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The Liturgy after the Liturgy

Ion Bria

In recent years, there has been a strong emphasis in Orthodox Ecclesiology on the eucharistic understanding of the Church. Truly, the Eucharist Liturgy is the climax of the Church's life, the event in which the people of God are celebrating the incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, sharing His glorified body and blood, tasting the Kingdom to come. The ecclesial koinonia is indeed constituted by the participation of the baptized in the eucharistic communion, the sacramental actualization of the economy of salvation, a living reality which belongs both to history and to eschatology. While this emphasis is deeply rooted in the biblical and patristic tradition and is of extreme importance today, it might easily lead to the conclusion that Orthodox limit the interpretation of the Church to an exclusive worshipping community, to protecting and to preserving the Good News for its members. Therefore a need was felt to affirm that the Liturgy is not a self-centred service and action, but is a service for the building of the one Body of Christ within the economy of salvation which is for all people of all ages. The liturgical assembly is the Father's House, where the invitation to the banquet of the heavenly bread is constantly voiced and addressed not only to the members of the Church, but also to the non-Christians and strangers.

This liturgical concentration, "the liturgy within the Liturgy", is essential for the Church, but it has to be understood in all its dimensions. There is a double movement in the Liturgy: on the one hand, the assembling of the people of God to perform the memorial of the death and resurrection of our Lord "until He comes again". It also manifests and realizes the process by which "the cosmos is becoming ecclesia". Therefore the preparation for Liturgy takes place not only at the personal spiritual level, but also at the level of human historical and natural realities. In preparing for Liturgy, the Christian starts a spiritual journey which affects everything in his life: family, properties, authority, position, and social relations. It re-orientates the direction of his entire human existence towards its sanctification by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, renewed by the Holy Communion and the Holy Spirit, the members of the Church are sent to be authentic testimony to Jesus Christ in the world. The mission of the Church rests upon the radiating and transforming power of the Liturgy. It is a stimulus in sending out the people of God to the world to confess the Gospel and to be involved in man's liberation.

Liturgically, this continual double movement of thanksgiving is expressed in the ministry of the deacon. On the one hand he brings and offers to the altar the gifts of the people; on the other, he shares and distributes the Holy Sacraments which nourish the life of Christians. Everything is linked with the central action of the Church, which is the Eucharist, and everybody has a diaconal function in reconciling the separated realities.

How does the Church, through its liturgical life, invite the world into the Lord's House and seek the Kingdom to come? The actualization of this will be the great success of the Church's mission, not only because there is an urgent need for the Church to widen its vision of those outside its influence (Mt. 8:10), but also because the worshipping assembly cannot be a protected place any longer, a refuge for passivity and alienation.

In what sense does the worship constitute a permanent missionary impulse and determine the evangelistic witness of every Christian? How does the liturgical order pass into the order of human existence, personal and social, and shape the life style of Christians? In fact the witness of faith, which includes evangelism, mission and church life, has always taken place in the context of prayer, worship and communion. The missionary structures of the congregation were built upon the liturgy of the Word and Sacraments. There was a great variety of liturgies, confessions and creeds in the first centuries of Christianity, as there is today.

"The liturgy after the Liturgy" which is an essential part of the witnessing life of the Church, requires:

1. An ongoing re-affirming of the true Christian identity, fulness and integrity which have to be constantly renewed by the eucharistic communion. A condition for discipleship and church membership is the existential personal commitment made to Jesus Christ the Lord (Col. 2:6). A lot of members of the Church are becoming "nominal Christians who attend the Church just as a routine". Often such people still find it possible sociologically or culturally or ethnically to relate in some manner to the Christian community. The re-Christianization of Christians is an important task of the Church's evangelistic witness.

