We learned just a few things this time, mostly on liturgical rites and a few spiritual points. We also started to sing one of the most well-known hymns in our liturgy – “taishori” or “this censer”!
Liturgical Rites – Much of the Liturgy of the Word is about readings, and we do certain things during the readings.
There are lots of reasons for the readings. It used to be that certain epistles were read to the congregation of a particular church that they were addressed to (such as St. Paul to the Corinthian church). Also, people didn’t always have Bibles like we do these days. In the early days, the only way people would know the Gospel accounts is through reciting it to the congregation. That is how they learned about Jesus and His divinity. In fact, the Liturgy of the Word is sometimes called the Liturgy of the Catechumens (catechumens are people who are learning about the faith but not baptized yet), because this is where most of the teaching was done. Historically, after the Liturgy of the Word, the catechumens would leave and the faithful would remain to continue on with the liturgy and receive communion. Today, we allow everyone to be with us throughout the entire liturgy.
Today, we have 5 different readings every liturgy:
- Pauline Epistle
- Catholic Epistle
- Synaxarion (lives of the saints)
- Psalm and Gospel
Pauline Epistle – These are readings from the letters St. Paul wrote to specific churches. During this reading, the priest puts 5 spoonfuls of incense in the censer (represents the 5 major priests of the Old Testament), and he goes around the whole church with the censer. Why? Because he is representing St. Paul traveling to very far lands to preach the gospel. He starts from the left of the church to the right, and also waves the censer at certain points from left to right. The left represents the darkness and those of us in it, and the right represents the light and righteousness. God has brought us from the darkness to light. On a similar note, the priest prays for wisdom during this time.
Catholic Epistle – These readings are from the books by St. James, St. John, St. Peter, and St. Jude. The word “catholic” has always originally meant “universal”. The reason why this is called the Catholic Epistle is because the writings from the above-mentioned saints were written to all Christians, not just to Christians in specific churches. The priest offers incense over the altar itself, asking God to forgive all of our sins (he prays for us!), and he usually stays within the altar as the disciples themselves stayed in Jerusalem as instructed by Jesus before they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Praxis – The Praxis is actually the Greek term for Acts. We read from the book of Acts, which speaks of the journeys of the apostles and their experiences after Pentecost with preaching the gospel and showing them the great truth of Christ and receiving salvation. In fact, the term “gospel” actually means “good news”! After Pentecost, the disciples and apostles went to several places in the world to spread this good news. During this reading, the priest offers incense with the censer around the altar 3 times then only in front of the gate of the altar. He does not go all around the church like he did during the Pauline epistle. This is because the apostles did not go as far of a distance as St. Paul did. He also censes from right to left, and you might wonder why it’s the opposite as above. That’s because this time it represents the fact that they preached the gospel to the Jews first (right) who were really the people who knew God the best out of anyone, but because they rejected it, the apostles then proceeded to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (left) who were truly in the darkness of knowledge of God.
Synaxarion – This is a reading of the saints we commemorate on that particular day. It’s read right after Acts, since it’s a continuation of the Acts. Did you know that the Acts is the only book in the New Testament that does not finish with “Amen”? This is because the Acts has never ended, in fact we continue to live the life of professing Christians who want to show the light and be the light to others. Usually we read about a saint who was martyred or died on that day, which is their feast day. And the day of their death is considered a feast day because they have gone to our original home, which is with God. Reading about saints is really great also, because it reminds you that they were people too just like us, and just as they made it, we can make it too! We read these readings all throughout the year except for the Holy 50 Days (which is a time period of 50 days after Easter/Feast of the Resurrection).
Psalm and Gospel – Whenever the gospel is read, we all stand up in great reverence. The reason is because the gospel is the word of God, and who is the true Word of God, the logos? It is Jesus! The gospel is given high importance because it has revealed the truth of God to us, just as Jesus has. When we hear the gospel read, we are hearing Jesus speak to us directly. There is a little gospel in a golden case that is carried during the liturgy by deacons, and it looks like this:
This gospel box is carried sometimes with a cross laying over it side-ways. This is because the gospel represents Christ and the cross is being carried by Christ. Also, during the gospel reading, the box is placed on the podium because Jesus is now fulfilling the role of teacher and teaching us through the reading that day. After the reading, it is placed onto the altar, as Jesus fulfilled the role of the true Sacrifice. The point is that Christ is always visible; He has made God tangible and visible to us.
