Monthly Archives: December 2014

Gleanings From a Book: “Celebrating The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition” by AmandaEve Wigglesworth

For those of us Orthodox Christians who follow the new calendar, the feast of the Nativity is upon us! For those of us following the old calendar, it is rapidly approaching. For all of us, this is a season of celebrating Christ’s humble condescension to earth for us and for our salvation. It is truly a time for celebration! And what a joy to be able to celebrate Christmas not just for one day, but for all of the twelve days of Christmas! Are you looking for ideas for your family’s celebration? Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, by AmandaEve Wigglesworth, offers a variety of ideas for families to do together in the context of a family devotional time.

“After forty days of fasting and preparing for Christmas, we now begin the season of feasting! …There is a popular Christmas song called ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ in which a suitor gives presents each day to his true love. This song was written during a time when people would exchange one small gift a day throughout all twelve days… While the song is usually seen as a nonsense song, we can also use it to remind ourselves of the gifts God gives us… It is always good to be reminded of God in everything around us, so in each devotional, we will look at the Christian meanings given to the gifts in this popular song.” (p.9) The next few pages of the book go on to offer ideas of activities to do together throughout the season.

The bulk of the rest of the book walks the reader through each of the twelve days of Christmas, offering a short meditation on what is happening in our Orthodox Christian Faith on that particular day. Each meditation contains information about the feast or saint being commemorated that day; a related kontakion or troparion; and a short explanation of the Christian meanings behind both the number of the day as well as the gift offered in the song on that day of Christmas. Each day there is also a suggested related activity to do together as a family. Activities vary from Christmas caroling to making thank-you cards to crafts (ie: making a St. Genevieve’s luminaria and coloring a “stained glass” icon) to baking vasilopita (recipe included) to cleaning your house to prepare for your house blessing. The book concludes with appendices such as recipes, craft directions, and a craft pattern.

Families who are interested in learning more about their faith will do well to consider adding this book to their family library. The ideas and meditations in the book are a wonderful resource. Readers may only want to read through the book together as a family one time. Or, it could happen that the ideas in this book become the basis on which to begin a variety of family traditions related to the twelve days of Christmas.

Regardless, the reader is sure to agree with the back cover of the book: “With hymns, stories, meditations, and activities for each day as well as suggestions for the whole season, Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas provides an invaluable resource for families looking to restore this season to its rightful place in their lives.”

Christ is born! Glorify Him! May we indeed celebrate the twelve days of Christmas in reverence and joy!

Find more information about the book, including sample pages, here:

Following are blogs and articles related to the Orthodox Christian celebration of the twelve days of Christmas.


“The 12 Days of Christmas begins on December 25 as day 1, then extends for 11 more days to end on January 5. Some traditions begin counting day 1 of the 12 days on December 26 which would end the period on January 6.  Recently, we find some civil traditions celebrating the 12 days of Christmas 12 days BEFORE Christmas, but that is a new invention which some attribute to the merchants who want to increase sales for the season.” ~ from


“At Pascha, we all know that we greet one another by saying ‘Christ is risen!’ and responding ‘Truly He is risen!’ for 40 days. Did you know that there is a similar greeting for Christmas? We should greet everyone after the Divine Liturgy on the Nativity by proclaiming ‘Christ is born!’ The response is ‘Glorify Him!’ Continue using this greeting the entire 12 days of Christmas. Add the beautiful Katavasia of the Nativity, which this greeting comes from, to your family prayer during this period:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Christ comes from heaven; meet Him.

Christ is on earth exalt Him.

O you earth, sing to the Lord.

O your nations, praise Him in joy for He has been glorified.” ~ from


“I like the idea of Christmas starting instead of ending on December 25th. We usually don’t celebrate our own birthdays until the day they occur or later. So why do we, in effect, celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday (Nativity) so long in advance?” ~ from


“The birth of Christ and His baptism ought never to be divorced. Both events define the Christmas season. It imparts to the Christian the knowledge that Christ’s coming into the world and Christ’s sanctification of the waters makes our new life possible — a sonship by adoption accomplished through baptism.” ~ from


“We must share this light with the darkness of the world, working together with the Spirit of God in the redemption of creation through Christ our Lord. This Lord entered our world in the humility of a child born to die—being wrapped as an infant in burial cloths, as depicted in the Nativity icon—by his own death triumphed over death itself.

