Posts tagged ‘Liturgy’

The Great Litany, part 3 (Liturgy 6)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Sprit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

I know it’s been a few weeks since our last look at the Liturgy together, but I’d like to continue and finish the Great Litany this evening. We have the final two petitions, and prayer of the priest, and the exclamation remaining. The final two petitions of the Great Litany we hear at virtually every litany of the Church.

“Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.” Here we admit to God our absolute reliance on Him, and in our humility and in acknowledging our weaknesses we pray to Him. We need His help in every moment, at every hour, in every situation. We need His grace for our salvation, and the phrase “save us” is something that we repeat constantly in our prayers. The Scripture says that we’re to knock at the door, and the verb there means that we knock and we keep knocking. So we continually pray for our salvation. Asking God’s mercy is another things we do all the time – that He deal with us not as a just judge, because that would demand our condemnation – we pray rather for mercy, for unmerited favor before the sight of God. We end the petition asking that God keep us, that He preserve us, which obviously could indicate physical preservation, but even more that we be protected from the snares of the evil one and preserved for Christ.

This is a great place to note that during the services, we never pray for something that God doesn’t already want. We never pray from our own will or from our own passions, the Church never leads us to pray about something we simply want. We pray for those things that we already God wants to do for us – the primary focus of our prayer is that we accept those things God wants to give, whether they be on the side of suffering in some way or of being exalted in some way. Our daily prayers are structure in the same way – the prayers of the Church teach us also how to pray.

“Remembering our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed, and glorious Lady, Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life, unto Christ our God.” As we end this litany, and all of our litanies, we lean on the Saints. Before God we remember the lives of the Saints, and especially their prayers for us at the throne of God. We remember all the Saints, and then we commend ourselves to God – as they gave themselves entirely to God and were deified by Him, so also we give ourselves entirely over to God. He’s all we have and all we need, and we acknowledge that once again.

At this point in the Litany, we are used to hearing the priest give the exclamation. What you might not know is that the exclamation is actually the final line of a prayer that the priest prays during the Litany. So I’d like us to hear that prayer, since most people usually do not hear it. “O Lord our God, whose might is incomparable, who glory is incomprehensible, whose mercy is infinite, and whose love of man is ineffable, do thou thyself, O Master, in thy tenderheartedness look down upon us and upon this holy house, and grant us and those who pray with us thy rich mercies and compassion.” In this prayer, as you heard, the priest offers praise and thanksgiving to God, glorifying God for Who He is. Our God is mighty, glorified, merciful, love. And we ask him to down on us, and very simply, to grant us His mercy.

We then end the Great Litany with the exclamation – “For to thee belong all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.” We give glory and honor and worship to our one God in three Persons – and this will be the theme of the entire Liturgy, and according to the Scriptures this is how we’re to live the whole of our lives before God.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

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The Great Litany, part 2 (Liturgy 5)


Audio may be found HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Tonight, we will continue our look at the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy. And I’ll remind us, as we hear and discuss the petitions, that this Litany, and the whole of the Liturgy, is our prayer for the whole world. We come to the Church and we lift up not only ourselves, but all those we love, all those we struggle with, our sins and our faults and our dreams, and we lift up the whole of the world to God in prayer.

Tonight, we begin with the petition: “For this God-protected land, its President, all civil authorities, and for those who serve in the armed forces, let us pray to the Lord.” I think this is an important petition for us in America; we struggle sometimes to know how to take patriotism and what our country may be doing locally and throughout the world and balance that with our faith. This petition gives us what we might call “Patristic patriotism” – we pray for our country, even referring to it as “God-protected” – the Fathers tell us that not only do people and Churches have guardian angels, but our countries do as well. We pray for our President and all civil authorities – the Scriptures plainly tell us that the leaders of nations are placed in power by the will of God. So no matter how we might feel, we pray for our nation and our leaders. We also pray for those who serve in the armed forces – again, whether we like situations or not, we pray for God’s protection over those men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces. We have many Saints who were warriors and soldiers, and they witnessed to Christ while at the same time serving in the army – this has always been seen as a noble things in the Church.

“For this city, for every city and country, and for those who in faith dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord.” We pray for our city, we play for the place that we live. It’s incredible the detail that we go into during these petitions. In addition to our city, we expand and pray for every city and country, and for those who in faith dwell in them. We’re praying again for the world. And we’re praying pretty specifically.

