Greek Orthodox Church
St John Chrysostom

The Content and Structure of the Divine Liturgy

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The Divine Liturgy of St. 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 that now prevails. Most of the “exaltations” of the priest are from the ends of the prayers inaudibly read, and have lacked 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 partaking of Holy Communion.

The following is a diagram of the Divine Liturgy :The Beginning :
The Liturgy begins with the exclamation : Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. With these words we praise, we bless and we glorify, with all our strength the material and the spiritual Kingdom of the Triune God. The people with their response of Amen, so it be, affirm His Kingdom as we enter into the Divine Work of the Church.

The Great Litany :
This is the all embracing prayer of the Church. It is offered by the priest in “prayers” with the people responding, Kyrie eleison; Lord, have mercy. After asking God for deliverance from all that is harmful and for his divine help and protection we remember the Theotokos and all the Saints and commit ourselves and one another to Christ our God. This litany ends with the invocation of the Trinity to whom is due all glory.

Antiphons :
These are psalm verses that are sung by the people. The first antiphon is : “Bless the Lord, O my soul . . . (Psalm 103); the second antiphon is : “Praise the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 146); while the third antiphon consists of the Beatitudes of our Lord. More often than not, the antiphons are suppressed and the refrains are simply chanted : “By the intercessions of the Theotokos . . . ” and : “Save us O Son . . . ” as well as the Apolyticon of the Sunday or feast. Following the Second Antiphon, the hymn of faith in the divinity of Christ and His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection as “one of the Holy Trinity” for the salvation of man composed by the Emperor Justinian is sung : “Only-Begotten Son . . . “

Entry with the Gospel :
This entry represents the ancient practice when the priest would transfer the Gospel from the skevophylakion, the place for guarding vessels, to the Holy Altar. Prior to this entry the priest recites a prayer calling to mind the angels and archangels that serve with us and glorify with us. The priest, upon making the entrance to the center of the solea, lifts up the Gospel exclaiming “Wisdom,” which means Christ, and calls all the people to attention to worship and bow down to Christ. Technically speaking, the Small Entrance is not completed until the singing of the Thrice Holy Hymn. Therefore the troparia and the kontakia which are chanted are considered part of the Small Entrance.

The Trisagion :
At this point in the service we join the angels as they sing the Thrice Holy Hymn (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Readings from the New Testament :
The specific sections of the New Testament read are determined by the Church and are the same every year.

The Apostolic Reading :
Prior to the reading of the Epistle, the Prokeimena are chanted, that is, the psalm verses intoned (reminiscent of the Old Testament readings that were once included) by the chanter/reader. Following the Prokeimena, the reading begins with the priest’s command “Let us attend” as these readings are of Christ’s apostles who were sent into the world to preach the true faith.

The Gospel Reading :
In the Gospel reading we hear the word and the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Good News of Christ has described by the four Evangelists : Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The priest prepares the people for the Lord’s Word by saying, “Wisdom : Arise, let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be unto all.”

The Sermon :
The sermon is a sacred teaching based on the written word of God, or a teaching that discusses the lessons of the Christian life. Preaching is the main task of the bishop; however priest, deacons, and even pious members of the laity may preach. Traditionally, the sermon is offered following the reading of the Gospel.


The Cherubic Hymn and Entry with the Holy Gifts :
The Cherubic Hymn and the Entry begin with the intoning of “That ever-guarded by Your Power we may give you the Glory, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages,” by the priest. At this point he unfolds the Antimision while reciting the appropriate prayers. The priest then censes the altar, the icons, and the people while reciting “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ…” and the 50th Psalm. The unsanctified Gifts are then brought from the table of Preparation (the gifts were originally brought forth from the skevophylakion) and brought to the Altar during which the Cherubic hymn is sung : “Let us put away all worldly care so that we may receive the King of all” (An addition made in the 9th century). The priest, on behalf of the people recites the words of the penitent thief “May the Lord our God, remember us all in His Kingdom, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”

Ectenia of the Oblation :
These petitions are 10 smaller prayers completing “our supplications to the Lord”. To these supplications the people respond, “Grant this, O Lord.” The Ectenia of the Oblation serve to spiritually prepare the faithful to offer the Mystery of the holy Eucharist. The Prayer of Oblation is then inaudibly read by the Priest saying : “Enab1e us to offer to Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins . . . “

Kiss of Peace :
Centuries ago, the clergy as well as the laity would exchange the kiss of peace. This action took place after the priest or deacon said, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.” The Christians in attendance offered those in their particular order (i.e. laity to laity, deacon to deacon, priest to priest) a kiss of peace with the words “Christ is in our midst.” “He is and always shall be.” This movement took place while the choir chanted “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in essence and undivided” because it is only in the love of the Trinity that we can proceed further into the Divine Liturgy.

