Audio length: 43:29 minutes
Transcript published: June 25, 2012
After 29 episodes leading up the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Thomas begins his line by line commentary.
We are now ready to reflect on the actual beginning of the Divine Liturgy – how it is begun and what is important to consider at the Liturgy itself. This is number 30 in our series reflections on the Divine Liturgy, and we are now finally coming to the very beginning of the Liturgy itself.
All the entrance prayers; all the vesting – we’ve discussed all that. The bishop, if he is serving, is at his throne – either in the middle of the church as in the Russian tradition or in the side of the church in the Byzantine tradition. The chief presbyter or priest is sent to the altar to start the Liturgy.
If a bishop is not there and service is being celebrated or presided over by a presbyter, as would be normally the case in any parish or monastery, you would have the priest or presbyter serving the Divine Liturgy either alone or with other priests and deacons.
So in any case, when we’re ready to start that, this is what happens: The presiding officer or celebrant, the bishop or if the bishop is not there, the priest, once again invokes the Holy Spirit. We saw how at the beginning of the entrance prayers, the prayers began with, “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Good Things, and Giver of Life – come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.”
And we reflected already; we remarked already that this invocation of the Holy Spirit is actually the only direct prayer to the Holy Spirit in all of the Liturgical Services in the Eastern Orthodox Church. There’s only one direct prayer to the Holy Spirit in all the liturgical books. And it’s the one that begins every single liturgical office, and it is also the prayer that is the beginning of any personal, private rule of prayer that a person may have.
Whenever an Orthodox Christian is praying alone or when the Church is praying as the Church or even when Orthodox Christians are gathered to have a meeting or gathering of some sort, it always begins with the Invocation of the Holy Spirit.
So after the entrance ritual is completed and the beginning of the Liturgy has come, then once again, the celebrant raises his hands to Heaven and recites the prayer, “O Heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, You are everywhere and fill all things; Treasury of Blessings,” Good Things – it says literally, “Giver of Life – come, dwell in us, cleanse us from every impurity,” or that word may better be defilement, everything defiling, “and save our souls, O Good One.”
So again, the witness or testimony here is that everything has to be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that would simply be a principle of Orthodox Christian life. Anything that a believer does should be by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. God Himself’s activity is all accomplished by the Holy Spirit. God saves the world, redeems the world, sanctifies the world, glorifies the world and all of Creation through Christ His Son and Lord, incarnate as His Son Jesus Christ by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
So there’s the calling of the Holy Spirit, asking the Holy Spirit to come and abide in us. “Come Holy Spirit.” Because this is a Divine Liturgy and it’s activity is being done and we’ll see it immediately, more specifically by God Himself. It’s the activity of God Himself; the Spirit of God within us acting.
And here, I think, it’s always important to remember that in the Orthodox Christian view, a human being, a Christian person, and the Church as the corporate body of Christ. A person doesn’t work for the Church or for God. We can’t say a perfect person is a person who works for God. That would not be accurate. We have to say that a Christian is a human being through who God works.
In other words, if I’m Christian, I have to understand that my task is not to work for God or to work for the Church, my task is to let God work through me; that Christ would act in me; that what I would do would be but not me but Christ in me. And when it’s really me, it’s really Christ. And when it’s really Christ, it’s really me. And therefore, it’s also the Holy Spirit.
So it is my spirit acting; my mind; my will; my mouth. But we believe that that has to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. So the Christian is the person who understands himself or herself as one through whom God is working; in whom God is abiding; in whom God is acting. And this is all the time. But it’s certainly true in worship.
When we are worshiping God, both in our private prayer and private life and as the Church, then it is God acting in and through us. And we might even say it’s the Church acting in us. We can also say an Orthodox Christian or a Christian person according to Orthodoxy is not someone who works for the Church. It’s someone, who as a member of Christ and Christ’s own body in the Church, is the one whom you might dare to say the Church works through.
The Church has to be working through me as a baptized person. And so when we say that the Church is acting, we really believe that God the Father, through Christ and the Holy Spirit is acting, making the Church to be the Church, and then working through those in the Church – namely the members of Christ. And we are the Church. The Church is the people.
