Written by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy
Divine service is the worship of God or the fulfillment of God’s will, pleasing God through good thoughts, words, and deeds.
Divine services began on the earth with the creation of the first humans in Paradise. Their divine services consisted of freely giving glory to God for His wisdom, goodness, omnipotence, and the all the other divine perfections which are manifest in the created world and in His providence governing it.
After the fall into sin, it became a greater part of mankind’s service to pray to God, beseeching Him for salvation. Along with prayer to the Lord, mankind established the practice of sacrificial offering as part of its divine service. Sacrifice expresses the thought that all we seem to possess is not ours but belongs to God. In prayer and sacrifice, man remembers that God receives his supplication because of its likeness to the sacrifice of the Saviour of the world, the Son of God come to earth, which was offered for all mankind.
Originally, divine services occurred without structure and in open places. There were neither holy temples, ordained priests, nor set prayers. People offered sacrifices to God wherever they chose, and prayed with words suggested to them by their own attitudes and feelings.
In the time of the Prophet Moses, the first Old Testament Temple to the One True God, the Tabernacle, was constructed; the high priest, priests, and Levites were consecrated and selected. This came to pass at the command of God, Who also gave people to know the times and needs for sacrifices and for feasts, such as Passover, Pentecost, the New Year and the Day of Purification.
When the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, He taught us to worship the Heavenly Father in every place. Nevertheless, He was often in the Old Testament Temple in Jerusalem as a place with the special grace-filled presence of God. He was concerned for the order of the Temple and preached in it. His holy Apostles regarded it in the same way, until the time of open persecution of Christians by the Jews.
As the Acts of the Apostles describe, during the Apostolic period there were special places for the gathering of the faithful and for the celebration of the Mystery of Communion. These places were called churches. There, bishops, priests, and deacons, who were consecrated to this duty by the laying on of hands in the Mystery of Ordination, celebrated the divine services.
The order of the Christian divine service was established by the successors of the Apostles, who were guided by the Holy Spirit and followed the apostolic command given to them, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). This order of divine services given us is strictly preserved in our holy Orthodox Church of Christ.
The ecclesiastical Orthodox divine service means the office or service to God composed of the reading and chanting of prayers, the reading of the Word of God, and the performance of sacred ritual according to a definite order, as headed by a bishop or priest. Ecclesiastical divine service is distinguished from private prayer, because it is performed primarily in church and served by clergy, who must be lawfully ordained to this service through the Mystery of Ordination.
The purpose of Orthodox public worship is to edify the faithful by setting forth the true doctrines of Christ through readings and chanting, and to dispose them towards prayer and repentance. The services represent the most important events from sacred history, accomplished for our salvation both before the birth of Christ and after. They inspire the faithful to give thanks to God for all the benefits received from Him, intensify their supplication for further mercies from Him, and help them to gain peace in their souls.
The most important aspect of the divine service is that the Orthodox Christian enters into a mystical union with God through the celebration of the Mysteries, especially in the Mystery of Holy Communion; and from this union with God, the Orthodox Christian receives the power of Divine Grace to live a righteous life.