Courtesy of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville, SC
What is the Purpose of the Divine Liturgy? The transformation of wine, water and bread into the Divine Body and Blood of Christ; for the sanctification of the faithful, who receive remission of their sins and the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.- St. Nicholas Cabasilas
It is the coming together of the heavenly Kingdom with earthly life. The Church of heaven, the Church triumphant, and the church here on earth, the Church Militant, join in this grand celebration to glorify God and to be in union with Him. We come to this service to be transformed through the partaking of Holy Communion. This is the same as saying we partake of Jesus Christ's Flesh and Divinity. Holy Communion and the Divine Liturgy cannot be separated. This the greatest of all mysteries. All should come prepared to be partakers of the Divine gift.
A Joining of Heaven and Earth. This is a service sublime in its beauty and grandeur inspiring awe for our Creator and Lord. We should enter into the nave of the Church with great respect and humbleness, because we are approaching Heaven on earth, a place where Heaven and earth are truly joined during the Liturgy.
Before Orthodox Christianity spread to what is now Russia, Prince Vladimir of Kiev (in present day Ukraine) sent emissaries to Constantinople (Then the capital of the Roman Empire and the center of Christianity) to seek out a new religion for his people. When they experienced the Divine Liturgy at the Hagia Sophia Cathedral there here is what they reported: We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget the beauty.
Saint John Chrysostom (Patriarch of Constantinople many years earlier) says, Every time there is performed the liturgy of this awesome sacrifice, which is the clear image of the heavenly realities, we should imagine that we are in heaven.
What is the Meaning of the Word Liturgy? The word Liturgy comes from an ancient Greek word leitos (people) and erogon (work), Literally it means the work of the people. This word was used initially to refer to service given to the state by citizens for the betterment of the public good. We can think of the divine Liturgy as the public work for the benefit of the people so God’s people will be cared for by Him. As we participate in this service we are serving God through our work in the Divine Liturgy.
What it is not. • It is not a production, spectacle, or a theatrical performance. • It is not a memorial service for a dead founder.
What it is. • It is about coming together to join with God, worshiping and thanking God for all He gives to us and then God offers us in return Holy Communion, the actual Blood and Body of Jesus Christ. It is the coming together of the body of Christ, the community of believers, all the coworkers in God’s kingdom to praise and glorify God. • It is the full participation in communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the Living God. • It is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God where we join with the Angels and all the saints in praise and worship.
Who are the The Participants? Clergy: Bishops, Priests and Deacons: Either a Bishop or his designate, a priest, can initiate and lead this service. There may be a deacon to assist the priest or Bishop may officiate. There are also people designated to serve the altar as altar servers.
Laity: All those who have been baptized and Chrismated, believing in Jesus Christ and the Church He established.
The Liturgy cannot be celebrated without the laity. The faithful are the most important part of the service. They are all coworkers in Christ. The Lord told us that when two or more are gathered, He is there in the midst. The people are involved in the chanting and singing. It is important for every one to participate in the singing and not just come to listen passively to the choir and chanters. The Liturgy is the work of the people.
When Did it Originate? In its most basic form it was established at the last Supper between the apostles and Jesus Christ: And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink of it ye all; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."- Matthew 26:26-28
The outline of the current Liturgy can be found in second century documents. The current form can be traced back to the fourth century.