Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts

“But let us return to Psalm 24. ‘To you, oh Lord,’ it says, ‘I lift up my soul; in you, my God, I put my trust.’ Truly, the rest of this psalm, concerned entirely with prayerful trust, may be read simply as commentary on the first verse.

At each service of the Divine Liturgy, going back at least the Apostolic tradition of Saint Hippolytus near the beginning of the third century, when the priest commences the central Eucharistic benediction (corresponding to the Hebrew berakah), he turns to the congregation to exhort them to intensify their prayer: ‘Let let us lift up our hearts!’ (Ano skomen tas kardias is the lovely Greek original.) In the ancient Latin version, this exhortation becomes more succinct: Sursum corda, Hearts up!” A congregation of elevated hearts is the proper context for that great act known simply as ‘The Thanksgiving,’ Eucharistia (the priest’s next line being ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!’).”

(Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, p. 47)

The lifting up of the hearts is reminiscent of Christ’s words in John 3:3 in which He says we must be “born from above” to see the Kingdom of God.  Although in English this text is often translated “born again“, the Greek uses a root word that is the same in John 3:3 as in the hearts being up.  Literally the Greek text in the Liturgy does not have the word “lift” in it at all, but more simply says:  “let us have the hearts on high.”  In other words, let our hearts be born with this heavenly birth which Christ taught.  The English Bibles, probably under the influence of Protestantism, change the text to speak more about a one time “conversion” (born again) by the Holy Spirit whereas in Orthodoxy it is a constantly renewed life, living not just for this world, but embracing the heavenly/spiritual life in this world in the Church as the hoped for pattern throughout our daily lives.  Our hearts are being transfigured and transformed by the Holy Spirit into being one in and with the Body of Christ.  This transformation in Christ by the Holy Spirit of our hearts is also the ongoing work of the spiritual life outside of the Liturgy.

So in Orthodoxy, a starets, one whose life is visibly transformed by Christ becomes the spiritual father to his disciples.  “In the words of Igor Smolitsch, the great warm heart of a starets revives the shrunken, frozen hearts of those who flock to him; his perfected will reforms and sustains the imperfect wills of those who place themselves under his guidance”  (Iulia De Beausobre, from Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 7).  The upward call to our hearts is an ongoing transformation that we experience throughout our lives.  In the Liturgy we are reminded that this is to be our daily experience of life itself.

Worthy to Receive the Body of Christ

Chrysostom also proves the importance of the forgiveness of sins both in the context of the assembly in the wilderness and in the Liturgical Assembly. He points out that the forgiveness of sins was essential to the Israelites before they could safely and beneficially partake of the manna and drink, just as it is essential to the members of the Ecclesial Community before they can receive the Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Moses leads the Israelites in the desert

As long as they [the Israelites] honored the equal distribution of their goods, the manna continued to remain manna. However, when they decided to be greedy, greediness made the manna become worms. Indeed, with this behavior they did not harm others because they did not grab from the food of their neighbor in order to have more than their neighbor; but they were condemned because they desired more. Even if they did not commit injustice toward their neighbor, they hurt their own selves very much because, with this manner of assembling together, they habitually continued to dwell in greediness. Therefore, the same manna was simultaneously admonished [educated] their souls. It not only nourished them, but delivered them pain.

If a Christian joins the Liturgical Assembly and receives the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily and without repentance, the Body and Blood of Christ will lead to his judgement and condemnation, like the manna that became worms to the greedy Israelites. The members of the Church must free themselves of greediness and other evils through repentance, and consider themselves as equals, before gathering together to constitute the Liturgical Assembly, or else receive God’s condemnation.

(Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity, p. 94)

Holy Things for the Holy Ones!

The Holy Things are for the Holy Ones! 

One is holy, one is Lord: Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.  (from the Divine Liturgy)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

St. Nicholas Cavasilas commenting on the Divine Liturgy says:

On the point of approaching the Holy Table…partaking of the Mystery is not permitted to all …  

The holy [Mysteries] are for the holy!  

…  The faithful are called holy because of the Holy Mysteries of which they partake, because of him whose Body and Blood they receive.

Members of His Body – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone – as long as we remain united to him and preserve our connection with him [i.e., live in communion with the altar – Ed.], we live by holiness, drawing to ourselves through the Holy Mysteries, the sanctity which comes from that Head and that Heart. But if we should cut ourselves off, if we should separate ourselves from the unity of this most holy Body, we would partake of the Holy Mysteries in vain, for life cannot flow into dead and amputated limbs. And what can cut off the members form this holy Body? It is your sins which have separated me from you, [Is. 59.2], says God. Does all sin then bring death to man? No, indeed, but deadly sin only; that is why it is called deadly. For according to St. John [1 Jn. 5.16,17] there are sins which are not deadly.

