The Divine Liturgy
The Holy Eucharist is the oldest experience of Christian Worship as well as the most distinctive. Eucharist comes from the Greek word that means thanksgiving. In a particular sense, the word describes the most important form of the Church’s attitude toward all of life. The origin of the Eucharist is traced to the Last Supper at which Christ instructed His disciples to offer bread and wine in His memory. The Eucharist is the most distinctive event of Orthodox worship because in it the Church gathers to remember and celebrate the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and, thereby, to participate in the mystery of Salvation.
In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is also known as the Divine Liturgy. The word liturgy means people’s work; this description serves to emphasize the corporate character of the Eucharist. When an Orthodox Christian attends the Divine Liturgy, they come as a member of the Community of Faith who participates in the very purpose of the Church, which is the worship of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the Eucharist is truly the center of the life of the Church and the principal means of spiritual development, both for the individual Christian and the Church as a whole. Not only does the Eucharist embody and express the Christian faith in a unique way, but it also enhances and deepens our faith in the Trinity. This sacrament-mystery is the experience toward which all the other activities of the Church are directed and from which they receive their direction.
As it is celebrated today, the Divine Liturgy is a product of historical development. The fundamental core of the liturgy dates from the time of Christ and the Apostles. To this, prayers, hymns, and gestures have been added throughout the centuries. The liturgy achieved a basic framework by the ninth century.
There are three forms of the Eucharist presently in use in the Orthodox Church:
1. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is the most frequently celebrated.
2. The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is celebrated only ten times a year.
3. The Liturgy of Saint James which is celebrated on October 23, the feastday of the Saint.
While these saints did not compose the entire liturgy which bears their names, it is probable that they did author many of the prayers. The structure and basic elements of the three liturgies are similar, although there are differences in some hymns and prayers.
In addition to these Liturgies, there is also the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. This is not truly a eucharistic liturgy but rather an evening Vesper Service followed by the distribution of Holy Communion reserved from the previous Sunday.
This liturgy is celebrated only on weekday mornings or evenings during Lent, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, when the full Eucharist is not permitted because of its Resurrection spirit. The Eucharist expresses the deep joy which is so central to the Gospel.
The Divine Liturgy is properly celebrated only once a day. This custom serves to emphasize and maintain the unity of the local congregation. The Eucharist is always the principal Service on Sundays and Holy Days and may be celebrated on other weekdays.
However, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated by the priest privately, without a congregation. The Eucharist is usually celebrated in the morning but, with the Bishop's blessing, may be offered in the evening. All the other Sacraments of the Church lead toward and flow from the Eucharist, which is at the center of the life of the Church.
By Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald with a few additions by Rev. Peter Orfanakos
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
The Holy Eucharist, which is known as the Divine Liturgy, is the central and most important worship experience of the Orthodox Church. Often referred to as the “Sacrament of Sacraments”, it is the Church’s celebration of the Death and Resurrection of Christ offered every Sunday and Holy day. The Divine Liturgy at the Saint Barbara Parish is celebrated every Sunday morning and during the week according to the following schedule:
Matins 8:30 a.m.
Divine Liturgy 9:45 a.m.
Weekday Feast Day Celebrations:
Matins 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy 10:00 a.m.
Sunday Morning (Summer Hours):
Matins 8:15 a.m.
Divine Liturgy 9:30 a.m.
Orthodox Christians fully participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy when they receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. In order to partake of this sacrament in the Orthodox Church, one must be a practicing Orthodox Christian in good canonical standing in the Church. For those individuals who are joining us in prayer, yet not practicing Orthodox Christians, they are invited to take a piece of the blessed bread, known as Andidoron (Greek), meaning “instead of the Gift.,” at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.
The Sacrament of Baptism
The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one’s public identification with Christ’s Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church. The Baptism of adults is practiced when there was no previous baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity.
You may schedule the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism by calling the Saint Barbara Church Office at: 203-795-1347.
The Sacrament of Chrismation
The Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) immediately follows baptism and is never delayed until a later age. As the ministry of Christ was enlivened by the Spirit, and the preaching of the Apostles strengthened by the Spirit, so is the life of each Orthodox Christian sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Chrismation, which is often referred to as one’s personal Pentecost, is the Sacrament which imparts the Spirit in a special way.
In the Sacrament of Chrismation, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil saying: “The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truths that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation. The Sacraments of initiation always are concluded with the distribution of Holy Communion to the newly-baptized. This practice reveals that Orthodoxy views children from their infancy as important members of the Church. There is never time when the young are not part of God’s people.
