Archive for the ‘Prayer Adult’ Category

ICONS: IMAGES OF GLORY

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ICONS: IMAGES OF GLORY
Icons play an important role in the spiritual life of Byzantine Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox. An icon is not merely a picture of Christ or of a saint, much less a religious decoration, but an expression of the most fundamental realities of our faith and a making present of the heavenly reality they depict.

GOD TRULY WITH US
The first reality of faith expressed in icons is that the Word of God truly and completely became one of us in Jesus Christ. He was not simply manlike: He was truly human, like us in all things except sin as the Scripture says. Our icons of Him proclaim the truth of His humanity while stressing His divinity as well. As St John of Damascus noted, “Of old God, the incorporeal and uncircumscribed, was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh, I make an image of the God who can be seen.” This is why icons are not symbolic designs (depicting Christ in symbol, as a lamb, for instance, is forbidden in Byzantine tradition) but realistic images of the One who is truly one of us.

WE SHALL BE CHANGED
In the Scripture we are promised that the Lord “will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of His glorified body·” (Philippians 3:21). And so the second reality to which icons point is that of the glorified body of the new creation.

Icons are realistic images, but they do not seek to depict the flesh of our fallen human nature, but the glorified bodies of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Sanctity is possible, the icon proclaims, and will fill even our bodies with the light  of the Spirit of God. This is why the iconographer does not strive for the natural realism of a photograph. This would only reproduce the physical reality of this world.

Rather his intention is to suggest spiritual beauty, transfiguration, deification. It also explains why the figures in icons are usually heavily draped with clothing. Naturalistic art exposes the flesh, glorying in physical beauty. In icons it is generally only the face and the eyes and – through them the soul – which are shown. In Byzantine icons the physical presentation is meant to be colored by the spiritual reality just as the body of Christ reflects divine glory in a physical way.

WINDOW TO HEAVEN
The icon has nothing in common with the decorative art we have in our homes, offices, or subway stations meant to adorn our living space. Icons are meant to call us to prayer, to an encounter with the Lord whom they reveal. This is why we pray before icons and fill our churches with them. We carry them in procession, bow before them and kiss them. A Byzantine church, in which all the walls are covered with holy icons, pulls us out of the mundane world of this age and into the life of the world to come. We see the effect of the grace of the Holy Spirit which we receive in the holy mysteries when the believer lives in this light of that grace.

The most customary manner of reverencing an icon in church is as follows: make one or two metanies then kiss the icon and then make a final metany, place your candle in the stand and move away. It is the custom in many places to kiss the  feet on an icon of Christ, the hands on an icon of the Theotokos, and the forehead on the icon of a saint.

ICONS IN THE HOME
Our use of icons is not restricted to the church building. God is with us wherever we are, and so it has become customary for Eastern Christians to proclaim His presence in their homes and workplaces by setting up icons. In particular the family prayer or icon corner is the focus of a household’s Christian identity and the place in the home where family prayer is conducted.

Customarily a corner is chosen which faces east and there the family’s sacred objects are gathered. Most common are the icons of Christ and the Theotokos, the holy cross, and the icons of the patron saints of each member of the family. The icon corner usually includes a lectern, shelf or small table upon which are placed a cross, the holy Scriptures, and a small incense burner. Many people also keep containers of holy oil, holy water, and antidoron (blessed bread) as well as other blessed objects (pussy willow, palm, flowers, etc) on the table in their icon corner.

In addition to the icon corner many people place a special icon of the Theotokos near the door of the house. People venerate this icon, known as the ‘Doorkeeper’, on leaving or entering the house to ask for blessing on their comings and goings. It is also common to place in the dining room the icon of the Hospitality of Abraham, which represents the Trinity in the form of the three angels who dined with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18). Icons of the family members’ patron saints are often put in their bedrooms as well.

Since icons are considered to be sacramental, revealing the special presence of the holy ones depicted in them, candles or oil lamps are kept burning before them. The faces of true icons are painted in such a way as to reflect the light of the lamps, just as the person depicted in the icon reflects the grace of the Holy Spirit within them.

A hanging lamp suspended from the ceiling or from a bracket over the principal icon in the icon corner in the most traditional way to adorn the icons. Some people leave a candle burning in their icon corner all the time. Others light the lamp and burn incense on occasion, such as on Sundays or the Great Feasts. Still others burn the lamp when they are praying, or when in need of a special blessing or protection.

BLESSING AN ICON
Icons are often blessed simply by being placed on the holy table during the Divine Liturgy. There are also specific prayers for the blessing of icons, appropriate to the subject of the icon (Trinity, Christ, Theotokos, saints) as well as a general prayer which may be used for any icon. The priest would say the prayer then sprinkle the icon with holy water. Everyone would then venerate the newly-blessed icon. If a bishop is blessing the icon, he anoints it with chrism rather than with holy water.

O Master, infinite in Your divine nature, You condescended in these latter days to become incarnate and finite: for in assuming our body, You accepted all its properties. Wherefore we represent Your likeness and embrace it with the Model in mind. Through it we ascend to You and, following the divine tradition set by the apostles, we draw from it the grace of healing. The grace of truth has shone forth and the predictions of old have been clearly fulfilled: for behold, the Church has put on the incarnate likeness of Christ, the new world of icons transcending adornment. As the tabernacle of the Covenant held the presence of God, so do icons show forth the presence of the One we worship and revere. By venerating them we never go astray. It is a glory for us to kneel in true worship of the incarnate Christ. Let us then embrace His icon, O believers, and cry out, “O God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance!” – (Vespers, Sunday of Orthodoxy)

SOURCE: OFFICE OF EDUCATIONAL SERVICES MELKITE EPARCHY OF NEWTON

WHY ARE VIGIL LAMPS LIT BEFORE ICONS?

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To those who ask: WHY ARE VIGIL LAMPS LIT BEFORE ICONS?

First—because our faith is light. Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

Second—in order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

Third—in order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16).

Fourth—so that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself complete­ly as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and sal­vation and everything that only boundless heavenly, love can bestow.

Fifth—so that terror would strike the evil pow­ers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Crea­tor. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.

Sixth—so that this light would rouse us to self­lessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will.

Seventh—in order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit with­out the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.

Eighth—in order to remind us that before any­thing else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: And God said, let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3). And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us. From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

May the Light of Christ illumine you as well!

By: Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

Worshipping in the House of the Lord

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How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes it faints for the courts of the Lord: my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God! Psalm 83:2-3

For Old Testament Jews the temple at Jerusalem, about which the above words were written, signaled the special relationship they had with God. The Lord, the only true God, had chosen them as His people and dwelt in their midst in this temple.

For Christians the dwelling place of God is not a building. Rather it is the people of God itself, the Church community, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the church building represents and makes visible for us this relationship we have with God. The design and iconography of the Byzantine church building in particular strives to represent in a visible way this relationship ‘from God’s side,’ as it were. Surrounded by the saints (represented on the walls), under the headship of Christ (represented in the dome) and by virtue of His incarnation (represented by the icon screen), we have been brought to stand before the throne of God (represented by the Holy Table) to receive a share in His life.

Just as the design of the Church building recalls what God has done to bring us to intimacy with Film, what we do in that building signifies our side of the relationship. By our worship in the church we recognize God’s saving and forgiving love for us. We acknowledge that we owe Him our very lives and that we belong fully to Him, that it is to Him that we commend ourselves, one another and our whole life’.

In the original Greek of the New Testament the word worship is proskineo, which means ‘to bow in respect or submission.’ It is a physical action, drawn from the ceremonial of royal courts, meant to express the attitude of our hearts before the King of all. This connection has been maintained in the Eastern Churches where to worship still means to bow down before the Lord. This bow has been made a specifically Christian action in Byzantine practice by joining to it the sign of the cross This action, a deep bow coupled with the sign of the cross, is the distinctive action of Byzantine worship which we call the metany. Used continually in both private and liturgical worship, it expresses our dependence upon God’s saving love and our confident assurance that He continually bestows it.

In Byzantine practice worship is not a matter of watching someone else reverence God, but of actually doing it ourselves. Eastern Christians traditionally express their relationship with God by performing the metany and other gestures of worship whenever they pray at home or in the church building. Since these gestures are not common in Western religious or secular culture, the following guide is offered. It is not meant to straightjacket your piety, but rather to enable you to enter fully into our Eastern experience of the worship of the Lord.

In making a metany, bow from the waist while extending your right hand until your fingertips touch the ground; then rise and make the sign of the cross, saying the prayer “O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.”

ENTERING THE CHURCH

We generally enter the church through the narthex or vestibule, the place of preparation, then proceed into the nave. In many churches the narthex contains one or more tables where candles may be obtained and the offerings collected. In addition to monetary offerings, it is customary in many places for people to offer the consumables used in the divine services: holy bread, wine, oil or incense.

It is also the practice in some churches to record prayer intentions at a table in the narthex. People write the names of those for whom they wish prayer in a book or on pieces of paper which are given to the priest for mention in the service. In some churches people may obtain altar bread in the narthex and offer it along with their prayer intentions as well.

In most churches one or more icons are placed in the narthex, at the door of the nave, or in the middle of the church for veneration. The most customary manner of reverencing an icon is as follows: make one or two metanies then kiss the icon and then make a final metany, place your candle in the stand and move away. It is the custom in many places to kiss the feet on an icon of Christ, the hands on an icon of the Theotokos, and the forehead on the icon of a saint.

It is customary to make three metanies on first entering the nave of the church to reverence the presence of God before venerating other icons or going to your place.

Whether or not a service is in progress, refrain from all unnecessary conversation in the nave of the church. People who come early to church generally do so for moments of spiritual preparation. If you wish to hold a conversation with someone before the service, please go to the narthex, the hall, or outside to do it.

