The service of Litya in the Orthodox Church is beautiful and rich with meaning and grace, but unfortunately it is a service all-to-seldom served. We should be familiar with the history of the Litya, and then think some about the implications both of the history and of the blessing of this service.

In the ancient Church, offerings were brought by the people to the Church. Today we predominately bring money, but in the past it was most common for people to bring bread and wine, but other things were brought as well (primarily food-stuffs, but money as well). The best of the bread and of the wine were set aside for use in the Holy Liturgy as the antitypes of the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (the Eucharist). The remainder of the food was then blessed at the Saturday evening service. The clergy and the people went in procession from the Temple to the portico (the courtyard in front of the Church), where all of the food was lain out on a table. Special hymns were sung, and the priest then blessed the food with the following prayer (which we still use today):

“O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who didst bless the five breads in the wilderness, and didst satisfy the five thousand therewith, thyself bless these breads, this wheat, wine and oil, and multiply them in this city, and in all thy world; and sanctify the faithful who partake of them. For it is thou who dost bless and sanctify all things, O Christ our God, and unto thee do we send up glory, together with thy Father, who is without beginning, and thine all-holy, and good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.”

After the blessing, the food was distributed among the poor, the orphans, the widows, the sick, and all of those in need. The Church reached out to the helpless in a very real and tangible way – by helping to feed them. The poor weren’t even “tricked” into the Temple; the blessing was done outside, so those in need could obtain the help they needed regardless of whether they went to Church or not.

It’s good for us to remember that the life of the Church does not exist only in the Temple – we’re to take the Truth of the Gospel, the Love of Christ, into the world and share it with those in need. And we’re not to only share a good word, but we’re called by our Lord to offer tangible help to those in need if we are able (remember the Parable of the Last Judgment: the condemned are sent away from Christ because they refused to care for “the least of these your brethren”).

When we serve the Litya, in the prayer of the blessing of the loaves, we ask God to bless this food and multiply it for those in need (referencing the feeding of the 5,000), and also to bless this place where we live, and the people who live in it. We offer bread, wheat, wine, and oil, and in return God blesses them and offers us (and all of those around us) the chance to share in His life. As we share together in this blessed food, let us remember that all good things come to us “from the Father of Lights”: receive with thanksgiving, and share with hope and with love.