Worshiping in the Divine Liturgy - Part 4
March 04, 2010 Length: 9:52
In this episode, Jason talks about the Peace and the Nicene Creed.
If there is one thing on which almost everyone agrees, it’s that the world needs peace. The news is filled with stories of hate, violence and destruction, and still—for all the talk of peace—people seem no closer to achieving peace. As Christians, however, we know Christ gives us true peace (John 14:27); Elder Macarius of Optina says, “It is this peace that we must seek, it is for this peace that we should pray.” This is why in the Divine Liturgy we not only pray for peace—we actually share peace.
In the Great Litany (see Unit 3) we prayed for peace for everyone and everything in the world; at this point in the Divine Liturgy we take things a step further and engage in an act of peace. This starts with the priest proclaiming, “Peace be unto all.” It is appropriate that the part of the Liturgy we call “the peace” starts with peace coming from God because, as St. John of Kronstadt says, “The greatest gift of God, which we mostly need and which we very often obtain from God, through our prayers, is peace or rest of heart;” this peace is so all-encompassing that the Holy Apostle Paul describes it as “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
We immediately respond to this proclamation of God’s peace by stating our desire for the priest to also receive this peace and, in many parishes, by exchanging a kiss of peace (or “holy kiss (see Romans 16:16)) with the people around us. While in many parishes the kiss of peace—a light kiss on the cheeks—is exchanged only by the clergy, Fr. Lawrence Farley presents a compelling reason for all the faithful to engage in this practice, “The restoration of the giving of the peace (where it has lapsed), whether through handshake, hug, or kiss on the cheek, powerfully witnesses to (the primacy of love) and manifests the Church as a family, a community which lives and fulfills itself by love.”
Why exchange peace now, rather than during or after the Litany of Peace? We do it now because it is essential that we be completely united—”with one mind”—when we joyously cry out, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! The Trinity, one in essence, and undivided!” St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains the situation like this, “Since brotherly love goes hand in hand with the love of God, and love of God is not found without faith in the living and perfect God, the priest, as soon as he has reminded us of charity, and urged us to love one another, begins the profession of faith: ‘That we may confess with one mind,’ he says; and the faithful cry: ‘God, Whom it is good to confess, the Holy Trinity!’”
St. Kosmas Aitolos puts it succinctly, “The main name of our God is love…Just as we love our God, let us also love our brother.”
After our loving profession of faith, the deacon or priest calls out, “The doors! The doors! In wisdom, let us attend!” This part of the Liturgy comes from the early church, when a doorkeeper literally ensured that only the faithful would be present in the church from this point forward (see more about this in the dismissal of the catechumens in Unit 5). While we no longer exclude the non-Orthodox from the Liturgy of the Faithful, there are nonetheless two ways we can benefit this moment. First, we can use this call as a reminder to clear our minds of all thoughts that distract us from our worship of God. At the same time, while this is literally a call to keep worldly things outside the doors, St. Nicholas says we can also use it as a call to open the doors—the doors of our mouths and ears: “Open the doors in this wisdom…proclaiming and listening to these high teachings constantly: not inattentively but eagerly, devoting all your minds to it.”
There isn’t space in this study to engage in a thorough examination of the Nicene Creed—we could create a study on the Creed alone—but we should at least briefly outline the doctrines we proclaim in the “Symbol of Faith.” To do this I’d like to sketch out Fr. Lev Gillet’s summary of the the Creed.
We believe in God as Creator, glorifying His purposes for His created world, and particularly His plan for restoration in Christ. We believe in Jesus Christ, Who even though He is God assumed human nature from the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos. We desire to participate in the redemption He achieved through His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, and we eagerly anticipate His second coming and eternal reign. We believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives us illumination in the written and oral revelation He inspired, and whose active presence guides and sanctifies us. We finally believe in the Church, with both mortal and immortal members, and in the consummation of all things into Christ for eternity.
You can see the importance of all this for your life in the first two words of the Creed: “I believe.” Most of the things we say during the Liturgy are as a group, and we therefore use such plural pronouns as “we” and “us.” When reciting the Creed, however, we use the first-person “I” to make clear that this is something each of us individually believes. Fr. Thomas Hopko explains:
Faith is always personal. Each person must believe for himself. No one can believe for another. Many people may believe and trust the same things because of a unity of their knowledge, reason, experience and convictions. There can be a community of faith and a unity of faith. But this community and unity necessarily begins and rests upon the confession of personal faith.
For this reason the Symbol of Faith in the Orthodox Church—not only at baptisms and official rituals of joining the Church, but also in common prayers and in the Divine Liturgy—always remains in the first person. If we can pray, offer, sing, praise, ask, bless, rejoice, and commend ourselves and each other to God in the Church and as the Church, it is only because each one of us can say honestly, sincerely, and with prayerful conviction: ‘Lord, I believe…’—adding, as one must, the words of the man in the gospel—’... help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24).
St. Nikolai Velimirovich points out the importance of the Symbol of Faith for all of us—as individuals and as the Body of Christ—when he says this:
This is your faith, Christ-bearers, and the faith of your most humble and most wise forefathers. Let this also be the faith of your children, from generation to generation, until the end of time. This is the salvation-bearing Orthodox Faith, which has never been put to shame. By this faith your fathers were saved. Truly, this is the faith of the chosen people, of those who bear the image of God in themselves. At the Fearful Judgment they shall not be put to shame before the faces of the angels and the righteous. Instead they shall receive glory, and shall be called blessed.
CARRY IT INTO DAILY LIFE
I want you to think carefully about what you say every time you recite the Nicene Creed—how many of those things do you really know anything about? For example, what do you mean when you say Jesus Christ is “Light of Light?” What do you mean when you say the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father?” This is not a minor issue: if you stand before God and His Church and say, “I believe,” it is essential to know what it is you claim to believe.
This is why, in addition to all the practical actions suggested in the Worship & You study, you should also carry into daily life the practice of learning about your faith. St. Paisius Velichkovsky tells us we can learn about both our faith and how we should live it by reading the works of the saints, “He who reads the books of the Holy Fathers is instructed by one in faith or in right thinking, by another in silence and prayer, by another in obedience and humility and patience, by another in self-reproach and in love for God and neighbor; and, to speak briefly, from many books of the Holy Fathers a man is instructed in life according to the Gospel.”
You might find this reading to be difficult at first—and even people with a deep knowledge of Orthodoxy can struggle when reading some works—but St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite says that we benefit greatly from working through holy writings, “If you read continually spiritual books with eagerness and diligence, know that this continuous eagerness and diligence will open up your mind and will make it receptive to spiritual meanings. And what you did not succeed in understanding the first time you will easily understand when you read it two or three times. For God, seeing your continuous diligence, will illumine your mind to understand even what is difficult.”
On the Worship & You website I posted an article entitled “Resources on the Symbol of Faith,” with links to works by St. Nikolai Velimirovich and Fr. Thomas Hopko on the Nicene Creed. I also encourage you to read the the works of St. John of Damascus, one of the great teachers of Orthodox Christianity, who wrote a detailed examination of the faith called An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith; you can read this work online at http://www.balamand.edu.lb/theology/Exposition.html.
For additional resources for this unit visit http://www.worshipandyou.com.