Ultimately, then, the meaning of both the Nativity of Christ and the entirety of the 12 Days of Christmas is the receiving and giving of Christ, who is truly the gift and the giver, the one who is received and distributed.” ~ from



On Entering into the Divine Liturgy With Prayers and Song

This is the third in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us parents of what our children are learning about the service. That way we can all better understand what is happening around us during the service, and then together as a  family we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!” Photo courtesy of Teaching Pics. (

In a prior blog, we studied the first part of the Divine Liturgy: the Preparation. The second part of the Divine Liturgy is The Liturgy of the Word. It “is much like the Jewish synagogue service, which consists of prayers, psalms and hymns, scripture readings, and a sermon. Catechumens [those preparing to enter the Body of Christ, the Church] were allowed to attend the Liturgy of the Word.” (p. 27, “The Divine Liturgy: an Explanation for Parents & Children,” Building an Orthodox Christian Family, from the archives of the Orthodox Family Life Journal)

Our family has not yet mastered the art of arriving for Orthros. We aim for the end of Orthros, and try to be in church for the Great Doxology. However, more often than not, of late, we are not yet in the nave at that time. Therefore, it is often during the Liturgy of the Word when we are quietly scrambling into the church: my son to the altar, my daughter and me to the choir, and my husband to the pew. As a result, we are still in the process of stilling our minds and entering into worship and we are not fully aware of what is happening around us. So, what are our children learning about the Liturgy of the Word that would be helpful for me to review, so that this Sunday I am ready regardless of how early I enter the service? As I researched, I discovered that our children are learning a lot about the Liturgy of the Word.

They are learning that the Liturgy of the Word allows us to enter a different world, where we pray for ourselves, the church, and the world as a whole.

“The Liturgy of the Catechumens begins with the words, ‘Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ From then on we are in a different world, one in which God is our King and Father.” by Natalie Ashanin, from Little Falcons Magazine #52, “”Holy Liturgy”,

“Our prayer begins with a litany in which the priest offers petitions and the people respond to each with, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ We pray for all in the church, and those in the world as well. We recognize our dependence on God for all aspects of life and ask for His mercy.” p. 152, The Way The Truth The Life by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission.

“In the Great Litany we pray for our country and our city for our leader, religious and secular, for abundance of the fruits of the earth – for all the things we need for our earthly life. Then we go on to pray for the things our spiritual life needs, for peace, forgiveness, remission of our sins, and for all things that are ‘good and profitable for our souls.’  ~ from “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God” by Natalie Ashanin, from Little Falcons Magazine #52, “”Holy Liturgy”, available at

Our children are learning about the music of the church and that it is not just the choir’s job to chant and sing that music.

“Our prayers continue in hymns called antiphons, which praise God for His blessings to us. We also sing at least one troparion, a hymn which honors the saint or event commemorated that day…” p. 152, The Way The Truth The Life by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission.

“Everyone who can sing at all should use their voice to praise God because our ability to sing is a gift from Him. It has been said that ‘He who sings, prays twice.’ You can begin learning how to sing in church by singing those parts of the liturgy which in many churches are sung by everyone…” ~ “Oh Come, Let us Sing to the Lord!” By Natalie Ashanin, from Little Falcons Magazine #22 “Music”, available at

Our children are learning that the Liturgy of the Word continues to remind us of Christ and His life on earth.

“When the priest brings out the book of the Gospel from a side door in the altar, it is a reminder of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when He walked the  roads of Palestine, teaching and healing. “ ~ from “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God” by Natalie Ashanin, from Little Falcons Magazine #52, “”Holy Liturgy”, available at

I hope that our family is able to arrive long before the Liturgy of the Word, this Sunday. But if it ends up being one of those “didn’t quite make it before that” Sundays again, at least I know what I am entering into. And now I also know what I will have missed.

Following are related quotes, ideas, and resources that can help us learn more about the Divine Liturgy.


“[The priest] gives the acclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit;” for through the incarnation of Christ we came to know the mystery of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Then the Litany of Peace and the prayers follow, because the Divine Liturgy is not only a recalling of the birth of Christ and his passion, but also a meditation to God for our sins.

Next the cantors, who represent the prophets — to whom alone the economy of Christ was known — sing from the Old Testament the hymn, “Bless the Lord O my soul.” Then follow “My soul magnifies the Lord,” and Christ’s first teaching, which was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” Now the lower gates are opened and the priest stands in front of them, looking at the people, signifying Christ who preaches the gospel to the people.

Christ did not remain only in Jerusalem, however, but says, “Let us go to the nearby town to preach there also, because for this I have come.” Therefore the priest too raises the Gospel, comes out to the people, and standing in the center says: “Wisdom! Stand aright!” — that is, the gospel is the only true and “upright” wisdom, and not the Greek or pagan one. For this reason too the people sing at this point, with joy, “Come, let us worship and bow down …;” and in former times they prostrated themselves to the ground.” ~ from


“…During the Divine Liturgy, it may seem as if we say, ‘Lord, have mercy’ many more times than necessary. Could we still be Orthodox if we didn’t ask repeatedly for God’s mercy? Probably not. Orthodox Christians recognize that we work out our salvation at every moment. As long as evil and sin exist, the Orthodox will repent and pray for His mercy. We ask not only that He look mercifully upon our sins, but that He be with us, in all our endeavors and at every moment, that our every breath may be pleasing to Him.” p. 152, The Way The Truth The Life by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission


A few thoughts/meditations on the Liturgy of the Word:

Blessed is the Kingdom…  The Great Litany.  The First Antiphon. The House of God as a thin place.