That is why Christians, if they have not committed such sins as would cut them off from Christ and and bring death, are in no way prevented from partaking of the Holy Mysteries and receiving sanctification…   (quoted in The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church, p. 107)

For St. Nicholas Cabasilas the words in the Liturgy – Holy things are for the holy! – is packed with meaning.  The “holy things” refer to the Holy Mysteries such as Holy Communion.  These Mysteries are given not for everyone, but to the Holy Ones of God, the saints.  In the Liturgy they are given to the Faithful.  The people of the parish are (and are to be!) the Holy Ones of God.  For him, it is obvious why there is a practice of “closed” Communion.  One has to desire to be among the faithful, among the Holy Ones to receive the Holy Mysteries.  They are gifts for those who seek the Lord – for those who choose and desire to live a holy life.  Holiness is not magic that can change someone into something they are not.  Holiness comes to those who choose to be united to the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ.  We maintain holiness by maintaining our unity with Christ whose Body is the Church.

Fr Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World leads us into the mystery:

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.   (Kindle Location 389-395)

For Fr Schmemann holiness is the goal of our spiritual sojourn.  When we receive the Holy Mysteries of God and become the Holy Ones of God, we have come to the very purpose of our existence.  In the Holy Mysteries we are united to the One who is Holy, Jesus Christ.

What is the Divine Liturgy?

The totality of the wondrous events performed by God, in order to bring man after his disobedience back to His house and make him His own once more, is called divine economy or dispensation: ‘The divine economy of our God and Savior is the raising up of man from his fallen state and his return from the alienation produced by his disobedience to intimacy with God’ (St Basil).

This reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God: ‘The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [‘thanksgiving’] because they consist of the recollection of many  benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence’ (St John Chrysostom). The Divine Liturgy is the sacramental re-living of these things and the ‘recapitulation of the entire divine economy’. That is why at the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the celebrant says: “The Mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected.’

The mystery of the divine economy was made manifest at the same time as man’s disobedience. The Master who loves mankind ‘at once saw the fall and the magnitude of the wound, and hastened to treat the wound so that it would not grow and turn into an incurable injury…spurred on by His love, not for one moment did He cease to provide for man’ (Chrysostom). Through wonderful deeds and prophetic words, God prepared man to partake in the fullness of life and love.

(Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, p. 15)

Let us Lift Up Our Hearts

Let us lift up our hearts.

We lift them up unto the Lord.

(From the Divine Liturgy)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in the 4th Century describes a portion of the Divine Liturgy which is basically the same as we Orthodox are still doing today.

After the priest cries out, “Lift up your hearts.”

For truly that awe-filled hour it is necessary to have our hearts up toward the Lord, and not below with regard to the earth and earthly activities. For this reason the priest exhorts you with authority in that hour to leave behind all everyday cares and household worries and to have your hearts in heaven with the God who is the lover of humanity. Next, you answer, “We have lifted them to the Lord,” having made by this your agreement with him according to what you confessed. But let not such a one enter who with the mouth says, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” but whose thoughts in the mind are focused on everyday cares. Always, then, keep God in mind! But if, on account of human weakness, you are not able to do this, try to do it especially in that hour. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 123)

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim … now lay aside all earthly cares as we receive the King of All who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.  (Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy)

The Purpose of the Liturgy

“This gets more to the heart of things,” said Father. “What does each of us do? Only we can answer that for ourselves. Doesn’t Christ say, ‘Where your treasure is, there also is your heart’? If you remain passive or a spectator, you never experience the inspiration and challenge of liturgy. You remain locked within yourself. You rate the liturgy like a TV show and grade it on the basis of how it entertains–without it ever entering your mind that the purpose of liturgy is not entertainment.”

Father’s voice grew passionate. “Liturgy truly is ‘work’ in the sense that it requires us to move outside ourselves, to prepare, study, attend, sing, and listen together in faith and love. When liturgy is celebrated correctly and with care by everyone involved, its beauty and majesty does nourish and inspire us. These become the very vehicles that enable us to meet the mystery of God, giving us the strength to live life well and deal creatively with its problems. Only then does this ‘work’ bring us to Christ. Let’s face it: Liturgy is also about energy and belief, life and death. It’s not about comfort, amusement, entertainment, and distraction. Christian liturgy is about dying, leaving behind the old self and becoming a new person, so that we may life more fully, more abundantly.”

(The Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness, pp. 227-228)

Thanksgiving and Ascetical Thinking

Every week in Orthodox churches in which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we give thanks to God.  Eucharist – the word we use to refer to Communion – is the Greek work for thanksgiving.  Every Liturgy is thus a thanksgiving service.  That is the primary purpose of the Liturgy – it is how we Christians give thanks to God.  We assemble together exactly for the purpose of celebrating our thanksgiving, every week, not just once each year.  For us Orthodox thanksgiving is really a way of life, not a holiday we do one day in November.  Our country’s thanksgiving holiday is just another chance for us to give thanks to God.

