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Commentary for laity on Divine Liturgy with glossary

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity, Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on August 22, 2010 at 5:21 am

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Psalm 50

In Psalter Project on July 6, 2009 at 3:14 am

Here is my revision of Psalm 50 according to the criteria given here.

Psalm 50

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.

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In Orthodox Typikon: Systema Typikou in English on June 8, 2009 at 5:20 am

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Guest article on first encounters of the Orthodox liturgical kind

In Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on May 29, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I have been working on an essay, Orthodoxy 201: On being a Neophyte.  Currently, I’m collecting perspectives from new, adult converts on their experiences after a year of being Orthodox Christians. So, I am thinking alot these days about what life after entry into the Church is like from the perspective of new converts and what issues may need to be addressed.

Christina Douglas, in a discussion with me about these new convert issues, mentioned the written comments of one of her acquaintances, a protestant pastor, Gordon Atkinson. After reading his FIRST impression of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I had to post it!  So, by way of introducting Orthodoxy 201, here is a “hearer’s” (a specific kind of seeker) impression, well before he (might?) take up Orthodoxy 101!

I present to you Pastor Gordon Atkinson, to whom I render gratitude for his gracious consent for me to publish his article here. My readers must not be in a hurry to read to the Orthodox part. He shows his searching colours in the first section…

Not for Lightweights
By Gordon Atkinson

Sunday was the 4th of 13 in my sabbatical time. Each of them is precious to me. Each week I will choose a place and a way to worship. I’m not being a tourist. I’m seeking authentic spiritual experiences. I want to worship. I can’t define what I’m doing beyond that. I’m making no plans until a few days before Sunday.
The first two weeks I kept silence with the Quakers. One of the Friends told me their central doctrine was simple: “There is that of God in every person.” Quakers are rather like Buddhists – heavy on method and light on doctrinal statements. Having grown up in the evangelical world, where what one says about Jesus is thought to be so incredibly and insanely important, I have been seeking practice more than doctrine of late. So I enjoyed my time with the Quakers greatly.
The third Sunday I went to Austin to visit Journey: An Imperfect Faith Community. http://www.journeyifc.com/ That’s their name. They rather lay it on the line, don’t they? Rick and David are two of the most delightful, unpretentious, interesting pastors I’ve ever met. Funny, earthy, deep thinking. If you’re used to church with a lot of clear rules and traditional boundaries, Journey will be like a postmodern slap in your face. The mind spins and reels. Everywhere is mismatched furniture, icons, stacks of books, music equipment, Christmas lights, and unexpected things of all kinds. It’s man-cave meets the Upper Room. Once I was there and found a hotdog, in its bun, with a line of mustard on it, that had petrified to the point where I had to bang it on the table to see if it was real or a squeaky dog toy. I really wasn’t sure at first. It was real. I showed it to Rick, who said, “Cool.”
I SO wish I had stolen it and brought it back to my own man-cave, my office at church. I think it would be fine there. I doubt if even bacteria are interested in it now. Seriously, I have the strangest urge to wander though Journey picking things up and taking them home with me. And unless it was a microphone or something they really need, I think they’d be okay with that.
Having spoken there once and been there a number of times, I think I might have stealing privileges. Rick, David, if you see this, just leave a comment and let me know if it’s okay for me to snag some things when I’m there. If that hot dog is still there, I have dibs on it.
Dibs count at Journey. I saw it in their bylaws.
Saturday night Jeanene and I still hadn’t decided where to go. I experienced something common to our culture but new to me. The “Where do you want to go to church – I don’t know where do YOU want to go to church” conversation. I found the Saint Anthony the Great website, http://orthodoxsanantonio.org/ It’s an Orthodox church that has beautiful Byzantine art in the sanctuary.
We decided to go there.
Shelby and Lillian went with us. On the way we warned them that this was going to be different. “They might not have changed their worship service much in a thousand years or so,” I told the girls.
That was an understatement.
Saint Anthony the Great isn’t just old school. It’s “styli and wax tablets” old school. We arrived ten minutes early for worship and the room was already filled with people lighting candles and praying. There was one greeter. I said, “We don’t know what to do.” She handed me a liturgy book and waved us inside.
Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn’t too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer.
I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn’t keep up with all the things I couldn’t pay attention to.
Lillian was the first to go down. After half an hour of standing, she was done. Jeanene took her over to a pew on the side wall. She slumped against Jeanene’s shoulder and stared at me with this stunned, rather betrayed look on her face.
“How could you have brought us to this insane place?”
Shelby tried to tough it out. We were following along in the 40 page liturgy book that was only an abbreviation of the service we were experiencing. I got lost no less than 10 times. After 50 minutes Shelby leaned over and asked how much longer the service would be. I was trying to keep from locking my knees because my thighs had gotten numb. I showed her the book. We were on page 15. I flipped through the remaining 25 pages to show her how much more there was. Her mouth fell open.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. And I think there’s supposed to be a sermon in here somewhere.”
“They haven’t done the SERMON yet? What was that guy doing who said all that stuff about—all that stuff?”
“I don’t know” I said.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. I looked around and saw the door at the back of the sanctuary swinging shut.
And then there was one.
I made it through the entire 1 hour and 50 minutes of worship without sitting down, but my back was sore. Shelby came back toward the end. When it came time for communion I suggested that we not participate because I didn’t know what kind of rules they have for that. We stayed politely at the back. A woman noticed and brought some of the bread to us, bowing respectfully as she offered it. Her gesture of kindness to newcomers who were clearly struggling to understand everything was touching to me.
Okay, so I started crying a little. So what? You would have too, I bet.
After it was over another woman came to speak with us. She said, “I noticed the girls were really struggling with having to stand.”
“Yeah,” I said. “This worship is not for lightweights.”
She laughed and said, “yes,” not the least bit ashamed or apologetic.
So what did I think about my experience at Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church?
I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it.
In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.
“You don’t know what Theotokos is? Get a book and read it. You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal one without pain?”
See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me.
“There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is
the way we do church.”
I’m going back again on Sunday. I started to write, I’m looking forward to it.” But that’s not right. I’m feeling right about it.
And feeling right is what I’m looking for.

On the apolytikion of the honourable Cross

In Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on February 25, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Recently, as one of the two ecclesiarchs in my diocese, I was discussing the English translation and exact musical chant of a very well known apolytikion in the Holy Orthodox Church, “Soson, Kyrie…”   We sing this on all Wednesdays, Fridays, and on all feasts in which the honourable and life-creating Cross is featured. Therefore, it is very important to Orthodox Christians.

Our Antiochian Archdiocese in North America offers this English translation for the apolytikion:

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting unto Thy people vict’ry over all their enemies, and by the power of Thy Cross preserving Thy commonwealth.

