Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

The Prayers of the Liturgy

15 July 1990

In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

What awesome words do we hear both in the Gospel and in the prayers of the Church. And what dread a responsibility do we take when we hear them, approve of them, accept them, and yet, do not live up to them.

If you listen to the Holy Liturgy, the beginning is easy for us to carry. It speaks to us of our need and of God's response; it is the cry of the earth Godwards. But a moment comes when we stand before God as the Church of God; and the Church of God is, in the words of one of our orthodox theologians, the Church of God is the continued incarnate presence of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth, His presence unto the salvation of the world.

The first moment which strikes me as being so frightening and so glorious, is the moment when, in one of the early litanies we ask the Lord to bless those Gifts which we have brought to Him, and to bless us also. Because at that moment begins a double consecration; we return to God what is His: the bread, the wine - they are no longer prisoners of a fallen word, they are given back to Him, liberated, freed, pure in themselves, and capable of receiving the fullness of the Divine presence within themselves.

But at the same time we pray for us to be consecrated to God. Re-consecrated indeed, because in the baptism, in the first act of faith we have declared that we offer ourselves to God, soul and body, to become His, but through sin we fall away, we give the lie to our promise. And here again we say, ‘Renew in us our consecrated status!'

And a moment later a proclamation is made, a warning: 'The doors! The doors!’ It’s a moment when in the Ancient Church only those who were allowed to receive communion could stay in the church, all those who could pronounce the Creed, say the Lord's Prayer, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, could stay. We now all stay; but these doors - are they only the doors of a temple? Are they not the doors of a heart, the doors of a life, of a mind, of our will, of our determination? It's a warning: open these doors, which you can open to God, and only then can you enter into the sacred realm of the Liturgy as members of the Church, not as outsiders.

And after that, again, another cry: Let us love one another so that with one mind we may acknowledge the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! We cannot pronounce the Creed outside of a relationship, of mutual love. The Creed speaks to us only of a God of love, a God Who has loved us and the whole creation into existence, a God Who has given His life to redeem it, a God, the Spirit Who comes upon us in our frailty, in our weakness, in our impurity to burn evil, and to make us into the Burning Bush.

And then, can we say these words, speak of the God of love if we have no love for one another? Saint John, in one of his Epistles says: if we say that we love God and don't love our neighbour we are liars, there is no truth in us. We must reflect on that, because we are not proclaiming a theological statement, we are not speaking of general truth, of a world-outlook, but we are speaking of a God Who says to us, 'I have given you an example for you to follow’.

But can we summon love within our hearts, when they are cold, when they are dead, when they are full of trouble? No, we cannot summon love as a feeling, as a glorious joy that embraces all creation and everyone of our neighbours. But love does not begin as a feeling, love begins as an act. 'Those who love Me, says the Lord, will fulfill My commandments.’

And the commandments - we have heard today in the words of Saint Paul, in addition to all that the Gospel proclaims to us: Love your enemies, pray for them, bless them, do not curse anyone! Christ, at the moment of the Crucifixion said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!’ If we are in the Liturgy as the Body of Christ, it is on these terms that we are there. And how frightening it is to say in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive as I forgive’, because it does imply, ‘If I do not forgive, I stand un-forgiven.’ ‘By whatever measure you measure it will be measured to you,’ says the Lord in the Gospel.

So, you see, what awesome words we accept, and we proclaim, and we make ours so lightly! And what responsibility to proclaim them, to accept them, even to hear them. But then, we can ask the same question which Peter asked from the Lord: But who then can be saved? There is hope; there is hope because we are sustained by the grace of the Lord, because the power of God deploys itself in weakness, because all things are possible in Him, but only on one condition: that we earnestly accept Him, that earnestly we struggle, and try to live what we proclaim, to be Christ’s within, perhaps, our limitations, but with all our will, all our mind, all the little strength we have, all the faith we have!

Let us therefore re-read, time and again, the Liturgy, the prayers which we use, and ask ourselves: is it only words for me? Do I only agree with these words in my mind? Do I only applaud these words and leave them untouched?

Let us reflect on this; but let us also reflect on this with hope because we know that in our frailty we are sustained by God. If only there is good will, if only we want good, if only we struggle for it - the power of God will manifest in us and we will outgrow our deadness, our narrowness, our timidity, our cowardice, our inability to be Christ's own people. Amen.



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