Fr. Thomas Hopko · June 19, 2012
The response of the people in the Divine Liturgy is "Amen." What does it mean and how important is it that the people understand what they are responding to before they can say it?
As we continue reflecting on the Divine Liturgy, the opening sentence; the opening exclamation, we said that for very good reason, totally understandable, the evangelical proclamation and celebration and participation in God’s Gospel in Jesus that the worship in Spirit and Truth is for Christians the Divine Liturgy; that this would begin the exclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Ages of ages, Eis tous aionas ton aionon, forever and ever, unending. This is so fitting and proper that it would be a blessing of God’s Kingdom that we bless and praise the Kingdom of God, which is the very substance and heart of the good news of the Gospel that God reigns; that Christ is victorious; that Christ is the victor; that He is the conqueror. He is the one who overcomes the enemies; that He is the Savior.
And the word in Hebrew for Savior and victor and conqueror are all one in the same word. This is very important to know. So it’s very fitting that we would begin the Divine Liturgy and every Christian mystery, i.e., baptism, marriage; and every celebration in the Church of a sacramental nature would begin with the exclamation, “Blessed is the Kingdom.”
Now, once that exclamation is proclaimed by the presbyter/priest standing in front of the altar, proclaiming the Kingdom blessed by raising the Gospel book and the Sign of the Cross, that once that exclamation is made, all in the congregation; all who are gathered respond with the word, “Amen.” In Slavonic and Greek, it would be Amin. In English, it would be Amen.
And that Amen, is a very, very important and essential part of corporate liturgical worship. We see how many times in liturgical worship and in the Divine Liturgy itself that word Amen is there. It’s the conclusion of every single prayer. Amen. At the consecration of the bread and the wine at Holy Eucharist, we even say, “Amen, Amen, Amen.” Three times, Amen.
So it’s important that we would understand what this Amen means and what it means also as an essential element in liturgical worship. First of all, the word Amen, it’s one of those that’s a Hebrew word like Alleluia, and then just becomes a common word for all the rest of us who follow Biblical faith and especially for us Christians, who see the entire Bible fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
The word Amen means, as a word, yes; so be it; we agree; it is so. So something is said, and then everyone responds, “It is so,” or “Let it be so,” or “Yes, we agree.” That’s what the word Amen means. And I can’t resist saying right here from the beginning how once; I think I said this on Ancient Faith Radio before, but it’s kind of a cute story.
Once, I was watching one of our grandchildren when he was only four years old, and his mom was having a baby, and someone needed to watch him. So I was watching him, and I took him to a park across the street from the seminary. His mom who was having the baby was the wife of a seminarian at the time. Her husband was studying for the priesthood. And anyway, he was about four years old. His name is Benny – my theologian grandson named Benny.
And so Benny was playing around and so on, so I figured I should do my grandfather duty while I was watching him. So I began a conversation, and I asked him, “Benny, do you know how to pray? Do you know to pray?” He says, “Oh yeah, grandpa, yeah.” I said, “Do you know the Lord’s prayer? Do you know how to say Our Father who art in Heaven?”
And Benny said to me, “I’ve known it since I was born.” And I said, “Well that’s good. You start off young. That’s the very prayer that the Lord gave us to say, and we say it. But sometimes, it’s kind of long. But if you just wanted to say just a little prayer, we could say, God help me or God be with me or Praise the Lord or Lord have mercy.”
And then I said to him, “You know, this prayer Lord have mercy that we say in Church a lot, that’s probably the shortest little prayer, and it brings everything together. Lord, you are our God, and have mercy. That means be kind to us; be good to us. Show your favor to us. That’s a nice little short prayer; probably the shortest little prayer; it’s really very good.”
Benny says to me, “Grandpa, Lord have mercy is not the shortest prayer.” I said, “It’s not?” He said, “No.” I said, “Well, what is then the shortest prayer?” And Ben said to me, “The shortest prayer, grandpa, is Amen.” And I said, “Well, you got me, Benny. That’s true.” Because Amen is saying to God that we affirm you as you are; that we accept what you give us.
We even use that expression when let’s say some afflictions come on. We say, “Well you have to say Amen to it;” that it’s an act of God by which we say Amen. And the prayers in the Liturgy of the Church and the exclamations, they always end with that Amen, because that Amen is basically saying to God, “Be the way you are. We agree with you as you are. What we ask you; what we petition you, we believe is what You Yourself already want for us. Like Lord have mercy, you want your mercy to be on us You give your mercy to us. You want it.”