So what we see here is again, at the very beginning, this is emphasized strongly that again you have the Invocation of the Holy Spirit. Then what happens is the prayer continues. The beginning of words continue after the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called epiclesis. You call forth the Holy Spirit.
Then what is repeated are the words of the angels to the shepherds in the infancy narrative in the Gospel according to St. Luke. In St. Luke’s Gospel, there are several canticles, exclamations, and proclamations that have become part of the Church’s prayer and worship. There is the, “Rejoice Mary, full of grace,” that the angel says to her; conflated with the words that Elizabeth says to her, “Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
This comes from St. Luke’s Gospel at the time of the Annunciation to Mary where she is greeted by the angel and by Elizabeth as the one who is kecharitoméne, greatly graced; highly favored; full of grace, “Blessed is the fruit of her womb.” That becomes a hymn of the Church.
Then you have the three canticles. You have the Canticle of the Theotokos herself called the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” That became a hymn of the Church. Then, you have the Canticle of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. “Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, who has visited and redeemed his people.“The so-called Benedictus becomes part of the Liturgy.
Then, you have the Nunc dimittis, “Master, now let your servant depart in peace,” of Simeon, who carried Christ in his arms. That became part of the Church’s worship at Vespers in the Orthodox Church everyday. And you have the angelic hymn that the shepherds heard the angels sing when Christ was born. And these words are now recited by the celebrant of the Liturgy after the Invocation of the Holy Spirit. And these words are very familiar to us. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward human beings,” or “good will toward men.”
Now, here we’ve got to see that this, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men,” that is recited two times at this point. It is part of the beginning of the actual Divine Liturgy. But we should note that these words are also used at the beginning of Matins. Before the six Psalms are read everyday at the Orthodox Church service of Matins, the morning office of worship, you also see these words, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Those words are also used at other times.
And then of course, those words being the Great Doxology and the Lesser Doxology, which is one of the earliest Christian hymns that is sung in the Church at Matins, and very often it is sung right before the beginning of the Liturgy in the Byzantine Church – the Great Doxology. It’s sung at the end of Matins, which is a kind of transitional piece from Matins into the Divine Liturgy.
But it’s also used at the Compline service – the Great Compline and the Small Compline. It’s a very, very familiar prayer of the Church.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men. We praise thee. We bless thee. We hymn thee. We worship thee. We glorify thee. We give thanks to thee for thy great glory. O Lord, God, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty; Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son; and the Holy Spirit.
This is the Doxology that is used very often. And it begins with that angelic hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Now, commenting on this particular sentence here,
“Glory to God in the highest,” should be clear enough. It doesn’t require much commentary. We’re just offering right from the beginning, glory to God. That’s what worship is, is offering God glory to whom glory is due; to whom are due all honor, glory, and worship.
So we have this right from the beginning, glorifying God, and it’s God who is in the highest; God who is overall; God who is everywhere present on the planet because He is over all. And that’s very important that the omnipresence of God, in other words God being in every place in every time on earth, is because He transcends the earth. He’s over it all. He’s not located in any given place, so He’s in the highest. And that means over everything, including all the angels and all the so-called gods and whatever else there is in the universe, God is over it all. And so to Him is given the glory.
But then this is sung when Christ is born. That’s where it appears in the Bible is when Christ is born, when the Savior is born, when the Son of God is born. So it says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.” Now, we’re going to comment in great deal through the Liturgy on this word peace. Shalom in Hebrew, and eirene in Greek. Because, as we have been emphasizing again and again and will continue to do so, the Divine Liturgy is a victory celebration.
It’s a victory celebration of God the King, Christ the King, over all the enemies of God; over every injustice, every evil, every sin, every error, every falsehood, every ugliness; over all that is contrary to God and the ultimate contrary to God is the devil and death itself, which St. Paul says is “the last enemy.”
So in the Bible, the content of the Kingdom of God, the content of the Messianic Age, the content of the victory that God wins in His Messiah by the Holy Spirit’s power is peace. It is peace – celestial, cosmic peace in Heaven, peace on earth, peace in the heart of an individual person, peace among human beings, peace in the cosmos. “The lion and the lamb lay down together.”