Fr Alban West, our senior ecclesiarch, offered these thoughts, which with his permission, I set forth here:

“I agree that translation presents a challenge both in this hymn and the kontakion of the Cross. In the original, the hymns beseech imperial victory over “barbarians” (apolytikion) and “enemies” (kontakion).   As you rightly point out “grant our king victory over barbarians” had a whole host of theological connotations within the Romaiosyne that are lost (and even subject to gross misconstrual) in the present age. Some translations (such as Nassar) leave in the kings, barbarians and adversaries; possible misconstruals be damned. Others, such as the translation of the kontakion on the Archdiocese Sacred Music Dept. site, replace “kings” with “Orthodox hierarchs” and “enemies” with “false teaching”. I don’t strongly object, though I think this is a bit of a stretch too far from the original to be the most desirable course. Then there is the middle ground occupied by translations such as the Apolytikion on the Archdiocese SMD site, where the “king” becomes “people” and the “barbarians” become “enemies” This is perhaps a bit misleading because it is so general, but I think it is the best course. I think (or I hope) that most people hear this as a plea for divine assistance as the Church battles against unseen, spiritual adversaries (and not a plea for victory in our upcoming volleyball game against the Unitarians). 
Ultimately, it seems to me that the question at issue is “where is the cultural inheritance of the Romaiosyne to be found and how would the inhabitants of such a survivng Romaic culture interpret the hymn?”   I would argue that with the fall of the Polis the unique cultural heritage that was the essence of the Romaiosyne was passed on in its most complete form to the monastic communities of Athos and thence to Orthodox monasticisim generally. It is my impression that in this monastic setting the forces of darkness that were at one time embodied in the encroaching, barbarian hordes were acknowledged in their true essence as the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”.  In the monastic consciousness (which is, in my opinion, the present day locus of the Romaic consciousness) the veil of political symbols has been torn away and the true spiritual nature of the struggle has been revealed. 
The beauty of the original is that it places the struggle of “us against them” in a very concrete setting that is equally amenable to a spiritualized understanding (where Christ is the essential Basileus and the demons, passions and death are the essential barbarians or adversaries). It is my suspicion that “people” and “enemies” is as close as we can get to this material denotation with a spiritual connotation in our modern era. 
Forgive the rambling nature of this; it is to be taken in the the spirit of “thinking an idea out via email.” Suffice it to say, at the end of this all, I vote for the translation and setting of the apolytikion as found on the SMD site. 
In Xp,  +Alban

How to use the Octoechos (Parakletike) for weekday services of Vespers.

In HOW TO on Orthodox services on January 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

How does the Orthodox Church combine the use of the two main books of hymnody for the order of weekday services of Vespers?

We are dealing, in this question, ONLY WITH MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY. Saturday and Sunday have their own rules.

We are also dealing with the periods wherein there is NONE of the following:

1. Period of FOREFEAST (leading up to a great feast)

2. Period of AFTERFEAST (culminating in an apodosis of a great feast)

3. The entire period of the TRIODION and the PENTEKOSTARION; namely, from Monday of Cheesefare Week through the Friday after Pentecost.

First, go to the Menaion for the given date:

1. Are there THREE DOXASTIKA at Vespers? (at the lamp-lighting, at the litia, and at the aposticha).  If so, you will NOT use the Octoechos.

2. Is the service in the Menaion a single or double commemoration?

a.  If a single commemoration, you will chant THREE stichera at the lamp-lighting FROM THE OCTOECHOS OF THE DAY AND IN THE MODE OF THE WEEK, followed by the three stichera for the saint in the Menaion. 

NOTE CAREFULLY: WHAT IS EXACTLY CHANTED FROM THE OCTOECHOS?  The three taken from the Octoechos are as follows–the first two from the first set of three, and the first one of the second set of three.

If there be a doxastikon in the Menaion, then chant that; otherwise after Glory… Both now…, the theotokion (on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday evenings), or stavro-theotokion (on Tuesday and Thursday evenings) as given in the Menaion.

b. If a double commemoration, you will chant ALL SIX from the Menaion, omitting the Octoechos at the lamp-lighting.  (there are exceptions to this, however, for generic purposes, this rule suffices).

3. Frequently, the Menaion provides only a doxastikon and theotokion and stavro-theotokion for the Aposticha of Vespers.  When this happens, the three stichera from the Octoechos for the day of the week in the mode of the week are chanted, along with their usual verses. Then, Glory… doxastikon, Both now… and (stavro-)theotokion are taken from the Menaion, omitting that which is given in the Octoechos.

4. WHAT APOLYTIKION AND THEOTOKION IS CHANTED? 

a. If there are NO doxastika for vespers given in the Menaion, then NO apolytikion for the saint is chanted. Instead, the apolytikion for the day, along with its theotokion, is chanted.  These are found in the Great Horologion (HTM, Boston), pages 643-645.

b. If the given saint of the day is festally commemorated (having at least 2 doxastika and the Great Doxology at Orthros the next day), then the apolytikion of the saint (or both of the saints, as may be called for) is chanted, followed by the so-called “resurrection” theotokion in the matching mode.  These theotokia are provided in the Great Horologion next to the resurrectional apolytikia, one for each mode, on pages 637-642.

c. If the given saint of the day is a simple commemoration, but has at least one doxastikon (thus, NO Great Doxology is called for at Orthros the next morning), then the apolytikion of the saint (or saints, if double) is chanted, followed by the simple theotokion of the SAME mode as the apolytikion, for the day of the week.  These theotokia are found in the Great Horologion on pages 646-660.

d. In a double commemoration, if there are stichera for both saints at the lamp-lighting, but only doxastika for ONE of those saints, then we chant ONLY the apolytikion of the saint bearing a doxastikon.

WHAT KIND OF DISMISSAL PRAYER IS SAID BY THE PRIEST AT THE END?

In all cases, for Vespers (unlike the Hours), the priest will say the Great Dismissal.  This is commonly misunderstood, so I back up my assertion by citing an authoritative reference: Diptycha of the Church of Greece 2009, p. mb (Greek numerals; = xlii), published by Apostolike Diakonia.  This is the authoritative typikon for my diocese.

The Eucharist, continued: the Epiklesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on November 27, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Now, we come to the holiest moment in the Divine Liturgy: the epiklesis (eh-PEE-klee-sis), or invocation of the Holy Spirit “upon us and these holy gifts.”

The Epiklesis

At once, God answers the elevation by His action. The priest invokes (epiklesis, “invocation”) the Holy Spirit “upon us and upon these gifts,” thus rendering the bread to be the Body of Christ and the contents of the cup to be the Blood of Christ, “changing them by Thy Holy Spirit.” We speak of metabolism in the human body as it processes material or physical energy; now, the priest mentions a special kind of metabolism (“changing,” from the Greek word, metabalon) in which the Divine Energy infuses the material gifts offered. Our reception of these gifts will be a meal, but now a very special one, for we will, by faithful partaking of them, become communicants in the divine nature. Unlike the Scholastics of old (with their “transubstantiation”), or the Protestants (with their opposite error in which they deny transfiguring grace to this mystery), we have no need to explain this dyophisitic (dual-natured) mystery: we have bread, it is the Body; we have wine, it is the Blood. Our Chalcedonian[1] way of understanding gives us the key which holds all together, “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (I Timothy 3: 9).

To summarize, the sacred exchange takes place: the worshipping community, represented by the presiding bishop or priest offers their whole life embodied in the bread and wine, “Thine own of Thine own.” In response, God receives this offering and “places His own Life in the Gifts, ‘the Holy for the holy’” (Elder Zacharias of Essex).

