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    TALK ON

 THE INTERPRETATION AND

MEANING OF THE DIVINE LITURGY

Part 3      3rd May 2007

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In our first talk on the Divine Liturgy, I mentioned that it consists of three parts: The Preparation and office of Oblation, The Liturgy of the Catechumen and the Liturgy of the faithful. During the past two weeks we looked at the Preparation and Office of Oblation. Today we begin the Liturgy of the Catechumen. The Catechumen were those who were preparing to be baptized, but as yet had not been received as members of the Orthodox Church. The word comes from the Greek word Κατηχούμενος which means someone receiving instructions, someone receiving a catechism. They were allowed and expected to attend the service until just before the reading of the Creed when the Deacon cries out “The doors, The doors” and at that moment all the Catechumen had to leave the Church; the doors were closed and only the faithful, only those who were baptized were allowed to hear the consecration of the Mysteries that followed. Today we don’t have Catechumen, or at the least, are very few and are known to the Priest that we ignore this command to have them leave the Church, but rather allow them to stay until the end. One must remember that during the first few centuries of the Church, Baptisms were performed on grown ups, so there were thousands being instructed in the faith. Usually complete households were baptized and as new members arrived they would be baptized as infants. In time with all the adults being already baptized, baptism of infants prevailed.

So let us begin the Divine Liturgy. The Priest having prepared himself will give the opening blessing of the Liturgy.
“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: now and for ever world without end.”
Every holy rite begins with the doxology: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Intercourse with God consists of thanksgiving, doxology, confession and petition. The first of these is doxology, because it is fitting that we should not begin immediately with our petitions, but with glorifying the Lord for his power and his glory. Doxology has first place in any intercourse with God, but why does the Priest glorify the threefold nature of God by mentioning the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and not just say “Blessed is our God” as he says for Vespers or Mattins, or just simply “Blessed is the kingdom”? It is because it was through the Incarnation of the Lord that man learned that God was three Persons and the Mystery which is being performed is centred in the Incarnation. The Divine Liturgy is the Mystery of the presence of Christ. Therefore it is the revelation of the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because the presence of Christ is the same Kingdom of God. With our first talk on the Divine Liturgy we mentioned that the Divine Liturgy transcends our earthly time and becomes the banquet that the faithful shall enjoy at the Second Coming of Christ. Christ’s presence at the Divine Liturgy transforms earth to heaven. With the coming of Christ the door of the Kingdom was opened to man and with the Divine Liturgy we enter this door of the Kingdom and pre-partake of her good things. When the Priest gives the opening blessing, he takes up the Gospel book and makes with it the sign of the cross above the Holy Altar. So the first words of the Liturgy are a blessing and doxology, but the first action is a Cross. Why does the Priest at this point make the sign of the Cross? Because the Cross guides us to the Kingdom of Heaven. On the Cross hang the King of Glory and whilst on the Cross, the thief who was crucified on the right said “remember me O Lord in thy Kingdom. Before the Crucifixion, the Cross was a sign of condemnation and a curse, but now it has become an object of reverence and honour and is the foundation for our salvation. Through the Cross we found anew the way that leads to the Kingdom of God. We mentioned before that the Divine Liturgy transcends our earthly time and becomes the banquet at the Second Coming of Christ. Christ said that at the end of time, the Sign of the Son of Man shall appear in heaven. (St Matthew 24:30-31) The Sign is the Cross, thus we begin the new age with the Sign of the Cross as a herald pronouncing the Kingdom. So having said the opening blessing with the sign of the Cross, the faithful respond with Amen. The word Amen is Hebrew and means let it be, let it come to pass. We hear it many times during the Liturgy and it is the respond of the faithful and their participation and seal to what the Priest has said. By saying Amen, the people agree with the Priest and make all the petitions the Priest asks for their own, because the Divine Liturgy is not a work of the Priest alone but a work of all the people.
Immediately after the opening Doxology the Church teaches us the way in which we should pray.
“In peace let us pray unto the Lord.”
Without peace in our souls we cannot pray, without calmness of the thoughts we cannot concentrate on the task we have before us. Sin brought into man and the world confusion and turmoil and this turmoil doesn’t allow our thoughts to remain in prayer, but as soon as we start praying our minds begin to fill with other things that we should do or say. Only inner peace can help us keep our mind and soul on prayer and only Christ can give us this inner peace.
And so having asked for this inner peace we now ask for a different peace:
“For the Peace from on high and the salvation of our souls let us pray unto the Lord.”
