Category Archives: Participation

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Singing Together at Bedtime

As we continue our series on bedtime traditions, it is time to take a look at the practice of singing which some families include as part of their nightly bedtime ritual. Some families find bedtime to be a good time to sing together as a family, while others do not for various reasons. Our survey asked participants if they sing together at bedtime. Here is what we learned:
28% of our survey participants said that they sing together, and that they do so every night.
34% said that they do not sing together at bedtime.
38% sing together some nights, but not every night.

We then asked the participants who sing together as a family what they sing. They responded:
25% We sing our children’s favorite songs.
3% We sing the troparion of the day.
21% We sing the festal hymn of the most recent feast.
2% We sing the hymns to the saint of the day.
34% We do not sing together at bedtime.
(Apparently the other 15% sing other songs which were not listed as survey options.)

Some survey respondents sent us specifics of what they sing. Here is what they said:

  • hymns from the liturgy to help them learn (and pray of course)
  • St Raphael’s troparion
  • We sing different songs from the Great Liturgy. As my daughter learns a new song in the liturgy, we talk about it and practice singing it.
  • “O Heavenly King”,“Our Father”, and finish prayers with the “Hymn to the Theotokos”
  • Trisagion, various hymns
  • Usually we sing some of the prayers during evening prayers such as “O Gladsome Light” or “More Honorable than the Cherubim”.
  • Whatever hymns we are learning at the time & the Jesus Prayer
  • Whatever comes to mind from church or Camp Nazareth campfires
  • We often sing the Vespers or compline prayers of Western Rite Orthodoxy
  • Chant hymns from vespers
  • “Oh Gladsome Light”
  • Hymns from Divine Liturgy
  • nursery rhymes
  • Christian classic hymns
  • Usually soothing, slow hymns. “Jesus Remember Me”, “the Great Doxology”, “the Beatitudes”
  • “Hymn to the Theotokos”, “Our Father”
  • other favorite hymns
  • We always sing “All Praise to Thee, My God This Night” — to the tune of the Tallis Canon.
  • Occasionally our child asks for another “church song” and we always sing a Theotokion.
  • “Oh Heavenly King”
  • The apolytikia of our patron saints
  • Gigi Shadid music
  • “Christ is Risen”, “Lord I Call”, antiphons
  • We sometimes sing a song from Compline or I sing a bedtime song if requested.

As we prepared for this blog post, we discovered that research shows that there are many reasons why we should sing with children. Unfortunately, for whatever reason (perhaps some of us feel less-than-confident with our singing ability) many of us do not sing often or at all with our children. We may wonder if bedtime is really a good time for singing to/with children. If it is, what should we sing? Here are some links to information that we discovered about the importance of singing with children; suggested ways to improve our own singing confidence; reasons why bedtime is a good time to sing; and where to find great kids’ music (both secular and Orthodox) to sing to (and with!) our children at bedtime. So, read up, and let’s get singing!

Why is important to sing with kids?

There are at least ten things babies learn when we sing to them: https://families.naeyc.org/article/10-ways-babies-learn-when-we-sing

Music stimulates endorphins and creates security for children while helping them learn language: http://oureverydaylife.com/benefits-singing-children-16177.html

Singing helps children learn to play with (and love) language so that reading and understanding is easier for them later: http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=927

Live interactive music helps children’s speech develop: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/may/08/singing-children-development-language-skills

What if I think I sing poorly and am ashamed to sing?

Find basic tips for strengthening your singing skills here: http://www.wikihow.com/Sing-With-Confidence

This article lists detailed ways to improve your singing skills: https://spinditty.com/learning/6-Tips-to-Better-Singing

Find a few free singing lessons here: http://feliciaricci.com/i-hate-my-singing-voice-help/

Is it important to sing with children at bedtime?

This article lists some of the benefits of lullabies, as well as encouragement for parents who are hesitant singers: http://www.education.com/reference/article/importance-lullabies/

Read about the importance of singing lullabies at bedtime in this article: http://www.parentguide.ca/2015/09/the-importance-of-lullabies-2/

Find an official paper from the International Journal of Business and Social Science on this topic here: http://ijbssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_7_April_2012/35.pdf

Here are a few secular bedtime song suggestions:

This post offers specific bedtime song suggestions, complete with lyrics and links to performances of the songs, in case you are not familiar with them: http://www.everydayfamily.com/slideshow/15-perfect-songs-sing-little-one-sleep/

This article offers a list of lullabies to sing to your children, and recommends a musician that can help you learn even more: http://modernmomlife.com/bedtime-songs-for-kids/

Where can I find Orthodox Christian music to sing with my kids?

Find information about how to help your children learn about Orthodox Christian music here: http://www.antiochian.org/music/liturgical-music-children

This blog post is old, but offers some Orthodox recording artists and/or titles that may be helpful: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/orthodox-music-for-kids.html

Khouria Gigi Shadid has been making Orthodox Children’s music for many years. Find her music for sale here: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/GigiBabaShadid

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On Helping Children to Participate in the Divine Liturgy

We attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and sometimes during the week as well. Admittedly, there are times when it may seem like a long service to us adults, and it is certainly even more so to our children, for whom time feels different. Depending on the child, their age, and their ability to understand what is going on, the Liturgy can seem a daunting service. Getting beyond merely attending (being present) to truly ATTENDING (paying attention and participating) is not easy for any of us, especially for children.

Some have translated the words ‘Divine Liturgy’ as “the work of the people.” Perhaps a better translation is “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Either way, it is the people who do the work or the offering. The Orthodox Church considers all of its members, including children, to be an important part of the Church’s life. Therefore it follows that even the children are needed to do this work/give this offering. So, if it is important that every member of the parish participate in this work/offering, but if it is a challenge even for adults to be fully present and engaged, what can be done to help the children? This blog post will offer a few suggestions, as well as links full of even more ideas of ways that all adults in a parish can help the children of their parish to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Regardless of our status as adults: whether we are parents, godparents, Sunday Church School teachers, or any other adult in a parish, we share the responsibility for helping to raise the children who are a part of our parish.

