The Divine Eucharist, which is sanctified during the Divine Liturgy, is the greatest of the Holy Mysteries of the Church. It is the Eucharist that sanctifies and spiritually renews the Christian who participates. It is a gift of divine Grace, as well as an entrance into communion with His Holy Church, with the divine-human Sacred Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The 80th Canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council declares how important and necessary it is for the Orthodox Christian to participate regularly in the Divine Liturgy and to partake of the Eucharist: "In case any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or anyone else on the list of the Clergy, or any layman, without any grave necessity or particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own church for a very long time, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while living in the city, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion." St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain explains that a person who is absent from the Liturgy in such a way reveals themselves to be faithless or lacking a complete understanding of the Faith. In any case, they seemingly despise the common worship of the Church and so have no living relationship with Christ and the Church. Indeed, they lack the spiritual life in Christ.
The offering of the Divine Liturgy is necessary for the believer to keep their communion with our Lord Jesus Christ (the head of the Church) alive, as well as other baptized Orthodox Christians and the whole angelic world. Please note: During the Divine Liturgy the greatest of the Mysteries is completed, namely the Holy Eucharist, which was established by the Lord Himself. The Church itself is revealed in this act, in order to continue its presence on earth. Put simply: If the Lord had not done this, bringing the faithful into living communion with Him and among ourselves, then the Church would have remained obscure and even disappeared.
To understand more clearly, let us look at a theoretical example of a situation which sadly has occurred many times in Church history: If all Orthodox Churches in a given area are destroyed, the Bishops and priests killed, and the faithful scattered, with no way to serve the Liturgy for years, can we even talk about the existence of a Church there? This was a truth that was well understood by the persecutors of the early Christian Church, which is the reason why in their fury they rushed even into the underground catacombs of Rome, in order to root out and kill the Christians taking refuge there. As we know from Church history, this has happened repeatedly all over the world, through the centuries to the present day. That is why there are only ruins in the places where past Christian Churches flourished. As many of you will remember, nearly 70 years of atheistic propaganda prevailed in the Soviet Union, with the main goal being to close the monasteries and churches. With that came the execution and exile of bishops and priests, to prevent the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Additionally, they strictly forbade church attendance, especially for children and young people, to prevent them from praying and receiving communion. At the same time, the Divine Liturgy was being served in any way possible.
I still vividly recall the following incident: During the Soviet era, a special propagandist wanted to ridicule the Divine Liturgy during one of his atheistic speeches. He addressed a priest who had been forced to be present, and said with contempt: "Well, what is the Liturgy that you Christians perform? It is a theatrical performance. Like the actors, you wear special costumes, you shape the church with the appropriate decoration and you perform acts!” The Orthodox priest, remaining calm from this insult and disregarding the danger to his life, replied: "Comrade, if you could introduce me to a theatrical performance, which has been performed for two thousand years in a row, at least every Sunday, on the five continents of the earth and ‘sells’ millions of ‘tickets’ each time, then you may be right. But because what happens in the Divine Liturgy is unique in the world, it should probably make you reconsider your ideas! ... The propagandist became silent, since he did not know what to answer!
Following our general remarks, before we begin to contemplate the precious treasure contained in the Divine Liturgy, I hope we all can agree on the fact – even if we still can not fully understand it - that in the Divine Liturgy something extraordinary, something unique happens! After all, all of us have been forced many times to be deprived of the Divine Liturgy since last year, when measures were taken by the authorities to protect us from the pandemic. It was especially painful to be deprived of the Liturgy of the Nativity and even more so that of Pascha/Easter. How did the faithful experience the Resurrection, when watching the Liturgy from afar, without being able to approach the Risen Christ, to be united with Him through Holy Communion and to exchange with their brothers and sisters in spiritual joy the paschal greeting ”CHRIST RISEN”!
Let us yet again repeat, that the Divine Liturgy does not act magically in the soul of the churchgoing faithful. The proper preparation and response of the believer is also needed.
God willing, we will continue to reflect on this in next Sunday's homily.