What We Believe About the Divine Liturgy
THE BREAD OFFERING OR PROSFORA
Jesus said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).
St. Paul writes, "The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me' " (I Cor. 11:24).
Jesus is the bread of life Who offers Himself for our salvation. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54).
A very meaningful project for the Orthodox Christian family is to bake a loaf of altar bread (prosfora) and bring it to church for the liturgy.
The significance of the bread may be explained as follows.
The offering bread represents Jesus Who is the Bread of Life. It is baked by someone in the congregation and brought to the priest for each liturgy. In many Slavic churches, instead of one loaf, five small loaves are used to commemorate the five loaves which Jesus blessed and multiplied.
Bread is used not only to represent Jesus Who is the Bread of Life, of which if any man eat he shall never hunger, but also to express the offering of our life to God. The Greek word for offering bread is prosfora which means an offering to God. Bread is used as an offering because it represents life. It is the staff of life. Once consumed it becomes part of us, i.e., our flesh and bones. Thus in bringing the loaf of bread to God, we are, in effect, offering our life to Him. It is the gift of our love.
The priest accepts the gift and places it on the holy altar. This act represents God accepting our gift. It now passes into His possession. God is so pleased with the gift of our life that He transforms it through the Holy Spirit and gives it back to us as His Precious Body. Thus it is that communion with God results. We give ourselves to God and He, in turn, gives Himself to us. We come to the liturgy not just to receive Christ but also to give ourselves to Christ.
Some may object: "What meaning can a small loaf of bread have in the eyes of God? If you are going to give God a gift, don't give Him something that symbolizes life. Give Him your very life surrendered to His will."
To understand this, let us use an illustration. Suppose there is a little girl – say four or five – who sees her father give to her mother a birthday present at breakfast. It's Mummie's birthday! Then she too will want to give her mother a birthday present. What can she do? She wanders out into the garden and there the bright yellow glow of a dandelion flower catches her eye. It is only a weed, really: but she does not know that. To her it is a pretty flower. So she plucks it, toddles into the house and gives it to her mother as a birthday present.
The mother, of course, is delighted. Why? Does she want a dandelion? Obviously not for herself – it has no value. But it is a gift from her daughter; and because it is a gift it has meaning. It means the love of that little girl, and that is why it is so precious to the mother. Clearly, then, a gift which is poor in value such as a dandelion can be rich in meaning because of what it expresses; what it means.
And so it is with us and God. We give Him a present. In itself this present consists of a round loaf of bread – a very small value! But because it is a gift, it bears the meaning we put into it. We should, then, make it mean all that we can in the way of praise and love; we should put ourselves into that bread just as the child put herself into the flower. Then it will be precious to God as the flower was to the mother.
WE POUR OURSELVES INTO THE GIFT
That is our part in the sacrifice of the liturgy. When the priest holds up the bread and the wine at the altar, he tells God what we intend them to mean. It is not just the priest but everybody in the congregation who is helping to offer the sacrifice, so it is our business at that time to tell God what those gifts – which are our gifts – are intended to mean as far as we are concerned.
They stand for us. We put ourselves onto that paten with the altar bread, offering to God our mind and heart, our soul and body, all that we have and are. We must, as it were, pour our heart out into that chalice with the wine, and put into it all our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our love and adoration, our obedience and commitment – our whole self. For all this is to go to God in the shape of a gift.
That is our part at this point in the sacrifice: we are to put the meaning into the gifts by offering ourselves. If we do not offer ourselves to God under these symbols of bread and wine, then we are not really offering the liturgy as we should. We are not "in on it." The bread and the wine may mean somebody else. But they don't mean us because we haven't done anything to make them mean us.
A COMMON ACTION
The word liturgy means a common action, something that many people are doing together. That is why all the prayers in the liturgy are in the plural. The priest does not say "I offer this sacrifice to You, Lord ... but we . . .''
This means only one thing: the liturgy is something that we do all together – priest and people. During the liturgy we are all offering a sacrifice to God. We are not just watching something being done by the priest at the altar. Nor is it being offered for us, even at our request or with our approval, in our presence. We ourselves are offering it. We are sacrificing. We are bringing the bread and the wine to God. We are laying our lives on the altar in complete surrender to God. We are in effect saying to God, "Dear Lord, like the little girl who brought dandelions for her mother's birthday, so I bring you this bread and this wine. It is really of no value, Lord, except as a sign signifying that under the symbols of bread and wine I place my whole life on your holy altar because I love you."
STAMPED WITH A SEAL
A special seal is stamped on top of the loaf before it is baked. Your priest will know where you can borrow or purchase such a seal: The middle part of the seal contains a square piece of bread with the words IC, XC, NIKA. This is a Greek abbreviation for JESUS CHRIST CONQUERS. Since this is the piece that will be changed into the Body of Christ, it is called the Lamb of God. A large triangular piece is removed from the left of the Lamb of God and placed on the paten. This represents the Virgin Mary, our Lord's mother. Then nine smaller triangular pieces are removed from the seal to commemorate the angels, prophets, apostles and saints of the Church. These are placed on the paten to the right of the Lamb of God. Following this, the priest prays for the living members of the congregation especially for those whose names have been submitted to him. As he prays for each name he cuts a small piece of bread, representing the person prayed for, and places it immediately below Jesus, the Lamb of God. Finally, he removes a piece of bread for each deceased person for whom we have requested prayers. Thus, around the Lamb of God on the paten is gathered the entire Church consisting of the angels, saints, and loved ones in heaven together with members of the local congregation. ALL are alive in God's presence and all constitute the one living Body of Christ.
Since the loaf represents us, it is recommended that the family submit a list of names to the priest when presenting the loaf. One column should be entitled Living, containing the names of members of the immediate family who have baked the bread plus any others they wish to have remembered in prayer. A second column should be entitled Departed under which may be listed the names of loved ones now with God in heaven.
