This is the fourth in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us of what our children are learning about the service. That way we as a family can better understand what is happening around us during the Liturgy, and together we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!” (Photos courtesy of Teaching Pics: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics.)
Let us now look closely at the second part of The Liturgy of the Word, which begins with the reading of the Epistle. What happens during this important part of the Divine Liturgy? What are our children learning about it? How can we all best contribute to and benefit from this part of the service?
This part of the Divine Liturgy contains important readings from scripture; that’s how it got its name. “…The first part of the Liturgy –the “word” – contained all of the readings from the Old and New Testaments – the “Word” of God.” http://www.uocyouth.org/files/Download/hgh%20february%20liturgy%20of%20the%20word.pdf
Here’s a brief (grownup version) synopsis of what is happening during the Liturgy of the Word: “As an introduction to the first reading, a Psalm verse (Prokeimenon) is sung as a refrain, with other Psalm verses. The reader then reads a designated portion from an Epistle (letter by an Apostle) or the Acts of the Apostles (a short history of the Church in Jerusalem after Christ’s Resurrection). Before the Gospel is read, it is preceded by the refrain “Alleluia” sung three times along with selected Psalm verses. During the Alleluia, the altar, icons, temple, and people are incensed in preparation for hearing the holy Gospel and to remind us of God’s presence through His Word — Jesus Christ — in the Gospel. The deacon, if one is present, or a priest then reads the appointed Gospel of the day. The Gospel is the Word of God given to us as food and nourishment for our souls. This is followed by a sermon or time of instruction on what we have just heard in the Scriptures or on some other theme.
“The Liturgy of the Word… ends following the Litany of the Catechumens. This litany prays for those who are being instructed in the Faith and who are preparing for Baptism and admission into the Church… Today, throughout the world in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, [and in Latin America, as well] there are many people who are catechumens preparing for Baptism. They need our prayers, and the prayers of this litany. If nothing else, this litany reminds us again and again that we are to be a missionary and evangelizing Church — that is, a Church bringing the good news of the Gospel to those who have not come to believe in Christ and who are not members of His Body, the Holy Orthodox Church.” from “The Orthodox Liturgy Part 2: The Liturgy of the Word,” by Archimandrite Alexander Cutler, http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/olit-word.htm.
Our children are also learning about what happens at this part of the service. “Before we listen to the Gospel read in church, the priest says, ‘Let us attend!’ This means ‘pay attention.’ The church is censed. This lets us know that something important is to happen. First we hear a reading from the Epistles, letters of advice written by St. Paul. After this, we listen to the priest (or the deacon) read from the Holy Gospel Book… As we listen each Sunday to the reading of the Gospel, …we learn how Jesus lived and how He wants us to live. The priest explains the Gospel reading in his sermon and helps us to understand how we can make the lesson part of our life.” “Hearing God’s Words in Church” by Mick Mirovic, Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 12, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf. “As we listen, we gather His [our Savior’s] words into our minds and hearts as treasures…” The Way the Truth the Life, p. 31, available here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2013-2014_book_list_and_order_form.pdf.
Our children are learning about small details from the Liturgy, including what the word “prokeimenon” means and what the prokeimenon is. “The prokeimenon, which literally means “that which goes before,” is a verse from the Old Testament that is suited to the particular Epistle and prepares the people to listen.” Teaching Pics, back of picture #9, available at <a “http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics”>http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics.
Our children are learning what the Epistles are and why they are important for us: “Some of the apostles… wrote letters of instruction, or epistles, to the newly formed Christian communities. Many of these New Testament books bear the name of the community or person to whom they are written… These letters encourage the faithful to persevere despite obstacles, and sometimes chastise them for quarreling or immoral behavior. they are important because they continue to teach us how to live as Christians.” The Way the Truth the Life, p. 32, available here: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2013-2014_book_list_and_order_form.pdf
Our children are also learning where the Gospels came from and what the Gospel book is. “Everything that we know about Jesus Christ’s life on earth was written down by four of His friends and can be found in a book called the Holy Gospel. The book of the Gospel is really four books put together. We can always see this book on the altar table.” ~ from an article called “the Four Evangelists,” Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 5, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf
Our children are learning why the Gospels were written: “When we get a new tv or computer, we always read the instruction manual so that we will know how to make it work properly. The Gospels are our instruction manual in which God teaches us how to live our lives so that the ‘picture’ and the ‘sound’ of our lives are in focus, bringing us the joy and fulfillment which is God’s promise to us.” ~ “The Good News of the Gospel” by Natalie Ahanin, Little Falcons Magazine: “Holy Gospel” #55, p. 7, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf
Our children should also be learning about catechumens. We have the opportunity during every Divine Liturgy to pray for those people in our community and around the world who have not yet joined the Holy Orthodox Church. The Liturgy of the Word finishes with the chance to remember them in our prayers.
