Liturgy: What is It and Why Do We Do It?

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Gathering in Greek Orthodox Church

Liturgy is actually derived from the Ancient Greek term leitourgia, which at the time refereed to the expensive offerings of service to the people. In modern times, Liturgy is the specific rites and rituals of a public worship in the Greek Orthodox Church.

In the earliest manuscripts about the Liturgy we find at the very least a gathering of people, readings and sermons, and of course the Eucharistic Meal. Has it changed in how it looked since the beginning? Of course it did. At first the Church was having secret liturgies in people’s homes, but the Church was small, so it was manageable. Plus the Church was learning and growing.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t even necessarily defined until the AD 400’s. We like to think we are a Church that never changes, but I would rather say we are a Church that changes only out of necessity and doesn’t change its teachings, but rather adds to the fullness of them.

But this is okay for us, it is not a contradiction that we have liturgy different than they did in the early centuries. The Liturgy, as we understand it, is an icon of the Kingdom to come. It is an image that represents the Kingdom; it is something that we will come to know more fully after the Second Coming of Christ. It is a progression towards the completeness, without forgetting the necessity of what was before. The liturgy was still an image of the Kingdom in the early Church, but that image has transformed from a cave painting to a renaissance painting, and you know what, it will change in the future only giving us a more full picture, maybe even a 3D image in comparison to a renaissance painting. Ultimately, the Kingdom will come, and we all will have participated in the image and then we can say we now understand how the image portrayed the coming Kingdom.

How is the Liturgy an image of the Kingdom? At the Second Coming, the Judgment, the fullness of the Kingdom coming into fruition, we will all be gathered in one place for judgment. So as the image, we are all brought into the Church, in one place, to witness and be in the real presence of Christ. We have been called to bring Christ to the world, to bring the reign of His Kingdom into effect, so we must go to the Kingdom to bring the Kingdom to the current day.

In an effort to bring the Kingdom into this world, we are called to be priests of creation. God has put us in this role, not to abuse creation, but rather to tend to it and take created things that we can create things out of. That is why we don’t serve wheat and grapes at the Eucharist, but rather bread and wine. Not the raw things that God has given us, but showing that we want to join Him in creation, we “make” bread and wine out of the creation God has given us.

Lastly, we call it the Eucharistic Assembly, the assembly of the thanksgiving. We come to Liturgy to thank God, as a whole, and as that whole we pray for everyone—alive or dead, clergy, laity, travelers, captives, our leaders and ourselves. Making this effort to come and pray, even on behalf of the rest of the world, is showing God that we want to be in communion with Him and that we thank Him for the communion he makes available with us.

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This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.