We offer below a recipe for baking of altar bread:
5 cups flour (sifted) 1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups warm water 2 cakes yeast
1 religious seal
Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add salt and flour and knead until smooth. Place in bowl, cover, and let rise. When it doubles in size, knead again. Then divide dough in half and put in cake pans that have been floured only (no grease). This will make two loaves. Dip seal in flour and stamp bread, leaving stamp on bread until it is ready to bake. Let rise, remove seal and bake for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
After the bread has been baked, the following prayer may be said in unison by the family:
"Dear Lord, this bread that we have baked represents each one of us in this family and in our congregation. We are offering ourselves to You, our very life, in humble obedience and total commitment to You. We place ourselves on Your holy altar through this bread to be used by You in any way that You feel will help enlarge Your kingdom. Accept our gift and make us worthy to receive the greater gift that You will give us when You consecrate this bread and give it back to us as Your Precious Body. Amen."
WE ARE ON THE ALTAR
By baking the altar bread and bringing it to church, we come to realize that we are not only at the altar but on the altar in every liturgy. The bread and wine which the priest places on the altar represent us. When the priest elevates the bread and wine (chalice and paten) at the altar, we kneel. We remember that these are our gifts the priest is offering to God: our love, our thanksgiving, our obedience, our life. We remember that we are on the altar offering ourselves to God.
Once the bread is baked it may be taken to the church and presented to the priest by the entire family. This act involves everyone in the offering of the gift. Each family may decide how often they would like to prepare the altar bread in consultation with the priest.
A MULTI-FACETED PRESENCE
Although Jesus is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine at the liturgy, to focus exclusively on the presence there is to miss some vital aspects of the mystery of the Eucharist. At the liturgy Christ is also truly present in the readings of the Word of God as well as in the sermon. Listening to these, we are truly listening to Jesus. Christ is also present in the celebrant priest who symbolizes in a special way Christ's presence in our midst. Christ is present as well in all those taking part in the Eucharist, i.e., God's people. The same Christ dwells in all of us. As we minister and serve each other, we serve Christ. Seeing the Eucharist in this way we can see that Holy Communion is more than the consecrated bread and wine; it is truly a sacred event, a moment of encounter with the living Christ.
THE GOSPEL BOOK — GOD TALKS TO US
When a young man offers a box of candy to the girl he loves, he begins by saying, "Hello, dear! I've brought you a present and I hope you'll like it." And she replies, "What is it? Oh! How marvelous! You are a perfect dear to have thought of it" – or something like that. They begin by talking to one another; they exchange words. After they talk, they exchange gifts. When the young girl tastes the candy, she offers some to the young man so that he, too, may eat. He gives to her – so she gives to him. They exchange gifts.
The same thing happens in the liturgy. We come to give God a gift. We can't just do it in silence – we begin by talking to God. We say, "Kyrie eleison" "Dear God, have mercy on us." We say, "God, how wonderful You are! How great and strong! How blessed is Your kingdom!" We say, "God, forgive us!" We pray for peace, good weather, the sick, etc. We say, "Please, God, give us all things that will be good for our souls." Thus we begin by sending our words up to God.
And then God replies. He sends His words down to us. He speaks to us through one of His apostles in the reading of the Epistle (Apostolos). Then He speaks to us through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, in the reading of the Gospel. After this He speaks to us through His minister, the priest, in the sermon. Thus we hear the epistle, the gospel and the sermon – each called "The Word of God." What is all this but an exchange of words? We talk to God and He talks to us. We have a friendly talk with God.
"WISDOM, LET US ATTEND"
Thus, the first part of the liturgy is talking with God. We begin by praying for the world and its needs. Then Jesus comes to talk to us. To remind us that Jesus is coming to talk to us the priest does something to make us pay attention. He takes the Gospel book and carries it out to the people. He holds it high so that everyone can see it and says WISDOM. LET US PAY ATTENTION. He is telling us that Jesus is now about to come to speak His wise words to us. We are to pay complete attention to Him as He speaks to us.
Jesus comes in every liturgy to speak to us and to show us the way. The priest holds high the Gospel book to show us that it is not the priest but CHRIST Who will speak to us.
So, in every liturgy we are there as Christ speaks to us. He continues to come to us. He continues to speak to us. As He spoke to His disciples long ago, so He speaks to us today to give us light and guidance. The small entrance with the Gospel book held up high should always remind us that Christ comes to speak to us personally in every liturgy.
The small entrance announces the coming of a theophany, a Greek word which means God shows Himself to us. God is about to show Himself to us by revealing His will to us in the Scripture readings and sermon. He will allow us to see how much He loves us, how precious we are to Him. The small entrance is like a window through which we look to see God as He reveals Himself to us.
The small entrance with the Gospel book also reminds us of the time in Jesus' life when He began to teach people in public shortly after His baptism. It tells us of the beginning of His teaching ministry at the age of 30. And it tells us that He continues to come to teach us today in the liturgy. He is the Greatest Teacher Who ever lived because He is God. And as God He never stops speaking to us and teaching us if we go to be where He is every Sunday, i.e., in the liturgy.
HOW THE SMALL ENTRANCE ORIGINATED
The small entrance began in the old days when the Gospel book was written by hand because the printing press had not yet been invented. It was a very expensive and precious book. To protect it from being stolen or burned, it was kept locked in a big vault or safe. The priest had to go to the vault, unlock it, and carry the Gospel book to the altar for the liturgy. The small entrance was built around this act.
