It’s All About the Gospel
January 12, 2011 Length: 42:05
In the second installation of his new series, Fr. Tom Hopko talks about the biblical and evangelical nature of the Divine Liturgy. True worship in Christ and the Holy Spirit.
We have begun a series of commentaries on the Divine Liturgy, the eucharistic Divine Liturgy, and our commentary will be on the eucharistic Divine Liturgy as celebrated today in the Orthodox Church and in all of the Orthodox churches, in plural, throughout the entire world. The Eastern Orthodox Church, and all the Eastern Orthodox churches, celebrate the same liturgical worship, the rule of worship, the lex orandi, the rule of prayer, which is the expression of the lex credendi, the law of believing, [which] is identically the same in all of the Orthodox churches throughout the world. This kind of synthesis of worship [exists in] the churches of the Eastern tradition, as opposed to the Western Latin tradition and traditions, or the Gallican or the Milanese or whatever, and certainly in opposition to the various kinds of worship that you find in Protestant churches, as well as in distinction of the liturgies of worship in other Oriental churches, like the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Indian Church, the Armenian Church, the Syrian Church, where they have their own rituals.
Well, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Byzantine, Chalcedonian Orthodox Church, all have the same liturgical rule, the same typikon, as it’s called, order of worship. Our assertion here, our confession, is that the worship of the Church, the worship of the Orthodox Church, what we have today, is in fact in total continuity with the Bible, with the worship of the Old Covenant, the worship of the Hebrews and the Jews, the worship of the tabernacle and the temple, and then the preaching and the prophecy. We also claim that the liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church is in complete and total continuity and even identity, solidarity, harmony, unanimity, with the worship of the earliest Christians, with the first Christians.
Here we would say, right from the beginning, that when many people hold that the way Protestants worship, with praise and song and hymn and preaching and so on, that this is like early Christian worship, well, nothing could be further from the truth, because the early Christians, first Christians were Jews, and the early Gentiles were grafted to the Jews, and they were in a continuity of worship that began already and was recorded to and testified to in the pedagogical scriptures of the Old Testament, particularly the tabernacle in the wilderness and the Jerusalem temple.
Of course, all of that is christened by Christ; it’s eschatologized, it’s fulfilled, it’s made perfect, it’s brought to perfection in the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus who’s raised from the dead, who is himself the final Teacher, the final Prophet, and the final High Priest and the final King and the final everything. So the New Testament is really the final covenant of God with man, predicted also in the prophets: Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel, Isaiah, particularly the last chapters of Isaiah. All this is fulfilled in Jesus.
So the claim here that we want to make today—and this is our point for today—is that liturgical worship—and “leitourgia” means the common act of the people, the qahal of the Church, so the worship of the Church, of the covenanted community itself, the New Testament covenant community, our claim is that that would be the worship of the Orthodox Church.
Obviously today—and we’ll see this—the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which are the two eucharistic Liturgies that are used in the Orthodox Church, are certainly the development of the action of the belief and faith and Holy Spirit’s indwelling in people through the centuries. So the actual form and the words that we have in St. John Chrysostom Liturgy and St. Basil’s Liturgy were certainly not the words that were used in the earliest Church. In fact, the words in the earliest Church changed quite a bit. We know that in the Didache and in the Dialogues of Justin and Hippolytus’ Apostolic Constitutions that the eucharistic prayers in the earliest Church, after the reading of the Scriptures, were often very free, but they had a form. They had a substance. They had a rule. They had what would be called a canon, a way of doing it. It wasn’t just capricious and arbitrary and free-floating and spontaneous, and then it became formulated in different formulas of prayer [in] different places of the Christian world. One interesting thing historically, although our interest here is not history as such, is that when you had the greatest unanimity of Orthodox Christian faith among the Christians in, let’s say, the fourth, fifth, sixth centuries, and even in the earlier time before that, where the Orthodox Christians who opposed the various heretics kept the same faith, which was called the catholic faith or the orthodox faith in the catholic or orthodox Church, you had the widest diversity of actual words and images and songs and so on. That diversity existed through history.