All of the tragedies of the fallen cosmic world are now overcome by God, and there is cosmic peace. There are no more tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and storms, and of course no more invasion. War will be no more. This is the peace of God that is brought to the world, which we believe is the content of the future age. It’s the content of the Kingdom of God that is coming. We will repeat this very often as we continue to reflect. You can’t repeat it enough.
But in the Bible, it’s very clear that that is the content of the ultimate Messianic Age and that those who belong to God, those who believe in God, those who worship God, those who struggle to keep the commandments of God, even though they are greatly tried, tempted, afflicted and suffer on this world, they also live in the peace of God. The peace God is within them; deeper than all the tribulations of earthly life.
Because the baptized and chrismated person, who participates in the Divine Liturgy, enters into the very peace of God. And many of the saints, like Macarius of Egypt and Saint Seraphim of Sarov, they say that the whole purpose of human life is to acquire divine peace. They say, “Acquire the peace of God and everyone around you will be saved.” And “Chris is our peace,” St. Paul says.
So we’re going to speak more about peace at another time, but what we want to see here is that right from the very beginning you have, “on earth, peace.” And we will see, and I would like right now for you to begin to pay attention that how often this peace is spoken of during the Liturgy; how often the celebrant says, “Peace be to all,” or “Peace be to you who reads,” or “Peace be to you and to your spirit.”
Virtually every few minutes in the Liturgy, the peace is being given – the peace of Christ; the peace of God. This is very, very important because it is the very content of life. It is the very content of life with God, and it is the victory of the Gospel. The Gospel brings divine peace to the world. Now that peace only comes in its fullness at the end of the age.
Until the end of the age comes, human beings are still embroiled in all kinds of controversy. And as a matter of fact, the Lord Jesus said, “I came, not to bring peace, but a sword; to set son against father; daughter-in-law against mother-in-law,” and so on. There’s going to be strife and scandal because of Jesus.
But within the heart of the believer and within the believing community itself, the Church of Christ, there must be peace. And if there is not peace, then you cannot celebrate the Liturgy. If a given congregation is at war and the people are fighting with each other, then the Liturgy should really not be served until people make up, are at peace, and can kiss each other. That is a condition.
And if any congregation, any community, celebrates the Holy Eucharist and the people who are participating are not at peace with each other, then that Eucharist is unto their condemnation. It is not worship in spirit and in truth, because you cannot worship in spirit and in truth when there is hostility and antagonism among the faithful. That’s why the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mountain that if you’re going to offer your worship, your gift, at the altar and your brother has something against you, you have to first go and be reconciled and be at peace. Then you come and offer your gift on the altar.
So right from the beginning, it’s invoked. We’ll speak about this again and again. But right from the beginning is invoked, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.” So the peace is coming from God. It’s the peace from above as we’ll see when we continue to contemplate the prayers of the worship of the Church. It’s God’s peace.
And then it says, “good will toward human beings.” Now the usual translation is good will “toward men.” Now sometimes you see that line translated, “And on earth peace to men who are of good will.” That is not correct. That is not the correct translation. That is simply misleading and wrong. It isn’t that on earth comes the peace of God to men or people of good will, it’s on earth peace and God’s good will now abounding, now abiding en anthrōpois, in human beings.
Now here, we need a little more comment. This good will, in Greek evdokia; in Latin bonae voluntátis. What is it in Slavonic? zemi miru’ vu’ tchlovje’tsje’khu’ blagovolenie Now what is really being said here is the Biblical teaching that God gives us His good will. It’s God’s good pleasure.
For example, when Jesus was praying and He said, “Father, I thank you that you reveal these things to babes and not to wise and prudent of the world. Yeah Lord, for such was your good pleasure,” your evdokia. In other words, it’s the good pleasure of God that’s being given. It’s God’s good will that’s being given. It’s not our good will. It’s God’s good will again that’s being given to us.
So what the claim is that in the Gospel, in this victory worship, in this worship in spirit and in truth, it’s done in the peace of God that God gives, the peace from above, but it’s also in the good will of God. It’s God’s favor. Sometimes that word evdokia is translated favor. It’s almost like a synonym of grace. And on earth peace, my grace among men.
