, (one who is under instruction), is a Greek word which remains untranslated in Latin and also in English, since the kind of instruction given to a catechumen differs from that given to hearers / inquirers. It is spiritual instruction, not like anything in the world. The emphasis here is on formation of the heart, rather than mere information of the head. The sum of catechetical instruction is the submission of the catechumen to confession of sins and the reception of an elementary rule of prayer to get them started on the spiritual life. Somewhere within the catechumenate, usually if the catechumen is preparing for holy Baptism and not only Chrismation, exorcisms are prayed over him or her, as part of the path toward readiness for election to holy initiation.

Catechumens will be interested to know that, should they die while still a catechumen, they would be buried with a full Orthodox funeral. (I did this once, for a 19 year old catechumen who died in an auto accident; it was deeply moving).

3. those catechumens whose catechumenate has ripened to the point where readiness for entry into full communion in the Church are called “those preparing for illumination,” (photizomenos, or in Latin, illuminandi). Those “elected” to be illumined have demonstrated their readiness by achieving a fundamental grasp of the trajectory of the Orthodox Christian way of life: death to self, and the undertaking of the ascetical struggle to live the life of the Gospel according to Our Lord’s commandments and in the power of the All-holy Spirit of grace. Those to be illumined are received into full mystical (sacramental) communion with three mysteries which together form initiation into Christ: holy Baptism, holy Chrismation, and holy Communion.

When we Orthodox receive non-Orthodox Christians, we serve only the imposition of holy Chrism (the mystical continuance of apostolic laying on of hands, dating from the era right at the passing of the Apostles from this life).  After confession of sins and examination of faith, then comes holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ from the reserved Holy Gifts. The point here is that there is only ONE baptism. If we discern that the baptism already administered was “of the Church,” then we recognize their Christianity. That means we fill up what is missing: the seal of the Spirit by which the new convert is integrated into the Church, and first holy Communion which unites them to Christ and us. We never re-baptize; if what has been administered actually BE baptism, it is done. If not, we baptize.

I am most interested in knowing if I have anticipated all the usual questions…  BTW, blessed leave-taking of the Feast of Pentecost!

Dismissal of the Catechumens: more on Part V of the series…

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 14, 2008 at 4:47 am

In the last post, I offered some thoughts on the Liturgy of the Catechumens. Since there were several questions regarding the dismissal of the catechumens (as said nowadays, “let all of the catechumens depart! Depart, ye catechumens; let none of the catechumens remain!”), which concludes that section of the Divine Liturgy, this post addresses that issue.

The Christian Liturgy, in all of its forms, ancient and modern, East and West, includes a vocal dismissal of catechumens (and others). This invitation to leave the nave of the church is issued in a loud voice by the deacon as he stands on the soleas (the slightly raised area extending out from the templon, or iconostasis, where most of the proclamatory acts of worship take place). In antiquity, the dismissal was significantly longer: not only catechumens, but also heretics (many by name!), Jews, pagans, and then a general one: “cuius non cura est, procedat!” (He who has no business here, depart!). The exact language differed a bit from one liturgy to another, but the principle of dismissing those not worthy to participate in the Eucharist was firmly established from the earliest times. Later, before even the end of the first millenium, the Orthodox Church did not get rid of this, even when the catechumenate faded (everyone was a Christian from their earliest years; adult baptisms became quite rare). So, the habit was maintained in preserving a high spiritual climate in the Eucharist.

Nowadays, we faithful may best hear this dismissal as a reminder of the solemnity of the spiritual ministry we are embarking on in the Eucharist! We can take the dismissal issued by the deacon as a clarion call to rise to a high spiritual state and to dismiss from ourselves every evil thought and unworthy distraction.

But, also, it seems fitting in our day when many people come into the Orthodox churches to learn, that they should have a clear reminder that what follows this dismissal is really beyond their competence to share. They have not (yet, for some) entered into the same level of spiritual preparedness, so the dismissal tells them that although they need not physically remove themselves from the nave of the church, they should be aware that they are not yet initiated into the holy ministry we have together.

In some classically laid out Orthodox church temples, the narthex is much larger and becomes a functional place of worship. In such temples, the junction-point of narthex and nave can be a series of columns or a low wall with icons and the baptisterion conjoining both. The catechumens and inquirers (classically called “auditores” or “akroomenoi“–hearers) could take their place in this area of the church and still participate according to their status.