But what we’re interested in in this series of commentary is how it all is now in the Orthodox churches, what is done now in the Orthodox churches, and how what is done is in total conformity with the Bible. And it’s biblical, not only in its words, but in its substance and in its spirit. It’s completely and totally biblical. Being completely and totally biblical, it is completely and totally evangelical; it is according to God’s Gospel in Jesus. It’s according to the eternal Gospel, the Gospel that is the heart of the final covenanted community of God with his people in Christ, in the broken body and spilled blood of Christ.
So the worship in spirit and truth about which Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, we believe is the worship of the Orthodox Church today. It had different shapes and forms and substance and words through history, but it was essentially, substantially, the same. The forms may be different, but the essence and the content and the reality, the truth of it, was the same.
But what we would say now, and I think it would be a claim here, is that we’re not so sure that we can say this any more. We’re not so sure about other rites and rituals beside that of the Orthodox Church, because it may very well be that the rites and rituals of other churches, and even the churches that don’t have prescribed rites and rituals, may be very, very far from the substance, the reality, the truth, the content, and the spirit of God’s Gospel in Jesus. They’re just not dependable. We just can’t affirm them. We can assess them, we can try to see what they say and so on, but that’s not our interest, and that’s certainly not our interest in this present series of reflections.
Our only interest now is to take Eastern Orthodox liturgy and very particularly, very specifically, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great as we have these Liturgies today and to comment on them, and to show how they are, when properly done and when properly understood, that they are indeed the spirit-and-truth worship that Jesus said, basically, he was bringing to the world, when he said, “The hour is now come; the time is here now, where neither in Jerusalem, in Judea, among the Jews, nor in Samaria, on Mount Gerizim, nor on any geographical place or any geographical temple, physical temple, will there be the worship in spirit and truth that God desires of his people.”
God wants from his people the worship in spirit and truth, and our claim would be the Divine Liturgy as we have it today is that worship. But there are problems. The first problem is: What is prescribed to be done? What is being done? Is it being done the right way? Are we doing it properly? The second challenge is: What do the words say? How are they to be understood? How are they connected to the Bible? How are they emerging from the Bible? How are they according to God’s Gospel in Jesus? How are they according to the new and final covenant that Christ brings to the world?
So we have these questions. What are the words? What are the rituals? Are they properly done, and are they properly understood? How are they to be understood? In America and the English-speaking world we have the further challenge of the issue of the translations that we use. And certainly, those who would worship in Spanish or in French or in Romanian or in modern Serbian or modern Bulgarian, modern Albanian or whatever, they would have their own issues to discuss here. Are the translations accurate? Are they according to the Scripture; are they according to the Bible?
Are they understood in their biblical [context], or are we giving other meanings to them which in fact they don’t have? Here some of our modern scholars of the Liturgy would say: Is a pseudo-morphosis going on? where we have a ritual which was supposed to mean one thing, but it’s not understood any more what it meant, so we make it mean another thing, or many different things. We have words that are given to us. Are these words accurately rendered and do we understand what they actually mean, or are we giving them meanings other than the meanings that they actually have? This is what is inspiring this commentary.
For today we just have one crucial point and one simple point, but crucial point, that we want to make in this our second reflection on worship in spirit and truth, and that is that worship in spirit and truth is the worship of God, in and through Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the final covenanted community in the Messiah, Christ, inspired by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ. That’s our claim, which would mean that this is evangelical worship par excellence. It’s the worship of those people who form the qahal Israel, the Church of God, the qahal Yahweh, the Church of the Lord, until he comes again in glory, the Church of the final covenanted community.
What we’re talking about is a worship of a community of people, a very concrete historical community of people, and that would mean for us the people who are the household of God, called the Orthodox Church. That’s what we’re talking about. So this is a worship of the Church, but it is the worship according to the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints who are inspiring and guiding and protecting and, how can you say?, directing the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is worship according to the Gospel. It is Gospel worship. That’s our point for today.
