Worshiping in the Divine Liturgy - Part 2
February 19, 2010 Length: 10:03
In this episode, Jason talks about the Little Entrance, the Trisagion, and the scripture readings in the Divine Liturgy.
Here’s a thought you might find a little strange: is it possible to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord every time you worship during the Divine Liturgy? Not only can you do this, but there is a specific moment during the Divine Liturgy in which you can celebrate this event: during the Little Entrance.
THE LITTLE ENTRANCE
During the third antiphon (see Unit 3) the priest—accompanied by the servers—carries the Gospel from the altar into the nave. The saints tell us this act represents Christ’s Incarnation: St. Germanus of Constantinople says, “The entrance of the Gospel signifies the coming of the Son of God and His entrance into the world,” while St. Nicholas Cabasilas tells us, “When (the antiphons) are over, the priest, standing in front of the altar, raises the Gospel-book and shows it to the people, symbolizing the manifestation of the Lord.” This symbolism is why we sing as the Gospel is raised before us, “Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ.”
We can also experience the Little Entrance as our entrance into heavenly worship. As he walks through the entrance the priest prays to God, “Grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of holy angels, serving with us and glorifying Thy goodness;” shortly after this he adds, “Blessed is the entrance of Thy saints always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” We’ve gathered from our separate homes and lives, and enter together as a body—not only our individual parish, but all the Church on earth and in heaven—to worship our God.
If the Little Entrance can be seen as our entry into the heavenly worship, the Trisagion is when this worship explodes with cosmic grandness. While the choir sings the troparia (hymns for that particular feast day), the priest prays not only that God is “hymned by the Seraphim with the thrice-holy cry, and glorified by the Cherubim, and worshipped by every heavenly power,” but also that He “has vouchsafed to us, Thy humble and unworthy servants, even in this hour to stand before the glory of Thy holy altar, and to offer worship and praise which are due unto Thee. Thyself, O Master, accept even from the mouths of us sinners the thrice-holy hymn, and visit us in Thy goodness.”
Think about the incredible thing happening here: the angels eternally sing “Holy, holy, holy” to God in heavenly worship (Isaiah 6:2-3; see also Revelation 4:8); at this moment we, unworthy as we are to participate, are nonetheless granted by God to enter into this worship. St. Cyril of Jerusalem puts our involvement into context when he says, “We make mention also of the Seraphim, whom Isaiah in the Holy Spirit saw standing around the throne of God, and with two of their wings veiling their face, and with two their feet, while with two they did fly, crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts’ (Isaiah 6:2-3). For the reason of our reciting this confession of God, delivered down to us from the Seraphim, is this, that so we may be partakers with the hosts of the world above in their hymn of praise.”
The moment is so holy that the priest gives a special blessing before we sing, “Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.”
In this activity we fulfill the call to worship given in Psalm 148 (which is sung later in the Divine Liturgy, between the Lord’s Prayer and the Communion hymns): “Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the highest. Praise Him, all you His angels; Praise Him, all you His hosts…Kings of the earth and all peoples, Princes and all judges of the earth, Young men and maidens, Elders with younger, Let them praise the Lord’s name, For His name alone is exalted” (148:1-2, 11-13). Compared to the angels, we humans are weak—certainly too weak for such a majestic moment. This is why, in the Byzantine tradition, we are encouraged with a cry of dynamis, meaning “power” or ” with strength”—we are called to powerfully sing this wonderful hymn.
The traditional story of how we received the Trisagion hymn is itself quite amazing. In the fourth century, while St. Proclus was patriarch, Constantinople was struck by a violent earthquake (or series of quakes). While the people prayed for God’s assistance, a boy was lifted into the air and disappeared from sight; when he returned he said he heard the angels singing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal”—the people began to sing this hymn, adding “Have mercy on us.” This story is important not only because it reinforces the divine nature of our worship, but also that our worship is tightly linked to the prayers for peace we said minutes before in the Great Litany (see Unit 3).
THE SCRIPTURAL READINGS
After blessing the seats—including the bishop’s throne—on which the priests sit during the readings with a prayer acknowledging that all power comes from God, we are commanded, “Let us attend!” To put this in modern terms, “Pay attention!” This command comes before each of the three readings that follow, as well as before Holy Communion. The reason for this, St. Nicholas says, is to remind “all present to cast away negligence and inattention, and to listen carefully to what is said and done.”
You might wonder why we’re called to attention now—aren’t we supposed to pay attention throughout the service? Of course, but what is happening now is uniquely important: we are about to receive wisdom in the prokeimenon—a psalm or verse that is read, and then the refrain repeated by the people—and epistle and Gospel readings. St. John of Kronstadt explains the situation like this, “The Holy Scripture is the domain of Wisdom, Word and Spirit, of God in the Trinity; in it He clearly manifests Himself: ‘The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6:63), says the Lord…In Holy Scriptures we see God face to face, and ourselves as we are. Man, know yourself through them, and walk always as in the presence of God.”
After the epistle is read we sing, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia” (and, in some churches, we afterwards sing a series of verses). The meaning of the word “alleluia” is “praise God;” we’re praising God for Who He is, and for what He has done—and is doing—for us.
We are again reminded before the Gospel is read to pay attention to the wisdom we are about to hear; we then glorify—both before and after the reading—our Lord. St. Kosmas Aitolos wonderfully expresses the tremendous blessing it is to hear the Gospel read, and the effect this should have on us, when he says, “Heed all the thoughts of the Holy Gospels, because they are all diamonds, treasures, joy, delight, eternal life.”
A homily or sermon is traditionally given after the scriptural readings, although in some churches it is given at different times (such as at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy). I like what Fr. Lawrence Farley says about this moment of preaching, “The homily is an essential part of the Divine Liturgy, for the priest is ordained not just to offer the eucharistic sacrifice, but also to teach his flock the Holy Scriptures. For only with transformed hearts made richer by feeding on divine truth can the people take the next step—to advance to the altar of God and receive the life-giving Mysteries.”
CARRY IT INTO DAILY LIFE
Holy Scripture is not only something to which we listen during church services—it is something that can transform our lives through reading every day. Here’s what St. Nicholas Velimirovich says, “The word of God is food for the soul. The word of God is both strength and light for the soul…All the saints emphasized the necessity of reading the Holy Scriptures…Most of all we must read the New Testament and Psalms. The understanding is enlightened by these.”
St. Philaret of Moscow gives us a truly Orthodox approach to reading Holy Scripture: “First, one must read (Scripture) with reverence, as the word of God, and with prayer for understanding of it; second, one must read it with pure intention, for establishment in the faith and motivation to good works; third, one must understand it in accordance with the interpretation of the Orthodox Church and the Holy Fathers.”
One of the most important things you can do in your day is to set aside a period of time for reading Holy Scripture; as St. John Chrysostom says, “Reading Scripture each day will accomplish some great and noble good in us.” One way to make scriptural reading part of your daily life is to keep up with the daily readings of the Church—you can find these readings on the websites of the Antiochian and Greek Archdioceses, and the OCA. Doing this will not only keep you regular with your Bible reading, but will also enable you share in the same spiritual experience with millions of other Orthodox Christians.
You can find find more Bible reading and study tips in my booklet, You Can Read the Bible, on the Orthodox Christian Bible Studies website at www.orthodoxyouth.org.
For additional resources for this unit visit www.worshipandyou.com.
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