The chief aim of Christian life is communion with God. Communion with God was, in fact, the natural state of humanity before the Fall. “Through the Fall of man, this communion with God was broken,” writes Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic), “and liturgical and eucharistic living [. . .] was distorted.” To live liturgically is to return to communion with God through the Holy Spirit by participating in the shared life of the Church — the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head. This is achieved by offering one’s life as a sacrifice to God: “everything is received from God as a gift of his Goodness and Love and everything is returned with gratitude” (Bishop Atanasije, “Liturgy and Spirituality”).
Bishop Atanasije with St. Justin Popović (+1979).
This state of gratitude is called εὐχαριστία, or ‘eucharist,’ in Greek. After the Fall, humanity struggles and suffers because it tries to live a non-eucharistic (thankless) life in a non-eucharistic (thankless) world. In the liturgical worship of the Church called the “Divine Services,” we return to a eucharistic way of life through prayer: worshiping God in gratitude, love, peace, and joy.
Liturgical worship consists of singing and chanting psalms and hymns to the Lord. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes Christian fellowship: “Be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:18-21). Singing psalms and spiritual songs was the foundation of the communal spiritual life for New Testament Christians and it remains the foundation of the Orthodox Divine Services, wherein the “early Church” of the Apostles lives. “Giving thanks always” is the eucharistic way of living that results from being “filled with the Spirit.”
Motivated by repentance and love, Christians enter into the living stream of the Divine Services in order to be “transformed by the renewing of [their] mind” so that they are no longer “conformed to the world” (Rom. 12:2). Having been broken down by sin and wearied of living non-eucharistically in a Fallen world, the Christian yearns for wholeness; yet wholeness can neither be found in the world nor within oneself. It is hard to be renewed if one exclusively relies on improvised prayer, for “out of the heart come forth evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19). This is why early Christians traditionally immersed themselves in the three thousand year-old Psalms of King David — a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) — whose heart was acceptable to God (Ps. 51:17[50:17]). If we both listen to the words that are prayed and chanted and are also attentive and watchful, those words can become the voice of our spirit crying out to God. The words of the Holy Spirit animating the psalms, prayers, and hymns of the Church are one means by which we can be refashioned into the godly likeness (Gen. 1:26) that Adam and Eve shared before the Fall.
The principal means by which we can grow in the likeness of God is by frequently preparing for and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. By offering His human nature as a sacrifice on the Cross, Christ has given us His Body and Blood, which is the source of everlasting life (John 6:35-69). Out of thanksgiving for the gift of everlasting life, and because our Lord Himself gave thanks on the night he first instituted the Mystical Supper (1 Cor. 11:24), His Body and Blood is called Holy Eucharist. Since the earliest days of Christianity, Holy Eucharist has been central to Christian worship.
The healing power of God’s love, whereby we grow in His likeness, is most perfectly experienced through Holy Eucharist received during the Divine Liturgy — the most important Divine Service of the Church. Within the Divine Liturgy, we experience the Kingdom of Heaven, which “is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Celebrating with all the faithful in the Divine Liturgy is the entire community of angels and saints who precede us in the faith. In the Divine Liturgy, we are close to them because we all join ourselves to the Lord, Who joined His Divine Nature to our human nature. “He who loves God lives the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man,” writes St. Maximos the Confessor (+662) (“First Century on Love” #42). How can we not think good of everyone, when “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17)? The prayer life of the Church is of vital assistance in helping us to experience God’s love, whereby we are made whole, one in spirit, and full of peace and joy. The prayers of the Church reawaken a eucharistic way of experiencing life; the Divine Liturgy reveals a vision of a eucharistic world. When the prayers and the Divine Liturgy are joined together, they enable the Christian to walk in the Garden again, experiencing a eucharistic world eucharistically.
The Hospitality of Abraham Icon was painted in the early 15th c. by St. Andrei Rublev. It depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, often interpreted as a foreshadowing of the Holy Trinity.
Please join us for prayer at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church. You may view the schedule on our monthly calendar.
Typical Schedule for Divine Services
Matins: 7 am
Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Vespers: 6 pm
Great Vespers: 6pm
Divine Liturgy: 10 am (followed by Trapeza/Lunch)
For an excellent series of articles by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy on “The Divine Services,” read this.
For an excellent series of articles by Fr. Victor Potapov on Vespers, Matins, and the All-night Vigil, read this.