Once the epiklesis is completed, we enter the third section of the anaphora, the commemoration of the whole Catholic Church. We begin with the greatest members of the Church, the Mother of God, and the Apostles, along with all the saints, mentioning especially those saints we are commemorating on that day. The choir begins singing the megalynarion (magnification hymn) to the Theotokos, as she justly receives prime attention. During that hymn, the priest mentions all the other saints, and names among them the names of deceased Orthodox Christians who may be on the list of commemorations. At the same time, the deacon stands by the Holy Table, as he reads out the diptychs, a record of names of living and dead who are to be commemorated. We see ourselves standing by the very Altar of God, with no difference between heaven and earth, “behold, the tabernacle of God is with men” (Apocalypse 21:3). The commemorations continue with the first of importance among the living: “our father and metropolitan [Name], and our father and bishop [Name].”  We receive our hierarchical authorities not as worldly princes or “strongmen,” but rather as “fathers in Christ.” In this spirit, they nourish us with apostolic teaching and authority and become the visible, personal, and concrete principle of catholic unity in the Church, “wherever the Bishop is, there is the Church” (St Ignatius of Antioch). The commemorations are only complete once every estate of Christian is mentioned, including the monastics and all the people, especially emphasized in the unique Greek way, literally “and of all men and women.”

The anaphora is concluded with a doxological exclamation in the name of the Holy Trinity, “Thine all-honourable and majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The anaphora, however, is not sealed until the whole synaxis asserts the “Amen.” Recall what St Jerome said about this, mentioned above. We have eucharistized, given thanks. “The Christ is in our midst! He is, and ever shall be!”


[1] At the Fourth Oecumenical Synod, held in the city of Chalcedon in the fifth century, the dogma of the “two natures” (dyo physeis) of Christ was decreed, while insisting in the utter unity of His divine-human Personhood.

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On why I am working on the Systema Typikou, and not Biolakis (TME)…

In Orthodox Christianity: liturgics, Orthodox Typikon: Systema Typikou in English on November 25, 2008 at 2:57 am

I received a question recently with regard to the work on the Systema Typikou:

Dear Fr Patrick,  But the “Systema Typikou” is not in force. The Typikon of the Great Church (Konstantinos and Biolakes editions) is!  Why do you choose the Papagiannes work?

“The Papagiannes work,” Systema Typikou, is the most clear and well-assembled typikon available to me. It shows the various findings of the ancient typika which are available to us, all assembled into one volume. This provides a firm basis for constructing a typikon of Orthodox services as they ought to be celebrated in American Orthodox parishes.  Violakis is deficient in this; it is laconic in certain places, incorrect in others, and fails to address certain liturgical difficulties.

The Biolakis, TME, volume has many problems, even some rather egregious errors.  Archbishop CHRISTODOULOS, of thrice-blessed memory, began to address these in various decrees: the restoration of the Orthros Gospel to its proper place before Psalm 50, and the censing of the Gospel in the Liturgy in the more (traditional) solemn way.  Also, Biolakis, as Papagiannis says in his introduction, assumes a general knowledge of the typikon of Orthodox services on the part of chanters (psalteis) and clergy. This cannot be assumed in our day. Also, Biolakis makes little reference to the monastic practices. This relationship of the monastic typikon to the parochial is essential for all to understand.

Of course, in the end, the episcopal authority of any local church ought to provide the basis for liturgical practice. In our region, here in America, there is great confusion. It seems that “every man does what is right in his own eyes.” So, in the interest in heightening liturgical knowledge, I am busy bringing this holy typikon into the English tongue. May this humble work be a helpful contribution to the building up of our most holy Orthodox Christian faith in this land!

The Eucharist proper: the opening dialogue and Anaphora (eucharistic prayer)–Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, continued

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on November 10, 2008 at 4:08 am

Now we come to the high point of the Divine Liturgy in which we “offer the sacrifice of praise, giving thanks unto the Lord.”

The Anaphora: the dialogue

The climax of the Divine Liturgy now takes place. The holy anaphora, the oblation or “offering up (to God)”, now begins.  A very special dialogue serves to awaken and employ the highest human sensitivity: the noetic, or spiritual faculty of the soul. After the call to attentiveness, the deacon says, “that we may offer the holy oblation in peace” and the faithful add to this a further description of the oblation, thus defining it: “a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” The due sacrifice to God amounts to “the weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23: 23). “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6: 8).

Before the prayer of the anaphora is uttered, the priest bestows the apostolic blessing, from the earliest times of the Church’s life: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” With this blessing, all is in order for the liturgical act. Apostolic orders and blessing have been given; it remains to fulfill them. The faithful have already “laid aside” all earthly cares; now they are exhorted to an even higher, noetic awareness: “Let us lift up our hearts!” The wording suggests a specific action here, not just mental attention, but something much more profound—spiritual attentiveness: “Hold your hearts upward!” “We hold them toward the Lord.” All join together now for the Eucharist per se, “let us give thanks unto the Lord” (in Greek, eucharistesomen). To this the laity, by singing the initial words, urges the celebrant to begin the anaphora proper, “It is truly meet and right.”

The anaphora proper

The anaphora itself is a mighty condensation of the whole of the apostolic eucharistic tradition. In it we hear all about “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2: 11). As mentioned at the beginning, there are various “liturgies” in use in the Orthodox Church: most commonly, those of St James, of St Basil, and of St John Chrysostom, in chronological order. Each of these differs most clearly in the variety in size and content of the anaphora.  Yet other liturgies exist as well, but are not widely used today. Each of these liturgies receives its name from the saint who composed the anaphora in it. In the beginning, the apostles and their successors prayed and eucharistized, “according to their ability” (St Justin the martyr, First Apology, 67, written c. A.D. 150). As the faith spread, there was an increasing need for the distillation of this holy Eucharist, especially as the bishops ordained presbyters to serve in their absence, since they could not be present themselves at every eucharistic synaxis. Thus, the written anaphorae came into being as we now have them.

The anaphora falls into three distinct sections, the juncture of each of which is marked by a special hymn sung by the people.  The initial expression of thanks to God for His mighty acts culminates with the singing of the thrice-holy, directly using the words of the angelic hosts themselves, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of sabaoth (a Hebrew word which means “armies [of angels]”)…”  Then, the center of the anaphora, the second section, stresses the manifestation of the love of God by the offering of the Son. Many people, even heterodox, love that verse in St John’s Gospel which occurs in this section, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that whosoever should believe in Him, would have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The remembrance of the economy of salvation is developed at much greater length in the Liturgy of St Basil. The culmination of this section is the rehearsal of the very words of our Lord Himself, uttered by the celebrating priest, as though Christ were physically present, “Take, eat, this is My Body… Drink of this, all of you. This is My Blood…” After these holy words which provide a unique authorization for the whole of the Liturgy, the deacon (or priest) elevates both the diskos and chalice, holding them in a cross-wise fashion. With this action, the anaphora comes to the apex of human ability.  This is our offering, the simple basics of life, through which the Life of the world will come to us. “Wine maketh glad the heart of man… and bread strengthens man’s heart” (Psalm 103: 16-17). With the elevation, the priest intones very solemnly, “Thine own, of thine own, we offer to Thee, in behalf of all and for all.” In such a short expression the priesthood of the whole body of the Church is expressed. Together, clergy and laity, the whole of creation, “Thine own,” is voluntarily offered back to God Who gave it. And this with a special purpose: for the salvation and reconciliation of the whole of creation, “in behalf of all and for all.” This is the ministry of Jesus Christ in miniature; this is the ministry of the Church in depth—to bring all back to God, voluntarily, in the freedom of love.

Immediately, the choir appends a sung augmentation to the words that the priest just uttered: “we hymn Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks (eucharistoumen) to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God.” This is meant as a completion of the priest’s words. Among many other things, this should emphasize that the liturgy is accomplished by the whole synaxis, not just the priest alone.

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Divine Liturgy: graphic, #3 of 3

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on November 8, 2008 at 8:47 pm

And, here is the final graphic, of the Liturgy of the Faithful from the Prayer of Bowed Heads unto the dismissal.

