Beginning the Journey to the Kingdom
by: Rev. Peter J. Orfanakos
Over the course of this ecclesiastical year we will be examining in greater detail the experience of the Divine Liturgy. The Θεία Λειτουργία, literally, ‘the work of the people,’ begins with the mighty and triumphant opening benediction, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!” to which the assembled Church responds, “Amen!”
It is significant that the Divine Liturgy opens with this glorious exclamation, blessing the Triune God for the Kingdom and salvation that He gives us. The true work of God’s people is the worship of the life-giving Trinity. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy is the supreme act of praise and doxology that brings us before the throne of God, makes us sharers of His heavenly grace, and transforms our life into a new creation for the glory of God. Through the Liturgy we experience most intimately the renewing power of the mystical presence of God’s Kingdom, and we express our gratitude to God for His glorious saving deeds and redeeming grace. The Divine Liturgy is our way of praising, glorifying and thanking God for all His blessings.1
Through the Liturgy’s opening cry we utter “a prophetic shout of defiance; we throw down a gauntlet before the feet of the world, offering a ringing challenge to all the dying and deadly values of this age.”2 By invoking and praising God’s Kingdom, we confess that we are citizens of His Kingdom, sharing in all its blessings and righteousness.3 When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we are called to leave aside all the cares and anxieties of this world, and place our focus on our journey towards Heaven.
In many respects, the world around us, the earthly land in which we celebrate the Liturgy, is a world full of distraction and confusion. The ‘world’ tries to direct our attention on earthly concerns and transitory matters. The ‘world’ tries to seduce us into believing that all that matters is the financial bottom line; that we are somehow defined by the size of our salaries and stock portfolios. The ‘world’ would have us believe that money is the means to the ‘good life.’ Buy low - sell high; work all you can. Run, run, run… the more that you cram into your lives, the more contented you will be. Alas, is the “truth” we seek, or are we being deceived?
Bless youth and beauty! Ever quantify how much of our day is spent focusing our attention on our appearance? We are bombarded by beauty ads everywhere. Under this ‘cloud’ of concealer and blush and through the ‘mist’ of perfumes and deodorant, we become disoriented, in our pursuit of true inner beauty. Instead of focusing our attention on our spiritual growth we scramble to ‘conform to the most recently canonized image of an outer beauty which, despite all our efforts, will one day pass away.’4
In all these cultural distortions, the Church recognizes the things that distract us as fake gods that cannot save. While society calls us to worship these false idols, the Church, through the introductory exclamation of the Divine Liturgy offers us the only true alternative: we will bless only the true God, Triune and undivided, as the path offered to us in this world. As Orthodox Christians, we will bless and choose only His Kingdom as the true destination for the human race. And so, in the opening benediction, we make our cry of defiance. In it, we refuse all other paths and lift up the name of the Trinity alone. And when the priest or celebrant proclaims this truth and this Kingdom, the assembled Church, destined for that Kingdom, responds, “Amen!”5
By responding “Amen,” not only do we accept the celebrant's proclamation as true and align ourselves with God and His Kingdom, we also seal what has been said. The priest’s benediction and prayer, through the ‘amen,’ now becomes the prayer of the Church.6 The ‘amen’ is essential and reveals the nature and dignity of the lay people in the Church. The priest cannot utter the ‘amen’ to his own prayer, for that is the job of the assembled faithful; without them and their liturgical response there can be no Liturgy and no Church.7 This is why the canons do not permit the priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy without a congregation. Without the liturgical ‘amen’ of the people, the priest’s benediction remains no more than his individual pious wish, his devout and personal prayer. But when the congregation responds, ‘Amen,’ the “priest’s utterance becomes the opening prayer of the Church, the first note of the Church’s song, the first movement of the journey to the Kingdom.”8
1 The Eternal Liturgy, Rev. Theodore Stylianopoulos, p. 8.
2 Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy,
Rev. Lawrence Farley, p. 13.
3 Ibid., p. 17.
4 Ibid., p. 14.
5 Ibid., p. 14.
6 Ibid., p. 14.
7 Ibid., p. 14.
8 Ibid., p. 15.