1. THE PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL
1d. “Defilement of Flesh and Spirit”
Before the Great Entrance, the priest recites the second prayer in which he asks God to cleanse our souls and bodies “from defilement of flesh and spirit”. But what is this defilement?
According to the Bible, there was a time when the first man lived in paradise. There, he enjoyed the blessings of the natural creation with a pure heart. He was clean from sin. There was no infection. Everything was pure. But when man did not obey to God’s commandment and sinned, his sin like an invisible virus attacked his body and spirit and a horrible pollution started. Sin makes man unclean before God.
First his soul was infected by pride and selfishness. This infection attacked the body which became the instrument of the soul in various sins. A soul full of corruption gives orders to the body to execute them. A man uses his tongue to tell lies, gossip, slander, filth and he bears false witness. With his eyes he sees shameful spectacles. With his ears he hears corrupted words. With his hands he steals and kills. With his legs he runs to sinful places. In general, all the members of his body work for sins he is ashamed to even mention.
St. John Chrysostom observes that he who commits carnal sins feels that his body is dirty and wants to wash himself immediately with plenty of water. But a thousand baths, showers and waterfalls can’t purify him. Corporal infection has progressed into the very least of the fibers and cells of his body.
But soul can sin without the body’s cooperation. It sins with evil wishes and cunning thoughts. It sins in the secret and unseen depths of the inner world, where man’s eye can’t see. He might be in church, he might hear holy chants, the Gospel and sermon but if he is not careful, his thoughts will slide away and go to sinful persons and acts. The body which is in the church remains clean but not the soul.
This is the “defilement of flesh and spirit” which St. Paul the Apostle asks us to avoid: “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). The priest asks God to purify him and the faithful. So, being clean in body and soul to participate in the Holy Sacraments and be made worthy to enter the heavenly Kingdom.
1. THE PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL
1c. “Now and forever and to the ages of ages”
After the first petition of the faithful, the priest continues: “now and forever and to the ages of ages”. Time is divided in the past, the present and the future.
If we extend our gaze into the past ages, when God’s voice was heard: “Let there be Light” (Gen 1:3) we get some idea of the past. In comparison to the entire past, we are like a drop in the ocean. Where have we been a thousand of years before? Only in God’s mind. When people think about their past full of small and big sins are disturbed by their memories and have no peace. With various means they try to forget. But we can travel back in time and clear all the iniquities of our life through sincere repentance. For those who repent, a pit is opened up and all their sins are buried there. Prophet David sings sweetly: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered”. Ps 31 (32):1.
Where will we be after a thousand of years? In God’s hands. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There are thoughts about our future. What is going to happen to me? Will I be healthy? I might face sorrows, misfortunes, obstacles in my personal or family life. These thoughts about an unknown future fill our souls with uneasiness, anxiety and impatience. Only our Lord Jesus Christ can save us from this terrible condition. He gives us the means for our salvation. All these disappear with another gift called “hope”. A hope not based on persons or things of this world, but on the solid unshakable rock, our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed and fortunate are those who hope in Christ, the only real hope in the world.
We must also pay attention to the “now”, that is, every moment of our life, because it has great importance. Unfortunately, the majority of the people leave the “now” unexploited. A duty exists for every moment and we are called to do something, no matter how small it appears. What is a glass of water worth which someone offers to a thirsty man? Yet, our Lord said that even this small offering of the moment will not remain unrewarded (see Mt 10:42). Our life is the sum of moments, so we can guess the value every moment has. Therefore, we should perform our activity and work honestly and willingly.
Throughout our life, from childhood until death, it is necessary to hymn and glorify God. The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, will never cease to be hymned in all ages. Now and always and into the eternity they will be glorified, honoured and worshipped. Not only during the Divine Liturgy, but every hour and every moment it is necessary to honour and glorify God. How? By sanctifying every moment of our life, by performing our Christian duties. So, every moment will become a golden coin with the icon of Christ depicted on it.
Sunday: its gifts to believers
Sunday is by itself God’s free gift and offering to His children. We might think that God orders to dedicate a day to His worship, but in fact God gives us His day to be blessed and sanctified. Sunday provides us with its valuable treasures, which fill us with spiritual wealth. This offer is multiplied and covers almost every aspect of human life.
