Leitourgia

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Today is Sunday.  His day.  Our day!  Worship in the Church has been known since apostolic  times as “leitourgia” – liturgy “…an action by which a group of  people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals –  a whole greater than the sum of its parts.”   Each time we enter the sanctuary and hear the words of the Priest as he chants the opening prayer: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages…”  we who are gathered, in a sense, leave this world and enter a sacred space and place, a place that is unlike any other place on earth.  Like Moses, we are standing on Holy Ground.   We greet the very presence of Christ and our voices join millions of other Orthodox Christians around the world, and we worship with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.

The Icon of the Holy Resurrection above is the essence of the day.  And the resplendent hymn of the Feast of Pascha captures the meaning of our Eucharist (thanksgiving)

“O Christ is risen from the dead, O Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life…

A favorite Orthodox author of mine, and millions of others, is the sainted priest Fr. Alexander Schmemann.  Among the many books that he wrote in his lifetime, one of the most beloved is “For the Life of the World”  here is a beautiful excerpt from the chapter called: The Eucharist:

The Divine Liturgy is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Eucharist and is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord.   The Church enters into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, and this is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential ‘leitourgia’, the sacrament by which it ‘becomes what it is’.  The liturgy is best understood as a journey or procession.  It is a journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom.  It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds.  They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive fifteen miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place, an act which is the very condition of everything else that is to happen.  For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God.  They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community.  And now they have been called to ‘come together in one place’, to bring their lives, their very ‘world’ with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.”

The liturgy begins then as a real separation from the world.  In our attempt to make Christianity appeal to the man on the street, we have often minimized, or even completely forgotten, this necessary separation.  We always want to make Christianity ‘understandable’ and ‘acceptable’ to this mythical ‘modern’ man on the street.  And we forget that the Christ of whom we speak is not ‘not of this world’, and that after His resurrection He was not recognized even by His own disciples.

The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended…”

Thanks be to God for the ‘leitourgia’, which makes us so much more together, than we could ever be on our own.

Anaphora!

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