Friday, September 2, 2011

Whose action?

In the Liturgy of St. Basil and in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the part of the deacon is often omitted since deacons are not ordinary in Orthodox congregations and yet there is in the words of the deacon something significant, more than nuance but profound teaching that is missed when the part is overlooked or omitted.  Just before the Liturgy of the Catechumens we hear the Deacon turn to the Priest and say:

Deacon: It is time for the Lord to act. Let us begin the service to the Lord. Bless, Master.
Priest: + Blessed is our God, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Deacon: Amen. Pray for me, Master.
Priest: May the Lord direct your steps.
Deacon: Remember me, holy Master.
Priest: + May the Lord God remember you in His kingdom always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Deacon: Amen.
Deacon: Bless, Master.

(one translation) OR

If the deacon is serving the following dialogue takes place:
Deacon:  It is time for the Lord to act.
Priest:  Blessed is our God always, now and ever, and to the end of the ages.
Deacon: Pray for me, master.
Priest:  May the Lord direct your steps to every good work.
Deacon: Remember me, holy master.
Priest: May the Lord remember you in His kingdom, always, now, and unto the ages of ages.

In some places this is unfortunately translated "It is time for us to begin the service to the Lord."  But of course, we are not acting for the Lord.  Rather, the Lord is always the celebrant, the giver, the source, and the one who gathers the Church and then fulfills His promise of presence to deliver to us the gifts of His grace, even His very self in bread and wine.

This is a quote from Psalm 119:26 and also from Ezekiel 24:14.  It is the compelling reminder to us that Christ is here according to His promise, that Christ is the one who celebrates the liturgy and delivers to His people His gifts.  This is image of the heavenly that we see here in earthly setting.  Christ the one true priest.  As Chrysostom reminds us, Christ performs it all and the priest merely provides his hand and lends his voice to Christ.  The heavenly is glimpsed in the earthly; the same Christ who is priest in both, and the offering of both, God acting in Christ as once He did on the cross, in the Upper Room, now in this anamnesis, and to come in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which has no end.

So we see that in Orthodoxy, as well as in Lutheranism, this aspect of worship is maintained -- that the direction is first from God to us before it can be from us to God.  It is precisely this direction that begins the worship of God's people that the emphasis on liturgy as the work of the people tends to distort or even overlook.  I recall once hearing Bishop Kallistos Ware suggesting the liturgy as work of the people (joining leiton and ergon) was of dubious etymology and even worse theology.  The usual description of the origin of the term: ancient Greek ἡ λειτ-ουργία [leiturgía] = 1) τὸ λεῖτον [léiton] — ‘society’+ 2) τὸ ἔργον [érgon] — ‘deed’, ‘activity’ (from ἐργάζομαι [ergádzomai] — ‘do’; ‘create’, ‘achieve’); the verb λειτουργέω — ‘do public and social duties’. Perhaps more literally ἡ λειτουργία means ‘public activity’ or the arena in which God is bidden by His people to act, to do for them according to His promise, and to keep His pledge to be with us always through the Eucharist.

 God comes to us and does not merely deliver to us the heavenly gifts as if to dole out bits and pieces of His kingdom but incorporates us into that gift that we might bear in as much as is humanly possible the fullness of His very self until that day when we shall receive its fullness without limitation in the heavenly banquet feast. Thus is not merely words that we say (or Christ bids us to) but the entire action of consecration and distribution, the heavenly made present here on earth.  This do in remembrance of Me (for my memorial).  The "sign" of the Sacrament does not merely signify something but makes it present and accessible to us so that through this sign (ikon) we participate in the heavenly reality conveyed.  Christ does not merely set up a chow line but joins heaven on earth, delivers to us His very flesh and blood in the mystery of the bread and wine, and assures us thereby that we are truly members of the Body of Christ.

If only there would be a more profound realization of this truth among us Lutherans!


Irenaeus said...

"If only there would be a more profound realization of this truth among us Lutherans." I wholeheartedly agree, Pastor. However, as long as we Lutherans continue to cling stubbornly to an identity formed and informed by American Protestantism, and forsake our evangelical catholic identity, I fear such a realization will be slow in coming to fruition.

Terry Maher said...

In this regard I wish everyone would read Dr Rast's article "Walter and the Formation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod" in For The Life Of The World, Volume Seven, Number Four, October 2003.

You can do so online here: