Teaching Divine Liturgy (9/26/2021)

Here is the audio from the service.
Teaching Liturgy on 9/26/2021 at Holy Resurrection in Waynesville NC

Notes for the Teaching Liturgy

Before the service.
After attending the Divine Liturgy at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, emissaries of St. Volodymyr, the King of Kyivan-Rus’ reported: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. One thing we understood, that God was in our midst!”  This is the experience that is available to all of us when we come to Divine Liturgy; but as with all things, this experience will be greater the more we prepare for it and the more we understand and open ourselves up to it.  The time of preparation is over – now is the time to grow in our understanding of it and to open ourselves up to it.

For the next hour or two you can relax, open yourself up, and be vulnerable; you can’t really do that at school or work; you may not even be able to do it with your friends.  You certainly can’t do it on social media.  But if you do it here, you open yourself up NOT to the risk of hurt or manipulations but to the love and transformational mercy of God.  The words, hymns, and actions of the Divine Liturgy are the way that God has chosen to work with us to accomplish His will that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  Through these words, hymns, and action, He will strengthen our hearts, heal our pain, and help us realize just how good it is to be alive.

Today’s Liturgy is a Teaching Liturgy; I will be taking time at various points in the service in order to explain what is going on. Right now, I encourage you to strap in and prepare yourself for the most powerful way God has chosen to meet and help us, His children: the Divine Liturgy. 

After the First Antiphon
Right now, this may still look like a rented retail space in downtown Waynesville.  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 fairy tales as a “thin place”.  But this is no mere story.  Our reality is being merged with the reality of the constant and 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; this experience merging with that of the tens of thousands of angels, the thousands of archangels and the cherubim and seraphim who do this at the throne of God 24/7.  We are like the Prophet Isaiah or the Apostle Paul or St. John the Theologian, allowed to live through 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.

After the Second Antiphon.  
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.

Before the Entrance
The Divine Liturgy did not always look exactly like it does now.  For one, there used to be a lot more movement.  Instead of singing the first antiphons in church, we would have sung them on the way to church.  The service would have begun as the Gospel was brought from the outside into the sanctuary.  Now the ritual of bringing the Gospel out of the altar to the people reminds us of something very important: that Christ God has come from heaven to be in our midst!  This is what we are celebrating and confirming when we kiss the Gospel and exchange the words; “Christ is in our midst – He is and shall be.”  God did not just take on flesh two thousand years ago, He lives in the Church and its voice is His voice.

After the “Holy God”, Before the Epistle
In conversations, especially in conversations with people wiser and more knowledgeable than us, we should spend more time listening than speaking.  Our liturgical dialogue with God is the same.  Up to this point, we have been doing most of the talking, sharing our litanies of concerns with Him and asking for His mercy.  Now it is time for us to stop talking and listen to His Word.  The Epistles and Gospel readings are like food for our hungry souls.  Before each reading, the deacon says; “Let us be attentive!”  This is not the time for us to let our minds wander or count the number of tiles in the ceiling but rather a time to ask what God is trying to say to us and think of how e can improve your lives by putting His words into practice.

After the Gospel Reading
For today’s homily, I want to address a common question that many of us have but are afraid to ask out loud: “why do we do this every week?”  We sometimes forget that the central action of the Divine Liturgy is a ritualized “meal”, when we all eat the “Mystical Supper” together.  Meals need to be repeated regularly.  This isn’t just because our bodies need nourishment.  If this were the case we could just shove something into our mouths when our bodies started getting hungry.  That’s important, but meals are more than that.  Every evening when families sit down together to eat, they are affirming some very important things.  They aren’t just a collection of hungry people, satisfying their bodily needs – they are a family that gathers to share stories and remember who they are.  In fact, it is when they eat together that the family is most itself.  No matter how busy their schedules are, families have to set aside this time together to maintain their connection and shared identity.  I am convinced by observation and research that families that build their schedules around an evening meal are more resilient and that the children in such families are given a psychological boost that goes far beyond the nutrients they have been given. 

