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Questions & Answers: The Divine Liturgy


The Divine Liturgy

Why does the Priest commune the Body and Blood of Christ of separately?

When addressing many questions concerning practises of Orthodox faith and worship, the answers have sometimes more to do with the changing ways of doing things rather than adherences to rules or directives. This question relating to the differences of reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Divine Liturgy is a case in point. Receiving of the Body of Christ directly into the hands and drinking the Blood of Christ directly from the chalice, is actually the more ancient practice and is dealt with by some of the Canons of the early Councils of our Church (e.g. from the ‘Quinisext Council’ in Trullo in 692 AD). The Clergy still follow this ancient custom down to this day. However, the practice for the laity has changed for most celebrations of the Divine Liturgy. The laity receives the Body and Blood of Christ combined in the Holy chalice, via a sacred spoon directly into the mouth. Such a change has taken place for many reasons; concerns for ease of reception and care when distributing the very real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in particular.

The ‘Liturgy of Saint James’ is celebrated on only one day each year, on his Feast Day - 23rd October; it is this James who is identified as the ‘Brother of God’. During this service, the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is distributed separately; first the Holy Body and then the Holy Blood. This service reflects the more ancient practice.

However we are to receive the ‘Holy Communion’, it must be remembered that we are partaking of the Body and Blood of the incarnate Son of God. We do so with care, with humility, and ‘with fear of God, with faith and love we draw near’.”

What is the Kiss of Peace?

Within the contemporary order of the Divine Liturgy the clergy concelebrating perform the kiss of peace, right before the proclamation of the confession of faith (the Creed). This moment within our ritual takes place when the deacon (or the priest) exhorts: Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess… and the people respond: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity of one essence and inseparable. Parallel to this dialogue, the clergy in the holy altar come one by one, starting with the bishop or the presbyter presiding at the liturgy, and they kiss the holy gifts and then kiss one another. More precisely, the concelebrants come and greet the bishop or the presiding presbyter, embracing each other and proclaiming: Christ is in our midst – He was and is and will be. From the outset, this ritual was understood by the Church as a necessary condition for the continuation and fulfilment of the holy synaxis. Our prayers and offerings cannot be presented to God if there is no peace and love between us (cf. Mt 5:23-24).

During the first Christian millennium, the kiss of peace was a ritual act performed by all those who participated in the holy synaxis, as a manifestation of the “chosen race” and “royal priesthood” which is the people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). This reality is echoed by the most characteristic greetings in the Pauline epistles, such as: greet one another with a holy kiss (Ro 16:16; 2 Cor 13:11-12), greet all the brethren with a holy kiss (1 Thess 5:26). In the second century, St Justin Martyr also mentioned this gesture of the entire worshipping community: we salute one another with a kiss (First -Apology 65). This communal act was still performed during the sixth and seventh centuries. In fact, the author known by tradition as St Dionysius the Areopagite observed: all exchange the ritual kiss (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:2), and called this moment the divine kiss of peace (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:3, section 8). St Maximus the Confessor gave an ecclesial interpretation of the practice: The spiritual kiss which is extended to all prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves in faith and love at the time of the revelation of the ineffable blessings to come (Mystagogy 17). He also suggested that the kiss of peace is related, together with all the other elements of the Divine Liturgy, to the mystery of the transformation of the individual believer into members of the people of God, called with one name, that of Christ (cf. Mystagogy 1 & 24).Today, various Christian Churches preserve the custom of shaking hands, in remembrance of this venerable act.

As a Manifestation of our unity as people of God, who- Strive to obey the commandment of the lord to “love one another” (John 13:34), the kiss of peace gives substance to our confession in the one faith. Only by loving each other, as confirmed by the kiss of peace, may we proclaim the undivided Trinity as the paradigm and source of all communion. A Church established on the bedrock of love and compassion reflects the splendour of the Trinitarian life.

In the Creed what do you mean by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

Every item in our Creed is a statement about what we believe as Orthodox Christians. The Creed begins with a series of statements about God and then immediately proceeds to talk about the Church. This is significant as it tells us immediately that the church is not a building or even an institution in the worldly sense. It is an article of faith and therefore non-negotiable for Orthodox Christians. But what do we mean by ‘church’? The Greek word for church - εκκλησια is a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew word qahal - which means literally "assembly" and in the Biblical usage, the Assembly of the People of God. In the New Testament it came to mean the People of God assembled together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel our Lord said that wherever the ‘church’ or assembly of believers gathered, he was mystically present among them (cf. Matt 18:20) The New Testament uses the word ‘Church’ in the plural (eg. The seven churches of Asia (cf. Rev 1:11) and in the singular, when St Paul talks about the Church being the body of Christ. (cf. 1 Cor 10:16; 11:29; 12:27; Eph 1:23) It follows that the followers of Jesus Christ from the earliest times established faith communities or churches that were part of the One Church of Christ with Christ at it’s head. St Paul says that God the Father has made Christ “the head over all things for the church, which is his body...” (Eph 1:22). He also said a person becomes one body with Christ in Baptism (cf.’ Rom 6:4-11) so wherever the church – the assembly of believers were, the fullness of Christ’s presence was there also and that Christ and the Church were inseparable.

Consequently this brings us back to the four adjectives used in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, catholic, apostolic." What do these words mean?

ONE means that the Church is one because God is one. "There is one body, and one Spirit... one hope... One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:4-6). In His great Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that the Church may be "one" even as He and the Father are one (John 17:22). There cannot be many churches visible or invisible. There can only be one Church of Christ and that unity is expressed through the Faith in the One God and Father, One Lord Jesus Christ and One Holy Spirit – the Triune God.

HOLY. The Church is holy because our Lord made her so. "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should by holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Not only is the Church holy but it is also her purpose to make us holy, i.e., different from the world, conformed to God's will through His Grace and our free will.

CATHOLIC. The Orthodox Church is Catholic, meaning universal and whole, because she has preserved the wholeness of the faith of Christ through the centuries without adding or subtracting to that divinely revealed Faith. For this reason she has come to be known as the "Orthodox" Church, i.e., the Church

that has preserved the full and true faith of Christ “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Orthodox Christians believe that the Church, which has Christ Himself as Head and which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, cannot err. Her voice is the voice of Christ in the world today. Catholic means also that the Church is universal. It embraces all peoples, the entire earth. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . ." Just as there are no distinctions within the love of God, so the Church stretches out her arms to the world. "Here there cannot be Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man . . ." (Col. 3:11). God's love is all-inclusive; so the Church is Catholic.

APOSTOLIC. The Church is apostolic because she teaches what the apostles taught and can trace her existence historically directly back to the apostles.

It was the Apostle Paul, for example, who established the Christian Church in Greece through his early missionary journeys. His letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, the Philippians were written to the churches he had established in those Greek cities. The Church he founded there has never ceased to exist. The Apostles Peter & Paul founded the church in Antioch which exists to this day as the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Other apostles established the church in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus. The Eastern Orthodox Church has existed in these places since the days of the apostles. From these cities and countries, missionaries brought the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus to other countries: Russia, the Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. This self-governing family of churches is known today as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thus, the Orthodox Church is the legitimate and historical continuation of the early Church. She has the same faith, the same spirit, the same ethos. "This is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith, this faith has established the universe" (From the Sunday of Orthodoxy vespers). The Church is therefore both visible and invisible. The visible Church is the Church Militant on earth. The invisible Church is the Church Triumphant in heaven, "the heavenly Jerusalem . . . innumerable angels in festal gathering . . . the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22-23). The Church is therefore the Kingdom of God on earth, which manifests in its fullness the Grace of God’s redemptive work in Christ to the world.

Why do we light candles in the Church?

For Orthodox Faithful the lighting of candles in Church is a worshipful act that is very rich in meaning.

The unlit candle represents us before we came close to Christ- when we were then spiritually dead. However the lit candle that stays upright signifies those who have been enlightened by Christ. Indeed, light represents the light of Christ according to Jesus’ own words, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). If we just rely on our own abilities, our intelligence and human wisdom, we will live in darkness, we will not know the purpose of life, what is truly important, how to live, etc. By submitting to the revealed truth of Christ, light comes into this darkness and our eyes open, we perceive truths and beauty that we could not perceive before.

When we light a candle we are in a sense promising to let our life shine as Christ commanded in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.

As the candle gives out light it melts silently, without noise and commotion. We too need to bring the light of Christ to others, and we to need to do this in silence, without showing off or portraying ourselves.

Also, as the candle melts, so every Christian needs to melt in their work with others- they needs to offer their spiritual and physical strengths, they need to not worry about becoming tired, they need to sacrifice themselves as they give themselves to acts of love for their fellow human beings.

It is also common in our Church to light a candle for someone in need, to honour a saint, or to commemorate a deceased loved one.

Of course, we should not use candles as a kind of magical substitute for our own prayers- we use candles as an expression of our own prayers, in a sacramental fashion.

What does the Small and Great Entrance symbolise?

The “Small Entrance” is the procession with the Holy Gospel book which takes place in the early part of the Divine Liturgy. It symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world as the “Word of God” to teach and instruct us into the ways of God, to know and understand His will and, to ultimately prepare us for the Kingdom of God. It prepares us for the first major focus of the liturgy that is, listening to God’s word.

The “Great Entrance” is the procession of the holy gifts of bread and wine which occurs after the Gospel Reading and the censing at the Cherubic Hymn. The previously prepared and covered gifts are taken in procession from the Prothesis table inside the Altar Sanctuary, out into the congregation, down the centre aisle, back into the Sanctuary through the Royal Door. Once inside the Sanctuary, they are placed onto the Holy Altar ready for the Anaphora - the Eucharistic offering and consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The “Great Entrance” symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world not only to teach, instruct and to prepare us for the Kingdom of God, but also to offer Himself for us on the Cross as a sacrifice of Love. In other words, it symbolises everything God has done for us in Christ to save us and bring us into eternal life with Him. The whole action of the “Great Entrance” reminds us and proclaims that God came into the world as one of us in Jesus Christ and willingly suffered and accepted death to save us from death and sin. We could say, then, that the “Great Entrance” is the procession of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, going there in humility to lay down his life for us and for our salvation. The great entrance prepares us for the second and final focus of the liturgy which is the Eucharist.

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