The Process of Receiving Non-Orthodox Persons Into the Orthodox Church
The process of joining the church varies according to each person’s situation and circumstances. Baptized Christians are generally received into the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Chrismation. In general, the Orthodox Church does not re-baptize a Christian who has received baptism in a mainline Protestant or the Roman Catholic Church. The criterion is that the Baptism was done in the name of the Holy Trinity. For those interested in being recieved into the Orthodox Church, an initial appointment may be scheduled with Father Peter during which a method of preparation for the Chrismation is discussed.
The Sacrament of Confession
As members of the Church, we have responsibilities to one another and, of course, to God. When we sin, or relationship to God and to others distorted. Sin is ultimately alienation from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true self which is created in God’s image and likeness.
Confession is the Sacrament through which our sins are forgiven, and our relationship to God and to others is restored and strengthened. Through the Sacrament, Christ our Lord continues to heal those broken in spirit and restore the Father’s love those who are lost. According to Orthodox teaching, the penitent confess to God and is forgiven by God.
The priest is the sacramental witness who represents both Christ and His people. The priest is viewed not as a judge, but as a physician and guide. It is an ancient Orthodox practice for every Christian to have a spiritual father to whom one turns for spiritual advice and counsel. Confession can take place on any number of occasions. The frequency is left to the discretion of the individual. In the event of serious sin, however, confession is a necessary preparation for Holy Communion.
Participation in the Sacrament of Confession can be arranged by calling the Saint Barbara Church Office at: 203-795-1347.
The Sacrament of Marriage
God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.
In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders
The Holy Spirit preserved the continuity of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people. According to Orthodox teaching, the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.
Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are three major orders each of which requires a special ordination. These are Bishop, who is viewed as a successor of the Apostles, Priest and Deacon, who act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy.
The Sacrament of Holy Unction
When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Holy Unction as it is also known, remind us that when we are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of his Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death.
As with Chrismation, oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven Epistle lessons, seven Gospel lessons and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body of the faithful with the Holy Oil. Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. The Church celebrates the Sacrament for all its members during Holy Week on Holy Wednesday and other times throughout the year by request.
Other Sacraments and Blessings
The Orthodox Church has never formally determined a particular number of Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist she accepts the above six Mysteries as major Sacraments because they involve the entire community and most important are closely relation to the Eucharist. There are many other Blessings and Special Services which complete the major Sacraments, and which reflect the Church’s presence throughout the lives of her people.
The death of a Christian not only affects the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral Service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God's love is stronger than death, and the Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.
The Orthodox Funeral consists of three Services. First, there is a Vigil Service after death, which is usually conducted at the time of the wake. This service is called the Trisagion Service. The Church prays to Christ “to give rest with the Saints to the soul of Your servant where there is neither pain, grief, nor sighing but life everlasting.” While the Church prays for the soul of the deceased, great respect is paid to the body. Orthodoxy believes the body of the Christian is sacred since it was the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
The body will share also in the final restoration of all creation. The Funeral Service is continued at the Church, where the body is brought on the day of burial. After the Funeral Service, the congregation offers its farewell to the deceased. The Trisagion Service is repeated at the graveside.
A note about cremation: Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. The Church does not grant funerals to persons who have chosen to be cremated.
Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those “who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection” continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.
The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead. According to tradition, the Memorial Service is offered on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a death, as well as on the yearly anniversary of the death. In addition to these times, the Memorial Service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four “Saturdays of the souls.” These are: the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent; the first Saturday of Great Lent; and, the Saturday before Pentecost.
When the Memorial Service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the Church. The boiled wheat is placed on a table in the center of the nave during the Service. The wheat, known as kollyva, is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
To schedule a Memorial Service please call the Saint Barbara Church Office at: 203-795-1347.
The Great Blessing of Water (Megas Agiasmos)
Epiphany, one of the oldest and most important Feast days of the Orthodox Church, commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Trinity which took place at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. Recognizing rich meaning in this event, Orthodoxy believes that when Christ was baptized, it not only marked the beginning of its public ministry and revealed the Trinity, but also signified that the entire creation is destined to share in the glory of redemption in Christ.
While Christ entered into the Jordan to be baptized, two things were happening: He was identifying Himself with the people He had come to save; and, He was identifying Himself with the whole of Creation which was represented by water. Through His baptism, the Lord revealed the value of the created world and He redirected it toward its Creator. Creation is good and it belongs to God.
The Great Blessing of Water is held on the Feast of Epiphany following the Divine Liturgy. The Blessing not only remembers the event of Our Lord’s baptism and the revelation of the Holy Trinity but also expresses Orthodoxy’s belief that creation is sanctified through Christ. The Blessing affirms that humanity and the created world, of which we are a part, were created to be filled with the sanctifying presence of God.
