Each week the Liturgy is at the heart of our spiritual life as a parish, but what do we mean when we use that word 'Liturgy?'
Liturgy is a Greek word which means 'the work of the people' - not just of the priest, the deacon, the altar servers, the readers and choir, but the work of the whole people of God. This Liturgy is YOUR spiritual work in which YOU are called to play an ACTIVE part, not just to be a passive onlooker. YOU are a vital part of the Liturgy and must play an active part.
You should endeavour to be in church before the beginning of the Liturgy, so that you can make your offering: presenting one or more prosphora (small liturgical loaves) with lists of the Orthodox Christians, living and departed, whom you wish to be commemorated. You might offer a bottle of altar wine, charcoal, incense or beeswax candles: all offerings through which you enter, participate and offer YOURSELF in the Liturgy.
Remember O Lord...
The priest begins the Liturgy with the benediction: 'Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...' and with these words we acknowledge that we are mystically entering into the Kingdom of God. As time and eternity meet in the Liturgy and we enter another spiritual dimension, we acknowledge our place in that spiritual journey with our 'amen', whether we sing it, think it, or say it quietly. That word 'amen' which we hear so often means 'I agree'; so, whenever you say 'amen', you are adding your voice and agreement to the prayer which has been offered.
In the litanies/ektenias we are called to pray for peace, for the Church, for the world, for those in authority, for the sick, the suffering and the needy, for travelers, prisoners, for those who work in our communities, for the departed and many others. How do we participate in this? We bring all of these prayer requests to the Lord in the simple words, 'Lord, have mercy.' When we pray with requests for the Lord to help us and give us the spiritual and material gifts of life we join in with the words, 'Grant this, O Lord.' As we place ourselves in God's hands and entrust our lives to Him through the intercession of the Mother of God and the saints, we do so with the words, 'To thee, O Lord.' Again these are not just words to hear. These are words of prayer for each of us to say, however we choose to do so.
In peace, let us pray to the Lord...
We also join in with the Liturgy physically as we make the sign of the cross and bow in prayer each time we say 'Lord, have mercy' and at the Little Entrance when the priest enters the altar with the Gospel, the choir calls us with the words, 'Come let us worship and fall down before Christ...' and we join in as we make the sign of the cross and bow in worship.
Blessed is the entrance of Thy saints...
At the chanting of Holy God, we participate as we make the sign of the cross, but we should also be joining in with the words mentally or quietly saying them to ourselves: 'Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.' This is the praise and prayer of all of the people of God.
During the readings, we join in by doing what we are asked when we hear the words 'Wisdom. Let us attend.' We listen attentively and concentrate on what we're hearing.
At the cherubic hymn, we join in by doing what the hymn calls us to do: by forgetting about the cares and worries of the world and putting all of our being into focusing on the spiritual meaning of the Liturgy in which we welcome and meet the Lord.
At the heart of service, we join in with the words of the anaphora as we are called to lift up our hearts to the Lord and to give Him thanks. The dialogue at this part of the Liturgy is not simply between the priest and the choir, but between him and ALL of the people of God. We offer ourselves with the eucharistic offerings that were carried to the Holy Table during the Great Entrance a short while earlier.
Before we chant the creed/veruyu, we are called to love one another and in the bond of love to show our unity by declaring and taking ownership of our shared faith TOGETHER as we chant, 'I believe in one God...' In a similar way we all join in the singing of the Lord's Prayer congregationally, whether a deacon conducts us or not.
I believe, in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...
At the Saviour's words, 'Take eat, this is my body... Drink ye all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant...' we join in with our personal amen and at the end of the anaphora, when the priest raises the Lamb at the words, 'Holy things for the holy' we acknowledge the Lord's presence by joining in with the words, 'One is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. AMEN.’
Holy Things for the holy...
Before communion we join in the prayers beginning, 'I believe O Lord and I confess' and then there is the greatest of all of the things in the world in which we can join in and share: the communion of the Lord's Body and Blood.
Sadly, many hardly ever heed the Lord's invitation: 'Take eat, Drink this all of you...' To do so challenges us to a continual life of spiritual hard work, fasting, repentance, confession and podvig, but this is the calling of the people of God and the meaning of the Christian life. Spiritual hard work!
Take up this spiritual work. Make yourselves familiar with the Liturgy. Most parts of it are the same day by day, week by week, month by month. Buy a book or download the Liturgy from the internet and make an effort to learn the Liturgy, so that texts can be put aside as soon as possible, that you may join in with all of your senses and not be distracted by the printed word.
In whatever way you can - mentally, spiritually, musically, materially - become part of the Liturgy, so that you are not simply a witness, but a part of the Mystery with the Liturgy as YOUR work and offering, as a member of the family and community of faith.