BENEFIT FROM THE HOLY LITURGY”
This book has been translated especially for the benefit of all the children and youth in the lands of immigration.
I believe this book is very important for every deacon and member of the congregation who dearly loves the Lord and earnestly seeks to benefit from every moment spent in church, so that they may feel comforted by the heavenly joys the church offers and receive spiritual fullness from the
‘meals’ they partake of :-
V the meal of doctrinal liturgy of the catechumens
V the meal of spiritual worshipping in the liturgy of believers, or the sacrificial liturgy
V then the communion of the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord God Emmanuel, which we partake of in a worthily manner and have Christ abiding in us, as the Lord promised : “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” (John 6:56).
May this book be a source of blessing for all who read it, so that they may learn how to benefit from the Divine Liturgy.
Through the intercessions of our mother St. Mary and the prayers of His Holiness our beloved father Pope Shenouda III.
The grace of the Lord bless us.
Abbot of El Syrian Monastery.
HOW TO BENEFIT FROM THE HOLY
By His Grace Bishop Mettaous, Abbot of St. Mary
& El Syrian Monastery
Introduction To The First Edition
In our Coptic Church, the Holy Mass, in her essence of group prayer and worship, is the house of God and the door of heaven, the house of angels and the congregation of the saints.
During the Holy Mass, angels and archangels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, together with all the heavenly hosts are present and are surrounding the altar with great glory. At the awesome moment when the priest calls on the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine present on the altar into the holy Body and Blood of our Lord, He is present amidst the praising of His holy angels.
The time we spend in church during the Mass is a slice of heaven on earth. The glory might be hidden from our eyes because we are still in the flesh, but many desired to see His glory and indeed did see and are witnesses to their testimony.
Yet despite all these glories, many express that they do not benefit from attending the Holy Mass. So, how can one benefit from the Mass?
Before answering this, we must first understand what hinders
receiving benefit ...
i. Coming late to Church - If one comes to church late, they will deprive themselves of receiving the Holy Communion. They will also deprive themselves of listening
to the Gospel readings, the beautiful hymns, and the deeply spiritual prayers said during the Divine Liturgy; prayers that uplift one’s heart and spirit to heaven, giving comfort and peace from all worldly cares. For this reason, the Lord Himself advises us to come to church early : “Those who seek Me early will find Me” (Proverbs 8:17).
ii. Not participating in the responses during the Mass - One may come early, but attend as a spectator and not a participator. Hence they will not feel a part of the liturgy and leave feeling they have not received any spiritual benefit. Whoever attends the Mass is an important servant of the Mass, and this is clarified during the Servant’s Absolution when the priest says : “May Your servants, the ministers of this day, hegumens, priests, deacons, clergy, all Your people and my weak self be absolved...”. Hence the congregation is one of the three important personalities present during the Mass - the clergy, the deacons, and the congregation. If one of them is absent, it is not possible to celebrate the Holy Mass.
Everyone present during the Divine Liturgy should share and participate in the responses with all their heart, soul and senses in order to receive from God the overflowing comfort and peace He will provide for us. Therefore, before the
actual responses are the words, ‘The congregation responds,’ not ‘The deacon responds’.
iii. Lack of concentration or contemplation during the responses - Many times the hymns and responses are said in recitation instead of in contemplation, and hence our mind may become distracted from focusing on the prayers of the Mass. Every participant, whether clergy, deacon or believer should pray with attention, understanding and in a spirit of contemplation, so that together with the Apostle Paul we say, “I will pray with the spirit and I will also pray with understanding, I will sing with the spirit and I will also sing with understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15).
iv. Occupation with administrative matters instead of with spiritual matters - Some people, during the Mass, occupy their minds with administrative matters, like the selling of the ‘korban’ (small holy breads), or collecting alms, donations, and so on. Amidst these thoughts they do not give themselves a chance to listen to the Mass and partake in the hymns and responses. To those, the Lord Jesus says :
“These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Luke 11:42), and also, “To everything there is a season...” (Ecclesiastics 3:1). Hence, although the Apostle Paul tells us, “Those who lead, with diligence” (Romans
12:8), and at the same time, they participate in prayers and
worships, according to what the Apostle also tells us in the same chapter: “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:11,12).
v. Prayer of the whole Mass in the Coptic language - Some complain that they do not understand anything or benefit because they do not understand the Coptic language
it is prayed in. Hence, the preference is for praying the Mass
in the language most common to all, and leaving a part to be said in Coptic, for it is our original language and our heritage, and so it is important for us not to neglect it. It is important however, that the congregation try to learn the Coptic language, for it is the language of our fathers and grandfathers.
vi. Lack of partaking of the Holy Communion - Some people attend the Mass only out of habit, and deprive themselves from receiving the Holy Sacraments, sometimes for months or years. The church advises that all those, who have confessed and are spiritually prepared should receive the Holy Communion according to the words of our beloved Lord: “Drink from it all of you...” (Matthew 26:26,27). Those who do not partake of the Holy Communion deprive themselves from the community of believers and from a great blessing.
vii. Taking the Holy Communion without having confessed - A person may come to receive the Holy Communion, while having on their conscience sins that are not confessed. This guilty feeling deprives the person from receiving spiritual consolation and benefit. The person receiving the Holy Communion should be repentant, pure and ready.
This book, my beloved reader, is a humble trial to overcome the obstacles which prevent you from gaining the spiritual benefits of attending the Mass. It is also a journey to take you to the depth of the unity of the Mass and Holy Communion. It explains how you can prepare yourself to be ready and deserving of the holy sacrament of Communion,
and it also explains the responses of the deacon and congregation, in addition to some spiritual contemplations.
This book, “How to benefit from the Holy Mass”, compliments my last book, “The Spirituality of the Rites of the Holy Mass”, which focuses on the prayers and rituals of the priest. This book, however, focuses more on the responses, practices and contemplations of the deacons and congregation during the Holy Mass.
“For those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
We ask our beloved God to bless this book so that it may become a source of blessing to all who read it, so that it may encourage contemplation, understanding, concentration and depth of prayer during the Holy Mass, and so that we may proceed to receive the Holy Communion in worthiness with
a contrite spirit; hence attaining uncountable blessings and comfort.
With the blessings of our beloved father His Holiness Pope
Many complain that they do not receive benefit from attending the Divine Mass. In this book we will try to walk you through, my beloved Christian, step by step the procedures before, during and after the Mass, and contemplate together the rituals, and fervent prayers which must be understood in order to benefit.
We record all these contemplations and practices from what we read, hear and experience, in the hope of providing for you benefit and solving some of the problems many of us face.
The Liturgy of St. Basil will be the focus of our discussion and contemplation, for it is the one most commonly used.
1. PREPARATORY PRACTICES
The day in the church rite, starts from the evening prior to the celebration of the Holy Mass, so, for example, in order to attend the Sunday Mass you must be prepared from the Saturday.
How do we prepare?
The church rules necessitate your coming clean and pure, both from within and on the outside; you must be in the best image externally and internally, as you are appearing before
God, the King of kings, Lord of lords and Master of all earthly masters.
External cleanliness means bathing, clean clothes, and decent dressing. Internal cleanliness means purity of heart, through peace and reconciliation with others, then repentance and confession. If you have an appointment with your confession father you must be prepared beforehand by sitting with yourself, and remembering the sins you committed with and without intention.
You make a note of them with all honesty, remembering what St. Antonious said, “If we remember our sins God will forget them, if we forget our sins God will remind us of them.”
You can write your sins on a piece of paper, as well as any questions you may have to ask your confession father. Therefore, having made a note of all the sins you have committed since your last confession, you repent before God for these sins.
For those who are new or beginners in the life of repentance, the best period for confession is fortnightly, then gradually every month. It is very dangerous for the believers, especially youth and beginners, to be neglectful in their confessions, and delay the period between confessions, for this neglect leads to spiritual lukewarmness, lack of scrutiny
in self examination and forgetfulness of certain sins intended
to be confessed. And the greatest danger is a person who often receives Holy Communion without regular confession.
Going To Church
When you hear the bells of the church declaring the beginning of the Vesper Prayers, or you know the time at which these prayers begin, change to wearing modest clothing so that you may attend the prayers and hymns of the Vespers.
Take with you three small books: the Agbia, the Coptic Liturgy, and the book of Doxology. (In some churches, these books may be available for you to use during the service).
Along the way to church, recite certain psalms, and bring your senses and mind to concentrate on them so that you are not distracted by anything useless. Learn psalms by heart so you can pray them inaudibly, at any time, and wherever you are.
There are three short, beautiful psalms from the Agbia...
V Psalm 121, from the Sunset Prayer :
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Our feet have been standing within your gates O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together. Where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to the testimony of Israel. To give thanks to the name of the Lord. For thrones are set there for judgment, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls. Prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say,
“Peace be within you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. Alleluia.
V Psalm 83, from the Sixth Hour Prayer :
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young. Even Your altars O Lord of hosts, my King and my God, blessed are those who dwell in Your house. They will still be praising You. Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring. The rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength. Every one of them appears before God in Zion. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer, give ear O God of Jacob! O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed. For a day in Your courts
is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord is a sun and shield: The Lord will give grace and glory: No good thing will He withhold: from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You! Alleluia.
V Psalm 14, from the First Hour Prayer :
Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart, he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour nor does he take up a reproach against his friend. In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honours those who fear the Lord. He who swears to his own hurt and does not change. He who does not put out his money at usury. Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. Alleluia.
Upon reaching the church, make the sign of the cross, then
quietly enter so as to disturb anybody. Enter the church, the house of God, in reverence and righteousness remembering what the gospel mentioned about Simon the Elder, “He came by the Spirit to the temple, he took Him (Jesus) in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:25-28).
When entering the church, say with the Psalmist, “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy. In fear of Your I will worship towards Your holy temple" (Psalm 5:7). When you reach the altar, make the sign of the cross, and prostrate three times saying, "I worship You Christ our God, with Your gracious Father, and the Holy Spirit, because You have come and saved us." Then reverently stand before the altar and pray the, “Our Father...” Touch the hem of the curtain's veil and reverently kiss it as it is a symbol of Christ’s garment about which the woman with the flow of blood said, ‘“If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction”’ (Mark 5:25-34). Take a blessing from the priest by kissing the cross and his right hand holding the cross. Then quietly take your place in the church and start partaking in the prayers. You can use the Coptic Liturgy book.
If you enter the church at the time of the Gospel reading, you must stand reverently at the door of the church, listen to the gospel with the others and after the gospel is read you may go forward and kneel before the altar.
In the book of, 'The Mystery of the Trinity in the Ministry of Priesthood', it mentions that, "If anyone approaches the door of the church and hears the reading of the gospel, he should stand still until the end of the reading."
2. PRAYERS AND HYMNS OF THE MATINS AND VESPERS
These are groups of prayers, supplications and thanksgivings, requesting the Lord’s blessing for the Mass service, so that the minds and souls of the believers may be prepared to enter worthily to attend the Mass with all its spirituality. For every Mass there is a Matin and a Vesper Prayer, preceded by the wonderful Tasbeha prayers. The only exception are the weekday Masses, (Monday to Friday), and during the Holy Lent for they conclude late in the afternoon.
Those commonly said in Vespers are the prayers of the Ninth Hour, the Sunset Prayer, the Prayer before Sleeping, as well as the Prayer of the Veil which is said in the monasteries.
During the prayer of the Ninth Hour, you must remember that this prayer was instituted by the church to commemorate the hour of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh on the Cross, which was for our salvation. Darkness fell on all the earth at the sixth hour until the ninth hour, indicating the end of Satan's kingdom when our Lord trampled him and death through the cross, and God freed His people from the
bondage of sin and the devil. The statement, "The Lord reigns," is repeated in many psalms. In Psalm 110 we pray,
"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies.'"
When the psalms are distributed, pray them in reverence and understanding, and pray in spirit and truth.
During the reading of the gospel of the Ninth Hour, which is called the 'Gospel of Blessing', listen in reverence, for it tells of the blessing of the five loaves and two fish by the Lord Jesus. This Gospel is also known as the 'Feeding of the multitudes'. The church chose the gospel of feeding the multitudes to be read at the ninth hour, as most of the church’s fasts end at the ninth hour, reminding us that when we eat, we should request the blessing of our Lord Jesus.
Listen carefully to the Troparia (prayers) read after the gospel as they are very spiritual. Partake in their responses
(Thoksa batri ke euo... Amen), giving glory to God while bowing and making the sign of the Cross.
In the second part of the Troparia, we pray saying, "Let me partake of the grace of Your sacraments so that when I taste Your goodness, I offer You praise unceasingly." Why don’t you my beloved, partake in these supplications humbly and reverently, if you intend to receive the Holy Communion the next day, so that it can be part of your spiritual and psychological preparation.
Prayer Of Lord Have Mercy
At the completion of every prayer of the Agbia, the church repeats, 'Lord have mercy' forty-one times. It is a marvellous example of perseverance in prayer which does not return empty, as the Lord Jesus taught us in the story of the unjust judge who avenged the woman for her persistence (Luke
18:1-7), and the story of the friend who came by at midnight
: "I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. And I say to you, ask and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Luke 11: 8-10).
The Greek for Lord have mercy is 'Kyrie-ley-son', which is composed of two words: Kyrie, meaning Lord, and ley-son, meaning to have mercy. My advice to you my beloved, is that whenever you pray ‘Lord have Mercy’ forty one times, try to remember the thirty nine lashes that grazed the holy back of your beloved Jesus for your sake. Remember the crown of thorns which was placed on His holy head in mockery and scorn and remember how He was beaten on His holy head so that the crown of thorns pierced His bleeding forehead, and do not forget that cruel stab in His holy side which caused His pure Blood to be shed on the earth.
These are the sufferings that the church reminds us of while we recite this short but effective prayer of 'Lord have mercy.' Some people just repeat this prayer without knowing that it actually represents the thirty nine lashes on the Holy Saviour’s back, plus the crown of thorns and the stabbing
spear, so the total is forty one wounds which the beloved Lord Jesus endured for our sake. So, its repetition reminds us always of Christ's incredible love for us. Let us pray 'Lord have mercy' saying :
V You who were lashed for us, have mercy on us.
V You who were stabbed by the spear for us, have mercy on us.
Try my beloved, to ease the severe pain which the Lord Christ endured for you, through your repentance and persistence, pleading for His mercy.
Father Antonious Rageb says about this meaningful short prayer: "We recite, 'Lord have mercy' so many times. Our whole life is not enough to recite and beg the compassionate mercy from our loving God. Let your repetition in prayer become a beautiful incense, seek mercy for yourself, for all your matters and also for others. Specify each time a certain matter for which you need the Lord’s mercy :
V Lord have mercy on me because of my evil thoughts;
V Lord have mercy on me from mental distraction;
V Lord have mercy on me in this tribulation;
V Lord have mercy on Your church from corrupt foxes;
V Lord have mercy on Your children from the seduction of sin.
Thus the incense of your prayers rises and is accepted by the
The prayer of 'Lord have mercy' includes all the requests and needs of the person, whatever they may be, and at all times.
'Lord have mercy' said 41 times is then followed by the
prayer, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts..." as it incorporates many beautiful requests:
V persistence in asking for God's mercy, "O Holy Trinity have mercy upon us";
V asking the Lord for His help and protection, "O Lord
God of hosts be with us";
V asking for absolution and the forgiveness for our many sins, "Which we have done willingly and unwillingly, the hidden and the visible"
We then conclude with the Lord’s prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven...", for this is the prayer that was taught to us by our beloved teacher and Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the Ninth Hour prayer, pray the absolution as it
is a powerful prayer, requesting the Lord to, "Raise our minds above worldly care and bodily desires to the remembrance of Your heavenly Commandments. Fulfil Your love to humanity O God. Receive our prayers at all times and this prayer of the ninth hour."
The Sunset Prayer and the Prayer before Sleeping
Contemplate on each word of the Agbia prayers, so that God can give you understanding and consolation, and so you may benefit from your Agbia prayers.
It is also important for us to remember why each hour of the
Agbia was instituted :
V The Ninth Hour Prayer commemorates the atoning death of Christ on the Cross.
V The Sunset Prayer commemorates the taking down of the Lord’s holy body from the Cross. It reminds us that the sun of our lives must set one day when we leave this world to be with our God Jesus Christ, so let us be prepared for this day with care, vigilance and repentance.
The Gospel of the Sunset Prayer narrates how the Lord Jesus healed the mother in law of St. Peter from a fever and how He cast out demons. Let us take this opportunity to ask the Lord to heal our sicknesses, both physical and spiritual, and to cast away from us the power if the adversary and his evil hosts which cause us to sin.
At the end of the Sunset Prayer, we pray the absolution whereby we thank the Lord for He granted us to pass the day in peace and brought us thankfully to the night and made us worthy of seeing His light until sunset. He did not allow for us to perish suddenly without repentance, but in His love He kept us alive so that we live to the end of the day to see and enjoy His light.
The Prayer before Sleeping is prayed after the Sunset Prayer as the church instituted it to commemorate the laying down of the body of our Lord Jesus in the tomb, for sleep is considered a little death and the bed we sleep on signifies the tomb into which we shall be placed into after death. A particular saint used to speak to his bed each night saying,
"O bed you might become my tomb this night."
The subject of death reminds us to always lead a repentant life, and this prayer is a prayer of repentance. The Troparia prayed after the Gospel of the Prayer Before Sleeping says,
"Behold I am about to stand before the Just Judge in fear, because of my numerous sins, for the life spent in pleasures deserves condemnation. Repent, therefore, O my soul so long as you dwell on earth ... Yet I imitate the tax collector beating on my chest saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!" The Troparia is then followed by the prayer, "Lord by Your grace protect us this night from sin..."
The praying person presents a true repentance in the absolution as they intend to sleep and surrender themselves
in the hands of the Lord, who is the honest guard. For as they intend on receiving Holy Communion the next morning, they must be repentant in order to be worthy of receiving the sacrament. Therefore in the absolution we pray, "Lord forgive us for the sins we committed against You this day whether they are by action, by words...” (think how many sins you have committed through your actions or words, whether swearing, lies, insults or otherwise, and repent to God), “by thought”, (think how many sins of thought you committed this day. You might have condemned someone, or envied or angered someone, or even had a profane thought. Repent to God and say, Lord I have sinned forgive me my sins of...), “or by any of our senses…” (how many sins did you commit today through your sense of sight, hearing, touch or otherwise? Remember all these sins and repent to God). Then complete the absolution, in faith and persistence.
The Prayer of the Veil
This prayer is said in the monasteries by the monks after the
Twelfth Hour Prayer (Prayer before Sleeping). It is
composed of twenty eight psalms, selected from the psalms
in the Agbia psalms. It also includes three parts from Psalm
118, which is said during the Midnight prayer. It is then followed by the Gospel, the Troparia and the absolution.
The Troparia in the Prayer of the Veil reminds us of the awesome judgment where people will be gathered, angels standing, books opened, works revealed, and thoughts exposed. It is prayed with great humility, "Who will quench the flame of fire away from me? Who will enlighten my darkness if You do not have mercy on me O Lord?" Then we request the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whose prayers are acceptable on our behalf. Thereby we will be victorious against our enemies and the wicked one will flee from us.
The absolution in the Prayer of the Veil is very contemplative, for we ask God to, "Give us rest in our sleep, repose for our bodies and purity of our souls. And protect us from the darkness of sin, pitch and gloom, soothe the painful motions, quench the heat of the flesh and suppress the agitation of the body. Grant us a wakeful mind, humble thoughts, a virtuous life and an undefiled, unstained bed..."
1 Raising of Incense
Raising of Incense
After completing the Agbia prayers, the choir starts the the Vesper (Tasbeha); it is shorter than the Midnight Tasbeha. It begins with a beautiful tune : Ni-Ethnos-Teero, which is Psalm 117, ''Oh, praise the Lord all you Gentiles. Laud Him all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great towards us. And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord Alleluia.'' It is called the Sunset Psalm and
is the first psalm in the Sunset Prayer.
Why don't you learn these beautiful tunes and urge others to learn it so all those in the church can pray together in one voice.