And also, we could say that that Amen is to say to God, “be the way you are,” because all of our prayers; every prayer that we say that is a real, true, and proper prayer is always a prayer to God that we believe that God is wanting to do and is even doing already even when we don’t petition; even when we don’t ask.
For example, we believe that God has mercy on everyone even if they don’t ask Him. We believe that God wants to heal and to direct a person’s life to live forever in His Kingdom. He wants that for everyone, even if we don’t say, “Blessed is the Kingdom.” Even if we don’t bless God, God wants everything good for us. He wants to forgive us our sin. Even if we don’t ask Him, He is forgiving our sin.
On the Cross, God forgave all our sin without consulting us first. He didn’t say, “Do you want me to do this for you?” He just did it. It’s grace. It’s His gift. So we could say that it’s an axiom of Ancient Christianity that we never pray to God for anything that we don’t already believe He is doing even if we don’t ask Him.
So by a petition, put in a petitionary form, “O Lord have mercy,” what we are saying is, “God be merciful, because you are.” Every petition that we make should be a petition to God that God is putting in our mouth; that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us; because it is God’s will even if we are not actually making the petition. I think this is very important.
Now, we can pray to God for certain things that we are not sure is His will. If we say to God, “Help us. Save us. Have mercy on us. Keep us.” We know that He wants to do that, and we want Him to do that. And we’re not fleeing away from His helping us or saving us or neglecting it or even rejecting it. No, we want it. So we affirm that we want it.
Now there are some petitions however that we may not be sure that it’s God’s will, so we would never say Amen to those kinds of prayers. The Amen belongs only to the prayer that is objectively true and without question; that it is really so no matter what. This is the way things are. So if I prayed to God for example, “Let me move to California. Please let this be so.” There’s no way that we can know for sure that that’s what God wants. So we can’t say Amen to that. “Please send me to California God, and to this I say, let it be. Amen” I don’t know that it’s God’s will so I have to be careful about what I’m saying.
And that Amen, the Theotokos said Amen to God in a little longer form when she said, “Let it be to me according to your word,” when the angel said she would give birth to Jesus. So she could have just said to the angel, Amen. But we will not be so bold to say, “We want this to be, so let it be and it is so,” in things that we’re not sure of; that there’s some question about.
So we say Amen to those prayers that we know are inspired in us by God; that are given to us by God. As St. Anthony the Great said, “We pray in the words that God Himself has given us to say, and therefore we can say Amen to our own words.” We can say a prayer and end it with Amen. “We pray this and we want it, so be it. It is so. Yes. We agree.” This is what the Amen is meaning.
And it’s very interesting that in Christian theology the claim is that we make all our Amens to God through Christ, who is the Amen, who is God’s Amen. In 2 Corinthians; this is very important. This is what the Apostle Paul has written:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus, Timothy, and I, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in Him it is always “Yes.” For all the promises of God find their “Yes” in Him. This is why we utter the “Amen” through Him; to the glory of God.
So we say to God the Father, Amen, through Jesus Christ. We utter the Amen through Him to God’s glory. And then Paul continues, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us. He has put His seal upon us and has given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” So that Holy Spirit is even inspiring us through Christ to say Amen to God.
And this is our whole life. This is the point of Benny’s answer to me in the park. If we would just say, “Whatever it is God, Amen. As long as you’re your will, Amen. As long as it’s not mine, Amen. As long as I’m sure that this is what you want and not simply what I think, Amen. If I ask you for what I think myself, I will say to you God, please don’t say Amen back to me for what I’m saying if it’s not something good and beneficial and salvific for me.”
It’s interesting here in this Corinthian letter that the Apostle says, “We utter the Amen through Him to the glory of God.” So if we are glorifying, praising, and blessing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now and forever and to ages of ages, Amen. We say this Amen at the end through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and to God the Father. And this shows us how we are praying within the Trinity.
And we know of course in the same Corinthian Letter that the Apostle says that the Holy Spirit is in us uttering cries and prayers to God, even too deep for words. But we utter our words through the Spirit. We call God Abba Father for example, according to St. Paul in Galatians and Romans by the Holy Spirit in us. And that Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ.