Today the Gospel book does not have to be kept in a vault. It is kept enthroned on the holy altar of every Orthodox Church. So it should be kept enthroned on our family altar at home. Everyone of us can have a Bible by our bedside with an icon. The same Jesus Who comes to speak to us in the liturgy can also speak to us at home every day if we will open the Bible and read a chapter. And when we love someone, we love to speak to him and listen to him not just once a week but every day.
EXAMINE THE GOSPEL BOOK
The Gospel Book on the holy table is not the complete New Testament because it does not contain the epistles – only the four Gospels. The epistles are contained in another book called the "Apostolos" or Apostle which is used by the chanter.
On the four corners of the Gospel Book are engravings of the four persons who wrote the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. On the one side of the book there is an engraving of the crucifixion. This side faces up on the altar during the liturgical processions of the week, since during the week days we remember the life, passion and death of Jesus. The resurrection side of the Gospel Book faces up on the altar on Saturday and Sunday of every week since on these two days we remember and celebrate the ressurection of Jesus.
Through the Gospel Book, Christ speaks to us in every liturgy. He speaks to us the very same words He spoke to His disciples. He enters into conversation with us. It is as if He were here now. In fact, He really is here when we hear His word read to us.
TRY READING DIRECTIONS
How much we need to listen to Christ today! I remember once a man stopping his car to park in a strange city. He looked and looked for the coin slot in the parking meter but could not find it. Finally, he asked someone about it. The answer he received was, "Try reading the directions on the meter." He did, and he immediately found the coin slot.
We, too, have many questions about life. We fumble about not knowing who we are or where we are going or why we are here. All the while the Lord Jesus is trying to tell us, "Why don't you try reading my directions for life in this Book. Here is where I tell you what life is all about."
Whenever we buy a gadget or appliance the manufacturer gives us a set of directions to explain how it works and how to maintain it. Do you think God would give us the gift of life without at the same time giving us directions on how to live life? Of course not. His directions are to be found in this wonderful book that sits enthroned on the Holy Table of every Orthodox Church.
YOU ARE THERE
I heard someone tell the other day how dinner is served down on the farm. All the children and the hired help come in from the fields at noon. They wash their hands and sit at the table. Before the food is served, the mail is read. Then the instructions are given as to which chores must be completed that afternoon and evening. After this is finished, the food is served to give everyone the strength to carry out the job assignments just received.
Something similar takes place in every liturgy. In the first part of the liturgy – called the Liturgy of the Word – we receive the Word of God. God gives us His instructions as to what He wants us to do, how He wants us to live. We receive these instructions in the Epistle lesson, the Gospel lesson, and the sermon. Hut we are too weak to carry out the Word of God. We lack strength. That is why in the second part of the liturgy – called the Liturgy of the Faithful – God gives us the power we need. He gives us Himself – the Bread of Life – through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
What is Holy Communion?
HE COMES IN DISGUISE
Dr. Panayiotis Trembelas, professor of theology at the University of Athens, wrote that when Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, He chose to be born not of a mother who was listed in "Who's Who," but of a poor, humble, pure peasant girl. He chose as His place of entry into this world not a palace but a cold, damp cave that served as a stable for animals. Who would have thought at the time that this child born of this humble mother in such a desolate place was God Himself? Yet doesn't this very same thing happen again in the Sacrament of Holy Communion? Doesn't the all-powerful Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, who holds the whole world in His hands, who is worshipped by all creation, doesn't He, even in this Sacrament, shed His divine glory and majesty for us under the humble forms of bread and wine?
What happened in Bethlehem long ago happens again today whenever the liturgy is celebrated. Christ comes to us again quietly, humbly, disguised under the forms of bread and wine. Have you ever imagined what would happen if
Christ were to descend on the altar with the same glorified body with which the disciples saw Him ascending into heaven? Who of us would dare approach Him? Or if He should offer us His body as it was when it was taken down from the cross on Good Friday, who of us would dare touch it? Through the great Sacrament of Holy Communion the Lord makes Himself utterly approachable, disguising Himself, even as He did in the manger, and coming to us ever so humbly under the forms of bread and wine. The Sacrament of Communion is the perpetuation of Christmas. In celebrating Christmas we observe not only God's coming into the world thousands of years ago; we celebrate also His coming into the world today to be born in the manger of our soul through this great Sacrament in every liturgy.
When something important happens we do not want to forget it. We make a memorial plaque to help us remember. For example, there is a memorial plaque below our church property in Minneapolis stating that the first house, school and church in our area was built on our church site in 1830. We do not want to forget this important happening. So we use a memorial plaque to help us remember.
In addition to memorial plaques which are lifeless, we can remember an important happening by making it into a play or a movie. For example, when you see a movie on the life of Abraham Lincoln, it is as if you are there. The life of Lincoln comes alive. It is lived before your very eyes.
The liturgy is not like a memorial plaque but more like a play or movie on the life of Jesus. What Jesus said and did two thousand years ago happens again before our very eyes in the liturgy.
Thus, the liturgy is a remembrance. We remember again a real historical event that has great meaning for us: the life of Jesus. We do this in obedience to Jesus Who said, "Do this in remembrance of Me." St. Paul wrote, "As often as you shall drink this cup and eat this bread you shall show forth the death of Jesus till He comes again."
MAKING PRESENT AGAIN
But the liturgy is not just a remembrance. It is also a making present again today of the life of Jesus so that we are there just as the disciples were there when these great things happened.
The liturgy bridges the gap between what Jesus did two thousand years ago and us today. It is like the old TV program YOU ARE THERE which enacted great historical happenings and made us feel that we were actually there when they were happening. The sacrifice on Calvary, for example, is not repeated since the Lamb of God was sacrificed "once only, for all time." It is made present again mystically in the liturgy through the Holy Spirit so that we are there today:
1. WE ARE THERE when Jesus teaches even as His disciples were there. We sit at His feet on the Mount of Beatitudes and He speaks as He spoke then. What is the Epistle, the Gospel reading, and the sermon but Jesus speaking to us today? We are there!