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I would welcome any comments!

Divine Liturgy: graphic, #2 of 3

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on November 8, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Here is the next section, the Liturgy of the Faithful, from the cherubic hymn (Great entrance) to the Lord’s Prayer:

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Divine Liturgy: graphic, #1 of 3

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on November 8, 2008 at 7:56 pm

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Click on the above to get a nice graphic organization of the first half of the Divine Liturgy, including the preparation. Read from top to bottom for linear progression, and from left to right for increasing detail of organization. 

I extend my gratitude to Maria Dome (forgive any misspelling!) who gave me the idea, and Kh. Christina, my beloved wife, for taking my outline and adorning it as you see here!

The Symbol of Faith: continuation of series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 28, 2008 at 11:25 am

“Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…” How can we dare to confess the holy dogmas of our faith, while we harbor hatred or unforgiveness in our hearts? The Church’s liturgy examines us carefully in this regard. So, the exchange of the “kiss of peace” is our guarantee of Christian charity and reconciliation, each person with his neighbor. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God… and thy neighbor as thyself.” Each rank of clergy and the laity, as necessary, then exchange a fraternal greeting before we confess our faith together. St Paul tells us, “faith…worketh by love” (Galatians 5: 6) and “greet each other with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13: 12).

The Symbol of Faith, or the creed (credo, Latin, “I believe”), consists of very specifically composed words which were authorized by the First Oecumenical[1] Synod held in the city of Nicaea in A.D. 325, augmented by the Second Oecumenical Synod held in Constantinople in A.D. 381, and sealed with divine authority by a synodal decree at the Third Oecumenical Synod held in Ephesus in A.D. 431. The exact wording is so important to the maintenance of the faith, that even the addition of a single word is cause for ceasing to be Orthodox. This is exactly what took place over the Roman Catholic Church’s addition of the word, filioque “and the Son,” thus introducing a distortion of the dogma of the Holy Trinity.  Imagine a compass heading for a large ship sailing the Pacific Ocean. A mere one-degree error of heading by the compass would yield a massive error in sailing, by the time the ocean was crossed. The ship’s pilot would miss his port by hundreds of miles! Thus, we carefully preserve “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Before the common recitation of the Creed begins, we hear the diaconal exclamation, “The doors! The doors!” This is a call to secure the doors between the nave and the narthex, in order that no unworthy person, heretic, or persecutor, or unbaptized, be allowed in. During the recitation of each of the twelve articles of the Creed, the church annunciation bell is struck once, if such a bell exists in the parish. This striking of the bell underscores the sobriety and seriousness of our confession. The Creed is truly the flag of the Church. As the recitation continues, with the voice of the whole of the people, not merely the reader, the priest takes up and waves the aer (the covering cloth) over the diskos and chalice. Such actions, as this waving or fluttering of the aer, are amenable to a very great many interpretations of a fine spiritual nature. For example, many see in this a depiction of the hovering of the Holy Spirit, Who is about to descend upon the gifts. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1: 2). At the words, “and He ascended into heaven,” the priest folds up the aer and resumes waving it in a circular motion over the gifts. From the beginning, many liturgical actions arose from very practical purposes, such as to keep any flying insects from alighting upon the prepared holy things, now uncovered (see Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, which is the text of the ancient Clementine Liturgy). Unlike those who see only exterior meaning to things, we Orthodox see both: the waving of the aer to keep off flies as well as symbolizing the earthquake which occurred at Christ’s resurrection or the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, among many other meanings, as with all holy things.


[1]  the classical style of spelling is employed here to avoid confusion with the word, “ecumenical,” which refers chiefly to relations between the Orthodox Church and heterodox Christian communities.

The augmented litany: commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 28, 2008 at 11:11 am

The Augmented Ektenia, and the Peace be to all!

Once the gifts have been placed on the Holy Table, a prayer and a litany are offered which sum up all our desires for salvation in every state of life. We “complete our prayer unto the Lord” by appealing to God for the fulfillment of our needs, culminating in the greatest need of all, “that we may have a good defense before the fearful judgment seat (bema) of Christ.” This petition is important, since the name of the very place where the gifts have been placed is the bema, “the judgment seat,” one of the many names for the altar. We realize that the judgment is not only in the future, but even right now! Are we ready to meet the Lord? Will we be found worthy to partake of Him?

With this sober reality before us, once again we hear the holy words to calm our hearts, “Peace be to all!” Now we will confess our faith together, but this again is never done without a deep connection to our spiritual state. Without inner peace, what can mouthing empty words mean?

It is interesting that we heard “Peace to all!” just before the high point of the first half of the liturgy; namely, the reading of the Holy Gospel. Now we hear it again, just before we celebrate the climax of the second and more solemn half of the liturgy, the Holy Eucharist itself.

The Great Entrance (Offertory); continuation of series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 7, 2008 at 5:16 am

The Cherubic Hymn and the Great Entrance

After two very brief ektenias in which the celebrant prays for worthiness and the proper spiritual disposition to celebrate the Eucharist, the Cherubic Hymn is sung, very slowly with great ornamentation and beauty. This hymn is an expression of our emulation of the holy angels who accompany the Lord in glory. The image is actually drawn from the ancient Roman military ritual of acclaiming a new emperor. The soldiers would hoist the newly chosen leader on a shield and all would point their spears straight up, and utter their oath of loyalty, thus the words in the cherubic hymn, “the King of all, Who comes invisibly up-borne (“carried with raised spears”) by the orders of angels.” Thus, we present ourselves in an angelic state, bearing the Lord Himself as we utter the thrice-holy hymn (which is about to be sung in its oldest form, in the anaphora, discussed below). Most importantly, we now put aside (actually, apothometha, ‘let us reserve for later use,’ as in our expression, “put by,” or “save for later”) the cares of daily life. These cares are not bad or sinful, merely mundane and transitory. We ought, then, to leave them for later action, as we place our attention fully on the holy oblation. God does not want us to shirk our daily and mundane responsibilities; however, He does want us to put them in proper perspective. Right now, all else is secondary to the Eucharist.

While the choirs are singing the cherubic hymn, the priest says a prayer beseeching God for the grace to serve Him without offence in the coming Eucharist. There, we learn that Christ Himself is both the Chief celebrant and the Victim: “for Thou Thyself art He that offereth and is offered.”  There is a special censing, showing the solemnity of the moment.  After this censing, during which the celebrating priest prays Psalm 50 (LXX), the most profound expression of repentance in the entire Bible, he makes a reverence toward the people. This is the expression of reconciliation and forgiveness we must extend to each other, if we are to “bring our gift to the altar” in a worthy manner. We ought never to liturgize, clergy or laity, if we bear ill-will against another human being.