To reflect on that a little bit, superficially, but still important, we have to remember something that we’ve said very often on Ancient Faith Radio in different ways, but it’s critically true, and that is that Christianity, the Christian faith, emerges on the planet Earth, it appears on Earth, it begins with God’s Gospel in Jesus. It begins with the conviction that Jesus is the Messianic prophet, the Messianic priest, and the Messianic king who fulfills the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, the tanakh of Israel. That’s the conviction, that when the Messiah comes, this is how his people are to worship. This is how God’s people are to worship.
Sometimes playing with the words of Scripture, some of our commentators and our Church Fathers would say this: Worship in spirit and truth can be understood as worship in the Holy Spirit in Christ, because Christ is the truth. It’s worship inspired by the Spirit of truth, which is the very worship of God the Father, by him, the man Jesus, who is God incarnate, who is the truth. Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the Truth.” He is truth. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
So you can say, and I think it would be accurate to say, that Christian worship, Christian church worship, worship in spirit and truth, is worship in Christ and the Holy Spirit. It’s the worship of the one, true God, who is the Abba-Father of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, who is poured into the hearts and the minds and the bodies and the flesh of those who believe in Jesus, to be able to call Jesus “Kyrios, Lord,” and to be able to call the one, true Lord, “Abba, Father.” That’s why we will see that the quintessential Christian prayer, used in all Christian worship, private and public, liturgical and in the home and in the heart and in the chamber of the room, is the prayer “Our Father who art in the heavens.” We will comment on that in some detail much later.
But what we want to see from the beginning now is that the worship in spirit and truth that we’re commenting is the product of the Gospel. Sometimes, to use a Protestant expression of Calvin that can apply here, it’s the creatura verbi; it’s the creation of the Word. God’s Word in human flesh, Jesus Christ, inspired by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit produces this worship. It’s produced in Jesus.
So another way of speaking about what we’re going to comment is to say that the Divine Liturgy, specifically the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great for sure, whatever other liturgies may exist, well, other people can discuss them, but for Orthodox, these two Liturgies, [are] connected with the total liturgical life of the Church, which we will discuss soon in our next few lectures, because the Divine Liturgy is part of the entire liturgical life of the Church, the prayer of the hours—evening, night, morning, first hour, third hour, sixth hour, ninth hour—these are the hours of prayer in the Old Testament. They’re the hours where the Church of God gathers to sing adoration and praise to its God, and it’s done in a very prescribed way.
The ways that it could be done may have differed in different places in history, but they are now done in a very particular way in the Orthodox Church, and they are connected to the Divine Liturgy, which is not a liturgy of any hour. It doesn’t belong to any time of day. It is that which takes us outside time into the kingdom of God that is eternal and everlasting and from the foundation of the world to the unending end of the coming kingdom. So we have to see how the Divine Liturgy is different from other liturgical worship within the Church itself. That’s very important, to see how these two things interconnect, the liturgical services and the feast days and the fast days and the seasons and the hours of the day and the days of the week and the Sabbath day, how this all relates to the celebration of the divine eucharist, the holy eucharist, the Liturgy of St. Basil and of St. John Chrysostom.
That’s important for us to comment on, and we will do that, but what we want to see for today, again, is that all of this is evangelical; all of this is biblical; all of this comes out of God’s action in history, his interaction and co-working with people in history, and it’s all fulfilled and culminated in the Messiah, Christ, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his glorification, and his coming again. So the worship in spirit and truth is the worship in Christ and the Spirit. It’s the worship of Christ himself as the human Messiah, the God-man, worshiping God his Father from all eternity and showing how this is revealed in human form on the planet Earth in himself as the Messiah, and how all of that is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and how all of this is according to the faith once and for all revealed to the saints in Christ.
