The Beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful

This is the fifth 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.)

This week’s post will begin to look at the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Liturgy of the Faithful begins with the Litany of Fervent Supplication, and continues with the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, the Great Censing, and the Great Entrance. This is followed by the Litany of Supplication and (in some parishes) the Kiss of Peace. What are our children learning about the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful? Let’s take a few moments to find out!

Our children are learning that it is important for us to pray fervently throughout the Divine Liturgy. “These prayers have been compiled by the Church to make it possible for everyone to pray together, so that the liturgy will truly be the work of the people. In the Great Litany at the beginning of the liturgy we pray for ‘peace from above and the salvation of our souls, for our city and country, for seasonable weather and abundance of the fruits of the earth and for our deliverance from tribulation and anger.’ We start the liturgy by praying for our physical needs and as the service continues, we pray for our spiritual needs, for God’s blessing forgiveness of our sins and for our soul’s salvation… The greatest prayer of the church is at the Divine Liturgy.” (1)

Our children are learning what is happening during the Liturgy of the Faithful, even the parts that they may not be able to hear/see. For example, do you know what the priest does at the altar during the singing of the “Cherubic Hymn? Our children are learning about that! He “makes the sign of the cross over the antimins with the Gospel Book… The priest then places the Gospel Book upright before the tabernacle on the altar table; he unfolds the antimins and makes the sign of the cross over it with the sponge. The priest prays for himself, confesses his own unworthiness and prays to God to make him and the people worthy to be a part of His Kingdom. The priest then says the Cherubic Hymn, raising his hands and saying “Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing to the life-giving Trinity, the thrice-holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares: that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upborne by the Angelic Hosts. Alleluia.” (2)

DL11

Do you know what the priest is saying during the censing in the Liturgy of the Faithful? Our children do! “As the choir sings the Cherubic Hymn, the priest prays Psalm 50 and censes the people…” (3) My son, who is an altar server, assures me that the whole time our priest is censing, it is true: he is reciting this long Psalm! “But he stops in the middle of the Psalm, Mom! And then he finishes it later, after the Great Entrance.”

Do you know which icons the priest censes, and in which order? Our children do! “When censing the icons, the priest first censes the icon of Christ, then the Theotokos, then the rest of the icons on the iconostasis. ” See (2) above.

The first few times that our family visited an Orthodox church, when we arrived at this part of the service, I remember thinking that the Cherubic Hymn took such a long time to be sung! “But I just thought it was pretty!” said my upper-teens daughter (who had been 7 or 8 at that time) in a recent conversation about the song. So, while I was ready for the choir to sing a little faster, she was enjoying the angelic music, as should be the case! Our children are learning what to do during the Cherubic Hymn. “The choir now sings the Cherubic Hymn. A cherub is a type of angel. This hymn tells us to sing praises to God like the angels and put away any concerns we have.” See (3) above. “Singing the Cherubic Hymn, we forget our cares in this world so that we can draw closer to the Kingdom.” (4)

DL13

Our children are learning what happens during the Great Entrance, and what it represents. “During the Great Entrance, the gifts for the Eucharist in the chalice and on the discos are transferred from the preparation table to the altar, signifying the Church’s journey into the eternal Kingdom. In this solemn entrance, we acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice for us and completely offer ourselves to God.” See (4) above.

“This procession represents Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish holiday of the Passover, during which He was crucified.” (5)

“During this procession, the priest prays that the Lord God remember us all in his Kingdom – the prayer of the thief crucified with Christ. The petitions in the Great Entrance vary from parish to parish. In some parishes, the priest again prays for the bishop and all brethren in Christ, for the country’s leader and all civil authorities, and for named Orthodox servants of God, both living and departed. Each prayer ends with the prayer of the crucified thief: ‘the Lord God remember them in his Kingdom, always now and ever and unto ages of ages.’ After the last petition is prayed, the priest enters the sanctuary while the choir sings the remainder of the Cherubic Hymn… The priest places the holy gifts on the altar table. The priest says silent prayers… He then censes the gifts three times and prays quietly the last part of Psalm 50: “Then they shall offer young bullocks upon thy altar.” (You see? My son was right! The priest really does finish that Psalm AFTER the Great Entrance!)  (6)

Our children are learning what to do during the Great Entrance. “Listen to hear who the priest is praying for during the Great Entrance. Pray quietly for your family, loved ones, and anyone you think needs God’s help.” see (3) above.