This is not just a hall, it is a place of power.  The barrier between earth and heaven dissolve here.  Thin places.  Our reality is being merged with the reality of the eternal worship that surrounds God’s throne.  The beauty of our church, the music, the chanting, the vestments, the incense, the cloud of confessors, and the angels who came here with us; all these are part of the majesty of heavenly worship into which we are being drawn.  We are like the Prophet Isaiah or the Apostle Paul or St. John the Theologian, allowed to experience things that the eye cannot see nor the mind comprehend.  If we open our hearts to this reality, we will be transformed by this mystical journey.

Little Litany.  The Second Antiphon.  Why so many litanies?  The linking of life and liturgy.

Why do we repeat things?  Because they are important.  Because they make us part of something greater.  When we pray, we are part of something magical: God working through us and with us to transform this world.  Our every moment throughout the week has been transformed by prayer; the Sunday Liturgy is the crowning of that prayer.

Little Litany.  The Third Antiphon.  The Little Entrance. The Little Entrance as the meeting of man and Word.

Historical beginning of the Liturgy.  Antiphons as the culmination of our preparation.  Danger of distilling the Liturgy down to its critical parts… we need time to adjust (the Liturgy as we celebrate it has already been pared down).  This part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word.  We are reminded of Christ’s earthly ministry, when He walked among us and taught us with His own lips.  The Little Entrance is often seen as a symbol of this ministry.  The hymns, bits of Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings are truths proclaimed by the Church and should be accepted and appreciated as the modern iteration of that time when God walked the earth.  He lives in the Church and its voice is His voice.



A little background on the Liturgy of the Word portion of the Divine Liturgy:

“The Kingdom of God: The Divine Liturgy begins with the proclamation, ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.’ With these words we are reminded that we are in the presence of the Holy Trinity – God. We have been raised up to the Kingdom to worship God along with the holy angels and the Saints (even if they look it, the pews are never empty!). God has also descended to be present with us on earth. The Liturgy takes place within time and space, and yet, it transcends time and space. 4 – In response to the above proclamation, we respond, ‘Amen.’ This is a Hebrew word meaning, ‘So be it,’ or, ‘It is so.’ What we are saying in a sense is, ‘I agree.’ The Liturgy retains this responsorial form throughout the service with the priest proclaiming and the people responding.

“The Work of the People: This brings us to the meaning of the word ‘Liturgy,’ which comes from the Greek words ‘laos,’ (meaning ‘people,’) and ‘ergos’ (meaning ‘work’). Thus, the Divine Liturgy is the ‘holy work of the people.’ The presence and participation of the faithful in the service are essential. In fact, if no one is present to receive Holy Communion, a priest cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Besides the theological reasons, it would be as absurd as a baptismal service with no one to baptize, or a wedding with no couple present. It is within this context that the Divine Liturgy takes place. We are invited every Sunday to encounter God in a way those of the Old Testament never had a chance. This encounter requires our attention, our timeliness, and our reverence. Let us seek to spend as much time within the Kingdom as possible. Let us also seek to share this opportunity with our fellow brethren, and encourage them to join us.” ~ from


We can discuss the Great Litany with our children outside of church, so that when we arrive at that portion of the Liturgy of the Word, we all know what we’re praying for, and why.

“The Great Litany: Immediately following the introductory proclamation, the priest intones eleven petitions, inviting the faithful to pray after each one (‘let us pray to the Lord’). The emphasis is on prayer! The faithful are led in prayer and given specific things to pray for. This is a time for earnest prayer concerning the following:

  1. In peace let us pray to the Lord – Prayer should be true and heartfelt. Our minds should not be cluttered with other things, distracted by the cares of the world.
  2. For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls – We ask God to send His peace upon us, and we pray for our salvation. This prayer is corporate – the entire Church praying together – just as our salvation is corporate. We pray that all of mankind is saved and comes to the knowledge of the Truth.
  3. For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the Holy Churches of God, and for the union of all – We pray for the unity of all mankind, both in civil and religious matters. We pray for world peace, but we also pray that the Churches of God remain unified.
  4. For this holy House, and for those who enter with faith, reverence, and the fear of God – We pray for the church we are in, and for those who worship with us. The Divine Liturgy is not a time to criticize our brethren, but it is a time to pray for them. We should enter the church with faith, reverence and the fear of God, participating in the service, and not being a distraction. The Divine Liturgy is not a time to chat, gossip, or send text messages – it is a time for prayer!
  5. For our Archbishop, the venerable Priesthood, for the deaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and the laity – The Orthodox Church is hierarchical, so we pray for the hierarchy of the Church, the leaders God has provided for us. First, our bishop, who is our spiritual leader. Then for the priests, our spiritual fathers. Next, we pray for the deacons who serve the Church. Finally, we pray for all the clergy and the people.
  6. For the President of our country, for those in civil authority, for our armed forces, and all the American nation – We pray for the country we live in, since we are residents of this land until we are called to be residents of the Promised Land. We also pray for the President, whether we like him or not. We also pray for all of those in civil authority, as well as our military personnel. This is not an endorsement of any political party, but rather we pray that ALL politicians make wise decisions, which allow us to live our lives according to our Orthodox Christian Faith.
  7. For this city, and for every city and country, and for the faithful who dwell therein – We pray for the city we are in, and for every city, once again emphasizing the universality of the Orthodox Christian Faith.
  8. For seasonable weather, for the abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times – We pray for favorable weather, which in ancient times was essential for growing crops. Today, it means protection from tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and the like. 5 –
  9. For those at sea, and those who travel by land or air, for the sick and the suffering, for captives, and for their salvation – We pray for those exposed to the dangers of traveling. Although the dangers have changed throughout the years, travelling is still a hazardous thing. Furthermore, we pray for those who are sick, suffering, and in captivity. Their salvation can have the dual meaning of being healed or freed, or of salvation from above.
  10. For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity.
  11. Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Your grace – These final two petitions are prayers to guard us from general calamities.

“Lord, Have Mercy: The response of the faithful to all of these petitions is, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ This is a simple response, yet it has numerous implications. ‘Lord, have mercy’ means that we are dependent upon God for all these things. ‘Lord, have mercy’ means that God is merciful – in fact, He is mercy personified. ‘Lord, have mercy’ means that we recognize our place in Creation, and acquiesce to our Creator. We speak volumes with this simple response.

“The Great Litany concludes by reminding us of the example of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints, and we are encouraged to commit ourselves and one another, and all our life to Christ our God. Then the priest prays, ‘O Lord, our God, Whose dominion is inconceivable and Whose glory is incomprehensible; Whose mercy is infinite, and Whose love for mankind is ineffable, do You, Yourself, O Master, in Your tender compassion look down upon us, and upon this Holy House, and grant us and those who pray with us, Your abundant mercies and compassions. For to You belong all glory, honor, and worship to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.’”~ from


Here are some helpful explanations of the different hymns that we sing in the Liturgy of the Word. Knowing this information can help us prepare our hearts to know what we’re singing; and can give us ideas of what to share with our children as they join in, as well.

“Savior, Save Us: Following the Great Litany, we sing a short hymn three times: ‘Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Savior, save us.’ It is a common misconception, due mostly to translation, that this hymn is directed to the Theotokos, and not to Christ. The hymn simply beseeches Christ the Savior to save us through the intercessions of His mother, the Theotokos.

“A Second Prayer: A second short litany concludes with the prayer, ‘Lord, our God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance; protect the whole body of Your Church, and sanctify those who love the beauty of Your House. Do You bestow Your Divine Power upon them, and do not forsake us, who place our hope in You. For Yours is the dominion, and Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.’

“Save Us, O Son of God: A second set of hymns is then sung, once again beseeching Christ, who rose from the dead, to save us. This hymn is also sung three times, followed by the dogmatic hymn, ‘O Only-begotten Son and Word of God, Who being immortal, yet did accept to be incarnate through the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary for our salvation, and without change did become man; and were crucified, O Christ our God, trampling down death by death; You, Who are one of the Holy Trinity and are glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.’ This hymn, composed by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, was intended to combat the heresies of the time, and to teach that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man.

“A Third Prayer: A third short litany concludes with the following prayer, ‘You, Who have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications to You, and Who promised that when two or three are gathered together in Your Name, You will grant their petitions; fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Your servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of Your Truth, and in the world to come life eternal. For You, O God, are good and love mankind, and to You we ascribe glory, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.’

“The Small Entrance: While the choir sings the hymn of the Resurrection, the priest makes a prostration and takes the Book of the Gospels from the Holy Altar, carrying it in procession through the North Door and to the center of the soleas. He then proclaims, ‘Wisdom! Arise!’ and chants the Entrance Hymn, “Come, let us fall down and worship Christ! Save us, O Son of God, ‘Who rose from the dead!’ at which point, the choir continues, ‘we sing to you: Alleluia!’ As the hymn concludes, the priest re-enters the Altar and returns the Book of the Gospels to the Holy Altar Table.

