The Price of the Liturgy

15We celebrate the Liturgy together. But we must pay what this costs: each one must be concerned for the salvation of all. Our life is an endless martyrdom.

The Elder Sophrony

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The Divine Liturgy (the Holy Eucharist) is not a ritual action of the Church which we attend, as though it were some sort of program. It is one of the greatest manifestations of the Divine Life that God has given us – dwelling in us, among us, with us, uniting us, and ascending from God to us and through us back to the Throne of Grace. Please forgive the exercise in prepositions in the last sentence – but the very nature of the Divine Liturgy demands such an exercise of language (cf. St. Basil).

The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture. Culturally we tend to gather for assemblies in which the deformed philosophy of secularism (dominant among most modern Christians) has offered us shape, form and understanding. The Divine Liturgy has no commonality with this philosophy.

We do not gather as a collection of individuals who share a common interest. The actions of the priest are not a program presented for our intellectual, emotional, psychological or religious improvement. We do not stand apart from the actions of the Liturgy and approve or disapprove them as if we were an audience.

We assemble for the Liturgy as the Church, the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him Who Filleth all in all (Scripture synonyms for the Church). We are never an audience. We assemble as a single Body, who share in a single Life. No one can distract me from the Liturgy for the Liturgy is everything that takes place in the assembly of the Body. A child crying is a liturgical action (in the Liturgy). Equally a parent caring for a child and exercising discipline or offering solace are also liturgical actions. Our pains, our boredom, our interests, the very cry of our hearts are all among the lives that have assembled into the One Life. 

There is one prayer – the Prayer of the Holy Spirit Who prays to the Father through the Son. This one prayer is given voice by priest, deacon and people. Nothing falls outside the concern of this one prayer for we offer to God everything. The sins of our lives are not excluded (else we would be barred from the Liturgy). Rather, we are told in Scripture that “God made him [Christ] to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the great exchange of worship – that we offer to God all that we are and have – even those things that seem unworthy – that we might receive in exchange that which transcends all worth.

To gather together in the Liturgy is to enter a new life. The habits of the old life are brought in only to be transformed – not to dictate to God the nature and character of the new life. The Life of the Liturgy is “on behalf of all and for all.” We must yield to the fact that the salvation of each and all is now the proper concern of each and all. 

All of these things are simply what it means to love one another.

10 Responses to “The Price of the Liturgy”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, concelebrates the Liturgy with Met. Jonah of All America and Canada recently in Moscow. Many photos are available from http://www.oca.org/news/1832

  2. Cheryl Says:

    “This is the great exchange of worship – that we offer to God all that we are and have – even those things that seem unworthy – that we might receive in exchange that which transcends all worth.”

    Father,

    For all the pitfalls of modern Protestant church services, I think this attitude is oftentimes still there in the modern worship music (for many, certainly not all.)

    Personally, I don’t miss the modern worship at all like I thought I would. I find the liturgical hymns to be beautiful, deep and rich. Yet, I still wonder, more for the sake of my friends who remain in Protestantism, probably at least in part because liturgy is so foreign to them (as it was to me).

    If the heart is to eucharistically offer back all that we have received, all that we are, than why not through modern worship as well? Is there room for true worship in a modern form, in what would be the “native tongue” of so many Americans [at least musically]. I mean the type of songs that are rich, deep, not the fluff sort. I think of a hymn like “Amazing Grace” or a worship chorus such as “In Christ Alone” or “Sing to Jesus”

    Forgive me if I’ve asked this in a different form before. I suppose I’d really just love to see you blog a whole series about the Liturgy, especially the differences between it and low-church modern Protestant services. In the meantime, I’m attending Liturgy, and hoping to grasp all these things–if only slowly and by osmosis.🙂

    Cheryl

  3. Fr Stephen and “The Price of the Liturgy” « Journeying Home Says:

    […] “The Price of the Liturgy” 2009 May 12 by Jason Zahariades Fr Stephen’s latest post is definitely a “must-read.” The following is but one of many great quotes in this […]

  4. Ian Says:

    Thank you Father; I’ve been retreating into an individualistic view moreso than usual lately, and this has been a good and necessary correction. Thanks be to God.