Rather than focus on the things children should NOT do during the Divine Liturgy, we will frame this blog post more positively. Here are things that children CAN AND SHOULD do during the Liturgy to participate more fully. (I will include a few personal anecdotes as well, to serve as illustrations for some of the ideas.) Children in our parishes can:

See – The very tiniest among us can see the candles, at the icons, at the clergy, at the choir… (For an idea of how to do so: I have always loved watching my husband during the first moments that he holds our godchildren during a Liturgy when they are still very young. I am in the choir, not with him, but I know what is happening. He whispers, “Where’s Jesus? Can you see Jesus? Can you see Mary, His mother?” and I know that he is pointing their thoughts towards why we are in church: to be in God’s presence and to lift our hearts and minds towards Him.) Young preschoolers can look for items in the church such as crosses, animals, the color of Jesus’ robe, etc. Older preschoolers can count how many of those items they see, how many candles are burning in front of Jesus’ icon today, etc. Young elementary students can look for the icon of St. John the Forerunner, the Evangelist whose Gospel we hear during the service, what’s in the window by the Theotokos in the icon of the Annunciation, etc. The list of things to look for is limitless. It takes a little adult pre-planning to think of things for the children to look for, as well as placement in the sanctuary that allows the children to be able to see, but throughout the Liturgy, the children’s attention can be directed to look for things in the icons or in the service itself.

Kiss – Even very tiny children can show their love for God and their veneration of the saints by kissing the icons, the Gospel book, the cross, the priest’s hand, and even their fellow parishioners. (When our baby goddaughter and I arrive at the icon of Christ after communion, I whisper, “Let’s kiss the icon of Jesus. We love you, Jesus! Thank you for giving us your Body and Blood so we can live more like you this week!” and then I venerate the icon. She has yet to kiss the icon, but I know that she will, in time. And in the meantime, she looks intently in His eyes while we have that quiet moment together. We have an older goddaughter who has taken a while to be willing to do any of this kissing, but she has begun to do so. She just needed some time and to be willing to do this on her own. That’s okay!) Be sure to include the children around you in the Kiss of Peace, as well. Encourage your own children to make peace with their siblings before church; or during the Kiss of Peace if need be.

Talk – Although there are many opportunities to be silent, with a little practice beforehand, children can (and should!) talk during the service! There are plenty of opportunities to talk, but we must help them learn when those opportunities are, and what they should say during those times in the Divine Liturgy. With a cue until they get the hang of it, very young children can begin with the “Amens” during the Anaphora. Then, as they learn the following, they can also join in for (probably in this order): the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the communion prayers, etc. (They even get to SHOUT in church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy! When that Sunday approaches, we must practice, “This is the faith…” with our children ahead of time so they know what to say! My children loved that part of Sunday of Orthodoxy when they were younger. Actually, they still do, even though they are in their late teens!)

Sing – Children can sing “Lord, have mercy!” from a fairly early age. They can learn other responses to the prayers and refrains to the antiphons as well. They can learn to sing the troparia, the kontakion, the Trisagion Hymn, the Cherubic Hymn, the list goes on and on throughout the service. (A favorite song at our parish is “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” near the end of the service. The choir director’s granddaughter’s face has always lit up when we arrive at that song, even when she was very small. It is such a delight to watch her as she joyfully sings along!) As with many of the other suggestions for Liturgy participation, this one requires a little work together ahead of time. Gather a collection of CDs of the Church’s music at home, especially ones that use some of the same tunes that your church sings during the Liturgy. Play the CDs often so you can listen and sing together. Listening at home too, makes it much easier for the children to participate during the Divine Liturgy. Besides this additional exposure at home, a key to having the children sing along during the Liturgy is for them to hear other parishioners also singing along. Children who are surrounded by adults who sing along tend to join in as they are able. (Although, “a little child shall lead them” also applies at times: our daughter jumped into singing in the choir before I got up the courage to, and she has been blessing our parish with her voice, ever since! So perhaps it depends on the child…)

Hold – Children can hold service books, either a child’s version (our older goddaughter has worked her way through several versions, in increasing difficulty level, as she has grown) or the regular service book (when they’re old enough to read it – that same goddaughter has a little pocket prayer book containing the Liturgy that she now uses to follow along). Children can also hold and pass the offering plate. Some young boys like to hold a pretend censor and “help” Father or the deacons with the censing. Older children (and adults like me who need it to help them focus!) may want to hold a prayer rope and pray the Jesus Prayer during the Liturgy.


Stand – While in their parents’ arms, and then on their own once they know how to balance on their feet, children can learn to stand reverently during the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Great Entrance. As they get older, they can stand longer and longer until they are able to stand for the entire Liturgy (or at least all of the times that your tradition suggests for standing). (Our son challenged himself at a young age to stand for the whole service. His goal was to be an altar server – which can happen at age 7 in our parish – and he knew he’d have to be able to stand the whole service once he got to do that, so he started practicing when he was 5 or 6. Now that he’s a senior altar server, he is reaping the benefits of having learned to stand so long ago. Both of our children have joked about how tired their schoolmates get, standing during school concerts, etc., because “We’re Orthodox! We stand for hours every Sunday!” so they are quite accustomed to being on their feet. But they had to learn to stand for that long; and to choose to do it.)

Hear – From an early age, children can listen to more and more of the service. The Epistle, the Gospel, the homily, the music, the prayers… the list can grow a bit every year until they are listening to the entire Liturgy. Younger children may need to be challenged quietly during the Epistle/Gospel/homily, “Listen for (a word you anticipate will be said multiple times, like ‘Our Lord’) and smile at me or gently squeeze my hand each time you hear Father say it.” Older children can listen for a theme during the scripture readings. (For example, my 10-year-old goddaughter and I listened for “healing” in all of the readings during this year’s Holy Unction service, and quietly pointed it out to each other when we found/heard it.) Many children can listen for “one thing that you want to remember from Father’s homily today” that adults can ask them about during Coffee Hour or on the ride home from church. It can also be helpful to quietly whisper directions that help you both focus better during the Liturgy. (For example, “Listen! Jesus is speaking to us right now, through Father!” just before the priest says, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins…”)

Move – There are even opportunities for movement during the Divine Liturgy! Once again, it takes a little pre-teaching, but even young children are able to make the sign of the cross, bow their heads unto the Lord, kneel if/when applicable, reply to Father’s bow with one of their own, etc. We can help the youngest ones to do so, taking their baby fist in our hand to make the sign of the cross over their body, etc. The older ones, with a little preparation ahead of time, can participate fully when the time comes in the service without us physically helping them as much, because they have practiced and they know what to do. During the lenten season, children can also do prostrations! (One of my favorite memories of Great Lent was when my now-elementary-school-aged godson was about 3. He came to some of the lenten services with his parents, and I took great delight in watching him flop himself down wholeheartedly and then joyfully pop right back up again during the prostrations in the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. He was willingly offering his entire self in praise to God, and I can only imagine that God was infinitely more tickled than I was to see that enthusiastic worship!)

