Benefits of the Divine Liturgy. 9th Sunday of St. Matthew
Through the Divine Economy the Love of the Holy Trinity is expressed to mankind. “Through marvellous deeds and prophetical words God prepared man to participate once again in His Love and True Life” (St. Basil). This tτue love of God to mankind is expressed in every Holy Sacrament in the Orthodox Church.
Today we shall examine the following: Firstly, the fτuits of the Divine Liturgy. Secondly, the preparation of the Ρriest prior to the Divine Liturgy, and thirdly, how the faithful can receive the fτuits of the Divine Liturgy.
After the Bishop or Priest has blessed the Offering Gifts, in other words the bread and wine, and the Gifts have been consecrated to become the actual Body and Blood of Christ, he continues, saying the following prayer: “So that they may be to those who partake of them forvigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the Κingdοm of Heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgement or condemnation.”
Through the Holy Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist, Christ offers to man His precious Body and Blood so that man can become one body with his Saviour. Our Lord Himself, when He spoke for the first time about this Sacrament, said: ”He who eats ΜΥ flesh and drinks ΜΥ Blood abides in me, and Ι in him” (John 6:56). When man participates in this Holy Sacrament, he receives Christ inside of him, and Christ receives man. Christ becomes the Temple, and the Dweller therein. St. John Chrysostom teaches us: ”It is necessary for us to learn about the miracle of the Sacrament, what it is, why it was instituted, and what the benefits are. We become one Body with His flesh, not only in words, but in reality. Through Holy Communion our Lord wanted to show us His longing Love for us. For this reason He united Himself with us so that we can be united with Him in one Body, namely the Church, which has Him as Head thereof.
Christ’s love for man was not only satisfied in the Incarnation, the Passion, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, but continues and extends furthermore into the offering of the Divine Eucharist.
There exists no obstacles between Christ and the faithful. St. Symeon the New Theologian teaches us that we become parts of the Body of Christ and Christ becomes part of our bodies. When the Holy Spirit descends upon the Holy Gifts, the Holy Spirit sanctifies and renews all Creation and all mankind, and so man becomes son of God by adoption. In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist we relive the Resurrection of our Lord. The world once again receives God’s blessing, and for this reason during the Divine Liturgy the Bishop or the Priest blesses the faithful three times.
The first fruits of the Divine Liturgy are. the vigilance of one’s soul and the forgiveness of one’ s sins. Even if man existed for only one hour in this life, he would not have been clean of sin. God knows the weakness of man and says: “the imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth” (Gen. 8:2l).
After the Lord’s Resurrection, He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Confession. ”lf you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23). Man, through true repentance and confession, receives true forgiveness of his sins. Because it is in man’s nature to forget small sins, God forgives these minor sins by man’s participation in the Divine Eucharis! It must however, not be misunderstood that all sins are forgiven by participating in the Holy Eucharist, because man must still repent and confess his sins to a Priest. For the faithful to be worthy of participation in the Divine Eucharist, the following words of St. Paul must always be remembered: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (l Corinth. ll:28-30).
When the faithful prepare themselves according to repentance and confession, they receive within themselves worthily Christ Himself. Our Lord is He who cleanses the soul of man and He who makes it a Temple of the Holy Trinity.
The second fruit of the Divine Liturgy is the communion of the Holy Spirit. Man has communion with the Holy Spirit only when he accepts the true Faith in Jesus Christ, and when he remains in the original Church οf Christ. There are two things that cast the Holy Spirit away from man, namely sin and heresy. The Holy Spirit cannot be present where there are sins and heresies.
Sin is every deed that man commits against God’s Will, and heresy is the distortion of the word of God. In the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, we read: “For the Holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit and remove from thought that are without understanding and will not abide when uηrighteοusness comes in“ (Wisdom of Solomon l:5).
The Orthodox Church is the Truth about the Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. She didn’t add or subtract – she has the fulfillment of Faith in Christ. When the faithful gather together in one place to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the mystery of the Church is expressed.
The faithful as members of Christ and His Church are in direct communion with the Holy Spirit. Whoever cuts himself off from the true Church cuts himself off from the communion with the Holy Spirit. Our Lord Himself warns us, saying: ”As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. Ι am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and Ι in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John l5:4-6). He who knows the Truth, and consciously remains in heresy, commits a sin which guides him to eternal Death. “As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is selfcondemned” (Titus 3:l0-ll).
The third fruit of the Divine Liturgy is the fulfillment of the Κingdom of Heaven. Our Lord teaches us: “nor will they say ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke l7: 2l). God’s Κingdom is fulfilled when man opens his heart to God and allows Him to enter into his life. There is a famous religious painting which shows Christ knocking outside on a door. Critics who examined the painting found a big error. They accused the painter of omitting the lock and handle from the door. When asked how one can enter a door without a key, the painter replied that man must open the door from the inside of his heart to let Christ in. Christ always knocks on our doors by giving us the opportunities to open the door to Him, but uItimately the choice rests upon us. When Christ enters into man’s soul, man still has to struggle continually against evil in order to keep Christ inside himself. In this manner the Κingdom of God is fulfilled. Man becomes the Temple of God, and God the centre of man’s life.
