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 faithful then partake of them in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. 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 Liturgy proper.
Before the Divine Liturgy begins, the priest and a deacon, if one is serving, 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 (prosphora). 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 diskos (or paten) in commemoration of the Theotokos, various saints, and the living and departed faithful for whom our people wish to pray. The remainder of the bread is blessed and distributed to parishioners and visitors after the service; this bread is called antidoron.
During the Prothesis, the priest also blesses wine and water, which are poured into the chalice. Warm water will be added to the chalice after the epiclesis.
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 deacon (or priest, if no deacon is serving) 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 calling to the remembrance of the faithful the witness of the Theotokos and the saints. In light of that powerful witness, the faithful are charged to commend their lives to Our Lord Jesus Christ. A closing prayer is exclaimed 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, “O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ. O Son of God… save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!” “Son of God” is normally followed by an insertion, such as “risen from the dead,” “wondrous in thy saints,” or “through the prayers of the Theotokos,” depending on the day.
Troparia and kontakia prescribed for the day, season, and temple follow next.
Having fully entered the church liturgically and gathered together around the Word, the gathered body chants the Trisagion.
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 apostolic reading from an epistle or from the Acts of the Apostles. This reading is usually chanted, but a spoken reading may be allowed out of economy for local situations. (In some traditions, the reader starts the chant in a very low voice, and steps up to end of the reading with a high voice. This is a reminder of how the Early Church rose up from the catacombs.)
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.
Liturgy of the Faithful
The Great Entrance
As the assembly begins chanting the Cherubic Hymn, the celebrants go to the prothesis or table of preparation. The priest presents the diskos to the deacon and takes the chalice himself. The deacon leads the priest through the north door of the icon screen. The clergy bring the gifts in procession to the holy doors, the central doors of the icon screen, while the deacon calls the faithful to attention, asking that the Lord will remember all people in his kingdom. As the holy gifts are carried solemnly through the holy doors, the assembled faithful conclude the Cherubic Hymn. (Note: if a deacon is not present, the priest makes this entrance with the diskos and chalice alone.)
After the priest blesses the faithful, 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, with 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.
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.” The two principal anaphoras in use in the Orthodox Church are those of St. John Chrysostom and 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 climax of the change 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 change 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 changed 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 honour 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 that 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 its 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 piece of antidoron, or blessed bread, which is also made available to visitors.
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.
Forms of the Divine Liturgy
The most commonly celebrated forms of the Divine Liturgy are the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and the slightly older Liturgy of St. Basil. The former is celebrated on most Sundays and Feast Days, throughout the year, whereas the latter is celebrated in on the six Sundays of Lent (unless the Annunciation should fall on one of them), and in Holy Week, on Holy Thursday and Great and Holy Saturday, in total, ten times throughout the year. Most of the differences between the two liturgies are in the prayers said by the Priest behind the iconostasis, which were historically inaudible to the congregation, but increasingly in some parishes are heard. A third liturgy, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, is celebrated on weekdays in Lent, when the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is forbidden, due to its festal nature. The Presanctified Liturgy, documented by Gregory the Dialogist, and historically attributed to him, but according to recent scholarship, very possibly having originated with the Oriental Orthodox patriarch Severus of Antioch, is celebrated in the early evening, and features the reception of the reserved sacrament, consecrated at the previous Divine Liturgy.
There exist Less commonly celebrated liturgies such as the ancient Liturgy of St. James and the Liturgy of St. Mark. The Divine Liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom are said to derive from the former, which was the ancient Rite of Jerusalem, the see of St. James the Just, with influence from the ancient Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles historically used in Antioch, whereas the latter is the ancient rite of Alexandria, the See of the Apostle Mark. The former is increasingly widely celebrated on October 23rd, the Feast of St. James (and also remains the basis for the liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church, while the latter has in recent years been celebrated in some seminaries on the Feast of St. Mark; a variant of it named for Cyril of Alexandria is occasionally used, mainly in Lent, in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Recently, Metropolitan Seraphim (Mentzelopoulos) of Piraeus celebrated the Divine Liturgy according to a reconstruction based upon the Euchologion of Serapion of Thmuis, an Alexandrian Rite liturgy similar to that of St. Mark; this may have been the first celebration of that ancient Orthodox liturgy in more than one thousand years.
In the Antiochian Western Rite Vicarate, two liturgies are used, the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, derived from the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, and the Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow, based on high church Anglican liturgics; in both cases, the liturgies have been corrected to reflect Orthodox theology. The Western Rite parishes in ROCOR primarily celebrate the Sarum Rite, the ancient use of the Cathedral of Salisbury prior to the Great Schism.