With the first peace petition the church teaches us how to pray, with this second petition she now teaches us what we should first ask for: the peace of God and our salvation. This is how Christ taught us: to first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. The salvation of our souls means the Kingdom of God and the peace from on high signifies the righteousness of God of which St. Paul says: “the peace of God passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7.) This peace the Lord left with the Apostles when he ascended to the Father. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”. So first we strive for the peace which is possible among men and then for the peace which only God can give us. And this is the beginning of our intercourse with God, because he who is not at peace cannot pray aright and cannot expect any good to come from his prayer. If anger disturbs his soul or ill-feeling has driven out peace, his prayer will not obtain forgiveness of his sins, and still less will he receive any other grace. Only when we are at peace with ourselves and have received the peace from on high can we then pray for others.
To every petition the Priest makes, the faithful respond with “Kyrie eleison or Lord have mercy.” Why does the Priest ask the people to pray for so many different things and yet the people always ask for one thing only: for mercy?
To ask for God’s mercy is the same as asking for his Kingdom. Christ said “First seek ye the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you. (St Matthew 6:33)
But how do we know that the Kingdom of God is signified by his mercy? Christ speaking on the reward of the merciful, in one place says: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” and in another place says that they shall inherit the kingdom of God, thus proving that God’s mercy and the inheritance of the Kingdom are one and the same thing. Thus the prayer “Lord have mercy” is sufficient for the faithful, since its application is general.
So having prayed for inner peace, for Christ like peace, and our salvation we now turn our prayer to others. The Priest says:
“For the peace and union of the whole world, and for the good estate of the holy churches of God, let us pray unto the Lord.”
It is natural that we should now remember our fellow human beings and the whole world which suffers through battles and wars. The faithful must guard themselves from the dangers and sins of the world, but they are still members of the great family called the world and thus should take interest by remembering and praying for the correction and enlightenment and salvation of the fellow brothers. The Church expresses her ecumenical spirit of Christian faith and love asking God to stop the wars and bloodshed and bring unity to all of mankind. The second part of the petition: “for the good estate of the holy churches of God,” is directed at our Holy Church which from time to time develops internal problems due to her being made up of many local churches. At various times we have seen the Church divided by schismatics and at other times our Clergy have scandalized the people. Thus with one voice the faithful beseech God to preserve the Church in the faith so that people may be saved through her.
We next turn our thoughts to our own temple and to the people who have gathered to pray together.
“For this holy temple and for them that enter therein with faith, reverence and fear of God, let us pray unto the Lord.”
We pray that God will preserve the temple unshaken and safe from every kind of desecration and impiety. The temple is for Christians the sacred place where can be felt the presence of God and has been Sanctified for the worship of God. For those that enter the temple with faith, reverence and fear of God we ask that God grant them special graces. But at the same time it reminds us that we should enter the Church with piety and decency and our every movement within the Church should manifest our reverence and fear of God. It reminds us that we should keep silent and hear the words of the service. Our reverence for the place is also expressed by the way we dress, because the Church is not a place to have a fashion show or to show off our wealth.
The Priest continues:
“For our Archbishop [Name], for the honourable order of priesthood, and for the diaconate which is in Christ, for all the clergy and the people, let us pray unto the Lord.”
This petition is for all the clergy and the people who belong to flock of the Metropolitan or Archbishop mentioned. Each Metropolitan Bishop is called an Archbishop in his own Metropolitan area. He is the Head and authority of his Church and no other Bishop, not even a Patriarch, can interfere in the internal running of his area. With the person of the Bishop we see Christ himself and during the Divine Liturgy he is Christ’s representative sent to do his work. A Bishop has the responsibility for his flock and although God grants the Bishop and Priests the grace to carry out their duties, they do not cease to be men with weaknesses and illnesses. Therefore we pray for all the Priesthood, that God keep them in good health, to strengthen them bodily and spiritually so that they can carry out their duties with love and humility.
“For this city [village, monastery]; for every city and land, and for them that dwell therein with faith, let us pray unto the Lord.”
We are now told to turn our thoughts to where we live and to every city where Christians live. Of course our earthy homes are only temporary and our thoughts should dwell on our permanent dwellings in the Kingdom of God, but we should not stop being interested in the well being of all the inhabitants of the earth and especially our fellow citizens and fellow Christians of all the earth. Therefore we pray that God preserve all cities and land, from destruction, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, flood, fire and the sword, from invasion of enemies, civil war and sudden death.
“For fair seasons and the abundance of the fruits of the earth, let us pray unto the Lord.”
With this petition we now ask God for his blessing upon all the earth, to send the rain, the sun, the wind and everything else needed that we might have good crops and fruit in abundance. In our times when man continually destroys the natural order of the seasons by destroying the ozone layer, by interfering with the natural growth of crops, for quick gains, with fertilizers, insecticides and hormones that help produce lovely looking fruit, but harmful to our health, we need more than ever Gods interference and blessing.

