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Divine Liturgy

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The Divine Liturgy is the common term for the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine tradition of Christian liturgy. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church [1] and of the Armenian Catholic Church,[2] use the same term. Some Oriental Orthodox employ the term "holy offering" (Syriac: qurbono qadisho, Armenian: surb patarag) for their Eucharistic liturgies instead. The term is sometimes applied also to Latin Rite Eucharistic liturgies, though the term Mass is more commonly used there.

In Eastern traditions, especially that of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Divine Liturgy is seen as transcending time, and the world. All believers are believed to be united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with departed Saints and the celestial Angels. To this end, everything in the Liturgy is seen as symbolic, yet also not just merely symbolic, but making the unseen reality manifest. According to Eastern tradition and belief, the Liturgy's roots go back to Jewish worship and the adaptation of Jewish worship by Early Christians. This can be seen in the first parts of the Liturgy that is termed, the "Liturgy of the Word" that includes reading of scriptures and the Sermon/Homily. The latter half was believed to be added based on the Last Supper and the first Eucharistic celebrations by Early Christians. Eastern Christians participating in the Liturgy also traditionally believe that the Eucharist is the central part of the service, as they believe it truly becomes the real Body and Blood of Christ, and through their partaking of it, they see themselves as together becoming the Body of Christ (that is, the Church). Each Liturgy has its differences from others, but most are very similar to each other with adaptations based on tradition, purpose, culture and theology.[3][4]

Types of Liturgies

Icon of Ss. Basil the Great (left) and John Chrysostom, authors of the two most frequenty used Divine Liturgies, c. 1150 (mosaic in the Palatine Chapel, Palermo).

There are three Divine Liturgies that are in common use in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Church:

  • The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (5th century A.D.), used on most days of the year, and occasionally as a vesperal liturgy on the Annunciation.
  • The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great (4th century A.D.), used on the 5 Sundays of Great Lent, and on Saint Basil's feast day (January 1). On the eves of the Nativity and Theophany, and on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, it is celebrated as a vesperal liturgy in most cases. In some traditions, Saint Basil's Liturgy is also celebrated on the Exaltation of the Life-giving Cross on September 14. All together, St. Basil's liturgy is celebrated 10 or 11 days out of the liturgical year.
  • The Divine Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem (1st century A.D.), celebrated once a year in Jerusalem (and a few other churches) on the feast day of St. James, brother of the Lord. This Liturgy is traditionally attributed to St. James, the Brother of the Lord, and first bishop of Jerusalem. The Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great are related to this early Christian Liturgy.

Additionally, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (6th century A.D.), is used on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week. It is essentially the office of vespers with a communion service added, the Holy Gifts having been consecrated and reserved the previous Sunday. It is traditionally attributed to St. Gregory the Dialogist.


Note: Psalms are numbered according to the Greek Septuagint. For the Hebrew Masoretic numbering that is more familiar in the West, usually add '1'. (See the main Psalms article for an exact correspondence table.)

The format of Divine Liturgy is fixed, although the specific readings and hymns vary with season and feast.

While arrangements may vary from liturgy to liturgy, the Divine Liturgy always consists of three interrelated parts:

  • the Liturgy of Preparation, which includes the entry and vesting prayers of the clergy and the Prothesis;
  • the Liturgy of the Catechumens, so called because in ancient times catechumens were allowed to attend, also called the Liturgy of the Word;
  • and the Liturgy of the Faithful, so called because in ancient times only faithful members in good standing were allowed to participate. In modern times, this restriction applies only to Holy Communion — reception of the sacrament of holy communion.

A typical celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy consists of:

Liturgy of Preparation

The journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going—not symbolically, but really.
—Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World,.
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.
—Ambassadors of Kievan Rus (10th Century), Apocryphal quote from conversion of Kievan Rus,.

This part of the Liturgy is private, said only by the priest and deacon. It symbolizes the hidden years of Christ's earthly life.

Liturgy of the Catechumens

The priest making the Little Entrance with the Gospel Book.

This is the public part of the Liturgy:

with the Refrain (in the Greek rubrics) "Through the Prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior Save us."

  • Little Litany
  • Second Antiphon (usually Psalm 145; in the Greek rubrics Psalm 92)

with the Refrain (in the Greek rubrics) on Sundays: "Save us O Son of God who art Risen from the dead, Save us who sing unto you, Alleluia" and on Weekdays: "Save us O son of God who art Wondrous in your Saints..."°

  • "Only Begotten Son"
  • Little Litany
  • Third Antiphon° (usually the Beatitudes with troparia from the canon of Matins, Odes 3 and 6; in the Greek rubrics, Psalm 94)

with the Refrain (in the Greek rubrics) on Weekdays: O Son of God who art wonderful in Thy saints, Save us who sing to thee, alleluia. On Sundays: the Troparion of the Day, Saint or Sunday Resurrection

  • Small Entrance—procession with the Gospel Book
  • Introit°

Reading the Gospel lesson.

  • Troparia° and Kontakia°—hymns commemorating specific saints and Scriptural events, as appropriate to the liturgical calendar and local custom
  • Trisagion°—the "Thrice-Holy" hymn
  • Prokeimenon°
  • Epistle Reading°
  • Alleluia°
  • Gospel Reading°
  • Homily (homilies may also be preached while Communion is being prepared for distribution to the people, and before the Dismissal)
  • Litany of Fervent Supplication—"Let us all say with our whole soul and with our whole mind…"
  • Litany for the Departed—this is not said on Sundays, Great Feasts or during the Paschal season
  • Litany of the Catechumens, and Dismissal of the Catechumens

Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only Baptised members in good standing were allowed to attend this portion of the Liturgy. Today, catechumens are still dismissed but visitors are usually permitted to stay. Some jurisdictions also permit the catechumens to remain.

  • First Litany of the Faithful
  • Second Litany of the Faithful
  • Cherubic Hymn°—chanted by the Choir as spiritual representatives (or icons) of the angels

Priest standing at the Holy Table (altar) after the Great Entrance.

  • Great Entrance—procession taking the chalice and diskos (paten) from the Table of Oblation to the altar
  • Litany of Fervent Supplication—"Let us complete our prayer to the Lord"
  • Symbol of Faith—the Nicene Creed
  • Sursum Corda ("Lift up your hearts…"), followed by the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy…")
  • Anaphora—the Eucharistic Canon, containing the Anamnesis (memorial of Christ's Incarnation, death, and Resurrection, and the Words of Institution)
  • Epiklesis—calling down the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Gifts (bread and wine) to change them into the Body and Blood of Christ
  • Commemoration of Saints and Axion Estin (hymn to the Theotokos
  • Commemoration of bishop and civil authorities—"Remember, O Lord…"
  • Litany of Supplication—"Having called to remembrance all the saints…"
  • Lord's Prayer
  • Bowing of Heads
  • "Holy Things are for the Holy"
  • Communion Hymn

The faithful preparing to receive Holy Communion. In the foreground are wine and antidoron which the communicants will partake of after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

  • Holy Communion
  • "We have seen the true light"°
  • "Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord…"°
  • Litany of Thanksgiving
  • Prayer behind the Ambon
  • Psalm 33
  • Dismissal°

Parts marked ° indicate portions that can change according to the day or liturgical season of the year. Some parts change at every Divine Liturgy, some parts only change at Pascha (Easter).

Note that almost all texts are chanted throughout the Divine Liturgy, not only hymns but litanies, prayers, creed confession and even readings from the Bible. The sole exception is the sermon.

Oriental Orthodox

The Oriental Orthodox have 4 principal Divine Liturgies:

  • The Liturgy of St. Basil (4th Century A.D.)
  • The Liturgy of St. Cyril (5th Century A.D.)
  • The Liturgy of St. James (1st Century A.D.)
  • The Liturgy of St. Gregory

The Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on most Sundays and contains the shortest anaphora. The Liturgy of St. Gregory is usually used during the feasts of the Church but not exclusively. In addition the clergy performing the Liturgy can combine extracts of The Liturgies of St. Cyril and St. Gregory to the more frequently used St. Basil at the discretion of the Priest or Bishop.


External links

Eastern Orthodox Christian

Oriental Orthodox Christian

Eastern Catholic

Contemporary Commentary in English on the Armenian Liturgy (Badarak)]

Liturgy (Badarak)] Text

cs:Božská liturgie id:Liturgi Suci ja:聖体礼儀 pt:Divina Liturgia ru:Литургия Иоанна Златоуста