Monday, October 2, 2017

The Divine Liturgy - 'The Liturgy of the Word'

Dear Parish Faithful,

"We need to take refuge with the Church, to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the Scriptures of the Lord. For the Church  has been planted in the world as a paradise."

- St. Irenaeus of Lyons

"We are said to drink the blood of Christ not only when we receive it according to the rite of the mysteries, but also when we receive his words, in which life dwells, as he said himself: 'The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life'."

- Origen
At yesterday's Liturgy I delivered a second homily about the meaning and practice of the Liturgy. Here is the briefest of outlines:

+ I began by sharing a passage from Fr. John Meyendorff, a great Orthodox historian and theologian, on the paschal nature of the Liturgy. This passage from darkness to light; and from death to life is the basic and most fundamental truth of the Liturgy. It is the crucified, risen and glorified Lord who is in our midst.

+ When we come to the reading of the Scriptures and the ensuing homily, we have reached the culminating point of the first half of the Liturgy - the Liturgy of the Word or of the Catechumens, as it is usually called. The two texts cited above already reveal to us the great power of the Scriptures. We are proclaiming the "words of the Word" (of God) at every Liturgy. That is why we first hear: "Let us Attend" before the actual reading. It is one thing to hear the Gospel; and another to listen with attention. In a very real sense, we commune with Christ in and through his living word, before we commune with him in the Eucharist. There is this "double Communion" at every Liturgy which we need to be mindful and respectful of. Therefore, arriving at the Liturgy after the Gospel means that one is not properly prepared to receive the Eucharist and should refrain from doing so.

+ The first part of the Liturgy is filled with litanies, antiphons and prayers. The first two antiphons are based on psalmody. The hymn attached to the second homily, "Only begotten Son of God," is thoroughly paschal in nature and is one example of how the paschal mystery permeates the Liturgy.

+ There is the immovable structure of the Liturgy - what remains unchanging; but every Sunday we sing and chant the various troparia and kontakia which change from Sunday to Sunday. The resurrectional troparia and kontakia rotate in an eight-week cycle according to the appointed tone of the week. The number eight is chosen for its symbolic value: the Liturgy is celebrated on the "eighth day" of the week - the day of the Kingdom which takes us beyond the time of this world signified by our seven-day week. We also sing troparia and kontakia commemorating the particular saints or events which fall on a given Sunday. Yesterday, we commemorated St. Romanos the Melode, the very creator of the kontakion, whose icon is on one of our deacon's doors.

+ In the Gospel yesterday, we heard from Jesus to "love our enemies." This does not mean to be emotionally attached to them. It means to treat them in a certain way. If our enemy "hates" us and treats us accordingly, and if we then "hate the hater" -  and treat them accordingly - then we are no different and the cycle of hostility and perhaps violence simply perpetuates itself. And there is a lot of hate going around these days. To follow Christ and the Gospel means we need to rise above it as well as possible. Very difficult and very challenging. But it is an effort we need to make if we come to the Liturgy and hear the Gospel.

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