“For favorable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.” We recognize clearly that our Lord is in control of everything, so we pray that our weather will be good, and we pray for abundant crops. When Adam was expelled from Paradise, he was condemned to till the earth for his food. We continue to do that same thing, and we ask that God bless our efforts with a good harvest so that everyone will have enough to eat. We also pray again, as we did in the first 3 petitions, for peaceful times. We pray that the world can be at peace. This particular phrase placed in this petition also recognizes that many conflicts are over land and food – so the blessing of a fruitful harvest should help the world continue in peace.

“For travelers by land, by sea, and by air, for the sick and the suffering, for captives, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.” Here we pray for a rather wide range of people. In addition to particular prayers for travelers that the priest prays from the Book of Needs, we always pray for those who travel in every Great Litany. We also pray for those who are sick and suffering, and for those who are captives. It’s very important what we say in our prayer – we don’t pray for the healing of the sick and for the freedom of captives – we pray for their salvation. Many people will remember in their hearts the people they know who are sick or in prison during this Litany. But we pray for the salvation of their soul, for the healing and freedom of the soul, rather than the body. Even when the priest visits someone who is ill or in prison, the prayer looks like this – healing is mentioned, if it is God’s will, but the focus of the prayer is the soul’s salvation, union with God.

“For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.” On the heels of praying for the salvation of others, we pray for conditions which are amenable for our own salvation. We ask that God deliver us from tribulation (difficult times), wrath (anger, malice), danger, and necessity. Necessity is interesting – we have needs to live, but we asked to be delivered from necessity in the sense of the needs of life exercising control over us. Notice that we don’t ask God merely to keep these things away from us – we know that temptations will come our way, that is part of human life in a fallen world. We ask for deliverance, we ask for the grace to deal with the temptations that come to us, that by God’s grace we can overcome the evil one and be delivered from our temptations.

We’ll look at the last 2 petitions and the prayer and the exclamation next time. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

The Great Litany, part 1 (Liturgy 4)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Last week we began speaking about the Liturgy with the opening exclamation – “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.” This week we’ll continue forward by looking at the Great Litany. Elder Sophrony said that even though most of us may never attain to pure and perfect prayer, that the prayer of the Liturgy is truly hypostatic prayer. The prayer of the Liturgy is prayer for salvation of the whole world. We see this demonstrated very clearly in the Great Litany. Looking at the Litany also offers us the perfect opportunity to explore a little bit the concept that we spoke of on the first Saturday of our talks about the Liturgy – praying with the Liturgy.

“In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We desire to pray to God in peace, interiorly at peace with ourselves, and with others and with God – when we’re truly at peace we have only one thought at any given moment, and our one thought during the Liturgy is to pray to the Lord. We begin by praying for peace, and not only our own peace, but we continue in the second petition: “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” We could say enormous amounts about any of the petitions, an entire homily on each, but during the course of these homilies we’ll just touch on a few ideas, and you can continue to explore the meanings on your own. These opening petitions bring to our mind not only a prayer for worldly peace, but also our Lord’s words that we should have no quarrel with our brothers when we come to offer our worship to God. As the priest intones these petitions, it offers us the chance to pray for anyone that we might have struggles with, and many people also pray for various difficult situations throughout the world (Egypt, Iraq, etc). We also pray here for our salvation, a prayer that we’ll repeat constantly in the Liturgy – a pray that we be united to Christ.

“For the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all men, let us pray to the Lord.” We continue here very much in the same vein as the first two petitions, praying for the peace of our world and for the union of all men. As our Lord prays to the Father, all of mankind is to be one – we’re to love our brother as ourself, to carry the burden of the other, to exist in harmony and in unity. “I pray Thee that they be one as We are One.” Again, the perfect place to continue remembering the people in our lives. We also pray for the holy churches of God, the churches throughout the world, that they exist in peace and remain firm in the faith. This offers us the opportunity to remember those people and those places where Christians are persecuted today.

“For this holy house, and for those who with faith, reverence and fear of God enter herein, let us pray to the Lord.” We move then to pray for our parish specifically, and for all of those people who come here to worship God. We ask God’s special blessing on those who come with faith in Him, with reverence, and with the proper fear of God. We come here to worship, not to fulfill a duty or an obligation, and not as simply part of a weekly routine. We come to the Church to offer our lives to God, and praise Him in all things. Again, this offers us a place to remember in our hearts those people we love, especially people who are part of our community here at Holy Resurrection.