2. To enlarge the space for witness by creating a new Christian milieu, each in his own environment: family, society, office, factory, etc., is not a simple matter of converting the non-Christians in the vicinity of the parishes, but also a concern for finding room where the Christians live and work and where they can publicly exercise their witness and worship. The personal contact of the faithful with the non-believers in the public arena is particularly relevant today. Seeking for a new witnessing space means, of course, to adopt new styles of mission, new ecclesiastical structures, and especially to be able to face the irritations of the principalities and powers of this age.

There the missionary zeal of the saints and the courage of the confessors who run risks every hour and face death every day (1 Cor. 15:31) has a vital role. Since they are those who take the kingdom of heaven by force (Mt. 11:12), the Church should identify and support the members who confess and defend the hope in Christ against persecutors (Mt. 5:10-12; John 15:20).

3. The liturgical life has to nourish the Christian life not only in its private sphere, but also in its public and political realm. One cannot separate the true Christian identity from the personal sanctification and love and service to man (1 Pet. 1:14-15). There is an increasing concern today about the ethical implications of the faith, in terms of life style, social, ethic and human behaviour. What is the ethos of the Church which claims to be the sign of the kingdom? What is the "spirituality" which is proposed and determined in spreading the Gospel and celebrating the Liturgy today? How is the liturgical vision which is related to the Kingdom, as power of the age to come, as the beginning of the future life which is infused in the present life (John 3:5; 6:33), becoming a social reality? What does sanctification or theosis mean in terms of ecology and human rights?

Christian community can only proclaim the Gospel - and be heard - if it is a living icon of Christ. The equality of the brothers and freedom in the Spirit, experienced in the Liturgy, should be expressed and continued in economic sharing and liberation in the field of social oppression. Therefore, the installation in history of a visible Christian fellowship which overcomes human barriers against justice, freedom and unity is a part of that liturgy after the Liturgy. The Church has to struggle for the fulfilment of that justice and freedom which was promised by God to all men and has constantly to give account of how the Kingdom of heaven is or is not within it. It has to ask itself if by the conservatism of its worship it may appear to support the violation of human rights inside and outside the Christian community.

4. Liturgy means public and collective action and therefore there is a sense in which the Christian is a creator of community; this particular charisma has crucial importance today with the increasing lack of human fellowship in the society. The Christian has to be a continual builder of a true koinonia of love and peace even if he is politically marginal and lives in a hostile surrounding. At the ideological and political level that koinonia may appear almost impossible.

However, there is an "open gate", namely the readiness of the human heart to hear the voice of the beloved (John 3:29) and to receive the power of God's Word (Mt. 8:8). Therefore more importance has to be given to the presentation of the Good News as a calling addressed to a person, as an invitation to the wedding house and feast (Luke 14:13). God himself is inviting people to his house and banquet. We should not forget the personal aspect of the invitation. In fact the Christian should exercise his personal witnessing as he practises his family life.

It is very interesting to mention in this respect that St John Chrysostom, who shaped the order of the eucharistic Liturgy ordinarily celebrated by Orthodox, strongly underlined "the sacrament of the brother", namely the spiritual sacrifice, the philanthropy and service which Christians have to offer outside the worship, in public places, on the altar of their neighbour's heart. For him there is a basic coincidence between faith, worship, life and service, therefore the offering on "the second altar" is complementary to the worship at the Holy Table.

There are many evidences that Orthodoxy is recapturing today that inner unity between the Liturgy, mission, witness and social diakonia, which gave it this popular character and historical vitality. The New Valamo Consultation (24-30 September 1977) confirmed once more the importance of the missionary concern for "liturgy after the Liturgy" within the total ecumenical witness of Orthodoxy. The consultation declared: "In each culture the eucharistic dynamics lead into a 'liturgy after the Liturgy', i.e. a liturgical use of the material world, a transformation of human association in society into koinonia, of consumerism into an ascetic attitude towards creation and the restoration of human dignity."

Thus, through "liturgy after the Liturgy", the Church, witnessing to the cosmic dimension of the salvation event, puts into practice, daily and existentially, its missionary vocation.

(an abridgement of original version)

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