We also thank You for this Liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands though there stand by You thousands of Archangels and hosts of Angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim with six wings, many eyes, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory! Hosanna in the Highest!” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).
Offering “Thine own of Thine own…”
The Holy and Divine Liturgy is the pinnacle of a Life in Christ—of the Life of a Steward. It is the hard work of those set apart by God to serve at His Holy Altar. The Grace of the Holy Spirit enables us to participate in this work—even though there are a multitude of hosts to serve God. Human beings can accomplish no greater work than to participate in this work of Christ which unites us to Him—and in so doing to the Holy Trinity.
Stewardship is taking seriously the enormity, the profundity and the richness of this unifying Gift of God—the Holy Liturgy. Therefore, we should treat such important work with the utmost respect and care. This treatise will enumerate ways in which we may exercise our love for God and good Stewardship of the Divine Liturgy by examining three separate areas of liturgical movement, liturgical music and liturgical space.
The movement of the Divine Liturgy is the eternal Dance of Isaiah—a joyous motion celebrating the Love of God present in our Lord, Jesus Christ. And, like any dance, we must be there on time to begin properly. The care of liturgical movement begins with entering before the Liturgy begins. Not fifteen minutes late. Not just before the Holy Anaphora. Not just in time for antidiron/naphora at the end of the Liturgy. A dance is greatly disrupted if it is interrupted it as it is going on—as is the Holy Liturgy. When we make a Life in Christ a priority, we ensure that we begin on time.
The Divine Liturgy officially begins at the proclamation of the Deacon: “it is time to begin the service to the Lord.” However, there is the liturgy prior to the Liturgy called “Proskemedia” or, the Liturgy of Preparation. It is during this time that the priest prepares the offering. It is also at the end of this preparation that the entirety of the Church—the Temple, the offering, and the people—are incensed and blessed.
Care of liturgical movement also means that we are paying attention to what is going on at the Holy Altar. We are to ensure that there is no reason to rush, nor to move in an unusually slow manner, but to maintain a regular, joyful and prayerful pace. For this reason, we must allow adequate preparation. Again, it is important to remember that there is a rhythm present in the Divine Liturgy.
This rhythm is made manifest in the exchange between clergy ordained to serve at the Holy Altar and those leading the people in responding, be they cantors or a full choir. The liturgical music of the Holy Liturgy provides the vehicle through which we human beings may join in the Song of the Angelic Host sung at the throne of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We are all musicians in the Divine Liturgy, for we are all directed to “make a joyful noise unto God…” Those who have received musical gifts are called to help lead the rest of the congregation by participating in the Choir, as a Cantor, or both. This leadership should be one of service (as all Christian leadership truly is), dedicating oneself to God through practicing and preparing this musical gift as an offering. Choir members should make every effort to attend rehearsals and to prepare for the singing of the Liturgy. Cantors should prepare the hymnography and have rehearsed it so that it might offer glory to God and not distraction. God’s gift is only ‘potential’ until it is actualized in practice.
However, as was aforementioned: we are all called to respond and sing the Holy Liturgy. In fact, the Divine Liturgy may not even be served if there is no one to respond. It is essential that there be at least one or two to respond to the clergy’s petitions or the Liturgy may not be served. This point is reinforced by the fact that the first active verb in the entire liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is sung by the people during the Anaphora: “We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, O Lord, and we pray unto Thee our God.”
The praise and worship of God as it is accomplished in the local community takes precedence in the life of a Steward of Christ. It is the means by which we are empowered to act as Christ’s Body—the Church. Thus, the space in which the Divine Liturgy is realized must be offered the utmost loving care. We treat the Church Temple the same way that we treat our own bodies: as the Temple of the Holy Spirit that it is.
We clothe it properly, adorning it with proper vestments covering the Holy Altar, Table of Oblation and liturgical stands. We clothe it with the Majesty from on High with the Holy Icons upon the Iconostasis and Walls. We clothe it by vesting those serving at the Altar or at the kliros/pojac (reader’s stand) with the appropriate robes as well.
We ensure that the Temple is clean for every Liturgy. We clean our kitchens at home after using them; and we probably would not cook in a dirty kitchen. Nor would we serve our food upon dirty plates. So, it stands to reason that the most important spiritual food in which we can partake, Holy Communion, should be prepared and served with the utmost care as well.
This means that the entirety of the Temple: the Altar, the Sanctuary, the Nave and the Narthex should be kept spotless. We never should walk into a Church and see cobwebs in the corners and crumbs on the carpet. In the same manner, when we are truly caring for our Life in Christ, neither should we leave the dirt of sin to defile our soul—but should regularly “clean house” through preparing for the Holy Mysteries of Repentance and Communion!
The rewards of cleaning both our Church and our souls are plenty—there is no joy like that of an unburdened soul free to worship God!
CARE OF THE LITURGY
Each of us, as Christian Stewards, is called to an intense and loving relationship with God through participating in the Holy Liturgy. This relationship has an infinite potential for growth. However, its growth is limited if we do not care for our participation in the Divine Work of the People. Ensuring that loving care is given to liturgical movement, liturgical music and liturgical space helps us to care for the Holy Liturgy. And we all have unique and special gifts given by God to offer in this most important work—in this pinnacle of the Life of Christ!
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4: 10-11).