Family Study of the Divine Liturgy: Thrice Holy Hymn, Epistle and Gospel Readings, Sermon
The Thrice Holy Hymn
The singing of the Thrice Holy Hymn, Holy God Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have mercy on us is biblical from Isaiah 6:3. In the passage we read:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord,high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim,each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
We learn that this hymn is a hymn of the angels exhaling the Lord, God and in this vision Isaiah recognizes his unworthiness before the Lord.
Likewise, we are reminded that we are in the current presence of the Holy Trinity and are about to hear the Word of God through the scripture passages.
Together with your child
Discuss making the sign of the cross properly, with the right hand, three fingers together and two fingers down. The three fingers represent God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We put the fingers together to represent the unity of those three persons. The other two fingers represent the two natures of Christ: 100% God and 100% human
We make the sign of the cross starting from the forehead and going all the way down to the navel and then across each shoulder. Children should be taught, corrected and lead by example to correctly make the sign of the cross with reverence. It is not only a gesture, but a prayer and a literal calling on the Three Persons of God.
Epistle means letter and the epistle readings are letters written by the apostles to a variety of audiences, as noted by their books (The reading by the apostle ______ to the Corinthians, Titus, Galatians etc.)
The epistle readings are assigned daily throughout the year, with special epistles assigned for certain Holy Days and Sacraments. The exception to this us during Great Lent when Old Testament readings are assigned on weekdays.
The gospel is read from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John during the year, again with particular assignments each day.
In many churches you will see the priest reading the gospel such that you cannot see his face at all. This reminds us that it is Christ’s words we are focusing on, not the priest.
Together with your child
Studying scripture together is one of the most important things to do together as a family. Do not forget that there was once a day before Sunday School. Where did the children learn the scriptures? Indeed it was from the parents and grandparents. By learning the scripture and teaching it to our children we become more knowledgeable about our own faith.
In the morning before the Divine Liturgy (even in the car on the way) discuss the gospel reading for the day. This will give your child the proper preparation to pay attention to the gospel. Perhaps the reading is about the paralytic brought through the roof or the feeding of the 5000. Discussing the story, especially in child-friendly language helps the child to focus when this moment comes in the liturgy. If you need help, the Antiochian Archdiocese does an excellent job preparing brief Sunday Gospel lessons and retelling the story in kid-friendly language. (Let Us Attend Program) Please note, however, that some of the readings may be different as Slavic churches follow a slightly different typikon.
A short anecdote: I was with children from my parish watching Jesus of Nazareth. Although their attention was extremely limited, the seven-year-old boy was fascinated by the paralytic through the roof. He asked me what was happening and I explained to him and then told him what to look for during the scene. Coincidentally this happened to be the gospel reading the following morning. I watched this seven-year-old intently during the gospel and saw that he was listening very attentively! Later I learned he mentioned to his dad that it was the same gospel from the movie the previous night.
Sometimes we may complain or tune out of the readings because “it is the same thing” year after year. Here is what St. John Chrysostom has to say about the topic:
“Suppose you know the things, even so you certainly ought not to turn away, since in the theaters also, is it not always the same things acted over again, and still you take no disgust? How dare you talk about “the same things,” you who know not so much as the names of the Prophets? Are you not ashamed to say, that this is why you do not listen, because it is “the same things over again,” while you do not know the names of those who are read, although you always hear the same things? … Do you not exhort your son? Now if he should say, “Always the same things!” would you not count it an insult? It would be time enough to talk of “the same things,” when we both know the things, and exhibited them in our practice. Or rather, even then, the reading of them would not be superfluous. Who is equal to Timothy? Tell me that. And yet Paul says to him, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation” (1 Tim. 4:13). For it is not possible, I say not possible, ever to exhaust the mind of the Scriptures. It is a bottomless well.”
~St John Chrysostom, Homily XIX on Acts
Directly after the readings it is proper that the priest give his sermon.
A note on language
It is important to say something regarding language in the church and the spiritual growth of the children. The children will never understand the depth of the service if they cannot understand the service. Indeed, it is canonically correct to perform the Divine Liturgy in the language of the people. In America we see parishes with varying amounts of english. If this is the case at your parish, I’ve learned that having a text available to follow in both languages with phonetics, if possible, is one of the most powerful tools in understanding the services when the services are not in English. Purchase the books for your child when they are of reading age (between 8-10) give it as a special gift and sign the inside of the book. They do not need to be forced to follow the text, but at least provide the text to them. We may not be able to change the church dynamics but we do not need to sit passively, accept that our children will never fully understand and then complain all across the internet about it.