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The Liturgy of the Catechumens.
The second part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because the catechumens, those preparing to receive Holy Baptism and likewise the penitents who are temporarily excommunicated for serious sins, are allowed to participate in its celebration.
The deacon, upon receiving a blessing from the priest, goes out from the Altar to the Ambo, and loudly pronounces the words, "Bless, Master," that is, bless that the service begin and for the gathered faithful to partake in prayerful glorification of God. The priest in his first exclamation glorifies the Holy Trinity, "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 responds with "Amen" ("so be it"). The deacon intones the Great Litany in which are enumerated the various needs of Christians and our requests to the Lord, at which time the priest in the Altar privately prays that the Lord look down upon the church and those at prayer in it and fulfill their needs. The Great Litany begins by reminding us that in order to pray to the Lord one needs to be "at peace," that is, reconciled with all, having no resentment, anger, or hostility towards anyone. According to the teaching of the Saviour we may not offer God any gifts, if we have anything against our neighbor (Matt. 5:23-24). The loftiest good for which one should pray is this peace of soul and the salvation of the soul: "for the peace from above (Heaven) and the salvation of our souls." This peace is that serenity of conscience and sense of joy which we experience when we have conscientiously been to Confession and worthily partaken of Holy Communion, or that sympathetic concern for the welfare of our fellow men when we have done a good deed. The Saviour bestowed this peace on the Apostles during His farewell conversation at the Mystical Supper (John 14:27). "For the peace of the whole world," asks that there be no disputes and hostility among nations or races throughout the entire world.
"For the good estate of the holy churches of God," is a prayer that the Orthodox Churches in every country might firmly and unwaveringly, on the basis of the Word of God and the canons of the Universal Church, confess the Holy Orthodox Faith, and "for the union of all," asks that all may be drawn into one flock of Christ (cf. John 10:16).
We pray "for this holy temple," which is the principle sacred object of the parish and should be the object of special care on the part of each parishioner, so that the Lord preserve it from fire, thieves and other misfortunes; and that those who enter it ("for them that enter herein") do so with sincere faith, reverence, and the fear of God.
We pray for the patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops because they are entrusted with the overall supervision of the purity of the Christian faith and morals; "for pious rulers," who preserve the freedom of the Orthodox Faith and the general lawful order for the peaceful life of all citizens; "For this city (or monastery)" in which we live and work, and "for every city, country and the faithful that dwell therein" we also pray in a spirit of Christian love, and for all the other cities and their environs and all the faithful who live in them.
"For seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times": we pray for good weather so that the earth might yield in abundance her fruits that are necessary for the nourishment of all the inhabitants of these countries, and for peaceful times, so that there be no enmity or conflicts among these citizens that will distract them from peaceful and honorable labors; "for travelers by sea, land and air, for the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned and for their salvation" - all those persons who more than others need divine aid and our prayers.
We pray "that we be delivered from every tribulation, wrath, and necessity." Then we beseech the Lord that He defend and preserve us not according to our deeds nor our merits, which we lack, but solely according to His mercy: "Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by The grace."
In the final words of the Litany, "calling to remembrance" the Mother of God and all the saints, we entrust and surrender ourselves and each other to Christ God so that He might guide us according to His wise will. The priest concludes the Great Litany with the exclamation, "For unto Thee is due all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages," which contains, according to the example of the Lord's Prayer, the doxology or glorification of the Lord God.
After the Great Litany, Psalms 102 ("Bless the Lord, O my soul...") and 145 ("Praise the Lord, O my soul...") are chanted, separated by the Small Litany, "Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord." These psalms describe the blessings for the human race bestowed by God. The heart and soul of the Christian must bless the Lord, Who purifies and heals our mental and physical weaknesses and fills our desires with good things and delivers our life from corruption, and thus one must not forget all His benefits. The Lord is merciful, compassionate and longsuffering. He keeps truth unto the ages, gives Judgment to the wronged and food to the hungry, frees the imprisoned, loves the righteous, receives the orphan and widow and punishes the sinner.
These psalms are called the "Typical Psalms" and are chanted "antiphonally," with the verses alternating between two choirs. These psalms are not sung on the feasts of the Lord but are replaced by special verses from other psalms which relate to the events being celebrated. After each of these verses the refrain is chanted, "Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us." The verses of the second festal antiphon are dependent on the feast being celebrated. For the Nativity of Christ we chant "Save us, O Son of God, Who art born of the Virgin," "Who wast baptized in the Jordan" for the Theophany of the Lord, and "Who art risen from the dead" for Pascha. All are concluded with "save us who sing unto Thee. Alleluia."
The second antiphon is always followed by the hymn, "O Only-begotten Son and Word of God, Who art immortal, yet didst deign for our salvation to be incarnate of the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and without change didst become man, Thou Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us." This hymn sets forth the Orthodox teaching on the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the Only-begotten (one in essence) Son and Word of God, Christ God, Who being immortal, became human without ceasing to be God ("without change" - became incarnate) and accepted a human body from the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. By His crucifixion, He with His death conquered our death, "trampling down death by death," as one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and is glorified equally with the Father and Holy Spirit.
The Small Litany and the chanting of the Gospel Beatitudes follow (Matt. 5:3-12). The Beatitudes indicate the spiritual qualities necessary for a Christian seeking the mercy of God: humility of spirit (spiritual poverty) and contrition concerning one's sins, meekness when drawing near the righteousness of God, purity of heart, compassion for one's neighbor, seeking peace in all situations, patience amid every temptation, and a readiness to endure dishonor, persecution, and death for Christ, trusting that as a confessor for Him, and for such ascetic struggles, one can expect a great reward in Heaven. Instead of the Gospel Beatitudes, on the great feasts of the Lord the festal troparion is sung several times with various verses.