One final litany for today – “For our (enter bishops’ names here), for the honorable presbytery, the diaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.” We go from praying very specifically for our parish to a more general prayer, still a prayer for the Church. We pray for the leaders of the Church in the world, and actually for our bishop particularly. In the OCA we pray for the Metropolitan, and we pray for the bishop of our diocese. If you happen to be in a service where a bishop is serving, he also prays for his brother bishops. At this particular time in the life of our OCA, this offers us all a chance to lift up a prayer to God for a bishop for a godly bishop for our diocese, and to fill the Metropolitan see as well. We then move on to pray for the clergy of the Church – for the priests and the deacons specifically, and also for “all the clergy and the people.” We really are praying again for everyone. As we mention the clergy in the litany, you might notice that the clergy in the altar acknowledge each other at this time, and all of us can bring to mind our parish priest and remember him before God in prayer.

Next week we’ll continue with the Great Litany.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

“Blessed is the Kingdom…” (Liturgy 3)

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we’ll continue our look at the Holy Liturgy of our Church, and we’ll consider only one short phrase. As we begin the Liturgy, the priest lifts up the Holy Gospel and prays, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.” This begins the Liturgy for us in this place. Yet the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church tell us that the worship around the throne of God is never ceasing. The beginning of our Liturgy here in this place raises us up to join in that never-ending worship in the Heavenly Kingdom. The heavens don’t come down to worship with us – we are lifted up to the heavens to worship with the angels and the Saints and all of the people who are worshipping around the throne of Almighty God. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as St. Paul says, because during the Liturgy we are present in the Kingdom of God. We enter the eternal now, where everything is present – we sing that Christ is born, or is Risen, or is come today (even the Second Coming is spoken of as present now). There is only one altar upon which worship to God is offered, and that is the altar in the Heavenly Kingdom. During the Holy Liturgy, the altar here in our Church becomes one with the Heavenly altar. We offer the same worship that every other parish and all of the angels and saints offer unto God. This is why the Liturgy is such a great work, such a great mystery, because we are joined with the heavens, we are present with God, and the grace of God is poured out abundantly on us as we’ve gathered together to worship.

As to the actual words the priest says, they set the tone for the remainder of our worship. “Blessed” – all of the Liturgy is about praise of God and thanksgiving to God. Worship is not centered on me and what I want and what I think I might need – worship is centered on God. We are here to bless and praise Him, to offer thanksgiving and to lift up our prayers. We give God the first place, we give Him all the space in our hearts and lives, and we worship Him. “Blessed is the Kingdom” – Christ is always preaching to people about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom draws near, the Kingdom is within you, today you will be with me. The Kingdom not only refers to “heaven,” but the Kingdom truly is life in and with God. We as Christians are constantly trying to manifest the Kingdom in our lives. Our calling is to live in the Kingdom even here on this earth. And while we are offering the prayer of the Liturgy, we are living in the blessed Kingdom of God. Hopefully, when we depart from the service, we’ll carry that Kingdom within us and out into the world. The opening phrase ends with defining whose Kingdom we are blessing – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We very clearly, proudly, and lovingly proclaim, for all of eternity to hear, that we worship the one true God. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. We worship the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons, of whom the Incarnate Jesus Christ our Lord and God is the second Person. We worship the God of the Nicene Creed, the God of the angels and the Saints. We have no space for idols or distractions – and we truly live this as we worship and pray in the Divine Liturgy of our Holy Church.

As we hear this “Blessed is the Kingdom…” in each and every Liturgy, let us not grow used to hearing this as some normal phrase. May we always remember that these words lift us up to heaven – that we stand before the very throne of the dread Lord of Glory, and we offer Him our worship and our prayers along with the angels and the Saints. Truly, blessed is His Kingdom!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Liturgy 2

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today I would like to continue our look at the Divine Liturgy of our Church. We’ll have one more general look, tonight, before we get more specific beginning with next week’s Vespers homily. Tonight I would like us to consider the overall make up of the Divine Liturgy. You could say that the structure of the Liturgy is divided into 3 parts – the Proskomede, the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and the Liturgy of the Faithful.

The Proskomede is served by the priest alone, and very rarely is there anyone else around to actually witness the service. It would be nice to walk through that service in some detail, and perhaps we’ll have the chance to do that at some point. But for now, we can say that this service is a preparation service. The bread and wine are prepared, which are later to be offered to Christ and communed by the people as His very Body and Blood. Along with this preparation, the priest also prays, and if you look at the prayers and commemorations, the priest prays for the whole world. This is why many Fathers say that the most powerful prayers in our Church are those offered at the Proskomede. Why? Because as the priest remembers each person, he places a particle on the paten, and after Communion all of the particles are placed into the Chalice, which holds the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest prays – may the sins of all those here remembered be washed away by Thy blood and the prayers of all the Saints. All those prayed for at this service of Proskomede are joined with the Body and Blood of Christ – there is no more powerful prayer than this.

