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Introduction to the Liturgy

Such being the importance of the active participation of the faithful in the offering of the Divine Eucharist, the knowledge of the Divine Liturgy as to its meaning and form usually is adequate. For this reason we will refer in brief manner to various phases of the performance of the Divine Liturgy as it is seen today.

The Office of Preparation
The office of Preparation of the Divine Liturgy, the Prothesis, is now a separate service. Originally it constituted a part of the Liturgy when the deacon exclaimed: "Let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace," and where the prayer of the Oblation continues "to enable us to offer Thee Gifts." In the Liturgy of St. James the prayer of the Preparation is read during the Liturgy. In the Liturgy of Clement the prayer of Preparation took place after the dismissal of the Catechumens. St. Athanasios found untimely the practice of the preparation before the Divine Liturgy. St. Chrysostom put the Oblation and its prayer in the Liturgy after the kiss of peace and the exhortation, "Let us love one another," probably to remind us of the Bible's determination that "if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there remembrest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5: 23-24).

Later in the 6th century the office of the Preparation was set apart, elaborated, and officiated before the Divine Liturgy, as it is now. At the same time the Cherubic hymn was inserted into the Liturgy against the protest of Patriarch Eutyhios (582). Symbolism and allegory entered this office of Preparation and somehow confused the coherence of the thoughts of the Liturgy by prescribing them in anticipation. The office of Preparation took its final shape in the 14th century.

The Priest wears vestments - sticharion (robe), epitrachelion (stole), girdle, epimanica (cuff) and phelonion (the outer cape); he washes his hands and reads the prayers of Preparation. On the table of Preparation are the sacred utensils: Paten (disc), Cup (Chalice), spoon, spear, asterisk, two small covers, and one large overall cover (Aer). Also on the table are the sacred Species - the loaf of Bread and the Wine and water to be mixed in the Chalice.

The Bread is impressed in the center with the stamp "IC-XC, NI-KA", on its left has nine small elevations for the Saints, and on its right a portion for the Virgin Mary. All these portions are cut with the spear and placed on the Paten with prayers and commemoration. Portions also are added in the name of the faithful, both the departed and the living. Both the Paten and Chalice are covered with the two small covers and over all is placed the Aer. The Priest censes them and reads the prayer of Preparation.

The Diagram of the Divine Litrgy
The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom consists of readings from the Scriptures and of solemn hymns and prayers. Its spoken words are chanted by the priest and sung by the "people", who are now replaced by the cantor or the choir. Besides the spoken words, the main part of the Liturgy is read inaudibly by the priest, a custom which now prevails. It is a matter of fact that most of the "exaltations" of the priest are the ends of the prayers inaudibly read, and have not a complete meaning apart from the prayers. It is to be remembered that the Divine Liturgy is offered to enact the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist, from the Greek verb, Eucharistein, and the noun, Eucharistia, has not only the meaning of thanksgiving but, more so, that of sacrifice.

Whenever Holy Communion is offered, the partaking by all the faithful is intended. As a prelude there are petitions, Bible readings, exhortations and the confession. They open the awesome drama in which all the faithful participate. This participation includes singing, reading, listening, some gestures and the par taking of Holy Communion.

The following is a diagram of the Divine Liturgy:

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OFFSITE: Greek Archdiocese of America - Introduction to the Divine Liturgy - The original, unaltered article, by Rev. George Mastrantonis.