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St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox
Cathedral "Ravanica"

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Divine Liturgy

The primary worship service of the Orthodox Church.

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What is the Divine Liturgy?

The Divine Liturgy (Sveta bozanstvena liturgija) is the primary worship service of the Orthodox Church. It contains two parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens, during which the Holy Scriptures are proclaimed and expounded; and the Liturgy of the Faithful, during which the gifts of bread and wine are offered and consecrated. The Orthodox Church teaches that the gifts truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Prosthesis (Proskomidija), the service of preparing the gifts, can be considered a third part that precedes the liturgy proper.

How is Divine Liturgy Prepared?

Before the Divine Liturgy begins, the priest prepares the gifts of bread and wine for use during the service. Five loaves of bread are used, reminiscent of the five loaves in the wilderness, from which the masses were fed. During the Prothesis, the priest cuts out a square called the Lamb from the main loaf of bread (prosfora). This will be consecrated during the Liturgy of the Faithful to become the holy Body of Christ. He also removes small particles and places them on the paten (diskos) in commemoration of the Theotokos, carious saints, and the living and departed faithful. The remainder of the bread is blessed and distributed to parishioners after the service; this bread is called anaphora (nafora). During the Prothesis, the priest also blesses the wine and water which are poured into the chalice (sveti putir), and then censes the holy gifts. The conclusion of the Prothesis leads directly into the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

Rites of Entrance

The Divine Liturgy begins with the memorable exclamation from the priest, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” The priest continues with the Great Litany, so called because it is longer than most litanies and its petitions touch on the needs of the world: peace and salvation, the Church, the bishops, the faithful, captives and their health and salvation, and deliverance from anger and need. It is concluded, as with most litanies, by calling to the remembrance of the faithful - the witness of the Theotokos and the saints. In light of that powerful witness, the faithful are charged to commend their lives to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Three antiphons follow that vary by day and jurisdiction. The first two antiphons are followed by a shorter litany and prayer. The third is followed by the Little Entrance, at which is sung, “O Come, let us worship and fall down before christ. O Son of God...save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!” “Son of God” is normally followed by an insertion, such as “risen from the dead,” “wonderous in thy saints,” or “through the prayers of the Theotokos,” depending on the day.

Troparia and kontakia prescribed for the day, season and church follow. Having fully entered the church liturgically and gathered together around the Word, the choir sings the Trisagion.

Rites of Proclamation

The proclamation of scripture is announced with the prokeimenon, a psalm or canticle refrain sung in responsorial fashion. Then, a reader proclaims the Apostolic reading from an Epistle or from the Acts of the Apostles. This reading can be chanted or spoken.

A triple alleluia is sung, also with verses as during the prokeimenon. This alleluia announces the Gospel reading. Following the alleluia, there is a short exchange between the priest and the people, after which he chants the Gospel. Following the Gospel, the priest will often give a homily, a short or medium-length lesson on the Scripture, the season, or the present festival or commemoration, roughly equivalent to the Protestant sermon. The homily may also be given after Communion or even after the dismissal.

The service continues with the Litany of Fervent Supplication which is marked by an insistent triple repetition of, “Lord, have mercy.” On certain days, this litany is followed by the Litany for the Departed.

The Liturgy of the Catechumens is concluded by a litany praying for the continued growth of the catechumens in faith, leading up to the day of their baptism. Though many churches do not have catechumens in attendance, this litany remains in the liturgy and serves as a constant reminder of the Great Commission, the foundation of the Church as mission to the world.

The Great Entrance

As the choir begins singing the Cherubic Hymn, the priest goes to the table of oblation and takes the paten and the chalice. He passes through the north door of the iconostasis, bringing the holy gifts in procession to the royal doors, asking the Lord to remember all people in His kingdom. As the holy gifts are carried solemnly through the royal doors, the choir concludes the Cherubic Hymn.

After the priest blesses the faithful, he exclaims, “The doors! The doors!” This famous exclamation once marked the point in the service at which the doors to the church were locked with only faithful Christians remaining. Over the centuries, visitors have been allowed to stay, though the solemnity of what follows is still recalled with this phrase. Then, the congregation professes its common faith by reciting the Creed. The liturgical name for this creed is the Symbol of Faith (Simvol Vere), indicating its importance to early Christians in determining the Orthodoxy of persons claiming to be of the faith.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.

And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures,

And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;

And he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the world to come. Amen.

Beginning the Anaphora

Following the Creed, the priest begins the anaphora, the great Eucharistic prayer over the holy gifts, so called because of the initial phrase, ‘“Let us lift up our hearts.” The two principal anaphoras in use in the Orthodox Church are those of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.

After remembering the history of our fall and redemption, and the institution of the Eucharistic meal, the priest invokes the Holy Spirit, asking that He be sent down on the holy gifts. This invocation, the epiclesis, is the climax of the change of the holy gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is certainly true that the prayers of the service treat the holy gifts as consecrated and changed after this point.

Having invoked the Holy Spirit and having consecrated the holy gifts, the priest commemorates the saints, beginning with the Theotokos. The priest prays that the bishop, in whose name he is celebrating the Liturgy, will be kept in the Orthodox faith and preserved in health and years.

“The Holy Things Are For The Holy”

After consecrating the holy gifts, commemorating the saints and praying for the local bishop, the priest lifts up the consecrated gifts, exclaiming, “The holy things are for the holy.”

The faithful communicate in Orthodox tradition by receiving the sacrament of Communion (bread intincted or dipped in the wine) from a spoon, a tradition which dates back to the fourth century. Having received the Body and Blood of the Savior, they take a piece of antidoron.

After dismissal, the faithful come forward to venerate the Cross, take a piece of anaphora and leave the church. Renewed by the Eucharistic meal, they are sent forth as witnesses to Christ in the world.