After the solemn blessing, the Holy Water is distributed to the faithful and is used to bless homes during the Epiphany season. When the faithful drink the “Epiphany Water,” we are reminded of our own baptism. When the Church blesses an individual, or object, or event with the water, we are affirming that those baptized, their surroundings, and their responsibilities are sanctified through Christ and brought into the Kingdom of the Father through the Spirit.
In addition to the Great Blessing of Water, there is a Lesser Blessing of Water service which can take place at anytime. Usually, it is celebrated when a home is blessed, on the first day of the month, the beginning of the school year, and beginning of new responsibilities.
The Blessing of Bread (Artoklasia)
The Blessing of Five Loaves of Bread is a brief service of thanksgiving through which we express our gratitude for all the blessings of life. Oil, wine, wheat, and the loaves of bread which are used in the service, are viewed as the most basic elements necessary for life. The Blessing reminds us of the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish by which Christ fed the multitude. This Blessing is usually offered during Vespers or after the Divine Liturgy on Feast days and other special occasions. After the Service, the bread is cut and distributed to the congregation.
The Orthodox Church worships God alone. Yet, she does offer veneration to individuals who have been important human instruments of God in the history of salvation. Among those so venerated is Mary, the Mother of God the Theotokos. The Orthodox Church greatly honors Mary because she was chosen to give birth to the Son of God. As one of the hymns declares:
“By singing praise to your maternity, we exalt you as a spiritual temple, Theotokos. For the One Who dwelt within your womb, the Lord who holds all things in his hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all to sing to you ...”
The most beautiful and poetic service of the Orthodox Church in honor of Mary, the Theotokos, is the Akathist Hymn. The word akathist means without sitting. The congregation stands throughout the Service out of respect for Mary and her unique role in our salvation in Christ. The Akathist Hymn is chanted in four parts during the first four Fridays of Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire Service is chanted.
The Service of Supplication (Paraklisis)
The Service of Supplication, which is also known as Paraklisis, is one offered especially at times of sickness, temptation, or discouragement. The various prayers ask the Lord for guidance, personal strength, and healing. Many of the hymns and prayers are directed toward Mary, the Theotokos, and they ask for her assistance. Orthodoxy affirms that each of us, with Mary, the Saints, and the faithful departed is united in a bond of faith and love in Christ. Therefore, just as in this life we can turn to each other for prayer, the Church believes that we can also turn to Mary - the human being closest to God - and ask her to pray to God for us. This belief is expressed in the hymn which says:
“A protection of Christians unshamable, Intercessor to our Holy Maker, unwavering, reject not the prayerful cries of those who are in sin. Instead, come to us, for you are good; Your loving help bring to us, who are crying in faith to you: Hasten to intercede, And speed now to supplicate, As a protection for all time, Theotokos, for those who honor you.”
There are two forms of the Service of Supplication: the Greater and the Lesser. It is Lesser Service of Supplication which is briefer and the one most frequently offered. Both forms of the Service are offered during first fourteen days of August which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos celebrated on August 15th.
By Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald with a few additions by Rev. Peter Orfanakos
The Daily Offices
In the Orthodox Church the liturgical day begins in the evening with the setting of the sun. This practice follows the Biblical account of creation: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5).
The Vesper service in the Church always begins with the reading of the evening psalm: “...the sun knows it’s time for setting, You make darkness and it is night….” (Psalm 103: 19-20) This psalm, which glorifies God’s creation of the world, is our very first act of worship, for humanity first of all meets God as Creator.
“O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom have You made them all. The earth is full of Your creatures...” (Psalm 104:24). Following the psalm, the Great Litany, the opening petition of all liturgical services of the Church is intoned, during which we pray to the Lord for everyone and everything.
Following this litany, Psalm 141 is chanted during which the evening incense is offered: “Let my prayer arise as incense before You, the lifting up of my hands, as an evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 140:2). At this point special hymns are sung for the particular day. If it be a Church or Saint’s feastday: songs in honor of the celebration are sung. On Saturday evenings, the eve of the Lord’s Day, these hymns always praise Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
These special hymns normally end with a hymn called the Theotokion which honors the Virgin Mary (Theotokos). Following this, the vesperal hymn is sung:
“O joyful light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, the heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now that we have reached the setting of the sun and behold the evening light, we sing to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is fitting at all times to praise you with cheerful voices, O Son of God, the Giver of life. Behold, the world sings your glory.”
Christ is praised as the Light which illumines man’s darkness, the Light of the world and of the Kingdom of God which shall have no evening (Isaiah 60:20, Revelations 21:25).
