by Reverend Thomas Fitzgerald (edited)

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you; we only know that God dwells there among men and that their Service surpasses the worship of all other places…”In the latter part of the tenth century, Vladimir the Prince of Kiev sent envoys to various Christian centers to study their form of worship. These are the words the envoys uttered when they reported their presence at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Great Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. The profound experience expressed by the Russian envoys has been one shared by many throughout the centuries who have witnessed for the first time the beautiful and inspiring Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.The Holy Eucharist is the oldest experience of Christian Worship as well as the most distinctive. Eucharist comes from the Greek word which means thanksgiving. In a particular sense, the word describes the most important form of the Church’s attitude toward all of life. The origin of the Eucharist is traced to the Last Supper at which Christ instructed His disciples to offer bread and wine in His memory. The Eucharist is the most distinctive event of Orthodox worship because in it the Church gathers to remember and celebrate the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and, thereby, to participate in the mystery of Salvation.
In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is also known as the Divine Liturgy. The word liturgy means people’s work; this description serves to emphasize the corporate character of the Eucharist. When an Orthodox attends the Divine Liturgy, it is not as an isolated person who comes simply to hear a sermon.Rather, he comes as a member of the Community of Faith who participates in the very purpose of the Church, which is the Worship of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the Eucharist is truly the center of the life of the Church and the principal means of spiritual development, both for the individual Christian and the Church as a whole. Not only does the Eucharist embody and express the Christian faith in a unique way, but it also enhances and deepens our faith in the Trinity. This sacrament-mystery is the experience toward which all the other activities of the Church are directed and from which they receive their direction.The Eucharist, the principal sacrament mystery of the Orthodox Church, is not so much a text to be studied, but rather an experience of communion with the Living God in which prayer, music, gestures, the material creation, art and architecture come into full orchestration. The Eucharist is a celebration of faith which touches not only the mind but also the emotions and the senses.Throughout the centuries, Christians have seen many dimensions in the Eucharist. The various titles which have come to describe the rite bear witness to the richness of its meaning. The Eucharist has been known as the Holy offering, the Holy Mysteries, the Mystic Supper, and the Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church recognizes the many facets of the Eucharist and wisely refuses to over-emphasize one element to the detriment of the others. In so doing, Orthodoxy has clearly avoided reducing the Eucharist to a simple memorial of the Last Supper which is only occasionally observed. Following the teachings of both Scripture and Tradition, the Orthodox Church believes that Christ is truly present with His people in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood. We affirm that these Holy Gifts are transfigured into the first fruits of the New Creation in which ultimately God will be “all in all”.

Three Liturgies

As it is celebrated today, the Divine Liturgy is a product of historical development. The fundamental core of the liturgy dates from the time of Christ and the Apostles. To this, prayers, hymns, and gestures have been added throughout the centuries. The liturgy achieved a basic framework by the ninth century.There are three forms of the Eucharist presently in use in the Orthodox Church:The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is the most frequently celebrated.
The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which is celebrated only ten times a year.
The Liturgy of St. James which is celebrated on October 23, the feast day of the Saint.
While these saints did not compose the entire liturgy which bears their names, it is probable that they did author many of the prayers. The structure and basic elements of the three liturgies are similar, although there are differences in some hymns and prayers. In addition to these Liturgies, there is also the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. This is not truly a Eucharistic liturgy but rather an evening Vesper Service followed by the distribution of Holy Communion reserved from the previous Sunday. This liturgy is celebrated only on weekday mornings or evenings during Lent, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, when the full Eucharist is not permitted because of its Resurrection spirit. The Eucharist expresses the deep joy which is so central to the Gospel.The Divine Liturgy is properly celebrated only once a day. This custom serves to emphasize and maintain the unity of the local congregation. The Eucharist is always the principal Service on Sundays and Holy Days and may be celebrated on other weekdays.However, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated by the priest privately, without a congregation. The Eucharist is usually celebrated in the morning but, with the Bishop’s blessing, may be offered in the evening. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has recently encouraged the celebration of the Liturgy in the evening after Vespers, on the vigil of major Feast and Saints Days.

Understanding the Teachings of the Orthodox Church – Page 2

by Reverend Thomas Fitzgerald (edited)

The Actions of the Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy may be divided into two major parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful, which are preceded by the Service of Preparation. Although there are many symbolic interpretations of the Divine Liturgy, the most fundamental meaning is found in the actions and prayers.