The procession leading to the Great Entrance divides the cherubic hymn in the middle. Whereas in the Little Entrance, the Gospel-book is borne, symbolizing Christ’s appearance in His public ministry, so now in this Great Entrance, the diskos and chalice are borne, symbolizing Christ’s willing self-oblation in His holy passion (suffering), death, and burial for our salvation. The deacon bears the diskos, and the priest the chalice, and they are preceded by candle-bearers and cross. In antiquity, there was a separate building or side-chapel where the bread and wine were prepared and lodged. As this part of the liturgy approached, the deacons would take up the gifts and bring them in a procession to the bishop who awaited them in front of the altar. Now, we keep the gifts on the prothesis, for there were they prepared in the proskomidia, earlier. The procession from the prothesis to the Holy Table marks the formal beginning of the anaphora or holy oblation (offering).  In the procession, special commemoration is made for all Orthodox Christians, including the chief hierarch of the local church and the diocesan bishop. In addition, we remember the civil authorities. It is always important to bear in mind that the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church does not subscribe to any political party or specific political system. We do, however, pray for the welfare of the civil authority, recognizing that all authority comes from God (see Romans 13: 1). After remembering both the living and the dead, the procession is concluded by the completion of the cherubic hymn and the deposition of the bread and wine on the Holy Table. These are placed upon the antiminsion, a special cloth bearing the ikon of the repose of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This cloth is signed by the metropolitan archbishop of the local church over whose synod of bishops he presides, or by the diocesan bishop himself. The antiminsion is the authorization from the hierarch for the Divine Liturgy to be served at the specific church temple where it is placed. It is always protected, when folded up, by a red cloth called the eiliton.

There is also an interesting custom in my particular patriarchate (Antioch): while the procession bearing the bread and wine to be offered is taking place through the nave, the people reach forward and touch the phelonion (the large, outer vestment worn by the priests). In this way, they demonstrate the fact that the offering is indeed from THEM; i.e., the whole kosmos brings its gift to the Lord for His blessing.

While the Great Entrance is taking place, there is a dramatic shift in the tenor of the Divine Liturgy. There are no more readings and very little variable hymnody. The cherubic hymn now being sung is very ornate and reflective, even mystical in ethos. We are leaving the world and all transitory cares behind in order to complete the mystical sacrifice, bringing our whole life unto Christ our God for His holy blessing. Indeed, if the Great Entrance has been completed, the priest may not break off the Divine Liturgy for any reason, even if someone comes into the church requesting an emergency baptism for a dying person! In such a case, the priest must complete the Eucharist. Only then may he leave the Lord’s Presence.

Liturgy of the Faithful: prayers before the Offering (Great Entrance)

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity, Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on October 5, 2008 at 6:07 am

The transitional stage with ektenias:
of Fervent Intercession, of the Catechumens and their dismissal, and of the Faithful.

The transitional prayers now are said, in the form of several ektenias. An ektenia is a drawn out series of petitions announced by the deacon, to which the laity ought to actively respond. The usual responses are either “Lord have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. These ektenias, or litanies, are sometimes shortened, or entirely omitted, depending on the local situation. The first very meaningful act which takes place after the reading of the Gospel is the procession of the prepared bread and wine from the prothesis, through the nave, to the Holy Table. This is accomplished in the Great Entrance, which will be discussed shortly. As mentioned earlier, important liturgical actions need proper preparation. Thus, the ektenias of this transitional section of the liturgy accomplish the proper disposition of the worshippers. We pray for all in the ektenia of fervent supplication (we say “Lord have mercy” now three times after each petition). Unlike the earlier Great Ektenia, we even pray specifically for persons by name, both living and departed. Here, specific names can be supplied to the deacon before the liturgy for mention in prayer. We mention only the names of Orthodox Christians aloud in these ektenias. If the laity wish to exercise their priesthood in behalf of the whole world, each and every one can offer his or her quiet, heartfelt intercessions in behalf of any and all persons. As the deacon will say shortly, “for any and all whom we have in mind.” To this the people affirm, “for any and all!” (In our Antiochian translation, “for all mankind”).

After beseeching God for the catechumens who are preparing to enter the Church, their dismissal marks the formal end of the Liturgy of the Catechumens. In the primitive church, the catechumens were ushered out of the synaxis of the faithful in the nave and the doors from the narthex to the nave were secured. In the beginning, the catechumenate was in a vibrant state of development. Adults came to Christ directly from paganism and thus needed long and thorough instruction in prayer, knowledge of Holy Scripture, and formation in Orthodox Christian ethics.  They had to rid themselves of many un- and even anti-Christian habits of thought, speech, and action. After Christianity was officially recognized, and even promoted by the state, the catechumenate fell into abeyance. But now, increasingly in our day and age, when paganism and unbelief flourish in so many places, and where the Christian spiritual and ethical conscience in society-at-large is in such precipitous decline, the adult catechumenate is increasingly being reinstated. Thus, it behooves us to encourage the catechumens, if not to leave, at least to stand piously to the side or to the rear, and to take their time to learn. So, whereas beforehand this litany in behalf of the catechumens was omitted, it now finds new currency as increasing numbers of converts are finding their way home to Orthodoxy. And, all of the faithful can hear in these words a dismissal of all evil thoughts, and an expulsion of every distraction.

Some are embarrassed to hear the diaconal command, “Let all catechumens depart!” Their embarrassment stems from a misunderstanding of the place of the catechumens in the holy Church. They do not yet possess the competency spiritually to share in the synaxis of the faithful. They cannot yet receive the Holy Mysteries and are working on the basic principles of Orthodox Christian life: repentance, baptism, confession of sins, fasting, humility, examination of oneself, obedience to our apostolic order, and the acquisition of Holy Tradition. Let us give them the space to gain these things before thrusting them into full responsibility! I have never catechized anyone who objected to this path of discovery. Once received into the Church, they are most likely never to deny their Lord by defiling their Orthodoxy.

With the dismissal of the catechumens, along with all those “for whom the liturgy is no concern” (dismissal, as said in the Romano-Byzantine liturgy in southern Italy in the first millenium of the Christian era) the synaxis of the faithful proceeds with as little interruption as possible. For now the faithful attend to the serious acts which lie before them: the bringing of the gifts of bread and wine to the Holy Table and the Eucharist itself. As St Justin the philosopher and martyr reports in his 1st Apology (written in the early 2nd century), “then we bring bread and wine to the president of the synaxis.”

Announcement! resumption of my commentary on the Divine Liturgy.

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity, Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on October 5, 2008 at 5:34 am

Dear blog-readers! Beginning with the very next post, I am resuming my commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Our precious liturgy is the God-given gift of eternal life and the very portal into heaven, while we live in the body. Why do we hesitate? Why do we draw back from holy confession? Why do we live in the dregs of the corrupting passions and do not ascend to the heights to meet the Lord of Glory? He awaits! “Go, tell my disciples that I wait for them on the mountain in Galilee”

In the next post, you will find the first post on the third section of the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Faithful, or the Eucharist proper.

Having experienced the divine Mystagogy, let us not be of the world anymore, but be wholly Christ’s!

We take a break from our sustained study of the Liturgy!

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on August 18, 2008 at 1:27 am

For those who are following my blog, I am turning my attention to other themes for a while. We have been giving special attention to the first half of the Divine Liturgy, up through the sermon. When I return to this theme, we will look at the second half of the Liturgy, the liturgy of the faithful, or the Eucharist, per se.

Let me know if you may have any questions, or if there are elements which I have inadequately explained. Sometimes persons coming from various backgrounds need differing points of detail to be more deeply thought through.  Anyway, I hope you are enjoying this sustained reflection as much as I am enjoying its composition.

Remember, the whole point in this endeavor is to help all Orthodox Christian laity, and those seriously inquiring into the Orthodox Christian Faith, to participate in the Divine Liturgy with a greater depth. If I am helping to bring this about in any of my readers, the return favor which I request is that you pray for the salvation of the soul of this writer!

The homily (or, sermon). Part X of the series on the Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on August 18, 2008 at 1:21 am

Having heard the Holy Gospel, we are now ready for the preacher to explain the meaning of the holy words which were just uttered. In our holy Faith, the role of preaching is the fundamental way in which faith is stimulated in the hearts of those who hear. St Paul said, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing from the Word of God” (Romans 10).

The authorized preacher is the priest or deacon, and the permitted themes for the sermon are the appointed scripture lessons and spiritual commemoration of the day. Sometimes the bishop gives special instruction concerning what is read or said “from the pulpit.” In any event, the homily or sermon (both words, from the Greek and Latin languages, respectively, mean simply “a talk”) provides the hearers with a more clear understanding of the sacred words they have heard and the meaning of the specific teachings conveyed by the day’s commemoration.

In many other Christian gatherings, the sermon becomes the center-piece for the assembly. For Orthodox Christians, the sermon, although far too often undervalued and even in some places woefully neglected, remains an important but integral ingredient to the whole of divine worship. We do not break up the liturgy into segments, but rather take it as a uniform and spiritually enriching whole. The sermon provides its unique and very specific function, perhaps the part of the liturgy where the personal impress of the celebrant is most clearly stamped. For example, we know so much about St John Chrysostom, simply because of all the sermons he had recorded and left to posterity. God speaks through men, and men differ in idiosyncrasy of character and personality.

We must keep in mind, however, that the sermon plays a much less prominent role in Orthodox Christian worship than it does in Protestant assemblies. The reason for this is simple. Our purpose for gathering in the church temple is not to hear what the priest may happen to say on any given occasion, but rather to offer our “sacrifice of praise” to the Lord. There are, of course, times when the sermon is longed-for: times of personal or civil distress, or at the cusp of some important ecclesiastical event.  

The role of the laity during the preaching of the sermon is to listen carefully and to take to heart those elements from the homily which “strike home.” Our homilies are usually quite short; frequently the Orthodox homily is no more than 15 minutes long. Therefore, even small children can learn to listen with care. If the priest as preacher tends to speak too long, the laity have a responsibility to let him know so that he can learn to perfect the art of preaching. Elder Zacharias of Essex says that the core of a good sermon is “one simple thought, deeply expounded.”

The Readings from Scripture: Prokeimenon, Apostle, Alleluiarion, Gospel. Part IX of the series.

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on August 12, 2008 at 9:02 pm

So now we come to the first of the two climaxes of the Divine Liturgy, the high point of the Liturgy of the Catechumens; namely, the readings from Holy Scripture.

While the Trisagion is being completed, the reader, or someone capable of assuming this task, if there be no tonsured reader in the parish, approaches the solea, receives the Apostle (Epistle Book) from the priest and prepares to intone the lesson, a reading appointed for the day.

In the early church, there were more readings than offered nowadays. For example, in the Liturgy of St James there is a provision for a prophetical reading from the Old Testament. This points to the original way in which the Holy Scriptures came down to us. All of the canonically approved texts to be read in the Liturgy (apostle and Gospel) were eventually assembled into one place, and bound together. This is what we call the New Testament. Liturgically, the New Testament is made up of the two liturgical books (Apostle and Gospel), along with the non-liturgical book, Revelation.

New-comers to an Orthodox service of worship notice right away that the manner of speaking in the church differs from that which one finds in our everyday world. Ours is a special kind of language, elevated, classical (“thees and thous”), a kind of “sing-song,” either in what the ancients called recto tono, “straight-chant,” or according to ancient, well-established melodies. Even our churchly way of reading differs from that of secular society: the reader intones, or reads out in a melodic fashion, plainly but piously, confidently yet compunctionately. St John of San Francisco said that chanting and reading in a proper church fashion delivers the message contained much deeper into the souls of those listening than mere recitation, as when one reads out a newspaper article, or delivers an academic paper. Because readers require specialized training, the Church includes them among the minor clerical orders.

The choir (or reader) intones the prokeimenon, “a text before (another) text,” a “pre-text,” if you will. It consists of a refrain along with a verse, both drawn from the Psalter. These are properly sung according to one of the eight liturgical tones, but sometimes are merely read out. The prokeimenon prepares us for the lesson from the Apostle. Once again, an important liturgical moment (the reading of the Apostle) is anticipated by a special action (the intonation of the prokeimenon), so that our hearing is adjusted spiritually to take in the profound message. In parishes where the prokeimenon is properly intoned, the laity can learn to sing these along with the choirs.

Now we are ready to hear the Apostle: a lesson either from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, or from one of the apostolic epistles. We do not read from the Book of Revelation.  There is always a specific lesson appointed for the specific day of the week in a given order of weeks after the previous Pascha, and frequently another one for the saint or commemoration of the calendar date. We select one of those to be read out, according to specific rules. Everything is done in the Church “decently and in order,” with no one, not even the priest, exercising his own willfulness apart from the common and holy tradition. We may listen to the apostolic reading seated and with attentiveness. Notice that the deacon said, “Let us attend!” Try not to look at other persons and ignore the usual distractions for this moment.

Now, as the choir begins to sing the alleluiarion, the triple “Alleluia,” and the priest is censing about the altar, we are ascending even higher. Everyone stands. The smoke of the incense honors the Lord and indicates the climax of this section of the Liturgy.  The Apostle warmed our heart for Christ. Now Christ our God will directly speak His life-bestowing Word through the Holy Gospel. No layman ever reads the Gospel liturgically. That role is designated for deacon or priest. It is always chanted and accompanied by lights. Even before the Gospel is read, we engage in the first substantive liturgical dialogue with the presiding celebrant. He encourages spiritual readiness, “Wisdom! Let us attend…” and grants the dominical blessing, “Peace be to all.” This is what Jesus said when He appeared to His disciples and apostles after the Resurrection. They were locked up in their chamber “for fear.” Now Christ gives us the peace, as we are locked up in the chamber of our heart and beset with many fears. How often did Our Lord say, “Do not fear”!

The Gospel-book lies front and center on the Holy Table, always the prominent position. The book itself is usually very ornate and costly, its binding and covers made of fine metal, enameled or set with stones. When this majestic Book is opened, we stand attuned as described above for the Apostle. Before and after the Gospel reading, we sign ourselves with the cross while saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” The sign of the cross is the most profound act of prayer which the limbs of our body are capable of. At important liturgical moments like this, but also in or out of the church temple, by day or by night, during any endeavor, and facing any temptation, we can make the sign of the cross and immediately be refreshed with a vibrant spiritual realization of Christ’s holy presence.

The hymnody after the Gospel Entrance: Part VIII of the series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on July 23, 2008 at 10:46 pm

After the Gospel Entrance, the choirs chant the appointed hymns of the day, which are called troparia, “stanzas,” and almost always are concluded by the patronal saint’s or titular festal troparion of the church temple after whom (or which) it is named. Every Orthodox Christian temple is dedicated to a patron (or matron) saint, or saints, or in honor of a great feast or divine event. All the faithful should learn to sing their own parish’s patronal or titular festal troparion by heart. After this sequence of troparia, the clergy (or in some churches, the choir) will sing the appointed seasonal kontakion. This latter hymn provides a seasonal “atmosphere” to the worship. The kontakia are very ancient, some extending from the early centuries of the Church.  Some of the troparia (and kontakia) are sung so often, they, too, can be memorized. When all of the faithful sing, they show their active ownership of the liturgy and so fulfill their God-given vocation, to be “a holy people, a royal priesthood.”  Especially in our Antiochian Orthodox ethos, the whole synaxis of the faithful is encouraged to sing.