“The Hymns of the Day: Several hymns are then sung following the Small Entrance: 1) the Hymn of the Resurrection (There are eight hymns of the Resurrection, one for each of the eight tones in Byzantine music. These hymns change each week on a rotating basis – the first week being Tone One, the second week being Tone Two, and so on for the eight tones, until the ninth week when we go back to Tone One.); 2) the Hymn of the Feast or Saint of the Day (This hymn changes for each day of the year.); 3) the Hymn of the Church (St. Barbara in our case); and 4) the Kontakion of the Day (This hymn changes depending upon the festal cycle of the Church year). These hymns are usually sung by the choir, and they teach us about the Feasts and Saints commemorated that day.

“The Trisagion Hymn: Once all the hymns of the day are chanted, the Trisagion Hymn is sung while the priest recites a beautiful prayer, which speaks of the majesty and glory of God who is served by the Cherubim and Seraphim angels, and to Whom we ask for the forgiveness of our sins. We also ask in this prayer that we may be found worthy to be in His presence as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. All the while, the choir is singing the Trisagion Hymn three times: ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!’ When the choir finishes the hymn, the priest turns to the congregation and exhorts them to sing more fervently by exclaiming, ‘Dynamis,’ meaning, ‘With power!’ The hymn is repeated once more with, hopefully, a little more strength. ~ from


Singing during the Divine Liturgy, especially the myriad of petitions and songs found in the Liturgy of the Word, is not just for the chanter or choir.

“I recently attended a… feast day service… and the bishop… when we came to the litany, he turned to the people and said, ‘Let’s all sing these responses together!” and he led them from the throne…

“I don’t wanna just stand there and watch… Especially when the deacon or the priest is saying, ‘In peace, let US pray to the Lord!’ Who is he talking to? The chanters? The choir? He’s talking to us! He’s talking to the body of Christ! ‘In peace let us pray to the Lord!’ I’m called upon to  respond and to pray ‘Lord, have mercy.’ So, it is a corporate action in which everyone takes an active part and is a participant, and not only an attendant.

“…Father Alexander… offers a challenge to us: We need a re-discovery of the true spirit of worship, which is that of humility, reverence, fear of God, the awareness of being unworthy and yet standing in the presence of God Himself. And this is what is meant by the words of the petition, ‘With faith, reverence, and the fear of God, draw near.’” ~ Fr. John Finley, in

On Preparing for the Divine Liturgy

This is the second in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us parents of what our children are learning about the service. That way we can all better understand what is happening around us during the service, and then together as a  family we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!”


Some days I arrive at church and enter the Divine Liturgy with great determination to participate. Unfortunately, on other days, I simply walk in and hope for the best. I know how I should be entering into the liturgy: with a steadfast heart and focused mind; ready to actively participate in the communal work of offering up prayers, tithes, and my very time for the people of the whole world. After all, I should be already ready to jump in, on arrival: our family has a 30 minute drive to church, during which time we say our morning prayers and read the daily epistle, gospel, and saint-of-the-day reading. My heart should be ready: but some days, I struggle to jump right in and singlemindedly participate. Making that happen is not easy, even though I know that is exactly what I am supposed to do!


Stanley Harakas’ The Melody of Prayer: How to Personally Experience the Divine Liturgy (available at, says, “The text of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom invites the participation of the worshipper in concrete and specific fashion. No, one could even say that the text of the Liturgy begs, requires, yes demands participation. That without that participation a large portion of its riches remain closed to us.” (p. 15) I certainly don’t want to miss out on the riches of the Liturgy! Therefore, I must learn how to fully participate.  Later in the book, he says, “By understanding the general purpose and spirit of [each] section [of the Liturgy], one is able to enter it consciously, purposefully, and in tune with it… an appreciation for the structure and pattern of the service can enhance participation.” (p. 35) So, throughout the course of this series of blogs, I will focus on different parts of the Divine Liturgy, in hopes that we can all attune our hearts to each part, and participate as fully as possible.


The beginning of the Divine Liturgy lends itself to helping us to get ready to participate: it is filled with preparations, a “setting the stage,” if you will, for all that is to come. If we remember again (or learn, if we haven’t yet) what is happening as the priest prepares for and begins the Divine Liturgy, perhaps we will be better prepared to enter fully and be part of the service. Let’s review what happens at the beginning of the service, using materials that our children may also be using, so we can all be on the same page. “Most of us do not see the first of the three parts of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of Preparation. During this time, the priest vests, prays, and prepares the Gifts for consecration.” (The Way, the Truth, and the Life, p. 97)


The service begins with the Preparation.  The priest prepares himself by vesting. “The clergy… put on uniforms… special clothes known as vestments, when they are celebrating the liturgy or doing other services in the church. This sets them apart as being special and reminds them, and us, that we are to come into God’s presence not as we are, but ‘clothed with Christ and His love.’” from the Little Falcons issue on “Holy Vestments,” issue 57, pg 4. (Side note: did you know that “orare” means “to pray,” so when the deacon raises his orarion, we know it is time to pray?!? (pg. 6)) The article, “Holy Vestments – Robes of Glory,” p. 4 – 9 goes on to explain the many different articles of clothing that the priest wears. The article says, “Vestments are like icons for through them we see Christ. They tell us that the person wearing them is no longer just the person we know in everyday life. He is the one through whom Jesus is teaching and sanctifying us.” ~ p. 9 It continues, “When we see the priest clothed in his beautiful vestments which we can see, we know that we must clothe ourselves in beautiful spiritual vestments which we may not be able to see but which we can show through our actions as Christians why try to be holy and live as Jesus teaches.” ~ p. 9. As he putting on each piece of his vestments, the priest prays a related verse from the Psalms.


Once the clergy are vested, they move on to the next portion of the preparation service: the preparation of the bread for Holy Communion. Note: There is an explanation of the preparation of the offering of bread, a recipe which we can use to make our own loaf, and other bread-related information in the Little Falcons Magazine issue #48, “Bread.” There is so much happening in this part of the service, and it is a very meaning-filled sequence of events. I find it fascinating, and must share some of it with you because of how perfectly it relates to this time of the year as we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord. Here is a portion of the preparation service, as explained at

“First of all the prosphora (the bread for the Eucharist) is brought to the Church, representing the Virgin Mary when she was brought to the temple of the Lord by her parents. Imitating Zecharias, the priest takes it and places it in the ‘Holy of Holies,’ the Holy Table, while he puts on his vestments and gets himself ready for the proskomide — representing the years which the Virgin spent in the temple.

“Then the priest lifts it from the Holy Table and brings it to the prothesis, which symbolizes the journey to Bethlehem which the Virgin Mary took with Joseph because of the census. It was there that the Virgin, being with child (for the prosphora is marked with the name of Jesus Christ), gave birth to Christ in the cave, symbolized by the hollow cavity of the prothesis. ‘Then the child was laid in the manger,’ which is the paten.The covers denote the swaddling cloths. The asterisk represents the star which made its appearance. The thurible and the incense symbolize the gifts of the Magi.

“Isaiah says, ‘Unto us a child is born … and the government shall be upon his shoulders.’ This represents the cross, by means of which [Christ] conquered the enemy and reigned forever. And Christ himself says, ‘I did not come to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.’ Therefore the Church combines Christ’s birth with his death. She ‘gives birth’ to him from the Virgin, removing him with the lance saying, ‘As a Lamb he was brought forth to the slaughter…’ She also pierces the same Lamb on the right side…”


The Preparation service continues with the covering of the wine and bread and offering of incense. “Before the service, the priest prepares our gifts of bread and wine and censes them. Incense is a symbol of our prayer. The smoke goes up into the air, and reminds us that our prayers ascend to heaven for God to hear.” (Little Falcons Magazine #2, “Incense,” p. 19) (A little more background on incense, for your information: “Incense is made of resins that come from special trees, which are mixed with fragrant oils. It is then placed on a hot coal, which burns the incense and makes a sweet-smelling smoke. Because incense is expensive, when we burn it, it is an offering made to God…” from


After the censing, the priest prays that God will bless the human offerings of bread and wine. There is a dismissal that concludes the Preparation service. Then, everything (and hopefully everyone) is ready for the next part of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of the Word!


“We are invited every Sunday to encounter God in a way those of the Old Testament never had a chance. This encounter requires our attention, our timeliness, and our reverence. Let us seek to spend as much time within the Kingdom as possible. Let us also seek to share this opportunity with our fellow brethren, and encourage them to join us.” (from Because we are parents, it behooves us to share this opportunity with the “fellow brethren” living in our home: our children. And let us grow in the humility of allowing our little “fellow brethren” to reciprocate and encourage us to join in, as well. We will be ready to be in the Kingdom.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”



The Melody of Prayer: How to Personally Experience the Divine Liturgy by Stanley Harakas:

Teaching Pics: available at, page 15

Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Vestments” #57, “Bread” #48, and “Incense” #2:
Following are additional resources and quotes about the service of Preparation:


Two interesting tidbits on the clergy’s garments, found in the Little Falcons Magazine issue #57, “Holy Vestments,” on pp 7-9: The “epigonation,” the diamond shaped piece of stiffened cloth worn by married priests who hold a high office actually “originated as a knee protector when a sword was worn by secular officials so in the church it became the symbol of the sword of the spirit.” Also, the bishop’s omoforion is “often made of wool… it symbolizes the lost sheep which the good shepherd carries back to the flock on his shoulders.” Find more in the issue itself, available at



Review and/or practice “vesting” the clergy with the paper doll versions of a bishop, a priest, and a deacon with your own copy of  Build Your Own Bishop, Priest, and Deacon



In this season of preparing for celebrating the Nativity, the service of preparation is especially meaningful: “First of all the priest censes the holy prothesis and the whole altar and thanks God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was so pleased. Then he ascribes to God’s love for mankind that glory which the angels ascribed at the birth of Christ, the “Glory to God in the highest …” He does this inaudibly (“mystically”), since the angels revealed this privately only to the shepherds. He also shuts the lower doors, leaving the upper veil open, in order to show that the world below and the crowds of people did not know then, in the beginning, the birth of Christ, which was known only to those on high who had acquired the form of God: namely, the prophets and the patriarchs, as well as the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi.