It may interest many to know that in most monasteries the catechumens are REALLY ushered from the nave, before the Liturgy continues on into the eucharist (the Liturgy of the Faithful).

Psalm 50: a restoration

In Psalter Project on June 14, 2008 at 4:16 am

Psalm 50 (LXX; = Ps 51, AV)



Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy great mercy;

and according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgression.

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight,

that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and prevail when thou dost judge.

For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother get me.

But behold, thou lovest truth; the hidden and secret things of thy wisdom hast thou made manifest unto me.

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Thou shalt make me to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast humbled may rejoice.

Turn thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and with thy governing spirit establish me.

Then shall I teach transgressors thy ways, and the ungodly shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.

O Lord, thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it: but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.

A sacrifice unto God is a troubled spirit; a heart that is troubled and humbled God will not despise.

Do good, O Lord, in thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be built.

Then shalt thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings.

Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Long hair and freedom of sorts: my Bio, part five

In autobiography on June 10, 2008 at 6:40 pm

When the Beatles began their stellar career, I was finishing eighth grade. During that summer I was reading the books which I chose from off of the reading list required by the high school I would attend in the fall. It was the summer of 1965.  We had just lived through 1964: Johnson over Goldwater (WAY over); on TV were Bonanza, I Love Lucy, Lassie; first race riots–Haarlem, Mississippi; Vietnam War widened in scope; Cassius Clay; movie, “Dr Strangelove”; Turkey attacked Cyprus; Kruschev fell from power in the Soviet Union.

The Beatles had just released “I wanna hold your hand.” At school, it was popular to ask each other the question, “Who was your favorite Beatle?” Well, I couldn’t have cared less for that question or its answer; however, I sure did like all of them from the viewpoint of their hair. So, I let mine grow out.  But wait. If you are not old enough to remember this era, you might think of what long hairs look like now. You might want to look at some old photographs: long hair meant that the front of the hair grew long, hanging in the eyes. But the hair in the back of the neck and ears was still barbered short. These mid-60s long-haired youths such as I went about constantly throwing their heads to one side, to get the hair to fly out of the way. After a minute or two, the head throwing would repeat itself. The long hair was a way in which we youths were proclaiming ourselves. Such are things with adolescents: childhood fades; the awesome challenging and intoxicating freedom of adulthood beckons. We knew little of responsibility and a lot of longings and vision!  Growing the hair out differently like that was a way of saying “I am ME and not YOU.”

Only some three years later, after earning my high school diploma (I dropped out of high school in the 11th grade due to boredom and took the state GED exam–hey, I am free, right?), I left my native New Jersey and began a journey across the country, working odd jobs and hitch-hiking. Flipping burgers in New York, working in a leather clothing factory in Albequerque, picking fruit in California, tree planting in Oregon, apple harvesting in Washington. During these travels, I encountered many wonderful people: strange ones, scary ones, loving and compassionate ones. During my journey across Kansas I got a ride with a guy driving a juiced up Chrysler with a huge engine. He had a gallon jug of some clear liquid which he swilled constantly while he gesticulated wildly, foot hard-pressed on the accelerator: I believe we flew over the mild rises along the roadway. His speedometer pegged out at 110, I think. After begging leave from that ride, I got a ride with a couple of guys who demanded “payment” after a few miles. I lost everything to them except the clothing on my back. Other encounters rather less edifying can remain undescribed here, but through mercy’s sake, I lived through them. So, this is freedom?

Then I arrived in the wild West. Yes, “wild West,” you see, because I grew up on TV westerns like Bonanza. I thought that folks out west still rode horses everywhere and that lumberjacks still walked in Oregon with calk boots and lumberjack shirts.  There was one night when I fell asleep standing up, by the side of the road. NOT A SINGLE CAR CAME BY ALL NIGHT! And, indeed, I awoke from sleep standing there. I walked dreaming of hot coffee for hours… Then, there was the time when I was picked up, but it was by a Colorado State Police cruiser. I was booked and jailed for hitch-hiking: such was illegal in Colorado. Now, what of my freedom?  After three days confinement, I was escorted to the county line.  At least I liked their coffee.

