On the Divine Liturgy

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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 http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/lazyparent.htm.

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 http://preachersinstitute.com/2014/11/26/attending-church-part-2/ and http://preachersinstitute.com/2014/11/27/attending-church-part-3/.

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?

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

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“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 (http://www.littlefalcons.net/) 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 http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf. Both issues can help families to learn more about the Divine Liturgy.

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This wonderful book walks children through the Divine Liturgy with illustrations and suggestions for extending the learning and personalizing the prayers of the Liturgy: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-divine-liturgy-for-children-an-interactive-guide/

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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 http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-the-divine-liturgy/.

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“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 http://preachersinstitute.com/2014/11/25/attending-church-part-1/.

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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 http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf.

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One thought on “On the Divine Liturgy

  1. orthodoxchristianparenting Post author

    Carole Buleza, head of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, offers the following on the meaning of the words “The Divine Liturgy:”

    I wanted to write about another way to translate the words “Divine Liturgy.” As mentioned in the above blog, there is the commonly used, “the work of the people.” In The Way, The Truth, and The Life, we used “offering” as the definition of liturgy. But there is another, perhaps more accurate, translation.

    Bishop Basil told me he found ‘leitourgia’ in a book on early Byzantium as an offering done by the governor or other official, for the people, or on behalf of the people. It was very insightful. Since then I’ve looked up the word in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and found that definition, and others approximating ‘service’ and ‘ministry.’ One definition is ‘almsgiving.’ The common thread seems to be a kenotic or selfless action. Here are two definitions: “[Originally, 3009 (leitourgía) was service done by someone in an honorary religious or civic office, leaving a significant impact on the community. . . .]” (Strongs Greek: 3009 http://www.biblehub.com/greek/3009.htm) “A public office which a citizen undertakes to administer at his own expense.” http://www.bibletools.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G3009/leitourgia.htm

    I find two points interesting in regard to the above definitions. The service (work) was purposeful, and there were beneficiaries. I think these two points are true in the case of our Divine Liturgy, and have been overlooked in their significance.
    We gather and pray for many others, the beneficiaries.
    When we gather and manifest Church, we unite the Kingdom and the world. The Eucharist is offered, “on behalf of all and for all.” Therefore, the whole world is the beneficiary.
    The offering of the Eucharist occurs not only by the hand of the priest, but also by the participation and assent of the people, which is our way of serving during the Divine Liturgy.

    One of my favorite words regarding Orthodoxy is “life-giving.” I believe this extra understanding of liturgy makes it life-giving because it shows the activity to be purposeful. The 1 and ½ hours of liturgy, combined with the term “people’s work” does not help some children want to be at church. If we teach our little ones as they grow up that liturgy benefits those for whom we pray in the litanies; and that we become fully Church, (including Angels and saints); that heaven and earth touch; they will have the more true and purposeful reasons for coming to Divine Liturgy.

    So, perhaps a better way to translate the meaning of the name “Divine Liturgy” is to call it “the offering of the people, for the whole world.”

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