The fourth fruit of the Divine Liturgy is “confidence before Christ and not in Judgement or condemnation.” When man partakes frequently of the Holy Eucharist, man has confidence in front of God. Christ, our Lord, teaches us “no longer do Ι call you servants, for the servant does not knowwhat his master is doing; but Ι have called you friends, for all that Ι have heard from ΜΥ Father Ι have made known to you” (John l5:l5). Βy participating in this Holy Sacrament, we are transferred from a servant to the friend of God. This is the purpose of our lives – that is to become friends with God, which also means to be sanctified by His Grace and in His Church. It is very important to understand that this is possible only when we are in His true Church. If we cut ourselves off from the true Body of Christ, the result is what our Lord describes: “When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’. He will answer to you ‘Ι do not knowwhere you come from’. Then you will begin to say, ‘we ate and drank in Υ our presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘Ι tell you, Ι do not knowwhere you come from; depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity'” (Luke l3:25-27).
This fourth fruit has two parts: the first part starts here on earth, and the second part continues after death. In this earthly life man has the opportunity to accept the Truth in order to become a member of Christ’s Body, and to practise His Commandments. After death, whoever has accepted the Word of God fully, will be saved and will inherit the Κingdom of God. The Truth of Christ liberates man as it is written in the Gospel of St. John: ”And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). If anyone rejects the Truth, they will be condemned by the Word of God. ”He who rejects Me and does not receive ΜΥ sayings has a judge; the word that Ι have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (John l2:48). The faithful who practise the Commandments of God in their lives and participated in the sacramental life of the Church have the hope of salvation. “For this is the will of ΜΥ Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and Ι will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Whoever wants to be saved and not be condemned at the Last Judgement, should utilise their opportunities daily to repent, confess and become conscientious Orthodox Christians. After death, there are no opportunities for repentance, because the condition then is that of Judgement. ”And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes Judgement” (Heb. 9:27).
Let us now see how the Priest has to prepare himself for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The Priest, to have the right to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, must prepare himself by fasting and repentance. In my opinion, priests should ideally confess on a weekly basis, so that they will stand in front of the Holy Altat with angelical purity.
The Priest is the minister and deacon of man’s salvation. The Priest separates himself from the world of sin and he dedicates himself to the Holy Trinity. The purpose of his priestly service is first to give the faithful encouragement to live a sinless life in Christ. Secondly, the priest encourages the faithful to accept Christ into their lives; and thirdly, the priest guides the faithful to sanctification under God’s Grace and Power.
St. Gregory the Theologian teaches us that “the priestly service is the incarnation of the prophetical preaching.” The priest reveals to man the new life which our Lord Jesus Chrust promised man. The priest becomes the hand through which God offers man the true life in Jesus Christ, as He says: ”Ι am the Light of the world” (John 8:l2).
The Divine Liturgy is the Sacrament through which the life of Christ is offered to the faithful. For this reason it becomes the centre of the Service.
This vital service is not symbolic, but it is a reality which the Priest has to live up to in his daily life. The priest must sacrifice himself by denying every sinful pleasure that life offers. This sacrifice cleanses the Priest in body and soul, and is fulfilled in the Holy Sacrament of Confession. The priest who approaches the Holy Sacrament without the necessary preparation of fasting, repentance and confession, does not approach the true Light, but fire which consums, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. l2:29). St. Theognostos reminds the Priest with the following words: ‘Ύου who became worthy of the Divine and respectable Priesthοοd, must sacrifice yourself by death of bodily passions, and then must have courage to approach the Lifegiving sacrifice, if you do not want to be burnt by the Divine Fire as flammable wood.” This sacraficial way is the act of repentance.
Another prerequisite of the Priest before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, is to forgive all those who trespassed against him. For this reason, before the main entrance, and before he receives Holy Communion during the Liturgy, the Priest faces the congregation and asks for their forgiveness. The faithful react by bowing their heads when the Priest blesses them.
In the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, there is nothing done without meaningful reason. It is not only symbolic, but it is a true remembrance of the work of salvation which was offered by our Lord Jesus Christ
Το benefit from the fruits of the Divine Liturgy, each person must prepare himself accordingly. Το become worthy of the peace which God offers, we must make peace with God, with our conscience and our fellow man.
When we fight every form of sin, repent and confess, we make peace with God. With our fellow man we make peace by loving one another. This Love must be put into practise. Without practical Love, man cannot have peace and he cannot understand the greater meaning of the essence of Christianity. Our Lord teaches us: “Βy this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John l3: 35). This love of God and our fellow man must be followed by the true Faith in Christ, so that we will enjoy the communion with the Holy Spirit. Faith and deeds always go together; they are united but undivided. It is a very big mistake that some people make by believing that they are good Christians, but they never put a foot in Church. Or, on the other hand, they come to Church, but they don’t practise the Commandments of God, and they don’t forgive those who trespass against them.
As long as we have time in this life, we have to utilise it for our salvation. The Love of God is open for all those who want to accept it.
By His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes