The Price of the Liturgy

Having written about the temptations of secularism within modernity – even within the liturgy – I offer this as a balance for our troubled hearts.


“We celebrate the Liturgy together. But we must pay what this costs: each one must be concerned for the salvation of all. Our life is an endless martyrdom.”

The Elder Sophrony


The Divine Liturgy (the Holy Eucharist) is not a ritual action of the Church which we attend, as though it were some sort of program. It is one of the greatest manifestations of the Divine Life that God has given us – dwelling in us, among us, with us, uniting us, and ascending from God to us and through us back to the Throne of Grace. Please forgive the exercise in prepositions in the last sentence – but the very nature of the Divine Liturgy demands such an exercise of language (cf. St. Basil).

The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture. Culturally we tend to gather for assemblies in which the deformed philosophy of secularism (dominant among most modern Christians) has offered us shape, form and understanding. The Divine Liturgy has no commonality with this philosophy.

We do not gather as a collection of individuals who share a common interest. The actions of the priest are not a program presented for our intellectual, emotional, psychological or religious improvement. We do not stand apart from the actions of the Liturgy and approve or disapprove them as if we were an audience.

We assemble for the Liturgy as the Church, the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him Who Filleth all in all (Scripture synonyms for the Church). We are never an audience. We assemble as a single Body, who share in a single Life. No one can distract me from the Liturgy for the Liturgy is everything that takes place in the assembly of the Body. A child crying is a liturgical action (in the Liturgy). Equally a parent caring for a child and exercising discipline or offering solace are also liturgical actions. Our pains, our boredom, our interests, the very cry of our hearts are all among the lives that have assembled into the One Life.

There is one prayer – the Prayer of the Holy Spirit Who prays to the Father through the Son. This one prayer is given voice by priest, deacon and people. Nothing falls outside the concern of this one prayer for we offer to God everything. The sins of our lives are not excluded (else we would be barred from the Liturgy). Rather, we are told in Scripture that “God made him [Christ] to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the great exchange of worship – that we offer to God all that we are and have – even those things that seem unworthy – that we might receive in exchange that which transcends all worth.

To gather together in the Liturgy is to enter a new life. The habits of the old life are brought in only to be transformed – not to dictate to God the nature and character of the new life. The Life of the Liturgy is “on behalf of all and for all.” We must yield to the fact that the salvation of each and all is now the proper concern of each and all.

All of these things are simply what it means to love one another.


  1. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you so much for this post. It is good to be reminded in such certain terms what we are about when we are in Liturgy. I hope you are not offended that I often think of this quote from an earlier post of yours when I walk into church.

    “Neither should we seek to make Church “easier” or more conformed to the age. We’re in the belly of a whale. What we need is to be spewed up onto the land, and not a program for the improvement of whale bellies.”

    It is a very visual image for me that I am the one who needs to change, not the Church.

    Lord, give me the desire to be spewed up.

  2. Julianna,

    Thanks for the quote. I went back to find the original post which is at because I couldn’t remember the source.

    It is so important that we cry out for God’s mercy in our world. I also find that the acting out of small children in Liturgy make manifest the struggle in my own spirit to be attentive.

    May we rest in the prayers of our Holy Fathers and Mothers, raising too our ever-feeble voice.

  3. Juliana and Father Stephen,

    Thanks to both of you for your joint sharing of that quote. It is indeed a great reminder.

  4. Thank you, Father – this is so important for our times! I love Juliana’s quotation of you as well, what wonderful images. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.

  5. “The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture.” That–as well as Juliana’s wonderful quote!–is something I hope to take with me to my grave.

  6. Hello Stephen,
    Seeing your post reminded me of the times when I was at seminary at Seabury and was serving at St. Mary’s Episcopal in Park Ridge, IL. They had a chapel which they regularly and gladly gave to a congregation of about sixty members of a Mar Thoma congregation for use on Sunday afternoons. Their liturgy was absolutely magical, beautiful chanting, billows of incense, very busy, lots of things going on simultaneously, and the best part was that all of the members participated very actively. Acolytes were scurrying about with little notes of instruction from person to person, including small children, who were encouraged and expected to do things essential to the life of the liturgy. It was a truly communal event, and a witness to the Spirit alive within a gathered group.

    Pax, Bob+

  7. I believe this definition of The Church might rattle a number of the non-denominational “churches” that seem to be springing up. Not a song fest, no uber-cool light show, just the community of love ascending into the heavenly spaces.

  8. As we seek to be credible witnesses to His unspeakable love, having now gathered around the Lord’s table…

  9. Father bless,

    We are in the Ark together being saved! Thank-you Father for describing with simplicity the nature of the liturgy, it helps me to receive with child-like faith that He who has begun a good work will complete it. In regards to salvation it does take a village…


  10. Once I was singing in the choir and had my special needs daughter with me at church. She is very into socializing, especially with smaller children. I couldn’t mind her while I was singing, and she started wandering to visit other children during the Liturgy. I sighed in exasperation when I saw what she was doing and my choir director just said in an understanding way, “It’s okay. This is the family room in God’s house,” or something to that effect. It was a very comforting perspective.

  11. Jeremiah,
    Better still, let this reality grasp you. We do not make it so by thinking about it (because it is a reality). Simply walk into the reality and be present.

  12. i keep reading about protestants and they are always lumped into one category. protestant churches are very different. the word “evangelical” is now overused by the media. i grew up in the anglican church. we took alcohol on our church picnics. when one speaks of protestant, he should remember, there are many protestant traditions….father, i hope you can clear this up for all of us! some protestant churches use only wine in communion, and believe it is the blood of christ.

  13. Easton,
    You are indeed correct. Protestantism as a whole is endangered by many cultural forces (as are we all) and in many cases have become advocates for extreme modifications in worship and the like, distorting the faith. But I am also aware that many Protestants have bravely resisted such pressures and are often at the forefront of defending certain elements of the common tradition. The inherent weakness in many Protestant groups is the rejection of Holy Tradition which leaves them unprotected against certain culture forces. Traditional Anglicans are particularly embattled. They have my deepest prayers. I have many friends among them and have sought to be of help in their continuing crises.

    Easton, it should be added, that even at its best, Anglicans did not “all” believe the wine to have become the blood of Christ – there was always a wide toleration across the board on this matter. The same latitude is destroying parts of the Anglican communion even now. It makes me pray even more. There is indeed a wide-variety within Protestantism – but there is a shared core that rejects some of the major teachings of the Orthodox faith – a fact which endangers them all. But I paint with too wide a brush too often, for which I apologize.

  14. “We celebrate the Liturgy together. But we must pay what this costs: each one must be concerned for the salvation of all. Our life is an endless martyrdom.”

    The Elder Sophrony

    An endless martyrdom (as both witness and sacrifice) of our self-will, our self-determination, our (false) sense of autonomy. We are not able to lay down our lives and pick them up again. Only God, in Jesus Christ, has that power.

  15. As a mother to preschool aged children, I appreciate your comments regarding children in liturgy. They were baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox church and are full, participating members who pull me towards living the liturgy daily!

  16. I agree with Christi, it is so encoraging to parents of young children to know that they are welcome in the Liturgy (as our priest says, “where they are at”), and that their crying, squirming, gurgling, and wandering doesn’t distrupt or offend anyone! What a refreshing perspective, as I came from a tradition where children were expected to be removed from the church service if they made the slightest noise 🙁

    Yes, a very ccomforting perspective! Thank you for sharing that! 🙂

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