| may - july 2007 |
This Divine Liturgy is the main service of OrthodoxChristians. What do the words mean?Divine – something to do with God, something very holy.Liturgy
– public work, public duty.Eucharist – the giving of thanks, to the Most Holy God,Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
– meeting, the big meeting of the Christians. Thisword was used from the beginning to show a slight differencefrom the word Synagogue – the public prayer service of theJews and the place for that.Sacred or divine mysteries – another way of expressing theamazing fact of the Last Supper.Holy Gifts – the consecrated bread and wine, the holycommunion.
In ancient Greece, and throughout the Roman Empire (whichcovered all the Mediterranean world including the HolyLand), religion was a social responsibility and worship took place in the name of society as a duty. Christians gave thisworld a new idea of publicworship: the great thanksgiving(the Eucharist) or DivineLiturgy. Giving of thanks forthe things which God has doneis one strong element in ourunderstanding. From theearliest days of the Church, thisgiving of thanks has been forthe liberation of Christians, by Christ’s Crucifixion, from sinand death.The other strong element in our understanding of the Liturgyis the Jewish services for Passover and
Passover isthe feast which recalls the freedom of the Hebrews fromslavery under Egypt.
is a service when the head of the family asks for blessing of the Sabbath (Saturday) orsome other holy day (festival).Passover is important for our understanding of the DivineLiturgy. Passover is based on the events of the book of Exodus (5:1 – 12:36), when the Hebrews left slavery in Egyptand their slave masters were destroyed while pursuing them.The Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) make Passoverthe occasion when the Last Supper is held. Thus, the LastSupper contains the idea of the death of slavery – of whichsin is the chain and prison – and the entry into the PromisedLand, of which the Resurrection is the gateway. Passoverwitnesses to the agreement – the covenant (or testament) –between Old Israel and God; and the New Passover is theagreement, signed in the blood of Jesus – between God andthe New Israel: the New Testament.This idea of the Last Supper being a kind of Passover madeby Jesus for the world – to save all the world, not just theJews – from slavery, is an idea which affects all Christianthinking. The sacred books which were used by the Jews –the Old Testament – are most of the writings in the ChristianBible. Some of these, especially the prophetic writings andthe Psalms, in the Old Testament have been used by theChurch in its role as
. St Paul emphasizes this; e.g.,Galatians 3: 29, ‘Merely by belonging to Christ you are theposterity of Abraham, the heirs he promised.’ This can be aconfusing idea, because there is since 1948 a political body,the State of Israel, occupying much of the Holy Land.Christians do not mean ‘New Israel’ in that sense!
means the Jews who have remained Jewish and have notaccepted Jesus as the fulfilment of ancient Israel’s hopes. The
is the Church led by Jesus out of the slavery of sin: the Church which has been shown that death isconquered by the Cross and the Resurrection: Galatians 2:19-20.
What the Liturgy is…
The Divine Liturgy – or the holy public duty – is a service inwhich Orthodox Christians come together to pray with theblessing of bread and wine, which the priest asks the HolySpirit to make into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. TheLiturgy is not the same as praying at home. There you are anindividual. In the Church, individuals build up the Body of Christ and reflect his band of apostles. They were united byhim; we are united by him – at the table of the Last Supper, atthe foot of the Cross, in the light of the Resurrection.The Church is a kind of alternative society, butdrawn out of that biggergroup and concentrating onthe redemption of its lifeand the redemption of thelarger society also. Thispoint appears in the Liturgy;there are many prayers for the community, the city and allcities, the world in a general sense.The Liturgy is the main Orthodox service: the Sundaymorning service. Sunday is the day of Resurrection.Constantine the Great made Sunday a day of rest in theRoman Empire. The Liturgy is like what some Christians callthe Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Mass. But theOrthodox Sunday service is longer and richer than that forother Christians. Originally simple, its form has grownricher; but its meaning – its content – has always been rich,many-layered.The Liturgy is about the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and theResurrection of Jesus. It is a special way for OrthodoxChristians to make contact with Jesus through the taking of Communion – the Holy Gifts of Bread and Wine.
THE DIVINE LITURGY:ITS CONTENT AND FORM
Rev Dr Michael Brett-Crowther
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