“For them that travel by land, by water, by air; for the sick and the suffering, for those in captivity, And for their salvation, let us pray unto the Lord.”
This petition is especially touching as we now pray for all those who travel by various means, for the sick and the suffering, for those in captivity or prison and cannot be with us at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The dangers of travelling are indeed great, whether it be by car, train, ship or plane, and we ask God to protect them from all danger whilst on their journey. We are asked to remember them who are sick, to remember that many of our fellow men cannot attend Church because of illness or are in hospital awaiting an operation, but even among the congregation there are those who have illnesses and suffer greatly or who are burdened with many problems and have come to find comfort and relief from their daily suffering, for as Christ said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (St Matthew 11:28)
And we pray for those in captivity or in prison, that for whatsoever reason they find themselves there, they might, through our prayers, find the way to God and his Kingdom.

“That He may deliver us from all tribulation, wrath, danger and necessity, let us pray unto the Lord.”
We now beseech God to deliver us from every kind of suffering and pain, to protect us from all danger and necessity that has to do with our bodily and spiritual being.
But tribulations are also seen as medicinal because without them we cannot grow spiritually. For as we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (14:22). And as St. Paul says: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant. Later on however, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

“Succour, save, have mercy and preserve us, O God, by Thy grace.”
This last petition varies from all the previous petitions in that all the previous ended with the Priest asking the people to “pray unto the Lord.” In this case we ask God to help us, save, have mercy and preserve us by sending down his grace upon us. Basically with this petition we are saying that everything in our life depends on the power of God and his Divine Grace, because Divine Grace is capable of covering and curing all the spiritual and bodily needs of man.

“Mindful of our most holy and undefiled, most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
To commend ourselves and our whole life to God is not something easily done. It is not given to all to commend themselves to God and to place themselves in his care. For the words of commendation are not in themselves enough, it is also necessary that God should accept us. And we need assurance of this acceptance before we can concern ourselves only with the things of God. Do we have enough faith to abandon all anxiety for our own affairs and to confidently commit everything into God’s hands? Since this matter requires so much wisdom and thought, we do not make this commendation until we have first summoned to our aid the Most Holy Mother of God and all the saints and then after this we commend ourselves and our lives to God to be placed in his keeping.
To this the faithful reply “To thee O Lord.” In other words we are in total agreement with what the Church is asking us to do. To give ourselves totally to the guidance and caring providence of God: to accept without hesitations, complaints and moaning everything God will allow to happen to us whether it be pleasing or unpleasing to us.
Then the Priest will read the prayer of the first antiphon silently:
“O Lord our God, whose might is ineffable; whose glory passeth all understanding; whose mercy is infinite; whose love toward mankind is beyond utterance: do Thou, O Sovereign Lord, of Thy compassion look down upon us, and upon this holy temple; and bestow upon us, and upon them that now make their supplications with us, Thy bountiful goodness and mercy.”
God’s power and love for mankind cannot be expressed with human words; his mercy cannot be measured by human standards; his glory cannot be understood by the human mind. We acknowledge that God is beyond all human reasoning, but we also know that his love for us is not contained within barriers, because it was for us and for our salvation that he took upon himself the flesh of man and suffered all for our sakes. Therefore in his compassion for us, we beseech him to look upon us and to grant us everything we have asked of him.
The Priest then says aloud the doxology to the prayer:
“For unto Thee belong all glory, honour and worship, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”
Here we are confessing our belief that God is one in his nature, for unto Thee is in the singular tense, but at the same time we confess that God is Triune in his Hypostasis, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to each Person belongs all glory honour and worship.
It reminds us of the doxology mentioned in the book of Revelations whereby the angels approached the throne of God: “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12)
Next follows the singing of the first of three Antiphons. The Antiphons are Psalms from the Old testament and they are called Antiphons because in the early Church they were sung by the people who divided into two groups, each singing a verse in turn. The word literally means to voice a response which is what the two choirs do. There are two traditions to singing the Antiphons. The first and most ancient is to sing the complete Psalm which is rather lengthy. The First Antiphon is Psalm 102. This is rarely heard today except in some monasteries. Instead we now hear the shorter Antiphons that were sung on Great feast. We have not entirely removed the Psalm from the Liturgy but use various verses from it between each singing of “By the Prayers of the Mother of God.” Thus today we sing:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy Name.
By the Prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.
By the Prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us.
The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth all.
By the Prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us.”
But what is the meaning of the Antiphons, why do we at this point of the Liturgy sing Psalms from the Old Testament? The Divine Liturgy in its totality is the Mystery of the life of Christ. Each part of the Liturgy takes us to a certain period in Christ’s life. Thus the Antiphons represent the first stage of Christ’s appearance on earth, when he was not yet known by the multitudes; when he was in the world but the world knew him not, that is to say, the period before John the Baptist, before the lamp was lit. At that time, he still had need of the prophetic writings. But after He whose coming had been foretold appeared, he no longer needed the prophets. John the Baptist witnessed to his presence and pointed him out as the Lamb of God and the person whom the prophecies spoke about. So with the singing of the Psalms we relive the time of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. The Psalms do the work of the Baptist they prepare the way of the Lord and call us to receive him.
After the First Antiphon, we again make three petitions to the Lord.
“Again and again in peace, let us pray unto the Lord.”
“Succour, save, have mercy and preserve us, O God, by Thy grace.”
“Mindful of our most holy and undefiled, most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
This is not a repeat of the previous petitions. The Divine Liturgy is man’s journey to meet with God. With each step that we take closer to God we seek for new experiences of his grace, for God’s grace is without limits.
Now as before, the Priest says silently the prayer of the Second Antiphon:
“O Lord our God, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Preserve the fullness of Thy Church. Sanctify them that love the habitation of Thy house. Do Thou by Thy divine power exalt them unto glory; and forsake us not who put our trust in Thee.
For Thine is the might, and Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”
Here we ask God to save and bless the faithful Christians who are his beloved people, separated from the rest of the world and given to Christ the Head of the Church as an inheritance. Again we ask that he preserve every member of the Church and to sanctify all those that love and work for the bright and good appearance of the temple and to reward them with glory, and lastly not to forget and abandon us who have placed all our hopes and trust in him.
The choir now sings the Second Antiphon. The Second Antiphon is the singing of Psalm 145, but as with the First Antiphon, we rarely hear the complete Psalm, but use various verses from it between each singing of the Easter Antiphon “Save us, O Son of God, Thou who art risen from the dead, who sing to Thee, Alleluia.” We use the Easter Antiphon for Sundays because each Sunday is the feast of the Resurrection. On weekdays, instead of saying Thou who art risen from the dead, we say “Thou who art wonderful in the saints.”  The word Alleluia is Hebrew and means praise the Lord.
Then follows the Hymn:
“O Only-begotten Son and word of God, O Thou who art Immortal, yet for our salvation didst deign to be incarnate of the holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, and without change was made man. O Christ, our God, who was crucified for us, and by death didst overcome death. Being one of the Holy Trinity, glorified together with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, save us.”

