Script for Teaching Liturgy (2017 UOL Convention)

UOLEmblemTeaching liturgies can be great, but we have to be very careful that they do not adversely affect the spirit and flow of the Mystery.  This requires that we be spare with our words and that the words that we do share be well selected.  Because of the depth of our knowledge and familiarity with it and our desire to share it with the people we serve, there is a huge temptation to pontificate… we must avoid this!  More detailed presentations can be shared in a class or in future iterations.  

This script was prepared for and presented at the 2017 Convention of the Ukrainian Orthodox League.  I look forward to your thoughts!

Censing.

Introduction: God has answered our wailing.  The Lord God has seen the despair of His people and He has come to rescue us from our affliction. He has seen the confusion and chaos of the world that has damaged us, our families, our communities, and our world. This Gospel and liturgy that we celebrate is the end to confusion and the Way of salvation; not just the salvation of our souls which have been lost to sin, but the salvation of this world. War, poverty, oppression… this world groans in agony from chaos and corruption. Through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we will participate in the transformation of ourselves into the Body of Christ and of this place into the very Throne Room of the Immortal, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God. This is the balm to heal all wounds, an end to chaos, and The Way to perfection. We are entering into the Kingdom of God.

Blessed is the Kingdom… The Great Litany. The First Antiphon.

The House of God as a thin place.  Right now, this still looks like a hotel conference room. But it is not; it is now a place of power. The barrier between earth and heaven has dissolved. This is a what is known in mythologies and stories as a “thin place”. But this is no mere story. Our reality is being merged with the reality of the eternal worship that surrounds God’s throne. The beauty of the icons and altar, the music, the chanting, the vestments, the incense, the cloud of confessors, and the angels who came here with us; all these are part of the majesty of heavenly worship into which we are being drawn. We are like the Prophet Isaiah or the Apostle Paul or St. John the Theologian, allowed to experience things that the eye cannot see nor the mind comprehend. If we open our hearts to this reality, we will be transformed by this mystical journey.

Little Litany. The Second Antiphon.

Why so many litanies? The linking of life and liturgy.  Why do we repeat things? Because they are important. Because they make us part of something greater. They pattern our souls according to the logic of love. When we pray, we are part of something magical: God working through us and with us to transform this world. Our every moment throughout the preceding days has been transformed by prayer; this is the continuance and crowning of that prayer.

Little Litany. The Third Antiphon. The Little Entrance.  

The Little Entrance as the meeting of man and Word.  Come let us worship! We have now reached the historical beginning of the Liturgy. We have been preparing for to hear the Word through prayer and fasting; the antiphons are the culmination of this preparation. We need these so that we can be ready to receive the Gospel. There is a temptation to distill the Liturgy down to its critical parts, to figure out the minimum required to have a “valid Eucharist” … but the service is very deliberate in its timing and tempo.  We need time to transition through the veil from the world outside to this (besides, the Liturgy as we celebrate it has already been pared down).

This, the first part of the Divine Liturgy, is called the Liturgy of the Word. Through it we are reminded of Christ’s earthly ministry, when He walked among us and taught us with His own lips. The Little Entrance, when the Gospel is taken out into the midst of the people, is often seen as a symbol of this ministry. The hymns, bits of Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings are truths proclaimed by the Church and should all be accepted and appreciated as the modern iteration of that time when God walked the earth. He lives in the Church and its voice is His voice.

Tropars, Kondak, Trisagion. Prokimen. Epistle. Alleluia. Gospel.

The Divine Liturgy as Teacher.  The Liturgy is designed to re-pattern our minds according to the Gospel. In other words, we are meant to learn from it. How do we learn? We must be active participants in the process. We must prepare. This is not entertainment, but a life experience; the quality of that experience is up to us. Some are transformed into saints by their participation, others waste this powerful time by daydreaming, just trying to enjoy the music, or gutting it out. It is the same as in school (we get out of it what we put into it), but the lesson being taught here and now is so much more important than that offered in any school. The homily is part of that. If we have prepared ourselves to hear the Gospel through prayer, fasting, the service of neighbor, and the study of Scripture, then we will benefit from even the most dull preacher presenting the most formulaic sermon. Again, we control what we get out of the lesson. We need to work with the Holy Spirit so that God can speak whatever words we need to hear into our minds and hearts.

Litanies of Supplication, Catechumen. The Great Entrance.

The Liturgy as celebration and sacrifice. This is the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful. [History of dismissal of catechumen and the movement of the Great Entrance (bringing gifts from the skeuphylakion). Symbolism of the Great Entrance (celebration and sacrifice).] Just as preparation for Word makes it more effective for us, so does preparation for Christ’s sacrifice allow that sacrifice to work more powerfully within us. He offers Himself up in His Passion for the remission of our sins. Do we admit that his gift is something we need? Have we accepted it? Without this, we are no better than the spectators at the Roman colosseum, hoping to be entertained by a gruesome spectacle. We may or may not be entertained, but we will not be saved.

Litanies of the Faithful. The Great Entrance. Litany. The Peace. The Kiss of Peace.

Christ is in Our Midst!  Through our participation in this worship, the grace of God has allowed us to enter into a very special psychological, spiritual, and communal state. There is only love within us. There is only love among us. There is no remembrance of past wrongs, no prejudice, no expectations; there is only the reality of the God who lives in us and draws us as one into His body. After the Creed, comes the Anaphora, when the Holy Spirit comes down into us and the gifts we are offering, changing them into the one the thing needful; the one thing that can save our broken souls and this broken world. The prayers the priest prays are pure theology. Fr. Taras has been given a blessing to pray them out loud. Due to the solemnity and seriousness of the this part of the service, we will not be offering any other reflections until after Communion.

The Creed. The Anaphora. Litany. Lord’s Prayer. Communion.

Let us depart in peace.  Now take that peace and power that you have received and share it with a waiting world. If you have questions about the liturgy, just ask! Your bishops, priests, and deacons live for the Liturgy and it is their desire and calling to share its joys with you. [Priest as shaman – helping others into into a relationship with the sacred].

Let me leave you with this final thought;

How would you react if you found out your Army instructor was a Medal of Honor winner, your coach had won the Olympic gold, your Med School lecturer was a Nobel Prize winner, or your Business School teacher was a member of the Fortune 500 who did it all from scratch. You’d pay more attention to their words. You’d have more respect for them and everything they said. You would not want to miss a single lesson. And the beauty is that you would become better by your extra attentiveness. Christ the Great Rabbi is here. Among us. Teaching us. Preparing us for paradise.

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