In terms of history, it attests the most fundamental fact in our faith: Christ’s Resurrection and it is indeed an everlasting monument of the Resurrection and constant evidence that Christ has risen.
In terms of theology, the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church brings God on earth with his body and blood.
In terms of ecclesiology, it helps us realize the notion of Church as a whole body: the visible part and the invisible, through the worship and preaching to the congregation.
Spiritually, it increases and renews our faith as it gives us the chance to be fed with the flesh of God, to quench our thirst with His divine words, to talk to Him through prayers, to live in his holy family by communicating with the other members of the Church.
Ethically, it helps us abstain from sin throughout the week. The sanctifying power that Sunday offers, as well as our pious desire to accept its blessings again and again, allow us not to fall victims to our desires.
Psychologically, it is a celebration, a happy break from the six-day labor, which every tired person comes across weekly.
Moreover, socially it helps to develop our relationships in the most wonderful way. People with numerous diversities (political-educational-financial) with only one common point, the same faith, with the same petitions meet in a peaceful congregation around the same table. We visit each other joyfully, but at the same time we take part in the pain, the poverty and the misery of our fellow humans. Is there another day, indeed, which has the social features we find on Sunday?
These are not the only presents that Sunday offers. We could enumerate many more but the list would not be exhausted. That is because what is offered by Sunday is multiplied, as it spreads in the life of every believer. So, something amazing takes place: Sunday is not just an extraordinary day during which we get the power to live through the rest of the days, but its grace penetrates throughout the week. Therefore, every time we open our arms to embrace Sunday fully, we move upwards in the scale of our relationship with God and this is certainly not diminished during the rest of the days, but we stay there the whole week, since our heart beats on the rhythm of Sunday. Next Sunday we move one step forward and stay there during the whole week and then we go on in the same way.
However, we are in danger of losing this invaluable day, because we do not appreciate it and we leave it exposed to be violated by sacrilegious people. Sunday, like every divine issue, is targeted by every power opposed to God threatening to replace or extinguish it. This attack against Sunday is, indeed, an attempt against God. Since God can’t be discounted the only thing to be achieved for humans is to hurt themselves, both spiritually and physically. If we lose Sunday, we lose our Lord and consequently we lose ourselves because this day we surrender ourselves to Him and take them back sanctified, transformed and resurrected.
Every Sunday is an Easter and a Resurrection. When we experience it and wait for it in this way, we can celebrate Easter every week and every Easter we can rejoice a unique Sunday. With this kind of experiences, our life is brightened and Sunday becomes the most desirable day. “This is the chosen and Holy Day, the first of the Sabbaths, the Queen and the Sovereign, the Feast of Feasts, and the Festival of Festivals” that makes our life beautiful and refreshes our soul. It is the day that our Lord offers us to be happy and rejoice with Him.
1. THE PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL
The priest, standing before the altar, says the first prayer of the faithful. This prayer refers to “conscience”, specifically, the priest who is to offer the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist must have a clear conscience. But what is conscience?
We can mention two persons as examples. They are involved in Christ’s Passion: Peter and Judas. Peter, the zealous disciple of Christ, boldly proclaimed that he would never betray his Lord, even if all the others did. Christ, however, told Peter: “Before the rooster crows tonight you will say three times that you don’t know me” (Mt 26,34). And so it happened. On the night of Holy Thursday, he watched the Divine Drama, hiding his own drama. His fear dominated him completely. He trembled with fear of being recognized as a disciple and arrested. Three times betrayed the Lord with curses and denials.
Certainly, his conscience existed but it was asleep. With the crow of the rooster his conscience woke up. Just then Christ was passing through the courtyard and his glimpse affected him. Aware of his sin Peter went out and wept bitterly. However, with the help of the Divine Grace he repented and God’s peace returned to his heart.
Judas was one of the Twelve but his sin was greater than Peter’s. Peter denied Christ from fear, but Judas betrayed Him from avarice. He sold his Teacher for thirty coins, the price of a slave. When he accepted the purse of the coins his conscience was diseased, darkened, distorted by avarice. Later, when he learnt that Christ was condemned, his conscience woke up. Like a stormy, troubled sea, it cast up great waves of despair, trying to drown him. Completely alone without the help of the Divine Grace, he fought the raging waves but he was overwhelmed by them. In despair, he ended his own life. He hung himself. Selfish people may kneel down and repent but avarice hardens the heart, darkens and confuses the mind.
