“Instead of learning to live, people are learning to die” Bob Dylan.
A reflection on the Div. Liturgy during these trying times.
The Divine Liturgy not only teaches us how to live, but it is also the means whereby we truly live.
We must understand that first and foremost we are “Ekklesia.” That is the community of God gathered together from out of the unbelieving. We have been “set apart,” as the Scriptures tell us. Fundamental from the very start of the Salvation of man has been Sacrifice. This is a huge topic that I cannot cover in any deep manner in a small post. Seth, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and so on offered Sacrifice. The Sacrifice of sacrifices was accomplished by the God-Man Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is at the heart of the true Worship of God. Sacrifice entails Thanksgiving.
From the very beginning of “Christianity” (I put it in quotations because I would contend that true Christianity has been around since the foundation of the world. It was made manifest in Full with the Revelation of Jesus Christ) the “Sacrifice of Thanksgiving” has always been central to the Church. The Div. Liturgy is the continuation and complete fulfillment of Old Testament Temple Sacrifice; moreover, it is the total work and economy of Christ incarnate made present.
One may even boldly state that the Liturgy is one of the most ultimate expressions of true Christian life. There is no Church without the Div. Services.
Let us contemplate these words from Saints down to men of our times who have been suffering for the Faith.
St. Cyrill of Jerusalem in his “Catechetical Lectures” says this, “‘Thou hast prepared a table before me in the presence of them that afflict me’ (Ps. 22/23).What he says, is to this effect: Before Thy coming, the evil spirits prepared a table for men, polluted and defiled and full of devilish influence; but since Thy coming, O Lord, Thou hast prepared a table before me. When the Psalmist says to God, ‘Thou hast prepared before me a table,’ what other does he indicate but that mystical and spiritual Table, which God has prepared for us over against, that is, contrary and in opposition to the evil spirits?” (Lecture XXII, In the Body and Blood of Christ, 7.)
The “Table” is the altar and most specifically when upon it is offered the Mystical Sacrifice, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. St. Cyrill is saying that the Div. Liturgy is a Divine action whereby evil is opposed. The Div. Liturgy is THE table that opposes evil.
St. Symeon the New Theologian has much to say regarding the Div. Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist. Keep in mind only three saints are given the title “Theologian.” (The other two are St. John the Apostle and St. Gregory Nazianzus.) These reflect in a potent way the true Theology of the Chruch.
Basing his teaching upon the words of our Lord, such as, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). St. Symeon understands the Holy Eucharist to be the Divine means by which we are in reality united to God by grace. Of course, this is not magic. A person must come with faith. Yet, a person cannot be totally and fully united to God without the Divine Mysteries. (All quotes are from St. Symeon the Theologian, In the Light of Christ. By Archbp. Basil Krivocheine. Chapter, The Holy Eucharist.)
St. Symeon says, “As we eat this sinless Flesh, the Divine Mysteries, we truly become entirely embodied in and related to Him (Christ).” He continues, “By eating from the Lord’s deified flesh, we believe and confess that we partake of eternal life, if we do not eat unworthily …”
The Holy Eucharist is THE Tree of Life and the Div. Liturgy is Paradise.
St. Symeon instructs, “Eternal Life is partaking of the holy and all-pure Mysteries; and the ones who have eternal life are those whom the Lord says He will raise on the last day.”
Jesus Christ is not separated from the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a physical participation in Christ Himself. This is why partaking of the Eucharist, with true faith, is salvation. This is why the celebration of the Div. Liturgy, in all truth, is one of the most potent spiritual weapons given to mankind.
The Lord removed by His incarnation and sacrifice the fiery sword which barred entry to Paradise.
Hieromonk Gregorios notes in his wonderful book, “The Divine Liturgy, A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers,” this profound reality, “The reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God …” and he continues, quoting St. John Chrysostom, “’ The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [thanksgiving] because they consist of the recollection of many benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence.’ The Divine Liturgy is the Sacramental re-living of these things and ‘the recapitulation of the entire divine economy.”
That is, in and through the Div. Liturgy, which transcends our limited persons, the whole reality of Salvation is made present in the world. It is the physical manifestation in time of that which is timeless, Eternal, and Everlasting. Through the Div. Liturgy, Mystically speaking, all the works of Christ the Lord’s incarnate life are made present today. This does not happen during private personal prayer, as important and vital as it is. Only the Divine Liturgy contains this essential Grace for all the world.
Protopriest Stephanos Anagnotopoulos in the book, Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, reflecting the mind of Christ and His Church, writes, “The Divine Liturgy was thought and created neither by laity nor by the Apostles. For that reason, it is a great, incomprehensible, inexpressible, unrivaled, most divine Mystery, which was instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself during Great and Holy Thursday. Accordingly, the Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy thus continuing this immaculate Mystery. The Holy Eucharist is also a Sacrifice through which the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross continues.”
What is the “unrivaled” manifestation of the One and Only Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus? The Div. Liturgy. How is the spiritual power of this Divine action made real in our world? Through the Div. Liturgy. Again, this is not to deny personal faith, prayer, and all of the corresponding virtues. But, it is evidently clear that the Orthodox Church has understood from the beginning that the Div. Liturgy occupies a most preeminent place in the life of the Church.
Met. Luke of Zaporozhye (Ukraine), an Orthodox Hierarch who has suffered much persecution from government force and false brethren, speaks thus about the Div. Services, The most important service in our temples received the name “Thanksgiving” or in the Greek, “Eucharisteo.” In this service, our God-loving hearts are united to Christ Himself in His Body and Blood and we receive an unbreakable union with Him. To deprive a person of this opportunity to offer thanksgiving to the Lord and to receive of His most-holy Mysteries is the same as depriving him of air to breathe.
For Orthodox Christians the Div. Liturgy is the air of Heaven; no earthly respirator can replace it.
He continues speaking from his experience in the very real situation of years of tribulations, and from the deep roots of Orthodoxy which have been in Rus’ (of which modern Ukraine is a part of) for over one thousand years, The Church is a Living Body. Her breath is prayer and Her heart is the Divine Liturgy. Whatever tribulations have come upon a person (Orthodox), he has always found comfort in the Divine Service. Even in the years of the most terrible epidemics, the Church has never ceased to serve the Services.
And in a prophetic manner, he issues this fearful warning, The earth will endure for as long as the Div. Liturgy is served in its midst. If the services of God are stopped, then the whole world will be plunged into darkness. It will lose the Divine Light. If the Divine Liturgy stops then no protective measures and no medicine will help us at all. Never for any reason, and under no circumstances should the serving of the Divine Services ever be stopped. Only in them may we (in fullness) beseech the mercy of God and be delivered from every sorrow and infirmity. May the Lord help us in this!