Divine Liturgy

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

Divine Liturgy (Greek: Θεία Λειτουργία, translit. Theia Leitourgia; Bulgarian: Божествена литургия, romanizedBozhestvena liturgiya; Georgian: საღმრთო ლიტურგია; Russian: Божественная литургия, tr. 'Bozhestvennaya liturgiya; Polish: Boska Liturgia, Czech: Božská liturgie) or Holy Liturgy[1] is the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine Rite, developed from the Antiochene Rite of Christian liturgy which is that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox, the Greek Catholic Churches, and the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.[2] Although the same term is sometimes applied in English to the Eucharistic service of Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church[3] and of the Armenian Catholic Church,[4] they use in their own language a term[5] meaning "holy offering" or "holy sacrifice".[6] Other churches also treat "Divine Liturgy" simply as one of many names that can be used, but it is not their normal term.[7][8]

The Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches see the Divine Liturgy as transcending time and the world. All believers are seen as united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with the departed saints and the angels of heaven. Everything in the liturgy is seen as symbolic, but not merely so, for it makes present the unseen reality. According to Eastern tradition and belief, the liturgy's roots go back to the adaptation of Jewish liturgy by Early Christians. The first part, termed the "Liturgy of the Catechumens", includes like a synagogue service the reading of scriptures and, in some places, perhaps a sermon/homily. The second half, added later, is based on the Last Supper and the first Eucharistic celebrations by Early Christians. Eastern Christians believe that the Eucharist is the central part of the service in which they participate, as they believe the bread and wine truly become the real Body and Blood of Christ, and that by partaking of it they jointly become 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.[9][10]

Byzantine Rite

Three Divine Liturgies are in common use in the Byzantine Rite:

As well as these, there are two others that are used locally and rarely, the Liturgy of St. James and the Liturgy of Saint Mark.

The Hierarchical Liturgy

As numbers in a diocese increased dramatically, the bishop who presides over the Eucharistic assembly appointed presbyters to act as celebrants in the local communities (the parishes). Still, the Church is understood in Eastern Orthodoxy in terms not of the presbyter, but the diocesan bishop. When the latter celebrates the liturgy personally, the service is more complex and festive. To demonstrate unity with the greater Orthodox community, the hierarch commemorates the hierarch he is subordinate to or, if he is head of an autocephalous church, he commemorates all his peers, whose names he reads from a diptych.

Typical structure

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.

The Divine Liturgy consists of three interrelated parts; when not in conjunction with vespers, the liturgies of John Chrysostom and Basil the Great are structured thus:

  • the Liturgy of Preparation, which includes the entry and vesting prayers of the priests and deacons and the Prothesis;
  • the Liturgy of the Catechumens, so called because traditionally this is the only part they may attend;
  • the Liturgy of the Faithful, so called because in ancient times only baptized 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

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

Liturgy of the Catechumens

This is the public part of the Liturgy, in which both catechumens and baptized faithful would be in the nave:

Liturgy of the Faithful

In the early Church, only baptized members who could receive Holy Communion were allowed to attend this portion of the Liturgy. In common contemporary practice, with very few local exceptions (e.g., Mount Athos), all may stay. However, in most places, catechumens are formally dismissed for further study.

  • First Litany of the Faithful
  • Second Litany of the Faithful
  • Cherubikon chanted as spiritual representatives (or icons) of the angels
  • Great Entrance – procession taking the chalice and diskos (paten) from the Table of Oblation to the altar
  • Litany of Completion – "Let us complete our prayer to the Lord"
  • The Kiss of Peace
  • Symbol of Faith (the Nicene Creed)
  • Sursum Corda ("Let us lift up our hearts..." (Greek: "Ἄνω σχῶμεν τὰς καρδίας")
  • Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer)
    • The Epinikios Hymnos or Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy…")
    • The Eucharistic Canon, containing the Anamnesis (memorial of Christ's Incarnation, death, and Resurrection, and the Words of Institution)
    • Epiklesis The calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Gifts (bread and wine) to change them into the Body and Blood of Christ
    • Commemoration of Saints and Theotokion (hymn to the Theotokos)
    • It is Truly Meet (Ἀξιόν ἐστιν) (on certain days replaced with various hymns in honor of the Mother of God)
    • 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
  • 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

Almost all texts are chanted throughout the Divine Liturgy, not only hymns but litanies, prayers, creed confession and even readings from the Bible, depending on tradition. In ancient rubrics, and contemporary Greek practice, the sermon, Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer are spoken/read, rather than chanted. Slavic traditions chant or sing everything except the sermon.[11]

Gallery of parts of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy

Other Languages
español: Divina Liturgia
Esperanto: Dia liturgio
français: Divine Liturgie
Bahasa Indonesia: Liturgi Ilahi
italiano: Divina liturgia
日本語: 聖体礼儀
português: Divina Liturgia
slovenčina: Božská liturgia
Türkçe: Kutsal Liturji