Children love to participate. They long to feel a part of things. They want to contribute to the world around them. Here are a few ways that we adults can help the children in our homes/Sunday Church School classes/parish to do so during the Divine Liturgy.

These ideas are admittedly only a scratch on the surface of ways children can participate in the Divine Liturgy. What ideas do you have? Please comment below and help the rest of this community to better bless and assist the children in their parish. May we all work together to attend the Divine Liturgy; and, as we do so, may we all truly ATTEND, regardless of our age! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be, forever!

Here are a few resources with even more ideas of ways to help your children participate in the Divine Liturgy:

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Fr. Paul Gassios of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio, offers this excellent article about the importance of having children participating in the Divine Liturgy. The article offers suggested guidelines for how often they should attend, where to sit when attending with children, when they can participate in the fasting, and more. He says, “When I hear the ‘holy noise’ of children in Church it makes me very happy because it tells me the parish has a future. We should be worried when we no longer hear that noise!” Read his article here:

http://www.stgeorgerossford.org/parish-life-and-ministries/reflections/4-reflections-sub/109-children-and-the-divine-liturgy

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Purchase a Divine Liturgy Book for Young Children and personalize it with photos from your own parish. This is a great book for your own children to use to familiarize themselves with the Liturgy. It would also make a great gift to godchildren, a Sunday Church School class, or other children in the parish! https://www.createspace.com/4773892

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“Giving children other things [ie: toys] to do during church teaches them that the Liturgy is for adults only and that is not what we want to be teaching our children.” Find this quote in context, part of one of a list of 10 things to do to interest your children in the Divine Liturgy, when you read this blog: http://www.freshandfaithful.com/?p=113.

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“Talk to your child about Church as often as you can. Liken things to Church. Make Church sound fun and exciting. For kids, it can be fun and exciting. [My son] loves Church because there is SO MUCH to look at, listen to, and do. Keep Church in the forefront of their minds.” This is one of many tips from Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars, in her blog http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/01/time-to-go-to-church-a-time-to-fear-and-dread/.

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“Above all, pray for your children to grow in their love for Christ and His Church. No amount of practical advice can substitute for the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of your children. There is no magic formula for producing children who passionately worship the Lord. God has called us to train our children and set a godly example before them, but at the end of the day we must all lay our children at the foot of the cross and call upon our gracious God to be true to His promises and finish the work He has begun in the hearts of our children.” This is only one of the many helpful and practical tips for parents and all adults in a parish, to help them help children to join in during the Divine Liturgy. This entire article is a must-read for any Orthodox Christian adult who wants to fulfill their role with the children in their parish, whether it is parenting, godparenting, being a positive role model, or teaching Sunday Church School: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/parishinfo/helpchildrenworship.cfm

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“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…” This is at the beginning of a list of ages/stages of helping children to participate in the Divine Liturgy, written by Nichola T. Krouse. Read her tried-and-true ideas here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/lazyparent.htm

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Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can also help to influence children’s participation in the Divine Liturgy. “Classroom time should be set aside for questions and answers about that day’s worship.” Read more about this, as well as other ideas and suggestions here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/religiousedbasics/reledbasicsarticles/reledbasicsliveliturgy

 

As for Me and My House…

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)


The theme for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America’s 2016 Creative Festival is a good thing for all Orthodox Christians to think about, regardless of jurisdiction. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) This is a great verse for us to study with our family, and is even more important for us to embrace as the theme for our family’s home.

A few thoughts on the passage: Take a moment to look at the whole 24th chapter of Joshua to better understand the context of this statement of faith. In the verses prior to verse 15, we read that Joshua was reminding the Israelites of everything that God had done for them over the years. He told them to put away all other idols and serve only God. Then he made this bold declaration of his plan that he and his household would serve the Lord.

In the verses that follow, we read that Joshua carried on a dialogue with the Israelite people. As he was doing this, the people kept saying, “We will follow God!” and Joshua replied that God is Holy and therefore His people can not follow any other gods; only Him. This happened multiple times; it is almost as though Joshua was trying to talk the Israelite people out of following God; certainly he was testing their resolve; checking to see if they were certain of their decision. But the people insisted that they would follow only God. Finally, all together they made a covenant to follow the Lord. They even set up a big rock to remind themselves of that covenant.

It’s interesting to note that Joshua didn’t force the people to follow God. He simply encouraged them to choose for themselves and then he set the example by choosing to follow God with his household. As Orthodox Christian parents, we can choose that our household will follow God while our children are under our roof, as well, just as Joshua chose to do with his family. But, in the same way that Joshua related to the children of Israel who were not in his household, we too cannot force our children to follow God once they outgrow our home. We baptise our children into the Faith while they are young and we are still able to set their course in the direction of the Church, but we cannot force them to continue. That has to be their choice, and, God willing, it will be! So, just as Joshua did for his fellow Israelites, let us invite our children to follow only God for all of their lives. Let us lead the way by our own example, removing any idols in our home and in our life that could interfere with that complete following. While we follow, let us also keep reminding our children (and ourselves) of all that God has done for us along the way. Let us also remind each other that we need to follow Him without distractions. And the whole time, both when they are following with us in our home, and when they have moved out on their own, let us pray for our children, that they will always choose to serve the Lord!

Together with the family:

  1. Study Joshua 24:15 together.
  2. Talk about the verse and its implications. Consider questions such as these: So that our family can follow God more completely, is there anything that needs to change in our household? What are the idols – the things that we are allowing to be more important to us than God – that are keeping our family from following fully? How can we really serve the Lord? What does serving Him look like in everyday life?
  3. Commit together as a family to serve the Lord with all of your hearts. Make a plan for how to do that.
  4. Place a reminder, a “stone of remembrance” of sorts, somewhere in your home that will help you to remember this passage and your family’s commitment to following God more fully. It could be an actual stone or perhaps an artistic rendering of Joshua 24:15.
  5. Serve Him!

The following ideas can help your family as you apply Joshua 24:15:

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Need an idea of a way to study this passage together as a family? Here is a free printable pdf that includes the passage and a variety of related activities, including a coloring page, a word search, a crossword puzzle, fill-in-the-blank, and a devotional meditation that incorporates other scriptures. Print one for the family to share, or one for each family member. http://kidsclubs4jesus.com/OT1-60/OT35.pdf

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Khouria Gigi Shadid’s song about Joshua 24:15 can help us think about this passage. Listen here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/theme-song-2016

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Find practical ways to implement your family’s decision to serve the Lord on this Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/lkmcj/as-for-me-and-my-house/

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Find a free “chalkboard-look” printable (5×7 size) of Joshua 24:15 to frame and display, here: http://prettydarncute.com/2013/09/new-free-printable/

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There are many ways to display Joshua 24:15 in your home. Find decals, plaques, signs, and more here: https://www.etsy.com/market/joshua_24_15

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If you have a member of the family that enjoys counted cross stitch, perhaps they could stitch this wallhanging for your house: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/x-stitch/myhouse2.html

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Here’s a blog that one mom wrote which includes several craft ideas of ways to help children create displays of Joshua 24:15 to put up at home as a reminder: https://intentionalmomblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/a-as-for-me-and-my-house-we-will-serve-the-lord-joshua-2415/

Gleanings from a Book: “The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos

A few weeks ago in this blog we discussed the Cross of Christ. Now we have just come through Holy Week and Pascha. As a result, the Cross is in the forefront of our thoughts. We at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education decided that this would be an appropriate time to take a look at this book. The Sign of the Cross talks about the sign which we use every day. The sign of the cross is a very practical way in which the Cross is present in our daily lives as Orthodox Christians.

Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos’ book The Sign of the Cross is an excellent read for any Orthodox Christian. There are so many reasons the cross is significant to our faith, so many grounds for making the sign of the cross, and so many things we are saying by making that sign. Parents and teachers who have children asking questions about the sign of the cross will especially benefit from reading this book, as it will give them a myriad of answers to those questions!

Dr. Andreopoulos addresses the sign of the cross from many different angles in his book. He looks first at experiencing the sign of the cross; then at the history of the sign; he then addresses why we as people even need symbols and signs; he touches on how the sign of the cross is a prayer; and he finishes with the cosmic significance of the cross. Although the book is only five chapters long, each chapter is full of information and causes the reader to think deeply about the sign of the cross. The reader comes away from the book with a deeper appreciation for this sign.

Here are a few quotes from each chapter which stood out to this reader. Consider them a teaser, if you will. But be sure to read the whole book in its entirety! These quotes are not intended to accurately summarize the chapters, but to simply to offer a taste what is in the book.

Chapter 1, “Experiencing the Sign of the Cross:”

“Here is what is so fascinating about the sign of the cross: its simplicity. A cross is how illiterate people sign a document, because it is the simplest recognizable sign they can draw, symbolizing their acquiescence to an official form. And though the cross is perhaps one of the simplest things in Christian ritual, it clearly connects with some of the greatest Christian mysteries.” (p. 4)

“One exceptional factor explains why the cross overshadowed all other symbols of Christianity: The cross could be performed as a simple and immediately recognizable gesture.” (p. 6)

“…wherever the gesture is practiced, it says, ‘I am a Christian. I invoke the power and the mercy of the Cross of Christ, and I try to sanctify myself and to live keeping in mind the sacrifice of Jesus and the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’” (p. 10)

Chapter 2, “The Sign of the Cross: Its History:”

“This sign was a custom of the church that nobody had reason to defend or explain, a tradition seen as ancient by the fourth century, and for this reason most of what is important about it was never put to writing.” (p, 11)

(For a long time in the early church, the sign of the cross was performed on the forehead.) “John of Damascus writes in the eighth century, ‘[The cross] was given to us as a sign on the forehead, just as circumcision was given to Israel. For by it we the faithful are recognized and we separate ourselves from the unfaithful.’” (p. 23)

“The examination of the history of the sign of the cross shows us how the sign developed into a symbol, with every detail having meaning. The sign of the cross… was used rather liberally among early Christians. For many centuries there were no instructions as to the correct way to perform the sign. We can imagine early Christians performing it in different ways throughout the world. Although all testimonies from the early church show that signing one’s forehead was the rule, according to the occasion, the believer might sign other parts of their body as well, such as the mouth or the heart. Many Greeks still cross only their heart when they do not want to be conspicuous.” (p. 40)

Chapter 3, “The Need for Symbols and Signs:”

“The way we are integrated as a society involves signs, symbols, and codes. Very few of these codes are meant to be secret; rather, these sign codes are generally agreed upon ways to make sense of our own faith, culture, and civilization. We learn them naturally while growing up, with the result that most of our codes are so obvious that we use the without often realizing we use them. Many of these codes are so closely entangled with our thought process, that it is difficult to imagine something such as ‘pure thought,’ separated from, say, language. More than that, the way we are introduced to these codes or languages shapes our thought and our personality.” (pp. 43- 44)

“Why do we need signs? Why do we need to express our religiosity in gestures? How do such gestures help us internalize our spirituality? Gestures and signs are essential to spiritual culture since every gesture upholds its own spiritual meaning. The ancient gesture of lifting one’s arms in prayer indicates an invocation, an appeal, and an attempts to communicate with God.” (p. 71)

“Throughout history, the sign of the cross has been seen as a mark of Christian identity… [it] is also a self-blessing, a gesture that imitates and reflects the sacramental blessing of the priest…” (pp. 72-73)

Chapter 4, “A Prayer to Christ:”