Now, after an exhortation to pray, the priest exclaims the holiness of God and all sing majestically the very simple and profound Trisagion, “the Thrice-holy.” The faithful now emulate the angelic chorus in heaven whom Isaiah the prophet heard, when he beheld the Lord in His holy temple: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6: 2). The attribute, “holy,” cannot be described adequately in human analogies. Basically, “holy” means “separated unto and thus belonging to God.” Only God is holy in and of Himself, utterly holy, and He makes holy all who come to him, “Be ye holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), and “Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  On certain great feasts of the Lord, in place of the Trisagion, we sing either the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” or that of the Cross, “Before Thy cross, we bow down in worship, Master, and we glorify Thy holy resurrection.” 

When the Bishop celebrates, the Trisagion is sung very elaborately, with a special prayer and episcopal blessing given three times, interspersed. The bishop holds in his left hand the dikerion, a two-branched candelabrum symbolizing the two natures of Christ, and in his right, the trikerion, a three-branched candelabrum symbolizing the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, in his hands the central dogmas of the Church are shown forth as living and abiding truths which give our lives order and meaning. Dogmas in Orthodoxy are not dead concepts inscribed on paper. They are living truths which correct our waywardness and heal our lives from the disorder of sin and corrupting passions. We Orthodox do more than just believe in the Trinity, we lead a triadic, or trinitarian, way of life.  This chiefly means love. We more than believe in the two natures of Christ, we practice a two-natured spirituality: body and spirit in a synergistic combination, what we call mystery. What we see with our material eyes is flesh; what we see with our nous, the eye of the soul, is spirit.

Divine Liturgy: antiphons and little entrance. Part VII of the series.

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on July 19, 2008 at 8:15 pm

We continue now with a more detailed look at the Divine Liturgy. After the opening blessing and great litany:

After the great ektenia, we begin to chant a series of antiphons, or short repetitions of refrains, interspersed with verses from the Psalter, the great prayer-book of the church. These refrains help us to ascend from the affairs of this world to a vibrant and sober realization of the presence of God in our midst. In the first antiphon we ask the Mother of God to intercede for us. Here, our Orthodox understanding of the role of the Mother of God (Theotokos, God-bearer) is clarified. She is, above all, our great intercessor. She is not an apostle who teaches; rather, she is a mother who entreats for us. In the second antiphon, we implore the Son of God Himself to save us; and in the third, we take up the apolytikion (“dismissal hymn,” since we heard it first near the dismissal from the vespers on the evening just past) of the day as the refrain, celebrating the Kingdom within and among us. As a unit, the antiphons prepare us for the solemnities ahead. We are still in the beginning stage of the Liturgy. There are some alternatives during this portion of the Liturgy, depending on the parish and the practice of each diocese. Sometimes, the older practice of chanting the so-called “typical psalms” (Psalms 102 and 145, LXX) is followed by the chanting of the Beatitudes with interspersed hymnody taken from the Matins service just past.

Each antiphon (or typical psalm) is completed by the intonation of a little ektenia. We use the little litanies so often that the question is often posed, “why do Orthodox services repeat so much material constantly?”  Indeed, the little ektenia begins, “Again and again, let us pray to the Lord.”  There is a basic tenet of pedagogy: repetition is the mother of learning. Every school teacher knows that new things to be learned must be presented, drilled, practiced, and re-presented, re-drilled, and re-practiced, many times before learning takes place.  The wisdom of the church Fathers is present here: we are imprinted at the liturgy, so that the holy words we hear there will self-actualize in our memory later on.  The many repetitions impress us deeply, even before we have come to think about the meaning contained in these words.

Through the three antiphons the priest offers specific prayers which dedicate the liturgy to God and underscore the divine promises which make the liturgy possible, including the word of Our Lord, “wherever two or three are gathered in My Name , there am I in the midst.”

During the third antiphon (or toward the end of the singing of the Beatitudes), the deacon carries the Gospel-book aloft in a liturgical procession, preceded by candle-bearers and processional cross. Following him comes the presiding cleric who will give the blessing to make the Little (or Gospel) Entrance. The deacon cries out the first of several utterances to come: “Wisdom!” This cry always precedes some very important utterance or action and exhorts us to pay special attention at the deepest level of our being. Let us now be aware of Christ, along with the ministering angels in our midst! “Stand aright!” At this point, any of the faithful who were sitting now arise to join all who have been standing, ready to make a bow as the Entrance is made. Standing is the basic posture for prayer, not sitting. “Bless ye the Lord, all ye servants … that stand in the house of the Lord,” (Ps 133: 1-2). Now the great recognition of Christ in our midst occurs as the entrance hymn is intoned by the clergy and choirs, “O come let us worship and fall down before Christ…” On Sunday, all make a bow from the waist; but on weekdays (except during the 40 days following Great and Holy Pascha), it is a good and very traditional thing to make a great bow, a prostration, all the way to the floor, to honor the manifestation of Christ in His public ministry which this Entrance symbolizes. The Gospel-book is the image of Jesus Christ, the living and abiding Word of the Father. “The words which I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6: 63).

When the Bishop presides at the Liturgy, only at this point does he enter the altar to begin actively celebrating there. Up to this point, there is no difference between a liturgy presided over by bishop or priest. But now, when the bishop enters the altar, we see the fullest display of our apostolic heritage. When the priest serves alone, it is not easy to see the apostolic nature of the Church. But when the bishop presides, a living apostle is before us. All this shows us that the beginning part, the enarxis, is passed and now the liturgy of the Word enters its most important stage.

The Liturgy of the Catechumens in detail. Part VII of the series.

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on July 17, 2008 at 10:07 pm

“Blessed is the Kingdom…” and the enarxis, or beginning, of the Liturgy

The opening of the Beautiful Gate symbolizes the act of God drawing near to us in this world. God takes the initiative in coming into our darkened space. Remember, in the ancient Israelite temple, this curtain was permanently closed. No one could ever open it! The evangelist St Matthew reports, however, that when the Lord died on the Cross, “the veil in the Temple was torn into two, from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51). So the first words of the common liturgy now sound forth with a great voice from the priest, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” The Liturgy begins with the exclamation of God’s awesome Kingdom breaking into human affairs. “Blessed is…” not “Blessed be…” It is truly an exclamation, not a wish. Now He enters our world again, right now, through us!

All the people sing “Amen.” This simple prayer, “Amen,” is very powerful. The laity should learn to pray it with great intention. It basically means that the one saying the Amen takes up the prayer or exclamation which has just been uttered as if it were his or her very own. St Jerome of Bethlehem said that the Divine Liturgy as it was celebrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, right at the Empty Tomb itself, was so robust that the laity said “Amen” with the force of a thunderclap! Reach for this prayer and use it often. Consider it your responsibility as a layperson to say the Amen properly, in order to mark your active prayer in concert with the presiding minister and the rest of the community.

The Great Ektenia

Now the deacon utters the ektenia, a chain of biddings, in response to which all the people sing the simple and deep prayer, “Lord have mercy.” The deacon does this, standing on the solea, the area in front of the Beautiful Gate, raised up a bit from the rest of the nave. St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem in the 7th century, says that spiritually the solea represents “the river of fire separating the sinners from the righteous” (see Dan 7:10).  Later, the faithful will approach the solea to receive Holy Communion, thus crossing this symbolic barrier.

