Recently I read something about the Divine Liturgy that struck me as rather odd. The author said something to the effect that the Divine Liturgy is “long” so as to allow the faithful to “come and go” as convenient, to light candles and say their prayers, and to depart at will. Any thoughts on this?
I too have seen this opinion expressed on occasion, and it is indeed “odd,” to say the least. A few considerations here…
- As the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko wrote, “The word liturgy means common work or common action. The Divine Liturgy is the common work of the Orthodox Church. It is the official action of the Church formally gathered together as the chosen People of God. The word church, as we remember, means a gathering or assembly of people specifically chosen and called apart to perform a particular task.” In the case of the Divine Liturgy, then, the “particular task” is to gather with the angels and the saints, who surround the throne of God, to offer thanks corporately to God for all that has been accomplished for our sake and salvation; to express our thanks through the celebration and reception of the Eucharist, His very Body and Blood; and to anticipate His second and glorious coming, when His eternal Kingdom—already fully present in the life of the Church—will be fully revealed to us. As such, we are called, first and foremost, to be a “worshipping people,” called to join “with one mind and heart” with the angels and saints who have gone before us in worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with Whom we enter into a “common union” through the reception of Holy Communion—as a community, and not as isolated individuals.
- Since the Liturgy is the “common action” of the People of God, it is not something merely “performed” by the clergy for the benefit of a “passive audience,” so to speak. While the bishop or priest, as the “president of the Eucharistic Assembly,” certainly has a central function in the Liturgy, so do all of the members of the Church—including children, whose “holy noise” is a joyous sign of the ongoing life of the Church as it “marches through time”—especially through the singing of the liturgical responses and hymns, the various actions and gestures expressed in worship, and the collective offering of ourselves—as a worshipping community—to carry on the Lord’s work after the Liturgy formally ends. As some have said, the Liturgy only truly ends when the next Liturgy begins.
- Given these realities, it is hardly the practice of the Church to conduct lengthy services for the purpose of accommodating the faithful in “dropping in as convenient” to light a candle or offer private, personal prayers during public worship. [The very public Liturgy of the Church is not the time to offer personal prayers “in secret.”] To truly “make” the Liturgy “happen,” the entire community should be gathered together and participate in—from the very beginning of the Liturgy through its end [and beyond!]—the Liturgy. This means that from the very opening doxology—“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”—to the final blessing the faithful should be present “with one mind” and heart and voice to celebrate their common faith, hope and love for God and one another through worship.
- There are, of course, bound to be occasions in which arriving late or having to leave early may be unavoidable, but this is never the “norm.” For example, an unexpected snow storm may cause the occasional late arrival, or the need for a physician parishioner to heed an emergency call may be cause to leave a bit early—absences that, as one of our prayers notes, “are worthy of a blessing.” But these are the exception, and not the “norm.”
So, as the “common work” of the People of God, one who simply “drops by” to light a candle and offers a few personal prayers is not “liturgizing,” and the length of the Liturgy has nothing to do with making such “drop bys” more convenient, any more than hosting a formal dinner party at one’s home would be designed to allow those who just wish to drop by for sweets and a cup of coffee to do so. Contributing to the common work of the Liturgy involves everyone, from beginning to end, from “Blessed is the Kingdom” to the final “Amen” and “Many years”—and ultimately, eternally beyond in “the never ending day of the Lord’s Kingdom” itself.
Hope this helps!