“…the meaning of the Incarnation becomes a personal and ecclesiastical event and… the meaning connects with prayer. The sign of the cross, a gesture of acceptance, shows acceptance of the will of God. The descending movement of the hand from the forehead to the heart is for many Christians, as we have already seen, a reference to the historical descent of the Word on the earth and inside us. As a symbol of prayer the gesture reverberates with Mary’s life of prayer in the Temple, and with her offering herself to God. Similarly, signing or crossing our body, we consign it and our entire selves to God as a temple of the Holy Spirit, so that the Word of God may enter us and be born inside us.”  (p. 99)

“The sign of the cross on our body symbolizes the Resurrection through the upward movement of the hand. Most accounts suggest that this reflects a movement from the tomb to heaven and the Second Coming of Christ. But we also mark ourselves with the sign of Christ in order to share in spiritual resurrection and liberation from sin. (p. 107)

“The sign, as an act, however small it may be, expresses the impetus of crossing the threshold between thinking in theological terms and practicing the Christian life.” (p. 111)

Chapter 5, “The Cosmic Cross:”

“The cross’s spirituality is a spirituality of openness, of transforming the world and our actions, such as eating or sleeping. No moments are more spiritual than others if everything is done in the name of God. In addition, since the most usual way to perform the sign of the cross is over our body, we recognize that our body and our entire self may become temples of the spirit of God.” (p. 117)

“The sign of the cross, by virtue of its symbolism, is the axis mundi, the axis or center of the world, reflecting further the convergence of the entire cosmos onto the microcosm of the human being.” (pp. 120-121)

“What started as an explanation of the sign that was liberally gestured as blessing and consecration in early Christianity, ended with the sign’s connection to cosmic spirituality and the mystery of salvation. This is often the case with elements of our liturgical life: we may start with a simple gesture or an iconographic nuance, and in seeking to understand the depth of its symbolism we may be led to profound mysteries of the faith.” (pp. 137-138)

Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green’s introduction to the book is a fitting way to finish this blog. “[Dr. Andreopoulos’s] book provides us not only with [the sign’s] history, but with many insights into the limitless, profound meaning of the sign of the cross… despite its mystery, the sign is a gesture simple enough for a child to adopt. The sign of the cross is a prayer in itself, one that is easy to include in the busy day — at the sound of an ambulance siren, as an expression of thanksgiving, as preparation for a difficult task, or on learning of a need for prayer… There is hardly a more visible way to ‘take up your cross…’ than this, and join the company of those who in all ages have borne witness to Christ before the world.”

Following are additional quotes from the book, along with suggestions of how to apply their concepts with children:

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Tertullian, a writer from the second and third century wrote, “ At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at the table, when we light the lamps, on the couch, on the seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign.” (As quoted in “The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos, p. 13.) So, already in the early centuries of the church, the sign of the cross was part of Christians’ lives. Talk together with your children about the sign of the cross. Think of one more way to add it into your life, and begin to practice making the sign of the cross when that opportunity arrives. Read “Every Time I Do My Cross” by Pres. Angela Alatzakis with young children, to enhance this discussion. (See this blog about the book: http://goodbooksforyoungsouls.blogspot.com/2014/03/mid-lent-finding-comfort-in-cross.html.)

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“John Chrysostom… writes that ‘you should not just trace the cross with your finger, but you should do it in faith.’” (“The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos, p. 24) Help your children learn what they are doing when they trace the cross on their bodies, so that they can do so with even more faith. One way you can begin to teach them about the sign of the cross is by teaching them this song by Khouria Gigi Shadid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Wljk5aYq0Y

***

“By crossing or ‘sealing’ ourselves, as one traditional expression calls it, we designate our own selves as the locus of a spiritual struggle, a spiritual battle. Such symbols as the sign of the cross remind us that the spiritual salvation is a personal, as well as an ecclesial affair. We bear the sign or ‘seal’ of God, reminiscent of the people marked by angels in the battle in the book of Revelation… The monks of the desert usually named the demons as their enemies, but it is inside their own minds and hearts that they fought them. They often refer to the sign of the cross as one of the most powerful weapons against demons and temptations…” (“The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos, p. 61) We can teach our children that the sign of the cross is a powerful weapon by helping them learn to sign themselves with the cross in times when they are afraid (such as after a nightmare) and by signing them with the cross when they are going out to do something away from home (playing or going to school).

Here is an idea of how to help young children learn how to hold their fingers while making the sign of the cross: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/24/5b/f4/245bf4ef5bf23eb5b83eec7a0bf7b110.jpg

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St. Kosmas Aitolos was an 18th century monk on Mt. Athos who planted a simple wooden cross wherever he went to do missionary work. He died as a martyr. One of the many things he is well-remembered for is the simple but faith-filled sermons he preached. One of them tells us how to perform the sign of the cross:

“Listen dear Christians, how the sign of the Cross should be performed and what is its significance. The Holy Gospel tells us that the Holy Trinity, God, is glorified in heaven more than the angels. What do you have to do? You bring together the three fingers of your right hand and, since you cannot ascend to heaven to venerate God, you place your hand on your head, because your head is round and signifies heaven, while you say : ‘as your angels glorify the Holy Trinity in heaven, so do I, an unworthy servant, I glorify and venerate the Holy Trinity. And as these fingers are three–together and separate– so is the Holy Trinity, God, three persons and only one God.’ You take your hand off your head and you bring it to your belly while you say: ‘I adore and venerate you my Lord, because you accepted to be incarnated in the womb of the Theotokos for our sins.’ Then you place it on your right shoulder and you say: ‘I beseech you, my God, to forgive me and put me on your right, with the righteous.’ Placing your hand on your left shoulder you say: ‘I beg you, my Lord, do not put me on your left with the sinners.’ Then falling to the earth you say: ‘I glorify you, my God, I venerate and adore you, and as you were put into the grave, so will I.’ And when you get up you signify the Resurrection and you say: ‘I glorify you my Lord, I venerate and adore you, because you were raised from the dead to give us eternal life.’ This is what the holy sign of the cross means.” (As quoted in “The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos, p. 84)

Read more about St. Kosmas Aitolos and see one of his crosses here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2013/08/the-cross-of-st-kosmas-aitolos-in.html

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“…early Christians in particular insisted on making the sign of the cross at every action, in this way consecrating every part of their lives. This is shown vividly in an account by St. Silouan, who lived in the early twentieth century. He was traveling by train when another passenger in the same car offered him a cigarette. St. Silouan accepted it, thanked the passenger, and asked him to join him in making the sign of the cross before they smoked it — in the same manner one makes the sign of the cross before a meal. The passenger was puzzled by this and said that it is not usual, or rather it was not proper, to make the sign of the cross before smoking a cigarette. The saint then replied that an action that does not agree with the sign of the cross should not be done at all.” (“The Sign of the Cross” by Andreas Andreopoulos, p. 93-94.   ) Tell your children this story, and challenge each other to remember the saint’s reply. Each time you are going to do something, ask yourself if this action agrees with the sign of the cross and therefore you should do it, or if it would be odd to cross yourself before doing it, in which case you should not be doing it at all.

