The Divine Liturgy.
Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy
The Liturgy is the most important divine service, for in it the most holy Mystery of Communion is celebrated, as established by our Lord Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday evening, the eve of His Passion. After He had washed the feet of His disciples, to give them an example of humility, the Lord gave praise to God the Father, took bread, blessed it and broke it, giving it to the Apostles, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body, which is broken for you. Then He took a cup with grape wine and also blessed it and gave it to them with the words, Drink of it all of you: for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins. And when they had communed of these, the Lord gave them the commandment to always perform this Mystery, Do this in remembrance of Me (Matt. 26:26-28, Lk. 22:19; I Cor. 11:24).
The Apostles celebrated Holy Communion according to the commandment and example of Jesus Christ and taught all Christians to perform this great and saving Mystery. In the earliest times the order and form of celebrating the Liturgy was transmitted orally, and all the prayers and sacred hymns were memorized. Eventually, written explications of the apostolic Liturgy began to appear. As time passed, new prayers, hymns and sacred actions were added in various churches so that the uniformity of its performance was lost. The need arose to unify all the existing orders of the Liturgy and to reintroduce harmony in their celebration. In the fourth century, when the persecutions of the Romans against Christians ended, it was possible to re-establish good order in the Church’s inner life through Ecumenical Councils. St. Basil the Great wrote down and offered for general use one form of the Liturgy, while St. John Chrysostom composed a shorter version of St. Basil’s Liturgy. These liturgies were based on the most ancient Liturgy, ascribed to St. James the Apostle, the first bishop of Jerusalem.
St. Basil the Great, who reposed in 379 A.D, was archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He is called “the Great” because of his great ascetic endeavors and his literary contribution to the Church of numerous prayers and ecclesiastical writings and rules.
St. John Chrysostom was an archbishop of Constantinople. He was called “Chrysostom” (in Greek, “the golden tongued”) for his unique rhetorical gifts with which he proclaimed the Word of God. Though he reposed in 402 A.D. in exile, many volumes of his sermons and letters remain to edify us spiritually.
The liturgy is described by various terms. “Liturgy” itself is a Greek word meaning “common action or service” and signifies that the Mystery of Holy Communion is the reconciling sacrifice of God for the sins of the entire community of faithful, the living and the dead. Since the Mystery of Holy Communion is called “Evharistia” in Greek or “the Thanksgiving Sacrifice,” the Liturgy is also called the “Eucharist.” It is also termed the “Mystical Supper” or the “Lord’s Supper” since it is customarily celebrated around noon, and the Body and Blood of Christ offered in the Mystery of Holy Communion are called such in the Word of God (cf. I Cor. 10:21; 11:20). In apostolic times the Liturgy was referred to as the breaking of bread (Acts 2:46). In the Liturgy the earthly life and teachings of Jesus Christ, from His Nativity to His Ascension into Heaven, are recalled, as well as the benefits which He bestowed upon the earth for our salvation.
The order of the Liturgy is as follows. First, the elements for the Mystery are prepared, then the faithful are prepared for the Mystery, and finally the very Mystery itself is celebrated and the faithful receive Communion. The Liturgy is divided into three parts:
- the Proskomedia,
- the Liturgy of the Catechumens and
- the Liturgy of the Faithful.