DL14

Our children are learning about the Kiss of Peace, in the event that our parish practices exchanging it. “The Kiss of Peace is exchanged by celebrating clergy after the priest prays ‘Let us love one another that with one accord (mind) we may confess…’. (This prayer is completed by the choir.) Some parishes have brought back the custom of the exchange of the Kiss of Peace also among the faithful people. This is an outward expression of love, love that is necessary for the Divine Liturgy to proceed. Love is the foundation of life and fundamental to Christian truth.” (7)

When it comes to the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful, it seems that our children are learning so much about what is happening. They’re not just learning what’s going on, though: they are also learning how to respond and/or participate. We will do well to learn along with them, so that together we can all participate more fully in “the offering of the people for the whole world.”

Endnotes:

  1. Ashantin, Natalie, “Have You Talked With God Today?”Little Falcons # 39 “Prayer,” p.7. (Available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf )
  2. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #11. (Available here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)
  3. Timko-Hughes, Anna, The Divine Liturgy for Children: An Interactive Guide for Participation in the Divine Liturgy, Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Eduation Commission, 1996, p. 20-21. (Available here http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-divine-liturgy-for-children-an-interactive-guide/)
  4. Various, The Way the Truth the Life, Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Eduation Commission, 2003, p. 99, (available here http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/2214/0856/4733/OCEC-Catalog-2014.pdf)
  5. Ashanin, Natalie, “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God”, Little Falcons Magazine: #52, “Holy Liturgy” .p. 7, (available at Available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf )
  6. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #13. (Available here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)
  7. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #14. (Available here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)

 

Following are related quotes; the “grownup version” of what is going on during this part of the Divine Liturgy.

***

“It is now time for the sacrificial offering to God. There is only one true and acceptable offering with which God is pleased. It is the offering of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who offers himself eternally to the Father for the sins of the world.

“In Christ men can offer themselves and each other and all men and the entire world to God. Christ has united all things in himself, and has taken all things upon himself. Thus, in and through him, men can offer all that they are, and all that they have, to God the Father. They can do this because they are in Christ, and have received the Holy Spirit from him.

“At this moment in the Divine Liturgy the celebrant prays for himself, confessing his personal unworthiness and affirming that the only Priest of the Church is Jesus:

“For Thou art the One who offers and the One who is offered, the One who receives and the One who is given, O Christ our God…” ~http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-divine-liturgy/offertory-great-entrance

***

“The priest recites Psalm 50 (51). All the while, the priest is censing around the Holy Altar Table, the Icon Screen and the faithful. When the censing is complete, the priest makes three prostrations and venerates the Antimension and the Holy Altar Table. He then turns to the faithful and asks, “For those who love me, and for those who hate me, forgive me, a sinner.” Then, processing around the Holy Altar Table, he venerates the Holy Gifts, puts on the “Aer” (the cloth covering the priest puts around his shoulders), and picks up the Paten and Chalice for the Great Entrance.” http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

***

“The hymn… which is sung during the Great Entrance is not directed to God. Rather, it is a set of ‘spiritual rubrics’ providing not only a symbolic meaning to the transfer of the gifts, but also direction on how to relate to that transfer… We are speaking to ourselves with instructions on how to receive the King who moves among us on the way to His crucifixion on the Altar table… We are to put aside all worldly concerns. We are no longer to think about good weather, for civil rulers, the fruits of the earth, for travelers. We have prayed for those things. Now, there is only one thing needful: prepare to receive the King of all in our midst!” The Melody of Prayer by Stanley Harakas, p. 34

***

“As the choir concludes the Cherubic Hymn, the priest takes up the Paten and Chalice and, preceded by the acolytes carrying the cross, candles, fans (representing the Cherubim), and the censer, exits the Sanctuary through the North Door and processes around the church down the north aisle, and returning towards the Sanctuary down the center aisle. During the procession, the priest intones the words spoken to Christ on the Cross by the penitent thief, ‘May the Lord, our God, remember you all in His Kingdom, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.’ The choir responds, ‘Amen.’ If more than one priest is present, the priests turn to each other and say, ‘May the Lord, our God, remember your priesthood (or archpriesthood for a bishop) in His Kingdom, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.’

