My beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
THE DIVINE LITURGY
"In Peace Let us pray to the Lord"
As we are steadily approaching the holy season of Holy and Great Lent, a time of prayer, of repentance, of worship, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of love, we also, look forward to a time of peace. An inner peace, a peace with Him Who is the Prince of Peace, a peace with our fellow man, a peace with our neighbor, a peace with our enemies.
The Divine Liturgy, like nearly all Orthodox Christian services, begins with a blessing, i.e., "Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." To bless means 'to speak well of', and for us human beings to bless God means to acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, to express our gratitude to Him, to acknowledge that all we are and have is from Him. "The Hebrew word for a blessing, berakah, is translated in Greek by both evlogia and efcharistia, and so the entire Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, is a blessing, a thanksgiving to God. But God also blesses us, above all in the gift of His Son, Who became man, brought us the Evangelion the Good News of salvation and died for us on the Cross and rose in glory on the third day. This is what the Divine Liturgy is all about."
The blessing is followed the first of the litanies, or prayers of supplication, that are a characteristic of Orthodox Christian worship. The litany is often known as the 'Litany of Peace', ta Eirenika, because the first three petitions all as for peace. 'Peace', a word which is used some 30 times in the Divine Liturgy, is not simply an absence of conflict. It is to live in harmony with God, with oneself, with all mankind and with the natural world of which we are part. It is above all a gift from God, which, as Saint Paul writes to the Philippians, "is beyond understanding." It is a gift that comes with the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as the Holy Angels' hymn proclaims, "Glory to god in the highest, and peace on earth, good will among men."
All the Orthodox Christian believers who attend the divine services of the Church come prepared to participate in the Divine Liturgy, knowing that we are all spiritually ill and that our souls long for God Our Creator. The Church is like a spiritual hospital where we come for our spiritual healing and restoration. The Divine Liturgy begins with petitions to Our Lord seeking His aid.
The Great Litany or the Litany of Peace is the first set of petitions, or supplications, that we offer together in the Divine Liturgy. The petitions include concern for everyone.
At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy the celebrant priest calls the faithful to prayer for he is appointed to this Office and it is for this reason that he is placed before the people. He is also there as their representative and intercessor, so that his prayer may be effectual as the Holy Apostle James writes: "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (St. James 5:16).
At the same time, those for whom he is making supplication ('the holy people of God'-the laos (Gk.λαός), continue as they can through their good behavior, prayers, gentleness, justice and anything else which they know to be pleasing to our Lord.
"In peace let us pray to the Lord."
The Holy Church begins by inviting all Christians to pray "in peace," invoking first of all "the peace from above" and the "salvation of our souls." It is for this reason that sometimes this litany is referred to as the litany of peace. Peace is fundamental not only to this prayer but to all prayer and in fact to a Christian life itself. Without internal peace we cannot know God much less come before Him and offer Him prayers and supplications.
As we know, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Holy Resurrection, appeared before His Apostles, saying "Peace be unto you" (St. John 20:21). It means far more than: "May you be saved from trouble." It means: "May God give you every good thing."
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew 5:23-24, our Lord commands, that if we come before the Holy Altar to offer our gift and remember that we are not at peace with someone, we should leave the gift at the Altar, return and make our peace with our fellow man, then come to the Altar, present the gift, and only then will it be acceptable and beneficial to us.
"For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls...For the peace of the whole world, the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all..."
Peace is the fundamental thing we need to stand before God. We need to be peaceful in our inner-selves, and among ourselves: our family, our friends and our relatives. If our hearts are not peaceful this means they are filled with differences, malice, hatred and hardness of heart. In such a state we cannot make the holy bread, properly celebrate the Divine Liturgy, or partake of Holy Communion. To have peace we must live a life of repentance.
It is therefore my prayer and supplication that all of you enjoy personal peace, this great gift of God. When all the Orthodox Christians are at peace with our Savior and with one another, then peace prevails in the parish.
Saint Paul writes: "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there is no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
With agape in Christ Our Only Savior,