The Divine Liturgy and Place

August 14, 2011 Length: 47:19

Where is the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated and by whom? Fr. Tom traces the early practice of the Church and relates it to what we are doing today.





We continue our reflections on the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church in this series that we call Worship in Spirit and in Truth. This is the 16th podcast in this particular series on this topic. Today we want to reflect on the place of the Divine Liturgy, meaning the location: where is the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy celebrated. The answer to that question is rather direct and simple. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated where the Church is, where the official gathering of the Church is, because the Divine Liturgy is the worship in spirit and in truth of the Church herself. It is not the prayers of individuals, it’s not the gatherings of some Christians for Bible study and intercession or something. The Divine Liturgy—leitourgia as we said already, it means a common act; it’s actually an act in the old language of a city, of a community. So we remember right now today and we’ll remember it again and again that the Divine Liturgy is the worship of the Church herself, the Church itself, the gathering itself. It is the official gathering of the Church for worship. In fact, in that gathering of worship is where the Church, to use the expression of some contemporary teachers, it’s where the Church actualizes itself as Church.

If we ask the question: Where is the Church? Where do we see the Church? How is the Church realized, actualized, concretized in space and time? Where does it appear? The answer of ancient Christianity and certainly of the Orthodox Church today this day would be: It appears in worship. When the baptized, believing people who are sealed with the Holy Spirit gather together as Church to worship God, and most specifically to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, to use modern terminology, to do the common work of worshiping God as the messianic community, as the Church of Christ, as the body of Christ, as the people of God, as this kingdom of prophets and priests, that’s where you have the Liturgy celebrated.

So the Liturgy is celebrated where the Church is, where the Church gathers, where the Church comes together, or more accurately perhaps where the believing community comes together as Church. Now, coming together as Church means also to come together under the leadership of those who are within the community as its overseers and elders. Originally that would have meant where the apostles were. So the very first Church, the very first celebration of the Christian Divine Liturgy, the Christian eucharistic celebration, the worship in spirit and truth that we are discussing now, would have been in the Church in Jerusalem. It would have been the original community of the apostles. The headship of that community in Jerusalem at Pentecost and after Pentecost was clearly the Apostle Peter. It was Peter who was the foremost apostle and who was leading that community. He is the one who gives the homily on Pentecost Sunday.

But we see also in the book of Acts very early that when Peter begins his universal ministry, when he starts traveling, when he goes to Antioch, when he ends up in Rome, when he gets crucified in Rome and gives his life there, as we know certainly happened, then the head of the Jerusalem community was James, the brother of the Lord. So we say in the Orthodox Church the first bishop of Jerusalem—and the Church of Jerusalem is called also in our tradition the mother of all the churches, the first of all the churches—then James becomes the head of that community. We see that in the book of Acts when the Church gathers in Jerusalem and the Apostle Paul comes there and they have to decide the question about what to do with the Gentiles. Do the Gentiles have to be circumcised? Do they have to follow the halakha of the Jews? Do they have to follow the practices of food and eating and purification and so on? When that council met as described in the 15th chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testamental Scriptures, we see that the presiding officer then was James; it was not Peter, because it was a gathering of the Church in Jerusalem to which the apostles had returned in order to come to their conclusion.

And we can state here once again what that conclusion was. The conclusion was the Gentiles may enter fully into the Church of Christ. They may stand together with the children of Abraham. They may even stand as the children of Abraham by faith and by grace. And they need not follow the ritual customs according to the Mosaic Torah, because the Messiah is here, the end of the age has come, the Spirit has been poured out. But they do have to abstain from porneia. They have to keep the laws about chaste behavior. They have to keep the moral commandments of the Mosaic law, if not the purification codes. They need not be circumcised. They need not follow the practices about the foods, because in the book of Acts Peter will also have the vision where all of the animals are on this blanket. It comes down and the Lord says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat,” and then God pronounces all foods clean. So the pedagogical task of the Mosaic law in regard to purification, separation of the Jewish people, the people of God from the other people, that’s over now, because the Gentiles are now in the covenanted community.

