Below the reader will find my translation from the Russian of sermons 12 and 13 “On the Divine Liturgy,” by St. Seraphim (Zvezdenski). The preceding sermons may be found here. All titles and footnotes are my own.
The earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ up until the point of His being revealed to the people, that is, His life lived in obscurity in Nazareth, is represented in the portion of the Liturgy from the singing of “Only Begotten” through to the little entrance. The little entrance represents the Savior’s Baptism and the beginning of His preaching [ministry]. In the hymn composed by Justinian the Great, Emperor of Byzantium, we remember the worship offered by the shepherds to the Lord Jesus Christ at His Nativity, and together with them the whole human race. Preceding His manifestation to the people, the commandments of blessedness are sung. Above all else, they depict for us the image of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, His likeness during His earthly life. At the same time, these commandments indicate to us how a person must receive the Savior’s teachings and what spiritual qualities the followers of Jesus Christ must possess.
At the little entrance, a candle is carried [in procession] and it is followed by the Gospel and the priest.1 The candle signifies the Forerunner of the Lord, John; the Gospel – the Lord Himself. The deacon who carries the Gospel exclaims, “Let us pray to the Lord.”2 Then the deacon,3 while standing in front of the holy doors, elevates the Gospel for the glory for the Holy Trinity Who was revealed at the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ; he then exclaims, “Wisdom, stand upright,” and makes the sign of the cross with the Gospel. In this moment, the Baptism of the Lord is commemorated. The word, “wisdom,” reminds us that this mystery – the mystery of Theophany – is inaccessible to us through our human reason. The words, “stand upright,” are prescribed so to call all the weak, lazy, and incontinent ones standing there to attention and reverence towards the service of the Liturgy.
Following the little entrance, the troparia and kontakia of the feast [of the day] are sung. In this moment, we are with our prayer appealing to the Lord who revealed Himself to the world and we call upon the saints as intercessors for us. Then the “Thrice Holy” hymn is sung – the song of the angelic powers before the Throne of God. With this hymn, we glorify the Holy Trinity. The Holy Church elucidates the origin of this hymn in this manner, at one time in Constantinople there was a terrible earthquake and the people were terrified by this fearful misfortune. In the midst of the earthquake [during a procession], a young child was lifted up into the heights and then descended back to the earth. The young child told the crowd gathered around him that while lifted up in the heights, he heard a song sung by the angels, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” and to this, the people added, “Have mercy on us.” When this prayerful hymn was sung, the earthquake ceased. In this manner, the “Thrice Holy” hymn also entered into the Divine Liturgy and other Church services.
After the singing of the “Thrice Holy” comes the reading from the [Epistles of the] Apostles, which is the remembrance of the preaching of the Lord’s disciples. The reading of the Gospel is the preaching of Jesus Christ Himself.
After the reading of the Gospel and when the litany of the catechumens finishes, the liturgy of the faithful begins. This portion of the liturgy is called thus because only the faithful – those who have received baptism – may hear it. All others, unbelievers, catechumens – those who are preparing to receive the mystery of baptism – and penitents exit the temple. Therefore, right before the final portion of the liturgy begins, the litany of the catechumens is exclaimed, during which the priest makes quiet intercession for them.
At the end of the litany [of the catechumens] the exclamation, “Catechumens, depart …” is pronounced from the ambo.4 In ancient times, every catechumen exited the temple during this exclamation. Currently, this exclamation also has another meaning, it invites us to look within our own hearts – are they properly prepared to receive the coming Lord in the most sacred moment of the Liturgy?
“Catechumens, depart,” now signifies for us the requirement to expel [from our hearts] every thought and everything earthly so to meet the King of Glory.
Thoughts constantly master us. Some build in our souls a marketplace and there stir up noise and confusion, like at a bazaar; others engage in discussions and consultations and cause us to be scattered here, there, and everywhere. Another category of thoughts is those that burst in inadvertently and unnoticed. We must test ourselves, are we faithful to Christ, have we offended Him, or have we wandered away from Him?
Following this litany, those remaining prepare, with intensified prayer, for the approaching sacred moment of the Divine Service.
1 - If a deacon is serving, during the little entrance the deacon carries the Gospel and the priest follows after.
2 - This is commonly said between the deacon and priest as they are making the entrance, after the exclamation the priest quietly says the prayer of the entrance.
3 - Or priest, if no deacon is serving.
4 - If a priest is serving without a deacon, the exclamation is made from the altar.
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