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!


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