“I call up all to fully participate in the Divine banquet of the Risen Christ — the Holy Liturgy, and then, at its conclusion, to announce the good news of Christ’s Resurrection and greet one another with this symbol of the Resurrection”
– St. John the Wonderworker
The Liturgy is one of the greatest mysteries within the Orthodox Church; it is full of symbols and prayers which are all interpreted in different ways. A priest within our Church, Father Antonios, once said (and I’m sure many priests in the Church can agree):
“I have probably performed hundreds of Liturgies and each time I perform a Liturgy, regardless of how much knowledge I may have about it, I learn something new. We can never know God in His full glory, only what He is not, which is why He reveals more about Himself each time we meet Him in prayer or in the Liturgy.”
During the Liturgy, God does not limit Himself to be revealed to only the deacons and priests serving and taking a role in the altar, but reveals Himself to the entire congregation throughout the entire Liturgy. Believe it or not, everyone has a role within the Liturgy – yes, even you ladies! Let me share with you something a friend of mine told me which will change how you view the role of the congregation within the Liturgy:
Q: “What’s your favourite part of the Liturgy and why?”
A: “My favourite part would have to be the prayer of reconciliation. Man is restored from death to life when Christ came and reconciled us with Life. We can abide in Him and have union with Him because He came. I think an important role of women is that we are the prayer warriors! While the deacons may need to divide their attention on their Liturgical duties and prayer, women are lucky enough to focus on prayer and repentance. In a way, the deacons are sort of like Martha while the women are being Mary. The women sit at His feet while the deacons serve Him in Liturgy.”
I don’t know about you guys, but this blew my mind.
The first part of this response touches on the role the WHOLE congregation in the Liturgy, whether you realise it or not. The ‘Prayer of Reconciliation’ harmonises two things; reconciling God with humanity, and reconciling people with other people. The whole congregation partakes of this reconciliation through the greeting of one another with the ‘Holy Kiss’. Before we partake of His Body, we must be reconciled with other people before we are to even be reconciled with Him. We cannot enjoy reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ unless we have peace with one another. The Lord Jesus said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
We ask God to cleanse us from all “blemish, all guile, all hypocrisy, all malice and the remembrance of evil entailing death” because we cannot be reconciled with God if we have these feelings in our hearts. Father Antonios describes the greeting of the Holy Kiss as a ‘love sandwich’. Both your hands and the hands of the person you are greeting are layered on top of each other like a sandwich. Each person has one hand on top of the smooth side of one hand, and the other underneath the rough side of the hand. This symbolises that we will always be reconciled with that person, both in their smooth and rough times. It is through this kiss that the congregation declares that they wish to be one family in Jesus Christ and everyone is forgiving of one another. Through this, they can attain the forgiveness of their sins, as Jesus promised “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14). Man is therefore restored from death to life when Christ came and reconciled us with Life. We as a congregation – whether male or female – can then abide in Him and have union with Him because He came.
A deacon once said to me:
“It’s actually difficult at times to pray while ‘deaconing’, we have a lot of distractions; the kids, the noise, food, hunger, people singing louder, the pace of the priest. I envy the women during the Liturgy because they get to delve into deep prayer and I wish I could pray like that as well.”
Too often women will forget that they too have a role in the Liturgy although it may not be serving in the altar or reading the Gospel. One of our Church priests, Father Athanasius, once said, “Women have two of the biggest roles within the Liturgy which are important features of any Christian life; prayer and service”.
It’s hard to argue that the Liturgy is not made up of prayer and so, women are undoubtedly left with a considerable role. The very fabric of the Liturgy is the fervent and repentant prayers circulating within the Church, as Vasilii Rozanov once said, “There is no life without prayer. Without prayer, there is only madness. The soul of Orthodoxy consists in the gift of prayer.” While the deacons have a specific part to play, all women are called to pray, repent and respond with the congregation. For example, during the Litanies the priest says for the travelers, the sick, the plants, the vegetation, etc., we are ALL called to pray these different requests, not just the priests and deacons!
During the Liturgy, the deacons don’t just sing and read but are constantly serving the Lord with us – kind of like Martha. They sing that we may rejoice and be glad in our Lord; they read that we may learn from the Lord; and they serve that we may partake and become one with the Lord! The males have taken the typology of Christ in the form of leading to salvation. We need to stop viewing women and men as distinctive figures in God’s eyes as though there is a hierarchy and realise that we were made for each other. St Paul says, “Neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).
But the role of the woman doesn’t just stop at the Liturgy – the women also have roles of service after the Liturgy. As women, we are allowed the blessing of serving water at the end of Holy Communion, helping the elderly to partake of Communion, preparing Agape meals after the Liturgy, taking care of kids during the Liturgy, serving in Sunday School. All of these services are just as resourceful and useful as the job of the deacons during the Liturgy as it is all for the sake of the congregation – isn’t that what service is? Another deacon once said to me “The Church is like the Trinity with the women taking the role of the Holy Spirit, the helper; none of the three are greater than the other but all are equal.”
I will leave you all with a verse which should remind each and every one of us of our role within the Church and the Liturgy, male or female, to be prayer warriors and loyal servants of our Lord and Saviour:
“Every participant, whether clergy, deacon or believer should pray with attention, understanding and in a spirit of contemplation, so that together with the Apostle Paul we say, ‘I will pray with the spirit and I will also pray with understanding, I will sing with the spirit and I will also sing with understanding.’” (1 Corinthians 14:15)
Both males and females are Mary and Martha within the Church. Christ didn’t condone Martha for her service but brought to her attention that she was getting caught up in the service. As long as we have the heart of Mary, then our service of Martha is definitely accepted and commended – this should be everyone’s aim!
SAYG ~ Rebecca Kozman.