DURING THE SERVICE

Of all the prayer gestures used in Byzantine worship, the most frequently employed is the sign of the cross. The customary times of its use in our prayer are:

  1. The opening doxology of any prayer or service;
  2. Whenever the Holy Trinity is glorified by name:
  3. Whenever we are blessed by a sacred object, such as the cross, the Holy Gospel, the chalice or an icon;
  4. Whenever any of these sacred objects is carried before us in procession;
  5. In some churches, whenever we are blessed or incensed;
  6. In some churches, whenever we wish to intensify our prayer by an expression of personal fervor (e.g. when saying “I believe…” or personalizing the petition of a litany).
  7. At the Divine Liturgy, after the words of Christ (“Take eat… take, drink…” ) are said.

Besides its use on first entering the church, the metany is also frequently employed in worship, as follows:

  1. Whenever invited to by the clergy (e.g. “Come let us worship and bow down…”);
  2. Each time the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy Mighty One ) is said;
  3. After the reading of psalms, at the words “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia: glory to You, O God!”;
  4. Whenever we approach to receive Communion, or to receive or venerate a sacred object.
  5. After the epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) at the Divine Liturgy.

Another gesture frequently employed is praying with raised hands. Often mentioned in Scripture, this has remained the most characteristic prayer posture in all religions of the Middle East. It is most generally used in our Church’s worship whenever the Lord’s Prayer is recited. At the Divine Liturgy in some churches people also raise their hands at the words “We lift them up to the Lord” before the anaphora.

Entrances or processions are frequently held in Byzantine worship, bringing the Gospel Book, the holy gifts, or icons into the midst of the congregation. As mentioned above, it is customary to make the sign of the cross when these objects are carried past us. In some places people may reach out and touch the object or the garment of the priest carrying it as well. It is generally the custom to turn and face the procession as it passes, so as not to turn our backs on the liturgical rite.

Frequently whenever the Holy Gospel is read, some worshippers will come forward to stand under the sacred book as a sign of devotion. In some churches the Gospel Book is presented to these people for veneration after the reading.

RECEIVING COMMUNION

It is folly not to approach Holy Communion with great awe, purified by prayer and fasting according to our ability (cf. 1 Cor 11:26-31). At the time of Communion, we come forward with the right hand crossed over the left and held to the breast. While the person in front of you is communicating, make one or two metanies. If the priest does not know you by name, mention it as you approach so that he can repeat it in the Communion formula. Then open your mouth widely and do not attempt to say anything else (amen, thank you, etc.) while the priest administers the holy mysteries to you.

In the Melkite Church Communion is generally given by intinction: the holy bread is dipped into the chalice and placed in your mouth. The mouth must be fully open; the tongue may be extended or not. Most Byzantine Churches administer Communion with a spoon. When receiving in this manner, the tongue should not be extended, nor should the communicant close his mouth until the spoon has been removed.

If the priest is carrying a communion cloth, wipe your lips with it after communicating, then step aside and again make a metany before going back to your place.

AFTER THE SERVICE

At the end of the Divine Liturgy it is customary for the priest to distribute the remainder of the holy bread which had not been consecrated. This bread, called antidoron, may be consumed at this time or taken home to be eaten during one’s private prayers or shared with a family member unable to come to church. It becomes a way of expressing our unity with the worshipping community even when we cannot attend the Liturgy.

After other services and, in some churches after the Liturgy as well, the holy cross or an icon may be presented for veneration. In either case, approach the priest, make one or two metanies, venerate the cross and/or receive the antidoron, and kiss the hand of the priest who gives it. Then step aside, make another metany and depart.

Article from Diocese of Newton (Eastern Catholic Church)

LET US COMMEND OUR WHOLE LIFE TO GOD

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THE BOOKS OF CHRONICLES describes how King contributed great resources toward the building of a temple and describes his reason in prayer to God: “All things come from You, and of Your own we have given You.” (1 Chronicles 29:14) For David, all is of God; we are simply returning to Him what He has entrusted to us.

Our great act of thanksgiving as Christians is the Eucharist where we join Christ as He offers Himself to the Father for our salvation. As the holy gifts are raised up in offering, the Church unites itself to Christ’s oblation in language similar to David’s: “We offer You Your own of what is Your own, in all and for the sake of all.”

We are called to apply the same sentiment to our daily lives, making of them an act of worship. Our lives as Christians are meant to reflect that all we have is a gift of God given, not for our self-gratification, but for the service of the One to whom they really belong. The way of life which sees all that we are and all that we have as set apart for God and His purposes we call stewardship.

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-26), Jesus speaks of a householder entrusting certain sums to his servants in his absence. Upon his return the master calls for an accounting, commending those who used these talents to build up their master’s holdings. As with the servants in this parable, what has been given to us is not really ours; it is simply entrusted to us and we are account-able for the care of what we have received.

In the Gospel the Lord tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Christ calls us to reorder our priorities, to place all of creation in a proper perspective in light of the Kingdom of God, where all else pales compared to our relationship with God. We are to “commend ourselves, one another and our whole life” to God.

OF WHAT ARE WE STEWARDS?

The Gift of Life – Life itself is our most basic gift. Thus we frequently glorify God as the “Giver of life” and as “the Lover of mankind.” We are called to work as stewards of life, the gift of God, by treating our own life with respect, not squandering what we have been given.

Believers are also called to take concrete action and, whenever possible, to cooperate with others, working to affirm God as Lord of life from conception to natural death for all God’s children.
Our Relationships – We have been created in the image of God, the communion of the Holy Trinity. For us to reflect that image in us, our dealings with our spouses and children, our parents and extended family, and all those whom God has placed in our life should mirror God’s love for us. Our willingness to extend forgiveness for the offences we may suffer at their hands validates what we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us and we forgive.”

The Material Creation – In Genesis, God is depicted as placing the first man in the garden “to till it and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). Humanity is first and foremost the recipient of the material creation and also its steward. While primitive peoples often have a more respectful relationship with the earth, modern society has more frequently been its users and abusers.

The Gospel – Believers have received an even more precious blessing than life. Through faith and baptism we have the gift of communion with God in Christ.
We express our stewardship of the Christian life by participating in the Church’s work of evangelization: sharing that life with those who have not yet received it and with those in whom it has become weak. As Christ told a man He had healed, “Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).

Our Church – The liturgies, theologies and particular customs of our Churches contribute something unique to all the Churches, but only if we observe them as authentically as possible. Like any other gift, our Tradition is meant to be cherished and used, not just for ourselves, but in the service of the One who has given it to us.

The material resources of our churches may often be shared with other Christians as well, particularly newer immigrants seeking to worship in their own tradition.

Our Individual Gifts – “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). The Scriptures frequently speak of the particular gifts individual believers have received, not to build themselves up, but “for the good of all” (1 Cor 12.7). There is hardly any gift which cannot be employed in the service of Christ and His Body.

Many people were raised to believe that working in the Church was the business of the clergy and religious. The clergy have specific charges in the Church, but their primary purpose in the community is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), to see to it that the Church is in truth a priestly people, faithfully fulfilling its mission in the world.

Our Material Resources – More than 15% of what Jesus spoke about in the Gospels was about our money, our wealth. For Jesus, money and possessions and their proper use was highly important to our spiritual growth. He encouraged us to entrust everything to God and not worry about tomorrow (Mt 6:33).

HOW ARE WE TO OFFER?

In the Scriptures we find several principles which can govern the way we offer back to God what is His. They generally speak about material goods, but also can be applied to other aspects of our sharing with God and His people:

First Fruits – The Old Testament speaks of offering to God the “first fruits” of our possessions, thus recognizing Him as the provider of all we are and all we have. By giving God our “first fruits” we insure that we are putting Him first in our lives.

Proportional Giving – “All shall give as they are able, according to what the Lord your God He has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:17). Here people are charged to give in proportion to how God has blessed them.

Our Abundance – St Paul establishes another principle: God will provide us with enough for our needs; anything over that – our abundance – is for doing good (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8-9). In two prayers at the mystery of crowning the priest asks God to pour out this blessing upon the couple “… that, having sufficiency in all things they may abound in every work that is good and acceptable to You.”

Stewardship – the care of all that we are and have in trust for the One who has given it to us – is nothing less than the imitation of God’s love in action. St Gregory the Theologian phrased it this way: “Give something to God to thank Him that you are able to do good to others and are not one of those who need to be assisted, and that others gaze at your hands and not you at theirs… Be a god for the unfortunate, imitating God’s mercy.”

“Being a god” is the ultimate end of stewardship. “The most divine in a human person is precisely this: to do good. You can become god without any labor – do not miss your chance to reach deification.” (St Gregory the Theologian, Discourse 14:26; 17, 10)

MADE IN HIS IMAGE

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MANY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD believe in the one God. But so many of them find it impossible to imagine that God has become man in Jesus Christ. The very idea that God could come to earth and suffer all that we suffer in life is incomprehensible to them.

People who balk at the idea of the incarnation often believe in something which may seem more incredible yet. They embrace the teaching that “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

How could human beings like us be in God’s image? We know ourselves and our weaknesses. Surely the author of Genesis knew human nature also. How could this author make such a claim? And how could the Spirit of God, who inspires the Scriptures, speak to us through these words?

Yet we know that all creation reflects something of God who is the Source of its being. It is God’s presence which upholds everything that is, so that in some way everything mirrors its Creator. The great forces of nature – the galaxies and planets, the mountains and oceans – suggest to many the power and majesty of God, “charged with the grandeur of God” in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Others find the wisdom of God evident in the precise arrangement of even the tiniest organism or of the ecosystem. From ancient Greeks to 21st century scientists people have marveled at the “golden ratio” (1.618 or φ), which reflects an order underlying things as diverse as atoms, brainwaves, the graphic arts and music. People of all ages have seen this order as pointing to God who has brought together everything in an otherwise unrivalled precision. Yet in mankind there is something which mirrors God in a way that distinguishes us from the rest of creation.