After journeying to California, I celebrated my 18th birthday: February 26. It was 82 degrees out, in a quiet dirt road passing through the San Joaquin Valley just west of Bakersfield. 82 degrees in February! How is that possible? I was in California, that golden state of mythic proportions in my young mind. I camped in heat, in rain, by the sea, under the coastal forest canopy. My heart ached within me. What is the meaning of freedom? Does freedom mean that I may do whatever I like, go wherever I like? Is there not something more to freedom than this? How is it that the world I am discovering is so beautiful and free and my heart so dull and shackled?

Then, just north of San Francisco (what a disappointment S.F. and Berkeley held for me!), I traveled up the winding state route 1 along the coast. Near Mendecino, north of grape country, a small VW bus (that was the closest thing there was in those days to the modern mini-van) stopped to give me a ride. Other long-hairs! But these were much different. There was no electronic wild “music,” no intoxicating or inebriating substances, and yet they were “hip.”  And what they would offer me, and the impression they would make on me would forever change my life. I could sense it and I knew: these guys were FREE!

The Liturgy of the Catechumens: Part V of a series, continued

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm

In my last post on the Divine Liturgy, I pointed out the fact that there are three sections to the Liturgy. The last post dealt with the first section, the only one which is celebrated without the mandatory presence of the laity; namely, the Proskomidia.  In this post, I write about the Liturgy of the Catechumens.

With the second portion of the Divine Liturgy, we now begin the common prayer, or the synaxis. St Paul admonishes all, “Do not neglect your assembling together (synaxis), as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10: 25). From this point on, the community of the faithful joins with the presiding minister, the bishop, or his delegate, the priest, in celebrating the Liturgy as a whole. The chief assistant to the presiding minister is a clergyman as well, the deacon. One or more altar-servers usually assist in the altar as well, all of whom are vested for that service. The liturgy of the catechumens is made up of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5: 19) and has as its climax the reading of the selection from the Apostle (the Book of the Acts or one of the apostolic epistles–the only book not read in the New Testament is the Revelation, aka the Apocalypse, because of its liturgical nature) and from the Gospel. In the primitive Church, the Bible was the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews, the Old Testament. They would listen to the readings from the Scriptures (Law, Prophets, and Writings: see Luke 24: 44), then circulate the apostolic letters, and read “the memoirs” (St Justin the Philosopher, 2nd century) which, once all assembled, became the written Gospels. Now (and since the mid-first millenium of our era), we reserve Old Testament readings to festal and lenten Vespers and devote the Scripture readings of the Divine Liturgy to the two most important kinds of lessons from the Bible: the Apostle and, greatest of all, the Gospel itself. After the Gospel reading, the homily, or sermon, is delivered. The preacher bears the important task of interpreting to our own situation the sacred words we have just heard. This is not the time for the preacher to promote his opinions, but rather, to bring the holy Word of God to bear on our lives so that we become accountable to obey it, “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1: 22). We call this portion of the liturgy “of the catechumens” because this was the portion of the liturgy in which the catechumens were required to be present, so they could learn the teaching of Christ in preparation for their baptism. At the end of this portion of the liturgy, they are dismissed. From this hinge event in the liturgy, the “dismissal of the catechumens” (in Latin, missa catechumenorum), comes the common Western term for the liturgy, the “mass.”

Throughout the Liturgy of the Catechumens, all of us, faithful, catechumens, and those inquiring, are presented with holy teaching accessible to the ear. Consider that, of the five senses, the hearing is the one sense which cannot be turned off. One may close his eyes, shut his mouth, pinch his nose, and refuse to touch anything. But the ears remain always open. This is God’s way of ensuring that there is always a way to bring His holy message into the hearts of men, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing from the Word of God” (Romans 10: 17). Having said all this, and to give comfort to the hearing-impaired, we must also keep in mind that all the senses are employed in liturgical action, in order to raise the whole person to God: we see ikons and processions, we smell incense burning and beeswax candles, we touch the ikons and make the Sign of the Cross, we taste Holy Communion. God “speaks” to us through all of our senses, and beyond—to the heart.

The shape of the Liturgy: three parts. Part V of the series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 4, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Now we are prepared to look at the general shape of the Divine Liturgy. There are three major parts.