Now here this en anthrōpois, tchlovje’tsje’khu’ in Slavonic, means the good will of God is among us or within us; it’s present here as a gift of God right from the beginning. And here, it’s very important that it is “good will among human beings.” We’re going to comment on this point again and again also. The interest here is the human being.
Now some churches, where they want to be politically correct, and they don’t want to say men, so rather than saying good will toward humanity or goodness among human beings, they’ll say all. And I know churches that say, “good will toward all.” Well, as long as you mean all human beings. But the problem is many people when they think of all, they think of all creation. God’s grace and goodness and love is for all creation.
Even this expression philanthropos, God is the friend or lover of mankind, lover of humanity. In some liturgies, they translate it lover of all. That’s really very misleading; in fact, I would say it’s just plain wrong. Because the point being made is about humanity. It’s not about the whole of Creation. It’s for human beings.
So you’ve got to find a way to say that God is the lover of mankind or humankind or the lover of humanity. I think I would prefer humanity actually, the lover of humanity, the one who loves human beings, because there’s a special love of God for the human creature, made in His image and likeness – namely men and women, human beings.
It’s not about birds and fish and cattle and rocks or flowers. It’s not all. Of course, God is the lover of all. Of course his good will is upon all. Even His peace is upon all, because of course there will be cosmic peace in the future Messianic Age that the Church already anticipates by believing in the peace that comes among animals and between animals and human beings.
How many saints were friends with lions and bears and so on? This is the cosmic tranquility, harmony, overcoming all strife that we are living and expecting; that we believe the world was created for in the first place. But it only could reach it through incredible hostility and difficulty, especially if one accepts at least a little bit of the idea of the working out of various species through incredible conflict – evolutionary types of understanding and so on.
But in any case, however one thinks about that, the fact of the matter is that in this particular sentence, “On earth, peace, good will toward men,” it’s important that this humanity would be stressed; that that’s the intention there. It’s not of the totality of Creation. It’s just of the human beings who are the governors, the priests, the prophets, the kings over all Creation. They have to be at peace, and God’s good will, God’s favor, God’s good pleasure has to be among them.
Then, after saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will among men,” two times, then there is a third verse that says, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will show forth your praise.” That line comes from Psalm 50.
O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth will show forth thy praise. For if thou hast desired sacrifice, I indeed would have given it to you; with burnt offerings, you will not be pleased.
Sacrifice to God, worship to God,
is a broken and contrite and humble heart.
That’s in the Psalter. Now that line from the Psalm, “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise,” that is a very standard liturgical verse in virtually all Christian traditions. In the Western Church, it is also used at the beginning of liturgical offices. “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise,” because again we want the Lord to open our lips. We want the Lord to open our mouth so we can show forth his praise; that we can praise Him.
So again, it’s the Lord who is acting. “Lord, open my lips that my mouth will show forth your praise.” Now, we’re going to be opening our mouth and our lips. We’re going to be singing for a couple hours. We’re going to be reading. We’re going to be speaking. We’re going to be praying. Worshiping is done by the logike. It’s done by people who have words;, who are spiritual, whose words make meaning.
The animals and the plants worship God just by their very being. The animals worship God just by their very nature, whereas the human being, who is a free being, has to open their mouth and their lips and show forth God’s praise through their speech. We have speech, and Christian worship is logike latreia, the worship of those who speak; those whose words and sounds have a content to them.
Now, it’s very interesting here to note that when we’re calling on God to open our lips and to put the words into our mouth, we have to really pay attention to the fact that we are praying in the words that are given to us by God. These are words given to us by God. Worship is not done in our own words, certainly not in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We do not pray in our own words, so to speak. We pray in the words God gave us to say.
St. Benedict, a great monk of the Western Church; very much influenced by the Eastern Tradition, says that in liturgical prayer, in the Church’s worship, we do not put our mouth where our mind is. We put our mind where our mouth is. In other words, we don’t say what comes to our mind. The words are first put on our mouth, our lips. They are given to us by God, and then we put our mind on what we are saying, and we’re saying it because God has commanded us to say it. He has inspired us to say it.