So, besides praying for catechumens, how can we best participate and help with this portion of “the offering of the people for the whole world?” There are a variety of ways: We contribute to the Liturgy of the Word by standing upright during the readings, to show our respect for God’s words. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives when we listen attentively to the Epistle and Gospel being read and to our priest’s homily. As mentioned above, we work together with the saints and angels on behalf of the catechumens when we pray the Litany of the Catechumens.
A little preparation ahead of time can help us to be ready for the Liturgy of the Word. When we have a little time to talk together, we should ask our children what they know about this part of the Divine Liturgy. We can discuss any or all of the above with our children, to make sure they understand, if there is any part that they didn’t already know about. Every Sunday, we should also prepare for this part of the service on our way to church. How? Well, for example, our family has a half hour commute to our parish. We have learned that this gives us enough time to pray together our morning prayers and begin to ready our minds for the forthcoming liturgy. As we drive, we also read together the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day. That way we have two opportunities to hear them, in the event that our minds should drift during one of them! Each family will need to think creatively, and discover the way that works for them, to prepare themselves for the Liturgy of the Word.
Following are some posts related to the Liturgy of the Word.
About the Liturgy of the Word: “Sometimes it is difficult for young people to understand the epistle and gospel readings. Each week ask them to explain the readings in their own words and guide them through the process.” ~ a suggestion from http://www.uocyouth.org/files/Download/hgh%20february%20liturgy%20of%20the%20word.pdf
About the Liturgy of the Word: “When Christ preached the gospel he gathered the apostles and sent them to preach his word. That is why the epistle is read at this point. Again, Christ continued to preach the gospel and to work miracles. Thus the gospel is read, either by the deacon (who represents the apostles) or by the priest (who represents Christ). Incense is offered between the epistle and the gospel reading, because of what has been said: we are Christ’s fragrance before God when we teach God’s word.” http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/theophilos_divine_liturgy.htm
This week’s Divine Liturgy blog focuses on the Holy Scriptures as they are read during the Divine Liturgy. Are you aware how much of the Divine Liturgy itself is actually scripture?!? Check out an abbreviated synopsis (in the form of an image embedded in the blog) here: http://www.theophany.org/services-scripture-in-the-divine-liturgy.php (If you want to go even more in-depth with this, read this http://www.scribd.com/doc/36956193/The-Scriptures-in-the-The-Divine-Liturgy#scribd.)
One way to prepare for the Gospel reading in Sunday’s Divine Liturgy is to read it together as a family beforehand. Another option is to listen to it! Each Sunday’s Gospel reading is presented in two formats (read straight from scripture and retold at an easier-to-understand level) here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Download printable pdfs of these readings; complete with thought-provoking questions written at 5 levels here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.
“In order to fulfil the words of Christ, you must know them! Read the Holy Gospel, penetrate its spirit, and make it the rule of your life.” ~ St. Nikon of Optina http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/originals/b6/59/91/b65991d7cefe06ff20e4be25dd2c1a38.jpg
“The Divine Liturgy as Teacher”
“How do we learn? Must be active participants in the process. Must prepare. This is not entertainment, but a life experience; the quality of that experience is up to us. Some are transformed into saints by their participation, others waste this powerful time by daydreaming, just trying to enjoy the music, or gutting it out. It is the same as in school (we get out of it what we put into it), but the lesson being taught is so much more important. The homily is part of that. If we have prepared through prayer, fasting, and the study of Scripture, then we will benefit from even the most dull preacher presenting the most formulaic sermon. Again, we control what we get out of the lesson. We need to work with the Holy Spirit so that God can speak whatever words we need to hear into our minds and hearts.” ~ from http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/