1.  The Proskomidia

The first of the three parts of the Divine Liturgy is called the Proskomidia, “prohs-koh-MEE-dee-ah,” from the Greek word for it: proskomidi. It is the provision and preparation of the eucharistic elements, the bread and the wine. In this preparation, from the five breads (prosphora, “offerings”) offered  by a member or members of the congregation, the “Lamb” (the main element, which will become itself the Body of Christ at the Eucharist) along with the wine, are carefully arranged on the diskos (liturgical plate).  (There is also a special stamp which allows all five loaves to be presented as one loaf.) Wine and a small amount of water are poured into the chalice (liturgical cup) in preparation for their being carried in a procession from the Prothesis, the Table of Preparation, to the Holy Table at the Great Entrance, later, at the beginning of the third major part of the Divine Liturgy which we call the liturgy of the faithful. The bread must have no other ingredients than what the Church prescribes: water, flour, salt, and yeast. No oil or other additive may be used, not even on the pans. It must be well-baked, after careful preparation. Yeasted bread is always used, since the bread rises and “lives.” We never use unleavened bread. The wine must be pure red grape wine (not blush, but dark) and sweet. The Preparation is completed by the priest in the altar, usually during the course of the Service of Matins. This is the only portion of the Divine Liturgy which may be served by the priest alone.

After the priest says some introductory prayers (he himself having already said earlier the pre-communion prayers as the Church provides for all the faithful), he enters the holy altar area and dons his vestments with the usual vesting prayers and then washes his hands. Once vested, the priest does nothing in his own name, but rather all “in the Name of the One Who sent him.” The vestments are indicative of the divine, changeless and life-bestowing grace of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Who is “He that offereth and He that is offered.”  Now the priest is ready to begin the Proskomidia.  At the Prothesis Table, which is like the cave of Bethlehem, Christ will issue forth for us. Each of the 5 small loaves mentioned above provides one element of cut bread to be placed on the diskos. Each portion is cut out with very exacting detail, all accompanied by specific prayers and exclamations. From one loaf is cut the “Lamb” marked with the monogram of Christ, along with another Greek word (IC XC NIKA), all of which says “Jesus Christ overcomes.” The Lamb will become the Body of Christ for Holy Communion.  The mingling of the wine and the water in the chalice shows that Our Lord on the Cross shed both blood and water to accomplish our salvation: “pierced with a spear, from His side flowed blood and water.” A second loaf yields a triangular portion symbolizing the Mother of God: “the queen stood at Thy right hand” (Psalm 44). Then from a third loaf are cut nine small particles symbolizing the ranks of angels and saints. The names of many great saints are read as these are cut and placed on the diskos. Finally, the fourth and fifth loaves yield particles for the Orthodox faithful living and dead, respectively. The priest keeps a book of commemorations in which he records the names of very many persons for whom he prays: his faithful parishioners, family members, other Orthodox Christians, and the names of those for whom prayer has been requested.   Note that the particles for both the living and the dead are assembled together on the diskos. We are in communion with our beloved departed; the Church does not forget those who have died in the faith!

It is customary in the parishes for the faithful who bake prosphora to include a small slip of paper upon which they write the Christian names of those whom they wish to be commemorated. To provide this slip, make two columns divided by a center line. At the top of the right-hand column, draw a cross: +.  Then, write the names of the living in the left column and the departed under the + in the right column. Place this paper on top of the prosphora offering as you give it to the deacon or priest.  It is a great honor and a holy work to bake bread and provide wine for the Divine Liturgy. Now that the diskos is populated with the various particles, we see in a microcosm the whole Church of the living and the departed in one body compact, with Our Lord, “the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world,” in the very center.  The Oblation is covered with veils and a large cloth over both, the aer, and it is censed with the prayer of blessing. This part of the Liturgy ends with a general censing; usually at about the time the choirs are singing the Praises, toward the end of Matins. The remnants of the loaves are gathered together and cut up into bite-sized pieces to be served after the dismissal of the Liturgy to those who were not prepared to receive Holy Communion; these are called antidoron, (pronounce: ahn-DEE-thoh-rohn”) which means “(a consolation) instead of the Holy Gifts.” The Church never likes to leave anyone empty-handed!

[1] .