It can be a real drag to eat dinner together: we all have to set down our phones and pause our video games and binging of tik tok, youtube, and netflix!  But the benefits are clear and this sacrifice is worth making.  Even if it is the same thing pretty much every time.

It’s the same for the Divine Liturgy.  There are always other things that seem more fun to do on Sunday mornings:  video games, movies, sports, how about just sleeping in and going to Waffle House for breakfast?  But there is no better way to build resilience and a healthy identity – I mean to know who we are at the deepest level, even below ideology and whatever other attribute the world is trying to get us to obsess over at the moment – than to set all that stuff aside for a couple of hours and enjoy the meal that the Lord has set aside for us! 

Just like it’s okay for you to rather be doing something else at dinner time, it’s okay that part of you would rather be doing something else on Sunday morning.  Part of becoming really human is learning to do what is good and right even when you’d rather be doing something fun and easy.

Before the Great Entrance and the Cherubic Hymn
We are about to sing about how this is the time when we need to “Set aside our earthly cares” so that we can open ourselves up to something greater.  The King of All Creation, the Ruler of the Heavenly Hosts, the One Who Is is with us now.  You know how crazy it is to see two people out on a date spending the whole time on their phones?  That is what we would be like if we used this time to worry about all the crazy things going on in our lives.  At least for now, we need to let them go.  Our problems will still be there when this is over … and we’ll be able to meet them with newfound strength.  So let us lay aside all earthly cares as we ritualize the triumphant God in our midst.

Before the Creed: The Kiss of Peace
The Divine Liturgy would be a waste of time for us – an empty ritual – if we did not have love for one another and for God.  The priest reminds us of this right before we say the Creed when he says; “Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess.” 

In the early Church this would be the point in the service when everyone would greet one another with the “kiss of peace”.  Let’s take a moment now and turn to our neighbor and offer the greeting and response (along with a kiss, handshake or just a loving nod); “Christ is in our midst; He is and shall be.”

After the Creed and before the Holy Anaphora
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 towards His peace and perfection.

This is not just some feeling that we cultivate – our salvation should never rely on something so unreliable as our feelings.  God is not with us like some kind of imaginary friend or even just as a spirit whose presence cannot be known with the senses.  He is actually with us.  We have heard His words and we have sung His praises.  Now we will do something that no mind can ever fully understand.  It is hard enough for us to accept that the uncontainable and all-powerful God became fully human to be with and save us; it is an even greater mystery to understand why and how he – the God-man – decided to continue His salvific ministry to us by giving us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.  This is how the God-man explained this to His followers back in the day;

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. (John 6: 53-55)

And St. John, a witness to these events, then describes that “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66)

Again, we cannot understand why or how the Lord has given us this method to accomplish our continuing transformation.  It alternately mystifies, frightens, and humbles us.  Without understanding, with fear, faith and love we join all of the saints from all places and ages who have participated in this very same Communion – for there is only One Sacrifice.  It is a Sacrifice that exists at the center of all our time and of all our space, a singularity that draws us towards it and through it and on into something greater. 

During the upcoming prayers, the priest will ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon all of us and on the gifts being offered.  God reliably answers this prayer, changing the bread and wine into Christ-God’s flesh and blood.  The miraculous transformation then continues as we follow His command – eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  For this is no ordinary meal but the medicine of immortality that transforms us into something better, eternal, and glorious.

So as to preserve the dignity of the Eucharistic Meal, I will not pause the service again until the end.  Let us now enter into these, the most powerful prayers we know.

Before the Dismissal
This has been a miraculous time.  God has come into our midst and then into our bodies through the Holy Eucharist.  This is not just so that we can become better people, taking it “for the remission of sins” but so that we be the instruments that God uses to heal, transform, and bring joy to this fallen world. 

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.  We become better by attending to Him and all He teaches.

His teaching ministry continues not just because we have preserved His words in the scriptures, but because He works through His bishops to bless and empower teachers to live with and instruct us.  If you have questions, it is my calling to answer them.