During the chanting of the Gospel Beatitudes the Royal Gates are opened for the Small Entry. As the Beatitudes are ending the priest takes the Holy Gospel from the Altar, gives it to the deacon and comes out with the deacon, who carries the sacred Gospel through the north door onto the ambo. This entrance with the Holy Gospel by the clergy is termed the Small Entry to distinguish it from the Great Entrance which follows, and it reminds the faithful of the first appearance of Jesus Christ to the world, when He came to begin His universal preaching. After receiving a blessing from the priest, the deacon remains standing in the Royal Gates and raising the sacred Gospel aloft, he loudly proclaims, "Wisdom! Aright!" He then enters the Sanctuary and places the Gospel on the Holy Table. The exclamation, "Wisdom! Aright!" reminds the faithful that they must stand upright (in the literal meaning of the Greek word Orthi which is correctly, or straight) and be attentive, keeping their thoughts concentrated. They should look upon the Holy Gospel as upon Jesus Christ Himself Who has come to preach, and faithfully sing, "O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ; save us, O Son of God, Who didst rise from the dead (or, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, or Who art wondrous in Thy saints), who chant unto Thee: Alleluia!" The troparia and kontakia for Sunday, or the feast, or the saint of the day are then chanted, while the priest privately prays that the Heavenly Father Who is hymned by the Cherubim, and glorified by the Seraphim, receive from us the angelic (trisagion) hymn, forgive us our sins, and sanctify and grant us the power to rightly serve Him. The conclusion of this prayer, "For Holy art Thou, our God...," is uttered aloud.
The Trisagion Hymn, "Holy God...," is then chanted, though for the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism of the Lord, Pascha and Bright Week, and the Day of the Holy Trinity, as well as on Holy Saturday and Lazarus Saturday, we chant, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ: Alleluia." This hymn is chanted because in the early days of the Church, the catechumens received Holy Baptism on these days. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord (September 14) and on the third Sunday of Great Lent (when the veneration of the Cross is celebrated) instead of the Trisagion we chant, "before Thy Cross we bow down, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify."
The Gospel is followed by the Augmented Litany, when the faithful are invited to pray to the Lord God with a pure heart and all the powers of their soul. "Let us say with our whole soul and with our mind..." In two of the petitions we fervently request the Lord to hear our prayer and to have mercy on us. "O Lord, Almighty, the God of our Fathers, we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy - Have mercy on us, O God..." Then follow the fervent petitions for the patriarchs, the metropolitans, the archbishops, the bishops, the ruling hierarch and "all our brethren in Christ" (all the faithful Christians), for pious rulers, for priests, priest monks and all the serving clergy of the Church of Christ, for the blessed and ever-memorable (always worthy of memory) holy Orthodox patriarchs, and pious kings, and rightbelieving queens, and for the founders of the holy church parish, and all the Orthodox fathers and brethren who have reposed, and are buried in the vicinity and everywhere. It is necessary to pray for the dead in the spirit of Christian love which never fails, all the more since for the reposed there is no more repentance after the grave, but only requital: blessed life or eternal torment. Christian prayer for them, good deeds accomplished in their memory, and especially the offering of the bloodless Sacrifice can evoke the mercy of God, lighten the torment of sinners, and according to Tradition even free them entirely.
We pray too for mercy, that the Lord will be compassionate towards us, for life, peace, health, salvation and the forgiveness of the sins of the brethren of this holy temple (the parishioners). The last petition of the Augmented Litany refers to those who are active and do good deeds in the holy, local church (parish), those who labor for it, those who chant and the people present who await of God great and abundant mercy. Those who are active and do good deeds for the church are those faithful who provide the church with all that is necessary for the divine service (oil, incense, prosphoras, etc). and who contribute to the needs of the church and parish with their monetary and material goods for the beauty and decoration of the church, for the support of those who work for it, the readers, chanters, serving clergy, and those who help poor parishioners and provide help when other common religious and moral needs may arise.
The Augmented Litany is followed by the special Litany for the Departed, in which we pray for all the fathers and brethren who have reposed. We beseech Christ the immortal King and our God to forgive them all their sins, voluntary and involuntary, and to grant them a place of repose and serenity in the dwellings of the righteous, and, admitting that there is no man who has not sinned in his life, we ask the Righteous Judge to grant them the Heavenly Kingdom wherein all the righteous find peace.
The Litany for the Catechumens is then recited, in which we ask the Lord to have mercy on them and establish them in the truths of the Holy Faith ("reveal unto them the Gospel of righteousness") and make them worthy of Holy Baptism ("unite them to His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church"). During this litany the priest opens the Antimins on the Altar, and the litany ends with the exclamation, "that with us they also may glorify...;" in other words, that they (the catechumens) might together with us (the faithful) glorify the all-honorable and great name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then the catechumens are requested to depart from the church building: "As many as are catechumens, depart..." Catechumens exist even today as people prepare to become Orthodox all over the world, pagans (in China, Japan, Siberia, Africa), Muslims, and Jews - as well as those coming into the Orthodox Church from the schismatic and heretical traditions of the Western denominations. They are all in need of the mercy of God, and therefore we are obliged to pray for them. These words for the catechumens to depart from the church building should also be a warning to us, even if there are no actual catechumens among us. We, the baptized, sin frequently and often without repentance are present in the church, lacking the requisite preparation and having in our hearts hostility and envy against our fellow men. Therefore, with the solemn and threatening words, "catechumens depart," we as unworthy ones should examine ourselves closely and ponder our unworthiness, asking forgiveness from our personal enemies, often imagined, and ask the Lord God for the forgiveness of our sins with the firm resolve to do better.
With the words, "As many as are of the faithful, again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord," the Liturgy of the Faithful begins.