After this tune, the Tasbeha starts. It is composed of the Fourth Hoas, then the day's Epsalia or anniversary (or both together), then the Tazakia of the day, Lobsh, Tarh and conclusion.
Partake in the Tasbeha, normally said in Coptic, and praise together in one voice, just as the Apostles advised, ''That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ'' (Romans 15:6), resembling the heavenly hosts who praise before the Divine Throne.
If you do not know the Coptic language very well, or the
Tasbeha praises, follow the chanters with your Tasbeha
Book, and repeat the verses of the Psalia and Tazakia. These verses were instituted specifically as recitations for the whole congregation to say during the Tasbeha.
While following the Tasbeha praises, you may contemplate on its deep meanings.
THE VESPER PRAYERS
After completing the Tasbeha, the raising of the Vesper incense begins.
Follow the prayers in the Liturgy book attentively. Partake in the responses with the congregation singing the hymns with the choir, as the congregation are to be active participants, and not passive audiences during the Vesper service or Holy Mass. The responsibility of the chanter (deacon) is to lead the congregation the responses, and to chant the special festive tunes.
The Vesper prayer starts with the Prayer of Thanksgiving as
it is an important prayer by which the church starts every service with.
We notice that the priest prays this prayer in the plural form saying, “We thank You for You have protected us…” Therefore, as the priest prays for us, every person ought to lift up their hearts and feelings in gratitude to our Lord.
After the priest proceeds to raise incense three times around the altar, he says the Prayer for the Departed. During the prayer, we must contemplate on the following :
V The prayer for the departed is said during the evening
incense (specifically at sunset) to remind us that we shall one day join the departed, so we must always be ready;
V To ask the departed to pray for us that God will help us complete our earthly struggle peacefully;
V To remember the resurrection, as when the priest says,
''Raise up their bodies also, on the day which You have appointed, according to Your true promises, which are without lie.'' We believe that the resurrection will come for us, as God will appear to recompense each one according to their deeds.
After completing the litany, the priest proceeds around the altar with the censor once, then proceeds around the church, raising incense towards the gospels, icons, tabernacle and congregation.
The priest places his cross on each person blessing them saying, ''The blessing of the incense be with us. Amen.''
Meanwhile, the congregation must reflect a true repentance saying, ''I ask You my Master Jesus Christ to forgive my sins which were committed knowingly and unknowingly.''
The priest once again raises the incense at the altar, praying inaudibly for our repentance saying: ''O God who accepted the confession of the thief on the cross, accept the confession and repentance of Your people for the sake of Your Holy Name that is called upon us, and according to Your mercy and not according to our sins.''
Solomon prayed a similar prayer for his people saying
''...each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You, only You, know the hearts of all the sons of man)'' (1 Kings 8: 38-9). This prayer of repentance, as well as the intercession of the priest are offered before God. So, my brethren, you should offer God a pure repentance in order to be able to benefit from these deep, interceding prayers.
During the raising of incense, the congregation sing the doxologies which are the glorifications to the holy Virgin mother of God, the angels, the martyrs, the saints, and all the various church feasts and occasions.
May we all partake and glorify God and His saints, asking for their intercessions and prayers.
The Prayer of 'Evnoti-nay-nan' (God have mercy upon us)
After the raising of incense, the congregation says the Orthodox Creed, chanting the last sentence, "And we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, Amen." Meanwhile, the priest holds the cross together with three lit candles in his right hand. This signifies that the One who was crucified on the cross is Jesus Christ the light of the world, who sanctified Himself to enlighten those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. Also,
through the cross, He took us into His wonderful light, from the darkness.
The priest makes the sign of the cross on the congregation on all sides, three times inaudibly, then says the prayer of
‘God have mercy upon us,’ making the sign of the cross in all four directions with the cross and the lit candles, symbolising that Jesus Christ enlightened His people, who live in all four corners of the earth, through the cross, saving them from the darkness of sin and granting them eternal life.
During these rounds of the raising of incense, the congregation say "Amen" three times, in humility, believing that the priest’s prayers ask for mercy, blessings and forgiveness.
The congregation then chant "Lord have mercy" three times. It is a very beautiful tune that touches the heart and soul, as the congregation cry for mercy and compassion.