What exactly is “Liturgy” anyway? Part IV of the series

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 3, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Orthodox Christian worship is thoroughly liturgical. That is to say, it is a holy conversation, quite different than that which one would have in the marketplace. Here are some fundamental aspects:


In the original Greek language of pre-Christian antiquity and in the Bible, the word “liturgy” is actually compounded of two elements (leitos, “people” + ergeia, “working”) the oldest and primary meaning of which is “the work of the people,” or “a public service.” In pre-Christian antiquity, this meant the duty one would fulfill for the public good at his own expense. Thus, the “liturgy” is not something one gets, but rather what he gives.  At the same time liturgy means “the work of prayer,” this stemming from a play on the words, leitos ~ liti, “prayer, entreaty” (the first syllable of both is pronounced identically). It is work: nothing good is ever achieved without effort. So, we must go to some effort in order to participate actively and meaningfully. It is prayer: let us begin by listening carefully, in order to learn to pray properly. It is “of the people,” thus necessitating a community. At least one other Orthodox Christian must be actively present with the bishop or priest in the praying of the Liturgy in order for it to take place; there are no “private liturgies.” This would be an oxymoron. Thus, the Liturgy needs a community for its proper celebration, as discussed above. With the apostolic minister presiding at the Holy Table, at least one other person, and with an offering of bread and wine, the Liturgy may proceed. The Liturgy is a mosaic of Holy Scripture and prayer, all interwoven into an organic whole. Many have attempted to enumerate how many scriptural quotations and allusions are contained in the Liturgy. Such exercises are profitable, yet it is very difficult to make an exact accounting, since almost every word of the Liturgy is deeply scriptural in tone and content, one phrase running into and even overlapping another. By praying and, in time, memorizing the Divine Liturgy, one learns to pray and even memorize a great deal of the Bible. It has been said that while many Christians study the Bible, we Orthodox pray the Bible!

Are there Christians outside of the Church?

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 3, 2008 at 6:28 pm

This question is posed from the point of view of (mostly Protestant) inquirers into Orthodoxy. For them, a major issue with regard to drawing near to the Holy Church is that of how to assess their prior Christian experience. This much needed personal assessment can become the source of great anguish! But the anguish is not all that necessary, since our Faith teaches us to see the Church differently than Protestant sectarians. Frequently, these sectarians, mostly of the fundamentalist type, were taught by precept and by example to distrust others who were not of their group. This exclusivist vision can create great psychological barriers to these former sectarians as they make their way to Orthodoxy. The following is a reply which I offered to one of these inquirers. The language has been changed a bit to hide the identity of that precious and God-loving soul. Read on, and comment, if you like:

I am grateful to the Lord for sending my way such people as you and your family, and so many others who clearly have a heart for God. May this wonderful grace ever continue, despite my many sins and failings!
As for your reflection on our meeting, let me make a few observations. I ask you carefully to weigh what I write here.  When we Orthodox confess our faith in the Church, it is in a direct sequence with our faith in the Holy Spirit. Notice how this is set forth in the Symbol of Faith (the Creed): “I believe… in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, and Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, and in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church…”  So, profession of belief in the Church is quite dependent upon faith in God the Holy Spirit. As we like to say, along with St Leo, “no one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”

Our confession of faith in the oneness of the Church, however, and in distinct difference from what you have expressed in your email, does not set up for us Orthodox a frame of mind of exclusivity. The Church is not shut off from the world, rather she is the manifestation of the crucified life of Christ in the world. The Church is the highest form of Christian presence–the very Body of Christ revealed–in the world. So, of course, there will be many believers in Christ who will come to this holy faith through the outpouring of God’s grace in the world. Remember that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).  The “world” seems pretty inclusive to me. You will notice, also, that Jesus shortly thereafter says to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “be with you and in you”–this is different than how the Spirit works in the world.
God is free, and acts freely!   I would be very disturbed if anyone under my catechesis came to the conclusion that he had to deny his Christian experience of faith prior to entry into the full communion with Christ in His Church. This is not our teaching, so I wish to place great stress on this. Someone, expressing our ecclesiology very succinctly, has said, *The Church knows where she IS, but she does not know where she is NOT.*  Fr Georges Florovsky, a great early 20th century European Orthodox theologian, said “It is impossible to state or discern the true limits of the Church simply by canonical signs or marks” (in his essay, “The Boundaries of the Church” in Ecumenism I: a Doctrinal Approach, Vol XIII of The Collected Works of Fr G. Florovsky, ).  Florovsky also cites St Augustine of antiquity, “in quibusdam rebus nobiscum sunt” (my translation, “in certain matters, they (the sectarians) are with us”).  I could share many other wonderful sayings of the Fathers about this.  Let this one suffice: “We seek not conquest, but the return of brethren, the separation from whom is tearing us” (St Gregory of Nazianzus, also in Florovsky).  Notice that St Gregory calls them “brethren”!  This is why we do not baptize every new convert from Protestantism: the very fact that we see in their (prior Protestant-administered) baptism the Church’s very baptism should indicate the seriousness of this point.
Perhaps we are trying too hard to convert you. For that I offer my humble request for forgiveness. I become very animated and energized about all of the wonderful glories of our holy Church, and I forget the struggle of others who are having to deal with their own backgrounds. Take your time; ask more questions. Do not worry about holding up your family. There is no rush. Your family can wait, it will do them all good. Our bishop JOSEPH has said, “Time is our best friend”!

