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. (http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)

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

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

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

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

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.

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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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“[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 http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm

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“…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

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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.

from http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/

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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 http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

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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 http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

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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 http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

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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 http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/triumphalhymn/the_divine_liturgy_-_part_6

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