The Divine Liturgy: An Overview

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The most central aspect of the life of the Orthodox Church is seen in her weekly service of Eucharist. Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, is what the Christian life is all about, so it is natural that the center of the Church’s existence subsists in the celebration of thanksgiving. The Eucharist service in the Orthodox Church is called The Divine Liturgy, and its primary form is that liturgy that finds its origins in the adaptations made by St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century.

Let’s take a walk through The Divine Liturgy. We’ll start with a basic outline. Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis outlines the Liturgy like this:

Preparation
Prayers for the Faithful, Cherubic Hymn, Processions
Spiritual Litany, Fervent Supplication, and Kiss of Peace
The Symbol of Faith (Creed)

Holy Anaphora
Apostolic Blessing, Dialogue, & Great Anaphora
Triumphal Hymn, Anamnesis & Institutional Words
Epiclesis and Commemorations

Holy Communion
Litany, Lord’s Prayer, and Invitation
Holy Communion
Dismissal

For this post, we will more fully explore the Liturgy this way:

1. The Bringing of the Gifts (Prothesis/Proskomedia)
Preparation of the offerings of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharistic celebration.

2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Great Ektania, a long prayer that sets the tone for the whole service. This litany consists of a dialogue between the deacon or priest and laity, concluding with a Trinitarian doxology.
Psalm 103/104
The Little Ektania
Psalm 145/146
The Troparion
The Beatitudes
The Little Entrance/Gospel Entrance
“Come Let Us Worship”
The Trisagion (i.e., Thrice-Holy) Hymn
Epistle
Gospel
Common Prayers for the Members of the Church (Diaconal Litany)
Catechumen Prayers and Departure

3. The Liturgy of the Faithful

Prayer of the Faithful
Cherubic Hymn, Offertory Prayer, Great Entrance

Petition for Mercy/Litany of Oblation
Deacon’s exhortation: “Let us love one another….”
The Kiss of Peace
Profession of Faith: Nicene Creed

The Great Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer
Also called the Eucharistic Canon, or Anaphora

Sursum Corda/Hymn: “It is meet and right…”
The Sanctus
Commemoration of the Last Supper (also known as the Mystical Supper)

The Consecration of the Gifts
– Words of Institution
– Offering of the Body and Blood/Hymn: “We glorify thee”
– The Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis)

The Great Prayer for the Church
Comemmorating the living and the dead
Megalynarion of the Theotokos
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Secret Prayers of the Priest
Lord’s Prayer

Elevation and Breaking of the Lamb
Blessing of the Faithful
Sancta Sanctis: “Holy Things for the Holy”
Breaking of the Lamb and Commemoration
Preparatory Prayer
Communion of the Clergy
Elevation of the Chalice
Pre-Communion Prayer
Communion of the Faithful

Post-Communion Prayers and Dismissal
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Transfer of the Holy Body and Blood to the prosthesis table
Prayer before the Ambo
Dismissal of the Faithful
Distribution of the Antidoron

Select Sources Used for the Post
Paul Evdokimov. Orthodoxy: The Cosmos Transfigured, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Witchita: Eight Day Press, 2012), 276-277.

Archpriest D. Sokolof, A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), 62-84

Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy, (Columbia: Orthodox Witness, 2008).

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A Guide to the Field Guide

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What is the Orthodox Church? And why a field guide? Put simply: she is the world’s oldest Church, and as such, she has matured and grown over time in her daily practices and liturgical expression, so understanding how to navigate her services and daily life is an important issue for anyone in the Church, or those exploring her for truth.

To those who have never been to an Orthodox worship service, the first few visits can be scary, and the services so intense, it can be confusing. Add to this, many times the services are conducted in strange languages that a visitor may not understand. And sometimes, even those who feel at home in the Orthodox Church, having spent many years experiencing her faith and worship services, may not have reflected on the meaning of this or that particular practice.

The Church is unchanged in a very real sense—she has carefully preserved, promoted, and died for the faith entrusted her by Jesus Christ in the first century. But that does not mean that she didn’t have to occasionally expand on or rephrase how she articulated that faith (usually to combat errors), or develop new customs over time. This process of maturity is not unlike life for any ordinary human being—we learn from our mistakes, grow from our trials, and try to find better ways to communicate.

The purpose of any field guide is to assist an observer in appreciating and understanding what he sees. This blog is no different. Its goal is to be a practical help and handy reference, designed for use with the shortest notice and easy to navigate answers about whatever a person may observe in a typical Orthodox church.

This guide tends to focus on North American Orthodoxy, with a primary emphasis on the United States, but we will do our best to be faithful to worldwide Orthodoxy. There is a recognizable beautiful and organic unity among the various church jurisdictions, most of which makes no difference whether it is a Russian parish in San Francisco, a Greek parish in Nashville, a so-called Pan-Orthodox parish in Hawaii, or even a Ukrainian parish in Odessa, Ukraine. Yet with more visits, and more familiarity with the services, a visitor will begin noticing subtle differences in liturgical customs.

While not a precise set of categories, for the sake of these blogs, the lower-case “t” tradition of the Orthodox Church are categorized broadly as Slavic-Russian or Byzantine-Greek. The category of Slavic-style parishes may include Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Romanian churches—among a few others. The category of Byzantine-Greek parishes is typically inclusive of Greek, Turkish, Antiochian/Syrian, and Serbian churches—again, among a few others. This blog attempts to be as universal as possible, and where “Slavic” and “Byzantine” practices are different, an attempt will be made to note such differences, at least in a general way. (Somewhere, someplace, at some time there will almost certainly be exceptions to these generalizations. (And at this time posts will not focus on differences within the Orthodox Western Rite—that would likely require its own treatment.)

The approach this blog takes may appear random at first. But eventually a trajectory to the posts will emerge. If this field guide were a physical book, one would open it to find two sections. The first section would be a step-by-step walk-through of a typical Divine Liturgy, our most sacred and central service. The Divine Liturgy is the heartbeat of the life of Church, and without it, there is no Orthodoxy. The second section would be an A-to-Z reference of the Orthodox Church, with a special emphasis on the services and daily disciplines of her people.

The most important thing we hope to communicate with these posts really isn’t the nuts and bolts of Orthodox worship and discipline, but the One who is the reason for our worship and discipline: Jesus Christ. The whole point of Orthodoxy is to life a Eucharist life in Christ for our salvation, and for the life of the world.

Nothing in this guide blog is the final word. The author is a mere layman, and it is quite likely he will overgeneralize and make an occasional mistake. There is always a danger at interpreting local practices as universal, perhaps not realizing that the Greeks or Russians in the old countries have never done it like this or that. Charitable comments, corrections, suggestions, or notable exceptions are always welcomed.

A similar version of this post appears here.