So what we want to see is that where you have the Church gathered as Church, that’s where you have the Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated. That’s where the worship in spirit and truth takes place. It is an act of the body itself, but that body has leaders within it, and the first leaders were the apostles. They were Peter, then there was James, and then as the word of God grew, as it says in the book of Acts, as the Gospel was preached, as it was spread, as churches were gathered in the various cities… And we do know from the book of Acts and the early Christian literature as well, like letters of Ignatius of Antioch and so on, that the Church of Christ was first of all an urban phenomenon: it was in the city.

We know also that, and it seems pretty clear, although it seems a little bit murky how exactly to understand these things, but there are studies about it… One good study, for example, is the book by Metropolitan John of Pergamos, Zizioulas, John (Zizioulas), which is entitled, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, where Metropolitan John—he wrote this as his doctoral dissertation when he was still a layman; it was published by Holy Cross Press in 2001 in English, and of course it was published in Greek much earlier—this is a study where Zizioulas, Metropolitan John, actually tries to reconstruct and to understand how the earliest Church was the Church and how the Eucharist was in each church and how each church was headed by a bishop and how the presiding officer, the proistamenos at that gathering for worship and over the life of the community generally, was the bishop.

In the New Testament it was episkopos, and originally it was presvyteros also: elder or overseer, presvyteros or episkopos, and then very soon, perhaps even by the end of the first century, one of the elders, one of the presvyteroi, became the episkopos, and the churches no longer had several episkopoi, many bishops; they had one bishop, and then it had a council of elders, and then it had the deacons, both men and women, who did the ministries of the Church. And then there were other ministries and other places in the Church as well. There were the widows, there were the virgins. We see this already in the New Testament in the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. We see it also in the letter of Peter about the elders. Certainly by the time you get to the writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch—he died about 110, 112; he wrote at the end of the very first century—we see that each church has one bishop, a council of elders, and deacons. So one of the elders becomes the leading elder, and that is then the overseer of the Church, and that one man, as receiving the laying-on of hands from the apostles, he becomes the one who one who presides at worship because he presides over the whole community of the Church.

So what we are trying to say here is that we see already in the New Testament that the Eucharist, the worship, the worship of God in Christ, the proclamation and the teaching of the Gospel to the faithful, the reflection on the word of God, including the law, the psalms, and the prophets, and then the offering of the bread and the wine and the eating and the drinking of the offered bread and the offered wine consecrated to God as the very body and blood of Christ, it takes place where the Church is gathered. It takes place in the gathering of the Church, in the one body of Christ that has many members within it but still constitutes one body.

Saying this, we have to say again, and we’ll have to say again and again: it’s not a prayer service. It’s not a bunch of Christians getting together for worship. It’s not just some people getting together to contemplate the Scriptures. It’s not simply a synagoge, a kind of synagogue-type gathering with teaching and various teachers and so on. There are charisms of teachers, administrators, healers, prophets, speakers in tongues, interpreters of tongues within the body, but the body is the one body of Christ which is the gathering of the faithful baptized into Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, who continue steadfastly in, as we already reflected, the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of the bread, the communion, and the prayers, which are the prayers of the community or the body itself.

Another word that is used in the New Testament for the place of the Eucharist, the place of the Divine Liturgy, is the term oikos, which can mean house as a building, but which can mean and more often means a household. Sometimes in the English New Testaments, that term, oikos, is even translated “family, God’s family, God’s household.” So the place of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, is God’s household. By the way, we will note later on when we reflect on the Divine Liturgy’s texts, we will reflect on the Great Litany, which is at vespers, which is at matins—it’s at almost all the services; it begins the Divine Liturgy, where we pray in the Liturgy, “For this holy house and for those who enter with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.” That word in Greek in the Divine Liturgy text is oikos. We say those who come en oikou toutou, into this house.