A eucharistic ethos means, above all, using natural resources with thankfulness, offering them back to God. Such an attitude is incompatible with wastefulness. Similarly, fasting and other ascetic practices make us recognize even the simplest of foods and other creature comforts as gifts, provided to satisfy our needs. They are not ours to abuse and waste just so long as we can pay for them.

We worship as a community, not as individuals; so a liturgical ethos is also one of sharing. Long before the earth was seen as a whole from space, the Church knew that we stand before God together, and that we hold in common the earthly blessings that He has given to mankind and all creatures. “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs,” Saint John Chrysostom reminds us.

This principle, applied to the whole range of natural resources, is particularly relevant because the global environment is squeezed on two sides: by the over-consumption, greed and waste of the affluent, and by the pressing needs of the poor, often forced to deplete the land around them for the sake of food or fuel in short term. (Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, “‘Thine Own of Thine Own’ Orthodoxy and Ecology,” Orthodoxy and Ecology Resource Book, p. 15)

For the Peace from Above

For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls . . . . For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord. (Petitions from the Divine Liturgy)

St. Tikhon, the Enlightener of North America comments:

Therefore the angels at His very birth already sing “on earth peace, good will toward men.” But perhaps you might ask — where is peace on earth, since from the coming of Christ until this day we see conflicts and wars; when at the present time one nation rises against another and one kingdom against another; when even now discord, hostility, and animosity are seen so often among people?

Where are we to look for peace, which was brought and left by Christ (cf. John 14:27)? “It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains”; “all nations will stream toward it” “and beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” “and they will not train for war again” (Is. 2:2, 4); “every man shall sit under his own vine undisturbed” (Mic. 4:4). This kingdom of peace on earth, which was foretold by the Prophets of the Old Testament, is indeed the Church of Christ; and it is in it [the Church] that peace should be sought. Here man is given peace with God, since in the mysteries he is purified from sin and becomes a child of the Lord, pleasant to Him. Here also in the services offered to God, in the mysteries, in the order and life of the Church, a Christian draws peace and delight and calmness for his heart.

The nature of man is transformed and renewed, and into his meek, gentle, truly humble, merciful, and loving soul comes the God of peace and love. And a Christian then experiences the heavenly bliss of which there is nothing higher on earth. No troubles or sufferings of any kind can overshadow this blissful peace in a Christian. On the contrary, we know from the history of the Church of Christ that holy men even rejoiced in suffering and boasted in sorrows, captivity and prisons, deserts and dens of the wicked. Amidst all deprivations they were placid and calm, perhaps more so than people who live with all the comforts and prosperity ever feel. They are not afraid of death itself; they calmly expect its approach and depart to the Lord in peace. Peace is dispersed everywhere in the Church of Christ.

Here people pray for peace in the whole world, for the unity of all; here all call one another brethren, and help one another; here everybody is loved, and even enemies are forgiven and cared for. And when Christians listen to the voice of the Church and live according to its commands, then they truly have peace and love.  (St. Tikhon of Moscow: Instructions and Teachings for the American Orthodox Faithful (1898-1907), Kindle Loc 453-471)

This Life and This World Are Godly

“In receiving the gifts of God and willingly offering them back to him, we are blessed to participate in both heaven and earth, in a mode of ordered liturgical existence. In this way, we are ourselves offered up in order to perform liturgy, by preserving and participating in all that is ‘good‘ (Gen. 1:31). ‘It is this world  (and not any “other world”), it is this life (and not some “other life”) that were given to man to be a sacrament of the divine presence, given as communion with God, and it is only through this world, this life, by “transforming” them into communion with God that man was to be.’  With these words Fr. Schmemman expressed that this world is not merely a dwelling place for humanity, but an integral part of humanity’s aspiration towards transfiguration.

Man receives both ‘this world’ and ‘this life’ to be offered up and transfigured. In this way, mankind may truly become human. This offering of one’s self and the world is the purpose of mankind, which is fully realized and expressed in the incarnation of the Word of God himself.”   (Bishop John Abdalah and Nicholas G. Mamey, Building an Orthodox Marriage, pp. 14-15)

“Let Us Depart in Peace”

As the Divine Liturgy is coming to its conclusion, the Priest says, “Let Us Depart in Peace.”   Like in so many other things he says in the Liturgy, the priest is speaking to the congregation, not to God.  It is a continued part of the dialogue between the priest and the people as they speak antiphonally on the way.    The words echo those of St. Simeon the God Receiver who came into the Jerusalem Temple at the very moment the 40 day old Jesus was brought there by His parents.  He saw the salvation of God and was ready to depart.  So too all who have participated in the Liturgy and received Holy Communion have seen the salvation of God and are ready to depart, not from the world, but into it.

  In the book, The Living God (p. 92) we find this explanation:

“Then the priest sends us out into the world, just as Christ sent His apostles: “Let us depart in peace.” We Christians, as communicants, become responsible for radiating the presence of God in the world. Through grace, God grants us the light which shone from the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us ask Him to teach us to transmit this divine Light to mankind and to the whole earth: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).