Spiritual points – This is a good transition to the spiritual points, so that we can apply what we’ve learned above to our lives! The word of God through the Bible is truly that: words that God speak to us. Whenever you’re wondering “where is God?” or “why can’t I hear Him?”, read the Bible! He so very often uses the Bible to directly speak to us. When we go to church, pay attention to the readings! You are getting a direct message from God every single time you go to liturgy! They aren’t random at all, but all the readings are pre-selected for every day, depending on the time of year. The readings also all correspond usually to a common theme or two. However, it will only be effective if you listen for it. Jesus said something that we always say in preparation for the gospel:
“many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which you see and have not seen them, or hear the things which you hear but have not heard them. But blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear” Matthew 13:17-18
You truly do hear and see very wonderful things that many people cannot say that they can outside of knowing Christ. God directly speaks to you in a special way during every liturgy. In fact, you have ways for God to speak to you every day; there are liturgical readings every day, and we also have the Agpeya in which we can even read and pray from 7 times in a day. Our Orthodox Church gives us all the tools! If you make a point to listen carefully and prepare your heart for receiving an important message, you will be blown away and your life will transform, I promise you! This actually happened to St. Anthony! He is the father of monasticism, the one who started it and established it. The reason why he became a monk is because he went to church one day and the gospel was of when Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21
He was so moved by this, knowing this was a message from God to him, he went home and actually sold all he had and went into the desert. Today we have monks and nuns who follow this practice thanks to him!
The last thing we talked about was the Orthodox Creed.
The Creed is a statement of faith. This was developed during the first ecumenical council (or gathering of all the churches by their representatives) called the Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea was in 325 AD, and the gathering occurred in order to address a heresy (idea or belief that is against the original teachings) in the church by someone named Arius. Arius was a priest of one of the churches in Alexandria who was telling people that Christ was not God. King Constantine had to call everyone together so that they could all sort out this issue. Out of that council came our official statement of faith, which is the Orthodox Creed that we recite at the very end of the Liturgy of the Word, leading into the next phase of the liturgy. When we say the creed, we must say so loudly and with confidence! It is not something to be said very softly and very fast. We are joyfully and prayerfully declaring glory of God and what we believe in. It is our entire faith in one prayer.
Hymns – The hymn “Taishori” or “This Censer” is a hymn that we sing at the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Word. Just like lots of hymns in the Coptic Church, this hymn teaches us the theology of our church. If you pay attention to many hymns, you will learn a LOT of theology, lots of things that we believe in, and what different things mean. If you’ve ever wondered what any of the things we do mean, LISTEN! It’s all there! In fact, in the early days, this is how the Church used to teach the people.
Many hymns have two parts, with the second part explaining the first. Taishori has a second half to it, called “Teeshori”, which actually explains what this whole censer thing is all about. It’s sung only during certain times of the year (fasting days of the week which are Wednesdays and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of Lent, and the Feast of the Cross). Otherwise, we since Taishori at every other Liturgy. Just for your reference, here are the lyrics of Teeshori:
The golden censer is the
Virgin, her aroma is our
Savior. She gave birth to
Him; He saved us and
forgave us our sins.
See? This is exactly what we taught you about the censer last week! But we’ve been teaching everyone in the church through this hymn for thousands of years!
The recording of this hymn is on our SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-457437655/girls-choir-track-1-tai-shori
Psalms – Also remember, we will be working on Psalm 30 as noted below. This is the psalm we read when putting on our vestments.
I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me.
3 O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave;
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
4 Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
5 For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
6 Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled.
8 I cried out to You, O Lord;
And to the Lord I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
10 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
Lord, be my helper!”
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
For bonus points, memorize the following verse from psalm 5! This one is said when entering the church.
But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple. (Psalm 5:7)
The due date for having this memorized is 12/18/19, which is our last session of the semester before winter break!
There will be no lessons the week of Thanksgiving! The next lesson will be on December 4th. We will see you next time!
Jasneet + Juju ❤