The Service of Preperation

Prior to the beginning of the Liturgy, the priest prepares himself with prayer and then precedes to vest himself. The vestments express his priestly ministry as well as his office. Next, the priest goes to the Proskomide Table which is on the left side of the Altar Table in the Sanctuary. There, he prepares the offering of bread and wine for the Liturgy. Ideally, the leavened loaves of bread, and the wine from which the offering is taken, are prepared by members of the congregation. The elements are presented to the priest before the service, together with the names of those persons, living and dead, who are to be remembered during the Divine Liturgy. The offering symbolically represents the entire Church gathered about Christ, the Lamb of God.

The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Divine Liturgy begins with the solemn declaration: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit now and for ever more.” With these words we are reminded that in the Divine Liturgy the Church becomes a real manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth. Since the first part of the Liturgy was designed originally for the Catechumens, those being schooled in the faith, had a very instructive quality. The Eucharist also has elements which are in common with other Services. We gather as Christians who share a common faith in the Holy Trinity. We sing and pray as a people united in Christ, who are not bound by time, space, or social barriers.The Little Entrance is the central action of the first part of the Liturgy. A procession takes place in which the priest carries the Book of Gospels from the sanctuary into the nave. The procession directs our attention to the Scripture and to the presence of Christ in the Gospel. The entrance leads to the Epistle lesson, the Gospel, and the Sermon.

The Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only those who were baptized and not in a state of sin were permitted to remain for this most solemn part of the Liturgy. With the Great Entrance marking the beginning of this part of the Liturgy, the offering of bread and wine is brought by the priest from the Preparation Table, through the nave, and to the Altar Table. Before the offering can proceed, however, we are called upon to love one another so that we may perfectly confess our faith. In the early Church, the Kiss of Peace was exchanged at this point. After the symbolic kiss of Peace, we join together in professing our Faith through the words of the Creed. Only now can we properly offer our gifts of bread and wine to the Father as our Lord directed us to do in His memory. This offering is one of great joy, for through it we remember the mighty actions of God through which we have received the gift of salvation, and especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. We invoke the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon our offering, asking the Father that they become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our thanking and remembering the Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Risen Christ in our midst.The priest comes from the altar with the Holy Gifts, inviting the congregation to draw near with reverence of God, with faith, and with love.” Our sharing in the Eucharist Gifts not only expresses our fellowship with one another, but also our unity with the Father in His Kingdom. Individuals approach the Holy Gifts and receive the Eucharistic bread and wine from the common chalice. The priest distributes the Holy Gifts by means of a communion spoon. Since the Holy Communion is an expression of our Faith, reception of the Holy Gifts is open only to those who are baptized, Chrismated, and practicing members of the Orthodox Church. The Liturgy comes to an end with prayer of Thanksgiving and the Benediction. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, the congregation comes forward to receive a portion of the liturgical bread which was not used for the offering.

The Divine Liturgy Explained

Adapted & Edited from “The Divine Liturgy Explained” by Fr. Nicholas EliasIn ancient times, the word “Liturgy” meant a work for the benefit of the people. In the Old Testament it denotes the worship which the people offered through priests of the Mosaic Law. Since New Testament times the word “Liturgy”, preceded usually by the adjective “Divine”, has signified that Church service which is filled with memories of our Lord’s Life and teachings from His Nativity to His Ascension into Heaven. The Divine Liturgy is the great central act of Christian worship, offered to God for the benefit of the members of the Church, the Christians.