Then he gives the acclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit;” for through the incarnation of Christ we came to know the mystery of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Then the Litany of Peace and the prayers follow, because the Divine Liturgy is not only a recalling of the birth of Christ and his passion, but also a meditation to God for our sins.” ~ from




“Through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we will participate in the transformation of ourselves into the Body of Christ and of this place into the very Throne Room of the Immortal, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God.  This is the balm to heal all wounds and The Way to perfection.  We are entering into the Kingdom of God.

Blessed is the Kingdom…’” ~ from


“We are on time, we are ready. And we know that this journey, this experience, will end at the Divine Banquet Table in the Kingdom of Heaven, where we are fed by our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. As we enter the Church, we reverently make the sign of the cross and venerate the icons… And now we wait for the words that will begin our journey: ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto sages of ages, Amen.’ As the priest chants these words, we know that we are on board for the journey of a lifetime: entering into the Kingdom of Heaven to be united with God.” Little Falcons Magazine, #52, “Holy Liturgy”

On the Divine Liturgy


The Divine Liturgy, the work of the people, is indeed work. I don’t know about you, but during the Liturgy, I often struggle. My eyes look all around me, my ears pick up all kinds of sounds unrelated to worship, my mind wanders, my feet complain, and I could go on and on about how poorly I attend to this work. In light of my own struggle, I will spend the next weeks focusing on the Divine Liturgy and sharing my learnings in this blog. Our children are learning about the Liturgy through their own experiences and observations in the context of Sunday Church School, and (if they are blessed to attend) at church camp as well. It is important that we as parents learn along with them, and add to that learning in whatever ways we can. It is my hope that whatever I encounter and share here will be helpful to all of us as we lead our families towards Christ and His Church.

Building an Orthodox Christian Family, A Handbook for Parents from the Archives of the Orthodox Family Life Journal (unfortunately no longer in print) offers a wonderfully helpful section about the Divine Liturgy. One article, “The Divine Liturgy: an Explanation for Parents & Children” (p. 27- 33) discusses the origin of the name “liturgy.” “In the world of the Roman Empire, the Greek word Liturgy meant ‘any public work’ or ‘work done for the common good.’ Thus the freemen stood in the forum, voted, and took part in the liturgy or public work of the Roman state. The assembly of Christians, free and slave, who stood in the church building and prayed, was a work done for the spiritual welfare and well-being of all, and was called the Divine Liturgy. The prayers of the Orthodox Church’s Liturgy are believed to uphold the whole world.” (p. 27)

Wow: upholding the whole world sounds like important work. It seems that it may be important for me (and for all of us) to better focus and participate fully when I’m in church! So, where do I begin? What can I do to truly be a part of “the work of the people” during church, and how can I help my children to do the same?

The Orthodox Family Life Journal offers the following helpful article by Nichola Krause: “What are we supposed to do in Church?” (reprinted with permission)

“The word ‘liturgy’ means work! Everyone — men and women, adults and children — works together in Church to praise God and ask for His mercy and help, led by the priest and deacons. This work of worship is hard, and there are no shortcuts.

“The services of the Church are also where we learn about God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — by learning and then participating in the living Tradition of the Church. We do what the Apostles did, because they taught their parish families what Jesus and the Holy Spirit revealed to them, and those early Christians taught their children, and those children taught their children… The Faith we Orthodox Christians live is the Faith of the Apostles, ‘deposited’ with us through the Church.

“Teaching a child to be an Orthodox Christian — and what that means every day — takes a huge commitment and constant effort on the part of the parents and godparents. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way, or were shown to us by people much wiser…”

The article goes on to list practical ideas of how to help our children in their early years (from birth to kindergarten age) to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Find the article in its entirety at

My own family converted into the Holy Orthodox Church from a Protestant denomination when our children were 7 and 4, nearly past the ages targeted by that article. The article would have been helpful to me, though, in spite of our children’s ages, because of its practical ideas. For our children initially, the change from a more “entertainment-style” church service (complete with a separate children’s church during the adults’ service) to Divine Liturgy was difficult. But it didn’t take long for both of them to come to love the reverence and beauty of the Divine Liturgy, and now they are finding where their place is in “the work of the people.”
Our daughter (now 18) tells the story of how embarrassed she was on her first visit to an Orthodox church, when we did what we had always done and brought toys, books, and games to keep her and her little brother busy during the service. Looking back, she thinks of how noisy she felt that she was, compared to everyone else who was quietly standing and participating in the Liturgy. She quickly realized that she wanted to be reverent and participatory, too. Soon after we began attending Divine Liturgy regularly, she was adding her beautiful voice and musical gifts to the choir every Sunday. She found a way to contribute her part to ‘the work of the people.’