The Creed :
This is the concise and accurate confession of the Christian faith in 12 articles formulated by 1st & 2nd Ecumenical Councils. After the 9th century it was included and recited in every Liturgy; prior to that time it was recited only during the Liturgy at Easter. Before reciting the Nicene Creed, the deacon or priest says, “The doors, the doors; in wisdom let us attend.” At this point in the service any unbelievers or remaining catechumens were removed and the Doorkeeper closed the church.

The Eucharistic Canon or Anaphora :
We now enter the most sacred part of the Divine Liturgy the Anaphora, meaning the lifting-up or the elevation. The Anaphora includes the reading of silent prayers by the priest, dialogues between the faithful and the priest, and a number of liturgical actions.
The priest begins, “Let us stand aright. Let us stand in awe. Let us take care to offer the Holy Oblation in peace.” The people respond “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise. Surely, Christ is the peace offering that alone brings God’s mercy. Additionally, He is the most perfect sacrifice of praise that can be offered to God by humanity.
The priest then blesses the faithful with the exhortation of St. Paul (2 Cor. 13:14) “the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The cleric offers the fullness of the grace of Christ to the faithful and they in turn offer it back to him.The Eucharistic dialogue continues : “Let us lift up our heart.” “We lift them up to the Lord.” “Let us give thanks unto the Lord.” “It is proper and right.” The means by which we offer our thanks to God is by the lifting of our hearts to the Lord. With hearts lifted up to the Lord and thanksgiving rendered to God, the prayer of the canon continues.The priest then says “Singing, proclaiming, shouting the victory hymn and saying.” The people respond with the words of Isaiah : “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest.” This is the climax of our thanksgiving to God; we join the angels in the Kingdom of heaven praising God the Father for all that he has done through Christ in the world. In this spirit humanity is lifted from the limitations of this age (the service is timeless).The faithful focus on the night when the Divine Son gave himself up for the life of the world. “He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands; and when he had given thanks and blessed it, he gave it to his holy disciples saying : ‘Take! Eat! This is my Body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.’ And likewise after supper, he took the cup saying, ‘Drink of it all of you. This is my Blood which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.'”

The priest continues the prayer silently and then while intoning, “Offering You these gifts from Your own gifts, in all and for all” he elevates the gifts towards heaven. In this offering, all the limitations of this life are broken. Humanity is filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

After the gifts are elevated, the priest prays with the people that the gifts are changed into the very Body and Blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit is invoked, or called upon, as He is the one who guarantees the indwelling of the God with men in the Eucharist of the Church and in the Kingdom to come.

The Holy Eucharist is offered in remembrance of Christ. In Him all things are made perfect and called to mind : “forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith. And especially our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.” During the censing of the gifts, the priest continues to commemorate the whole Church, and all mankind.

Petitions :
Again small prayers are offered for the spiritual welfare of the city, the nation, the Church and the individual.

Lord’s Prayer :
This prayer as the name suggests is the prayer that Christ Himself said- and which he gave as an example for all the believers throughout the ages. At this point in the service the people recite the Lord’s Prayer; the priest follows it with the exaltation.

Breaking the Lamb :
At this point the priest elevates the Lamb (the consecrated Bread) saying : “The Holy things for the holy people of God,” and breaks it in commemoration of the actual Eucharist. The priest places the one piece of sanctified bread (IC) into the Chalice filled with the sanctified wine. Also at this time the priest pours warm water, zeon, into the Chalice, symbolizing the living character of the Risen Christ who body and soul are reunited and filled with the Holy Spirit (see, Justin the Martyr).

Prayers before Holy Communion and Partaking of the Holy Gifts by the Priest :
Now the doors of the Altar are generally closed and the priest partakes of the Holy Gifts separately. The priest receives the body from the piece marked (XC) and receives the blood from the Chalice. He then combines both Elements into the Chalice; a later practice of the Church. The faithful meanwhile recite prayers in preparation to receive the Eucharist.

Holy Communion :
Both the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ, combined in the Chalice, are given to the prepared faithful when the priest calls them to “draw near with reverence.” In ancient times the Holy Gifts were given to the faithful separately, first the Body and then the Cup, from which the faithful drank in turn, as is the continued practice for the clergymen today.

Thanksgiving Prayers :
These are prayers of gratitude to the Almighty God for the blessing that is bestowed upon the faithful to commune with Him.

Dismissal Hymn :
The priest calls the people to depart with a prayer by which he asks the Lord to “save Your people and bless Your inheritance.” In conclusion he blesses the people, saying, “May the blessing of the Lord come upon you.” The people seal the Liturgy by responding, “Amen.” Blessed bread, antithoron, which means “instead of the Gift,” is given to all at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.