We see here not only the biblical and evangelical, but the theological; not only the economic, so to speak, the plan of God, but the theologia of God. We could say right from the beginning it’s a Trinitarian worship. It’s the worship of God the Father. It’s the worship of the Son and by the Son of the Father. It’s the worship of the Spirit and through the Spirit of the Son and the Father. It is the final covenanted community worship in the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and we’ve got to comment on how all that shows itself, how that all works itself out in this final covenanted community in the Church of Christ in spirit and truth that Jesus brings to the world in his death and resurrection and glorification and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and on all flesh and on all Christians until the end of the world.
Specifically the Gospel, because all of this is the Gospel; it’s according to the Gospel. What we want to see now, specifically, again, is that Christianity appears on earth as a gospel. We’ve discussed this before, but we’ve got to do it again. The Gospel means good news or glad tidings. The Gospel is not just any good news; it’s God’s good news. St. Paul, who in a sense began using that term, “evangelion” or “gospel,” and it begins in the writings of Paul, the very first Christian Scripture in history, the first letter to Thessalonians, uses that term four or five times, and it’s always called “God’s Gospel in Jesus” or “the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of God.” Paul begins using that term, “gospel,” even before the four gospels were written; the word “gospel” was used in the writings of Paul that antedate the writings of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Now, what we have to see also is: there is the true Gospel, the everlasting Gospel, God’s Gospel, the Gospel which, as St. Paul says in the Galatian letter, is really God’s; it is not from men or according to men. It is not of man—tou anthropou—nor kata anthropōn—according to man. It’s God’s, totally God’s. And here the Christians would insist, certainly those in the line of Paul and the 27 books of the New Testament and Orthodox faith through history, that there isn’t any other gospel. There is no other gospel but the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus that is testified to in the 27 writings of the final covenanted community in the Messiah that we call the New Testament. There isn’t any other gospel.
There are people who claim there are other gospels, and then there are people who misinterpret and twist and pervert even the 27 writings of the New Testament, but nowadays we have to mention that there are people who are speaking about other gospels—Gospel according to Thomas, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Peter—and many of the spurious and false writings at the time of the first Christians in the first century, second century, third century, fourth century, they are presented to the world as gospels, and they’re being resurrected and restored in our time. They’re becoming more famous; people are talking about them on TV, in books. This is something absolutely amazing in our time, is the return of all these false gospels with credence, where people are believing in them and even thinking they’re more Christian and more spiritual than the Gospel as presented in the New Testament writings generally and in Paul and in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Here we have to say that for us Christians there aren’t any other gospels. These are the gospels; this is the Gospel. There is the one Gospel and the four gospels. There’s the Gospel that Paul preaches, even, who didn’t write “a gospel”; he wrote letters. There’s the Gospel of the Book of Acts that Luke wrote, which is called an acts. There’s the Gospel that is witnessed to in the Apocalypse of John, but we also know that there are apocalypses and there are acts and there are letters attributed to other people, which are not canonized in the New Testament, all kind of Acts of Paul and Acts of this one and that one. The spurious, false writings, the so-called New Testament Apocrypha, there are way more such writings than there are of the 27 writings that make up our canonized New Testament writings.
So when we speak about the Scriptures, we have the canonized Scriptures, and the canonized Scriptures for us are only the 27 books of the New Testament. And we claim that these are the only writings that are strictly, totally dependable as being according to the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus, the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, as it says in the Letter of Jude. For us, the gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Book of Acts, the letters attributed to Paul, 14 of them; then you have the three attributed to John, the two attributed to Peter, and James, and Jude, and the Apocalypse. That’s it. And all the other apocalypses and letters and acts and gospels are not gospels at all.
Here we want to mention: these are not accepted by Orthodox. Some of the material found in some of them is interesting and very illuminating and lucidating. If you read the Gospel according to Thomas, for example, there are some sayings that are attributed to Jesus that may be true. If you take a book called the Protoevangelium of James, which is a Midrashic story about the Virgin Mary, there are certainly certain historical foundations there and certain teachings there that are very precious to Christians. But here it’s important to mention very specifically: there is no such thing as a gospel according to Mary; there is no Gospel of Mary; there is no Gospel of the Theotokos.