2. WE ARE THERE as Jesus goes forth to die for us and we repeat the prayer of the dying thief, "Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom." This happens in the Great Entrance when the priest carries the covered chalice and paten out to the people and prays, "Remember, O Lord, each one of us when You come into Your kingdom." We are at Calvary at this moment: The same Jesus is present. Only this time we are the dying thief who asks to be remembered. And we pray his prayer. With the ears of faith we hear the same response from Jesus, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
3. WE ARE THERE at the Last Supper and Jesus directs His invitation personally to each one of us: "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins," and "Drink ye all of it. This is my blood…" He is the Host. We are the guests. Through the liturgy the Last Supper is not a banquet that took place 2,000 years ago for twelve special people. It is your banquet and my banquet today. We are all invited. The same Jesus is there. We are there. He gives us the same Bread of Life He gave His disciples. Paul Evdokimov writes, "All the holy suppers of the Church are nothing else than one eternal and unique Supper, that of Christ in the upper room. The same Divine act both takes place at a specific moment in history, and is offered always in the sacrament."
4. WE ARE THERE as Jesus ascends into heaven and we ascend with Him. When the priest carries our gifts into the altar at the Great Entrance and places them on the holy table, we are carried into the very presence of God. Every liturgy is an ascension into the presence of God. Jesus takes us there. This is why we sing the very same hymn the angels sing in His presence, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth…"
5. WE ARE THERE as Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to His apostles on Pentecost. When we kneel during the liturgy for the epiclesis prayer, we experience Pentecost. We pray with the priest that God may send the Holy Spirit upon us and upon our gifts of bread and wine to change them into the Body and Blood of Jesus. This is a real Pentecost and we are there! We receive the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit and we leave filled with God's wisdom, life, power and presence.
So it is that in every liturgy the life, the teaching, the suffering, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost are not just remembered but also made present again so that we are there to actually participate in them!
This is why Fr. Schmemann says, "The liturgy is, first of all, the Paschal (Easter) gathering of those who are to meet the Risen Lord and enter with Him into His kingdom."
And Nicholas Gogol says, "The liturgy is the eternal repetition of the great act of love for us."
The central event of the liturgy is the descent, the appearance, and the divine presence of the resurrected Christ. A person is frequently reminded of this presence. For example, at one point in the liturgy the priest says, "Christ is with us." And the co-celebrant priest responds, after receiving the kiss of peace, "He is with us and will be."
There are those who object, saying, "Christianity is not a creed. Christianity is not liturgy. Christianity is power." We agree but we also ask: "Where does this power come from if not from our creed and from our liturgy?"
P. Evdokimov sums it all up when he writes, "During the liturgy, through its divine power, we are projected to the point where eternity cuts across time, and at this point we become true contemporaries with the events we commemorate."
The liturgy is full of processions or movements. These processions show what is happening in the liturgy. God is moving toward man, and man is moving toward God. We are all moving closer to the Second Coming of Jesus. For the Orthodox Christian, life is not going around in circles. It is movement toward a goal. The goal is the kingdom of God.
At the very outset the goal of the liturgy is announced. The first words of the liturgy are: "Blessed be the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. . ." As a bus driver announces at the beginning where the bus is going, so the priest announces at the very beginning that the goal of the liturgy is to take us to the Kingdom of Heaven. We hear this and we reply by saying, "Amen." This means, "O.K. That is where we want to go."
THE FIRST PROCESSION
The first procession of the liturgy begins even before we come to church. When we wake up on Sunday morning and decide to come to church we are making our first movement to God. Getting up out of bed, going to the bathroom to wash, climbing into the family car, driving to church is part of the first procession we are making to come to God. These processions at home are just as religious as any that take place in the liturgy. We are moving toward God.
Another important procession or movement of the liturgy is the bringing of the bread and the wine to the altar for the liturgy. We are moving to come to God with a sacrifice: a gift that expresses our life. We are making a procession to God to lay our life on His altar in complete obedience and commitment to Him. We come to give first. Only after we have given do we receive.
THE PROCESSIONS OF THE SMALL ENTRANCE AND THE GOSPEL
Another procession is the small entrance. The priest brings the Gospel book out to us, holds it high and says, WISDOM. LET US PAY ATTENTION. He comes to announce the coming of Christ to speak to us and calls on us to pay attention to His wise words of life and peace.
Three other processions follow: the coming of a lay person to the front of the altar area to read the Apostolos, a reading from the Epistles. The coming of the priest to read God's word from the Gospel book, and thirdly, the coming of the priest to the pulpit to bring us God's word in sermon. All these movements show God coming to us time and again as He did in the history of salvation to speak to His people. He sent Moses, the prophets, the patriarchs and finally His own Son to speak to us. This is expressed today in the many processions God makes in the liturgy to come out from the altar to speak and to be with us.
THE PROCESSION OF THE GREAT ENTRANCE
The Great Entrance is one of the more impressive processions of the liturgy. As candle and standard bearers go before him, the priest carries our gifts of bread and wine in a solemn procession and places them on the holy table. This procession reminds us of Jesus on His way to suffer on the cross for our salvation. As He proceeds by us we pray the prayer of the thief who repented, "Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom."
The second meaning of the Great Entrance is that it is a procession that leads us into the very presence of God. It is a movement forward and upward, an ascension toward God, a procession of the Church to where it belongs, i.e., the Throne of God. Christ takes us with Him in His glorious Ascension to His Father. He enters the heavenly sanctuary and we enter with Him to stand before the Throne of God. In carrying our gifts to God's altar, our bread which signifies our life, the priest is carrying all of us into the presence of God. Mystically the whole congregation enters God's presence with the priest and stands before God singing the hymn of the angels, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. . ."
THE PROCESSION FOR HOLY COMMUNION
The next procession is the priest proceeding out to us from the holy table with the chalice. We are at the Last Supper. Christ is the Host. He invites us with the same invitation He used for His disciples, "Take, eat… Drink ye all of it…" The movement of the priest from the altar to the people with the holy cup shows Christ coming to each one of us today with the Bread of Life.
In our desire to be one with Him, we make a movement to go forward at this moment. It signifies our going to God. In His great love, God has chosen to take the first step to come to us. We respond by going to Him. No liturgy is complete unless we take part in the procession to the altar to be united with Jesus. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him," said Jesus.
We are never "worthy" to come to Jesus. We come because only He can make us worthy. We come in obedience to Jesus who invites us to come. We come praying, "I am not worthy, Master and Lord, that You should come to me … yet since You in Your love for all men, wish to dwell in me in boldness I come…"
THE PROCESSION TO COLLECT OUR GIFTS
Still another movement or procession of the liturgy is the offering that is taken to support God's work in the world through His Church. When the offering plate comes before us it is like the paten which contains the gift of our life to God. Only this time we place on the paten not bread but the fruit of our labor and sweat – an offering of money to be used to translate our faith into deeds of love for Christ. We truly give ourselves to God through this gift. It is part of our sacrifice of love to God. In fact, the more one loves, the more one gives.
THE MOVEMENT OF LOVE
Another movement or procession of the liturgy comes at the time the priest says, "Let us love one another that we may with one mind confess." At this moment the priests at the altar exchange the kiss of peace. In the early Church the entire congregation did the same. Each person reached out to the nearest person(s) to express by a handshake or kiss the love of Jesus, to show that there were no resentments. The greeting used was – and still is – "Christ is in our midst." The response is: "He is and ever will be." There can be no movement to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus unless there is first a movement of love and reconciliation toward our fellow humans. Before we bring our gift at the altar, said Jesus, we must first go and be reconciled to our neighbor.
THE PROCESSION BACK TO THE WORLD
The final movement or procession of the liturgy can best be described as a RETURN, our return from heaven to earth, from the Kingdom of God back to our kitchen, or school, or home. But as we return we are different from what we were when we began the movement toward God at the beginning of the liturgy. We are not the same. For, "We have seen the True Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith." We come to the liturgy wounded, and we leave healed. We come hopeless, and we leave with hope. We come weak, and we leave strong. We come as sinners, and we leave as saints. We come in darkness, and we leave in light. We come hungry, and we leave filled with the Bread of Life. We come in sadness, and we leave in joy. Now Christ sends us back as witnesses of what we have seen and heard, to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom, and to continue His work. We are His people. He is in us and we are in Him. We return to the world as "other Christs" to transform and change it for Him. The true liturgy begins when we return to the world to work for Christ, to make real His love through our acts of mercy.
This is "the liturgy after the liturgy" that is described so beautifully by Bishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, professor at the University of Athens:
"The Liturgy has to be continued in personal, everyday situations. Each of the faithful is called upon to continue a personal liturgy on the secret altar of his own heart, to realize a living proclamation of the good news 'for the sake of the whole world'. Without this continuation the Liturgy remains incomplete. Since the eucharistic event we are incorporated in him who came to serve the world and to be sacrificed for it, we have to express in concrete diakonia, in community life, our new being in Christ, the Servant of all. The sacrifice of the Eucharist must be extended in personal sacrifices for the people in need, the brothers for whom Christ died. Since the Liturgy is the participation of the great event of liberation from the demonic powers, then the continuation of Liturgy in life means a continuous liberation from the powers of the evil that are working inside us, a continual reorientation and openness to insights and efforts aimed at liberating human persons from all demonic structures of injustice, exploitation, agony, loneliness, and at creating real communion of persons in love."
There are four different liturgies in the Orthodox Church:
1) The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which is the most common liturgy celebrated on Sundays and weekdays.
2) The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great which is celebrated only ten times a year, mainly during the Sundays of Lent. St. Basil's liturgy is very much like that of St. John Chrysostom with the exception of the prayers offered privately by the priest. These are much longer.
3) The Liturgy of St. James, the Brother of the Lord, which is celebrated only once a year on the Feast Day of St. James, October 23, and only in certain places such as Jerusalem.
4) The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts which is used only on Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week. It is called pre-sanctified because no consecration takes place. The communion elements distributed are reserved from the Eucharist of the previous Sunday. Thus, the Pre-Sanctified is not a eucharistic liturgy but rather an evening Vesper Service that includes the distribution of pre-consecrated elements of Holy Communion. Its purpose is to offer us more frequent opportunity during Lent to receive Holy Communion. It is used during Lent because the normal liturgy is an extremely joyful expression of the Resurrection and is considered to be inappropriate to the deeply penitential season of Lent.
The liturgy is full of movements of God to man and man to God:
1. We wake up and get ready for church; first Procession.
2. We bring a gift of bread to express the giving of our life to God.
3. The processions of the Small Entrance, the reading of the Epistle, Gospel and sermon that show Christ as coming to speak to us today.
4. We go to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.
5. We give our offering of money to God to help the poor and the needy; to continue the work of His Church in the world today.
6. The movement of love and reconciliation to our neighbor through a handshake or the kiss of peace.
7. The movement back to the world to serve as witnesses of the resurrection.
God has made and continues to make many movements to come to us, but He will not forcefully break down the door of our heart; He awaits our response: "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebr. 4:16).
