Divine Liturgy

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The Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service of the Church. The Divine Liturgy is a eucharistic service. It contains two parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Word, at which the Scriptures are proclaimed and expounded, and the Liturgy of the Faithful, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the gifts of bread and wine are offered and consecrated. The Church teaches that the gifts truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but it has never dogmatized a particular formula for describing this transformation. The Prothesis (or proskomedia), the service of preparing the holy gifts, can be considered a third part which precedes the beginning of the Liturgy proper.


Before the Divine Liturgy begins, the priest and a deacon, if one is available, begin by preparing the gifts of bread and wine for use in the service. This preparation is itself a considerable service. More than simply setting aside the bread and wine, a robust ritual has developed with elaborate symbolism. Though the main outline is similar for most Orthodox churches, there may be some differences based on which typicon a jurisdiction uses.

During the prothesis, the priest cuts out a square called the Lamb from the main loaf of bread. This will be consecrated during the Liturgy of the Faithful to become the holy body of Christ. He also removes small particles and places them on the discos or paten in commemoration of the Theotokos, various saints, members of the parish, and others close to him. The remainder of the bread is blessed and distributed to the faithful and visitors after the service; this bread is called antidoron.

During the prothesis, the priest also blesses the wine and pours it into the chalice. To this he adds warm or hot water.

Naturally, the gifts are censed several times during the prothesis. The conclusion of the prothesis leads directly into the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

Rites of Entrance

After a more or less quiet exchange between the priest and deacon, if one is serving, the Divine Liturgy begins with the memorable exclamation from the priest, "Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages." The assembled faithful respond, "Amen."

The priest continues with the Great Litany, so called because it is longer than most litanies and its petitions touch on the needs of the world: peace and salvation, the Church, her bishops, her faithful, captives and their health and salvation, deliverance from anger and need. It is concluded, as with most litanies, by commiting ourselves to the Theotokos and to Our Lord Jesus Christ and a prayer by the priest.

There follow three antiphons which vary by day and jurisdiction. The first two anitphons are followed by a shorter litany and a prayer. The third is followed by the Little Entrance, at which is sung, "Come, let us worship God, our King! Save us, O Son of God, who sing to you! Alleluia." "Son of God" is normally followed by an insertion, such as "risen from the dead" or "wondrous in your saints."

Having fully entered the church liturgically and gathered together around the Word, the gathered body chants the Thrice-Holy Hymn to the holy Trinity: "Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal: have mercy on us."

Rites of Proclamation

The proclamation of Scripture is announced with the prokeimenon, a psalm or canticle refrain sung in responsorial fashion. Then, a reader proclaims the epistle. This reading is usually chanted, but a spoken reading may be allowed out of economy for local situations.

A triple alleluia is sung, also with verses as at the prokeimenon. This alleluia announces the Gospel reading. Following the alleluia, there is a short exchange between the priest and the people, after which he or a deacon chants the Gospel.

Following the Gospel, the priest will often give a homily, a short or medium-length excursus on the Scripture, the season, or the present festival or commemoration, roughly equivalent to the Protestant sermon. The homily may also be given after the communion or even after the dismissal.

The service continues with the Litany of Fervent Supplication, which is marked by an insistent triple repitition of "Lord, have mercy."

The Liturgy of the Catechumens is concluded by a litany praying for the continued growth of the catechumens in faith, leading up to the day of their baptism. Though many churches do not have catechumens in attendance, this litany remains in the liturgy and serves as a constant reminder of the Great Commission, the foundation of the Church as mission to the world.

Liturgy of the Faithful

The Great Entrance

As the assembly begins chanting the Cherubic Hymn, the priest goes to the prothesis or table of preparation. He takes the chalice and discos and exits through the north door of the icon screen. He brings the gifts in procession to the holy doors, the central doors of the icon screen, while reciting a litany asking that the Lord will remember all people in his kingdom. As he proceeds solemnly through the holy doors, the assembled faithful conclude the Cherubic Hymn.

Then, the deacon exclaims, "The doors! The doors!" This famous exclamation once marked the point in the service at which the doors to the temple were locked, only faithful Christians remaining. Over the centuries, visitors have been allowed to stay, though the solemnity of what follows is still recalled with this phrase.

Then, the Church professes its common faith by reciting the Creed. The liturgical name for this creed is the Symbol of Faith, indicating its importance to early Christians in determining the Orthodoxy of persons claiming to be of the Church.

The Eucharistic Prayer

Following the Creed, the priest begins the anaphora, the great eucharistic prayer over the gifts, so called because of the initial phrase: "Let us lift up our hearts." There are two anaphora in use in the Orthodox Church: that of St. John Chrysostom and that of St. Basil the Great.

After remembering the history of our fall and redemption and the institution of the eucharistic meal, the priest invokes the Holy Spirit, asking that he be sent down on the gifts. It is sometimes noted that this invocation, the epiclesis, is the moment of transformation of the gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but there is not total agreement among Orthodox scholars whether the transformation can actually be pinpointed to a single moment in the service. It is certainly true that the prayers of the service treat the gifts as consecrated and transformed after this point.

Having invoked the Holy Spirit and consecrated the gifts, the priest commemorates the saints, beginning with the Theotokos. At this point, the assembled faithful chant the ancient hymn in honor of the Virgin, "It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God, the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you."

The priest prays the the bishop, in whose name he is celebrating the Liturgy, will be kept in the Orthodox Faith and preserved in health and years.

The Communion and Dismissal

After consecrating the gifts, commemorating the saints and praying for the local bishop, the priest lifts up the consecrated gifts, exclaiming, "The holy things are for the holy!" To which the faithful respond, "One is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, amen." This phrase unfortunately loses something in English, since we have two words for holy and saint. In most other languages, this dialogue has a connotation of, "The holy things are for the saints! / Only one is a saint! Only one is Lord: Jesus Christ...." This is a rather prominent reminder that our holiness finds it source in God alone, and particularly in our participation in this communion.

The faithful communicate in Orthodox tradition by receiving in both kinds (bread intincted in the wine) from a spoon, a tradition which dates to the fourth century. Having received the body and blood of the Savior, they take a small piece of bread, antidoron, which is a part of the same loaf from which the Lamb was taken. Antidoron is not consecrated to be the eucharist, but it is blessed and so it is treated with reverence. In Russian tradition, a small cup of wine is also offered.

After a dismissal common to the services of the Church, the faithful come forward to venerate the cross and leave the church. Renewed by the eucharistic meal, they are sent forth as witnesses to Christ in the world.

Bibliographical Resources

  • Bradshaw, Paul, ed. Essays on Early Eastern Eucharistic Prayers (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) ISBN 081466153X
Essays on eucharistic prayers (anaphoras) from various periods and locales.
  • Cuming, Geoffrey J. and R. C. D. Jasper. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1987) ISBN 0814660851
Includes the texts of eucharistic prayers no longer extant as well as early redactions of the anaphoras of St. James, St. Basil the Great, and St. John Chrysostom.
  • Schmemann, Alexander. The Eucharist (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1987) ISBN 0881410187
A classic reflection on the meaning of the Divine Liturgy from one of the pioneers of liturgical theology.
  • Taft, Robert, SJ. Divine Liturgies — Human Problems in Byzantium, Armenia, Syria and Palestine (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001) ISBN 0860788679
  • Taft, Robert, SJ. A History of the Liturgy of St. John Chysostom (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute)
This is a multi-volume work in progress. Currently, no ISBN are available. See the SVS Press website.
  • Volume II: The Great Entrance
  • Volume IV: The Diptychs
  • Volume V: The Precommunion Rites

External Links