By VRev. Vladimir Berzonsky
“Again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord” (Little Litany)
Again I was asked, “Why is there so much repetition in our prayers?” And again I responded the way I always had before - our worship includes certain themes and terms that bear repeating, because they remind us to pay attention to something significant on the way, or else to waft us upwards into the rarefied spiritual atmosphere of the Kingdom, lest we drift back down to the temporal and mundane area where we more normally spend our mental time.
Peace is among the most prominent; wisdom, another; and mercy, a third. Peace is the spiritual state that liberates us from the environment of distractions at minimum, angst, depression, hostility and self-destruction at worst. More than thirty times one hears the term “peace” through-out the Divine Liturgy, and at each hearing one should revive within oneself the aura of serenity. Think of it as an intake of mystical oxygen that clears the head and heart from lethargy and heaviness. Let it remind you of Who it is that is blessing you with peace, the price He paid to present it to you, and the moment par excellence when by the glorious mystical contact you have with the Apostles, you are there with them in the Upper Room of the dwelling of St. Mark’s gracious mother that traumatic evening when He appeared. He greeted you also with peace. You remember that He said: “My peace I give to you; My peace I leave with you – not as the world gives, do I give to you.” (Jn 14:27)
“Wisdom!” is another power-packed word you hear “again and again.” Snap out of your daydreams, it insists. This is not the time for reveries – mooning over something disturbing or planning your afternoon. You are here and now. Make the most of it. Something ponderous, wise and precious for your soul is about to be set forth. “Attend!” Pay attention. Focus your wandering thoughts and listen attentively. You may have heard it before, you may even know it by heart; nevertheless, even if the words of the gospel or prayer haven’t changed, you have. You are not the same person who listened in previous times of worship. Maybe then the phrases or parables didn’t mean much because it did not relate to your perceived needs at the time. Today you are another person from that stage of life. See now what you can make of it and apply it to your present situation.
The Divine Liturgy is in a sense much like classical music, an opera perhaps, a symphony – or better yet, a concert where one human “instrument,” the priest, is played against the response, the choir or congregation. It has modulated into its present form. A classic treatise on that development is called “The Shape of the Liturgy,” by Dom Gregory Dix. It has indeed taken shape from a time when the people of Christ gathered, the bishop entered and said, “Peace be with you,” and all responded, “And also with you.” They all sat or stood, heard and discussed the sacred scriptures, then continued with Eucharist. That basic outline has been enhanced through the centuries into its present form. Indeed, it is challenging to absorb and assimilate its divine beauty, then to apply it to oneself. More formidable a venture when offered in a foreign tongue, but even in English it remains a study in constant progress. One must first love it to be comfortable in prayer. It goes without saying, of course, one must first love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind even to make the effort to immerse one’s self into the Liturgy. Granted, it’s not a simple matter to develop an appreciation for the way we pray. We live at a time when people lack the ability to focus or concentrate. They expect instant gratification, entertainment, and quick responses to their felt “needs.” Orthodox Christianity challenges its children to grow in grace, develop a mind and soul able to comprehend the value of the treasures offered to us and expressed in our sacred worship, and to return and to return our affection to the Holy Trinity “again and again.”