While the rest of creation reflects God’s wisdom and power, mankind reflects God at the heart of His very being. God is love, we read in the New Testament, and we are the creature that can love and so reflect the love of God. To be human, then, is to be a lover in the image of the One who is love itself.

Seeing God as the Holy Trinity, Christians believe that the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the core of God’s very being. God is a communion of love and this communion is not closed in upon itself but is extended to embrace all creation. In a similar way relationship is at the heart of our being. We are made for communion with one another and most importantly for communion with our Creator, God. Not only are human beings created by God, but we are created in God and for Him. In the broadest sense we are made for worship.

“LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS.” (GENESIS 1:26)

These words introduce the story of our creation in the book of Genesis. Many Church Fathers, like St. Irenaeus, saw in them a distinction between what we already are and what we have the chance to become. From our creation in God’s image we have the innate ability to love. We can know what is good and choose to embrace it. As God’s love is extended freely to His creation, mankind in His image is given the freedom to extend our love or to withhold it.

To be created after God’s likeness means something more. It means that we were created with the fullest possibility of relating to God and to one another already in view. The fully developed human being would be one fully resembling the One who made us.

At mankind’s creation, St Irenaeus wrote, man was a child. Just as infants are born with the potential to develop into adults, mankind was created as a spiritual infant. That he was to develop was clear; the certainty that he would mature fully was not.

The book of Genesis teaches that the relationship of men and women with their Creator was quickly ruptured. Adam and Eve are tempted to become “like God” on their own, despite the warning that they “would surely die” if they did not follow the directions of their Maker. Striking out on their own, they showed a mistrust of God which altered their relationship forever. The image of God in humanity would remain; the likeness was so scarred that it became impossible for men and women to fulfill their potential as God intended. The only One who could perfectly realize human nature was the eternal image of the Father, His only-begotten Son: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible… All things were created through him and for Him. … For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell” (Colossians 1:15-19).

And so the Word of God, the icon of the Father, would become human to completely fulfill human nature in Himself. As a Sufi poet once wrote, “When God wanted to see His face He sent Jesus to the world.” And because He had become one with us, the Son of God could restore the likeness of God in us as well. Created in God’s image, we could re-embark on the journey of fellowship with God in Christ, our “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Only the Lord Jesus truly reflects for us the love of God. But those who have put on Christ in baptism and who sustain their union with Him will be transformed into “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), sharers in His likeness. This transformation, which the Fathers called theosis (deification), is the goal of our life as Christians; but it is also the journey to that goal. What begins here is meant to be completed in the age to come.

Theosis as a process begins with baptism. We begin allowing the gift of our baptism to impact our life when we make a godly life the main goal of our existence. We try to keep the commandments, to observe the Lord’s precepts on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and to live the life of the Church. Theosis will grow in us as we become more aware of God’s presence within us and in our life at every moment: an awareness cultivated perhaps by the Jesus Prayer. We discover the meaning of St Gregory of Sinai’s words: “Become what you are. Find Him who is already yours. Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you. Own Him who already owns you.”

As we begin entrusting our entire life to Christ God, we may understand Christ’s words, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) in terms of what we do: “If I am accomplishing all this, I am becoming perfect in God’s sight.” A deeper sign that we are growing in the journey of theosis is when we seek to become more like Jesus the Servant. As St Paul urged, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who – though he was in the form of God – did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found in human appearance, He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

As Christ’s attitudes of humility, obedience and mutual service become more ingrained in us, we reflect ever more the life of God. Our love for others and for all creation grows as we reflect the mind of Christ in us. We become what we are: people who live by God’s divine life in us and partake in His divine nature.

PASSAGE TO HEAVEN: AN APPRECIATION OF THE DIVINE LITURGY

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PASSAGE TO HEAVEN: AN APPRECIATION OF THE DIVINE LITURGY EXCERPTED FROM EYES OF THE GOSPEL BY ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH M. RAYA

Article from: Eparchy of Newton Website

FOREWORD
The Epistle to the Hebrews presents an expansive vista depicting the history of our salvation: the manifestations of God to the Old Testament prophets, the incarnation of Christ and His all-sufficient self-offering. It concludes this anamnesis of God’s faithful love to us with the following injunction:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another …” (Hebrews 10:25)

Our response to God’s fidelity, then, is to be faithful to Him by being steadfast in our belief and to be faithful to one another by supporting each another in the Christian life. And this faithfulness to God and to one another is described as centered in the regular “meeting together” or synaxis of the Christian community: what we call the Divine Liturgy.

In looking for a way to express our call to be faithful to God and one another through the Divine Liturgy, we turned to one of our hierarchs, Archbishop Joseph Raya, who through his translations of the liturgical texts has placed his stamp on so many Byzantine churches in the English-speaking world. In The Eyes of the Gospel, published almost twenty years ago, Archbishop Joseph had woven a number of reflections on various of the prayers and movements of the Divine Liturgy. Archbishop Joseph has graciously allowed us to rearrange and reproduce his meditations in a new format. We trust that, in breaking the bread of his thought, as we do the Eucharistic bread, we have not rent it asunder.

To highlight the connection of the Church’s Liturgy with models of Biblical prayer, we have interspersed within this book a number of Scriptural texts to which the Liturgy refers or which it echoes. To emphasize the continuity of our Liturgy today with that of the Eastern Churches over the centuries, we have also included passages from some historic commentaries on or references to the Liturgy, for our celebration each Sunday resonates with the worship of thousands of years.

We hope that this work will serve more than one purpose: first of all it can provide those of us who regularly attend the Liturgy with a new appreciation of the mystery we celebrate. But if we are truly committed to be faithful to one another, this reflection can also be a means of encouraging one another: an avenue for us to lead others to participate in the Liturgy themselves.
This monograph was originally published in connection with the 1991 convention of the Melkite Greek Catholic Diocese of Newton.

INTRODUCTION
Justin, one of the first apologists of the Christian faith, himself born shortly after the Apostles, gives an account of his faith and of the practice of the Christians of his time. He describes in detail the celebration of the Eucharist as it was conducted, and claims that these details are what the Lord Himself ordered His disciples to follow.

The account of the Liturgy described by Justin witnesses to the details of the Sacred Supper of the Lord and harmonizes with the details of the Breaking of the Bread by the Apostles. It is this same Liturgy of the first Christians that Clement of Rome describes and which the Church kept faithfully and transmitted in all its integrity. It is from this Liturgy that the Byzantine Liturgy derives and has its origin.

The ancients called this gathering of the faithful synaxis, a convention: a community that looks to eternity. Worshipping together in community, the faithful experience more readily both their unity in Christ and the power of the Spirit. They learn how to open and abandon themselves to the revelation of God, to experience Him, and thus be able to witness to their religious experience.

All the celebrations of the mysteries of heaven take on a special quality of joy and beauty in which one longs to participate. No one is merely a spectator or a pupil: every one is engaged in an action. Everyone is in readiness, calling on and waiting for the coming of tile Lord, who is coming, yet always present. They gather to receive the saving power of God and to rejoice in His goodness and glory
In these public functions there is constant motion and personal participation. Every act, gesture and movement of the body has its meaning. People sway with their bodies, move their hands, raise and lower their eyes, bow their heads. Their voices rise and fall in heartfelt supplication. Every person performing a bodily gesture in the celebration points to a spiritual reality and acclaims it.

People in prayer see the saints around them, wrapped in their icons with a mantle of eternity; candles flickering in a thousand hues of light; incense whirling in a warm atmosphere; music swelling from every corner of the assembled congregation; vestments of multicolors and designs which sway and shine. The deacons move around between the people and the celebrant. In the middle of the sanctuary stands the Bishop, image of Christ, presiding over the celebration.

The priests do not stay at the altar. They and their retinue of assistants come out of the sanctuary and walk in the midst of the congregation: first, perhaps, to incense, then to carry the Gospel book, finally to transfer the oblations or to receive them in a solemn procession, where angels mingle with us to carry the King of all and welcome His coming among them. They go around the church to sprinkle the people with perfume, to shower the congregation now with flowers, now with a smile, and yet another time with encouragement and a blessing.

It is not possible to understand Eastern Christianity by only reading or talking about it. It is necessary to experience its life, its actuality, by being present at its celebrations. The organic and completely self-evident center of Eastern Christianity is in its celebrations. “Come and see!”

THE HOLY PLACE
“I shall enter into Your dwelling place; before Your holy temple I shall bow in fear of You.” (Psalm 5:7)

The sanctuary and the altar have been, throughout the spiritual development of the Church, gradually hidden and separated not by an ecclesiastical, bureaucratic mandate but by the Christian sense of the sacred, by a real sense of the awesomeness of the mystery of God. St. John Chrysostom and all the Fathers constantly call the altar the “terrifying table”, and the mystery of the altar “terrifying mysteries,” “the terrifying sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ to which we have to approach with fear and trembling.” This is sacred terror and not fear of the unknown. It is a mystic trembling in the presence of heaven: “Take off your shoes,” said God, “for the place where you stand is holy” (cf Exodus 3:5).

The more secularized we become, the more our vision of the sacred and the holy becomes blurry, and even blinded. The closing of doors and curtains is not setting apart the clergy as if in a special class, shutting off the People of God from participation. It is rather a forceful revelation that there is a mystery, and that we cannot see or experience this mystery by physical contact. No human eyes or physical sight can penetrate or comprehend it. Only love and the surge of the soul on the wings of faith can meet the Lord and God of all.

