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Questions and answers about the Divine Liturgy #1- About the Divine Liturgy in general

February 19th, 2009 by Fr. Vasile

liturgy1. What is the meaning of the word Liturgy?

The word Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia meaning service or public office. In the primary Church the word liturgy was referring not only to the Church services but to any services rendered to the Christian community[1].

2.      What is the Holy Liturgy?

The Holy Liturgy represents the highest prayer of glory and thanksgiving that the Church offers to God on Earth.[2] Its main goal is the transformation of the gifts of bread and wine in the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord for the sanctification of the faithful through partaking of them into Holy Communion.[3] Through the Holy Liturgy is realized the union in love of the faithful with the Holy Trinity and of the faithful among them. The Holy liturgy unites the Heaven and the Earth the angels and the saints with us the sinful people.[4]

3.      Who instituted the Holy Liturgy?

The Holy liturgy was instituted by our Savior Jesus Christ at the Holy Supper when He: took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to the disciples and said Take eat this is My body. And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them saying Drink all of it. For this is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.(Mat 26:26-28)

The Holy Evangelists Mark (Mc. 14 2-24) and Luke (Lk. 2 19-20) and the Holy Apostle Paul reiterate the Fact that Jesus left the performing of the Liturgy as a commandment to the Church: this do in remembrance of Me. (1Co 11:24)

4.      What do we gain by participating in the Holy Liturgy?

The main goal of Holy Liturgy is the communion of the faithful with the Body and Blood of our Savior. The Holy Communion is the necessary food for our spiritual growth in Christ and life everlasting: For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed.(Joh 6:55. And again: I have come so that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.(Joh 10:10). And   I am the Living Bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread he shall live forever. And truly the bread that I will give is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world.(Joh 6:51)

The Holy Liturgy is not just a mere remembrance a simple historical commemoration like in the protestants teachings but by taking Christ into our bodies we receive life-giving power: Truly truly I say to you Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you do not have life in yourselves.(Joh 6:5) Our participation to this Holy Sacrament is mandatory for our salvation.


5.      Who can celebrate the Holy Liturgy?

The Holy Liturgy can be celebrated only by the Orthodox bishops and the priests canonically ordained helped by the deacons. Priests of other denominations cannot perform the Divine Liturgy in our Church

The faithful also play an important role in the Liturgy. They are not just spectators to the service but active participants.  A priest cannot perform the Liturgy by himself without the presence of the people.

Unfortunately nowadays many people do not understand the full participation in community worship as an essential condition for the performing of the Holy Liturgy.[5] Many come late to the services and expect to receive the Holy Communion like a well disserved right. What they dont understand is that the Holy Liturgy is the service that by the union of all faithful in worship and sacrifice makes the Church truly be One: as we confess in the Orthodox Creed. If one does not participate in the worship nor the sacrifice how can they partake on the same Christ?

6.      When do we serve the holy Liturgy?

The Divine Liturgy can be served in all days of the year with the prescribed exceptions called non-liturgical days. In the Monasteries the Holy Liturgy is served every day. In other places it is served especially Sunday Saturday and major Feast Days.

The Holy Liturgy is served generally in the morning with few exceptions (Presanctified liturgy and Vesperal Liturgies of Saint Basil the Great).

No bishop or priest can serve two liturgies in the same day and on the same altar because the Savior Jesus Christ was crucified only once for our salvation.[6]

7.      Where can we serve the Holy Liturgy?

The Orthodox Liturgy is served only in Orthodox Churches canonically consecrated by the Bishops. In special situations with the blessing of the Bishop the Liturgy can be served in other appropriate places on a specially prepared altar and always using the Holy Antimension.

8.      What is the Holy Antimension?

The Holy Antimension is one of the most important Liturgical objects that is not missing in any Orthodox Church. It is given to the priest by the local Bishop and is the sign of his canonical status.

The Holy Antimension is a rectangular piece of cloth made out of linen or silk approximately 15-20̸; wide. It is painted with scenes from the Passions of our Savior the main theme being the entombment of Jesus Christ. During the Liturgy the Holy Antimension represents the entombment of Jesus Christ and also the shroud in which He was wrapped.

In one of the corners generally we find Holy relics of the saints. This is a continuation of the ancient Christian custom of building Churches on the tombs of the Martyrs. One cannot serve the Holy Liturgy without this liturgical object. In the Church it is kept on the Holy Table under the Gospel.

9.      How many Liturgies we have in the Orthodox Church?

In the Orthodox Church we serve 3 main Liturgies[7]:

a.       The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom celebrated in most of the Sundays of the year exception being the Great Lent and few other Sundays and Great Feasts.

b.       The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great longer then the first one but similar in structure is served 10 times a year in the first Sundays of Great Lent in Great Thursday Great Saturday January 1st and the Eve of Epiphany and Nativity.

c. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts or the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogue  it is served only during Great Lent. It is not actually a proper Liturgy because there is no Eucharistic sacrifice but it rather a solemn way to celebrate Communion with the Holy Gifts pre-sanctified at the Liturgy in the preceding Sunday.

10.  What is the structure of the Holy Liturgy?

The Divine Liturgy consists of three parts: The Proskomidi the preparatory part performed earlier in the morning by the priest alone in the Altar The Liturgy of the Catechumens starts with the Great Blessing until the Litany of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful starting the Litany of the Catachumens until the end.

11.  Is the Holy Liturgy always the same?

Some of the parts of the Liturgy are fixed and others are variable. Some of the fixed parts are the prayers that the priest reads the Litanies the Creed etc.  The variable parts are the Antiphons the Troparia the Gospel lectures the Epistles etc.

1.   About the double meaning of all the gestures observed during the Holy Services

All the hymns readings movements and in general everything that belongs to the Holy Services have a double role. St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains that their role is on one hand to bless the faithful and on the other hand to convey the oikonomia of God


[1] Pr. Prof. Ion Bria Dic?ionar de teologie ortodox? Ed. IBMBOR 1994 p. 237

[2] Arhim. Ioanichie B?lan C?l?uz? ortodox? în Biseric?  Ed. Sf. M?n. Sih?stria 1991 p. 157

[3] Sf. Nicolae Cabasila Tâlcuirea Dumnezeie?tii Liturghii

[4] Arhim. Ioanichie B?lan op.cit. p. 158

[5] Pr. Florin Botezan Liturghie ?i euharistie

[6] Arhim. Ioanichie B?lan op.cit. p. 161-162

[7] In fact we have a fourth Liturgy The liturgy of St. James. In its Syrian form it is still the principal liturgy of the Churches of the West Syrian tradition. In the Eastern Orthodox Church however with the exception of very few places it is practically not used anymore.

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