Gleanings from a Book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith

A note from the blogger: During the time that I was preparing the recent series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy, I was also reading the book Help! I’m Bored in Church, by Fr. David Smith. It was timely to be reading it while I researched and wrote those blogs. I found it so helpful that I decided to share a few of my gleanings from the book with you. So here is a “bonus” blog on the Divine Liturgy, in case you ever feel bored in church.

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The title of Fr. David Smith’s book Help! I’m Bored in Church caught my attention from the moment I saw it. I mean, who HASN’T felt bored in church? Maybe a few people haven’t, but in this entertainment-overload society, I for one have “felt” (or, perhaps, “chosen to feel”) bored in church, and I am certain that I am not alone. The title caught me, and the tagline Entering Fully into Worship in the Divine Liturgy only enhanced my desire to read this book. So I began, and here is what I found: honesty, truth, and logical steps towards being more involved in the Divine Liturgy, served up with a delightful touch of humor. (And Fr. David says things so well that I will use many of his quotes, straight up: rewording would be inadequate.)

“My original title for this book was Church is Boring. You might react to that title by saying, ‘Of course it’s boring. Finally you’re admitting it.’ If even priests admit that church is boring, then that settles it. We can all stay home and sleep in on Sundays.

“Or perhaps you think it’s irreverent to say, ‘Church is boring.’ You’re thinking, ‘It’s not right for you to speak about the Divine Liturgy like that. If the priest says church is boring, he shouldn’t be a priest.’ You don’t find church boring, and your only complaint is that it’s not longer.

“Or it’s more likely that you’re in the middle. Church seems boring at times, yes. But there’s something good about church as well, and so saying ‘church is boring’ makes you a little uncomfortable…” (p. 5)

Fr. David goes on to explain that the fact that we are sometimes bored in church actually says something about US, not about the Church. He encourages his readers to change. “You can’t make the Divine Liturgy any shorter, but you can accomplish something within yourself that makes the time you spend in the Liturgy an experience of spiritual delight. Useful. Necessary. Something you look forward to.” (p. 6)

“Look at it this way: If you feel cold, you put on a coat… What do you do if you feel bored? I’ll tell you, you need to do something. It’s a sad and pathetic person who is cold and says, ‘I’m cold but I don’t care enough about myself to put on a coat. I’ll just suffer and be unhappy.’ Would you do that? Certainly not! Well, don’t do it when you’re bored in church either. This is your challenge: Discover the coat you need to put on, and then—put it on! I’ll give you the answer which has worked for me: The coat consists of prayer and watchfulness…” (p. 9)

The book goes on to explore “six reasons people sometimes feel bored in church, five ways to think about your priest, four ways you can participate more fully in services, three kinds of waiting, two kinds of prayer, and the one thing truly needful in our relationship with God…” (from the back cover) Fr. David walks the reader through each part of the book quoting from scripture, the lives of the saints, and personal experience.

We have talked in recent blog posts about the Divine Liturgy being “the work of the people,” or “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Fr. David suggests that actually DOING that work or offering will keep us from experiencing boredom in church. Being fully present during the Divine Liturgy, adding our voices to the singing, praying for those we know (and those we don’t), etc., are all things we should be doing as our portion of that offering. And they will help us maintain control over our wandering, “I’m bored,” mindset. But what is the most important thing for us to do in the Divine Liturgy? “What is your work? If you’re standing in church during the Divine Liturgy, you really only have one task: to worship God. I find the words of our Lord to be very comforting because they’re so clear. But they also make me see that watchfulness… is not an option, it’s a necessity: ‘What I say to you I say to all: Watch!’” (pp. 107-108)

However, that one task of worshipping God fully is not necessarily an easy one. Fr. David asks, “Where is your mind when your body’s in church?” (p. 110) He goes on to explain that the one thing that we need most of all in our relationship with God, so that we can best worship Him, is silence. Our minds don’t like it, especially in this age of continuous information and entertainment, but we need it desperately. “Silence frees us from the weight of the world, but our minds like the weight of the world. Our minds get frightened and bored easily.

“The first time I put my dog in a car, when he was a puppy, he was so nervous he threw up. I told him we were in the car in order to go to the best dog-walking place in the entire universe, but he couldn’t hear me. He tried to keep his eyes away from the windows so he would not see the world flying by faster than he could imagine. He was shivering all over as if he were freezing, even though it was a hot day.

“Today, he launches into a frenzy of barking and spinning in little circles when he hears the word car. He loves the car. It takes him places he wants to go (usually). So it is with silence. When you first try it, your mind starts pacing like a coke addict on his first day in rehab. It yells, I don’t like this! a hundred times. It rapidly starts suggesting other things you could be doing. But when you embrace silence and learn to use it as a tool that (spiritually) takes you places you want to go, you start looking forward to it and long for it when you’re not getting enough.” (pp. 120-121)

Fr. David finishes with, “Is church sometimes boring? And could it be that I’m actually offering silence as a solution? Yes to both. You and I are both citizens in a world that is under the control of the enemy. He knows your weakest point is your mind, and he will do whatever he can to win you to his side. His only weapon, since our Lord took suffering and death away from him, is distraction. Noise and toys. Can he really swing something shiny in front of your face and get you to forget the love and mercy of God? I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that, yes, it works on me more often than I would like to admit.
“What we’ve done here is to try to stop this from happening. This effort is the very foundation of the Christian life. But listen. We cannot live in the foundation of a house; we have to build on that foundation. Keep growing, keep moving upward…” (p. 130)

One way to begin is to read (and occasionally re-read) this book.