Our Lord Institutes the Sacrament

The belief that our Lord is present upon the altar under the appearances of the consecrated Bread and Wine is based upon the word of God Himself. Let us return to the days when our Lord dwelt on earth. He had fed five thousand men in the desert by a miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish. The next day He was in Capernaum, where the people asked for more of that wonderful bread. Instead of fulfilling their desire, Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). Further on, Christ said, “I am the living bread which came from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Then Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:53-55).With these words, our Lord promised to give His flesh and blood to be the food and drink of the world. However, He did not explain at that time how His body and blood would serve as food and drink for spiritual nourishment of the world. A year later, the Passover (Pascha) was at hand. Jesus knew that He had to journey from that feast to the sacrifice on the Cross. He knew that His body had to be broken, and His blood had to be shed for the salvation of the world. He knew, too, that His disciples would grieve Him that night, and that one of them would even betray Him, and yet He said to them: “With desire I have desired to eat at this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Knowing what was to come, our Lord, on the night before His crucifixion, gathered with His disciples in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem for the Last Supper. As they were seated before a long, white banquet table their eyes were upon Jesus. He took one of the loaves of bread, blessed it and broke it, so that each of His disciples might have a portion. Then distributing it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matt 26:25). Obediently, eagerly, the Apostles accepted the Bread of Life.Then, taking a chalice Jesus poured into it some red wine of Palestine. He pronounced over it a blessing, rendered thanks to His Father and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” Matt 26:27-28). The chalice was passed from one to another, and they all drank of it. Thus, in the simplest and most sublime manner, Christ fulfilled His earlier promise to give His flesh as food and His blood as drink. It was not until after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, though, that the disciples understood this. We see then that at the Last Supper, the very night when our Lord was betrayed, He instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice. In order to perpetuate the memory of this Sacrifice for subsequent centuries until He should come again, He told His Apostles, “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). With these words our Lord gave them the power to do what He had done, which is to change bread and wine into His Body and Blood, namely, to consecrate the Holy Eucharist, which is the highest form of Thanksgiving to God that man has in his power to render. Indeed, God directs man to render this Thanksgiving in the form of the Divine Liturgy.The Holy Eucharist is participation in the Last Supper, and not a re-enactment of it. It is the same Sacrifice of the Cross, participated in sacramentally. The Apostles and the first Christians, obeying the Lord’s words, “do this in remembrance of Me”, gathered together every day in private homes and celebrated the Breaking of Bread, or what we know as the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

Understanding the Teachings of the Orthodox Church – Page 3

by Reverend Thomas Fitzgerald (edited)

The Divine Liturgy as celebrated In the Apostolic Age

From the beginning of the Christian Church, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist part of a common meal, called the “feast of love” (or Agapai), which was a symbol of Christian love. This Feast took place every evening and at its close the Holy Eucharist was consummated in which all participated; both rites, being regarded as forming one service, were called the “Lord’s Supper”. Prayers and benedictions were said, hymns were chanted and sermons were delivered (Matt 26:30, Acts 2:42 47, Eph 5: 19).The connection of the Feast of Love with the Holy Eucharist gave rise to abuses, which led, somewhat late in the Apostolic age, to the gradual separation of the two. The Holy Eucharist was performed in the morning and the Feast of Love in the evening. After the separation of the two rites, the Holy Eucharist was not celebrated every day, but on the morning of every first day of the week, namely, the Lord’s Day (Kyriaki), which the Christians set aside as the day to commemorate the Lord’s Resurrection (Acts 20:7, Rev 1:10). In addition, after the separation of the two rites a likeness of the Holy Eucharist was preserved with the Love Feast: breaking of bread and blessing of wine, without being Holy Eucharist. In later years it became a separate rite, performed, usually at the close of the vespers and called “Artoklasia” (breaking of bread). In those early years the celebration of the Holy Eucharist was the task of the Apostles. It was they, after all, who had assisted at the Last Supper. Therefore, it was natural that what our Lord had done and said was indelibly impressed upon their memories. Consequently, they did not need any liturgical book.However, as the number of Christians increased with time the celebration of the Holy Eucharist became a task of the Presbyters (priests) and Bishops, whom the Apostles ordained and to whom they transmitted, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the power of performing this Sacrament (in addition to the other Sacraments). Since then, prayers, supplications and hymns used in the Holy Eucharist were recorded in books. The various types of liturgies were written down for use by future generations up to and beyond our own.

Parts of the Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy is divided into several parts. Each part corresponds to a particular event of our Lord’s Life, thus giving to the Divine Liturgy the form of a corporate dramatic action, by which the whole Life of Christ is re-enacted, The priest and the worshippers (the latter’s role having been replaced now by the chanters or the choirs) have their distinct roles for the proper representation of the Divine Drama. Before every Divine Liturgy the Offertory is made, in which the priest in the Sanctuary prepares the Elements of the Sacrament for consecration. This part of the Liturgy commemorates Christ’s early Life, which was a preparation for His public ministry. The Offertory service is performed during Matins without being seen by the congregation, just as Christ’s early Life was not shown to the world as being the revelation of God’s Life (Matt 11:27, John 14:9). The Liturgy is divided into the Proskomide Service (preparation of the Offerings), Liturgy of the Catechumens, and Liturgy of the Faithful.These parts of the Divine Liturgy are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. For this reason, Orthodox Christians must attend the entire Divine Liturgy; and this they do not as a duty, but as a distinct privilege. They may feel unworthy to attend it, and yet they know that they are welcome by our Lord, Who numbers them among His chosen people (Matt. 20:16, John 10:14 16).

