About Orthodox Worship - The Divine Liturgy

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Excerpt from the book Studime mni Ortodoksinë
by Father George C. Papademetriou, 2012.


The quintessential form of Orthodox worship as the Church is the Divine Liturgy. It is a bloodless sacrifice, whereby we receive the blessings of God and His Grace which gushes forth from the death of Christ on the Cross. The Divine Liturgy embodies the Holy Communion as the preeminent expression of man's thanksgiving to God. During the Divine Liturgy we partake of the life, suffering, and Resurrection of Christ, and we are called to partake of His immaculate Body and His precious Blood.

Icon: Communion of the Holy Apostles

The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is performed on most Sundays and holy days of the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church. The Divine Liturgy is founded on the life and saving work of Jesus Christ. There are other divine liturgies, which are variants of the same foundation and which are served on special holy days: the Liturgies of St. James (Jerusalem), of St. Mark (Alexandria), of St. Basil (Antioch) and of the Presanctified Gifts (Rome). All of these Liturgies originate from the eucharistic assemblies of the early Christians. Some changes, including some hymns, have been added since the time of St. John Chrysostom. However, the present Divine Liturgy is generally the same as St. John Chrysostom celebrated it in his own time.


The Components of the Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy consists of a series of actions and words, such as litanies and prayers of repentance, that guide the faithful toward Holy Communion. The life of Christ is manifested in the following symbolic actions:

  • Small Entrance - The priest carries the Holy Gospel (a golden book containing the four gospels which sits enthroned atop the Holy Table) in procession through the nave in the presence of all believers. This procession symbolizes the coming of Christ to earth in order to teach to all people Truth. Passages are read from the psalms and from the Apostle, and by the priest from the Holy Gospel in an elaborate manner.
  • Great Entrance - The priest processes around the nave of the church carrying the Holy Paten and the Cup, containing the bread and wine to be consecrated and offered in Holy Communion. This procession in the presence of the faithful symbolizes Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the eve of His crucifixion.
  • Anaphora – The Symbol of Faith, also called the Nicene Creed, pronounced by the faithful as the official statement of affirmation of our corporate faith, followed immediately by the remembrance of Christ's words and deeds at the Last Supper.
  • Offertory - With the priest’s exclamation, "Your own of Your own we offer to you in all and for all," the Church acknowledges the fact that all we are able to offer to God to save us is Him Who God offered to us through His Precious Body and Blood. The Orthodox faithful profess that the elements (bread and wine) are actually transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. At the Divine Liturgy, the elements offered are no longer just bread and wine, though they still retain that appearance. It is precisely the Holy Spirit who realizes this "change" and in this particularly important and sacred moment of the Liturgy, the faithful get down on their knees. Holy Communion is then offered to the Christian faithful who are baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox Church at the moment when the priest exits the sanctuary, proclaiming, "With the fear of God, faith and love, draw near."
  • Agape (Eucharist) – After Holy Communion, the priest reads closing prayers, and all believers receive the blessing of the priest, as well as the “antidoron” bread which symbolizes the “love feasts” (agape) which were celebrated by the early Christians. In the Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians witness to the saving work of Christ, and in a collective participation in Holy Communion, all peoples are united with Christ, the Savior of the world.


The Actions of the Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy consists of two main parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful, which are preceded by the Office of Preparation.

Although there are many symbolic interpretations of the Divine Liturgy, the most basic meaning is readily understandable in its actions and prayers.

Proskomedia Service

This service, called in English the Office of Preparation, begins with the priest coming before the holy table. He bows, making three metania, and quietly says three times, "O God, forgive me, a sinner, and have mercy on me." He takes one “prosphora” bread in his hands, raises it to his forehead with the seal facing up, and says, "You delivered us from the curse of the law by your precious Blood; nailed to the Cross and pierced by the spear, You poured forth a fountain of immortality upon mankind, our Savior, glory be to You.” And then he says, "Blessed be our God, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen."

Initially, the priest carves out the center of the seal bearing the inscription IC XC NIKA (meaning JESUS CHRIST IS VICTORIOUS) on all four corners of it. This portion of bread is called the Lamb (Amno), and it represents our Lord Who takes away the sins of the world. God is called the "Lamb" because as the sacrificial lamb of Old Testament accounts, He humbly and unhesitatingly accepted His death.