The second part of the Liturgy (or first, as some people reckon the Proskomede as its own service) is the Liturgy of the Catechumens. This section begins with “Blessed is the Kingdom…” and ends with the Litany of the Catechumens. It’s called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because, historically, it is the part of the service that catechumens were able to attend. At the dismissal of the catechumens, at the end of the Litany of the Catechumens, the catechumens all had to leave the Church. “Depart catechumens, all catechumens depart…” The structure of the Liturgy of the Catechumens very much mirrors the worship of the Jews in the synagogue. This makes sense – as the early Christians were forced out of the synagogues, they patterned their worship on what they knew. This section of the Liturgy contains prayers (Litanies), the singing of hymns and psalms (between the Litanies), reading from the Scriptures (Epistle and Gospel), and finally a teaching from the Scriptures (homily). This parallels what Jewish worshipers would have seen in the synagogue. And this was the “public” portion of the worship of the Church.

After the Litany of the Catechumens, we begin what is called the Liturgy of the Faithful. It is called this because, again, historically, only people who were members of the Church would be allowed to stay. This is where they Mystery of the Lord’s Body and Blood takes place – and the ancient Church was adamant that only those partaking of the Body and Blood were to stay. You can even hear in the language of this portion of the service, it’s assumed that all present will be communing. In fact, one of the strongest penances used to be that a person could be present for the Liturgy of the Faithful, but not allowed to commune. It was particularly heart-wrenching to be deprived of the grace of the Holy Mysteries. There’s a lot for us to learn in that. This is the particularly Christian portion of our service – the offering of the gifts to the Lord, and receiving them back as His very Body and Blood. After Communion, you’ll notice that the service ends very quickly, and the people are sent into the world to carry the Light of Christ with them. The Father’s say that the Liturgy doesn’t end with the dismissal, but that we carry on this service with us into the world.

Next week we’ll begin walking slowly through the Liturgy of the Catechumens, hopefully learning and being able to participate ever more fully in the worship of our Holy Church.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Liturgy 1

AUDIO HERE[1st paragraph missing from audio]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This evening I’d like to begin a series of homilies that will most likely last several months, but I think that the topic is important enough for us to spend some time thinking on it on Saturday evenings for a while. I’d like for us to spend some time walking through and carefully and prayerfully considering the Holy Liturgy of the Church. Just like with anything, the better we understand the Holy Liturgy, the more fully we’re able to enter into the service. So during this cycle of homilies, we’ll be talking about each section of the Liturgy in some detail, including the Litanies, the hymns, and even the prayers of the priest that are usually not heard by the faithful.

A few weeks ago we talked about preparing for the Liturgy, including our prayers and fasting and general state of mind and spirit, so I’ll not go over that again. What I’d like us to think of today is again a more general topic – what is meant by a phrase that we hear quite often, to “pray the Liturgy.” We hear this phrase, praying the Liturgy, yet quite often we also hear it said that we’re not to be concerned with our own private prayers during the Liturgy, but rather we’re to be joined to the community in this “work of the people.” So what does this all mean? According to the usage of the Fathers, any time we’re communicating and communing with God, this is called ‘prayer.’ The Fathers go so far as to say that all of our lives should become a prayer before God. We should constantly be in communion with God, bringing His grace into that place where we happen to be at any time. I think this understanding of prayer is important when considering our activity during the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is a a prayer before God – truly, it’s the greatest prayer that God has revealed to us, because it includes the Holy Mystery of Communion with the Body and Blood of our Saviour. So we’re to come to the Liturgy to join our prayer with the prayer of the Liturgy and the prayer of the people of God. It’s true that the Holy Liturgy is not a time for “private prayer” – yet at the same time, that doesn’t mean that we don’t pray during the Liturgy. There are many times when we may feel called to pray about a certain thing by the words of the Liturgy, several times when the Liturgy actually calls on us to lift up personal prayers (like when we pray for the living and for the dead). In saying that the Liturgy is not a time of personal prayer, what is meant by that is more along the lines of saying that we don’t do our morning prayer rule during Liturgy, we don’t do our Pre-Communion Prayers or read an akathist during the Liturgy. But as St. Paul says we are to pray without ceasing, the same is true during the Holy Liturgy. The entire Liturgy is a prayer, so our participation in that prayer is prayer. And we may also have things that we need to lift up to God over the course of the Holy Liturgy – that is a wonderful prayer to offer, and an ideal time to offer it.

