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24. The Divine Liturgy
Can you say something more about the Divine Liturgy? It is obviously the center of the Orthodox life.
The Divine Liturgy is indeed the center of the Orthodox Christian life. As we mentioned, it is the sacrament of sacraments, or to use the more traditional Orthodox expression, the "mystery of mysteries." The word for "sacrament" among the Orthodox is usually "mystery."
The central mystery of the Orthodox faith is the service of Holy Communion, called the Eucharist. As words, liturgy means "common action" and Eucharist means "thanksgiving."
The first action of the liturgy is the gathering in common. The baptized and confirmed gather in one place. After the common prayer of the Church called the Great Litany in which petitions are made for all of the essential elements of life, biblical psalms are sung and the Word of God is presented to the faithful. Here the emphasis is on the epistle, the gospel and the sermon.
Then follows the offering of the bread and the wine as the offering of ourselves and our world to God in Christ. We ask God to accept us and our gifts (the bread and wine) as we love one another and confess the Orthodox faith, the Nicene Creed which we, or our sponsors for us, proclaimed at our baptism.
We then offer up ourselves and our gifts to God in Christ in remembrance of all that He has done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection of the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the sitting on the right hand of God the father, and the second and glorious coming again.
We then call the Holy Spirit "to come upon us and upon our gifts" and to make them the Body and Blood of Christ and to give us the experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus we receive back our gifts of bread and wine as the gift of Holy Communion with God the Father through Christ and the Spirit.
Finally we depart in peace to bear witness in the world to the Kingdom of God which has been given to us, calling all men into this unity with God and each other in Him.
The Orthodox celebrate this Mystery of the Kingdom of God, the Divine Liturgy on each Lord's Day as well as on feasts and special occasions. It is the living experience of what all Christianity, and indeed all of life, is really about.