And here I would even go further and to say that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not part of God’s Gospel in Jesus at all. Christians did not preach the Gospel of Mary, and they didn’t preach Mary. Well, you can say, “Oh my goodness, Fr. Thomas, how could you say such a think?” Well, I’m saying it because it’s the truth. I hope I’m saying it in love, but it is the truth.
I like to put it this way: Mary is not part of the Gospel. The Gospel is not about Mary, but Mary is about the Gospel. Mary is, even, the quintessential first witness to the Gospel. She’s among the greatest witnesses of the Gospel. She’s probably even the most perfect—not “probably”—certainly the most perfect disciple of Jesus Christ who ever lived, his very mother, closest to him, more intimate to him, knowing him better than anybody, and witnessing to him and suffering for him more than anybody else who ever suffered, although she did not die a martyr and was basically silent and disappeared from the scene practically once Christ is crucified and glorified. We see her in Cana of Galilee; we see her in the crowds; we see her standing by the cross in John; we see her among the 120 at the upper room on Pentecost in Luke’s Acts, but she’s never even mentioned by Paul. Neither is the Virgin birth mentioned by Paul. So Mary is there all the time, but there’s no Gospel of Mary; we do not preach Mary.
Here I think it’s important also to say, according to our holy Fathers, we don’t preach theologia at all, St. Basil the Great would say. We preach only oikonomia. We preach the mighty and marvelous acts of God in history. We preach Christ crucified and glorified. We do not preach the Trinity. We do not preach the Holy Spirit. We do not preach the sacraments. We do not preach the Divine Liturgy. We do not preach the holy Eucharist. We preach Christ crucified. And when people then accept and believe in the Gospel of Christ crucified and glorified, then they learn about the Gospel according to St. John, which by the way is never even called a gospel. The word “gospel” does not exist in that text that’s called “the Gospel according to St. John,” a name given to the text probably a couple hundred years after Jesus.
But the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the gospels about how Jesus fulfills the Scriptures, how he was crucified, how he had to be crucified, how he was raised, and how he is glorified. And the Apostle Paul is very instrumental in even how the gospels of Luke and Mark were written. This is done by the Holy Spirit in the earliest Christianity, but there were a lot of people who were distorting this and violating this and not preaching this. They had their own forms of worship. The same thing is true today. Those who pervert the gospels, those who distort the gospels, those who replace God’s Gospel with a gospel of their own, who make up the gospel and those who even wrongly understand the 27 books of the New Testament—they all have worship of their own, but we Orthodox would say it is not the worship in spirit and truth that Jesus spoke about to the Samaritan woman at the well. It is not. It may have elements of it, and certainly does. Some of that worship may even be close to true worship, but it is not completely dependable, and it is not totally of God.
Here we Orthodox would say: Orthodox worship is. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, whatever you want to say about anything else, is. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which is a special type of Eucharistic communion, which we’ll talk about in the commentary, is. And in general, the services of the Orthodox Church are, but they have to be properly done and they have to be properly rendered and they have to be properly translated when they’re translated, and they have to be properly understood and they have to be properly explained. And this is no small task! Because even these true Scriptures, canonized in the New Testament, and the true Liturgy and the true liturgies that the holy Church has, are also perverted. They are also misunderstood. They are also misrendered. They are also not properly done. But our claim would be: when they are properly done and properly understood, then they are the totally dependable worship in spirit and truth that Jesus spoke about that day, that hot day, at noon at the well in Sichar in Samaria with the Samaritan woman. That worship would be according to the Gospel.
