Our Church leaders, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Patriarch Josyf Slipyj and their successors worked tirelessly to restore our Traditional liturgical practices in the face of Latinization from Polish Roman Catholicism that dominated Halychyna at the end of the 19th c. Soviet rule tried to destroy our Church, just as now Russia desires to annihilate everything Ukrainian.
Here, we resist with our prayer and with a determination to protect and preserve our most sacred of services: the Divine Liturgy.
Last week we looked at the Divine Liturgy as relationship: we come to church to join with our community of faith. We come to be together with Christ in the company of others who also long to be with Christ. There we join with the entire Church, including past and future, living and dead. We join with all creation in celebrating our salvation and the hope of everlasting life with God. We give ourselves in gratitude as we do when we are with someone we love. We are present in our inadequacies, our exhaustion, our failures, and fears. We come for acceptance, welcome, comfort, encouragement, and strength. As with our closest loved one, we find joy in simply being together.
In order to really see it as relationship, we have to understand that each Divine Liturgy is not only a celebration of Easter—the resurrection—but it is also an entrance into the profound, unfathomable meaning of God becoming human. If we are mindful, the Divine Liturgy helps us to encounter our own humanity and the sacred in us. Hence the rituals are symbolic and ancient, speaking to us on many levels of our being, both conscious and subconscious. Over the centuries, the DL has evolved into 3 sections: We have looked at the first one: the Liturgy of Preparation or Proskomydia. Today we see the second section: the Liturgy of the Wordю Next week we’ll look at the third and final section: the Liturgy of the Faithful.
Liturgy of the Word
When Father proclaims “Blessed is the Kingdom . . .” he faces the East together with us. At each Liturgy we stand together as pilgrims, transforming, growing, on the path to conversion or (in Pope Francis’s terms) integral ecological conversion. We grow in Christ: recognizing Him in all creation. The “royal” doors are open—joining heaven and earth. We are with the angels and saints–the entire church living and deceased. The deacon has incensed the church, bowing to us in greeting. We bow in return, inhaling the incense that signifies our prayer, and the Holy Spirit, “Heavenly King, Advocate, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things…”.
With Christ, with the Spirit, we join in the community of the Trinity together with all creation.
Our first prayers together are the Great Litany (ektenia) where we bring before God’s love and tenderness (mercy) all humanity and creation: “in peace” we pray for peace. We name ourselves, our leadership, our nation, every country and place. We pray for the military, the captives, those suffering, or sick, those travelling on land or sea. We even pray for good weather and crops!
Close your eyes. Take a few moments to focus your consciousness on this notion: we stand as a community sharing our faith in the Trinity—in our connection to all living things. Individually we would surely lack stamina to pray so inclusively, but together we are like the incense—filling the air with our desire for peace and goodness in our present world. We place ourselves in the mystery of the universe—without end or beginning.
After our petitions to God, we sing the Antiphon: excerpts from psalms and scripture. These change with the celebrations of feast days, but on Sunday the first antiphon is always that of Easter (except during Great Lent)! Every Sunday is a celebration of our salvation through Christ’s resurrection. Again, that is why we do not kneel during Divine Liturgy: “Shout to the Lord, all the
earth; sing His name and give glory to His praise!”
We sing the 6th century hymn: Only begotten Son and Word of God . . . as a statement of our faith before the “Minor Entrance” where Father, Deacon and altar servers bring the Gospel (the Incarnation—the Word of God) to us. Children and candle bearers gather close, remembering Christ’s welcome of everyone, especially children, to hear Him speak.
We sing “Holy God . . .” expressing the total unfathomable mystery of Christ: at once Divine and human, before listening to the Epistle and Gospel readings.
We hear excerpts of letters written to the first Christian communities and then a segment of Christ’s teaching as recorded by His followers. After over two thousand years, the words speak directly to us. And so, in the Homily, the priest reflects on how the readings can guide us today.
The Liturgy of the Word ends with another litany of petition, as we again join in care for our world.
It is awe inspiring to know that our Divine Liturgy was practiced during the first Christian persecutions. This section of the service was called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, allowing new followers of Christ to hear and learn from the Scriptures. However, the Eucharist was allowed only for those committed to the faith through Baptism. Unbaptized were asked to leave as a precaution, ensuring no infiltrators seeking to destroy the Church would be admitted to share the sacrament of the Eucharist. Those without baptism were asked to leave and the doors were closed, leaving only the most faithful.
Perhaps we have taken our DL for granted. In Ukraine, suddenly, people living ordinary lives have lost their lives, simply for being Ukrainian. Our Faith, our culture, our people are, once again, under attack, besieged, martyred without even knowing why.
Let’s be a resistance of love, kindness and solidarity—knowing the powerful meaning of our DL and our Faith Traditions.