Family Study of the Divine Liturgy: Blessed is the Kingdom & Litany of Peace
Last week I wrote about the children in the church and received an explosion of response from it. The article spread through Orthodox Communities of all jurisdictions literally throughout the world. Today I am going to begin a series of posts which will study and pick apart the Divine Liturgy. My goal is to not only examine and dive deep into some of the scriptural meaning, but also to provide tools so that parents may discuss the service with their children and study as a family. I will aim to include questions and discussion points which can be used and adapted for any age child, through adulthood. Additionally, where appropriate look for “Experiencing the Liturgy with the Senses” which can especially be utilized for the youngest of children, as well as those with special needs. I hope this proves to be a fruitful examination of the service.
Blessed is the Kingdom
The divine liturgy beings with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages”
This is different from other services which the priest begins. Typically we hear “Blessed is our God, now and always and unto ages of ages” but for the Divine Liturgy (and any other sacrament of the church) we hear, Blessed is the Kingdom.
We respond with “amen” which means “so be it.”
Questions to ask your child:
What is a kingdom?
What is God’s Kingdom?
Where is God’s Kingdom?
Not only are we called to attention in that we are in the Kingdom of God, but just before the Liturgy began, the Deacon or Priest said, “it is time for the Lord to act” In the Greek, the word for time used is “Chairos” (hay-ROS) which is God’s time. This time is not our watch time. It is a reminder that we have entered something outside of our world and our focus should be on the service alone. Not the watch, not how many pages are left, not how much longer until communion. We are to live in the present moment at all times, but especially during the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is a TRIP! We’ve just embarked on a journey into heaven.
God’s Kingdom is heaven and it is what we aim to reach. During the Liturgy heaven is sent to us and for a brief moment of our week, we will come into communion not only with each other, but with the saints who are celebrating this Liturgy with the Lord at all times. “The Kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s glory to those who are prepared to receive it” (Dn. LeMasters)
Understanding the Liturgy with the Senses–What to look for
- See: The priest opens the royal doors
- Hear: The bells of the church calling us to attendance and attention
- Smell: The incense as the priest or deacon incenses the whole church
The Litany of Peace
From this opening we go straight into the Litany of Peace, in which we ask for the basic items of life, beginning with Peace, for how can we pray without peace?
- Peace of God, Salvation of our souls, peace for the world, stability of the church, unity for all
Then we move on the people and places:
- This holy house, those who enter it, the Archbishop, Bishop, priests, deacons, all clergy & laity, the president and all in public service, the city, all cities and countries
Then we look to the needs of the world at large:
- favorable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth, temperate seasons, travelers by land sear and air, the sick and suffering, the captives and their salvation
And lastly prayers for ourselves
- Our deliverance from affliction, wrath, danger and necessity
- Help us, save us, have person on us, and protect us of God by Thy grace
Finally, we pray to the Theotokos and offer our praise to the trinity. This happens after every set of petitions.
- Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.
- For to You belong all glory, honor, and worship to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
Questions to ask your children:
Why do we ask for peace at the very beginning?
Have you ever tried asking for something you do not really deserve when you’ve ben angry or upset? It usually does not turn out well. Peace is truly a gift from God.
St. Paul writes, “the peace of God passes all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7). When Jesus first appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room the first thing He said was, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21) immediately after which Christ tells his disciples “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you” From the very beginning, the work of the church beings with the gift of Peace.
Who or what can we think about and pray for during each of these petitions?
Go through the petitions with your child and write a name down for each where possible. Do this at home and bring the list to church with you as a reminder.
For older children you can also include current events. For example, the Bishops who are being held captive in Syria, perhaps temperate seasons during summer fires in California etc.
Why do we say, “Lord have Mercy”?
Lord have Mercy appears as early as the psalms (Psalm 50:1, 6:2, 9:13 ).
Psalm 50 in particular is the great penitential psalm which you could study together with your 6th-12th graders.
Additionally we can look to the story of the Publican and the Pharisee where the prayer of the publican is “Lord have Mercy on me a Sinner” which is also the Jesus Prayer.
We began the Liturgy entering the Kingdom of the Lord, where we are his humble servants (in fact the literal translation when receiving communion is the slave of God, N.) Later we will ask the Lord to Grant us certain things, but at the start of the service we come to Him in all humility remembering that we are sinners.
Understanding the Liturgy with the Senses–What to look for
- See: The deacon stands in front of the royal doors reciting the petitions
- Hear: “Lord have Mercy” after each mini-prayer