Now the true Gospel, the right Gospel, the only Gospel that there is, the eternal Gospel, this inspires the worship. So what we have to say today also by way of these general introductory comments, which we’ll try to fill out and flesh out as time goes by, what we have to say is that the Liturgy as we have it is a celebration of this Gospel. It’s a proclamation of the Gospel; it’s an actualization of the Gospel; it’s a realization of the Gospel; it’s the inspired product of the Gospel; it is a witness to the Gospel; and it is a celebration of the Gospel; and it is a celebration that testifies to what that Gospel is.
What is that Gospel? It’s a victory. It’s the victory of God over all his enemies. The good news, the glad tidings of Christianity is the proclamation of the good news that God has been victorious over all of his enemies in his Son, Jesus Christ.
I mentioned that “gospel” means good news, glad tidings, and it’s not just any good news, like “It’s a sunny day today” or “Joe was sick, but he feels better” or “I found my lost wallet” or whatever it is. That’s not what the good news of the Gospel means. “Gospel” is a technical term which is the good news proclaimed by a sovereign, by a lord, by a king, to his subjects, that the subjects were obliged to receive as good news no matter what. It was a heralding. That’s a New Testamental term: a kerigma, kerigmata, a proclamation, a preaching, done by a king to his subjects of a good news. And what was the good news? Well, it had to do with the king, and it had to do with the king’s enthronement, with the king’s glory, and with the king’s victory over his enemies.
So a gospel in the ancient world was when a king proclaimed to his subjects that he was securely seated on his throne, that the enemies were all defeated, that a royal heir existed so that the lineage and the continuity of the kingship would go on—in other words, it would not come to a halt; it was going on forever; it was everlasting; in other words, the transition was secure—and it was a victory that the subjects were saved, that the subjects were safe, that nothing could harm them any more. None of the evils of the world, none of the enemies, nothing could harm them.
In Christian terms, what this meant was: God is the king before the ages, he has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth, he has done that in his human king, Jesus, who is his own divine Son who is theandric, who is king both as God and man; that victory in Jesus is final, complete, total, and everlasting; it is unsurpassable; it is totally fulfilled. All the enemies have been destroyed, and who and what are those enemies? Well, the enemy is sin. The enemy is the devil. The enemy is evil. The enemy is injustice. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is darkness. The enemy is disease. The enemy is suffering. And the ultimate, final eschatos ekhthros, as St. Paul would say, final enemy, is death itself. And those enemies also include the sons of perdition, the children of darkness, those who are in Satan’s hands. They also will be contained, captivated, controlled, will not be able to do their filthy, evil, dark, death, destroying, corrupting, perverting deeds any more.
So [this means] evil and evil-doers, demons, human beings, all who are evil, anti-Christs of every sort, and there are many anti-Christs, according to John’s writing, not just one, and they’re already abounding in the earth, the man of lawlessness, and there are many human beings of lawlessness. These are all scriptural terms: sons of perdition, men of lawlessness, those marked by the beast, the anti-Christs, the satans, the demons, the evils, the evil spirits, the powers of darkness. All these are destroyed, overcome, and God is victorious.
So the Divine Liturgy is the celebration of that victory, a proclamation of it, a heralding of it, an explanation of it. That’s why you have to have a sermon; you have to have a preaching; you have to have teaching; you have to have didaskalia; you have to have homologeia, confession, teaching. That’s part of the Divine Liturgy, as we will see.
And then you enter into the victory. You become one with Christ. He takes you into the victorious presence of God. You sing the victory hymn, the Cherubic hymn, as we will see, and the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the trisagion; it’s called a victory hymn in the Divine Liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil. So you sing the victory songs. You make victory processions.
And the Liturgy is a series of processions as we will see. The first procession is from your home to the church. The first procession is the gathering of the people. Then there’s the procession into the assembly. Then there’s the procession with the Gospel book into the altar. Then there’s the procession to the high place where you hear the preaching of the Gospel. Then there’s the procession with the bread and the wine to the altar of sacrifice. And then there is that procession into the kingdom of God following Jesus Christ into the holy place not made by hands. Then there’s the procession into the holy of holies above the heaven following Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then there is the procession into the presence of God himself in order to have communion with God.