“Returning to the Sanctuary through the Royal Doors, the priest places the Paten and Chalice on the Antimension, which has been opened upon the Holy Altar Table, and covers them both with the Aer, which he has removed from around his shoulders. Having censed the Holy Gifts, the priest returns the censer to the Acolyte, concluding the Great Entrance.

“A pious custom has developed where the faithful reach out to touch the fringe of the priest’s garments as he passes during the Great Entrance. This is based upon the story of the woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years, and was healed simply by touching the fringe of Christ’s garments (see Mark 5:25-34). This practice should be encouraged to anyone who is in need of healing – physically or spiritually.” http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

***

“The ‘Completion Litany’ is so called because it begins with the petition, ‘Let us complete our prayer to the Lord.’ It is typical in Orthodoxy to title a hymn or section of the service with the first word or words of that hymn. The Completion Litany repeats a few of the petitions from the Great Litany, and then adds six new petitions:

  • For this whole day, that it may be perfect, holy, peaceful, and sinless, let us ask the Lord.
  • For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask the Lord.
  • For forgiveness and remission of our sins and transgressions, let us ask the Lord.
  • For things that are good and profitable to our souls, and for peace in the world, let us ask the Lord.
  • That we may complete the remainder of our lives in peace and penitence, let us ask the Lord.
  • That the end of our lives may be Christian, without pain, blameless and peaceful, and for a good account at the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord. The response to these petitions is not the customary, ‘Lord, have mercy,’ but rather, ‘Grant this, O Lord.’ The culmination of these petitions is the ‘Prayer of the Proskomide,’ which asks God to receive our prayer, to forgive us our sins, and to make us worthy to offer the Sacrifice about to be presented.” http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf

***

“Following the ‘Completion Litany,’ the priest turns to the faithful and blessing them, says, ‘Peace be to you.’ This peace is the same peace offered by Christ to His Disciples after His Resurrection (see John 20:19). The faithful reply by saying, ‘And with your spirit.’

“When the priest blesses the faithful, he makes the sign of the Cross in the air with his right hand by raising his hand and bringing it down, then he moves it to the left, and then right. The faithful, however, see it as going right to left, as the Orthodox make the sign of the Cross on their bodies (Christ rose to sit at the right hand of the Father). It has been surmised that in the West, the faithful began to imitate the motion of the priest, and not what they saw, in making the sign of the Cross from left to right. Furthermore, the priest makes with the fingers of his right hand four letters – ICXC (the Greek letters that make the initials for Jesus Christ). In this way, we are reminded that the blessing comes not from the priest as an individual, but from Christ our God, through the instrument of the priest.”

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

***

“Five times in the New Testament we are told to greet one another with a ‘Holy Kiss’ (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). This kiss is a sign of concord and reconciliation. Not only does this kiss signify the harmony of faith and love of the brethren, but it is also a symbol of repentance, as expressed in Matthew 5:23-24: ‘Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar; and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’

“Saint Maximus the Confessor further explains in his Mystagogy 17, ‘The spiritual kiss which is extended to all prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves in faith and love at the time of the revelation of the ineffable blessings to come.’ The Kiss therefore is not simply a greeting of those around you in the pews, nor is it an opportunity to ‘catch up’ with friends on a weekly basis.

“The Kiss of Peace is an opportunity for two Orthodox Christians to sit next to each other and worship God together. These Christians may have had a recent argument, maybe they have a habit of arguing, or perhaps they have made a lifetime of it – it makes no difference. What does make a difference is that these two Christians can worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – One God – in mutual agreement, and just before they declare their shared belief by proclaiming the Symbol of Faith, they can embrace and kiss one another in peace and mutual forgiveness.”

http://saintbarbara.net/articles/study_of_the_divine_liturgy.pdf
“Christ is in Our Midst! There is only love among us.  No remembrance of past wrongs, no prejudice, no expectations, only the reality of the God who lives in us and draws us as one into His body.” ~ http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/

***

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