Why worship? The true nature of man is revealed in the action of worship. Of all creatures of God, only you and I are able to reflect of God’s creation and wonder why all this exists Certainly, God who made it all did not feel compelled to create. He created to manifest His love for us. He created you and me to hear of that great love for us manifested to us especially in His Son, Jesus Christ, and to say thank you.
How do we say thank you? “On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My Body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this food and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He come” (1 Cor 11:23-26).
Of all that God did for us the greatest is to give us a share in His divine life as the result of His death and resurrection. This sharing in the divine life has as its consequence the forgiveness of sins, the abolition of death and the beginning of a process that will culminate in our partaking in the Divine Nature by adoption (2 Peter 1:4). The whole thanksgiving for this process is called the Divine Liturgy or the Eucharist, a Greek word which means thanksgiving. During this service, God is glorified and thanked and we are changed and divinized, proceeding from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18) by participating in the Body and Blood of Christ our God.
What that screen before the altar? The screen or iconostasis reminds us that there is more of God’s glory that is yet to be revealed. What we see is just a hint of a deeper revelation which is to come (1 Cor 13:12).
Why those pictures? The pictures are called icons, a Greek word that means image. Icons tell us that the unseen God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament is now revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the image of the Father (John 14:8,9; 2 Cor 4:4).
They also tell us that Christ was a man like us in all things except sin. He healed and restored our human nature and made it able to share in God’s Divine Nature. We honour these icons with candles and incense. This honour given is not to wood or paint, but to the person depicted. People are honoured with incense because we are sharers in the Divine Nature.
Why do people constantly cross themselves? We love the cross of Christ. It is the power of God for us who are saved (1 Cor 1:18) and our glory (Gal 6: 14). We cross ourselves whenever we hear the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or whenever the Holy Gospels or the gifts of bread and wine are carried by us in procession.
We cross ourselves in the ancient way formerly used by both the east and the west. The thumb, index and middle fingers are joined tightly together to remind us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, and we touch our forehead, breast, right shoulder and left shoulder.
Why do you sing everything? Singing is heightened speech. We use everyday speech for ordinary things, but we use special heightened speech to glorify God. Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn at the last supper they shared before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:30).
Why do you sing so many litanies? God wants us to praise Him and proclaim our belief that all things come from Him (Phil 4:6). We add our response, Lord have mercy, to the prayer offered as our assent to what is being asked. Some people cross themselves to intensify their assent to the prayer being offered.
Why does the priest turn his back to the people? He really doesn’t turn his back but, with us, faces east, and, as our leader, he offers praise to God. The east is where paradise, our ancestral homeland was located. Light arises in the east and Christ will come again and shine forth as lightening shines from east to west (Mat. 24:27). In our prayer we do not face any city or person, but we face God alone expecting His great mercy.
Why do you always stand? Our worship is dynamic. It is the worship of a people who are on their way to heaven. We are not passive spectators, or people being instructed, but rather, we are active participants in the worship of God. Ideally, chairs are for the aged, the mum and the pregnant. Kneeling is reserved for weekdays and ought not be done on Sunday.
Who can receive the Holy Eucharist (Communion)? Only those who are baptized and chrismated into the Catholic or Orthodox Church, and are not impeded by unrepented and unconfessed sins, and have prepared themselves by fasting from the previous night may approach the Holy Eucharist. Sharing the Holy Eucharist is the sign of church unity already accomplished. (Orthodox members should approach the priest before Divine Liturgy to discuss Communion.) We long for the day when all will be one. “There is one body, one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all (Eph. 4:4).
How do you receive Holy Eucharist? You approach the priest and make a reverence (a bow from the waist accompanied by the sign of the cross), and with your hands crossed upon your breast, you tilt your head back, and open your mouth without extending your tongue. You do not say “Amen;” but after having received the Eucharist, step aside, make another reverence (as above), and return to your place.
What is the bread given at the end of the Divine Liturgy? The blessed bread or antidoron is what remains from the preparation of the Holy Eucharist. It is not the Body of Christ, but is still blessed and therefore given to those who participate or it is brought to shut-ins. Some people keep it in their homes and eat a small portion daily before breakfast as a blessing and a reminder of their participation in the Divine Liturgy.
We come forward to receive the antidoron and extend our hands right palm crossed over the left. We kiss the hand of the priest who places the antidoron into our hands.
Why is the Divine Liturgy so long? For those who are new to our church, and as yet unfamiliar with its worship, things may seem confusing and lengthy. The Divine Liturgy is our entry into the joy of the Lord; for us, time and space are no more and we are in the eternal now of God’s presence. When we are in our Father’s house, we are where we ought to be. We are safe and secure in His loving presence partaking of His holiness.
As we stand in the midst of the divine milieu and breathe the sacred atmosphere of God’s presence, we can say with St. Peter the apostle, “Lord it is good for us to be here (Matthew 17:4). When we approach worship as joy rather than as an obligation, time spent with God is never really long enough.
What do you do after the Divine Liturgy? Since we have been to the mountain top and seen the glory of God revealed to us in the splendour of His holiness, we descend with the vision of that splendour fixed deeply in our minds and hearts.
We descend to a world that does not know God or His Son, Jesus Christ; a world disfigured by sin. We return bringing the healing and wholeness that only Christ can give. Our lives are changed and we translate into life what we have experienced in Liturgy.