The Content and Structure of the Divine Liturgy

Return to The Orthodox Faith & Tradition

. . . whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
– (1 Corinthians 10:31)

 

 

Orthodox Christian spirituality is centered in Christ. The lofty goal each of us strives to attain by virtue of our baptism is to be continually, “in Christ”. Transcending the limitations of this life is achieved by becoming a partaker of Divine Grace, that is, by being inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. Difficult yes, impossible no.

Countless men and women have chosen to live righteous lives in communion with God and have in turn been glorified as saints of the Church. Their thoughts, their words, and their deeds were inspired by the Spirit and, in turn, glorified God in the Highest. These men and women may be the exceptions of this life, but they are the standard bearers of the Kingdom of God that is to come. As such they are the ideals of Orthodoxy whom we commemorate and model throughout the ages.

The way in which one lives his/her life is ultimately a choice. “Either a person chooses life by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit- the ‘abundant’ and ‘eternal life’ given by God in creation and salvation through Jesus Christ- or the person chooses death” (Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, Spirituality, p. 15). And, to choose “to live” is the means by which we become the iconographic images of God in His Creation; saints for our times!

Sin
 
Sin according to the scriptures is “lawlessness” and “wrongdoing” (1 John 3:4, 5:17). To do wrong and to be unrighteous is to sin. To sin is not considered to be a normal and natural part of one’s humanity. Rather, to be fully human one is called to be righteous, pure, truthful, and good; in other words to material those virtues exemplified by Christ in His perfected humanity.

Paths & Means to Holiness

“Just as in the physical heaven the fixed stars are divided into six orders and magnitudes, so also the saints who shine in the spiritual Heaven are distinguished into six orders : Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastic Saints, and the Righteous.” In the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, as expressed above by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, there exist several orders of saints, that is, several paths and means to holiness. Despite their diversity, there exists a common basis for the spiritual life : askesis, spiritual training.

St. John Climacus composed one of the greatest works describing spiritual growth and development in the early seventh century in the desert of Sinai. After having passed many years as a monk of the desert, St. John wrote the Ladder, a text describing thirty steps of spiritual development; each step representing each of the hidden years of Christ prior to His baptism. The scheme of his ladder is :

I. The Break with the World


A. Renunciation
B. Detachment
C. Exile
 
II. The Practice of the Virtues (“Active Life”)


A. Fundamental Virtues


1. Obedience
2. Penitence
3. Remembrance of Death
4. Sorrow

B. The Struggle Against the Passions


1. Passions that are Predominantly Non-Physical


a. Anger
b. Malice
c. Slander
d. Talkativeness
e. Falsehood
f. Despondency
g. Insensitivity
h. Fear
i. Vainglory
j. Pride


2. Physical and Material Passions

a. Gluttony
b. Lust
c. Avarice
3. Higher Virtues of the Ascetic Life


a. Simplicity
b. Humility
c. Discernment
 
III. Union with God


A. Stillness
B. Prayer
C. Dispassion
D. Love

Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian
Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give to me, instead, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. Yes, Lord and King grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

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