Worship and You:
What gives you joy? What makes your heart dance? Perhaps you completely lose track of time as you enjoy the moments you spend with your family, or you excitedly leap out of bed each morning eager to face the challenges of the workday…or…perhaps what you feel is the opposite of this, and each moment seems a morass through which you are forced to slog. As you look at your life, it is good to remember that Christ tells us, “I have come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), and twice in His talk to His disciples on the night that he was betrayed He referred to the joy possible for Christians (see John 16:21–22, 24). As we worship God in the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy you will encounter many moments in which you can respond with pure joy to God and His work, and your daily life can be transformed by this joy.
The anaphora—or “offering”—has been called the core of the Divine Liturgy; Fr. Lawrence Farley even says that in this long prayer we step “to the very threshold of the Kingdom.” The importance of this part of the Liturgy is highlighted in the clarion call of the deacon: “Let us stand aright! Let us stand with fear! Let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace.” This is a decisive moment, not only in the Divine Liturgy, but also in our lives. For example, after casting Lucifer from heaven the Archangel Michael summoned the faithful angels and proclaimed, “Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and not ponder that which is displeasing unto God!” The deacon gives us a similar challenge; as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Let us stand firm on this profession of faith…lest we should be thrown off our balance by the persuasive arguments of heretics.”
We are also reminded to stand with fear before God—St. Maximus the Confessor explains what this means: “The fear of the Lord is twofold. The first type is produced in us from threats of punishment, and from it arises in proper order self-control, patience, hope in God, and detachment, from which comes love. The second is coupled with love itself and constantly produces reverence in the soul, lest through the familiarity of love it becomes presumptuous of God.”
We therefore need to pay attention to what is being said: this offering is not merely something the clergy does—it is an offering we all make! In peace, we offer peace, as well as mercy and praise; in other words, we offer to God our hearts, filled to overflowing with love for Him.
Between proclaiming that we offer peace, mercy and praise, and proclaiming that we offer our hearts to God, the priest gives what is called the Apostolic Blessing: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This blessing is largely taken from the Holy Apostle Paul’s benediction at the end of his second epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 13:14), reminding us, in the words of Ambrosiaster, “Here is the intertwining of the Trinity and the unity of power which brings all salvation to fulfillment.”
Ambrosiaster’s words lead us directly to the great prayer of thanksgiving, in which the priest glorifies God, thanking Him for both creating and saving us, as well as for accepting our worship. There are many things in this prayer to fill us with awe: God created us from nothing; even though we fell away from Him, He did everything necessary to lead us to heaven and His Kingdom; He gives us not only the blessings we see, but also those that go unnoticed by us; and finally, even though it would seem like our gestures of worship would be overshadowed by the majestic worship of the angels, God nonetheless is pleased to accept our worship. It’s no wonder, then, that we not only sing—we shout—the triumphal hymn of “holy, holy, holy!” By joining in with the angels in singing this hymn, St. John Chrysostom says, “Heaven and earth unite in festive celebration; it is a hymnal celebration of thanksgiving, of praise; it is a choir of common joy, which the ineffable goodness of the Lord organized in His great condescension to us and which the Holy Spirit assembled.”
Furthermore, St. Germanus of Constantinople tells us the “spiritual salutation (of Hosanna), pronounced by all, portrays the future faith, love, concord, unanimity and reasonable identity of everyone for one another through which the worthy receive familiarity towards the Word of God.”
The triumphal hymn is immediately followed by the priest exalting the Father and Son’s great love for humanity and recalling (in what are commonly called the “Words of Institution”) Christ’s words over the bread and wine at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-19; see also 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). St. Ephrem the Syrian adds these words to Christ’s teaching at the Last Supper, “As you have seen Me do, do you also in My memory. Whenever you are gathered together in My name in churches everywhere, do what I have done, in memory of Me. Eat My Body, and drink My Blood, a covenant new and old.”
It is important to realize that the priest himself does not change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the words he says are not a magical incantation. As St. John Chrysostom says, “It is not the power of man which makes what is put before us the Body and Blood of Christ, but the power of Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words but their power and grace are from God.” This is why the priest proclaims to Christ that the Eucharist is “Thine own of Thine own,” and why the people respond with a joyful and awe-filled cry of praise and blessing to our God.
The priest then prays that the Holy Spirit will be sent down. While the Orthodox Church does not have a theory regarding precisely when the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, the priest nonetheless tells us the Holy Spirit makes this change; we celebrate by joyously exclaiming, “Amen. Amen. Amen.” Notice what the Holy Spirit is sent down upon: not only the bread and wine, but also upon all the people present. St. John of Kronstadt tells us this is because “through His one Spirit, living in the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood, celebrated in all the churches of the world, (our Lord) wishes to unite us to Himself…and to cut off and cleanse that which in all of us prevents union with Him and with each other.” The priest therefore prays that through the Holy Eucharist we will be purified and forgiven, and prepared “for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
All of this involves more than simply ourselves and God; the anaphora is not a “Jesus and me” moment. Instead, this worship is offered with the saints—and most especially the Theotokos—about whom St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “(The priest) asks that he may be assisted by them in his prayers; because…for them the gifts are offered not in supplication but in thanksgiving.” We, however, need God’s assistance, and the priest—accompanied by our amens and appeals for God’s mercy—also prays for the needs of all the people throughout the Church, and then for our specific needs in a litany that leads up to the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is the perfect conclusion to such a litany because, as Tertullian says, “In this prayer is contained a summary of the whole Gospel.”
It is vital to realize what a privilege it is to call God “Father” and bring Him our needs—St. Germanus explains it like this, “We are no longer on earth but standing by the royal throne of God in heaven, where Christ is…Therefore, receiving adoption and becoming co-heirs with Christ through His grace, and not through works, we have the spirit of the Son of God.” This is why St. John of Kronstadt exhorts us to give our full attention to what we say and do during the Lord’s Prayer, “Be true to God always and in everything. If you say the prayer ‘Our Father…’ pronounce each word sincerely, with reverence, fixing your mind and heart upon God alone, not paying attention to anything or anybody around you.”
We are called to “stand aright” and “stand with fear”—not only during the Divine Liturgy, but every moment of our lives—and yet we’re also called to do these things in peace, and even to do them joyfully. How is possible to live this way in the hustle and bustle of daily life? St. Theophan the Recluse gives us the four keys for maintaining inner peace: control the thoughts and behaviors you allow into your life; live peaceably with others; keep your conscience clean; and bear unpleasantness and insults without becoming upset.
He concludes, “If you are resolute, you will day by day learn to manage yourself better and better and will soon reach a state where you will know how to preserve the peace of your spirit in all storms, both inner and outer.”
It might seem like a contradiction to link this kind of joyful, peaceful life with the fear of God—isn’t fear the opposite of joy and peace? When you remember that the fear of God involves humbly remembering God’s greatness (and our dependence upon Him), and loving Him for His greatness, then you will experience the joy and peace that develops from this understanding. Then, when confronted with the difficulties that inevitably come into all our lives, you’ll be able to respond in the way described by St. Symeon the New Theologian: “When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men. He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith. This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people. Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes. He goes forward trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes. He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.”
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