Warning to keep Preaching pure of egocentrism (Fr Michael Laffoon)

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on June 3, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Those of you who follow my blog with an interest in Orthodox Christianity may be interested in an assessment of the role of preaching in Orthodox Christian worship. This link to Fr Michael Laffoon’s blog (newly set-up; congratulations, Fr Michael!) will offer you that perspective:


How the Liturgy relates to cosmic time. When do we liturgize? Part III of the series

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on June 1, 2008 at 5:09 am

The Liturgy is eternal, rooted in the Mystery of Christ’s Self-emptying, suffering, death, burial, and third-day Resurrection from the dead. When we liturgize, we participate in the ONE offering of Christ: He is both Priest and Victim, “the One Who offers and the One Who is offered” (Prayer of preparation before the Great Entrance, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom). So, although the Liturgy is celebrated repeatedly in time, it is mystically one in eternity.

The Liturgy is served on any day, all year long, with an important exception: during the Great Forty-day Fast, known as Lent, no Liturgy with the Eucharist, or consecration of bread and wine, is served during Lenten weekdays. Instead, we serve a special form of the (non-eucharistic) Liturgy, without the consecration, called the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Also, during Lent, the older form of the common liturgy, that of St Basil, is served on Sundays. Although other forms of the liturgy are served periodically at certain times of the year, the most common form of the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Orthodox Catholic Church throughout the world is that of St John Chrysostom.

We must first look at the place which the Liturgy has in the normal flow of time. Then, we can examine its basic shape and proceed from there to walk through the Liturgy from beginning to end in order to follow its detailed movement with understanding.

The Liturgy in time

In its broadest sense, the Liturgy is a rising up from the daily cycle of time. This temporal movement is marked in the Church by special services: Vespers at sunset (the beginning of the new day), Compline after the evening meal, the Midnight service, Matins before sunrise and the canonical Hours (First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth) through the daylight hours.  Each of these services of prayer mark time and sanctify it. But the Liturgy itself transcends time and therefore does not mark time in any way. It is in a class of its own. Although the Liturgy can be served at any time of day or night, usually it is served in the morning, after Matins.  Therefore, faithful Orthodox Christians make it a habit to attend Vespers the night before the Liturgy and to keep a quiet evening with prayer and vigil, as strength enables. Early in the morning, the faithful return to the church temple for Matins and remain for the Liturgy. This is the context in time, as usually celebrated.

The “temporal services,” as I have called them, assist the faithful to ascend noetically (spiritually) the “holy mountain” of the heart to converse with God liturgically. Imagine when one is preparing a meal for his family and for his guests. He says that it will be a seafood dinner. Does he place a nice looking fish on each plate and invite all to be seated? Of course not. He prepares many dishes, both in anticipation of the bill of fare and of some more afterward: appetizers, beverages of various kinds, salad, fish prepared a certain way with trimmings of some kind, a side-dish of rice or the like. Then there is some dessert to complete the meal and yet more kinds of drinks, cold and hot. All this is accompanied by dinner conversation, seating at a properly adorned and set table, and so on. The same is true of the Liturgy itself. We have seen that the Liturgy is, basically, a meal. This meal needs the same preparation, accompaniment, and after-course that our fish dinner had. So, you can see how unprepared and ill-fitted each of us might be, if we showed up merely to “get communion.” We are not really “there” and so dishonor our Lord by being late and ill-clad for the dinner He prepares, not just to feed our corruptible flesh but rather our immortal soul!