The Orthodox Pages



24th JANUARY 2010










































































I like to welcome you all back to our weekly talks. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. My prayer for the New Year is that God will grant our group to grow in numbers and in spiritual understanding.

I have been asked to talk on the structure of the services – especially the Divine Liturgy, the commemorations on feasts and the Memorial services. Many of you who have the Liturgy books find it difficult to follow or to find the appropriate place so today we will first concentrate on this before going on to our main subject. This will not be a look at the symbolic and spiritual interpretation of the Liturgy. We covered this three years ago in a serious of six talks but since then we have had a lot of newer members so at some time in the near future we should look at the meaning of the Liturgy again.   

Your books have been adapted for the English Liturgy we serve here every second Saturday. Some of you have only the English while others have the Greek/ English copy. Whether you follow the English Liturgy or the usual Greek service on Sundays, the Liturgy is the same but with one or two variations. On Sundays or any other day when the service is in Greek, the service is made up of two services – the morning service called Mattins or Orthos in Greek and then the Divine Liturgy. Mattins is not in your books and even if you had the main structure of the service you would probably find it very difficult to follow because the hymns for the service are different for each day. You would need to have three or four books to follow alternating from one to the other. So let’s pass over Mattins for the Divine Liturgy. Our English service begins with the Divine Liturgy, but on Sundays how do you know when Mattins ends and the Liturgy begins? This is where the bell come in. On usual days there are three ringings of the bell. The first is as Mattins is about to begin, the second is approximately half way through the service and the third is as Mattins is ending and just before the start of the Divine Liturgy.

You will know when the Liturgy begins by its characteristic opening blessing: Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever world without end.

In Greek – “Ελογημένη βασιλεία το Πατρς κα το Υο κα το γίου Πνεύματος, νν κα ε κα ες τος αἰῶνας τν αώνων.      

You will hear the opening blessing only during the Liturgy, the Baptism service and the Wedding service and this is because in older times, baptisms and weddings were performed during the Liturgy. Every other service begins with “Blessed is our God always now and for ever world without end.”

Immediately follows a series of petitions known as the Peace Petitions. They receive the name from the first three petitions which make mention of peace:  In peace let us pray unto the Lord.

For the peace from on high, and for the salvation of our souls…

For the peace and union of the whole world…  

Next follows the singing of the Antiphons. The word is from the Greek αντίφωνα meaning in alternating voices. There is usually a right and left choir and each take turn to say a verse. In older times the choirs would sing a complete Psalm but as this is rather lengthy, today we sing the shorter Antiphons that were sung on Great feast. Thus we sing only three verses from the psalm and in between we sing “By the Prayers of the Mother of God.” There are three antiphons with petitions from the Priest between each. Thus after the choir has finished with the first antiphon the Priest says the petitions and the choir then sing the second antiphon. Again they will say three verses from a psalm and in between sing “Save us, O Son of God” with the ending changing for a weekday, a Sunday or a Great feast. On weekdays we sing “Save us, O Son of God, Thou who art wonderful in the saints, who sing to Thee, Alleluia. On Sundays “Save us, O Son of God, Thou who art risen from the dead, who sing to Thee, Alleluia, and Great feasts of the Lord have their own special ending like the feast of Theophany which we celebrated last week where we sung “Save us, O Son of God, who was baptized in the Jordan by John, who sing to Thee, alleluia.” Then the choir sing the hymn “O only begotten Son and word of God”.

Then the Priest again says the petitions and the Choir sing the third antiphon while the Priest comes out of the Sanctuary for the Little Entrance – that is the Entrance with the Gospel Book. Now this is where some of you might find it a little confusing because in the English service we sing something different to the Greek practice. In our English Liturgy we usually sing the Beatitudes, in other words “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted, etc. This is actually the older and correct practice, but in Greek it has now become the custom to sing the hymn of the day or on Sundays the Resurrection hymn in the tone of the week. For the English Liturgy we adapted to the older practice for practical reasons because we serve on Saturdays and we don’t have all the hymns for each day translated into English. But we do sing the hymn of a Great Feast when we’re in that period, e.g. last Saturday we sung the Hymn for Theophany instead of the Beatitudes.

After the Entrance has been made, we sing the hymn for the saint of the day, the saint to whom the church is dedicated and finish with another hymn called the Kontakion which varies according the period we are in. Most of these can be found in the back of your books, but for the Saturday English Liturgy you don’t have to search for them because I print them out along with the readings for the day. Next the choir sing the Trisagion or rather the thrice Holy hymn – O Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us. This is generally sung throughout the year except on certain Great Feasts where it is replaced with “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia” and on the feasts of the Cross we sing “Thy Cross, O Master, do we venerate, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.” You should know that on days that we sing the hymn “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ…” in the ancient Church they were days that baptisms were performed. Baptisms were performed in groups and they were performed during the Divine Liturgy. When the baptisms were finished they were led from the baptistery into the main church while the Clergy and choir sung the hymn “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ…”

Then follows the readings from the New Testament: first the Apostle reading which is a reading taken from either the Acts of the Apostles or the Epistles of St. Paul or the other Epistles and then the Gospel reading taken from one of the Four Gospels. In many Churches after the Gospel the priest or a Theologian might give a sermon on the Gospel reading.