So when we pray in the Holy Spirit, we have this stance, so to speak the relation to God the Father, that Christ has in God. We kind of situate ourselves in Christ and His relationship with the Father. And then the Holy Spirit makes that come alive in us. And so when we have these prayers that we know for sure are God’s will; are inspired in us by God; are from God; are what God wants; that we believe, according to the Gospel, that God is doing even if we don’t ask Him; that He wants to do for us, then we respond and affirm always those prayers and exclamations with the word Amen.
Now in the Apocalypse, in the book of Revelation, not only is it said that we make our response to God through Christ and utter the Amen through Him, but in the book of Revelation it says that Amen is one of the names of Jesus. In Revelation 3:14 it says, “To the angel of the Church of Laodicea, write the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation”
Now, we know that the Revelation called Jesus Christ the faithful and true Witness. That’s where Jehovah’s Witnesses get their name. Jesus is this witness to god the Father, and then the Father bears witness to Him in St. John’s Gospel; the Holy Spirit bears witness to Him. But as far as our relationship to God is concerned, it has to be Amen to everything that God wants that is of God. And Christ is that Amen.
We can say that Christ even utters the Amen for us and in us, because He is the Amen. It’s interesting. The word of the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, and the beginning of God’s Creation certainly is Jesus Christ. That’s who John in the Apocalypse is writing about.
So Christ is our Amen, which proves also that in the Divine Liturgy even when we respond to the prayers that are read by the celebrants, the bishops or the priests or the petitions of the deacon, but it’s the prayers of the presbyter that are receiving the Amen. The deacons can begin with certain petitions, and we sing, “Lord have mercy.” But then when we begin with this exclamatory glorification of God, then we all utter Amen. And this Amen is made through Christ, and that Amen is Christ. He is the living Amen on our behalf to God the Father.
Now, this is why in the Liturgy we have this Amen so many times, and we have to understand it. Knowing that however and that there is this Amen to the prayer, that teaches us also another very important thing. The first thing that it teaches us is that the language of the Liturgy; the prayers that are said have to be understandable to the people who are there. And the people have to be there because it’s a corporate service.
So in other words, if there’s nobody there to say Amen to the bishop’s or priest’s prayer, or they refuse to say Amen, then the Liturgy stops. It’s over you. You can’t go on. It has to be the Amen of all the gathering people who are faithful. Now, at the first part of the Divine Liturgy, as you will see, there may be catechumens, seekers, or unbelievers there, and they would not utter the Amen. But they have to hear the faithful people, who are celebrating this Liturgy, Amen.
The visitors, seekers, or catechumens have to know that this is what the faithful people really believe. This is what we affirm. This is what we say yes to. And we show it liturgically by our saying or singing Amen. That Amen is very important. It also shows that the service is not simply being done by the clergy for themselves. There has to be an Amen on the part of the faithful. It’s everyone who says Amen.
Now sometimes at the altar, a deacon would say Amen to something quietly. But we know very well that in all the liturgical services, the response of Amen is so very prevailing. It ends every litany and prayer. It’s there all the time, but it has to be there for the Liturgy to be a common act. The word liturgia means common act.
And therefore it shows that the clergy or a priest or a bishop cannot celebrate the Liturgy, or any liturgical office for that matter, without the people being there to say Amen. Otherwise, it’s not a liturgical service. Now perhaps, not only a bishop or a priest but any one of us might be home all alone, and it might be that the church is having Vespers, so we might take out our Vespers book at home and pray along the prayers that are said liturgically in church; in the gathering; in the assembly. We may say them home alone. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. And when we are saying it, we would even say the Amen to what we ourselves have prayed.
And certainly at the Liturgy, the bishop and the priest are participating in the Amen that is coming from the gathered people, the faithful people. So we’re all in this Amen together. We all agree together that we must affirm and accept that prayer that is being as really being a prayer inspired in us by God in the Holy Spirit; given to us by God to which we are then adding our Amen.
But that means that the clergy can’t serve simply by themselves – certainly not the Divine Liturgy. It’s a common act. If you’re going to say in the service, “Peace be to all,” then you have to have all who would respond, “And to your spirit.” If we’re going to say a prayer with everyone there, they have to respond with the Amen.