As Saint Anthony the Great said, “In the worship of the Christian Church, God gives His own words for His own glorification.” He puts His words into our mouth. And that’s very important, because in traditional Biblical worship when the Kahal Israel, the People of God, the People of Israel, the Ekkli̱sía tou Theoú, the Church of God, the Church of the Lord gathers, the words of the Lord are provided by God. We don’t make them up. We don’t express what’s on our mind and heart when we go to Church.
Now, when we pray privately, we even then don’t begin in our own words, at least in the Eastern Orthodox Church. We begin private, personal prayers in our room; in our heart in the words God gave us. We say, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” We say, “Holy God. Holy Immortal. Holy, Holy, Holy.” We say, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Those are words that God gives us.
We say the words of the Psalms, which are the words that are inspired in human beings by God. They are the words of God in human words. But they are ultimately God’s words. They are inspired words. They are the Holy Spirit praying within us. Now, we begin with those words that God gives, and then in our private devotion, we can move in several directions.
We can move where, taking those words that God gives, we somehow use them as a formation or a pattern for what we ourselves might personally wish to say. So sure, we can pray in our own words or fill our own content with these words, but we never do that publicly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. We always use the words together. We use the same words, and these words are primarily those inspired by God; given to us by God.
But then also, the words of prayer, both in our heart, in our room, in our closet, and the corporate worship of the Church can lead human beings into the wordless prayer; into the silence from which God’s words emerge and into which God’s words lead us. So in the Orthodox Tradition, the hesychastic prayer, the prayer of silence, is deeply connected to the prayer of words.
But you begin with words. You don’t begin with silence. You are led into the silence through the words. And the words lead us deeper into a meaning, which even the words themselves cannot really contain, limit and totally express. So there is a communion with God in silence that is beyond and above words, the wordless prayer of the heart.
St. Isaac of Syria and St. Seraphim or Sarov even say that there’s a condition beyond worship. There’s a condition beyond petitionary prayer where you are just one with God. The Holy Spirit is in you totally, so to speak, and you are in communion with Christ; in communion with God; in a love relationship; a union of love that’s beyond words.
And we know that really love is always beyond words, even the best of words. All the best of words are limited and in some sense, if taken too literally, are misguiding. St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “When it comes to words, even the words inspired by God, every man is a liar, because this reality so transcends words.” But they are words, to use the expression of St. Gregory the Theologian now, theoprepic. In other words, they are appropriate to God. They are true words, or to use the line of the Psalter, they are pure words.
The words of the Lord are pure words. They are analoid. There’s nothing ungodly, un-divine within those words. So this is what we’re praying at the beginning of the Liturgy, “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will show forth your praise.” So this is how it begins. This is the beginning that is given to us that we have to recite and put ourselves into as we begin the Liturgy.
So we start again with, “O Heavenly King,” invoking the Holy Spirit. Then, we proclaim the angelic hymn of the Incarnation of Christ, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will among human beings.” And then we say, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will show forth your praise.”
Then what happens is the deacon, if there is a deacon serving, and there really ought to be, (The Liturgy is meant to have a deacon.) the deacon comes to the bishop or the presbyter who is presiding at the Liturgy and says the following line from Psalm 118/119. It is the 126th verse of this particular Psalm. This is the longest Psalm in the Bible. It’s the one read over the tomb of the dead Christ on Great Friday and Great Saturday Matins.
And the words that are recited are these words, “It is time for the Lord to act.” The deacon says to the celebrant, “It is time for the Lord to act.” Kairos! The moment has come. The specific moment of worship is now here. But notice, it’s not the time that we begin to pray or we begin to worship, it’s the time that the Lord is going to act.
Now, the word liturgy means an act. It means a common act. But what makes Christian Liturgy, liturgy is that it is the activity of God. It is the Divine Liturgy. It is God acting in us. So the word that is actually really saying that we are now ready to start; we are now ready to hear is this line, “It is time for the Lord to act.”
Then the deacon says, “Bless master. Bless Father.” And then the celebrant says, “Blesses is our God always, now and ever to ages and ages.” Then, the deacon asks for the master’s prayer, “Pray for me Bishop/Father/Priest.” And then the celebrant, the bishop or the priest, says, “May the Lord direct your steps.” And that is also from the Psalm 118/119. That’s from verse 128.
So what we have here is Psalm 118/119, depending how you count them, verses 126, 127, and 128 being referred to, which begins the Divine Liturgy. “May the Lord God direct your steps.” Then the deacon says, “Remember me holy father,” or “holy master.” And then the celebrant says, “May the Lord God remember you in His Kingdom, always now and forever to ages of ages. Amen.”
Then, the deacon walks out and while he is walking out to call everyone to attention to start the Liturgy, by saying, “Arise Master/Father and give the blessing,” and the Liturgy starts. He also then repeats to himself quietly. He shouldn’t be saying this very loudly throughout the Church, but quietly as he goes out, he says again for himself, “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth will show forth thy praise.” So he repeats the words that the celebrant has just repeated out loud.
Now, this sentence, “It is time for the Lord to act,” in the Septuagint translation of the Orthodox Study Bible, this is how it is written. “It is time for the Lord to act. They broke your law. For this reason, I you’re your commandments more than gold and topaz. Therefore, I directed myself to all your commandments. I hated every unrighteous way.”
In the translation of the Revised Standard Version, which of course is taken from the Hebrew Bible, this is how it reads, “It is time for the Lord to act,” so it’s exactly the same both in the Hebrew and the Greek, both in the Masoretic and the Septuagint Bible. It’s the same. “It is time for the Lord to act,” and then it says in the RSV, “For Thy law has been broken. Therefore, I love your commandments above fine gold. Therefore, I direct my steps by all Thy precepts,” or according to your commandments, I direct my steps.
So the deacon says to the celebrant, “It is time for the Lord to act. Bless master.” And then the celebrant says to the deacon, “May the Lord God direct your steps.” This is a quotation of verse 128. Here, it’s in the first person. “Therefore, I direct my steps by all your commandments/precepts/statutes.” But here the bishop or the priest is telling the deacon, “May the Lord God direct your steps,” through this Liturgy.
But it’s interesting to note that right after it says, “It is time for the Lord to act,” it says,
“For thy law has been broken.” In other words, we’re in the fallen world. We’re in a world of sin. The laws of God have been broken. So the Lord has to act to save the world. There’s got to be a victory of God over the enemies, so that the law would not be broken; that the law would now be fulfilled. And Christ comes to fulfill all righteousness; to do the law.
So what we are celebrating in the Divine Liturgy is the fact that in the world that is fallen, broken, corrupted Christ has come and saved it. And that’s the Gospel. And the Lord acts to come save the world – the victory. And therefore you have this sentence, “I love your commandments above fine gold.” So the commandments of God are basic. They’re foundational. They are what make the communion with God and the worship to be true – struggling to do the commandments of God, to walk according to His steps.
Therefore, the next verse says, “Therefore, I direct my steps by all your commandments.” And then that’s why the priest or bishop says to the deacon, “May the Lord God direct your steps according to God’s commandments.” May you celebrate properly, not only this Liturgy but all of your life. So these lines are certainly a reference to verse 126, 127, and 128 in Psalm 119, 118 in the Septuagint. This is used at the beginning of the very Liturgy.
Now there is a problem here, and that is this. The expression, “It is time for the Lord to act,” both in Greek language and then in Church Slavonic, which is patterned after the Greek, the grammatical construction is a dative absolute. So the strange thing is that it would say, “It is time to the Lord to act.” The subject would be dative.
And so what happened is, because this grammatical construction was not often understood, and very particularly in America, in the United States, when the Divine Liturgy was first translated into English, particularly in the Hapgood Service Book, which was done from Slavonic, and in the other first translations of the Liturgy books into English, that were done mostly by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, which republished the Hapgood Book, which was originally done in the Russian Missionary Diocese, but then the Russian Missionary Diocese went bankrupt after the Revolution and there was divisions among the Orthodox.
But in the earliest translations, which were done from Slavonic, particularly by Florence Isabel Hapgood and those who worked with her, they did not understand that this was a quotation from the Psalm. My guess was they had no idea this was a quotation from the Psalm. And because it was a dative absolute, they thought that the word Lord was not the subject of the construction but an indirect object.
And so you had translated in the old service book, which is still in the official Orthodox Church in America published in 1967, which I still use in Church myself, when I serve, you have a total mistranslation. It’s translated like this, “It’s time to begin the service to the Lord.” So to the Lord becomes an indirect object, and the service is to the Lord, and it’s the service, not the liturgical action.
But I just got to point out here that this is just a mistake. It’s wrong. It’s a quotation from the Psalm and it is not to be translated, “It is time to begin the service to the Lord,” as if the deacon is telling the priest or bishop, “It’s 9:30 or it’s 10:00, and it’s time to start the service master. Let’s get going.”
That’s not what’s happening here. The deacon is pronouncing to the celebrant that the moment has come for God to act, because the Liturgy is going to begin, and it is the Divine Liturgy in which God is acting from beginning to end, in and through the people; where the people are worshiping God by the very grace and Spirit and Word and Christ of God Himself. That’s what’s happening in this particular worship in spirit and in truth.
It is worship in spirit and truth, the Spirit of truth and Christ who is the Truth. It’s God worshiping so to speak, Himself through us. That’s not a good way to put it, but it’s the Divine Energies, the Divine actions, the Divine Spirit, the Divine words in us, by which we worship and praise God.
But the meaning here is very clear, because it’s clear in the Scripture. “It is time for the Lord to act,” is what should be said, not, “It is time to begin the service to the Lord.” That is incorrect. That is simply a misunderstanding, and it should be corrected.
Now one last little comment here is this, when there is no deacon, I personally would just suggest, and this is my own personal practice, I think it would be a very good thing after the priest, if he is alone celebrating the Divine Liturgy with his people. He begins, “O Heavenly King, Comforter.”
Then he says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will among human beings.” Then he says, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth your praise.”
I think it would be a good idea for the priest also to say, “It is time for the Lord to act.” And let that be said by the priest if there is no deacon, so that that point would be affirmed. And it would be nice even if the people could hear it; if they could hear those prayers and hear that line, “It is time for the Lord to act,” so that we know that this Divine Liturgy is beginning with the activity of God, and it is God who is acting in it, through Christ the Word Incarnate in His Holy Spirit from the very beginning to the very end. It’s God’s activity in us.
So if there’s no deacon, it’s kind of sad to miss that wonderful sentence. Maybe the priest, if he’s alone, should just say it – maybe quietly. But after saying, “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall forth your praise,” then maybe the priest should say, “It is time for the Lord to act,” and then even say to the people, “Forgive me brothers and sisters;” then begin the Divine Liturgy.
Because at this point, it is the practice, though it’s not in the service book, in many churches that the priest, when he is ready to begin, he opens the doors of the icon screen; that he bows to the people and asks their forgiveness. So I think that it’s very sad to lose that beautiful sentence when the congregation or community has no deacon. “It is time for the Lord to act,” and that’s the beginning of the Liturgy. “It is time for the Lord to act.”
And so this is this very short beginning when the deacon says that to the celebrant, and then he says, “Bless me master,” and then the celebrant says to the deacon, “May the Lord God direct your steps.” Maybe even the priest can say, “It is time for the Lord to act. May the Lord God direct our steps.” In other words, keep that in mind, at least in attention at that point.
And then, may the Lord God remember all of us in His Kingdom, because the celebration of the Liturgy will be the celebration of the Kingdom of God – the presence of the Kingdom, the membership in the Kingdom, the power of the Kingdom, the Kingdom that Christ proclaimed and that Christ brought to the world.
So then, when the Liturgy begins, you will see that it begins with the blessing of the Kingdom. But here we have the Invocation of the Spirit; the angelic hymn, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among human beings;” the prayer, “Lord open my lips that my mouth will show forth Thy praise;” the declaration, “It is time for the Lord to act;” and the begging of God to direct our steps and to direct our way through the Divine Liturgy. Lord direct my steps according to your commandments. This is how the great Divine Liturgy of the Church begins. Certainly, it’s how it begins today in all Eastern Orthodox churches.