What We Believe About Salvation
A question that is often addressed to us is: "Are you saved?" There are those who delight in using this question in their Christian witnessing. It is really not a bad question, for it directs our thinking to an all-important subject. But repeated tod often it can become overbearing. There is a story of a man at a baseball game who was looking for an opportunity to share his Christian faith. Finally someone spoke to him. "Is this seat saved?" "No," said the man, "are you?"
THE THREE STAGES OF BEING SAVED
A very godly bishop was walking down the street one day when a little girl, a very zealous Christian, no doubt, asked him, "Bishop, are you saved?" The bishop, a very kind man, smiled and said, "My dear friend, might I just inquire a little more exactly as to what it is you are asking me. Are you asking me, have I been saved? Or are you asking me, am I now being saved? Or are you asking me, shall I yet someday be saved?" Well, that pretty well flustered the little girl. She didn't respond. "Honey," said the bishop, "all three are true. I have been saved. I am being saved; and I shall yet be saved." You see, salvation is comprehensive. It has to do with our past – we have been saved from sin and death through baptism. This we call justification. It has to do with the present – we are being saved.
This has to do with our daily walk and growth in the life of Christ and the Spirit. This we call sanctification. And salvation has to do also with our final glory in Christ. As Paul said, "When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4). That we call glorification.
Another bishop when asked the question, "Have you been saved?" replied, "I have." "And when were you saved?" he was asked. The bishop replied immediately "On a Friday afternoon at three o'clock in the spring of the year 33 A.D. on a hill outside the City of Jerusalem."
That is when we were all saved, but God will not force this salvation upon us. We must – each of us – accept it personally as the great gift of God's love. We were saved in baptism which is our personal Golgotha. Baptism is the tomb where "we were baptized into His death" (Rom. 6:3); it is also the womb from which we were born anew receiving within us the life of Christ.
WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION
We were saved at baptism but we must continue to "work out" our salvation for the rest of our lives by daily serving, loving, obeying, and following Jesus.
When you stand before God's altar to be married, you are pronounced man and wife in the Lord. You are married right then and there. No one can argue that point. But it is equally true that you will work out your marriage from that moment on till the end of your life together. As two wills seek to become one, your marriage becomes what God ordained it to be.
In Jeremiah 3:14 the Lord said to His people, "I am married to you." Our relationship to God is like a marriage relationship. More than anything else God wants our love, our heart. He wants us! In the Christian life, as in marriage, two wills are involved; God's will and ours. Jesus constantly yielded His will to the Father. It was the last thing He did before He went to the cross. That kind of obedience is not easy. And it is not something we can do once and forget. It is a way of life – a constant yielding of our will to God's will daily. Each time we choose God's will we are working out our salvation. In the words of St. Paul, "Therefore, my beloved . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).
The great saints of the Church were humble men and women who radiated grace and love. They were not converted once. Nor did they repent just once. Their life was a daily conversion and a constant repentance. They were saved once on the cross at Golgotha, but they were also being saved daily in the yielding of their will to Jesus. Daily they sinned and daily they repented. Daily they fell and daily they rose.
We have been saved but we are also being saved. "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Cor. 1:18).
In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the proud Pharisee thought he was saved. His prayer was, "Thank God, I have made it! I am where I am supposed to be. Everyone else is below me on the ladder somewhere. I am not like other men. Would that they were all as good as I am." It was that kind of spiritual pride that condemned the Pharisee. The poor tax collector, on the other hand, was on a much lower level of spirituality and virtue, and he knew it. He acknowledged his sinfulness and, realizing the unlimited possibilities for growth, he moved on.
A CONSTANT MOVING TOWARD GOD
In Orthodox theology salvation is not static but dynamic; it is not a completed state, a state of having arrived, a state of having made it, but a constant moving toward theosis, toward becoming like Christ, toward receiving the fullness of God's life. And it can never be achieved fully in this life.
The more the great saints of the Church grew in their knowledge of Jesus, the more they realized their imperfection and sinfulness. When a saint was told, "You are a thief," he would agree that he was. "You are a liar." He would agree that he was. "You are a fornicator." He would agree that he was. The saints realized that we can lie, steal and fornicate in thought as well as in deed. Like the sinful tax collector they prayed the Jesus Prayer constantly: "Lord Jesus, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner." They were saved at Golgotha, having died and risen with Christ in baptism. And they were being saved daily through repentance and the yielding of their mind, heart and will to God. And they looked forward to their glorification with Jesus at the Second Coming.
A CRY FOR SALVATION
People today are not running to church with the question: "What must I do to be saved?" But when they run to psychiatrists, when they take large doses of drugs, when they drown themselves with alcohol, when they try to resign from the human race, when they complain that life is not worth living and try to commit suicide, what are they doing but confessing a need – a need to be saved from themselves, from the sin and death of their daily existence.
AN INNER SALVATION
The salvation we are looking for is not to be found in education, or politics, or economics but in Christ. It is a spiritual, an inner salvation, which in turn produces an outer salvation. Changed people produce a changed society. The peace and the fulfillment we are all searching for can be found in a relationship to God that only Jesus can bring. "Peace I leave with you,"' He said, '"my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27).
Jesus did not come to condemn us because we had become enslaved to sin. He came to save us by breaking the bonds of sin and death.
Recall the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa:
"Our nature was sick and needed a doctor.
Man had fallen and needed someone to raise him up.
He who ceased to participate in the good needed
someone to bring him back to it.
He who was shut in darkness needed the presence of life.
The prisoner was looking for someone to ransom him.
The captive for someone to take his part.
He who was under the yoke of slavery was
looking for someone to set him free."
"WHO WILL SAVE ME . . . ?"
A great scientist asked once, "The wild universe may yet be tamed; but the Inner world of man's life, with its ignorance, prejudice, bitterness, instability, passion and sin – who will tame that?"
Years before this scientist, a great saint asked the same question in a different way:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:15, 17, 24-25).