Now, if we’re praying at home alone; let’s say Vespers or Matins or the Hours, we wouldn’t say, “Peace be to all,” because it’s not part when we do it ourselves. We can sing the hymns, say the Psalms, and say the prayers. That’s perfectly okay. But we can’t have a Eucharist by ourselves. We can’t have a Divine Liturgy by ourselves. Nobody can have a Divine Liturgy by himself, not even a bishop or a priest. It has to be open to whomever comes, at least in principle.
Now, just like everything, that affirms the rule. But we know that in Orthodox Tradition, there were certain monks and monastic ascetic people and they had the Eucharist and they had the Eucharist together. They never had it by themselves. The monks of the desert would gather together on the Lord’s Day for the Holy Eucharist, and then there would be an assembly together of all people. Even though, they’re living like hermits, they gathered together for the Divine Liturgy all together, at one place, at one time.
And this is very important, because the monks should not split up to have their separate liturgies as often is done even on Mount Athos today. In my opinion, that’s just not right. It’s just not good. We can keep our Vigils separately, but we have to come together for the Divine Liturgy. The Holy Eucharist must be a corporate act.
But having said that, we can say however that there are these incredible exceptions of ascetical, hermitical, eremitical men, and they would have to be men, who are ordained who would celebrate the Liturgy every day, except on the weekdays of Lent, and they would do it virtually alone in their cell, with nobody else there, because that would be part of their solitary life that they wouldn’t go out of their cell.
But even if you have someone like St. Theophan the Recluse, who is celebrating the Liturgy daily in seclusion, there has to be at least one other person there to say the responses on behalf of all the faithful; to say Amen to the prayer; to say, “Lord have mercy;” to have the dialogue of the Eucharistic Canon back and forth, between the celebrant and the people.
A bishop or a priest cannot do it completely and totally alone. Never. There has to be at least someone there, and I believe when St. Theophan the Recluse served the Liturgy alone, there was another monk, his attendant, who was singing the responses; saying the Amens; completing the prayers; engaging with the celebrant in the dialogue, because that’s what is characteristic and essential to liturgical prayer.
The assembly would respond to the leadership acts in words; in exclamations; in prayers of the bishops or the priests or whomever, presbyter or bishop, leading the liturgical service. So that’s very, very important that we realize that. The Divine Liturgy is not a private devotion. It cannot be done in private even by a priest or bishop.
I believe in the old days, the Roman Catholic Church used to have private masses where a priest would serve completely alone. But I believe even then they had to have at least one altar server with them to do it. But this Amen shows that it’s a corporate act. It’s not a private act or a private devotion. It’s an act of the Church herself in its entirety. And it includes all the faithful people who gather.
Now there are other holy bishops and priests who would celebrate the Liturgy daily, maybe like St. John of Kronstadt or the very holy and newly departed Patriarch of Serbia Pavle. There are these men who would serve the Liturgy every single day, but they did it in public churches with the doors open and with people present. And the people were invited to participate if they wanted to. They were not solitaries or hermits. They were just very holy people who would celebrate the Holy Eucharist daily or virtually daily.
Of course, weekdays, it’s not served by bishops or priests. The Presanctified Liturgy is served on those days, because you can’t have the festive Eucharistic celebration on a weekday during Lent, except for the Feast of the Annunciation. That’s an obedience or discipline for the entire Church including the clergy.
Now however, this Amen does show us the corporate character of the gathering of the Church for the common act, liturgia that is given by God; led by God; presided over by God; that God inspires; that’s given by God, whose words are totally trustworthy as being words we can say Amen to without any doubt or hesitation whatsoever.
Now, what this Amen also shows us is that the people have to understand what is being said. And here, we have a teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians where he’s not talking about celebrating the Divine Liturgy or the Holy Eucharist in an actual language where people don’t understand. But he was commenting on the gift of tongues, glossolalia that you find in the Corinthian church.
And the Apostle Paul was saying that this glossolalia cannot be done liturgically. It can be done when people are gathered, maybe a little bit if there are prophetic interpreters of these spiritual gifts. But these gifs exist for the edification of the Church and the affirmation of the faith of the people who have them.
But generally speaking they’re not to be done in the corporate service. And he said, if they are going to be done they should be very little and with interpretation so everybody would know what is spoken, so that they’re just not speaking into the air as St. Paul said or uttering stuff that they don’t understand. There has to be understanding. Even the Psalm says, “Let us pray to God with understanding.”