Here I would note, and I’ll note it again, that it meant the gathering of the people; it meant a household. It did not mean a building. When it says, “For this holy house and for those who enter,” it meant those who enter into the household; it didn’t mean those who entered into the building. It seems to me that by the time you get to the first millennium—and this is translated into Slavic language—they translated it as the word for building, hram or naos, temple, this holy temple. But it meant the living temple; it meant the people; it meant the temple like the gathering of the faithful. It did not mean a church of bricks and mortar or boards or wood or cement or whatever; it meant the living temple, the people of God; it meant the household of God. Here we know in the New Testament already, 1 Timothy, the author says it’s written “so that you will know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

So you have the term oikos, household, being a synonym of ekklesia, church, being a synonym of soma, body of Christ as Church. Of course, we mentioned already that that term, ekklesia, which means a gathering or an assembly, that is the rendering in Greek of the Hebrew qahal, which was the official assembly of Israel when it was gathered in the presence of the Lord God Almighty and when the Lord himself was there as the presiding officer, as the One who made that assembly to be what it was, namely, the people of God: not just any people, not even a gathering of some people who belonged to the people of God, but the gathering of the very people of God in that one place.

Now, in the New Testament also, that gathering of the community, the body, the household, it mentions in the book of Acts three times that they were gathered—and it’s a very strange idiomatic Greek expression, which in Greek is epi to afto—it says they were gathered epi to afto; it’s translated as “in one place.” But epi to afto means being in that very same place, being together in one place. Then of course you have this verb being used in the Scriptures, in the book of Acts and in the letters of St. Paul, the verb to come together or to assemble, to assemble as Church, to constitute an assembly. Here of course that is connected to the very term “church” which means a gathering of the people.

It’s interesting to note, and it’s important, even crucial, for us to note when we’re making this reflection that the term “church”—ekklesia, qahal, the gathering of the people—it’s only used in the four gospels twice. It only appears as a word two times in the four gospels, and it’s both times in the same gospel, and it’s the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The term “church” does not exist in the Gospel according to Luke or the Gospel according to Mark or the Gospel according to John; it is just not there, because the gospels are about Jesus’ preaching to the people, to the crowds, to his disciples, but the Church of Christ does not come into being, so to speak, until Christ is raised and glorified and the Holy Spirit is poured out on his disciples and they believe the Gospel, they repent and they are baptized and they are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Then you have the Church.

In the second volume of St. Luke’s work—the first volume is the Gospel according to St. Luke where the term “church” does not exist; the second volume is the book of the Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke—and in the Acts of the Apostles the term “church” and gathering as church, gathering in one place, is used 25 times. You have the expression, “the Church of Christ, the Church of God” 25 times. In the letters attributed to the holy Apostle Paul, you have the term “church” used 65 times: 30 times in Romans, 38 times in 1 Corinthians, 14 times in 2 Corinthians. Then if you count the letter to the Hebrews, 12 times in Hebrews, 8 times in Titus, 8 times in the letters to Timothy, two times in the letter to the Colossians, four times Philippians, 15 times Ephesians, 15 times Galatians. So this word 65 times, “church,” is used in the letters by St. Paul.

So it’s interesting to note that in the entire New Testament, the word “church” I counted at least is used 111 times. 90 of those times are in Acts and the letters of St. Paul, and 15 of those times are in the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, where you have the Church gathered, and the Apocalypse is a vision of the early Church’s worship. Certainly the letters to the churches in the Apocalypse and then the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem liturgy with the 24 elders, the angels, the altar, the incense, the white robes, the crowns, the Lamb being slain, the book being opened and proclaimed and so on. It’s a very liturgical book, the Apocalypse, the book of Revelation. But if you just take Acts, Paul, and Revelation, you have the term “church” being used 105 times, and it’s only six times in the entire New Testament.

It’s in those books when you have church and worship being very much the center of things where you have that word, “church,” used, gathering. So what we are saying here is that the Divine Liturgy is the worship of the Church as Church, the gathered Church as Church, the Church in one place. And that Church always includes its formal leadership: originally the apostles, and then after the apostles it is headed by those upon whom the apostles laid their hands; we would say nowadays in modern terms the successors of the apostles, namely, the bishops. So it would definitely be an Eastern Orthodox, ancient Christian conviction that the Church of Christ is a Church that is headed by a bishop. It has priests, or presbyters, and deacons, and it may have widows; it may also have virgins, like the first type of monastic-type people. Then it would also have members within the Church who have, to use the example of 1 Corinthians, various charismata, gifts, or various workings or various ministries, diakonia.

If you’re interested in this, you could go on Ancient Faith Radio and listen to my podcast about the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit within the Christian Church, the charismata. So there are charismatic people within the community, but it’s interesting that the charisms, so to speak, come and go. They’re given to individuals for their salvation and for the edification of the Church. You certainly had those prophetic, inspired, miracle-working, healing, preaching, teaching, administering, guiding people within the Church, pastoring and so on, men and women, but the charismata don’t belong to the structure. The structure of the Church are the bishops with the presbyters, the deacons, and those who constitute the assembly officially in space and time as the people of God.

So that’s where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, from the very beginning and through the ages. Right down until the present time, the place of the Divine Liturgy is where the Church is gathered, where the Church is officially gathered, under an apostle or under the leadership of that man and community of men and women among the ministers, the deacons, the widows, the virgin members of the Church, headed by that proistamenos or episkopos or presvyteros, the head of that church, the presiding officer. So we Orthodox Christians would say that Christ founded a Church. It’s interesting the only time it’s used in the gospels is in Matthew 16, where Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and the Lord Jesus says to Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And you are Peter, and upon this rock I will found my Church,” meaning on the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Then that Church has the keys of the kingdom of heaven; the leaders of that Church have the powers of binding and loosing. We find this in St. John’s gospel; it’s read on Pentecost, actually. We find that in St. Matthew; it’s read on the feast of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes, he gives his Spirit, and says to all the apostles as the head who will be the heads of the various churches in Christendom, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whatever sins you retain, they are retained.” That didn’t simply mean hearing confessions; it meant preaching the Gospel, baptizing people, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit also and therefore having their sins forgiven and remitted in baptism and in chrismation and in participation of the holy Eucharist.

What we see here in the New Testament itself, in the Gospel, is that you have this Church founded. It is the formal gathering of all the faithful. Then the only other time in the four gospels that it’s used is also in Matthew, the 18th chapter, where it says if there’s troubles among the believers and there’s troubles among the brethren and some brethren are disagreeing about anything, that they should go to each other privately and try to straighten it out. So it says if a person has a trouble with another person in the Church, you go privately. Then it says if it doesn’t work out, you bring two or three other members in the Church, try to straighten it out. If that still doesn’t work, it says, then you bring it to the Church; you bring that brother who is going off on his own way or her own way, you bring them to the Church. That’s the only other time in the entire four gospels that you have the term “church.” You bring them to the Church.

Then it says that if the person doesn’t listen to the Church, you treat him like a heathen and a publican. A heathen meant, of course, a non-baptized Gentile, and a publican meant a betraying, apostatizing Jew who was working for the Romans and ripping off his own people, a quintessential sinner. Of course, John Chrysostom says, yes, you do; if someone does not listen to the Church, that’s how they’re to be treated. But then he says: How do you treat Gentiles, publicans, and tax collectors, and sinners? Well, St. John says, first of all you preach the Gospel to them. Secondly you bring the love of God to them. If they’re hungry you give them food, if they’re thirsty you give them drink, if they’re naked you clothe them, if they’re sick you visit them, if they’re homeless you bring them in.

