The Divine Liturgy
The Divine Liturgy is the main worship service of the Western Orthodox Church. The Divine Liturgy is much more than that. It provides the most intimate encounter we can have with the Holy Trinity in this life. In the Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes to his people—the Baptized—in two forms:
1. By his Word, in the proclamation of the holy Gospel.
2. By his holy Body and Blood, in Holy Communion.
These two actions—the reading of the Word of God, and the reception of Holy Communion—are the two main parts of the Divine Liturgy in all ancient, Apostolic Churches.
These two pillars form a magnificent structure of words, music, symbols, and rituals. The ritual interplay of the celebrant bishop, priest, the deacons, the other altar servers, the choir, and the people serves to engage all five of our senses. The Divine Liturgy is the time to set aside all earthly things, as chanted during the Cherubic Hymn, and make our focus on heavenly things.
The Divine Liturgy, the Word and Holy Communion, is the divine medicine that provides true meaning and direction for our lives.
In Our Lord's own words:
"‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’" (John 6:51–52). His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally—and correctly. He again repeated his words, but with even greater emphasis, and introduced the statement about drinking his blood: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:53–56).
What Did the First Christians Say?
Anti-Orthodox claim that the early Church took the the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel symbolically. Is that so? Let’s see what some early Christians thought, keeping in mind that we can learn much about how Scripture should be interpreted by examining the writings of early Christians.
Ignatius of Antioch, second bishop of Antioch. Ignatius who had been a disciple of the Apostle John and who wrote a Letter to the Smyrnaeans about A.D. 110, said, referring to "those who hold heterodox opinions," that "they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again" (6:2, 7:1).
Forty years later, Justin Martyr, wrote, "Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66:1–20).
Origen, in a homily written about A.D. 244, attested to belief in the Real Presence. "I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence" (Homilies on Exodus 13:3).
Cyril of Jerusalem, in a catechetical lecture presented in the mid-300s, said, "Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy
of the body and blood of Christ" (Catechetical Discourses: Mystagogic 4:22:9).
In a fifth-century homily, Theodore of Mopsuestia seemed to be speaking to today’s Evangelicals and Fundamentalists: "When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood,’ for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements], after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord" (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).