The Proskomide

The Proskomide is the service of “bringing the offered Gifts”. It is performed at a small side-altar to the left of the Holy Altar behind the Icon Screen where the gifts are prepared. It is also called Prothesis, the place and the act of placing and preparing the gifts. The Priest does the Proskomide while the morning prayer service (the Matins) is being sung by the chanters. The Priest takes a loaf of bread called Prosphoron which means “offering”. This has been specially prepared and has a seal impressed on the top. The center square of the seal has the initials of Jesus Christ and the Greek verb NIKA, which means “is victorious”, and represents the Lord, the Lamb of God. It is this which will be consecrated as the Body of Christ. The large triangle to the left represents the Virgin Mary. The nine smaller triangles to the right represent the Orders of Angels, Prophets, Saints, and Martyrs. The lower part of the Cross is removed and particles are taken from it to represent the souls of the living and of those departed this life.The Priest takes the Spear which represents the spear used by the Roman soldier who pierced the side of our Lord as He hung upon the Cross. With this the Priest cuts around the Lamb (the center square) and places it on the Disk. While piercing the left side with the Spear, he says, “One of the soldiers pierced His side and immediately blood and water came forth”. At the same time he pours wine and water into the Chalice. Then he cuts out the triangle representing the Virgin Mary as well as the nine smaller triangles representing the Heavenly Hosts. At this point he mentions the names of the living and departed, placing a particle on the Disk for each one. Finally the Priest offers a prayer for himself, and places an additional particle there. Then he places over the Disk the Asteriskos (Star). This object is formed of two strips of metal (either gold-plated or silver-plated), joined at the center and bent at the ends so that it will stand on the Disk. The Asteriskos symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Now the symbolism is complete: the newly born Christ surrounded by His Holy Mother, the ranks of the heavenly Hosts, and the earthly visitors who were privileged to see the Christ child, while over Him hangs the Star of Bethlehem. As the Priest places the Star over the Lamb, he recites the words, “And the star came and stood over the place where the child was” (Matt 2:19). Then he censes the Gifts. The smoke from the incense symbolizes prayer. As the smoke rises to Heaven, so the Prayers of the Priest and the faithful rise to Heaven. Next the Priest takes two small covers (Veils) shaped like crosses, and places one over the Disk and the other over the Chalice. Then he takes a large rectangular cover called the Aer and places this over the two together. Meanwhile he recites Psalm 93 praising the wonders of the universe. The covers represent the layers of the firmament. Aer means “air”, which in terms of our modern concept of the universe would be “space”.The Proskomide ends with the prayer of benediction. The Gifts have been prepared and remain at the side altar until the proper time for their removal during the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Liturgy of the Catechumens begins with the pronouncement, “Blessed be The Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages”.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

As he recites these words, the Priest makes the sign of the Cross with the Gospel Book. Then follow prayers in the form of petitions to which the choir responds with “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord, have mercy); hymn in honor of the Theotokos, the Son of God, and the Holy Trinity; also the hymn for the feast day and for the dedication of the Church. Then follows the most dramatic part of the Liturgy of the Catechumens, the Small Entrance. It is called “Small” because it anticipates the “Great Entrance” which is to come later. The Priest, accompanied by altar boys bearing candles or lamps, takes the Gospel Book, moves to the right of the Holy Altar and around behind it in order to come out of the left side door of the Icon Screen. He pauses facing the Royal Doors, holds up the Gospel Book and says, “Wisdom, Arise!”. This directs the congregation to be attentive to the wisdom contained in Jesus’ Gospels. The procession represents the coming of Christ to preach His Gospel message of salvation to the people. It dates back to the time when Christians were persecuted and had no place where they could openly display the Gospel Book. At this point in the service the Priest would go to the secret hiding place accompanied by his altar boys, remove the Book and bring it before the people to read from it. The candles carried by the altar boys symbolize the light of Christ’s teaching. “I am the Light of the world”, says the text on the Book which Christ is pictured holding on the icon to the right of the Royal Gate. The Small Entrance is followed by the readings. First comes the reading from the Apostle. This is in the form of an “Epistle” or letter. It is usually rea