Our son (now 15) says this about the Liturgy and how he handles the challenge of focusing: “It’s (too) complicated to say it’s ‘just a service.’ It isn’t just a service: there are more layers. There are people with different roles that help to create this beautiful thing that is not ‘just’ a service. You have chanters, priests, deacons, altar servers: even the lay people have roles and jobs in the church that make it so fascinating. The reason I like being an altar server is because I can do work and have something to do and not just stand there and let my mind wander during the service. It is nice to have something to focus on. If I was just standing there and not doing anything, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting. Well, maybe ‘interesting’ isn’t the right word; it shouldn’t be interesting because it’s work! The reason that you want to come back week after week is because of what you do and your level of interest in that (work). It’s sort of like (when) you like something so much that you do it week (after) week. (It’s) kind of like salvation; it’s a struggle day-to-day, but the more you work at it, the farther you go along.” Our son loves to serve in the altar and in that way contributes what he can to “the work of the people.”

It seems that my children are learning to shoulder their share of the work, despite their mother’s struggles. Glory to God!

Our family belongs to a parish which bears the name of St. John Chrysostom. His words mean a lot to us because he is our patron saint. As I researched for this blog, I found these quotes of his:

“Let’s prefer attending church to any other occupation or care. Let’s run eagerly to church, no matter where we are. Be careful, however. Let no one enter this sacred area having earthly cares or distractions or fears. Once we have left all these outside the gates of the church, then let’s pass inside, because we are entering the palaces of Heaven. We are stepping on places that are brightly shining…”

“…O woe! You are in the Divine Liturgy, and while the Royal Table is prepared, while the Lamb of God is sacrificed for your sake, while the priest is struggling for your salvation, you are indifferent. At the time when the six-winged Seraphim cover their faces from awe and all the heavenly powers together with the priest beseech God for you, at the moment the fire of the Holy Spirit descends from Heaven and the blood of Christ is shed from His immaculate side in the holy Chalice, at this moment, I wonder, doesn’t your conscience censure you for your lack of attention? Think, O my man, before Whom you are standing at the time of the dreadful mystagogy [divine service], and together with whom—the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and all the heavenly powers. Consider together with whom you are chanting and praying. This should suffice for you to come to your senses, when you recall that, while you have a material body, you are granted to hymn the Lord of creation together with the bodiless angels.

“So don’t partake in that sacred hymnody with indifference. Don’t have your mind on earthly thoughts. Chase away every earthly thought and ascend mentally to Heaven, near to the throne of God…”  St. John Chrysostom, from and

Ouch. Clearly, I still have much work to do. I have not been faithfully carrying my share of “the work of the people,” and it has serious repercussions. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar place. May the Lord have mercy on us all and save (and help!) us!

What about you? Does this sound at all familiar to you? What have you been learning about the Divine Liturgy? How can we help each other to better lead our families to Christ and His Church through the Divine Liturgy?


Following are related quotes, ideas, and resources that can help us learn more about the Divine Liturgy.


“Do you sometimes feel that the liturgy is too long and complicated for you? If you do, it’s probably because you don’t understand what is going on…” So begins Natalie Ashanin’s article “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God,” from the “Holy Liturgy” edition of Little Falcons Magazine.  Little Falcons Magazine ( is an Orthodox Christian children’s magazine full of informative articles, stories, and activity pages geared around a theme. Back issues are often available. If you are interested in ordering the above mentioned “Holy Liturgy” (#52) edition, or “God’s Kingdom” (#16), visit Both issues can help families to learn more about the Divine Liturgy.


This wonderful book walks children through the Divine Liturgy with illustrations and suggestions for extending the learning and personalizing the prayers of the Liturgy:


This delightfully child-sized book offers the basics of the Liturgy, along with beautiful color illustrations. The book’s words are purposefully sparse, “to encourage their (the readers’) attention forward, toward the altar.” ~ A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy, p. 1. Available at


“The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life. Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life. It raises up your train of thought and doesn’t allow you to remember present things. It transports you from earth to Heaven. And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed — and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among the believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing—what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church.” ~ St. John Chrysostom, as quoted here


When Prince Vladimir of the Russian principality of Kiev in the 10th century was searching for the true faith for himself and his people, he sent messengers to the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God in Constantinople. When they returned, they reported to him,Nowhere did we see anything as beautiful as what we saw during the services. We did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven.” The Orthodox Church is like a heaven on earth, and during the Divine Liturgy we experience that. ~ from “The Church – an Icon of God’s Kingdom,” by from Little Falcons issue #16, “God’s Kingdom,” available at