Prayer Spirituality

Liturgy and Prayer Pt 3

“Liturgy is not a prayer service.”

About this contentWhat follows are notes taken from previously recorded audio lectures given by Father Thomas Hopko to seminarians. The recording audio quality was poor at times since they were converted from cassette tapes to mp3. The date of the recordings is uncertain. It seems Father Thomas named this series of lectures “The Practice of Personal Prayer and its relation to the Spiritual Life in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”.  With God’s help, this series of posts simply aims to share some of the main points of this teaching with other people who have  a sincere longing for God. 

  • Our Divine Liturgy is patterned after the book of Revelation which is informed by the liturgical activity of heaven. Some examples include:
    • He who sits upon the throne
    • The Lamb
    • One like the Son of Man, on this thigh is written “King of Kings, Lord of Lords”
    • The liturgy of God
    • The Trinitarian liturgy: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
    • The celestial liturgy of the angels
    • Holy, Holy, Holy: the cosmic liturgy of all the elements
    • Even the vestments worn are related to the liturgy
  • As far as Orthodox theology is concerned, Father Thomas believes the liturgy is the only actualization of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in the Kingdom of God on earth.
  • Father Thomas teaches that the only place the Church is actualized as Church is at the Divine Liturgy.
  • The Divine Liturgy includes a “common act” [by many] – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, bishop, priests, people, deacons, angels, saints, and they’re all over the place [not limited to one gathering].
  • There are two main liturgical books in the New Testament:
    • the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews
    • the book of Revelation (a.k.a. The Apocalypse) by Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian
  • The letter to the Hebrews chapter 12 shows the liturgy to be Christ entering into the sanctuary, not made by hands, behind the veil.
  • The veil is the Old Testament Temple as a type being fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
  • In the liturgy, we experience and remember the Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament, so that all the prayers, songs, hymns and activities of the Old Testament have new meaning in the Messiah because He has come, and now they actually have the power of bringing us into the life of the Kingdom of God with Christ.

How the Liturgy relates to Prayer

  • Prayer accompanies each of the liturgical acts.
  • Nothing is done in the Divine Liturgy without praying.
    • The priest puts on vestments praying lines from the Psalms
    • The priest cuts the bread for Communion praying lines from [other parts of] the Bible
  • There are words and intercessions, supplications, thanksgivings and petitions accompanying all these acts in the liturgy just like they should accompany every act that we do.
  • There is always the proper prayer for the proper act.
    • The Bible says that sometimes you can complain, lament, weep, question [as long as reverence towards God is always maintained].
    • Any situation in which we find ourselves frankly and honestly expressing where we really are before the face of God is a prayer.
    • In prayer you find yourself before God, and you’ve got to be honest, you cannot lie. Lying is from the devil.
  • Sometimes even words are not adequate “my sighing is not hidden from Thee” it says in the Psalm 38:9.
  • Just sighing the right way – it’s already a way of communicating with God, if that’s all that you can do.
  • St Augustine says that usually when you stutter, you’re closer to the truth. When you’re too eloquent, chances are you’re far off.
  • Prayers in the liturgy include:
    • Prayers that go with each part of Matins
      • the first six go with the Psalms
      • the seventh one goes with the fiftieth psalm which is at the middle of the service turning point
      • then there’s a prayer that goes with the praises
      • and a prayer that goes with the Great Doxology.
    • A call to prayer, “let us pray to the Lord” is used repeatedly [during the Divine Liturgy].
    • There are also prayers of praises.
    • Intercessions like the litanies and the Eucharistic prayer “send down thy Holy Spirit upon us”.

What about personal prayer during the Divine Liturgy?

  • The liturgy is not the time for personal, private individual prayer.
  • You don’t come to the liturgy to say your own prayers.
  • You do come to the liturgy to put your mind and heart into what is objectively given there to be prayed by God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the people of God.
  • This does not mean that your prayer isn’t personal.
  • When I say it’s not a time for personal prayers, that means you don’t bring your prayer book or your own lists.

Unite your mind with your mouth during the Divine Liturgy

  • Among some Orthodox groups in the past, there was a Western-influenced prayer book that instructed the lay people to read different prayers at different times in the liturgy from what the priest was praying silently at those same times (e.g. during the Gospel, cherubic hymn and the anaphora among others).
    • These prayers were completely different from what the priest was praying and they were all of a pietistic personal nature.
    • Those books should not be burned but they should be put in the museum, to show what people did wrongly.
  • Escaping to your personal imagination or “guided fantasy” in the liturgy is also forbidden. For example there are books that suggest what you should psychologically imagine during the Great Litany, Little Entrance, etc.
    • Why not do this? Because it’s not prayer at all, you’re just communing with your own thoughts which is not what you are supposed to do during the liturgy.
  • Saint Benedict of Nursa taught what we should do: Unite your mind with your mouth. That is an expression from his rule.
  • He didn’t say unite your mouth with your mind – the words are given to you, the words are put into your mouth, but your task is to unite your mind with your mouth. 
  • The Lord gives you those words that are on your lips and you also need to put them in your heart, but your heart, chances are is elsewhere, so at least pay attention to the words of my lips! (Ps 54:2)
  • [Even Fr Tom confessed the following:] “Sometimes I feel that way in the liturgy, because you know, our mind and our heart is elsewhere, so ‘Lord listen to what I’m saying because I’m not!'” 
  • At least you are saying it….everyone whose there should be making the effort to unite their own mind, their own heart, their own will, their own passions, their own emotions their own problems, their own troubles, there own self fully and completely, with what is going on at that time [in the liturgy].
  • That’s a very personal act because everyone will be different. Even such a simple thing as “in peace let us pray to the Lord” because we’re all different, and we pray for the sick and the suffering,  [but] our sick and suffering are different for each one of us.
  • If  we pray “forgive us our sins” – the sins are different [for each of us].
  • Everyone is obliged as a member of the Body to put their mind and their heart into the same word at the same time, especially when they’re praying, especially when the deacon says “let us pray to the Lord”.
  • When it’s a [Gospel or Epistle] reading and he says “let us attend” you’re supposed to attend. 
    • “Attend” means to pay attention.
    • Everybody’s supposed to be paying attention.
    • Not wandering off imagining something
    • Not saying one’s own prayer
    • It means pay attention and absorb what is being given.

The Value of Repetition in the Liturgy

  • [The Deacon] says “again and again” in case you missed it the first time since we [all] have the problem of attentiveness in Church.
  • C.S. Lewis says it’s gotta be like an old shoe and then you can start going into what the text means, and you can start having it come alive, so there is a sense in which this repetition is simply getting all these words of God into our consciousness – that’s what the liturgy is about.

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