Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. I Peter 1:3-5
And grant that always guarded by Your power, we may give glory to You, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
As we conclude the Gospel Reading, we end the first part of the Divine Liturgy, which is called “The Liturgy of the Word.” The central act of “The Liturgy of the Word” is the reading of the words of God through the sacred scriptures. The second part of the Liturgy is called “The Liturgy of the Faithful,” and is highlighted with the faithful presenting their gifts—bread and wine—confessing their faith, calling the Holy Spirit down to consecrate the gifts, and then receiving the Gifts through Holy Communion.
After the Gospel reading, the altar table is made ready for this second part of the liturgy, as the priest places the Gospel towards the back of the altar table and opens a cloth called the “Antimension” which is spread over the front part of the altar table. “Antimension” means “instead of the table,” and THIS cloth is what is essential to have in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. When the Liturgy is celebrated not in a church, such as when it is celebrated at summer camp, or in a nursing home, the Antimension is placed on any table, and then that table becomes a suitable altar table.
On the Antimension is an icon of the Epitaphios (literally “in the tomb”) which shows Christ being lowered from the Cross and being placed in the tomb. This icon is a smaller version of the icon that rests in the tomb of Christ (which we call the Epitaphios) on Good Friday. For the forty days of Pascha, the Epitaphios icon is placed on the altar table beneath the Antimension.
Having heard the Scripture readings, and hopefully absorbed the power and strength that comes from them, the priest offers a “transitional” line of the Liturgy, that always “guarded” by this “power”—the powerful words of Scripture and the hope that they bring us—as may continually give glory to God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—now and forever.
As you hopefully see in these reflections, virtually every line of the Liturgy has its basis in scripture. Many times, in fact, there are multiple scripture readings that closely match a line in the Liturgy. Today’s line of the liturgy closely resembles a passage from I Peter. This passage offers up glory to God and mentions Jesus Christ. The above-quoted line of the Liturgy does the same, and also mentions the Holy Spirit. It also mentions that by God’s power, we are guarded through faith for a salvation, which is ready to be revealed fully at the end of time.
The Divine Liturgy does the same. It reveals God’s power in the here and now. It allows us to stand in God’s presence in the here and now. It allows us to partake of Divine Nature in the here and now. And it helps to grow, guard and preserve our faith for the salvation which is to come in the end times. This is why appropriately the author of the Liturgy asks God to grant that we ALWAYS be guarded by God’s power, now AND forever.
The prayer today is called “the Second Prayer of the Faithful.” There is a “first prayer” which is part of the liturgy that by and large has been suppressed (is not used). There are actually two series of petitions that follow the reading of the scriptures. One is called the “Fervent Litany” which actually gives an opportunity to pray for people and needs in the services. The “Fervent Litany” concludes with what is called “The First Prayer of the Faithful.” A second litany is called the Litany of the Catechumens. While this litany has been suppressed in the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil, it has been preserved in the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. This litany offers prayers for those who are preparing to join the faith, the Catechumens. In order to join the church, in the early years, one had to be a Catechumen, or student, for two years. And so there were prayers offered continually for this group of people.
So at the end of the “Litany of the Catechumens,” there is a “Second Prayer of the Faithful” which is still found in most liturgical texts. It is generally offered inaudibly by the priest either during the reading of the Epistle, and in some churches, the priest will offer the prayer out loud after the reading of the Gospel. The prayer concludes, as do all the prayers of the service, with an “ekphonesis,” a statement offering glory to the Holy Trinity.
Again we bow before You and pray to You, O good and loving God. Hear our supplication: cleanse our souls and bodies from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and grant that we may stand before Your holy altar without blame or condemnation. Grant also, O God, progress in life, faith and spiritual discernment to the faithful who pray with us, so that they may always worship You with reverence and love, partake of Your Holy Mysteries without blame or condemnation, and become worthy of Your heavenly kingdom. And grant that always guarded by Your power, we may give glory to You, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
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