Silence in Liturgy

Image courtesy of Sts. Peter & Paul Romanian Orthodox Church, Dearborn Heights
Image courtesy of Sts. Peter & Paul Romanian Orthodox Church, Dearborn Heights

When I first started to attend services at the Benedictine Monastery I would eventually call home, I was taken aback by the silence during the services.  It seemed that something was wrong, it was taking too long, did someone forget their lines?  All of these thoughts ran through my head.  The longer I stayed there, the more I settled into the rhythm of the house until it became natural.

Silence is essential during prayer.  We need not only silence around us but silence within us.  Interior silence will only occur if we have silence around us.  I also learned in the monastery the practice of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading.  I write a little about this in my book on prayer, but Lectio is intentional reading, not reading for readings sake, but reading as prayer and it requires stillness of body, mind, and soul.  It requires openness to the spirit and the voice of God.

It is difficult for us to slow down and to quiet down.  Even as, I write this I have the radio on the background, it is just noise, but it is like an old friend and I miss it if it is not there.  But in our 900 mph world it is difficult for us to slow down and quiet down.  We rush from one thing to another, and when it comes time to settle down from prayer, we fall asleep.

I remember the first week long silent retreat I ever encountered.  It was held during the winter at a Jesuit retreat house on the northern coast of Massachusetts.  The surroundings were beautiful, and one could see the glory of creation out every window.  It seemed that I spent most of that retreat sleeping.  I questioned the retreat master about this, and he said that it was common as we slow down, we tend to sleep.  I think my body needed the sleep, and after a few days I had adjusted to the rhythm of life.

The Orthodox Liturgy does not lend itself to silence unless it is intentional.  The priest is either saying something or the choir/cantor is singing something.  It seems to me that silence is not part of our Orthodox Liturgical tradition.  Here at my church, we have two different periods of silence during the Liturgy.  Right after the sermon is preached, I like to give the people time to process what they have just heard, let it sink in, and let them think about it.  It also gives me a little break!  The other time of natural silence is after communion.  After I replace the gifts to the altar and I am preparing to bring them back to the table of preparation, there is a natural moment of silence I like to observe.  We have just physically taken Jesus into ourselves, and we need time to think about that.  Do not reach for the book to read the prayers after communion, yes there are such things, just sit in the presence of Jesus and listen, listen to His voice. We need to find intentional times of silence, we need to be more attentive to the voice of God in our lives so we will be walking in His will.

The Church in the West has already begun the season of Great Lent, and we Orthodox have begun the preparation.  Great Lent is a perfect time to find those intentional times of silence in our day, perhaps it is whilst you are driving in your car, or just sitting alone at home, or maybe you could come to church early or stay a little after in quietness and just listen.  God wants to speak to you, all we need to do is listen for His voice.


  1. Fr. Peter, thank you for this reminder. I think, we as a culture, are often uncomfortable with silence. It stands in opposition to our need to be productive, effective, and seen. I remember asking, after attending my first Orthodox liturgy, “Where’s the silence?” The rubrics of the Episcopal liturgy require silence in a couple of places and offer it as an option in other places. As I continued in the Orthodox liturgy I found the chants to be way of fostering interior silence.

    Blessings for a holy Lent,

  2. What a joy to read about the crucial importance of silence! Thank You Fr. Peter.
    Some of us have come a very long way (spiritually) and it has taken me many years to understand (and apply) some of the lessons of the Desert Fathers & Celtic Orthodox Saints: Love silence. When we place our heads in our hearts, we begin to ‘see’ as with our first sight. And so many other blessings, like compassion. As Isaac the Syrian said: “Above all… love silence.”

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!