So you show the philanthropia of God to them. You bring the agape of God to them, the love of God to them. But you do not treat them as if they were members of the body, of the household of the Church, because they are not, if they are not following the apostles’ doctrine, both in understanding Jesus as the Messiah and in their moral and spiritual behavior, because a person can be put out of the community of the faithful, especially one who has already been baptized, if they return, as it says in Peter, like a dog to the vomit and are washed only to wallow again in the mire like a pig. Well, if a person apostatizes against the Lord and betrays their baptism and grieves the Holy Spirit, then they are no longer within the community and therefore they are no longer within the eucharistic assembly; they no longer participate in the Church’s leitourgia, common activity.

So a baptized, chrismated person can be put out of the community, by heretical teaching, by immoral behavior, by dividing the community, and by not being faithful to the Gospel, to the apostles’ doctrine, and to the mode of behavior that’s required of a baptized person. They can commit what 1 John calls a sin unto death, which was considered to be teaching another gospel, deforming the teaching, and then not following the commandments, particularly the commandments of murder, of course—you can’t kill anybody—or grievous crime. But in the earliest Church, a big part of that grievous sin would be sexual immorality. That’s why the Council in Jerusalem says you can’t participate in porneia, so there has to be marriage, it has to be faithful, it has to be one husband, it has to be one wife, the household has to be managed well, and so on. Even the bishop: a man can only be elected bishop according to Timothy who rules his own oikos well, his own household, because it says if you can’t manage your own personal, private, so to speak, biological oikos, how can you care for the oikos of God, the household of God, God’s family, God’s body?

This is what we see in the New Testament. Now, it’s very interesting that that’s the Church, and it’s interesting to note that that 18th chapter of Matthew, it’s actually the gospel reading in the Orthodox Church on the feast of the Holy Spirit. It’s very interesting that on the feast of the Holy Spirit, the day after Pentecost, the gospel reading doesn’t even mention the Holy Spirit. By the way, neither does the epistle, except to say, “Be filled with the Spirit and to seek the spiritual gift, the gift of the Spirit.” But the gospel on the feast of the Holy Spirit, the day after Pentecost, it doesn’t mention at all the Holy Spirit, but it does mention—in fact, the gospel reading not only mentions, it is what I just told you. It’s the part in the gospel where it says you bring them to the Church, for “when two or three are gathered together in my name,” Christ says, “there I am.”

And the Church is that community that is gathered officially in Christ’s name with Christ being the head of that Church. He is the pastor, he is the teacher, he is the prophet, he is the high priest, he is the bishop and guardian of our souls, he is, as it says in Peter’s letter in the New Testament, the episkopos, he is the poimin, he’s the pastor, he is the high priest, he is the king, he is the presiding officer of the Church, he is the head of the body. As my professor of dogmatics used to say, as head of the body, Christ himself is a member of the body; he’s a member, being the head. As John Chrysostom says, how can the Church be the Church without its head? Without Christ, the Church is not the body of Christ; it’s a corpse, it’s decapitated. Of course, that imagery of the bride of Christ, which the Church is also one flesh with him, he says, how can the Church be the Church without the Bridegroom?

Then you could use all of the New Testamental imageries of Church in the same way. How can the Church be the vineyard of Christ without being there as the vine? How can the Church be the bride of Christ without Christ being as the Bridegroom? What’s a bride without a bridegroom? How can the Church be the body of Christ without its head, who is Christ? How can the Church be the living temple without the cornerstone, the head of the corner, as it says in the psalm repeated several times in the New Testament scripture? “The stone which the builders rejected.” How can the Church be the Church without the foundation-stone, Christ, and all the other foundation-stones being the apostles? Well, it cannot be. It literally cannot be. How can the Church as the Church be the flock of Christ, the sheep, without the Shepherd? It makes no sense.

