Musings from a Grateful Convert by Roger Hunt — Whatʼs So Divine About The Divine Liturgy? — Part 1: What Is Liturgy?

In the Orthodox Christian Church, there are a good number of things you will see and experience no matter where you go in the world, be it Eastern Europe, Australia, North America, or Africa. One such thing is the Liturgy we celebrate each Sunday (or often daily in monasteries). The main liturgy is titled The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and as indicated, as fashioned by the famous Patriarch of Constantinople in the 4th Century. Also used in the Orthodox Church, although on rare occasions, is the Liturgy of St. Basil The Great, and during Great Lent, the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts by Pope Gregory of Rome, and the Liturgy of St. James, among others.

This series of blog entries will examine various aspects of the Divine Liturgy in an effort to answer the anticipated question from those both inside and outside the Holy Orthodox Faith: “Whatʼs so “divine” about the Divine Liturgy?”

First, as usual, it will be helpful to define terms.

“Divine” is, in dictionary-ese, “God-like”, “Heavenly”, “celestial”, or perhaps most fitting for our discussion, “proceeding from God”.

We believe that the Liturgies we celebrate indeed come from God.

“Liturgy” is “a particular form or type of the Eucharistic service,” with the Eucharist being the Lordʼs Supper, or Holy Communion.

In the New Testament, the Greek word litourgia is translated as “the work of the people”, which implies a level of participation by the community. Even Wikipedia says liturgy is:

Liturgy (Greek: λειτουργία), literally ‘the work of the people,’ and translated idiomatically as ‘public service’ in secular terms is the customary public worship performed by a religious group, according to its particular beliefs, customs and traditions.

Sometimes the word Rite substitutes for Liturgy. Again, this is a formal or ceremonial act or procedure prescribed or customary in religious or other solemn use.

To start out then, I would make the observation that liturgy is common to all forms of religion, and especially to all forms of Christian religious services. I can say this from my experience participating in services in the following traditions: Baptist (mainly Southern), Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Free, Non-Denominational, Charismatic, and Orthodox Christian churches. I have participated in the leading of worship in the last five examples, and I can state without a momentʼs hesitation that indeed, all these traditions have a liturgy in the sense of the definitions above. Even in Protestant churches where there was a contrived effort not to be ritualistic, there was in fact, a prescribed form or ritual, even to the offering of prayers starting with preferred phrases like, “Lord, we just come to you…” or “Lord, we just ask You…”; furthermore, the order of worship remains predictable in almost all cases, starting with announcements, a welcome, lively praise music or hymns, an offertory song, and the all-important featured event—the Sermon—as the climax;unless of course there was an “invitational” at the end (never anywhere else).

This ritual is repeated over and over, week by week. So much for the bland accusation against “high” churches having “meaningless repetitions and rituals”.

Oh well, having said that, letʼs move on. The Orthodox Christian Church makes no bones about having a liturgy. We have a number of them and they all are chock full of meaning, of beauty, and of mystery.

In our next offering, weʼll start seeing what St. John Chrysostom penned in his “Divine Liturgy”, starting at the very beginning. This will be fun. Stay tuned!

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