So if you have some type of glossolalia that the people don’t understand, it’s got to be interpreted or it can’t be done. And very, very early in Christian history, glossolalia and praying tongues was simply eliminated from liturgical worship. It was to be done at home. It was to be done in the secret of one’s own heart. And we hope and pray, it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the person is not in some type of spiritual delusion or madness or something and uttering things they do not know or even worse inspired the devil. No we don’t want that.
But in the Liturgy, in the gathering, the people have to understand. So the Apostle Paul, he writes this. I’m reading the King James Version now. “Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto that person speaking as a barbarian, and he that speaks shall be a barbarian to me,” a varvaros.
So we’re not a communion of varvari all saying words that the other people don’t understand or having bishops and priests saying words that people don’t understand. They’ve got to be understood. So the Apostle says very clearly, “Even so ye, for as much as you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel in edifying the Church;” building up the Church. And so then he continues. He says:
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue, pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with understanding also. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with understanding also. Else, when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at the giving of thanks? Who will say Amen to the Eucharist?
How can the person say Amen and give thanks if they don’t even understand what is being said? You can’t say Amen to something that you don’t understand. How can I say, “It is so. Yes. I affirm it. I believe it,” if I don’t even know what’s being said. Therefore of course, any glossolalia is excluded.
But we have to act by extension then and also say that we cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy in a language that the people who are there do not understand. It’s got to be in an understandable language. Otherwise, a person cannot say Amen. Or they are saying Amen to something they don’t even know what they are saying. So let me read to you again this same part of 1 Corinthians 14 from the Revised Standard Version of the Scripture. This is what the Apostle says:
Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue shall pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful, what am I to do? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray also with the mind. I will sing with the spirit; I will sing also with the mind. Otherwise if you bless with the spirit or give thanks with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the Amen to your thanksgiving when he does not what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all. Nevertheless, in Church, I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature.
Then, he goes on to say that tongues are a sign for the believers not the unbelievers. Then, he continues:
If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
So he goes on to say that when you come together, make sure that everybody can understand everything. And if they can’t, maybe you can have one or two glossolalia with interpretation. So I think you could put that in our context and say, if I go to a church and don’t understand the language, like Greek or modern Ukranian, I can maybe pray in my spirit there as St. Paul says, but I’m not praying with my understanding.
And there’s no way I can properly say Amen to the prayer if I don’t even know what’s being said. So what St. Paul says is that when you come together, make sure that you use a language that everyone can understand, so that they may properly say Amen to the prayer that is being said.
Now of course, this has incredible application to our situation in the United States and Canada where I live, because many Orthodox churches have liturgical services where practically everybody or even a great majority of people don’t understand what’s being said, because they simply don’t understand the language.
Now it may be because the language is a foreign language. Maybe they’re praying in Church Slavonic or Greek, and I don’t know Church Slavonic or Greek. Maybe they’re praying in modern Finnish or Romanian, but I don’t know Romanian or Finnish. How can I pray there as a living member of that assembly? I can’t. I can pray in spirit, but I can’t pray with understanding.
Now sometimes, I might have a book or because I know the Liturgy, I’ll follow it; I’m translating it in my head or I have a book that’s dual-language. Then, I can go along with it. But, provision has to be made for the people to understand the words of the liturgical worship. Otherwise, they can’t say, “Lord have mercy,” or Amen or participate in a dialogue with the celebrants if they don’t even know what’s going on or what he’s saying.
If the celebrant turns to the people and says, “Peace be to you,” how can a person who doesn’t know what, “Peace be to you means,” say back to the priest, “And to your spirit too.” Now, we may know it by looking at a book, but you’ve got to have some understanding. Now, this also applies to the kind of language that we use; not only that it would not be the common language of the person praying, but perhaps it would be that language but in such an ancient form that the people couldn’t understand it.
For example, a person may speak modern Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, or Bulgarian, but they go to a service in Old Church Slavonic, and they can’t understand it. That’s why in Bulgaria and Serbia, they’re now using modern Serbian and modern Bulgarian, and in Ukrainian, they’re using modern Ukrainian, because the people understand it. The people have to understand it.
However, for example in the Church of Russia, they’re still using Old Church Slavonic. And the question would remain, how much do the people understand what that really means? They might know the Lord’s Prayer or the petitions or the Liturgy because they’re familiar with it. But suppose there’s a prayer that’s only done once or twice a year.
Suppose there are hymns, Troparia, and Kontakia sung that you only hear once or twice a year. People can have not the foggiest idea of what is being said, because it’s a Slavic language but they don’t understand it, because it’s so ancient. It’s so primitive.
It’d be like Shakespearean or even pre-Shakespearean English. Shakespearean English would be hard enough for a person. But suppose you went back to Beowulf, nobody would understand what it is. And now very, very few people even in Russia and in Slavic countries are very, very deeply familiar with Church Slavonic. They are not. So that really raises the question, can you pray there?
St. Paul says, “I’d rather speak five words in a language someone could understand, than ten thousand in words that they can’t understand.” And then he also says again in 1 Corinthians 14:16:
If you give thanks or bless with the spirit how can anyone with the position of an outsider, who doesn’t understand the language, say an Amen to your Eucharist when he does not know what you are saying? You may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
So then he thanks God that he could speak just five words in an understandable language, rather than ten thousand in a language that could not be understood. And the whole meaning of Pentecost in the Christian Church is that people are to receive the preaching of the Gospel in their own tongue; in their own language.
And on Pentecost, the Apostles and Peter were speaking in Hebrew or Aramaic most likely. The people heard it and understood it in their own language. It was kind of a miracle that took place. But this is always used in our Orthodox Church Tradition to insist that liturgical prayer has to be in a language that participants can understand.
It can’t be in a foreign language, and it can’t be in an ancient language. It’s got to be in an understandable language. And that means that the translations that are used have to be understandable too. Sometimes, we have translations into English that is such old English that a normal person who doesn’t know old English wouldn’t understand what is being said.
If it’s written, for example like in the old King James Version, “They could not get near Jesus because of the press.” Well, it doesn’t mean journalists or the media. The press was an old word for a crowd of people. But how many people know that they could not get near Jesus because of the press that they’re talking about a crowd of people?
Or in old English, it says, “Your mercy goes before me. Your mercy preventeth me.” The old English for go before was prevent; walk before. But if a person today hears, “Your mercy preventeth me,” they will think that it’s preventing; like it’s stopping something. And that’s not what it means.
And by the way, this same thing exists in Russian. I was told by a Russian metropolitan that in old Slavonic, the word for life is zhivot, but in modern Russian the word zhivot means your stomach or belly.
And he told this joke how once there was a wedding he went to where the bride was pregnant, and when they sang the Prokeimenon, “Thou hast set upon their head crowns of precious stones. They ask life of Thee, and Thou givest them life.” That’s what we’d say in Slavonic. All the people chuckled and laughed because not knowing that zhivot in Slavonic meant life, they thought that what was being sung was, “Thou hast place a crown upon their head. They ask a belly from You, and You gave them a belly.” And of course the bride’s belly was sticking out because she was pregnant.
So we’re leading people into temptation if we’re using words that no longer have the meaning that they used to have. So it would be better if, “You had placed upon their heads crowns of precious stones, they ask life from you,” not a belly.
So it’s very, very important when we think of Amen and the necessity of uttering Amen through Christ to God the Father that it would have to be Amen to that which is understood. You can’t affirm, agree, and say, “It is so,” when you don’t even know what’s being said. So just when we think about the necessity of that Amen in a corporate service, which involves all the people gathered, then of course the language has to be such that those who are they understand it and can say Amen with understanding. “I heard what you said. I agree with it. And so I sing to you and say Amen. Amen, Amen, Amen. Amen and Amen.”
It’s interesting that each of the books of the Psalter, you have it ending, “Praise the Lord. Amen and Amen.” And in the Old Testament, it says, “Let all the people say Amen.” In Deuteronomy for example, when they’re reading out the commandments and the curses of those who don’t follow them, every time the people had to say Amen. It’s in the Old Testament.
So Amen is there. It’s part of corporate worship. It’s in the Law of Moses already in the Old Testament. It certainly remains in the New Testament Church in Jesus Christ Himself, in which He Himself is our Amen to God. We utter our Amen through Him, and we utter our Amen and say our Amen and sing our Amen to that which we understand; that we can understand and truly and properly say Amen to.
So let our Liturgy be done with understanding. Let us say Amen to what is prayed and sung. Let us know that Christ is literally and personally our Amen to everything of God, and that we want to say Amen to God through Jesus Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit to all that is inspired and given to us in the Divine Liturgy by God Himself.