To this day Orthodox Christians continue to eat together after the service, but the ongoing liturgy involves more than a communal snack. Some have called the post-liturgy period, from coffee hour through the rest of the week, “the liturgy after the liturgy.” It encompasses our whole lives, both inside and outside the walls of the church building.
In all my years as a Christian, I never, ever experienced the amount of preparation for Communion that the Orthodox Church requires. The reason for all the prayers, praises, and pleas for forgiveness lies in the nature of the offering itself. If communion is more than the sum of its physical parts, and if Christ truly gives Himself to us in the bread and the wine, then we must adequately prepare to receive the King of kings.
The service is progressing smoothly so far, even when we don’t quite understand everything that’s going on. The clergy and attendants have completed the circuit around the nave in the Great Entrance, and they have placed the gifts on the altar. So far, so good. Next the priest turns to face the gathered worshipers and says, “Let us love one another” and proclaims, “Christ is in our midst.” We respond, “He is…
When I set out on a trip, I usually consult Google Maps on my phone. To get where I want to go, I input my current location then type in my destination. My starting point is always located at one specific address, because it is physically impossible to be present in two places at once.
In the spiritual life, however, this is not so. I attend the Divine Liturgy with other parishioners at a Denver-area church on a physical street. But at the same time, we are present in the ongoing worship in heaven. A local parish might be in Tulsa, London, or Sydney, but the Divine Liturgy occurs in the Kingdom of God. As we worship, we are in two places at once—physical reality and heavenly reality.
A palpable shift occurs in the service after the Liturgy of the Word is completed. As we ascend toward the Eucharist in the Liturgy of the Faithful, the choir begins a new song, and the pace of our journey slows.
Our liturgical journey in the Orthodox Faith is much like a trek up Grays and Torreys Peaks. Hikers who hope to scale all of the “fourteeners” (mountains that are at least 14,000 feet above sea level) in the Rocky Mountains often begin here, because these two Colorado peaks are connected by a saddle of land. Torreys Peak is an integral part of this hike, but it is not the highest point. Grays is the true summit.
Just as Torreys is not the high point of this hike, the Bible—its reading and proclamation—is not the central point of the Divine Liturgy. We prepare ourselves for the reading of the scriptures, and those scriptures serve as preparation for the journey to the pinnacle—receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
The midnight Pascha service ends, and the joyful but tired parishioners break out platters and crockpots for a parish feast featuring meats, cheeses, wines, homemade beers, and perhaps a bit of traditional dancing to bouzouki music in Greek parishes. We arrive home, exhausted, at 3 a.m. and collapse into bed.
Christ is risen! Christos anesti! Christos voskrese! al-Masih qam!
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! As we exchange this joyous greeting through Pentecost, celebrating Jesus’ triumph over death, let’s take a fresh look at the icon of the Resurrection. This beloved icon, also known as “Christ’s Descent into Hades” or “Anastasis,” is a wonderful example of “theology in color” because of the depth of instruction it contains. As writer Jeremiah explains in his blog Orthodox Road: Rediscovering the Beauty…
Great and Holy Week has begun. During these seven days we attend services as we are able, offering back in worship and love a small portion of God’s bountiful gifts to us. From Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) through the Resurrectional Canon and Divine Liturgy at midnight on Pascha, the Church provides seventeen services to attend—at least two per day.
Spring arrives late at mile-high altitude in metro Denver. I notice its earliest stirrings not with my eyes, which see only bare limbs, brown grass, and frozen mud, or on my skin, which is still swathed in sweaters and jackets. My ears hear the first signal in the reappearance of birdsong in March, or even in late February. The finches, sparrows, and chickadees, tucked away in the tops of the trees,…