The Divine Liturgy
The Divine Liturgy is the center of the Christian life—in it the faithful worship God with angels and saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Divine Liturgy Christians partake both of the life-giving Gospel and of the life-giving Eucharist, about which more will be said in the next section.
The word “liturgy” was used in the first century to describe a work that a benefactor performed to benefit the people of the city. Examples included funding a new public library, maintaining a public road, or throwing a public festival. In the Divine Liturgy, this benefactor is God Himself—thus it is not simply a liturgy, but the Divine Liturgy—God’s work performed for the sake of His people. In the opening dialogue between deacon and priest immediately preceding the invocation of the Divine Liturgy, the deacon turns to the priest saying, “It is time for the Lord to act.”
The first half of the Divine Liturgy culminates in the proclamation of the Gospel and its explanation in the preaching of a homily. The second half of the Divine Liturgy is centered around the Eucharist—its sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and its distribution to the faithful.
Although particular elements of the Divine Liturgy were added, developed, and embellished over the centuries, this basic structure was well-established by the second century. St. Justin the Philosopher, writing ca. AD 150 describes not only this structure but a highly-developed liturgical tradition. The first three centuries saw a great deal of local variation in liturgical practice which, following the legalization of Christianity, would be normalized in the east according to the practice of the Church in Constantinople and in the west according to the practice of the Church in Rome.
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Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna; Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria; Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian; Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos; Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey