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The Liturgy

When the Church, which means lit­er­al­ly the gath­er­ing or assem­bly of peo­ple who are called togeth­er to per­form a spe­cif­ic task, assem­bles as God’s Peo­ple to wor­ship, this gath­er­ing is called the litur­gy of the Church. As a word litur­gy means the com­mon work or action of a par­tic­u­lar group of peo­ple for the sake of all. Thus the divine litur­gy of the Chris­t­ian Church means the com­mon work of God done by the peo­ple of God.

The litur­gy of the Old Tes­ta­ment peo­ple was the offi­cial wor­ship in the tem­ple of Jerusalem accord­ing to the Mosa­ic Law, as well as the annu­al feasts and fasts and the pri­vate prayers and ser­vices held by the Israelites at home or in the syn­a­gogues. Syn­a­gogues by def­i­n­i­tion are hous­es of gath­er­ing; they are not tem­ples since accord­ing to the Law there was just the one tem­ple in Jerusalem where the priest­ly wor­ship was con­duct­ed. In the syn­a­gogues the Israelites gath­ered for prayer and scrip­tur­al study, preach­ing, and con­tem­pla­tion of the Word of God.

In the New Tes­ta­ment Church the litur­gy is cen­tered in the per­son of Christ and is pri­mar­i­ly a “chris­ten­ing” of the Old Tes­ta­ment litur­gi­cal life. The Chris­t­ian Church retains the litur­gi­cal life of the Old Tes­ta­ment in a new and eter­nal per­spec­tive. Thus, the prayers of the Old Tes­ta­ment, the scrip­tures and the psalms, are read and sung in the light of Christ. The sac­ri­fice of the Body and Blood of Christ replaces the Old Tes­ta­ment sac­ri­fices in the tem­ple. And the Lord’s Day, Sun­day, replaces the old Jew­ish sab­bath which is Saturday.

The Jew­ish feasts also take on new mean­ing in the Chris­t­ian Church with the cen­tral feast of Passover, for exam­ple, becom­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of Christ’s death and res­ur­rec­tion; and the feast of Pen­te­cost becom­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of the com­ing of the Holy Spir­it which ful­fills the Old Tes­ta­men­tal Law. The Chris­t­ian litur­gi­cal year is also pat­terned after the Old Tes­ta­men­tal prototype.

From the basic foun­da­tion of the Old Tes­ta­ment litur­gy the Church devel­oped its own sacra­men­tal life with bap­tism in the name of the Holy Trin­i­ty, chris­ma­tion, holy com­mu­nion, mar­riage, repen­tance, heal­ing and the Church­ly min­istry and priest­hood tak­ing on specif­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian forms and mean­ing. In addi­tion, a great wealth of specif­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian prayers, hymns and bless­ings were devel­oped, togeth­er with specif­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian feasts and cel­e­bra­tions in remem­brance of New Tes­ta­men­tal events and saints.

The liv­ing expe­ri­ence of the Chris­t­ian sacra­men­tal and litur­gi­cal life is a pri­ma­ry source of Chris­t­ian doc­trine. In the litur­gy of the Church, the Bible and the Holy Tra­di­tion come alive and are giv­en to the liv­ing expe­ri­ence of the Chris­t­ian peo­ple. Thus, through prayer and sacra­men­tal wor­ship men are “taught by God” as it was pre­dict­ed for the mes­sian­ic age (Jn 6:45).

In addi­tion to the liv­ing expe­ri­ence of the litur­gy, the texts of the ser­vices and sacra­ments pro­vide a writ­ten source of doc­trine in that they may be stud­ied and con­tem­plat­ed by one who desires an under­stand­ing of Chris­t­ian teach­ings. Accord­ing to the com­mon opin­ion of the Ortho­dox Church, the sacra­men­tal and litur­gi­cal texts—the hymns, bless­ings, prayers, sym­bols, and rituals—contain no for­mal errors or defor­ma­tions of the Chris­t­ian faith and can be trust­ed absolute­ly to reveal the gen­uine doc­trine of the Ortho­dox Church. It may well be that some of the his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion con­tained in church feasts is inac­cu­rate or mere­ly sym­bol­i­cal, but there is no ques­tion in the Church that the doc­tri­nal and spir­i­tu­al mean­ing of all of the feasts is gen­uine and authen­tic and pro­vides true expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge of God.