Divine Liturgy - the center of the orthodox life
The Divine Liturgy is indeed the center of the Orthodox Christian life.
It is the sacrament of sacraments, or to use the more traditional Orthodox expression, the "mystery of mysteries." The word for "sacrament" among the Orthodox is usually "mystery."
The central mystery of the Orthodox faith is the service of Holy Communion, called the Eucharist.
St. John Chrisostom
As words, liturgy means "common action" and eucharist means "thanksgiving."
The first action of the liturgy is the gathering in common. The baptized and confirmed gather in one place. After the common prayer of the Church called the Great Litany in which petitions are made for all of the essential elements of life, biblical psalms are sung and the Word of God is presented to the faithful. Here the emphasis is on the epistle, the gospel and the sermon.
Then follows the offering of the bread and the wine as the offering of ourselves and our world to God in Christ. We ask God to accept us and our gifts (the bread and wine) as we love one another and confess the Orthodox faith, the Nicene Creed which we, or our sponsors for us, proclaimed at our baptism.
We then offer up ourselves and our gifts to God in Christ in remembrance of all that He has done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection of the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting on the right hand of God the Father, and the second and glorious coming again.
We then call the Holy Spirit "to come up us and upon our gifts" and to make them the Body and Blood of Christ and to give us the experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, we receive back our gifts of bread and wine as the gift of Holy Communion with God the Father through Christ and the Spirit.
Finally we depart in peace to bear witness in the world to the Kingdom of God which has been given to us, calling all men into this unity with God and each other in Him.
The Orthodox celebrate this Mystery of the Kingdom of God, the Divine Liturgy on each Lord's Day as well as on feasts and special occasions. It is the living experience of what all Christianity, and indeed all of life, is really about.
The Liturgy reveals what Orthodoxy really is.
The Liturgy is the central revelation of the Christian mystery, and in it the whole of Orthodoxy is somehow contained, remembered and given to our living experience. All the icons, the vestments, the candles, the singing.. everything taken together in harmony and unity serve to disclose just one thing: Man is made for God and finds his identity, fulfillment and perfection in Him.
We speak much today about identity and fulfillment. Who am I? What am I doing in this world? What is the sense of it all? Does it have any meaning?
The Orthodox Church says that the answer to all these crucial questions lies in Christ, His Cross and His Resurrection. Through Christ the meaning of myself and the world and everything that exists is disclosed and revealed. Through Christ, the Kingdom of God is opened to men and the possibility for my becoming myself is guaranteed. I become myself only in God. My nature finds its meaning in Him. My existence, as an image reflecting His divine
reality, is secured. My life as an eternal be is established.
In this life this means that I must put Christ and take up His Cross and follow him. I must suffer for truth and love and goodness And yet there is joy in this suffering, for obedience to the Word is fulfilled in the Marriage Banquet of the Lamb of God in the Kingdom of God.
This is the Christian Mystery which the liturgy reveals and for which alone, the Orthodox Christian Church exists in the world.