The Divine Liturgy
"Come, let us Worship and bow down before our King and God.
Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ, our King and God.
Come, let us worship and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and God."
This invitation marks the beginning of each day for the Orthodox Church.
It comes from the office of Vespers, and it expresses the attitude which is at the
heart of Orthodoxy. The Worship of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, – is
fundamental to the life and spirit of the Orthodox Church.
Since Worship is so important to Orthodoxy, the best introduction to the Orthodox
Church is for the non-Orthodox to attend the Divine Liturgy or the celebration of
one of the major Sacraments. At first, the visitor may be overwhelmed by the
music and the ceremonies, but it is in Worship that the distinctive flavor, rich
traditions, and living faith of Orthodoxy are truly experienced.
The following is a diagram of the Divine Liturgy:
- Beginning: The Liturgy starts with a blessing of the Kingdom of God, which includes the Sacred Body of Christ on earth; His Church.
- Petitions: They are small prayers which the priest offers especially for the peace of the world, with the people responding, Lord, have mercy.
- Antiphons: These are readings from the Old Testament, especially from Psalms 102 and 145, with refrains of Christian meanings and specifically references to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Entry with the Gospel: This entry represents the ancient practice when the priest took the Gospel by the light of torches from the crypt, an underground safeguard to protect the Gospel from destruction by the pagans, bringing it up to the Church. The priest lifts up the Gospel and exclaims: "Wisdom," which means Christ, and calls the people to worship and bow down to Christ.
- Trisagion: A short prayer praising the Holiness of God.
- Readings from the New Testament: (1) A part of the Book of Acts or the Epistles of the Apostles read by the reader. (2) Another section from the Gospels read by the priest. (The specific sections read are determined by the Church and are the same every year.)
- Sermon: It is incorporated as an exhortation from the priest to the people on the Good News of salvation. (The part of the service for the Catechumens is now omitted).
- Cherubic Hymn and Entry with the Holy Gifts: This is a procession with the yet unsanctified Species taken from the table of Preparation and brought to the Altar during which the Cherubic hymn is sung: "Let us put away all worldly care so that we may receive the King of all." (An addition made in the 9th century)
- Ectenia of the Oblation: They are small prayers completing "our supplications to the Lord". To these supplications the people respond, "Grant this, O Lord". The Prayer of Oblation is now inaudibly read by the Priest saying: "Enable us to offer to Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins."
- A Short Creed: This is a proclamation of the Holy Trinity in connection with brotherhood. It is chanted now before the Nicaean Creed.
- Creed: This is the concise and accurate confession of the Christian faith in 12 articles formulated by 1st, 2nd Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea in 325 A.D. (The Nicaean Creed is recited during every Liturgy, an addition made in the 9th century; prior to that time it was recited only during the Liturgy at Easter).
- Prayer of Sanctification: It includes dialogues of excerpts from the long prayer of sanctification which is now read inaudibly by the priest and which, in fact, is the very heart of the significance of the Divine Liturgy. The dialogues start with the offering of the Oblation (the Species, Bread and Wine), continues with blessings and the actual words of the Lord, "this is my body ... this is my blood," and climax in the sanctification of the Species. Now the Bread and Wine are lifted by the priest, who exclaims, "Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee, O Lord." At this time, generally the people kneel, and the choir sings: "We praise thee... we give thanks to thee, O Lord". In continuation, the priest commemorates the Saints and especially the Virgin Mary, as well as the faithful ones.
- Petitions: These are small prayers referring to the spiritual welfare of the city, the nation, the Church and the individual.
- Lord's Prayer: It is recited by the people; the priest follows it with the exaltation.
- Breaking the Lamb: At this point the priest elevates the Lamb (the consecrated Bread) saying: "The Holy things for those who are holy," and breaks it in commemoration of the actual Eucharist. Also at this time the priest pours warm water, zeon, into the Chalice, a reminiscence of the very primitive Church (see, Justin the Martyr).
- Prayers before Holy Communion and Partaking of the Holy Gifts by the Priest: Now the doors of the Altar are generally closed and the priest partakes of the Holy Gifts separately and then combines both Elements into the Chalice; a later practice of the Church.
- Holy Communion: Both the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ, combined in the Chalice, are given to the prepared faithful when the priest calls them to "draw near with reverence." In ancient times the Holy Gifts were given to the faithful separately, first the Body and then the Cup, from which the faithful drank in turn, as is the continued practice for the clergymen today.
- Thanksgiving Prayers: These are prayers of gratitude to Almighty God for the privilege which is given to the faithful to commune with Him.
- Dismissal Hymn: The priest calls the people to depart with a prayer by which he asks the Lord to "save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance." In conclusion he blesses the people, saying, "May the blessing of the Lord come upon you." The people seal the Liturgy by responding, "Amen." Blessed bread, antithoron, which means "instead of the Gift," is given to all at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.