Perhaps you have heard of the Jesus Prayer. When we pray, “Lord have mercy,” this is a very short version of it which is very often used in the Liturgy. Some people are confused in thinking that God is stingy and hesitant to give mercy; therefore, so they think, the prayer insists that He do so. This is a worldly and false way of viewing it. God grants mercy, “He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5: 45). The place where the blockage occurs is on our part. When we pray this prayer with constancy and faith, we are purifying our own hearts which are crowded with the corrupt desires of this world. We do not know mercy, only because we ourselves are merciless to others.  We are invited to discover the rich mercy of God which already abounds toward us: “And the Lord passed by Moses and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD GOD, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth’” (Exodus 34: 6).

The choir leads the singing of “Lord have mercy.” All of the people should take it up in concert and pray it with meaning. The choirs (properly two, one on the right and one on the left) exist in the churches in order to lift up all of the laity in their prayers and hymnody to God. There is a beautiful synergy of worship between clergy, choirs, and people. The laity benefit by becoming “caught up” in this triad. Those with fine voices ought to join the choir in order to put their talent to good use for the Master. Choir-singers comprise a ministerial rank in the holy church and benefit from certain prayers in their behalf: “for those who serve (clergy and their assistants) and for those who sing…”

The great ektenia, also called the great litany, is a school of prayer unto itself. Notice the progression of biddings and reflect upon the course of prayer as it unfolds from a simple plea for peace to an encompassing of the whole world and everyone in it in the loving and merciful embrace of the Lord. Notice the beginning: first, the proper atmosphere of true prayer is peace. Without peace, we cannot pray at all: “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.”  Then, with peace, we pray for the highest kind of peace: “the peace from above…” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world giveth, do I give unto you” (John 14: 27). Only then, having this “peace which passeth understanding,” do we pray for “the peace of the whole world.”  Sometimes our priorities are askew. The great ektenia helps us organize our prayer, so that first things come first. We pray for the most important persons first, our spiritual fathers who care for our immortal souls, then the civil authorities who govern our temporal lives. After that, we pray for all humanity, in its various states and conditions, and lastly, for ourselves with a final prayer from the deacon, “help us, save us…,” to which we add our “Lord have mercy.”

The deacon, like an angel, intones these biddings in a fulsome voice. If there be no deacon, the ektenias (and some other diaconal parts) are assumed by the priest. Happy are the parishes where the diaconate is active, since they see a beautiful “ministering angel” holding his orarion (the long, fluttering element of his vestment which draws our attention to where it should go) aloft, carrying the prayers of the people from the nave to the altar and the Holy Gospel from the altar to the nave. Since the deacon moves so often to and fro, between altar and solea, we call the north and south doors (on either side of the Beautiful Gate) through which he so often passes the “deacon’s doors.”

The Divine Liturgy within sacred space: church architecture

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on July 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Continuing our sustained reflection on the Holy and Divine Liturgy, we must take a little side detour to view the space in which the Liturgy is normally celebrated. I say normally, since from time to time special circumstances may arise in which the Liturgy is served in some other setting, even outside in the forest or desert. In fact, during the darkest years of the godless communist regimes in eastern Europe, there were many occasions when such a thing took place. But this is not the norm.

We liturgize in a church temple, so called because it is a building which houses the Church per se, i.e., the faithful gathered together for worship.  Just as the physical body of a faithful Christian is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (St Paul to the Corinthians), so the physical structure set apart for Orthodox Christian worship is a temple for the Church.

The Orthodox church temple is divided into three sections.

The worshipper enters the narthex from the noisy world outside and there prepares for prayer: putting off the coat, turning off the cell-phone, taking a breath and warming up or cooling down as needed. Then, after leaving the offering of money in support of the parish and of the good causes sponsored by the parish, the worshipper takes candles and any printed aids available for the divine services.

The narthex is also the place where certain prayers are said (churching prayers for new mothers, enrollment to the catechumenate, etc.; and even whole services (9th Hour, Compline, etc. But this usually is only observed strictly in monasteries.) Classically, the baptismal font is located near the juncture of the narthex and the nave, since it stands at the central portal by which new Christians enter the Kingdom of Heaven and become fit to stand with the faithful in the eucharistic synaxis (gathering).

The worshipper stands before the doors leading to the second area: the nave, or the holy place. these doors are those mentioned later on by the deacon, just before the anaphora: “The doors! the doors! Wisdom, let us attend!” Opening the door (or passing through the colonnade), the worshipper makes a bow and reverently enters, after ensuring that there will be no interruption of the sacred action being performed in the nave. Assuming he has arrived on time, at least as Matins is concluding, he will notice the Beautiful Gate (sometimes called the Holy Doors, or the Royal Doors) being opened just prior to the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. This Beautiful Gate both separates and conjoins the nave with the holy altar or the bema, the “high place,” where the Holy Table is centered.  Here, only the clergy and their assistants enter, in order to fulfill their work. We all face east; we are properly oriented, both literally and metaphorically.

So, to sum up, there are three spaces: narthex, nave, and altar. The narthex is for all classes of inquirers and catechumens; the nave is for the faithful; and the altar is for the clergy. These three areas are in direct continuity with the ancient Israelite temple, whose shape was revealed by God Himself directly to Moses the Prophet and God-seer. In that ancient temple, there was an inner court where sacrifices were offered and cleansing was accomplished (our narthex). Then, passing through the outer curtain, the priests alone entered into the ancient holy place where prayer with incense and lights was offered, by the Table of the Bread of the Presence (our nave). And, finally, the Holy of Holies, separated by yet another curtain, beyond which only the High Priest passed and that only once a year, where the Ark of the Covenant lay (our holy Altar, where the Holy Table is, on which the eucharistic mystery is fulfilled). We will have much more to say about these things in further posts.

The Divine Liturgy in detail: a guide to attentive participation. Part VI of the series…

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on July 16, 2008 at 6:51 pm

The Divine Liturgy is an ascent in silence to the Holy Mountain of God! There, with the holy ones, we rejoice in word-less wonder as we tremble with reverence before the Lord and His Saints.

In general, prayerful participation in the Divine Liturgy calls for preparation well before coming to the church temple. It is important to find silence and inner composure before coming to church. Remember the long period of silence in which righteous Job immersed himself before speaking about God. Also, the Lord himself observed silence with His disciples before ascending the Mount Thabor, when He was transfigured in glory. Practically speaking, in our busy world, we should at least keep the evening before the Liturgy in quietness and prayer.  The practice of “partying” on the eve before the Liturgy should be laid aside. Find a “holy excuse” from such revelry and opportunities for too much talking (in which sin is not lacking) or gossip. If you are with group of people, do not stay late. Excuse yourself at a decent hour, go home, try to keep quiet and say the pre-communion canon from your prayerbook before going to sleep. Try to avoid rich foods and much wine after Vespers in Saturday evening; that can affect your calmness on Sunday morning. Take a little water before bed, since you will be keeping a strict fast in the morning after arising.

Holding our hearts in prayerfulness, and not speaking too much before the time, we depart to church. It is amazing how often the evil one succeeds in getting us to argue with our loved ones before church! Rob him of this by deferring any important family decision-making until after the Liturgy.

Now let us take a closer look at the Liturgy… with a copy of the Divine Liturgy in our hands, let us walk through it, seeking to understand what we are doing. The emphasis here falls not on exhaustive liturgical commentary, something desirable for theological students and clerics, but rather on a practical way of understanding which will yield more active and more attentive participation in the movement of the Liturgy as prayer. In the material which will be provided in further posts, we begin with the priest’s opening exclamation of the Liturgy of the Catechumens, “Blessed is the Kingdom…”  So, keep posted!

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!”

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!