A verse from the Psalms, called the prokeimenon, follows (a different one for each day) announcing the day’s spiritual theme. If it is a feast day, three readings from the Old Testament are included. Then more evening prayers and petitions follow with additional hymns for the particular day all of which end with the reciting of the Song of Saint Simeon:
“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 1:29-32).
After proclaiming our own vision of Christ, the Light and Salvation of the world, we say the prayers of the trisagion and the Lord’s prayer. We sing the hymn of the day, called the Troparion, and we are dismissed with the usual benediction.
The service of Vespers takes us through creation, sin, and salvation in Christ. It leads us to the meditation of God’s word and the glorification of His love for humanity. It instructs us and allows us to praise God for the particular events or persons whose memory is celebrated and made present to us in the Church. It prepares us for the sleep of the night and the dawn of the new day to come. On the eve of the Divine Liturgy, it begins our movement into the most perfect communion with God in the sacramental mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
Vespers service are celebrated throughout the year at the community of Saint Barbara and at other Orthodox Churches throughout the State of Connecicut on the eve of their parish’s feast day.
The morning service of the Church is called Matins or Orthros. It opens with the reading of six morning psalms and the intoning of the Great Litany.
After this, verses of Psalm 118 are chanted: “God is the Lord and has revealed himself unto us. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Troparion is then chanted; on major feast days, special praises and psalms are sung, which on Sunday proclaim Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On major feastdays and on Sundays, the Gospel is also read.
After the Gospel reading there is a long intercessory prayer followed by a set of hymns and readings called the Canon. These songs are based on the Old Testamental canticles and conclude with hymns honoring the Theotokos.
On Sundays resurrection hymns called Ainoi and those of the saints (if they celebrate their feast day on that day) are chanted following the following hymns:
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. To you, O God, is due praise.”
“Let all his angels praise him; let all his hosts praise him. To you, O God, is due praise.”
These hymns are followed by the chanting of a Doxastikon and the Great Doxology and on Sundays and Feastdays the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
The Matins service of the Church unites the elements of morning psalmody and prayer with meditation on the Biblical canticles, the Gospel reading, and the particular theme of the day in the given verses and hymns. The themes of God’s revelation and light are also always central to the morning service of the Church.
In addition to the liturgical services of Vespers and Matins, there are also the services of the Hours, Compline, and the Midnight Service. These services are mostly chanted in monasteries but are celebrated in parish churches during Great Lent and Holy Week, and on special feast days.
The services of Hours are comprised of four parts: the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth. These “hours” conform generally to the hours of six and nine in the morning, noon, and three in the afternoon. The services consist mostly of psalms which are generally related to the events in the passion of Christ which took place at that particular hour of the day. The Third Hour also refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on Pentecost.
The troparia of the given day or of the feast being celebrated are added to the Hours. During the first days of Holy Week as well as on certain major feasts, the Gospel is also read during the Hours. On days when there is no Divine Liturgy, the so-called Typical Psalms which include elements of the Divine Liturgy such as the liturgical psalms, the Beatitudes, and the Creed are read after the Ninth Hour.
The service of the Royal Hours are celebrated at the Saint Barbara parish on the eve of the feasts of the Nativity, Theophany and on Great and Holy Friday.
Compline is called the “after-dinner” service of the Church. It is a service of psalms and prayers that are read following the evening meal. On days when Vespers are connected to the Divine Liturgy, such as the eves of Christmas and Epiphany, Great Compline is added to Matins to form a Vigil service. During the first week of Great Lent, the Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete is read at the Compline Service. Prayers of this service revolve around two main themes: Thanksgiving “for the night that gives repose from the labor of the day” and petition “that we may sleep peacefully through the night and awaken to see the light of day.”
The Compline service at the Saint Barbara parish is celebrated on Monday evenings during Great and Holy Lent.
Other Prayer Services
House & Business Blessings
In conjunction with the celebration of Theophany (Epiphany) on January 6, and the service of the Great Blessing of the Water, it is traditional for the Priest in Orthodox parishes to travel to the homes and businesses of parishioners and bring the blessing of the Jordan into our daily lives. We do this each year by having the priest bless our homes and businesses with the Holy Water from the service of Theophany, offering prayers for our health, our family and the Lord’s abundant blessings in the coming year.
Each year, the around the feast of Theophany, the Church office publishes a “House Blessing Schedule” outlining the dates and areas that Father Peter will be visiting. To schedule a house or business blessing simply call the Church office and schedule a visit. The service takes only a few minutes, but the blessings are there all year!
When he visits, please have ready: 1) a list of the names of your family members, 2) a small bowl of water and 3) an icon. He will begin the service in the dining room or in the area of your home where you keep your icons, then he will ask you to guide him around the house.
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