Having written about the temptations of secularism within modernity – even within the liturgy – I offer this as a balance for our troubled hearts.
“We celebrate the Liturgy together. But we must pay what this costs: each one must be concerned for the salvation of all. Our life is an endless martyrdom.”
The Elder Sophrony
The Divine Liturgy (the Holy Eucharist) is not a ritual action of the Church which we attend, as though it were some sort of program. It is one of the greatest manifestations of the Divine Life that God has given us – dwelling in us, among us, with us, uniting us, and ascending from God to us and through us back to the Throne of Grace. Please forgive the exercise in prepositions in the last sentence – but the very nature of the Divine Liturgy demands such an exercise of language (cf. St. Basil).
The habits gained from our cultural life always threaten to invade our life as the Church – when our life as the Church should constantly be invading our life in the culture. Culturally we tend to gather for assemblies in which the deformed philosophy of secularism (dominant among most modern Christians) has offered us shape, form and understanding. The Divine Liturgy has no commonality with this philosophy.
We do not gather as a collection of individuals who share a common interest. The actions of the priest are not a program presented for our intellectual, emotional, psychological or religious improvement. We do not stand apart from the actions of the Liturgy and approve or disapprove them as if we were an audience.
We assemble for the Liturgy as the Church, the Body of Christ, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him Who Filleth all in all (Scripture synonyms for the Church). We are never an audience. We assemble as a single Body, who share in a single Life. No one can distract me from the Liturgy for the Liturgy is everything that takes place in the assembly of the Body. A child crying is a liturgical action (in the Liturgy). Equally a parent caring for a child and exercising discipline or offering solace are also liturgical actions. Our pains, our boredom, our interests, the very cry of our hearts are all among the lives that have assembled into the One Life.
There is one prayer – the Prayer of the Holy Spirit Who prays to the Father through the Son. This one prayer is given voice by priest, deacon and people. Nothing falls outside the concern of this one prayer for we offer to God everything. The sins of our lives are not excluded (else we would be barred from the Liturgy). Rather, we are told in Scripture that “God made him [Christ] to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the great exchange of worship – that we offer to God all that we are and have – even those things that seem unworthy – that we might receive in exchange that which transcends all worth.
To gather together in the Liturgy is to enter a new life. The habits of the old life are brought in only to be transformed – not to dictate to God the nature and character of the new life. The Life of the Liturgy is “on behalf of all and for all.” We must yield to the fact that the salvation of each and all is now the proper concern of each and all.
All of these things are simply what it means to love one another.