So there are a series of processions. There’s the entrance into the church. There’s the little entrance. There’s the great entrance. And these are all evangelical processions, victory processions, processions of the victory of God which is the glad tidings and the good news of the Gospel.
The Divine Liturgy is a victory Liturgy. It’s a common act of the subjects of God, those who belong to God, who believe in God, who are faithful to God, who accept God as their king before the ages, who worship Christ as the Lord who is robed… And as we’ll see, every single Sabbath night as we enter into the Lord’s Day, because Sunday will be the day of victory. Sunday will be the day of the kingdom, Sunday will be the day of resurrection, Sunday will be the day when the Eucharist is celebrated, every single Sunday of the year, and we’ll see also that it’s celebrated at other times, and we’ll comment on that.
But Sunday is the victory day par excellence, where no matter what, the Christians leave their home, process to the church, process into the gathering, process to the altar, process to the podium and the solea to hear the Word, process to the altar of sacrifice, and process to the throne of the kingdom of heaven. That takes place every single Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and that’s what the Divine Liturgy is. It’s the celebration of the Gospel, the evangelical celebration par excellence.
And the Gospel of Christ is the fulfillment of all of those mini-gospels, little gospels, of the Old Testament, because there were glad tidings in the Old Testament, too. There were the glad tidings of the people from Egypt. There were the glad tidings of the victory of the Canaanites, the Hebusites, the Hittites, the Hagarites, the Edomites, the Amalekites, all those “-ites,” Perizzites, Hittites, I mean, all those who had to be destroyed by God, the enemy. There is the victory of God in the establishment of the temple. Then there is the victory of God again when he destroys it all and rebuilds it all, and the glad tidings of the Old Testament is that the grace of God can never be thwarted, and the final word is the word of mercy and forgiveness and salvation and healing, when God will destroy all his enemies, and he will do that in his Messiah. Christians believe that the crucified Jesus is that Messiah.
That’s the Christian faith, and that’s what the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great is celebrating. Every time it is celebrated, that is what it is celebrating. It’s a celebration of the Gospel: God’s Gospel in Jesus; the only Gospel that there is; the Gospel that is witnessed to first by the Apostle Paul, historically, orally; the Gospel preached by the apostles; the Gospel that is witnessed to in the writings of the New Testamental Scriptures, the 27 canonical books; the Gospel that is twisted and thwarted and perverted in apocalyptic and spurious and false writings that have existed literally from the time of Jesus himself, practically, just down to the present day; the Gospel that is against all heretics and schismatics who pervert and distort this Gospel, and therefore have a distorted worship.
It is ultimately the worship in spirit and truth, the evangelical worship of spirit and truth in the Messiah, about which Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well. This is what the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church is: the Liturgy of Chrysostom, attributed to Chrysostom, and the Liturgy of Basil. And we will see even that Chrysostom and Basil did not write every word of those liturgies. Actually, their names are attached to the Eucharistic prayer exclusively. The other parts of the Liturgy come from other places and from other authors, and we will comment on that as we will comment on it.
But what we have to realize from the beginning is that we’re commenting on a victory celebration, a victory of the glad tidings, the good news, that all of God’s enemies have been destroyed and captured and are held in captivity, that God’s people are safe, those who believe in him can never be harmed, not even by death itself, that they already belong to the victorious kingdom and the victorious king who is Christ himself, and that this is already given to us in the Church of Christ, and in that Church we have the spirit-and-truth worship, the worship of God in spirit and in truth, about which Jesus spoke on that hot, sunny day to the Samaritan woman who symbolizes the fallen world, the heretics, the Gentiles, those who need repentance, as the Bride of the Bridegroom, Christ.
That’s the worship in spirit and truth that the Liturgy testifies to and that we experience when we do the Liturgy. And that is what our commentary will continue to comment on in great detail in the weeks and months to come.
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