Teaching the Divine Liturgy – Meditations


Great Entrance, Theophany 2007, Afghanistan (Fr. Alexander Webster celebrating)

Great Entrance, Theophany 2007, Afghanistan
(Fr. Alexander Webster celebrating)

Here are my notes from the teaching Divine Liturgy served on 22 December 2013

Prologue:  Please meet the love of my life…
I was nervous the entire week leading up this “Teaching Liturgy.”  It was hard to figure out why.  After all, I’ve been here for more than six years.  That’s hundreds of homilies.  I finally figured it out.  It’s like when you’re young and you’ve fallen completely head over heels in love.  You have found someone who brings you so much joy, and the more you learn about her, the more joyful you are.  You remember what that felt like, right?  And I am sure you remember how nervous you were when you brought her home to meet your parents.  Would they like her?  Would they accept her?  Would they be as fascinated by her as you are?  I am completely captivated by the Divine Liturgy.  And I had that kind of nervousness about introducing it to you.  But I shouldn’t be nervous should I?  After all, you already love it, don’t you?  My hope is that in sharing a few meditations throughout the course of the service, your appreciation of and enthusiasm for the Divine Liturgy will deepen.


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.  This is 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 the poison with which we have corrupted it.  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 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.
This is not just a hall, it is a place of power.  The barrier between earth and heaven dissolve here.  Thin places.  Our reality is being merged with the reality of the eternal worship that surrounds God’s throne.  The beauty of our church, 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.  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 week has been transformed by prayer; the Sunday Liturgy is the crowning of that prayer.

Little Litany.  The Third Antiphon.  The Little Entrance.

The Little Entrance as the meeting of man and Word.
Historical beginning of the Liturgy.  Antiphons as the culmination of our preparation.  Danger of distilling the Liturgy down to its critical parts… we need time to adjust (the Liturgy as we celebrate it has already been pared down).  This part of the Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word.  We are reminded of Christ’s earthly ministry, when He walked among us and taught us with His own lips.  The Little Entrance 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 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.
How do we learn?  Must be active participants in the process.  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 is so much more important.  The homily is part of that.  If we have prepared through prayer, fasting, 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.
History of movement (bringing gifts from the skeuphylakion).  Symbol of movement (celebration and sacrifice).  Just as preparation for Word makes it more effective for us, so does preparation for Christ’s sacrifice.  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!  
There is only love among us.  No remembrance of past wrongs, no prejudice, no expectations, 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.  I will pray them out loud.  Do to the solemnity and seriousness of the this part of the service, I will not be interrupting it to share my own thoughts 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, just ask!  I live for the Liturgy and to share its joys with you.  [Priest as shaman – helping others into into a relationship with the sacred].  How would you react if you found out your Army instructor was a Medal of Honor winner, 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 attention more.  You’d have more respect.  You would not want to miss a lesson.  And you would become better by your attentiveness.  Christ the Great Rabbi is here.  Among us. Teaching us. Preparing us for paradise.