The Divine Liturgy ~ An Explanation

Over the next few days, I will be posting on elements of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.  One thing that one needs to know, is that there is more to the Divine Liturgy then what one sees when one comes to Church.  I will attempt to break this apart and explain the different sections.  Please ask any questions that you may have along the way.

Liturgical Day ~ Unlike the Western Church, the Liturgical Day for the Orthodox begins at Sundown.  Vespers is the first Liturgy of the day and is the principle evening service.  Here at St. Michael we celebrate Vespers on Saturday evening in preparation for the Sunday Liturgy.  The Vespers service is meant to remind us of the Old Testament period, the creation of the world, the first human beings fall into sin, of their expulsion from Paradise, their repentance and prayer for salvation, the hope of mankind in accordance with the promise of God for a Saviour and ending with the fulfillment of that promise. (Looks like I need a post just on Vespers!)

One note here, Vespers, Orthros, and Divine Liturgy are one seamless service.  The Sunday Liturgy really begins with Vespers on Saturday night and continues through the Orthros service on Sunday morning.  The Divine Liturgy is not the only service on Sunday.

Orthros or Matins in the most complex of the daily cycle of services.  It is celebrated in the morning prior to Divine Liturgy unless it is served as part of the vigil.  Sunday Orthros, if celebrated in its entirety, can last up to three hours.  Here at St. Michael we serve a modified version of this service.

The Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service of the Orthodox Church.  Celebrated on Sunday and other feast days.  Parish Churches do not usually serve the Divine Liturgy on a Daily bases.  Some monasteries will celebrate a daily Divine Liturgy but it is left to the monastery to make that decision.

The Orthodox Church has three primary Divine Liturgies celebrated at different times during the year.  The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the Liturgy most people will be familiar with.  The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used the Sundays of Great Lent and other appointed times, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is used weekdays during Great Lent.  I will post on each of these Liturgies as time permits.

There are other Liturgies approved for use in the Church.  The Liturgy of St. James (used on the feast day of St. James) as well as the Liturgy of St. Mark (used on the feast of St. Mark).  There are two liturgies approved for use on the Western Rite, the Liturgy of St. Gregory and the Liturgy of St. Tikhon.

At the heart of the Liturgy is the Eucharist.  The Church teaches that the gifts truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but it has never dogmatized a particular formula for describing this transformation.

Each Orthodox Christian should attend the Liturgy on every Sunday as well as feast days but we do not do this out of obligation but rather as a privilege.  We consider ourselves to be part of the one great family of Christ – the Church – that is made up of both the living and the dead.  By attending the Holy Services we enter into the glorious company of the saints.  Unworthy though we may be our Father in Heaven welcomes us.

When entering the church (before the services has started by the way) the common practice is to light candles in memory of the living and the dead and then the Icons are venerated.  Private prayers are then said and one joins the community in the corporate worship.  Liturgy is not a time for private prayers or devotion as it is the work of all the people.  Participation is required as Liturgy is not theater, you are not there to be entertained.

Prior to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy the priest will say the Entrance Prayers and that will be the subject of the next post.


  1. Just a small correction. In the "Western" church the liturgical day also begins the evening before. Sundays and doubles are accorded two vespers, the one celebrated the eve before the Sunday of the feast, and the leave taking of the feast or Sunday, which is the vespers sung on the evening of the feast.

  2. Dale,

    Just one correction. The Western Liturgical day begins with the Matins service which is the morning service, hence the fact that the day begins with sun up.

    Thanks for the comments.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!