Conscience is the faculty of the soul which distinguishes good from evil. It is a natural part of man’s soul. Adam and Eve, the first to sin, felt the remorse of conscience and tried to hide from God’s sight. Cain, the first murderer, could never calm himself. The voice: “Cain, Cain where is your brother?” would not leave him in peace. As St. Chrysostomos said, it is better to be stung by a scorpion than by the conscience. When our passions roar in our souls, the voice of conscience can’t be heard. However, when Christ will be back to judge the world, the voice of our conscience will be endless and unbearable. It will be an eternal damnation.
1. THE PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL
1a. Faithful/Good people
If order must prevail during the first part, the Liturgy of the Catechumens (those not yet baptized), so that everyone can hear the petitions, the prayers, readings and sermon, order must prevail much more in the second part. Now the Lord, no longer as Teacher but as Archpriest, prepares to celebrate the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist, to offer His body and blood to the faithful. Those who really confess the “Symbol of the Faith” are the faithful. Only these can participate in this mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
Are faithful the “christians” who come to church only on Christmas and Easter? If one were to ask these people: “Why don’t you come to church regularly?” The answer would be: “We don’t go to church, but we are good people.” Those who sign their own certificates of merit, are sadly mistaken.
First, they don’t know themselves. If they were to examine their own lives from childhood to this day, they would find that they have often violated God’s will as expressed in Scripture. No matter how good they may appear to be, they may be corrupt at heart. If they don’t do evil acts, this might be for fear of becoming caught in the nets of human justice.
Secondly, those who claim to be good don’t know the Bible. Because in the Gospels we read that in order to be saved, good deeds are not enough, no matter how many or how great they might be. A thousand acts of charity can’t save the unbeliever. If good acts could save a man, then it was not necessary for the Son of God to come into the world and be crucified. His sacrifice would have been in vain.
So, we are saved through faith. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16,16). Faith is indispensible for salvation. The same faith is indispensible for participation in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. We gain nothing if we go to church because it is the custom, if we go without faith in Christ.
Sunday: its theology
God came and walked on earth. He left His footprints on several places and some of these are:
• The stable in Bethlehem, where He was born in a manger,
• the lake in Galilee, where He walked and chose His first disciples,
• the hillsides and plains that heard His voice teaching the crowds,
• the mount of Transfiguration that saw His divinity shining like the sun,
• the garden of Gesthemane, where He shed tears of anguish,
• the place of Golgotha, where He shed His blood,
• his empty tomb.
The whole Palestine, which He crossed “doing good and healing” (Acts 10,38), is the Holy Land that reminds us of Godman's visit. We can go to this Holy Land if we wish and kneel on the sacred ground. However, we can also find this Holy Land in every Church because there we can enter Christ's life through the Holy Sacraments:
♦ In the Prothesis (Preparation table) we see Bethlehem,
♦ in the Holy Altar we stare at Golgotha,
♦ in the baptismal font we see the river Jordan,
♦ from the oil lamp of the sanctuary we take the light of the Resurrection.
On the other hand, during His lifetime lots of divine signs took place:
◊ Epiphany, when God Father showed His Son and the Holy Spirit rested on Him in the form of a dove,
◊ the Passion, when Jesus was gradually led to His crucifixion and death,
◊ the Resurrection, that filled with light and happiness the hearts of the faithful,
◊ the Ascension, which glorified human nature,
◊ the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit laid the foundation of the Church.
All those supernatural events that brought salvation to the suffering human beings are the religious celebrations of our Church that keep, through the grace of the Sacraments, alive the presence of Christ among us. So, the faithful, no matter of the age we live in, can:
√ Meet our Lord Jesus Christ, the Godman,
√ become his disciples,
√ walk with Him,
√ listen to His words,
√ see His miracles,
√ live His Resurrection,
√ commune Him.
