Hi! I am a practising Catholic university student in Byzantine Studies. A little while ago, my teacher on icons, who is a devout Macedonian Orthodox, suggested that I go to an Orthodox mass not just to see the objects we mentioned in class in their original context, but also to open my eyes on this faith. I would love to but am afraid of being awkward. What is the Orthodox liturgy like? Could you please explain it to me so that I don't act awkwardly next Sunday? Thank you so much!
Hello dear friend!
First of all, don’t afraid of being awkward! It’s just a visit. Just think about all the new things that you’ll see and experience there, including all these you studied :) I promise it will be beautiful, so don’t be stressed!
You are a Catholic, so, the Divine Liturgy will not be way too different that your Mass, comparing to a non-denominational Christian that visits an Orthodox Church for the first time.
To begin with, be prepared that in Orthodox Christian worship is engages our whole being: smell (we use plenty of incense), sight (there are many icons of the Lord, Mary and the Saints), hearing (choirs or a single singer chants), intellect, emotion, bodily strength (standing in many parts of the Liturgy and many times bowing).
The Divine Liturgy is indeed the center of the Orthodox Christian life. It is the sacrament of sacraments, or to use the more traditional Orthodox expression, the “mystery of mysteries.” And the central mystery of the Orthodox faith is the service of Holy Communion, namely the Eucharist.
The first action of the Liturgy is the gathering in common. The baptized and confirmed gather in one place. After the common prayer of the Church called the Great Litany in which petitions are made for all of the essential elements of life, biblical psalms are sung and the Word of God is presented to the faithful. Here the emphasis is on the epistle, the gospel and the sermon.
Then follows the offering of the bread and the wine as the offering of ourselves and our world to God in Christ. We ask God to accept us and our gifts (the bread and wine) as we love one another and confess the Orthodox faith, the Nicene Creed which we, or our sponsors for us, proclaimed at our baptism.
We then offer up ourselves and our gifts to God in Christ in remembrance of all that He has done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection of the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the sitting on the right hand of God the father, and the second and glorious coming again.
We then call the Holy Spirit “to come upon us and upon our gifts” and to make them the Body and Blood of Christ and to give us the experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus we receive back our gifts of bread and wine as the gift of Holy Communion with God the Father through Christ and the Spirit.
Finally we depart in peace to bear witness in the world to the Kingdom of God which has been given to us, calling all men into this unity with God and each other in Him.
When you enter the Church, it could be nice to light a candle and venerate the holy icons instead of simply entering the Church. Then, find a seat (if there are any - in some Churches there is only a tiny amount of seats) and sit there. When others stand, do the same. But remember that as soon as you are not Orthodox, you can’t receive the Holy Communion.
So, to sum up, this is the basic structure of the service:
1) Opening blessing + the Great Litany
2) Small Entrance (where the Gospel is processed in the nave)
3) Epistle reading, followed by the Gospel reading
4) Cherubic Hymn (where we recognize that heaven and earth are meeting in the church, especially as God comes down into the Eucharist)
5) Great Entrance (where the elements of the Eucharist are processed in the nave)
6) Nicene Creed
7) Anaphora and epiklesis (with the words of institution and the prayer for the Holy Spirit to come and change the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ)
8) Lord’s Prayer
Here is a youtube video, where you can listen to the whole Divine Liturgy.
God bless you!