"At the very heart of the practice of the Christian faith is the act of participation in the offering of bread and wine. A simple response of the Church to the commandment, 'Do this in remembrance of Me' (Luke 22:19), the Divine Liturgy is the time when the Church is really the Church in a way it is not at other times. The Divine Liturgy is eternity in time, and for those who take part, it is the experience of the Kingdom which both is and is to come."
The Divine Liturgy is a source of strength to those who believe, to those who are trying to follow the commands and precepts of the Gospel. "It is joy, consolation, encouragement, and instruction. It is commitment - not only our commitment to God, but also God's commitment to us. In its celebration, heaven and earth blend into each other, and God touches His Church, both at a corporate level - the Body of Christ standing in the body of the church, meeting with and participating in the Body of Christ in the holy chalice - and at an individual level: the people approach the holy chalice one by one to experience a personal encounter with the King of the universe."
The Church, during the Divine Liturgy, is transfigured into an expression of the Kingdom - a living expression of the presence of God in His world.
The Liturgy of the Word - It begins with the hymn, 'Holy God', and prayers that surround this hymn. The priest, standing at the altar, and representing the entire Church, tells God that He is holy. "This statement, so obvious, so potent, challenges and defeats all and every power wishing to disrupt the relationship between God and His Church. We acknowledge God as holy, we acknowledge God as strong, we acknowledge God as immortal - and the only possible topping of this statement, the only possible response to the greatness of God, is to plead for mercy."
The epistle is read, with the Church in 'listening mode'. It reminds us that there are times when the entire Church must listen to the voice of God. The bishop sits in his throne, behind the holy table, facing the people. The clergy sit to either side of him, and the people of the church sit or stand, listening to the words of the apostle (which is read outside of the altar area).
The Gospel, in contrast, is proclaimed, and no one sits during its reading. The Gospel is the life and work of Lord, and often contains the very words He spoke - the 'listening', the attentiveness of the Church must rise to an even higher level. It is in these words that the Church finds the very reason for her existence. After the Gospel, the priest delivers his sermon. After both of these, the major prayers of intercession take place.
The Liturgy of the Gifts - The bread and wine are carried to the holy table at the great entrance. This is, at its heart, the presentation of the offerings of the people. There are hymns, and prayers, instructing the people to put aside the cares of the world (no easy task). The life of Christ is (slowly - this is not something to be rushed through) memorialized, and the words of the Last Supper proclaimed. The entire Church waits for the Holy Spirit to intervene, to complete the offering and thus the transformation. During this time, various Christian virtues are highlighted. Just before the recitation of the creed (sans Filioque, of course) the priest calls on the congregation to *love* one another. "The idea of the Church as a congregation of love is not simply a pretty thought: it is an absolute necessity for the expression of the faith. Any amount of right doctrine is of no importance at all if it is not shared in love. We need to be constantly reminded in this way that faith depends on love, not on a worldly desire to be right. Nowhere does Jesus command His disciples to be 'right'. Rather, He commands them to be 'righteous'." This holds just as true for us as it did for them 2,000 years ago. We cannot offer faith, since that is a gift from God, but we can offer love.
Holy Communion - I'm not really sure what to say about this section. I mean, it's rather cut and dried, from the outside. The Orthodox fast from midnight on Sunday, and there are specific prayers (I don't know the details of everything done to prepare for Communion in the Orthodox Church, but I know it's not simple) done to prepare one for Communion. Then, when it is time, you walk up and receive (I believe that the Orthodox receive both the Body and the Blood in bread and wine, as opposed to Catholicism, where one may receive one or the other or both, depending on ones inclination or the practices of a specific parish). All done very solemnly and worshipfully, of course. But, that's just the motions. That's just what you would see, watching as an observer. Is that all that goes on?
I have, of course, never taken Communion at an Orthodox Church. I've never even attended Divine Liturgy, though I will, one day. But I can tell you, at Mass, when I go up for Communion, it's more than just what you can see with your eyes. You're encountering *God*. You're one with the whole Church, both on earth, and beyond. Here, now, and at every place and time before and after this moment.
*holds up hands* How can you describe something spiritual and transcendent? I don't know. Even coming up with words, doesn't do it justice. So I'm leaving it at that. To us, it's not just a ceremony, not just bread and wine. It's not something we trot out once a month. We take Christ at His word.