So the Church is the place where the Eucharist is celebrated. The Church is that physical reality on the planet Earth where the worship in spirit and truth takes place. It’s a living body of human beings, and it’s the living body of human beings that are the Church of Christ, headed by an apostle or headed by one who is put in over the leadership within the Church. And by the way, it says—in the New Testament, it stresses this; this is very important—the episkopos is in the Church; he’s not over the Church as if he were someone outside it. For example, in the book of Acts, which is read on the Sunday before Pentecost in church, St. Paul calls together the bishops of the city churches of Asia to address them before he goes to Jerusalem in order to get killed. (I have a podcast on this on Speaking the Truth in Love also, on the epistle and the gospel between Ascension and Pentecost; you might want to listen to that.) St. Paul addresses those men as men who have been placed as bishops in the Church. It doesn’t say over the Church; there is no bishop over the Church. There are only bishops who are in churches.

Here we also should state right now, there is no bishop of bishops. There’s no one bishop who is the bishop over the other bishops. There’s no, as St. Cyprian said, episkopos episkoporum. We Orthodox would have great troubles with Roman Catholic teaching about the Church because of the papacy, which is somehow a bishop over bishops, because the Pope of Rome, after the 19th century, is said to have direct episcopal jurisdiction over all the Christians in the entire world, including the other bishops. This is not an Orthodox teaching. The Orthodox teaching is that the Church is a concrete assembly of people in a given place, who gather in a very particular place and actualizes their being as Church by the worship in spirit and truth of the Divine Liturgy. The head of the Divine Liturgy is the head of that community: it’s the bishop. All the bishops are the same. They’re identical; they’re equal, but they are bishops of concrete communities of presbyters, deacons, and faithful people with various charismatic gifts. That’s what the Church is, and that’s the location, the locus, of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

So what we want to see here now is that the place of the liturgy is the community; it’s the gathered Church; it’s the Church which comes together as Church in the name of Christ, to be the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, as the very assembly of the covenanted community in the Messiah. That’s the location of the Divine Liturgy—and it’s not a building. The temple is not a building. Here I will say later on, I’m very much opposed to calling our church buildings temples. That’s very, very misleading. The temple of God, first of all, it’s an individual person, but it’s the gathering of the people, primarily, to be the people of God. It’s the gathering of the faithful; it’s the community that is the temple. There is no physical temple. The temple in which God dwells on earth now is the Christian Church, meaning a gathering of baptized, chrismated people who belong to Jesus, who are dead to this world, who live already in the kingdom, who constitute the kingdom of God before that kingdom comes, in power at the end of the ages, and are already testifying to the age to come while still in this world: dead to this world, alive to God, living already according to paradise, according to heaven, according to the future age, but still concretely, physically in this world.

So the Church is a visible community. It’s the visible community of believers, headed by its bishop, with its elders, presbyters, and deacons, and, if it has charismatic people, widows, virgins, monastics, prophets, elders, healers. That’s what the Church is, but it’s not invisible. It’s definitely not invisible; it’s quite visible. It’s in space and time. When it’s in space and time, it moves through history, and it moves through history by the laying-on of hands of its leaders, beginning with the apostles and the first bishops just down to the present time.

In our monastery here where I serve, our bishop is Archbishop Nathaniel. Well, if you ask who ordained Nathaniel in the Orthodox Church as a bishop, who consecrated him, you have the names of some bishops. Then if you ask who consecrated them, you have names of other bishops. If you ask who consecrated them, you have names of other bishops, and you go back all the way back, and you end up with the apostles and with Christ himself. That’s the Orthodox understanding of the Church: a very concrete reality in space and time.

