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 http://www.light-n-life.com/melody-of-prayer-how-to-personally-experience-the-divine-liturgy.html), 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 http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm:
“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 http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/olit-prep.htm)
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 http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf) 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: http://www.light-n-life.com/melody-of-prayer-how-to-personally-experience-the-divine-liturgy.html
Teaching Pics: available at http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/2214/0856/4733/OCEC-Catalog-2014.pdf, page 15
Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Vestments” #57, “Bread” #48, and “Incense” #2: http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf
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 http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf.
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 http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm
“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 http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/
“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”