 The hymn is said to have been written by the Emperor of Byzantium Justinian who ruled during the 6th century. The last two words of the hymn “Save us” are basically what we are seeking for; the rest is a theological statement of who Christ is. It acknowledges that Christ is the Immortal Son and Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who to save mankind became himself a man by taking flesh from the Virgin Mary without changing his Divine nature and by his death on the Cross overcame death.
Then we repeat the three petitions which begin with:
“Again and again in peace, let us pray unto the Lord.”
But as we said before we are not repeating ourselves but with each step that we take closer to God we seek for new experiences of his grace.
After the petitions the Priest again says silently the prayer of the Third Antiphon:
“O Thou who hast given us grace with one accord to make our common supplications unto Thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in Thy name Thou wilt grant their request: fulfil now, O Lord, the petitions of Thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting.
For Thou, O God, art good and loving-kind, and to Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”
We are now reminding the Lord of what he has promised: “That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) We are asking him to keep his promise and now fulfil it by granting us our petitions which are to our spiritual benefit.
Having finished the Prayer, the choir will now sing the Third Antiphon. Today this is usually the hymn of the day, for example: we are now still in the Easter Period so we sing Christ is risen. But in past times the choir sung the Beatitudes which we usually sing during our English Liturgy. The first two Antiphons represented the period before John the Baptist started to preach, before Christ publicly appeared to the multitudes. The Third antiphon now represents Christ showing himself to the World. He comes to John the Baptist to be baptized and John testifies that he is the Christ the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. God the Father also testifies that “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” After this Christ fasted and was tempted for forty days and then gave his first sermon. The sermon is known as the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes were part of that first sermon. Very appropriately they are now sung by the choir as the Priest lifts up the Gospel Book to make the Little Entrance. The raising of the Gospel symbolizes the manifestation of Christ for the Gospel always represents Christ in person. The Little Entrance is a central point in the Divine Liturgy. In times of Old this was the actual beginning of the Liturgy. This was the time when the Bishop entered the Church and his appearance was an image and type of Christ appearing to the world. This is where we will finish for today and start with at our next meeting.