 

About the book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/help-im-bored-in-church/.

About the author: Fr. David Smith is the priest at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Syracuse, NY. He is married to Presbytera Donna, and they have four children. He has also written “Mary, Worthy of all Praise” (Conciliar Press; 2003), and “Christianity and Pleasure” (Regina Orthodox Press; 2008). For additional spiritual challenge and input, you can listen to Fr. David Smith’s sermons online at http://stsophias.org/sermons.html, or watch/listen to others on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS-09S_AEqBHebx1vDXM8RA.

One of his YouTube videos is about this book! See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJWHH0QzmbA.

A related note: Although this is geared to teens/young adults and is not by Fr. David, family members of all ages can benefit from watching this Be the Bee vlog about church being “boring.” (Perhaps it can be a discussion starter to share what you’re learning with your kids as you read this book?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL0BYNUM9pw#t=237

 

Here are additional quotes from the book:

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“This is how I want you to think about your relationship to God—like a marriage. A perfect marriage—except that you commit adultery nearly every day. But here’s the good news: God will always welcome you back. He will always run out to the car to hug you and walk with you back into your home. But you have to go home… Picture [the front door of your church] in your mind. I never want you to walk through that door again without saying something to God about how you have cheated on Him since last time you were there. The door of your church, from now on, is the gateway of repentance for you. Only in this way will you understand why you’re there in that building.” (pp. 24-25)

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“When your time in church is spent in repentance and communion with God, your heart will be overflowing with joy when you walk out.” (p. 47)

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“Here’s why you should go to church: because you get way more than you bargained for. The Church is the point in the universe where God is most present, and let me give you this advice: I think you’d be the most happy you’ll ever be when  you’re consistently in that place. What you see is not what you get—you get way more than you can see. Look around at the icons, and embrace that hope that tells you those saints are with you right at that moment, and praying for you.” (p. 51)

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“Look around you while you’re in church, not to judge those who are also there, but to help your mind understand that the church is a holy pace. Your mind might occasionally whine like an annoying child that it wants to go to a different party. Tell it to be quiet. Look around you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” (p. 53)

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“The most spectacular miracle in human history takes place every Sunday in your church—the miracle of the bread becoming the Body and the wine becoming the Blood of God. Every word of the Divine Liturgy prepares for that miracle, celebrates it, points to it, makes it possible, and describes it. It’s a beautiful and awesome thing. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re missing something you definitely shouldn’t be missing.

“Find a liturgy book and follow along. Get to know the parts of the Divine Liturgy, what each means and how each part contributes to the whole…” (p. 70)

***

“The fact is that distracting yourself so you don’t get  bored will never provide a long-term substitute for the genuine, heartfelt, all-consuming worship of God. To achieve this, you need to bring your mind under control. Or, at least, more under control. Think of it as a continuum: on one end you have twenty thoughts galloping around your head like a herd of puppies, and on the other end you have a mind as focused and attentive as an experienced seeing-eye dog. Try to move yourself a little more toward having some control over your thoughts. Perhaps you’re not going to achieve guide-dog concentration at first, but you might be able to teach a puppy or two to stop pooping in the house.” (pp. 95-96)

***

“When someone says, ‘Church is boring,’ he’s really saying, ‘When I come to church, I drag my problems along with me, like a dog trying to drag a dead deer around the yard.’ Why do that? Why not drop the problems off at the door and spend a few minutes each week living free of their weight?

“Of course, most of us keep (mentally) going back outside during the Divine Liturgy to rearrange, or reconsider, or just stare at our problems. But remember St. Seraphim’s advice: When your mind wanders, you should humble yourself and call out to God, ‘I have sinned, O Lord, in word, deed, thought and with all my senses.’ Repent that you allowed your mind to wander, and bring it back into the church.” (pp. 110-111)

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(When praying the Anaphora Prayers:) “But listen. Does God need to be reminded that He is inexpressible? Or eternally the same? Obviously not. God does not need to be reminded of anything—we do! While you are praying any of the words of the Liturgy—and always remember, the words of the Liturgy are indeed prayers— allow them to teach you about the faith. Allow them to fill you with the One we pray to and teach you why we pray. Allow them to teach you what we believe.” (p. 116)

 

On the Divine Liturgy: After Communion, the Dismissal

This is the eighth 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 and Kristina Wenger.)

We have learned so much about the Divine Liturgy as a whole throughout this series. I hope that taking a look at the things that our children are learning about the Liturgy has been helpful to you and your family. In this eighth and final blog, we will finish our look at the Liturgy of the Faithful by looking at what happens at the end of the Liturgy, after we partake of communion.

Our children are learning to thank God after receiving Holy Communion. There are many prayers of thanksgiving that can be prayed after communion. Someone in our parish always reads one aloud, but there are many more in the service books, so some parishioners pray all of them. This particular “Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion” would be a good one to learn together as a family, if you haven’t already committed one to memory: “O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let Your holy body be my eternal life and Your precious blood, the remission of my sins. May this Eucharist be my joy, my health, and my gladness. Make me, a sinner, worthy to stand at the right hand of Your glory at Your Second Coming, through the prayers of Your Most Pure Mother and of all the saints. Amen.” (1)

Our children are learning to continue to participate in the service even after communion is over. After communion, there are still litanies for us to focus on, during which we should respond. For example, “after the Prayers of Thanksgiving are completed, the priest directs the people to ‘depart in peace’ [and] the choir and people respond, ‘In the name of the Lord.’ (2)

I still remember, during our family’s first visit to an Orthodox Church, hearing the priest say, “Let us complete our prayer to the Lord!” and thinking, “Oh, good: it must be almost over! My feet hurt,” or something to that effect. But then, to my surprise, the service went on for a while longer! I remember wondering why it wasn’t over yet and why we kept praying stuff that it seemed we had prayed before… I realize now, of course, that really the only part that was the same as before are the words “Lord, have mercy,” and what we actually are agreeing with as we make that statement are prayers of thanksgiving to God for His mercy in allowing us to partake of communion, as well as prayers that we will leave the church and live in a way that is worthy of Christ’s presence in our lives. What a beautiful prayer the priest prays in this part of the service! Here it is, in case you’ve not read or heard the whole thing before:

“O Lord, who blesses those who bless Thee, and sanctifies those who put their trust in Thee: save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance; preserve the fullness of Thy Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy House; glorify them in recompense by Thy divine power, and forsake us not who hope on Thee. Give peace to Thy world, to Thy Churches, to the priests, to all civil authorities, to our Armed Forces, and to all Thy people: for every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from Thee, the Father of Lights, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”

The resounding “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” that follows has always been a favorite in our family. I love to watch children sing this song! At least in our parish, the children are the ones whose faces light up as they sing with abandon. And well they should! As they sing this song, they are fulfilling what they’ve been learning by praising God with all their hearts, even in this “ending” part of the service.