However, we know very well that bishops can apostatize. Bishops themselves can become heretics. Bishops can be immoral and be deposed. Whole churches can fall into heresies. [Whole] churches can fall into false teachings. In fact, we Orthodox claim that in some sense that’s what happened to the Roman Church and to the Protestant churches. They have many true, good, and holy things of Christian faith and Gospel in them, but as churches they are defective because something’s wrong with them. So what we would say is that you can have apostolic succession, but you don’t necessarily have apostolic tradition, apostolic teaching, and apostolic worship. You must have apostolic succession to have apostolic worship, apostolic teaching, apostolic doctrine, and you cannot have apostolic doctrine and apostolic worship and apostolic tradition without also having apostolic succession. So some churches may claim formal succession, but they may have departed from the true faith, from the doctrinal teaching, from the proper worship. We Orthodox do actually claim that there are churches like that with whom we are not in communion; we are not in communion with those communities, with those assemblies, because we believe that they’re defective.

To quote the traditional description of the defects, following the Mosaic Torah, we would say that they have either added things that don’t belong there or they have taken things away that should be there. They have a gospel that is not purely according to God, but human elements come in, either adding things that don’t belong there or taking things away that ought to be there. But in any case, the Church as the fullness of him who fills all in all, the body of Christ—that’s the Ephesian letter of St. Paul—we confess that this is the Orthodox Church, and it is there, in that location, where that Church is gathered, where the Divine Liturgy, the eucharistic liturgy, is celebrated.

So if we ask the question: Where is the Divine Liturgy celebrated? The answer would be: There where the Church of Christ is concretely assembled; there where in any given place—and originally it was just one in a city, it seems—there in that city where that gathering, which is the Church of Christ, actually gathers. There is where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. The temple is a people; it’s not a building. It’s a community of faithful, headed by leaders in apostolic succession: first the apostles and then whom the apostles consecrated and ordained and assigned to this purpose.

Already in the earliest Church, if you have the description of this… And there’s only one description of this in the letters of St. Paul; that would be the 11th chapter of the first Corinthian letter, where St. Paul speaks about the Church as the body of Christ in which the holy Eucharist is celebrated. It’s the only place in the New Testament where we have this specifically described and even explained. I often think: What would happen if we never had the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians? We would probably have no description of the holy Eucharist in the earliest Church. But, thanks be to God, we do have it. If you want to read about it, read about it in the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th and 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians, particularly the 11th chapter, where you have again and again the Apostle Paul using the term “church.” I counted how many times the word “church” is used in those few chapters. I believe it’s 15 times, if I’m not mistaken. Yes, 15 times in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the word “church” is used 15 times, with the verb “come together,” and the Church as body, as described as soma, 17 times. Then you have the expression “the household are coming together” very many times, gathering together as Church in one place, and they’re celebrating the holy Eucharist.

Then the Apostle Paul tells how they ought to behave. If you want to just plan eat the meal, stay home and eat it, he says. But if you’re coming here, you’re coming to eat the Lord’s supper; you’re here to have the eucharistic common act. It’s not just an eating and drinking. And you come here and you have to behave yourself properly. And you have to discern the body; you have to discern that this is an act of the Church. By the way, discerning the Lord’s body doesn’t mean you discern that the bread is consecrated to be the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Discerning the body means that this is an act of the body of Christ which is the Church.

So that’s very, very important, and it’s an act of the body. That term, “body,” is used about 20 times, even more. It goes from the body of Christ to the human body to the body of the eucharistic bread and wine, the body and blood. Those are kind of… You should read it to see how they are interrelated and woven together in these three chapters of this letter: 11, 12, 13, 14, maybe four chapters, five chapters. But read that and you’ll see how it fits together. You’ll have the vision, and that’s where the location of the Divine Liturgy takes place, in that gathering of people, the meeting-together in one place, epi to afto, as the very body of Christ, under the leadership of the community’s leaders.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that this Corinthian community was having a lot of troubles with charismatics and with heretics and with immoral people and all that kind of stuff. We know even from the letters of Clement, the bishop of Rome, to the Corinthians, right in the sub-apostolic age, right after the time of the New Testament, there was even a revolt against the presbyters. We will see even in St. Ignatius and other early writings that there were charismatics and people who were prophetic people and people who were martyrs and confessors of Christ who thought that they could have the holy Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy themselves apart from the entire gathering, and some even thought that the heads of the eucharistic celebration ought to be prophets and charismatics. Well, that was not from the earliest time, witnessed to in the New Testament, the answer of the Scripture and the earliest tradition of Christianity; it was not.

