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.
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.