Who shall deliver me? Thank God for Jesus Who came not to judge me but to deliver me from this body of sin and death!
YESTERDAY SAVIOR — TOMORROW JUDGE!"
Years ago a young lawyer, at the risk of his own life, grabbed the reins of a runaway team of horses and saved a man's life. The wagon turned over but the man was not seriously hurt. He dusted himself off and thanked the lawyer.
The scene has changed. More than twenty years have passed. The lawyer is now a respected judge. The place is the judge's courtroom. A man hit been tried for murder and convicted. Prior to formal sentencing the judge asks the accused if he has anything to say. He indicates that he does.
He comes close to the judge's bench and says, "Judge, don't you remember me?" The judge replies, "No, I don't remember having met you prior to this trial." "But, Judge," the man answers, "don't you remember saving 1 man's life by turning a team of runaway horses twenty years ago?" "Oh, yes," replies the judge, "I remember that as though it were yesterday."
"Judge, I am that man," the accused states, "you were my savior then, can't you be my savior now?" The Christian judge dropped his head and when he had regained his Composure he said, "Yesterday I was your savior, but today I must be your judge."
Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save the world. But one day He must come to judge the world. Today He is our Saviour. Tomorrow he will be our judge. How shall we meet Him at the end, as Savior or Judge?
WHAT ARE WE SAVED FOR?
Jesus came to save us from sin. Once saved, sin becomes an incident in the life of the Christian – not a practice. Love becomes the practice, not just an occasional incident – the love of Jesus. We are saved from sin for love. The non-judgemental, accepting, forgiving love of Jesus must flow through us to others. "Above all, put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col. 3:14).
Secondly, we are saved for fruit bearing. The purpose of the True Vine (Jesus) and the branches (the members of His Body, the Christians) is the name: to bear fruit for God, to carry God's saving love to the world. Every brunch that bears not fruit, He takes away. This is what we are saved for. We are made branches on the True Vine, members of Christ's Body, that the head (Jesus) may have us to carry out His saving work in the world today, that through us Jesus may bring life to men. We are saved not in order to sit around this world as ornaments. We are saved to love, to serve, to bear witness, to confess Jesus among men, to bear the fruit of the Heavenly Vine for dying men and women to cat and live.
WHAT IS SALVATION
What does it mean to be saved? What is salvation in Christ?
Salvation is freedom – freedom from the tyranny of self centeredness. freedom from the bondage of fear and death.
Salvation in Christ is being freed from myself so that I can become the person God created me to be and intends me to become.
Salvation is God lifting us up in Christ Jesus. It is God giving us hope. It is God working an unrelenting work in our personalities, in our characters, in our lives. It is God not giving up on us.
Salvation according to Orthodox theology is not the state of "I have arrived. I have made it. I am saved." Rather, it is the state of "I am on the way. I am moving. I am growing in God, for God, with God, and through the power of God."
Salvation is Christ overcoming for us our greatest enemy which is at the root of all our insecurity, the fear of death. God does not remain aloof in the heavens while men suffer and die. He takes on a body and by His death destroys our death so that now deaths becomes a doorway through which we must all pass to enter the splendor of His glorious presence.
liberation from evil,
the defeat of the devil,
the transfiguration of man,
putting on Christ,
the restoration of the image of God in man,
participating in the life of God,
restoration of communion with God,
receiving the Holy Spirit,
becoming temples of the Holy Spirit,
forgiveness of sins,
ascending to the throne of God,
participating in the kingdom of God,
being by grace what God is by nature,
the destruction of death, seeing the light,
being in a process of growth that never ends,
living life the way God meant it to be.
This is the salvation the Lord Jesus offers us.
The Orthodox Church has always emphasized the more positive aspect of salvation. Salvation for the Orthodox Church has not meant only justification or forgiveness of sins: it means also the ^renewing" and restoration of God image in man, the lifting up of fallen humanity through Christ into the very life of God. Christ forgives man and frees him from sin that he may proceed to fulfill this destiny, which is to become like God?
Christ came to save us from sin for participation in the life of God. This exalted vision of the Christian life was expressed by St. Peter when he wrote that we are invited "to become partakers of the Divine Nature" (2 Peter 1:4). It was also affirmed by St. Basil the Great when he described man as "the creature who has received an order to become god". The whole emphasis of the Orthodox way of life is on "putting on Christ" and receiving the Holy Spirit through prayer and the Sacraments so that we may begin to live a new life in union with Christ and in communion with the Holy Spirit.
In his book "The Year of Grace of the Lord," a monk of the Eastern Church writes about the three conversions that should take place in the life of an Orthodox Christian according to God's plan of salvation:
". . . in spiritual life three stages can be discerned, which are comparable to three conversions. The first conversion is the meeting of the soul with our Lord, when He is followed as a Frend and as a Master. The second conversion is a (personal experience of pardon and salvation) of the cross and . . . resurrection. The third conversion is the coming of the Holy Spirit into the soul like aflame and with power. It is by this conversion that man is established in a lasting union with God. Christmas or Epiphany, then Easter, and finally Pentecost correspond the these three conversions".
SAVED BY GRACE
St. Paul assures us that we are saved by grace through faith. Let us examine first the word grace: What is it? Grace is a gift rather than a wage we earn. It cannot be deserved. Sin give wages. God gives grace. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8).
There is a story about a man who went to heaven. He was met at the pearly gates by Peter, who said, "It will take 1000 points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points."
The man said, "Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir.''
"That will be 50 points," Peter said.
"And I gave to the church liberally," the man added.
"That is worth 25 more points," said Peter.
The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. "I taught a Sunday school class," he said. "That's a great work for God." "Yes," said Peter. "That's worth 25 points."