Our entire lives are called to be prayer. And in the Holy Liturgy, we are called to offer everything we are to God. The only way to express this is to say that we are called to pray the Liturgy. To lift up all that we are: body, soul, mind, strength, weakness, worry, joy, those who are part of us in any way…we offer God ALL that we are. And all of those things that we offer to God are blessed and sanctified and joined to His Holy Body and His Holy Blood. “Let Thy Holy Spirit come down upon us” we pray – and He does, He comes down upon all that we are. And this is why we’re called to pray the Holy Liturgy.

Next week, God willing, we’ll look at the various sections of Liturgy in a general way, saying a few things about the larger overview, and then getting more specific as time goes on.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Brief Thoughts on Our Preparation for Holy Communion

Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Last Saturday, we looked at one of the hymns we sing immediately before receiving Holy Communion, and that got me thinking about our preparation for Communion in a broader way. I’d like to mention a few things that we do to prepare for Communion, starting with those things closest to the moment of our Communion, and moving back.

So, the last thing we do in our preparation is our attendance at the Holy Liturgy. If we look at the language of the Liturgy, we are doing several things: obviously we are worshipping and praising God, and as we do that we are also being prepared for Communion. The language of the Liturgy assumes that we will be partaking of our Lord’d Body and Blood, and the movement of the Liturgy is focused on that moment. Throughout the Liturgy, we’re moving toward Communion, not just in time, but also in content, being prepared for that awesome reception of the grace of God. With this reality in mind, it’s important not only that we be at the Liturgy, but that we participate with our minds and with our hearts as much as possible. During the Liturgy we are lifted up to heaven and we worship at the altar of God with all of the angels and the saints and all of the people throughout the world offering that worship with us.

Moving back from Liturgy, service-wise we also have the preparation of Great Vespers and Matins before Divine Liturgy. Vespers is the first service of the day, introducing us to the themes of our Lord’s Resurrection for Sunday, and also to the lives of the Saints that we commemorate. There’s a lot for us to learn in a Vespers service, and again, we praise and worship God, and we pray for a peaceful and sinless night. This is important, because there’s much we do in the night to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. Matins is the teaching service of the Church, especially in the Canon that is read after the Gospel. And then immediately before the Liturgy, we sing the Praises and the Doxology, very much preparing us to worship God in the Holy Liturgy. Attending both Matins and Vespers helps us to begin to separate our hearts from the cares of the world so that we can participate more fully in the Holy Liturgy.

Moving back another step from Liturgy, we prepare for Holy Communion with the intentional things we do the evening before the Liturgy. Specifically, here we think about our Prayers and our Fasting. There are a great number of different prayers and canons and ways of putting these things together which fall under the umbrella of “Prayers in Preparation for Holy Communion.” Whatever rule of prayer that you’ve come to with your spiritual father, it’s very important for us to set time aside Saturday evening/Sunday morning to prepare ourselves for the Eucharist with prayer. Those prayers of preparation remind us constantly of our sinfulness and unworthiness, they remind us of God’s grace and mercy, and they remind us of what an awesome gift we’re preparing to receive. We need to walk through and live all of these things as part of our preparation. Joined to our prayer is a fast from all food and drink before the Liturgy (exceptions are sometimes made for necessity, in agreement with one’s spiritual father). This fast is a very tangible and physical way of giving God the first place in that day, very reminiscent of the words of Christ that we live not by bread alone.

Moving back one final step, our lives in Christ on a daily basis are a final part of our preparation for Holy Communion. Elder Sophrony said that everything we do is in preparation for receiving the Holy Body and Blood of our Christ. We draw closer to Christ in our day to day walk with Him, and the closer we are to God, the more the grace of God fills us at all times and in all places. Our life in Christ is foundational – if we live far from Christ, then we remember the words of St. Paul, that we receive unworthily. If our life is not a sacrifice well pleasing to God, if we aren’t sincerely trying to follow Christ, then no amount of preparation will truly prepare us for Holy Communion.

And finally, one phrase on why our preparation for Holy Communion is so important – in the Eucharist, God shares with us His life, and the Fathers teach us that we are only able to receive and contain that portion of grace that we’re prepared to receive. We want to communion as completely as possible with our God, and therefore every part of our preparation for Communion is vital for our continuing growth in Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson