The Orthodox Church has been called “the best kept secret in America.”
Why is the service called “The Divine Liturgy?”
Who is St. John Chrysostom? “Liturgy” comes from a Greek word that means “a common effort” and “divine” relates to the worship of God. So the Divine Liturgy is the common effort of Orthodox Christians to worship God. It is the primary public form of Orthodox Christian worship, wherein we celebrate the Eucharist — Holy Communion with God in Christ. The version of the Divine Liturgy celebrated on most Sundays is that of St. John Chrysostom, the 5th century Archbishop of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. We also use the slightly longer Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, the 4th century Archbishop of Caesarea, on 10 occasions each year.
The Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service of the Church. The most commonly celebrated forms of the Divine Liturgy are the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Liturgy of St. Basil, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, but there are other extant liturgies, such as the Liturgy of St. James, the Liturgy of St. Mark, the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, and the Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow. The Divine Liturgy is a eucharistic service. It contains two parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Word, at which the Scriptures are proclaimed and expounded; and the Liturgy of the Faithful, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the gifts of bread and wine are offered and consecrated. The Church teaches that the gifts truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but it has never dogmatized a particular formula for describing this transformation. The Prothesis (or Proskomedia), the service of preparing the holy gifts, can be considered a third part which precedes the Liturgy proper.
THE DIVINE LITURGY
Where Communion with God is Restored
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a dramatically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: “Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Food had always sustained the earthly existence of everyone, but in the Eucharist the Lord gave us a distinctively unique human food – bread and wine – that by the power of the Holy Spirit, has become our gift of life.
Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This change is not physical but mystical and sacramental. While the qualities of the bread and wine remain, we partake of the true Body and Blood of Christ. In the eucharistic meal God enters into such a communion of life that He feeds humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. In the words of St. Maximos the Confessor, Christ, “transmits to us divine life, making Himself eatable.” The Author of life shatters the limitations of our createdness. Christ acts so that “we might become sharers of divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
From the moment Christ instituted this Mystery, the Eucharist became the center of the Church’s life, and her most profound prayer. The Eucharist is both the source and the summit of our life in Christ. It is in the Eucharist that the Church is changed from a mere human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God. The Eucharist is the pre-eminent sacrament, as it completes all the others and recapitulates the entire economy of salvation. Through the Eucharist our new life in Christ is renewed and increased. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the life of God.
The Church is that place where heaven and earth are united, and where we can live as we were meant to be, as before the Fall. The Church’s Divine Liturgy is that place where the disunity that came with the Fall is put aside, and communion with God is restored. Our participation in the Divine Liturgy is the moment when we are restored to the Garden of Eden, and God and man walk together. The Divine Liturgy unites us to the Heavenly Banquet which is taking place before the Throne of God.
The Divine Liturgy transcends time, and space, uniting believers in the worship of the Kingdom of God along with all the heavenly hosts, the saints, and the celestial angels. To this end, everything in the Liturgy is seen as symbolic, yet also not just merely symbolic, but making the unseen reality manifest in our midst.
We do not attend the Divine Liturgy, but participate in the Divine Liturgy, for in communing with God, we receive the Bread of Life. The Liturgy lifts us up above the disordered and dysfunctional world, and we are placed on the path to restoration and wholeness, healed by the self-emptying love of Christ, and communion with God is restored.
With love in Christ,