‘The sticharion of the priest is fashioned after the robe of Aaron, the one going all the way down to his feet (Exodus 28:33).

‘Moreover it has the appearance of fire, according to the Prophet who says: ‘He makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flames of fire ‘” (Psalm 103:4; Hebrews 1:7), St. Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica, 14 (C. 725 AD)

THE PREPARATION OF THE GIFTS
In the ancient Church only the baptized, the initiated and those instructed in the faith were allowed to bring their offerings to the altar. Bread and wine symbolize and represent those who are united to Christ and made one with Him in baptism. As the many grains of wheat and the many grapes have to be crushed to become a new form of life-giving element which is bread and wine, so also the baptized are grafted onto Christ and voluntarily surrendered and given to Him to be one with Him. With Christ who is our Bread we become new life, life divine.

From the material offerings of bread and wine of the faithful, the deacons and, later in history, the priests selected what was necessary for the sacrifice and used the rest for their subsistence or the subsistence of the poor. The simple ceremony of offering, receiving, selecting and distributing the bread and wine, which is the human part of the covenant, was made at a special place called prothesis or proskomedia (table of oblation). This ceremony became more elaborate later and developed into a short story and a condensed drama of the whole eucharistic sacrifice.

Among all the loaves offered there is one called prosphora, representing Christ and stamped with a seal bearing His name: “Jesus Christ the Victor,” IC XC NIKA. When this seal is cut it is called “the Lamb”, the Lamb of God who represents here all humanity.

The priest lifts up the prosphora and signs it three times with the lance that pierced the side of the Lord on Calvary. He cuts the seal marked with Christ’s name, saying: “As a sheep He was led to the slaughter. And as a spotless lamb before the shearers, He did not open his mouth. In His lowliness His judgement was taken away. And who shall describe His generation?”
The priest, thrusting the lance into the right side of the bread, lifts out the lamb, saying: “For His life was taken away from the earth.” He turns it face down and pierces it on the side stamped “Jesus,” saying: “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance.”

Wine is then poured into the chalice with some drops of water. The memory of Calvary becomes alive again, and the priest declares, “…and at once there came forth blood and water and he who saw it bore witness, and his witness is true.”

Another special piece is cut “in honor and memory of our most highly blessed and glorious Lady the Mother of God” and is placed at the right of the Lamb, for indeed, “at Your right stood the queen in an embroidered mantle of gold.” Angels, prophets and saints, people living and people dead are also represented and arranged in rows around the Lamb on His throne.

The priest puts a star on the oblation and declares that a “Star came and stood where the Child was.” He declares the faith of the assembly in the Incarnation of the Son of God and in His appearance in human flesh. Here is Bethlehem!

Even the covering of the oblation becomes an occasion for the glorification of God and for our identification with Him: “The Lord is king, He has clothed Himself with splendor; the Lord has put on might and has girded Himself! Your glory, O Christ, has covered the heavens, and the earth is full of Your praise.”

“We offer You incense, Christ our God, for an odor of spiritual fragrance: receive if on Your altar in heaven, and send down on us in return the grace of Your all-holy Spirit. ” (Service of the Prothesis)
Through this ceremony we see the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God on the altar of heaven reproduced in the here and now. It is already a vision, a Theophany of God. The physical elements of bread and wine are filled with the Invisible. Our faith, love and prayer meet the Lord, who is present and ready for His mission of salvation by which He seals His covenant with God and with His people:

“That our God who loves mankind, having received them on His holy altar in heaven as a fragrance, may send down upon us in return His divine grace and the Holy Spirit as His gift…” (Divine Liturgy).

The “Sacrifice” is already present. We already call the elements of the Divine Liturgy of Christ “sacrifice of Christ,” “our sacrifice,” “sacrifice of the people.” Christ was alone in His suffering and offering on the cross. Now the people of God are present on Calvary and they have the occasion to ratify and accept the sacrifice as their own. The point is that we become co-offerers with Christ by our obedient self-giving; we offer to God the totality of our lives, of ourselves, and of the world in which we live. The sacrifice of Christ has been offered and accepted. Now we make it our own and we call it a “sacrifice of praise,” because in it we recognize already the goodness and generosity of God.

THE ENARXIS OR RITE OF ASSEMBLY
“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit “

Every prayer, as every act of the Christian, is ordained ultimately, not only to his own fulfillment in the “vision of God” in heaven, but also to the transformation and consummation of all things in Christ. In Christ all that is, is full of possibilities for beauty, truth, community and justice. And the Christian is vowed to draw out all these possibilities into the realities of this world. All of reality invites him to respond to goodness with goodness of his own. The swayings and sounds and whispers of nature and of man are a continual prayer that brings God to man. The Christian hears within his soul these cries and sighs and longing, and he brings them in an upward movement of praise and glory to God.

This vision of the praying Christian is most explicitly clarified in the Litany of Peace, which opens all Byzantine public prayers and some Western liturgies also. In this litany the Christian gathers within himself the public servants: authorities both religious and civil; cities, country places and all those who live in them, the travelers by sea, land and air; the sick and those who suffer and those forgotten brothers who are in prisons. The Christian lives deeply in touch with all the troubles of the world and feels the pain of human life intensely. He brings all the earth and whatever it contains to God for His mercy, and dedicates himself for its healing and welfare.

When Christ ascended the cross, He succeeded in spreading over the whole world more of Himself, more of love and salvation than there will ever be of death, hatred, self-centeredness and sin. The mercy of God is the life-giving perpetuation of the divine energy of the Redeemer’s love, an outpouring of love and goodness that sanctifies and divinizes. The mercy of God is not a condescension, a paternalism on the part of God, a “crumb that falls form the Master’s table.” The mercy of God is God Himself in His transforming presence. It is He, the Bread broken for all, generously given and completely surrendered. The cry of “Lord, have mercy,” therefore, invokes the divine presence on the whole of creation, upon mankind and matter, upon the whole world thought of as gathered in the one embrace of Christ.

Many are the needs. Many, therefore, are the cries for mercy. The rhythm of the intentions and the repetition of the “Lord, have mercy” is the manifestation of the all-embracing concern of Christ and of the Christian’s heart. It teaches the individual and the community their true relation with the world and with all mankind as it makes them go beyond themselves to embrace the whole world, all mankind and every circumstance, and carry them in their prayer and in their daily life.

This litany of intentions is the vibrant acclamation of the Christian that everything and everyone belongs to God’s kingdom, where saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever are at home, and where all share in the peace of God. It proclaims the universality of the embrace of Christ which the Christian makes his own. The praying Christian realizes here that he is the brother of all and responsible for all. This is the kingdom of God!

“The antiphons of the Liturgy are the prophets’ predictions which foretold the coming of the Son of God… that is, they reveal His incarnation which we proclaim again, having embraced knowledge of it through those who have become servants, eyewitnesses and attendants of the Word.” St. Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica, 23 (c 725 AD)

In the antiphons Christians witness to the goodness of the Lord and shout their own hopes and joys at the sight of Christ’s action of salvation. Historically speaking, the antiphons were popular demonstrations and processions through the streets and winding roads of a given locality, from church to church, leading to the main Church where the celebration had to take place. These processions were meant to gather on their way the “good and the sinners, inviting every one, believer and unbeliever, to the wedding-feast of the King” (Matt 22:8).

The word antiphon means a refrain to a reading or to a rhetorical declamation often repeated during the course of a procession. Antiphons are devised to provoke in people enthusiasm, and joy, and to help them see the goodness of God who hears the immense desire of humanity. Humanity sighs and longs for the coming of the Savior, and God bends toward the earth, sending His Son to be incarnate. Salvation is then seen as present and already working among us. These street demonstrations, as they are worked out in the antiphons, end in a peaceful and nerve-relaxing hymn which sings the presence of the Son among men:

Only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal as You are!
You condescended for our salvation
to take flesh of the holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary,
and without undergoing change, You became man.
You were crucified, O Christ God,
and crushed Death by Your death.
You are One of the Holy Trinity,
equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit:
save us.

Once we have seen that the promises of God and the expectations of His people have been fulfilled, we understand that the wedding-feast is open to all and in full progress. An excited air runs through the congregation: the Bridegroom is now coming! We prepare to receive Him.

The ministers form a great procession with lighted candles, covered with a cloud of incense. The bejeweled Holy Gospel book, which is the symbol and sign of Jesus Christ Himself, is carried high on the head of the celebrant or the deacon.

” here the gospeller, as he holds the golden Gospel, passes along; and the surging crowd strives to touch the sacred book with their lips and hands,while moving waves of people break around.” (Paul the Silentiary, c. 550 AD)

The whole assembly rises to honor the coming of the Lord, using singing, imagination and all the human emotions. Everyone bows profoundly at the passage of Christ, adoring Him really present in His book of life. By bowing and by many signs of the cross, everyone proclaims his or her readiness to hear his voice and heed the lessons of His love. The Gospel Book is thus brought with solemnity and majesty into the midst of the congregation and finally to the sanctuary.

” the priest, standing in front of the altar, raises the Gospel Book and shows it to the people, thus symbolizing the manifestation of the Lord, when He began to appear to the multitudes. For the Gospel represents Christ in the same way that the books of the Old Testament are called the Prophets ( They have Moses and the Prophets,’ Lk 16:29) ” Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 20 (c.1350 AD)

THE SERVICE OF THE WORD
After the entrance of the Gospel Book and its enthronement on the altar, the throne of God as it were, the people go on with their merry celebration of the saints or of an event in the life of Christ, remembering again a phase of the deeds and goodness of God. Christians assemble to celebrate the saints also. Heroes and benefactors of humanity, the saints have surrendered themselves to God and to their brothers and sisters. They become pure transparencies for God’s action, and thus they are to us extended radiances of the incarnation.

“After He who was foretold had appeared and made Himself manifest, no one could pay attention to the words of the Prophets. Therefore after the showing of the Gospels, the prophetic texts cease and we sing something from the New Testament: we praise the all-holy Theotokos or the other saints, and we glorify Christ Himself for coming to dwell among us.” Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 20

Christians are the associates of angels in their service before God. We enter into this association when we proclaim with them the holiness of the divine Trinity. At this point in the Liturgy indeed, at the beginning of every prayer we affirm this association as we chant the Trisagion:

“Holy is God:” the Father, who is origin, source and point of return of all creation;
“Holy the Mighty One:” the Son. He is mighty because He conquered evil and death and wrought salvation and resurrection. “He is mighty, because through Him the Father was revealed to us and the Holy Spirit came to this world” (vespers of Pentecost).
“Holy the Immortal One:” the Holy Spirit, who is life and life-giving, whom nothing no evil, no sin, no amount of gravity of sin can ever kill or wipe out from the soul of the Christian.

“The Fathers originally received from the angels the Holy, holy, holy’ and from David the remainder, where he glorified God in Trinity, saying, My soul thirsted for God, the mighty One, the living One’ (Ps 41:3), and rightly and most appropriately composed the Trisagion Hymn. As a mark of petition they added again from David the have mercy on us’.” St Simeon of Thessalonike, Treatise on Prayer 24 (c. 1425 AD)

The assembly that reads the Word of God is the human race in miniature. In fact, such an assembly represents the whole human race. When it reads the Word of God and recalls His deeds of the past, it proclaims also His present action and care.

“Before the Gospel, the deacon comes with the censer in his hand to fill the church with sweet fragrance for the reception of the Lord, reminding us by this censing of the spiritual cleansing of our souls with which we should attend to the fragrant words of the Gospel.” Nikolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy (19th Century)… it got about that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door, and He was preaching the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2)

The whole life of Christ, all His teaching, even His smallest gestures, are aimed at saving mankind from tyrannies and changing the water of this life into the wine of the feast. The Gospel is like the charter of this freedom and dignity. The words of Christ, taken one by one or collectively are a stirring experience of life, allowing man to go into life and live it fully. Christ’s voice reaches an ecstasy beyond and above any voice ever heard on earth. The tone of His voice is a bearer of that sublime message that we are on our way to another, lovelier world, tinted with unimaginable wonders, alive with ultimate music and bursting with radiance and joy. We are going to a “banquet”, a “wedding” and a “kingdom”. Only those who go beyond appearances, and contact the reality of persons and of things, are allowed into that kingdom. God, man, creation, Christ and His entire life are so many reasons and subjects for wonder and joy that enable us to enter into that kingdom. Each one is a poem and a miracle of beauty that makes us sing in glory, awe and joy. Each celebration designed to make our life a celebration.

The story of the life and deeds of Christ is called Gospel, good news, because it is precisely news of life. The message of the Gospel penetrates to the heart and sweeps away sin and ugliness. It is always new because it is fraught with wonder. We Christians do not read, we proclaim the Gospel. Those who are gifted musicians and singers chant its words, its texts and its message. The Ancients always insisted, with a profound sense of wisdom, on the way the voice should be modulated, the way the words of the Gospel should be pronounced, and how the whole meaning should be brought out. Whether elaborate or simple, the proclamation of the Gospel has this one function: to convey the poetry of the text and the feeling of glory and joy of being in the presence of God.

Easterners call the Gospel the second incarnation. Whereas in the first the Son of God became Son of man, in the second incarnation in the Gospel the Word of God became word of man. He became a Book! For this reason the Gospel is always bound in silver or gold or precious materials. He is always on our altars, as it were God on His throne. The Gospel is carried in procession, borne aloft on our heads, incensed and kissed with reverence and devotion.

Saint John Chrysostom says, “When emperors of this world speak, we all shout with one voice and one heart, Glory to you, lord.’ But when the Lord Jesus speaks in His Gospel, our enthusiasm grows stronger and louder and we repeat it twice, Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You!’” Our enthusiasm becomes love and we repeat the cry twice, once before the proclamation of the Gospel and once when the proclamation has ended.

“After the reading of the Gospel, the deacon urges to congregation to prayer. The priest in the sanctuary prays in a low voice that the prayers of the faithful may be acceptable to God.
“And what prayer could be more fitting for all, after the Gospel, than one for those who keep the Gospel, who imitate the goodness and generosity of Christ, the shepherds of the people and those who govern the state. These, if they are faithful to the precepts of the Gospel, as the Apostle says: Achieve after Christ that which is lacking in Christ’ (Col 1:24), in governing His flock as He would wish. Such, too, are the founders and heads of religious houses and churches, the teachers of virtue and all those who in any way contribute to the common good of the Church and of religion; they have a place here and are entitled to the prayers of all.” Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 23

After the readings have been proclaimed and the special celebration of the day has put the Christian in the realm of God, the official and solemn transfer of the oblations to the altar takes place. A stir of anticipation runs through the whole congregation. Seized by the awareness of what is going to happen, everyone falls into a humble, yet confident, change of heart. Ministers and faithful express sorrow for their sins and the sins of the world:

Again and many times we fall down before You
and pray You in Your goodness and love for mankind to regard our supplications
and cleanse our souls and bodies from all defilement of flesh and spirit,
and grant that we may stand without guilt or condemnation before Your holy altar.
And upon these also who pray with us,
O God, bestow increase of life and faith and spiritual insight.
Give them ever to minister to You in fear and love,
to share without guilt or condemnation in Your holy mysteries
and to be made worthy of Your heavenly kingdom (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Purification of all sins is effected. The faithful know that they are forgiven and sanctified. Now they can face their Redeemer and God, unite with Him and feel their complete oneness with Him. They realize that they “mystically represent the cherubim,” consequently they “put aside all worldly care and sing the thrice holy hymn to the King of the universe who is coming escorted by all the angelic hosts.”

Let all mortal flesh be silent; let us stand in fear and trembling,
having no other thought but the thought of the Lord.
For behold, the King of kings and Lord of lords is coming to be sacrificed
and to be given as food to the faithful.
He is escorted by hosts of archangels and by all the principalities and dominions.
He is indeed escorted by the many-eyed cherubim
and by the six-winged seraphim covering their faces, all chanting:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (Liturgy of St. James)

The sign and seal of the love of God is the love of neighbor. After having obtained forgiveness from God and making our peace with Him, we now ask forgiveness from each other.” “Everyone present confesses and proclaims his unity with Christ, the Lover of mankind: “I will love You, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my fortress, me refuge and my deliverance!”

Because of the love of the Lord who fills us with His peace and joy, we overflow with love. And because we know that Christ has forgiven us, we feel the urgent desire to forgive others and to be at peace with them. Each member of the assembly enthusiastically embraces his neighbor and gives the kiss of Christ, saying: “Christ is in our midst.” And the other answers, “He is and always will be.”

What a marvelous reality! Christians cannot hide or forget their all-embracing love. The Church, to be the Church of Christ, has to be first the revelation of that divine love which God poured into our hearts. Without this love, nothing is valid in the Church. The kiss of Christ is the dynamic sign wherein Christians express their love for each other before they share the one bread. Christ is our real love and life and our forgiveness. We share Him with others. Breaking the bread of Christ becomes a little vacuous without the breaking open of ourselves. It is Christ who unites us to one another and through one another to God.

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23 24)

“The veil, that is the aer, stands for the stone with which Joseph closed the tomb, which the guard of Pilate also sealed.

“He approaches the stone of the tomb, the angel clad in white, raising the veil and indicating by his gesture the third day resurrection ” St Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica 41, 42

Once the brotherly love of forgiving is secure, the whole assembly bursts into singing the glory of the Trinity, by singing the Creed. This was composed in the year 325 at Nicaea on the occasion of that Council. It fixed in human words the content of faith and its proclamation.

In reciting the Creed we plunge into life, the life of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Creator is an artist, a worker, an inventor and maker of things and producer of life. Since God is a worker-artist, all of His creation is good. The Son is a savior and a lover. “For us men and for our salvation” He lived, died, resurrected, ascended and will come back again. The Holy Spirit is life and Giver of life and eternal joy.

Christians who proclaim in the Creed their acceptance of life in God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, enter into the realm of creation, into the Kingdom of heaven, and become ready to respond to God’s excellence and love in the accomplishment of the mysteries soon to become reality on the altar. Within the reality expressed by the Creed, we find ourselves living and moving in an infinite and unmeasured Being who is Father and tenderness, who is Son and Lover, who is Spirit and Life-giver. It is the glory of the Christian to declare that all this was planned and executed by God, not for God’s sake, but “for us men and for our salvation.” We were redeemed, not because of our success or our mature years, but because of our troubles and perils and God’s greater love for us. In this we find rebirth in death, resurrection and life eternal. We are ready to go deeper into the realities of God and become “eucharistic.”
“Through Him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God…” (Hebrews 13:15)

The offerings of bread and wine are now “lifted up” from the earthly place to the divine and holy altar of God in heaven, thereby uniting the two. In this action of lifting up, the whole creation finds its way to God who pours out on it the same love He has for His Son. Salvation is thus made present and real. The Church also becomes real. She is seen to be what she really is, “the Bride of Christ,” pure and undefiled.

The anaphora or lifting-up remembers and expresses in its reality a double movement, one of descent and one of ascent. In the first movement, God descends upon man and creation to “lift them up” and make them sharers in His divine life. This movement is called “a mercy of peace”. The mercy of God is the gift of God, His self-revelation and self-giving. The second movement is a movement of ascent. Man is taken up to God to offer Him praise and thanks. This movement of ascent is called “sacrifice of praise.”

Thanks and praise: this is the answer of man to the gift of God, his awareness and recognition of God’s goodness. The tremendous mystery of the power, condescension and infinite love of God in “descending” and “lifting up” is enacted on the altar in these two successive and dynamic movements by which creation and man are deified. This mystery will culminate in the final and decisive union of the Creator with His creature in Holy Communion.

Let us stand well!
Let us stand in awe!
Let us be attentive!

Heaven and earth listen! God is pouring Himself down upon us! We adore in a great hush. We plunge into the abyss of concentration and the rapture of a mystic vision. We shut out all noises. We collect ourselves and all our faculties to breathe praise and adore. The voices are hushed, and chanting ceases. The shortness of answers gives time to listen only. All attention is centered on the marvelous happening.

At this point the amazement of the priest seeks and strains to make others hear what he hears. He hears the remote and strange sound of angels singing: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He sees the Holy Trinity at work, pouring down on him all the goodness and love that Infinity itself contains. He becomes a whirl of admiration and praise:

It is truly fitting and right and worthy of the immensity of Your holiness that we praise You, sing to You, bless You, adore You, give thanks to You,
glorify You who alone are truly God;…
How could anyone tell Your might and sing the praises You deserve,
or describe all Your marvels in all places and times?
… O Master of all, You are eternal invisible, beyond understanding:
beyond description the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the great God and Savior, the Object of our hope…
[Jesus Christ] is the image of Your goodness, the Seal who bears Your perfect likeness, revealing You, His Father, through Himself He is the living Word,
the true God, the Wisdom, the Life, the Sanctification, the true Light …
By Him the Holy Spirit was made manifest, the Spirit of truth, the Gift of adoption,
the foretaste of the future inheritance, the First-fruit of eternal good, the life-giving Power, the Fountain of sanctification.
Empowered by Him, every rational and intelligent creature sings eternally to Your glory,
for all are Your servants. It is You the angels archangels, thrones, dominions praise
and glorify … they cry one to the other with tireless voices and perpetual praise … (Liturgy of St. Basil)

This “eucharist” or thanksgiving is the expression of life in God and the only true relationship between man and God. It is what really “makes possible” all that will follow.

The breadth of perspective of the true meaning of God’s intention and of His relation to creation is present here. The Father planned from all eternity and made this world and man and placed them in space and time. The Son embodied them in His own divine person in the incarnation and saved them by His offering or sacrifice. The Holy Spirit renews this salvation and divinization by His descent at the epiclisis, just as He did by His descent at Pentecost. All these divine historical actions become actual and alive before our very eyes. The world of faith takes shape, and the eternal mystery of God becomes reality in time.

Once again Christians share in the life of angels and declare that we are sharing in their function and playing their role. We recognize that we are not only associates of angels, but much more: we take their place on earth as ministers before the altar:

“We thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands,
even though there stand before You
thousands of angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim,
six-winged and many-eyed singing, proclaiming,
shouting the hymn of victory and saying:
Holy! Holy! Holy Lord of hosts!
Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!”

As we surge on the wings of our dignity, we join in the vision of Isaiah to sing the hymn of heaven, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” The world to come is already here present in the “Fullness of Your glory.” Christians reach the apex of their glory when they go beyond the horizon of the prophets and visionaries to look at the Trinity and melt into the divine Persons with an ineffable movement of joy. We address ourselves first to the Father:

“Holy are You and all-holy
You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.
Holy are You and all-holy and magnificent is Your glory!
You so loved Your world as to give it Your Son,
that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. “
(Liturgy of St John Chrysostom)

Then we recall the memory of the Son:

“When He had come and fulfilled all that was appointed Him to do for our sake,
on the night He was delivered up or rather, delivered Himself up for the life of the world
He took bread, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles and said,
Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.’”
With the same simplicity and realism,
He took the cup of wine and said,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood of the new testament,
which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”

After having heard the voice of the Lord declaring the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, the Christian never asks “how.” It is simply the body and blood, the real and total Christ, just as when He walked around the lake and as He is now in His resurrection. The Christian has the mystical knowledge and a paradoxical grasp of the inconceivable. In an intuitive, primordial and simple approach, he knows beyond the process of the intellect. The Fathers say that the Christian “hopes for what exists already” and remembers what is to come in the immediate, because he drinks at the Source of the living water.

“Remembering, therefore, this precept of salvation
[ Do this in anamnesis remembrance of me.”]
and everything that was done for our sake:
the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day,
the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand [of the Father],
the second and glorious coming again, ”

This is the anamnesis, the memorial, which makes present and manifest here and now the divine events of the life of Christ. The Christian remembrance or memorial is not simply a recalling to mind of an event which existed once upon a time. Recalling the mysteries or events of the life of Christ who is risen, alive, always present, always active, makes them present with the same effectiveness and strength as when they were enacted by Christ. The ministers around the altar and the assembly of the baptized are now all wrapped in adoration. The deacon crosses his hands, the right stretching over the left to take up the diskos which lays on the left, the left hand stretching under the right to take up the chalice which is at the right.

He elevates both in gesture towards the east, then towards the west, the north and the south, thus planting Christ in the four corners of the universe, or rather gathering the universe in these four movements to offer it in Christ and with Christ to the Father, as the priest says:

“We offer You Your own from what is Your own,
in all and for the sake of all.”

What a simplicity in the grandeur and nobility of this gesture! The whole history of salvation, the whole revelation of God’s love, the whole meaning of Christianity is here made manifest. The whole value and the very meaning of life is given to the Father. The Father recognizes the whole creation in His Son and pours upon the whole universe the same love He has for His Son. “In this offering,” says Cyril of Jerusalem, “we bring to the presence of God the Father heaven, earth, oceans, sun, moon and the entire creation ” and we break out in praise and thanks:

“We praise You,
we bless You,
we give thanks to You, O our God.”

Until now we have marveled at the works of God and praised Him for His deeds of salvation. The Father “out of nothing brought us into being, and when we had fallen He raised us up again ” (anaphora). The Son declared matter to be His body and blood, and suffered and died and rose to make us one with Him. Now we fall on our knees, begging for the descent of the Holy Spirit: “We ask and pray and entreat: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.”

It is another awesome and most astounding action of God for us. The Holy Spirit comes to fill us and to fill the oblations of bread and wine with His own eternal being and presence by acting personally and creatively. Bread and wine and the baptized all receive Him and are possessed by Him. The wonderful event of Pentecost is now renewed and is indeed most real! “Our God, who loves mankind, having received these gifts on His holy altar, sends down upon us His divine grace and the Holy Spirit “

Now, anyone partaking of this Bread and Wine will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit who is “cleansing of the soul, remission of sins.” The body and blood of Christ will also confer the “communion,” the fellowship of oneness with the Holy Spirit Himself, who becomes also “Fullness of the kingdom of heaven, intimate confidence of the Father,” who sees only His Son present and who will not judge juridically or condemn, but save.

The Spirit of God “becomes closer to me than my own breath” (Gregory of Nazianzus) and “more intimate than my own intimacy” (Augustine). By this descent of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, anyone eating the body or drinking the blood of Christ receives the divine uncreated energies in all their majesty and holiness. Sins are forgiven and life is given. The Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit takes hold of us, divinizing us. Theosis is realized!

Ministers at the altar and all the assembly of worshippers fall down on their faces, saying: “Amen! Amen! Amen!”

“After the spiritual sacrifice, the unbloody worship, has been accomplished in this Victim that is offered in propitiation, we call on God for peace in all the Churches, for tranquility in the world, for the emperors, for the armies and the allies, for the ill and the afflicted. In brief, for all those in need of help, we all pray and offer this sacrifice.

“We then remember all those who have fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs, that through their prayers and intercession God would accept our petitions; then for our fathers who have fallen asleep in holiness, for the bishops, and, in short, for all those who have already fallen asleep. For we are convinced that our prayers, which rise up for them in the presence of the holy and venerable Victim, are most profitable to their souls.” St Cyril of Jerusalem, Fifth Mystagogical Catechesis, 23:8,9 (c 375 AD)

“Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!” (Psalm 133:2)

The word “Father” on the lips of those who believe the message of Christ adds power and dignity and heightens their already sublime role in creation. The early Church found the “Our Father” a devastating and frightening prayer. No one can utter such words unless he has overcome all inner unrest, all selfishness and all provincialism. At one point of history, the words of the “Our Father” were not revealed to neophytes until they were ready to be baptized and receive the body and blood of Christ.

We are commanded to say to this Abba, “Thy kingdom come!” which means, “take over, be the only one who inspires, directs and rules my life.” We say it with mixed emotions but with daring. “Kingdom of God” means justice, peace and love. It is not simply a question of personal salvation or fulfillment, but the establishment of a new order of things. Those in the kingdom give to whomever asks, treat everyone as real children of God, forgive without question, resist evil.

The kingdom is characterized, therefore, by healing, forgiveness, sharing, reconciliation: all of which are acts a “family” shares and enjoys. God is a Father, Abba. The person who says the “Our Father” comprehends that he or she is united with everyone and that all are equal in the eyes of God, in whom they all find peace and salvation. They all belong to the kingdom: they are brothers and sisters.
Whoever says the “Our Father” must say it aloud, because it is “Our.” “Our” is a word of the community. Every member of the community must hear it. We say it also with our arms open to the heavens, the “Shamaim”: to “the everywhere.” It is in the “everywhere,” indeed, that the Abba resides and dwells.
“The priest takes the Bread of Life and, showing it to the people, summons those who are worthy to receive it fittingly: Holy things to the holy!’ The faithful are called saints’ because of the holy thing of which they partake: because of Him whose body and blood they receive.

“The priest breaks the Holy Bread, saying, Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God: broken and not dismembered, always eaten and never expended, but making holy those who receive it.’”
“Since this warm water is not only water, but shares the nature of fire, it signifies the Holy Spirit, who is sometimes represented by water, and who came down upon the apostles in the form of fire. This point in the Liturgy represents that moment in time, for the Holy Spirit came down after all things pertaining to Christ had been accomplished, In the same way, when the holy offerings have attained their ultimate perfection, this water is added.” Nicholas Cabasilas, Commentary on the Liturgy, 36, 37

“Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold, this has touched your lips, will remove your transgressions and wash away your sins” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

By uniting to our human nature, Christ made our flesh a part of His divine person. When we unite to Him in the Eucharist, His divine energies penetrate to the very essence of our being and transfigure us into the light of the divinity. Theodore of Cyr wrote: “By eating the flesh of the Bridegroom and drinking His blood, we enter into the chamber of the nuptial unity.”
In receiving the divine, the Christian becomes a flame of divinity. In accepting the “Gift,” he reflects the radiance of divine glory, Here he finds his real self, the dignity and grandeur of His humanity, which is shot through and through with divinity.

“… each one goes up, not to the priest, but to the fiery Seraph, preparing himself with open lips to receive from the holy spoon the fiery coal of the body and blood of the Lord, who will burn away all his sins like thorns.” Nikolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy

“We have seen the true Light,
we have received the heavenly Spirit…”

Having become one flesh, one soul and one heart with Christ, the communicant bursts into a hymn of glory and joy, the joy and glory of being and of existing. His feet are, indeed, on the ground, but his chin is uplifted and his head stretches to the highest heaven. All his senses are awake and vibrant to the presence of Christ.

“O You, who graciously give Your flesh to me as food, consuming the unworthy: consume me not, O my Creator, but rather pass through all the parts of my body, into all my joints, my heart, my soul. … Ever shelter, guard and keep me in Your love. Chasten me, purify me and control all my passions. Adorn me, teach me and enlighten me always. Show me how to be a tabernacle of Your Holy Spirit and in no wise the dwelling place of sin…. “O my Christ and my God, make me, Your child to he a child of light: for You alone are the sanctification and the splendor of my whole being…” (Prayer of Simeon Metaphrastes)

this is life in the Holy Trinity, a perichoreisis, a dance, a playful twirl, an allegro con grazia, which whirls with the elegance of a waltz. Once the Christian has received Christ and realized the real meaning of his life, he is filled with emotion and motion and power. Even when he feels within himself a whole atmosphere of tears, he is underneath it all a smile. He has discovered the rhythm and movement about and within himself. He might be going through uncertainty, but he always emerges in a dazzling march towards the Light who is Christ. In Holy Communion he reaches an enthralling verve and a breathtaking, dramatic climax. These are really the heroic affirmations of the life force, which is in Christ and which from Christ flows into him. The finale for him is always the eyes of the Gospel illumined with all the glory and beauty of God, who is a never-ending feast and a supreme celebration.

“The priest brings out to the people the prosphoras or altar bread from which the portions were cut out and removed, and thus is retained the great and ancient pattern of the Agape or love-feast, which was observed by the Christians of primitive times. Therefore, everyone who receives a prosphora ought to take it as bread from the feast at which Christ, the Creator of the world, has Himself spoken with His people, and one ought to consume it reverently, thinking of oneself as surrounded by all men as one’s dearest and most tender brothers.

“And, as was the custom in the early Church, one ought to eat the prosphora before all other foods or take it home to one’s family or send it to the sick or the poor or to those who have not been able to attend the Liturgy.” Nicolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy

FOR FURTHER READING
For an introductory overview of the liturgical life of the Byzantine Churches, see:

Life and Worship: the Mystery of Christ Among Us. McKees Rocks, Pa: God With Us Publications, 1986.

For another reflective look at the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, consult:
Archbishop Paul of Finland, Feast of Faith. Translated by Esther Williams. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988.

For a study of the historic development of the structure and understanding of the Liturgy, look at:
Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox Liturgy. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1900.

For those interested in the historic commentaries cited in the text, the following are available in English:
Nicholas Cabasilas, A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Translated by J.M. Hussey and P.A. McNulty. Introduction by R.M. French. London: SPCK, 1960.
Nikolai Gogol, Meditations on the Divine Liturgy. Translated by L. Alexieff. Edited by Archimandrite Lazarus. Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1952.
St. Germanos of Constantinople, Historia Ecclesiastica. Translated by Daniel Sheerin, with icons by Rev. Mark Melone. Fairfax, Va: Damascene Foundation, 1984.
St. Maximus the Confessor, The Church, the Liturgy and the Soul of Man. Translated by Dom Julian Stead, osb. Still River, Ma: St. Bede’s Publications, 1982.
St. Symeon of Thessalonike, Treatise on Prayer. Translated by H.L.N. Simmons. Brookline, Ma: Hellenic College Press, 1984.

Praying for our Departed Loved Ones

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Praying for our Departed Loved Ones

Understanding the Memorial Service in the Eastern Church

Webster, 2005

 

At no matter what age of life we die, we always see death as a distortion of our existence. Death portrays a horrible tragedy because it is the fruit of evil in the world. We were not created to die. When Almighty God created the first man and woman in his own image and likeness, he meant for all humanity to live for eternity with Him. Since God has no end, He desired for His beloved creation to dwell in His infinite love forever. This is why, deep within each of us, we all sense an innate desire for life!

From this perspective, death is fearful, and something we despise. And yet, although we can see death as the greatest evil, St. Paul counsels us “not to mourn as those who do not have hope.” He advises us to never despair over the dead, because “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess 4:14)

Here is the essence of our Christian faith and the Good News we proclaim week after week. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by His own death, and granting life to those in the tombs!”

For all of us who have believed in Christ and walked with Him in the newness of life here and now, death becomes but a doorway into a fuller union with Him. This is why St. Paul could say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “If we have been united [through baptism] in the likeness of Christ’s death, we also shall be [united] in the likeness of His resurrection. (Rom 6:4-5)

Today, I want to talk about the topic of death because I want to relate it to the Memorial Services we do so often at the end of our Sunday Divine Liturgies. We all have loved ones who have passed away, and as a Church we never forget them. At each Divine Liturgy, I remember all the faithful who have died and passed on. On their anniversaries, like the 40 day memorial that we offer today for Kosta Magaritidis, or the 17 year anniversary, which we also offer today for Kosma Hadjoclou, we remember the departed, and pray for them.

Why? What is the purpose of our memorial service and why do we pray for the dead?

To answer this question, I first want us to understand clearly how we, as Eastern Christians, view death itself. Then, I will explain why we remember the dead continuously, and pray for them.

Although death is the culmination of evil in our world, for Christians our faith in Jesus Christ transforms death. For one who is united to our Lord here on earth, death is no longer a fearful and tragic conclusion of one’s life. It is but an entranceway into a new beginning!

I remember a story my parents told me about their first travel abroad. My father and mother had only been married for half a year, and my mother was several months pregnant, when both got on a boat heading towards Greece, so that my father could study at the University of Athens. Both my parents remember vividly the scene of their farewell, as they leaned on the rail of the ship waving goodbye to tearful family and friends. Many mixed emotions passed through their  minds as the ship slowly sailed away, and the figures of their loved ones got smaller and smaller in the horizon. During the long journey which followed, my parents became anxious about their separation from family, their pregnancy, and their new life in Athens.

When they arrived at the port of Piraeus many days later, however, their anxieties and concerns were washed away as other relatives and family friends lovingly waited to receive them in their new country.

Death itself may seem like an uncertain, even fearful journey, and yet as Christians we know who awaits us on the other side. Our Lord Jesus Christ is there, lovingly waiting, with His arms outstretched, ready to embrace us in deeper union with Himself, and welcome us into our eternal home.

As Christians, we can face death with hope, knowing that our loving, all merciful and compassionate Lord awaits us! Divine love is greater than death. St. Paul even dares to say, “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” The victory of divine love.

Well, this same love is central to understanding the role of the Memorial Service in the Eastern Church. We remember and pray for the dead because of God’s divine love for us, and our sacred love for one another. As the famous French writer and Catholic reformer Leon Bloy once wrote, “To say to a person ‘I love you’ is tantamount to saying ‘you shall never die.’”

We express our love to our departed ones through our prayers to reaffirm that those who have died are not dead to us, nor to God. Our love for one another continues even after death. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom so beautifully explains, “A person bereaved must learn never to speak of the love relationship that existed before in the past tense. One should never say ‘We loved one another.’ We should always say ‘We love each other.’ If we allow our love to become a thing of the past, we have to recognize that we do not believe in the continuing life of the person that died.”

St. Paul teaches, “Love never ends.” The Church understands well this precept, and therefore, continues to pray for the dead always. Since love never ends, our prayers never end; our communion with the departed never end; our union with them through Christ never ends.

Our prayers for the dead reveal in a most beautiful way our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ both here on earth and in heaven. We are one Church, which includes those struggling here on earth, together with those who now live in fuller union with God in paradise. Just as we pray for one another here on earth, we also pray for those who have departed. The Body of Christ is not just the members who we see each week in Church. The Church is also the saints who we see in the icons, and the beloved faithful who have died and live in Christ. That is why before each Divine Liturgy, when I am preparing the bread which will be used for Holy Communion, I offer prayers for each one of you by name, as well offer prayers for the names of many who have died. There is no separation in our prayers for the living and the dead. Divine love unites us all together, as one Church.

So we hold Memorial Services and pray for the dead because we love!

Now, I know some people will say, “OK, I understand we pray for the dead because our love for them never ends, but do our prayers actually help those who have died?”

Sincere prayer unites us to God, and when we pray for others, we believe our prayers can help others in their own union towards their Creator.

Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a professor at Holy Cross Theological School, writes, “Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Easterny believes that through our prayers, those “who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection” continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.”

Of course, some who have died have not lived a righteous life of faith and love in Christ Jesus. Even for such as these, we still pray with hope. We know that God’s unfathomable mercy and love is immeasurably greater than any sin or shortcoming of a person, no matter how evil. Therefore, by turning to this ocean of love in prayer, we believe as Eastern Christians that our prayers in some way, and this way may be a part of the mystery of God, our prayers bring in some way comfort and benefit to the person we pray for!

Love compels us to pray for one another, with hope and with faith. And death can never stop this!

As a symbol of this hope we have for the dead, it is traditional for the family to bring a bowl of boiled wheat [kuyta] to the Church for the Memorial Service [or bread with fruit]. This wheat, known as kollyva in Greek, reminds us of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ spoke, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24)

Death is not the end, and our Memorial Service concretely proclaims this fact!

LIVING IN THE HEAVENLY REALM

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LIVING IN THE HEAVENLY REALM

When he writes to the Ephesians, St. Paul praises God who “has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 1:3). Not only has Christ ascended in glory: “Both with and in Christ Jesus He raised us up and gave us a place in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 2:6). We have become citizens of paradise, fellow heirs with the saints, people who live the divine life and share in the nature of God!

It is the Eastern Churches’ awareness of this truth which has been responsible for the formation of their ‘ethos’ or style of Christian living. Ours is an ‘other-worldly’ Church — stressing the holiness of God, our role as worshippers at His throne, our fellowship with the saints, and the like — because we know we belong, not to this world, but to the heavenly realm. This sense is most felt in our church buildings where we see the Church as heaven on earth and in our belief that our Church’s chief ‘business’ on earth is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Some see this as ‘irrelevant’, but if Paul’s teaching is true, our commitment to the heavenly realm is simply a case of knowing where our true home is.

A LIFESTYLE FOR THE KINGDOM
It is not only in our liturgical life that we live in the heavenly realm. It affects our daily life as well. We live in two worlds, as it were. One we share with every other member of the human race. The other, the heavenly realm, is ours because of our union with God in Christ: and our daily life is means to reflect this share we have in God’s kingdom. This is why religious expression in Eastern Christianity is part and parcel of our everyday behavior.

We look to the heavenly realm in the standards we are called to live by, the standards of the gospel, for we believe in and direct our lives by realities unseen in this world:
“Since you have been raised up on company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2).

The world around us often cannot understand the standards of the gospel; more often the gospel standards are directly opposed to the wisdom of the world. The society in which we live sees the meaning of life in terms of success, prosperity, possessions and earthly pleasures. The believer cherishes his share in the divine nature far above these other realities, and this affects the way he acts, the decisions he makes, the priorities he sets for his life.

Because God has given us a place in the heavenly realm, we are in continual contact with beings whom the world around us does not even know exist: the Holy Trinity, the Theotokos, the saints and heavenly powers. The communication we call prayer is our natural mode of conversation with the Lord whose life we share and with those of every age who are our fellow partakers in this life. Prayer, and continual prayer in particular, are a hallmark of our commitment to the heavenly realm.

In prayer we rise to the throne of God who has given us access to Himself. We also attempt to take the lifestyle of heaven and bring it ‘down’ to reorient our daily activities. Fasting is one such practice. It stands out in contrast to the ways of the world around us, especially in a culture such as ours that endorses continual consumption. When we put aside food, entertainment, pleasure in the spirit of fasting we are saying to the world, “We are not from here.” When we fast we recognize that life is not simply to be found in the enjoyment of material creation, but in the relationship we have with its Creator.

Closely linked to fasting is almsgiving, another denial of the way of this world. Our society promotes consumerism. It says, “Build up for yourselves treasures on earth.” We say, with St. Paul, that material goods are given us not only to satisfy our own needs, but for the doing of good. We say, as Christ did, that our kingdom is not ultimately of this world and imitate His love for mankind by the way we use the resources He has given us.

Finally, while our place is in the heavenly realm, we do not have full possession of it yet. And, so we find ourselves each day engaged in an unseen warfare, “not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). Many of our Church’s daily prayers are invocations asking for help and protection against the powers of evil. We recognize that there is more to the world in which we live than what is visible on the physical level.

Living, then, as citizens of the heavenly realm, we surround ourselves at all times with means of access to that kingdom. Icons are found in our homes, like churches, and we gather there for prayer. We bring the values of that realm to bear in our domestic affairs as well. There we fast and we extend hospitality in Christ’s name, deepening our experience of our true homeland. We try to live every day in an atmosphere of the kingdom, to continually remind ourselves that our baptism has made us actual coheirs with Christ of all that the Father has promised.

Vespers: The Prayer of Sunset

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When I was a young boy—during the War years—we faithfully observed a little ritual in our home, not from a sense of piety, but to aid the war effort. We would not put on the lights until five o’clock, “when it got dark.” In my child’s mind this quickly became associated with the end of the day and the change of pace it brought. It became the signal for my mother to begin preparing supper, and it meant my father would soon be home from work.

Long before electricity, the lighting of the household lamps heralded the evening. In the Book of Exodus, chapter thirty, it is reported that God commanded Moses to see to it that seven lamps were lit in the Tabernacle between sunset and nightfall:

“…Aaron must burn fragrant incense each morning when he trims the lamps and between sunset and nightfall when he puts them back…

“You are to make these offerings of incense before the Lord without fail from one generation to the next.”

Early Christians, continuing a practice already long established among the pagans, would bless the evening light with a short prayer of praise. Soon they began to augment this very simple rite with a hymn and other prayers. But even when a regular routine of prayer was organized in the church building, the blessing of the evening light remained the pivot on which all the other ceremonial gestures revolved.

These early Christians made Psalm 140 their evening prayer, because of the phrase “Let the lifting of my hands be like an evening sacrifice.” Even to this day, the recitation of Psalm 140 is an integral part of vespers, the evening service of prayer. The other phrase of the opening verses, “Let my prayer rise like incense before You…” probably urged them to restore the lapsed rite of burning fragrant spices. The first Christians had disdained the use of incense because it was so intimately connected with pagan rituals, but as the acute danger of idolatry began to subside, the study of Scripture moved them to restore the use of incense as an act of worship, since it is written in Exodus that this oblation is a “perpetual ordinance.”

VESPERS TODAY

Today the Horologion, the book of official daily prayers for use in Church, preserves these elements. In the course of time, other elements were added, notably a portion of Scripture, especially on those days when one would expect the whole body of the faithful to assemble, such as the greater feasts or special fast days. Other psalms were also added, some read quietly for the congregation to reflect upon and others chanted by the cantor with the people singing a refrain (prokimenon). To prepare everyone for the service, an introductory psalm was added at the very beginning. Today that is Psalm 103, which speaks of the rhythm of the day: man going out to work in the morning and returning in the evening. And to express the intercessions of the entire community, a set of petitions was added at the end, in which the deacon led the people in prayer for their various needs. Originally there was only one such litany and it was found toward the end of the service. Today this set of petitions has been divided up and there are now at least three litanies in vespers.

Yet more important than the structure or the historical evolution of the service is the spiritual message it conveys. The coming of physical darkness reminds us that the influence of darkness is ever ready to engulf us, and only the light that is Christ can reveal its tricks and expose its frauds. Christ is—and must always be—the light in our lives.

The Scripture itself teaches us the meaning of the incense. It reports in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers that a plague broke out among the Jews when they grumbled against the Lord. Aaron, the high priest, took a censer and “performed the rite of atonement over them and the plague was checked.” The incense also reminds us of the pillar of fire, seen as a column of cloud by day, which was the mysterious vehicle of God’s presence while the Israelites were wandering in the desert. It is also said that the incense represents the Holy Spirit who, as the Book of Genesis relates, was hovering over the void at the beginning of creation, ready to bring forth life.

IN THE DOMESTIC CHURCH

Perhaps we cannot always attend these evening prayers in church, but there is no reason why we cannot observe our ancient traditions at home. Before the holy icons we ought to have an oil lamp or a candle burning. Each evening this lamp could be lit with the whole family present, perhaps before or after dinner. The family could recite the first verses of Psalm 140, perhaps sing the evening hymn, O Joyful Light, or use some other suitable prayers. A grain or two of incense might be offered. Small burners and proper size charcoals for this purpose are usually available in shops that serve the religious or domestic needs of our people. The sweet fragrance in the air might serve to remind the whole family of the presence of God, and to promote peace and tranquility in the household.

Article from the Eparchy of Newton (Eastern Catholic Church)

The Sign of the Cross ✚

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We make the Sign of the Cross by touching:

1. Our Head,

2. Then our Heart,

3. Then our RIGHT Shoulder

4. And then our Left Shoulder.

Then we make a bow. (We generally always make a bow when crossing ourselves.)

The entire gesture is called a “Reverence”.

We touch the Right Shoulder first (i.e. before the left) in order to symbolise Christ, Who sits at the Right Hand of God. This is the most ancient manner of making the Sign of the Cross, a practice not only used by Byzantine Christians, but also preserved by Church which has retained the most primitive and original liturgical rites – the Great Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East (which uses the Chaldean rite).

We make the Sign of the Cross with the right hand held thusly:

1. The first three fingers together (symbolizing the Oneness of the 3 Persons of the All-Holy Trinity

2. The remaining two fingers are tucked down into the palm.

These 2 remaining fingers represent the 2 Natures of the Christ [Divine and Human]. The placing of these 2 fingers down into the palm symbolises the descent of the Word into our world, i.e. the Holy Incarnation.

Source: St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church