After this we have what we call the “Common prayers”. They are called Common because they are the last prayers said for both the faithful and the catechumen and in fact for all people. This is followed with the prayer for the Catechumen which is usually omitted and we go directly to the first and second prayers of the faithful. When I serve the Liturgy I always say these prayers out loud, but you might attend a Liturgy elsewhere and find that the Priest has skipped all the prayers from after the Gospel and gone directly to the preparation for the Great Entrance. This is something that from more than fifty years back became a custom in Greece and spread to most of the Orthodox Churches in the Diaspora and was also adopted by many of the older Priest in Cyprus. Today most priests in Cyprus have returned to the Liturgy found in their Liturgical Books and say all the prayers but you might not hear them audibly. Many say them in a low voice and if the Priest serves with a Deacon he can save time by saying the prayers while the Deacon says the Common Prayers.

After the prayers the choir sing the Cherubic hymn while the priest censes the church and prepares for the Great Entrance, in other words the Entrance with the Discus and Chalice from the Prothesis to the Holy Altar. After the placing of the Holy Gifts on the Altar the Priests says more petitions. He then blesses the people and calls them to confess their faith in the Holy Trinity. The choir sing “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Trinity Consubstantial and Undivided.” And then we have the Confession of the Creed or in other words the Statement of Faith – “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” You should all know this by heart and everyone should recite it together with the choir. If you don’t have a copy of the Creed we can easily print out a few copies that you can take home and learn.

After the Creed we enter the part of the Liturgy known as the Holy Anaphora which literally means the Holy Rising. It refers to the rising of the faithful and their offering to heaven. One can say that it is the centre of the whole Liturgy because during the Anaphora the Holy Gifts are consecrated and are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It begins with the Priests or Deacons exhortation “Let us stand upright, let us stand with fear: let us take heed to present the holy offering in peace.”

At some point during the Anaphora the priest says “Let us give thanks unto the Lord” and the choir sing “It is meet and right.” If you attend Liturgies other than mine you will notice at this point that most priests do things a little different. I wait for the choir to finish before saying the prayer that follows aloud: “It is meet and right to hymn Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks unto Thee, to worship Thee in all places of Thy dominion.” Other priests say the whole prayer silently or begin silently while the choir is singing and then when they have finished they will say the rest of the prayer in a low voice but audible. Again I wait for the choir to finish singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Sabaoth” before saying the next prayer out loud. Here most priests will say this silently. By saying the prayers aloud I believe this helps the people to better understand the Liturgy by giving it continuity. If the priest says the prayer between "It is Meet and Right" and  "Singing the triumphal hymn, exclaiming, crying aloud and saying" silently, then the people cannot understand how the two passages are joined together. This applies to all the following prayers and the consecration.

If the Priest says the prayer silently then after the hymn  Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Sabaoth” you will immediately hear “Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins” and “Drink ye all of it; this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” Then “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.” The choir then sing “We hymn Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, and we pray unto Thee, our God.” During this hymn the Priest performs the consecration of the Bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Again you will notice that some priest say this aloud while others say it in a low voice. I do two things. In the English Liturgy I wait for the choir to finish before saying the prayers of the consecration, but in the Greek I say them simultaneously but loud enough to be heard above the voice of the choir.

For the rest of the service before communion most Priests are in uniform. The Lord’s Prayer again should be said by everyone. After communion we say a hymn that is not said by all Churches. The hymn is “Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory…” Older Liturgical books have this hymn but it is not found in most of the new publications so the chanters have never learnt it to put it into practice.  

The rest of the service is basically straight forward with prayers leading up to the dismissal. But if we have a commemoration of a feast or a memorial then these are placed before the end and before the choir sing “Blessed is the Name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.”

If there are both then the feast is commemorated first and then the memorial. What we do with the feast can be a little confusing because in Limassol in recent years we have changed a long standing custom because it was theologically wrong but it is still practiced by churches elsewhere. In Limassol we don’t say anything for the feast after the Liturgy because we already commemorated the names of those who have asked to be commemorated during the Common prayers so there is no reason to repeat this. In other places they might say the prayers found in your books under the heading “Order for the commemoration of feasts after the Divine Liturgy”

In the village where I serve on Sundays I do something completely different as an economy. During the Vespers service if there is a feast, people bring five loaves with a little wheat, wine and oil which the Priest blesses. Because I have stopped serving Vespers in the village except for the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, I cannot do this blessing in the evening as is proper so instead I do a shortened version of the service at the end of the Divine Liturgy. The choir sing the hymn for the Saint who is being celebrated and the Priest then sings the hymn “O Virgin Mother of God, hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”, followed by the prayer for the blessing of the five loaves.  This is not in your book because it belongs to the Vespers service and not the Divine Liturgy, but if you want the text for the service you can print it out from the website. You will find it under the services headed “the Hieratikon” and the service is named “The Breaking of Bread”. Note that if you do want to print it out that you will not need the full service or if you do then be aware that I only do the service from the hymn “O Virgin Mother of God…”

If there is a memorial then this will immediately follow. The service is said exactly as found in your books under the heading “Memorial for the Departed after the Divine Liturgy. This is the service sung on Saturdays and Sundays. On weekdays we do not sing the Hymns known as the Eulogitaria in other words the Hymns which begin with the verse “Blessed art thou O Lord teach me thy statutes”. After the Memorial the choir will return to the Liturgy service by singing “Blessed is the Name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” And the priest will give the dismissal.