Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
In the Monday Morning Meditation, I referred to and quoted from the book The Divine Liturgy - A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers, by Hieromonk Gregorios of Mt. Athos. This remarkable study of the Liturgy offers a "petition-by-petition," and "prayer-by-prayer" commentary on the entire text of the Divine Liturgy. Hieromonk Gregorios strengthens his commentary by numerous passages from the great Church Fathers who wrote of the Liturgy over the centuries, especially St. John Chrysostom. In fact, after a concise biography of St. John, ending with his martyrdom, we are then given a short description of how the Liturgy was served during St. John's lifetime:
The end of St. John Chrysostom's holy life of martyrdom brings us to the beginning of his Divine Liturgy, for in his time the Liturgy began with the entrance of the bishop into the church and the offering of peace to the people (St. John writes: "When the bishop enters the church, he does not go up to his throne until he has wished peace to all the faithful.") The people then replied to the bishop: "And with your spirit." There followed three readings from the Scriptures: one from the Prophets, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospel Book. The bishop then preached the word of God, and afterwards prayers were said for the catechumens and the penitents. Once the catechumens and the penitents left, the doors of the church were shut. The prayers of the faithful were then said, followed by the Great Entrance and the kiss of love. After this came the Holy Anaphora, the Triumphal Hymn, the words of Christ and the invocations of the All-Holy Spirit. Finally the Lord's Prayer was said, followed by Holy Communion and the Dismissal. (p. 12-13)
Regrettably, we have lost the reading from the Prophets at a certain point in the past. This is regrettable because we are not as familiar with the Old Testament as we should be.
Hieromonk Gregorios also relates how St. John Chrysostom explains the role of the celebrant in the Eucharist:
The real celebrant of the eucharistic Mystery is Christ: He who celebrated the Divine Eucharist 'at the Last Supper is the same One who now also performs these Mysteries. We priests are in the position of servants. The One who sanctifies and changes [the Holy Gifts] is Christ.' The celebrant is the instrument of the Holy Spirit; he stands in the place of Christ.
Notice that Hieromonk Gregorios does not say that the celebrant stands "in place of Christ," but rather "in the place of Christ." Christ is not absent - but present - in the Liturgy; that presence being actualized and realized in and through the sacramental priesthood of the Church.
At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy we come together and "constitute" the Church as the Body of Christ. We call this the synaxis or the assembly of the faithful. This is a call to unity, and the demonstration of that unity that is peculiar to the Church as the Body of Christ. Hieromonk Gregorios continues on this theme:
The Divine Liturgy is precisely this synaxis, this 'gathering together' of the entire cosmos and its journey towards the Kingdom of God. The Fathers call the gathering of the faithful at the Divine Liturgy a con-course (syn-odos) because all the faithful and the Lord journey on a course together towards the Jerusalem on high. This synaxis shows that the raison d'etre of the Church is the unity of the faithful. 'The Church came into being ... so that we might be united. And this is demonstrated by our concourse.' St. John marvels: 'What paradise is there like our concourse?' And he exhorts us: 'Let none of those who eat the holy Passover [of the Eucharist] pay any attention to Egypt [the vanity of this world], but rather to heaven, to the Jerusalem which is above.' (p. 21)
The synaxis begins with the opening doxology: 'Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.' The choir and/or congregation seals this solemn doxology with Amen.As Hieromonk Gregorios comments on this beginning:
By His Incarnation Christ opened the door of the Kingdom, and by means of the Divine Liturgy we go through that door. In the Divine Liturgy, we have a foretaste of the good things of the Kingdom, for the Divine Liturgy is the Banquet of the Kingdom.
But Hieromonk Gregorios reveals even further insights into the Liturgy by showing us how the Kingdom and the Cross are so closely united. In fact, he writes that "The Cross is the symbol of the Kingdom," and explains that close connection in the following commentary in which he incorporates some of St. John's vivid remarks about Christ as 'King:'
As the priest blesses the Kingdom of God, he makes the sign of the cross over the Holy Table with the Gospel Book. The first words of the Divine Liturgy are a doxology, and the first act is the making of the sign of the cross. The Divine Liturgy is the Kingdom of God, and it is through the Cross that we are able to reach the Kingdom.The Cross is the proof that Christ is the only true King. The thief who was crucified on Christ's right speaks theology from the height of the Cross: 'The Cross is the symbol of the Kingdom. I call Christ 'King' precisely because I see Him crucified. For it is the mark of a king to die for the sake of his subjects. As Christ said, The Good Shepherd gives up his life for His sheep [John 10:11]; hence the good king sacrifices his life for his subjects. He sacrificed His life, and that is why I call Him 'King': Remember me, Lord, in your Kingdom [Luke 23:42].'
The Cross is the road, the door and the herald of the Kingdom of God. (p. 107-109)
This is a very rich book that yields insight after insight into the inexhaustible glory of the Divine Liturgy. I hope to share more with you as we continue our own liturgical experience from within the grace-filled life of the Church.