The priest cuts out the left side of the Lamb, saying, "As a blameless lamb before its sheared is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." And cutting off the upper part of the Lamb, he says: "In his humiliation, justice was denied Him." When cutting into the right part of the Lamb, he says, "As a sheep led to the slaughter." Then, the priest, sticking the spear sideways into the right of the “prosphora” loaf, dislodges the portion representing the Lamb, raising it up. As he raises it, he says, "For His life rises from the earth."

Next, the priest sets the Lamb portion upon the Paten upside down, and making a deep incision with the spear in his right hand over the letters NI, says, "One of the soldiers pierced His rib with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water; and he who saw it testified, and his testimony is true." The priest then, pouring wine and a little water into the Holy Chalice, blesses the mixture, saying: "Blessed be the union of your saints, always, now, and forever and ever. Amen."

Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Divine Liturgy begins for the faithful with the solemn proclamation: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen." With these words, the faithful are to meditate on the fact that in the Divine Liturgy the Church becomes the true presence of the Kingdom of the Trinitarian God on earth.Entrance With the Holy Gospel

Historically, the purpose of the first part of the Divine Liturgy, from the Apostolic Age onwards, was to form and guide the converts, called catechumens, during their period of instruction in the faith. For catechumens, those who were being catechized or instructed in the faith, the first part of the Divine Liturgy has a highly instructive quality because of its informative nature, the purpose of which is to involve converts in the collective action of the Church. As the Church, we unite as Christians who share a common faith in the Holy Trinity. We sing and pray as a people united in Christ, who are not limited by time, space, or social barriers.

The Small Entrance is the central action of the first part of the Liturgy. The clergy conduct a procession in which the priest lifts the Gospel book up, taking it from the sanctuary around the nave of the church. The procession aims to draw the attention of the faithful to the Holy Scripture and to the true presence of Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel. This liturgical action, consisting of a brief glimpse of the Book of Gospels, leads to the readings of the epistle, the gospel, and the homily.

Liturgy of the Faithful

In the Apostolic Age, the Church restricted the entry into its divine worship to only baptized believers who were not be in a state of grave sin. Only those few were allowed to stay for the second, more solemn part of the Divine Liturgy. A significant liturgical action, called the Great Entrance, marks the beginning of this portion of the Liturgy. The priest carries the offering of bread and wine in procession from the Table of Preparation, through the central nave of the church and to the holy table of the Holy Altar. However, before the oblation can proceed, we are required to love one another in order to perfectly confess our faith. In the primitive Church, the faithful in attendance gave each other a hug called the Kiss of Peace, which was exchanged at this point. After the symbolic kiss of Peace, all together, we unite our voices to confess the collective Faith we proclaim as the Church through the words of the Nicene Creed, also known as the Symbol of Faith.

Only now can we adequately offer the Holy Gifts of bread and wine to God the Father, by means of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the commandment our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to offer them in remembrance of Him. The offertory is a moment of great joy because through the oblation the powerful actions of God through which we have received the gift of salvation, and especially the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, are made present in our midst in all their power and significance. We call down the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and on our Offering of bread and wine, asking the Father that His Holy Spirit transform them for us into the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our thanksgiving and remembrance of the saving work of Christ Crucified, the Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Risen Christ among us through bread and wine.

The priest leaves the altar with the Holy Gifts, inviting the congregation to approach the Father with awe, faith, and love. Our communion of the sanctified Divine Gifts of the Eucharist represents not only the union between those who share Them, but also our union with God the Father in His Kingdom. In the community, the faithful approach the Holy Gifts and receive Christ under the species of Eucharistic bread and wine. The priest distributes the Holy Gifts to the believers using a single spoon. Since Holy Communion is an expression of our Faith as Church, receiving the Holy Gifts is reserved only for the baptized and chrismated faithful of the Orthodox Church.

The Divine Liturgy ends with the prayer of thanksgiving and the priest’s blessing. At the end of the Eucharist, the faithful approach to the front of the church to receive from the priest the Blessed Bread, called “Antidoro,” which is the portion of unused liturgical bread that was left over after the Office of Preparation and which is blessed to be distributed to everyone present, including non-Christians.


Rreth kësaj serie artikujsh

Studime mbi Orthodhoksinë, prezantohet këtu për të informuar ata njerëz që nuk janë krishterë orthodhoksë, por që po konsiderojnë pagëzimin dhe Krishtërimin të bëhen anëtarë të Kishës Orthodhokse, si dhe për të gjithë ata që dëshirojnë të thellojnë njohuritë e tyre të adhurimi hyjnor dhe tradita Apostolike.

Ato u shkruan nga At George C. Papademetriou, profesor i fakultetit të Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School në Brookline, Massachusetts.