The man was frantic. "You know," he said, "at this rate the only way I'm going to get into heaven is by the grace of God," Peter smiled. "That's 900 points! Come on in!"
In this world we get what we pay for, people say. Do we? What can we ever pay for the grace of God? What can we ever pay for His love? What can we ever pay for His sacrifice on the cross?
Grace is the unlimited pouring out of God's mercy. It is God's unconditional forgiveness offered to the unworthy. Lt is God accepting us as His children in Baptism, filling us with His Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and then sending Jesus to live in our hearts through Holy Communion. It is God loving us when we are unlovable. "But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
We are saved by grace through faith. What is the role of faith in God's plan of salvation? Faith is saying "yes" to God's gracious gift of salvation. It is the humble acceptance of God's gracious gift. It is the hand that takes the blessing. It receives what God gives, not as something we deserve, but as a gift of His grace. It is the marriage of Christ – the Bridegroom – to the bride which is my soul. Faith is the handle by which I grasp God's power and apply it to my weakness. It is remembering when I feel utterly worthless that I am the one for whom God gave His Son. Faith is the eye by which we look to Jesus; the hand by which we lay hold of Jesus; the tongue by which we taste the sweetness of the Lord; the foot by which we go to Jesus. Faith is Forsaking All I Take Him. F-A-I-T-H. Faith is man's hand reaching up to grasp the already outstretched hand of God's grace. "By grace you have been saved through faith "(Eph. 2:8). When man's hand (faith) grasps God's hand (grace), there is reconciliation and salvation.
A WORD ABOUT GOOD WORKS AND OUR SALVATION
The person who has accepted Christ, been baptized and received the Holy Spirit begins a new life which is expressed in love through good deeds. A person is not saved by faith alone but by faith which expresses itself through love as St. Paul writes. St. James asks, "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has no works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:14-17).
The good works that we do, do not earn us any special merit points in heaven. We can never buy God's love with them since Jesus specifically tells us: "So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty' " (Luke 17:10).
Our good deeds do not put God in our debt. It is God's love in Christ that puts us forever in His debt. Our good deeds are a grateful response, a feeble attempt on our part to show appreciation to God for what He has done for us. We can never fully accomplish all that we should do, but neither should we stop trying. Love will not let us. "The love of Christ controls us," says Paul (2 Cor. 5:14).
CREATED FOR GOOD WORKS
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." This verse seems to contradict the one just before it: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). One verse says: "You have been saved ... not because of works," and the next says: "Created in Christ Jesus for good works."
A NEW CREATION PRODUCES NEW WORKS
Far from contradicting each other, these verses give us the Orthodox Christian position concerning good works. Good works do not produce salvation, but salvation produces good works. We are not saved because of good works, but we are saved for good works. Christ makes each one of us a new creation, a new being. The new being, through the power of the indwelling Trinity, produces new works. Christ does not begin by changing our deeds. He begins by changing us. The good deeds flow by God's grace out of the new person.
Only those good works that are done in the name of Christ are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Good deeds – even the best – are worthless in a person who does not believe in Christ. A work is good only insofar as it is done in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian there is no good work apart from this.
A story is told of a ten-dollar bill that got into circulation and did a lot of good. It helped buy coal for a needy old woman; it helped buy medicine for a very sick child; and even showed up in the collection plate in church one Sunday morning. Then it fell into the hands of a bank teller who spotted it immediately as a counterfeit. The test is not how many good deeds we claim to our credit, but rather, can they pass inspection in the sight of God? Were our good deeds done in Christ and for Christ? Or are they products of pride: trying to parade our goodness or to buy God's favor and place Him in our debt?
We are created for those good works that are done in Christ and for Christ. All others are counterfeit; they cannot pass inspection in God's sight.
A SHOWPLACE OF GOOD DEEDS
The early Church was a showplace of good works done for Christ. Having been made a new creation in Christ, those early Christians began to produce new deeds that astounded the pagan world.
In one of the earliest apologetic works preserved, Justin the Martyr (d. 165), writes:
"We used to value above all else money and possessions; now we bring together all that we have and share it with those who are in need (cf. Acts 4:34-37). Formerly we hated and killed one another and, because of a difference in nationality or custom, we refused to admit strangers within our gates. Now since the coming of Christ, we all live in peace. We pray for our enemies and seek to convert those who hate us unjustly …" (I Apology XIV). Tertullian (160-220) said: "It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another' "(Apology XXXIX).
"And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful." These words of St. Paul found eager expression in the lives of the early Christians who as we see from the history of the early Church:
1. gave alms to help the destitute (even poor Christians were urged to give through fasting);
2. supported widows and orphans;
3. supported the sick, the infirm, the poor, and the disabled (even establishing hospitals in many cities);
4. cared for prisoners and slaves
5. found work for those who were unemployed;
6. cared for those who journeyed;
7. cared for the victims of great calamities.
Summarizing what we have said on the subject of salvation:
1. We have been saved form sin and death through baptism which is our personal Golgotha (Justification).
2. We are being saved daily as we repent of our sins and continue our walk with Jesus yielding our will to Him in humble obedience (Sanctification).
3. We shall be saved at the end of time. When Jesus comes again we shall share in His glorification.
4. Salvation is constant growth in the life of Christ, a dynamic movement toward theosis (becoming like Christ, receiving the fullness of God's life).
5. He Who is our Savior today will be our Judge tomorrow.
6. We are saved from sin for putting on Christ, for love, for fruit-bearing, for serving, for confessing Christ among men, for becoming partakers of divine nature.
7. We are not saved by good works. A new person in Christ produces good works in and by the Holy Trinity for God's glory. We cannot earn salvation through good works. They are our grateful response to God's love.
8. We are saved by grace (Salvation is God's gift) through faith, which is man reaching out to accept God's gift.