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 THE DIVINE LITURGY, A Brief Explanation 

The Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into His Heavenly Kingdom.  He left for us on earth His Church, and now we come together for services in the temple.  At the Divine Liturgy, we receive from God His Holy Gifts-Communion.  In this way we become united with God.

"Liturgy" comes from the Greek word meaning a "communal" act.  In ancient Greece, certain activities, as, for example, the building of a boat, were called liturgies.  The first Christians adopted this name for their most important service to God.

The first part of the Liturgy


"Proskomedia" in Greek means "offering."  Before the Liturgy begins, we bring to God our gifts-bread and wine.  We cannot live without food and drink, and for this reason bread and wine mean that we are bringing as a gift to God our life.

The bread used in the Liturgy is called prosphora, another word which means "offering."

During the Proskomedia, the priest prepares our gifts.  On the diskos (a small, gold plate) he arranges the small pieces of bread which he has cut from the prosphora (there are five in the Russian tradition; the Greeks use one larger one).  In the center he places a large piece which will be used for Holy Communion.  This is called the Lamb, and it represents the Saviour Himself.  Beside it, he arranges pieces in honor of the Mother of God and of the saints, and in commemoration of the living and the dead, for whom we pray.  In this way, Christ's entire Church is gathered together beside Him on the diskos.

The second part of the Liturgy


Catechumens are those who are preparing to become Christians. During the Liturgy of the Catechumens, we learn how we are supposed to live according to Christ's commandments.

The deacon reads "litanies," short prayers concerning all that we need: for peaceful times, for health, for our country, for our close ones, for the Church, for travellers, for those in prison, for the suffering. After each petition the choir sings, "Lord, have mercy," or "Grant this, O Lord." The Small Entrance. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Catechumens, the deacon solemnly carries out of the altar through the north side door the Gospel and goes back into the altar through the Royal Doors, and places the Gospel on the Holy Table. The choir sings the Beatitudes-the rules given us by Our Lord Jesus Christ for a righteous life.

After the Small Entrance, the reader comes into the middle of the church and reads the Epistle, a selection from the letters of the Apostles to the early Christians.

After the Epistle reading, the deacon reads the Gospel to the people.  The Gospel contains the accounts of the four evangelists-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

In the sermon, the priest explains or expands on what was read from the Gospel. It used to be customary for the sermon to be given directly after the reading of the Gospel. Now it is usually delivered at the end of the service.

The third part of the Liturgy


The third and final part of the Liturgy begins with the Great Entrance. The choir sings the Cherubic Hymn, "Let us who mystically represent the cherubim. . , " and the priest solemnly brings out our gifts, the bread and wine, from the side door of the altar. He pauses before the Royal Doors and prays for all those whom we especially remember.  Then he places the chalice with the wine and the diskos with the bread on the Holy Table.

All those standing in church sing the Symbol of Faith (also called the Creed), a prayer in which we declare that we believe in God the Father, the Maker of all; we believe in Jesus Christ, Who suffered for us, in the Holy Spirit, Who gives life to all that has being, in the Church and her mysteries, and in our future life with God.

Then begins the consecration of our gifts to God.  It is as though we are present at the Last Supper.  The priest remembers how Jesus Christ gave His disciples bread and wine, and repeats His words: "Take, eat; this is My Body, " and "Drink ye all of it; this is My Blood. . ."  Then the priest says, "Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all. . ." and he prays that the Holy Spirit would come down onto the bread and wine. The Mystery is accomplished: the bread and wine, which we brought to church as a gift to God, are now transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Then we pray the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father . . ," which the Lord Himself taught us.

The priest brings out the chalice with the Holy Communion and says, "With fear of God and with faith draw near!"  In receiving Holy Communion, we receive into our life Jesus Christ Himself. He enters into our life, lives with us, and grants us eternal life.

(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Beseda, Moscow, 1992-1)

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