  5. katia Says:

    Saint John Chrysostom for the 21st Century
    By The Very Reverend Josiah Trenham, Ph.D-Orthodox C Information Center

    “… Our unity in the Church, according to Chrysostom, is a supernatural wonder. In the Church we experience an intimate union with Jesus Christ. This reality of being “in Christ” is the most used image by the great Apostle Paul in describing the Christian life. The Christian life is a Church life, for it is by Holy Baptism that we are incorporated into Christ and His Church. As Christians we possess a unity far greater than that of earthly organizations. We share a common womb, a common mother in the Church, a common Father in God, a common table from which we eat our food of everlasting life, a common language of doxology, a common quest, a common animating spirit, a common ethic, and a common destiny. This unity is expressed each Divine Liturgy according to Saint John Chrysostom in our partaking of the Holy Eucharist in which partaking we are actualized together as the Body of Christ. This is the reason that we celebrate the Holy Liturgy with one single holy chalice. The singular sacred cup bears witness to our unity. Even should we distribute Holy Communion in multiple chalices we do not bless multiple chalices. We consecrate one alone, and then we bring other empty chalices and fill them from the one sacred chalice…”

  6. katia Says:

    “Our experience of Church is transformative. The sacredness of our community is testified to by what actually happens when we gather together around the holy altar. Divine services are the single most powerful agent in personal holiness. “Nothing contributes to a virtuous and moral way of life as does the time you spend here in church.” [19] There is grace behind every action of the Holy Liturgy. Chrysostom often waxes eloquent concerning the liturgical movements of the service. When the deacon exclaims “Stand upright,” he is addressing our souls primarily, and not just our bodies. The preaching sanctifies. The Holy Eucharist enlivens and flames leap from our mouths, blood is painted on the doorposts of our bodies and the angel of death passes over us. Nothing is more precious, more central, more transformative and miraculous, in our human existence than life in the Church.”

  7. Debbie Z Says:

    Greetings Fr. Stephen,
    This part of your post really jumped out at me because it is what I was trying to explain to my husband last night, but it came out with much less clarity.
    “The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture.”

    I am new to Orthodoxy and many concepts are too hard for me to grasp all at once but that statement; “our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture.” has always been what my spirit wishes to see happening. I have much to learn about liturgy. I love what you have said about liturgy being an entering of a New LIfe. I will think on that for a while and hopefully transform my attitudes of the past.

    Thank you for writing this.

  8. November In My Soul Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Your statement that, “We do not gather as a collection of individuals who share a common interest. The actions of the priest are not a program presented for our intellectual, emotional, psychological or religious improvement. We do not stand apart from the actions of the Liturgy and approve or disapprove them as if we were an audience.

    We assemble for the Liturgy as the Church, the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him Who Filleth all in all (Scripture synonyms for the Church). We are never an audience. We assemble as a single Body, who share in a single Life.”

    This truth that we are one, that we share a single life is for me the heart of the Liturgy. We do not enter into the heavenly places as individuals but as The Church united offering praise and glory. It is the solidarity, the collective purpose that I found lacking in other places. There were many times lip servie given to the concept that we (and not the building) are the church but it was never put into practice. We sang together, we stood together, we prayed together but we were never one. I thank God that the Church continues to zealously guard this truth and live it fully.

  9. Karen Says:

    “No one can distract me from the Liturgy for the Liturgy is everything that takes place in the assembly of the Body. A child crying is a liturgical action (in the Liturgy). Equally a parent caring for a child and exercising discipline or offering solace are also liturgical actions. Our pains, our boredom, our interests, the very cry of our hearts are all among the lives that have assembled into the One Life.”

    Dear Father, bless! A couple of weeks ago, my non-Orthodox family accompanied me to a Hierarchical Liturgy at my church which ended up – because of the Bishop’s presence, the presence of a seminary men’s choir, and two ordinations – being over three hours long. There was a large congregation, and there were far more challenging distractions near where we were standing/sitting than what is usual during a Sunday Liturgy at my parish. I was beginning to fret inwardly over the needs of my children (both of whom after two hours had to use the bathroom) and husband. Of course, there were babies and toddlers crying off and on, too. The Lord had mercy on me in my anxiety, though. When the noise from the babies started up again at one point, my son leaned over to me with a grin and said, “The babies’ choir is singing, too.” Though my family had to leave the Liturgy early, they took the events of the day in stride. I’m not sure I did quite as well in my own attitude, but it’s good to know my struggle itself was also an act of worship that the Lord accepts and transforms in the context of the Liturgy.

  10. Jeffrey Says:

    Thankyou so very much!

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