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Our children are learning to receive the blessing offered by God through the priest before they leave the church. Our youngest children are learning what the priest is saying to us, and why: “In God’s house, the priest gives us God’s greeting and blessing. He says, ‘Peace be with you all.’ Whenever the priest blesses us, he is giving us God’s greeting. He is asking God to be with us and give us peace.” (3)

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Our older children are learning how we should respond to that blessing: “After the final prayers, the priest then stands outside the altar to offer a special blessing to the people. The people approach to venerate (kiss) the cross or the priest’s hand and receive a piece of holy bread. The people will also take holy bread, called antidoron, to give to those who may have been absent from church.” (4)

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Our children are learning to pray as they leave the church. The prayer of St. Simeon the God-Bearer is a good one to pray as one leaves the church: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

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Our children are learning to take their faith with them as they leave after the Divine Liturgy.  “When we have received Holy Communion we have God’s Kingdom within us which we must take with us into the world so that although we might live in the ordinary world, within us we will have God’s Kingdom. This is very important because there are so many forces which try to lead us astray – try to make us do bad things…” (5) Also, “when the Liturgy is finished, we are told to ‘depart in peace.’ Having tasted God’s peace in the Liturgy, we are sent forth to bring this peace to the world. If we go back into the world of our daily life with the peace of God in our hearts, we will, almost unconsciously, bring a little bit of it to our surroundings. Just think, if everyone did that, we would be surrounded by peace and the world would be a better place.” (6) And finally, “When we leave the church after partaking of the Eucharist, we immediately begin our journey back to the chalice. The Eucharist is at the center of our lives, and the procession to the Eucharist is the journey of our lives.” (7)

I hope that you have benefitted as much as I have from this these weeks of studying what our children are being taught about the Divine Liturgy. I know that each Divine Liturgy that I have been privileged to participate in since beginning this blog series has taken on new meaning for me. I hope it is the same for you, dear brothers and sisters! May we continue to learn together with our children, may we keep bringing them to the divine services, and may we all cooperate together in “the offering of the people for the whole world.” May the Lord have mercy on us, and save us all! I’ll meet you at the chalice…

Endnotes:

  1. Various, A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy, Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014, p. 46. (Available here http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-the-divine-liturgy/.)
  2. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #23. (Available here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)
  3. Tarasar, Constance and Matusiak, V. Rev. Fr. John, Together With God, Orthodox Christian Education Commission, 1973, Lesson 19.
  4. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #24. (Available here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics)
  5. Ashanin, Natalie, “Blessed is the Kingdom”, Little Falcons Magazine: #16, “God’s Kingdom,” pp. 4-6. (Available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf. )
  6. Ashanin, Natalie, “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God”, Little Falcons Magazine: #52, “Holy Liturgy,” p. 8. (Available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf. )
  7. Various, The Way the Truth the Life, Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Education Commission, 2003, p. 104. (available here:http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/2214/0856/4733/OCEC-Catalog-2014.pdf)

 

Following are additional related quotes on this part of the service and/or ideas of how to help children in the Divine Liturgy:

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“So, you came to church and were granted to meet Christ? Don’t leave if the service hasn’t finished… When you go to the theater, you don’t leave if the show hasn’t finished. You enter church, the Lord’s home, and do you turn your back on the immaculate Mysteries? …What are you doing, O man? While Christ is present, His angels stand by, and your brethren are still communing, you abandon them and leave? Christ offers you His holy Flesh, and you won’t wait a bit, to thank Him at least in words? When you sit at a supper you don’t dare leave the moment you have been filled, while your friends are still sitting at the table. And now when the dreadful Mysteries of Christ are being performed, you drop everything in the middle and leave? Do you want me to tell you whose work those who leave before the Divine Liturgy finishes—and thus don’t partake in the last thanksgiving prayers—are doing?” ~St John Chrysostom, as found here: http://preachersinstitute.com/2014/11/28/attending-church-part-4/

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“Let us depart from the Divine Liturgy like lions who are producing fire, having become fearsome even to the devil, because the holy Blood of the Lord that we commune waters our souls and gives us great strength. When we commune of it worthily, it chases the demons far away and brings the angels and the Lord of the angels near us. This Blood is the salvation of our souls; with this the soul is washed, with this it is adorned. This Blood makes our minds brighter than fire; this makes our souls brighter than gold.” ~St John Chrysostom, as found here: http://preachersinstitute.com/2014/11/28/attending-church-part-4/

***
“‘How would you react if you found out your Army instructor was a Medal of Honor winner, your Med School lecturer was a Nobel Prize winner, or your Business School teacher was a member of the Fortune 500 who did it all from scratch.  You’d pay attention more.  You’d have more respect.  You would not want to miss a lesson.  And you would become better by your attentiveness.  Christ the Great Rabbi is here.  Among us. Teaching us. Preparing us for paradise.”  http://www.orthoanalytika.org/2013/12/22/teaching-the-divine-liturgy-meditations/

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Gather ideas for how to best benefit from Sunday morning church attendance by listening to Fr. John Finley’s podcast addressing just that, at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/triumphalhymn/the_divine_liturgy_-_part_5.

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This may be an excellent time to review church etiquette together as a family. Fr. David Barr offers his wisdom in “Some Things You Should Know while in Church” in this article:  http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/etiquette

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Here are some simple ideas of ways to make participation in the Liturgy meaningful for younger children: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/attend2.htm

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“Introduce to your children an activity illustrating the way we worship and more importantly, why we worship the way we do in the Orthodox Church. Below are some talking points for the lesson, as well as a coordinating activity or craft.” ~ from http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/way-we-worship.html

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