Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalm 95:6
Wisdom. Arise. Come let us worship and bow down before Christ. Save us o Son of God, (who rose from the dead/who are wondrous among your saints) to Thee we sing: Alleluia.
Good Morning Prayer Team!
There is a lot that can be written on the part of the service we are examining today. The Small Entrance, or the Entrance of the Holy Gospel is the first “action” of the Divine Liturgy. Historically, in the early church, the Liturgy began in the narthex and at the time of the Small Entrance, the faithful entered into the nave for the first time and the clergy entered into the altar for the first time. The only vestige of this that is left is that the Bishop, when he serves, enters the altar for the first time during the Liturgy at the time of the Small Entrance. In modern times, the Small Entrance is a brief exit from the sanctuary, with the priest, preceded by altar boys, carrying the Gospel to the center of the solea.
As the priest makes this “entrance”, as he is exiting the altar, there is a hymn that is sung, called an “Apolytikion.” There are eight apolytikia that rotate each Sunday. There is also a special apolytikion for each day of the church year. So, on a weekday feastday, the apolytikion of the saint or event in the life of Christ or the Virgin Mary is sung at this point.
When the priest comes to the center of the solea, as the apolytikion concludes, the priest offers a blessing towards the altar with the words “Blessed is the entrance of Your saints, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.” Now the word “Agious” is translated as both “saints” and “holy ones.” The subtle message is this—may we, the ones who are striving to be holy (and yes, this is a call to us to strive to be holy) make our entrance into worship today (now) in church and forever, in the kingdom of God.
After the hymn concludes, the priest raises the Gospel and says “Wisdom. Arise.” This is to call our attention to what is going on—The Gospel, the Word of the Lord, stands high above us. It is a reminder that the Truth of the Lord should stand at the forefront of every life. We are then directed to “worship and bow down before Christ.” As the priest bows his head, the congregation is also to bow its heads.
Why bow? A bow is a sign of respect and reverence. We’ve all seen in movies how everyone bows to the king or queen. The monarch is seen as the supreme ruler. No one would dare not bow. No one would dare not obey. This is a reminder to us, that we are to bow before Christ as our God, and as our Lord. We are to “bow” in respect, admiration and worship. We are to “bow” in obedience. We are not asked to bow before anyone else but our Lord. And while we “reverence” the saints of the church, “worship” is given to only the Lord. Later on in the service, the priest will say “Let us bow our heads unto the Lord.” He won’t ask us to bow to any saint, only to the Lord.
When we speak of Jesus Christ as our Savior, the connotation is that WE are the beneficiary of something. He gives. We receive. But when we speak of Jesus Christ as Lord, the connotation is that WE give our glory, admiration, worship, and obedience. And HE receives those things from us. We often think of Christ our Savior, the one who is going to “save me,” the one who is going to “give me” salvation. But how often do we think of Christ as our Lord, the one to whom WE give.
As we see the Holy Gospel, the “Good News” (Evangelion in Greek), we are to worship Christ as our Savior—the saving message of Christ is contained within the Gospel. We should have thanks in our hearts that through Him we can be saved. But also, as we see the Holy Gospel and bow before it, it should remind us that Christ is our Lord, and not only are we to “bow” to Him in our liturgical ritual, but we are to “bow” to Him in obedience every day of our lives, whether or not we are at the Liturgy.
One bit of liturgical “trivia” if you will—this entrance hymn “Come let us worship” includes “Who rose from the dead” on Sundays. It includes “Among the Saints glorified” on many weekdays. However, on feast days of the Lord, the entire hymn will be replaced by something related to the feast. For instance at Christmas, the entrance hymn is:
From before the morning star I have begotten You; the Lord has sworn a promise which He will not retract. You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Psalm 110:4) Save us o Son of God, who was born of a Virgin, to Thee we sing: Alleluia.
On Epiphany, the hymn is :
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 21:9) God is the Lord and have revealed Himself to us. Save us O Son of God, who were baptized by John in the Jordan, to Thee we sing Alleluia.
These feast day entrance hymns remind us of the purpose of our celebration. At the Nativity, we are celebrating the Incarnation of the pre-eternal God in the flesh, the Word (Christ) becoming flesh and dwelling among us. At the Epiphany, we are celebrating the manifestation (appearance) of God as Trinity.
Today’s prayer is the “inaudible” prayer that the priest offers as He carries the Gospel in the Small Entrance:
Master and Lord our God, You have established in heaven the order and hosts of angels and archangels to minister to Your glory. Grant that the holy angels may enter with us that together we may serve and glorify Your goodness. For to You belongs all glory, honor and worship to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Have a great day!
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