All the above, that is, the Holy Land and the sacred celebrations, are offered in a way that only God could cοnceive and attain, in the day of Sunday. On Sunday and during the Divine Liturgy, being its essential feature, we gather in church where our Lord comes physically through the Holy Eucharist. Sunday helps us to take part in His life from the manger to the empty tomb. There, in the Church, in front of the holy altar and among the angels and saints we embrace God’s space and our soul rests, because it senses the divine eternity. At the same time we enter in God’s time through the Holy Communion where Christ is present in the bread of Prothesis, on the altar and in the Holy Chalice. Then our soul, full of eternity, rejoices. Sunday offers a spiritual space without borders and a limitless time. It brings God both in our life and heart... Sunday offers an always present experience of God’s love, which is expressed and realized tangibly in the Divine Liturgy.
It is, also, a living memorial of the past, a kind of a historical witness. It is a one and only witness in the course of humanity that constantly testifies the redemptive work of the resurrected Christ until this day.
Also, Sunday is a prophecy of the future, as the enlightened Fathers of our Church have remarked. The present world is included in the seven days of the week, which are constantly recycled till this world comes to an end. Sunday is considered to be the eighth day, which succeeds the seventh, and prophesies the future life, inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection. This eighth day is the sweet eternity of God’s kingdom. It starts now in Christ’s Church and expands farther after this earthly time. Sunday allows us to have this experience in advance.
When God started the creation of the world by bringing light in the abyss it was the first day of time. “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Ge 1,5). It was also the first day of the week when Christ started reforming mankind by defeating death in Hades, “But on the first day of the week” (Lk 24,1). So, on Sunday the faithful celebrate both the birthday of the creation and the revival of humanity by Jesus Christ, while we experience in advance the future world of eternity, the heavenly rebirth.
When we talk about the theological meaning of Sunday, we present the great truths of our faith. Sunday is:
• The first day of the world’s creation,
• the day of the Resurrection and man’s re-creation,
• the apocalyptic day of the future eternity,
• the day of Divine Liturgy in our church life.
Thinking of Sunday we feel, indeed, the need:
◊ To thank God for the world He offered us,
◊ to praise Him for His Church and His Resurrection and,
◊ to have an ever ending expectation for His blessed kingdom.
The existence of Sunday in the worldly calendar constitutes a visit of God Himself, Who by approaching us breaks the earthly boundaries and opens the way to heaven, the way that leads to His Presence.
To be continued
INTRODUCTION TO THE “LITURGY OF THE FAITHFUL”
Bishop Augoustinos N. Kantiotes (1907-2010) wrote short sermons on the Divine Liturgy. These sermons are characterized by their simple style and language. They are not intended for theologians or specialists, but for common people. So many examples are used to make their message clear. Although they are simply written, they deal with profound theological issues.
These sermons were published in Greek in two volumes. In the second volume (ἐπισκόπου Αὐγουστίνου Ν. Καντιώτου, μητροπ. Φλωρίνης, Εἰς τήν Θείαν Λειτουργίαν, Πρακτικαί Ὁμιλίαι, τόμ. Β΄, ἔκδ. Ε΄, «Σταυρός», Ἀθῆναι 2007) the author gives a more detailed discussion of the more important part of the Divine Liturgy, “The Liturgy of the Faithful”. We’ll translate, in a series of articles, some extracts from this book.
The Divine Liturgy is one of God’s greatest gifts to man. While participating in it, the believer not only communicates with the Triune God, but is mystically united with the God-Man, our Lord. The Divine Liturgy is a beautiful service of petitions and supplications, which involves all of man’s material and spiritual needs. But above all is an offering. Man offers God the simple material gifts of bread and wine, and God in return offers man the same gifts changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The moment when a believer receives the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is holy, divine and of utmost sweetness. Unfortunately, this treasure is perceived by only a few and appreciated by even fewer. A true believer is grieved when he sees that only very few people attend regularly church services.
Hopefully, after reading these sermons, Christians will attend the Divine Liturgy with more reverence and will participate more often and with faith in the Holy Communion so that they can chant at the end: “We have seen the pure Light, we have found the true Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us”.
