ONE Magazine

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Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Heaven on Hearth

A photoessay on the divine liturgy of the Byzantine rite.

The twentieth-century Russian wonder worker St. John of Kronstadt once published a collection of his sermons and discourses on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. He could think of no more apt title than the one we have given to this article, for the Divine Liturgy makes heaven present to those on earth or better still, transports us earthly pilgrims to the goal of our wandering: the celebration of the holy Liturgy in the heavenly kingdom by the Great High Priest Himself, even Christ our God.

This theme of “heaven on earth” and “the future in the present” is brought home to the attentive worshipper in countless glorious ways by the offering of the Divine and Holy Liturgy of Our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, as the Mass most commonly used in the Byzantine East is called. The very architecture of the Church with its enfolding dome suggests the descent of heaven to earth. The iconostasis, or icon-screen, represents at once the entire economy or mystery of salvation as well as the heavenly kingdom. The Divine Liturgy itself begins with a triumphant proclamation that unites the here-and-now with the world-to-come, the here-below with the realm-on-high: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

The first “dramatic” action of the Liturgy is the procession with the golden Book of the Gospels as we welcome the Word of God into our midst. The priest’s prayer at this point hints that it is really Christ that welcomes us into the kingdom-to-come.

“Master and Lord, our God, who in heaven established the orders and ranks of Angels and Archangels to serve Your Majesty, grant that the Holy Angels make the entrance with us and with us serve and glorify Your goodness.”

The priest then invokes God’s blessing on the procession by proclaiming it the entrance into Your Holy Place. Then as the clergy retire to their seats to hear the word of God, the priest blesses the “throne-on-high” with these words: “Blessed are You on the throne of majesty in Your kingdom, resting always upon the Cherubim.”

The second procession brings our gifts of bread and wine from the table of preparation to the heavenly altar. As the priest places them down on the cloth bearing the image of Christ’s entombment he meditates:

“Since it brings life, since it is more beautiful than Paradise, Your tomb, O Christ, is truly more resplendent than any kingly palace; it is the fountain from which springs our resurrection.”

Nowhere is the mystical compenetration of earth and heaven more in evidence than in the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer. As the priest begins to recall all the acts of loving kindness of our man-befriending God he prays,

“You raised us up again. You have not ceased doing everything to lead us to heaven and to bestow upon us Your future kingdom.”

Later in an ecstasy brought on by the imminent presence of Christ in His Holy Gifts, the faithful “remember” what has yet to take place:

“Remembering, therefore, this salutary precept (do this in memory of me) and all that was done on our behalf: the cross, the sepulchre, the resurrection on the third day, the ascent into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious coming, we offer You Your own from what is Yours with all that we have and for all we have been granted. When this Divine Mystery is finally consummated by partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the priest jubilantly cries:

“O Christ, great and holiest Passover! O Wisdom, Word and Power of God! Grant that we may receive You more perfectly in the duskless day of Your kingdom!”

Let our photo-essay introduce you to the Liturgy by which Byzantine Christians proclaim: “Shine, shine, new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Fr. Romanos, a frequent contributor to these pages, lives in New York City where he ministers to newly-arrived immigrants from the Soviet Union.

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