St. Ignatius of Antioch and the letters of Clement to [the] Corinthians say it very particularly: the only Eucharist and Divine Liturgy which is really of the Church is that which is celebrated by the head of the Church (the bishop) or someone whom the bishop himself appoints for that particular purpose. So in the letters of St. Ignatius, you’ll have sentences like: There where the bishop is, there let the people assemble, for as Christ is, there is the katholike ekklesia, the catholic Church, the full, complete, whole Church, the whole body of Christ. It’s there where all the people gather under its leader. And each church has that one leader. So not only will the early literature say the people gather around their bishop, the successor of the apostle in that particular city or region or place, but they will also say no Divine Liturgy, no Eucharist is really of the Church—it’s not valid, it’s not licit, it’s not what it is—unless it is under the direction of a bishop or someone whom the bishop appoints.

The Didache will speak about prophets offering the Eucharist, and then it will have teaching that that should not be so. Then of course in the letters of Cyprian in the second century, he will say very, very clearly that the Church is there where the bishop is, where the bishop is gathered. It’s not martyrs, it’s not confessors, it’s not charismatics, it’s not prophetical people. They are all within the Church, but the order of the Church, the taxis, like St. Paul says in the Corinthian letter, “Let everything be done in order,” that order is the order of the apostolic headship and the headship of those whom the apostles ordain and assign for that purpose.

That is why, again, in the letters of Ignatius it will not only say where the bishop is there let the people gather, just as where Christ is there is the catholic Church, but it will also say no Eucharist is to be celebrated except by the bishop or one whom the bishop assigns and appoints for that purpose. Then you know that it is the Divine Liturgy of the Church herself. It is the common action of the Church itself, and that is guaranteed and we see this already in the letters to Timothy and Titus in the New Testament, that you have this particular order in the Church. You have the bishop, you have the presbyters, you have the deacons, you have the people, and it is in that gathering where the worship in spirit and truth takes place of the Church as Church. This is clearly the teaching of the New Testament, the earliest Christianity, and this is certainly the teaching and the practice of Eastern Orthodox Christianity just down to the present day.

So to sum it up in one sentence, the place of the Divine Liturgy is there where the Church of God is gathered as Church, under its leadership, apostolic leadership, under its bishop with its presbyters, its gathered people, through history. The place of the Divine Liturgy is in the Church of Christ, and the Church of Christ has an order. And in the Church of Christ you have the bishops, the presbyters, and the deacons. And in each church you have a bishop, or in a parish you have a leading presbyter. And then you have the council of elders; maybe you have several presbyters. Then you have the deacons who serve, and then you have all the faithful people in their various places, in their various ministries, standing together as one body of Christ in one place.

So the place of the liturgy is the Church of Christ on earth, a visible community, begun in Jerusalem by the apostolic community and then established in each city and each region by those to whom the apostles preached, upon whom they laid their hands, and then succeeding in time and space through history and throughout the world by the laying-on of hands of the episcopate in any given place, around whom the Church gathers as the Church of Christ, to actualize itself as the Church of Christ in the Divine Liturgy, which would be the proclamation of the Gospel, the teaching of the faith, the offering of the Gifts, the invocation of the Spirit, the presence of the Lord Christ himself in the community as teacher, preacher, high priest, pastor, victim, and then of course in the eucharistic meal, its sacrificial meal itself, the broken body and spilled blood of Christ. This is the Orthodox understanding. The place of the Divine Liturgy is the Church of Christ, visible in history through the ages.