By Stergios N. Sakkos
Translation from the book:
Στεργίου Ν. Σάκκου, ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗ ἡ ἀναστάσιμη ἡμέρα, ἔκδ. Δ΄, «Χριστιανική Ἐλπίς», Θεσσαλονίκη 2020.
By John Chrysostomos, PG 51,265. “About Charity”
Death was abolished on Sunday. The curse was erased. The sin was cleared. The gates of hades were torn apart. Devil was chained up. The ever-lasting war stopped and God reconciled with all people. Men came back to their previous or rather to a much more noble condition. The sun saw that wonderful and strange sight: men becoming immortal. So, if people have a feast and a formal celebration of their birthday –in honour of this exceptional event – it is even more important for us to honour Sunday. It is the day which can be certainly considered as the birthday of all human nature. Indeed, we were lost and found; we were dead and regained life; we were enemies and came to reconciliation. Therefore it is appropriate to honour Sunday only in a spiritual way: not with festivities, dancing, drinking and getting drunk but by helping generously our poor brothers.
Sunday: its history
Sunday: this word sounds so sweet in our ears and heart! It can touch even the most corrupt. It brings to our mind the most beautiful and tender moments of our life. It is wrapped in a festive glow and embellished with the happy meetings with the dearest ones. Most of all, it is wreathed in valuable, divine gifts; it is itself a divine gift to humans.
When mentioning Sunday we refer to Lord Himself, to the Church, the Gospels, God’s plan for man’s salvation. We trace its history and theology in the Holy Scripture since the beginning of God’s history.
When the six days of creation were over, God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done” (Ge 2,2). That is, He stopped the work of creation on the seventh day. But He did not stop working, because as Jesus Christ His Son, attests “My father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5,17). He continued and goes on working, ruling and preserving the world. This ruling and preservation of the world is an act not inferior than that of the creation. His repose and rest means this ceaseless divine providence.
He built a beautiful house for us to enjoy: the universe. He created us with His love and then He rested. He stepped back and since then He is pleased and happy to take care of us and endow the world with His presence in various ways.
On the seventh day which He blessed and considered as sacred, He started communicating with His creatures. He made a distinction between that one and the rest of the days. He established it as the day of His worship and ordered His chosen people “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Ex 20, 8-10). As the seventh day denotes for God His constant care and providence for us, in the same way the day of Sabbath implies for His people the exclusive service and worship of God. Lord created everything for man, but He created man for himself. So, He asks man to dedicate a day of rest from his daily duties in order to study God’s will and offer his love to others to be able to meet God. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 45(46),10) the psalmist suggests. This is the first aim of people’s resting and celebrating Sunday: undisturbed communication with God.
Unfortunately, soon after the creation of the world and the blessing of Sabbath, the transgression of the first men caused a breach to the relationship between humans and their Creator. Although the Law tried to keep open the road which leads from earth to heaven, the seed of sin which (circulated in) ran through human race, always raised an obstacle between the Creator and His creature. However, the bond between man and God was maintained. The covenant was preserved until the salvation was established that is, the new order our Lord Jesus Christ brought on earth. With His work and sacrifice a new cosmogony took place, a new world was created, the spiritual one: His Church. As after the first creation of the world, God rested and that signifies His loving care of the world, so Christ’s Resurrection, which sealed the second creation of the Church, determines a new relationship of familiarity between God and people.
On “The first day of the week” (Lk 24,1), Christ resurrected and our human nature was resurrected with Him. God blessed that day and turned it into a new Sabbath, which replaced the old one. This keeps all the old attributes while gaining new graces. Nobody has seen God creating or resting, so the old Sabbath was established through orders. The new one was founded on the fact of Christ’s resurrection and it is testified by history. The old Sabbath demanded sacrifices and offerings to God. The new one offers Lord’s sacrifice and He nurtures us with it. In Christ’s new creation we have a new day now. It is as if heaven opened and a fragrant flower appeared, as if a precious jewel was given to our hands, as if we were offered the most expensive gift by Lord. In order to consider(estimate) it as something special and not like everything else on earth, like an ordinary day, He wrote His name on it: Sunday (in Greek Kiriaki means the day of Kirios =Lord). Lord marked His day as we do, when we write our name on our own things to identify them, and then He donated it to us.
To be continued