Prayers using special tunes are heavenly music. The struggling church on earth partake with those who carry the golden harps in the victorious, heavenly church, before He who is seated on the Throne.
Our fathers were so fond of the tune, "Evnoti-nay-nan" and
"Kyrie-lay-son" that one stated, "It is impossible that God hears this marvellous tune without having mercy on His people."
My beloved, recite with the priest inaudibly during Vespers,
"Lord have mercy upon us. Settle Your mercy upon us. Have compassion on us. Bless us, guard us, help us. Take
away Your anger from us. Visit us with Your salvation. And forgive us our sins."
Also chant with the congregation the joyful tune of, "Lord have mercy," while beating your chest in persistence and humility like the tax collector. Do you feel you return to your house justified like the tax collector?
After granting peace to the congregation, the priest prays for hearing the holy gospel. It is a powerful prayer which intensifies in power and spirit. The priest mentions the blessing of the Lord to His disciples for they saw and heard what prophets and righteous men had desired to see and had not seen. We must, therefore, thank our Lord Jesus Christ because He made us worthy to hear the words of grace coming from His Divine mouth and recorded in His Holy Gospel. We ask Him with the priest to make us worthy to hear the holy gospel and act according to His word. In this way, we gain the blessing promised in Revelation saying,
"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy... for the time is near" (Revelation 1:3). In this way, we thus become a dynamic fifth gospel, "You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
The priest then prays, "Those who have already fallen asleep, repose them. Those who are sick, heal them...'' We
remember our departed beloved ones and the sick, so that God may repose the former and heal the latter. We thus become a blessing for ourselves and others too. These contemplations concentrate our thoughts in prayer, so we protect ourselves from boredom and evil thoughts. Then we repeat with the congregation, "Lord have mercy," bearing
in mind its previous meaning. We ask the Lord to bestow His
divine words in a heart with good earth, to bear good fruit.
The deacon now says, "Pray for hearing the Holy Gospel..." Let us pray fervently so that the words of the gospel find its place in every heart, becoming a good seed falling on good earth to bear fruits : "some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matthew 13:8). Let us pray that everyone in the church finds special spiritual food and divine consolation in the words of the gospel when opening their hearts, mind and ears.
We must stand reverently to listen to the living word of God. We have to listen attentively for a special message God may be trying to tell us - as He did with St Anthony who sold all his possessions and gave to the poor. We may find certain answers for confusing situations and spiritual solutions to our problems. This can be said in confidence after much experience from spiritual people.
During the gospel reading, two deacons stand beside the reader with two lit candles to denote the light of the gospel which must shine on every heart leading to eternal life. "For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light...''
(Proverbs 6:23) and the Psalmist said, "Your word is a lamp
to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
The sermon of the Vesper Prayer is :
V About the gospel read during the Vespers. It introduces the liturgy gospel and all the oncoming readings. The liturgy gospel is the centre of all the readings throughout the Mass.
V Sunday's sermon may be for a specific purpose, such as directed to youth, servants or general. The topic must have been previously agreed upon.
V It may be a bible study and explanation on the holy Bible, or explanation on doctrines or rites, etc. It may not be related to the Vesper gospel.
In any case, you must carefully listen to the sermon and benefit spiritually so that you may grow in your life with God.
Litanies (plural of litany) is a Greek word meaning prayer. After the Gospel and sermon, the priest prays five litanies :
ii. Fathers iii. Place
iv. Air, waters, plant v. Gatherings
V Litany of Peace - the priest says, "Remember, O Lord
the peace of Your one, holy, universal and apostolic church," which is repeated by the deacon in order to harmonise the prayers. The congregation respond, "Lord have mercy." The Psalmist exalts the mercies of God saying, "Your loving kindness, O God is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Through His mercy, "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Without God's mercy and providence, there is neither earthly nor eternal life. On the contrary, there is death, emptiness and destruction. The mercy of God is followed by goodness, spiritual and material blessings, righteousness and beauty. St Paul the Apostle stated, "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ..." (Ephesians 2:4-5). God full of mercy gives us this grace to live with Christ. "How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
We ask the Lord to have mercy on the Church and its people
- including the leaders, subordinates, servants and general congregation. No one is divided, but united in love. We need that external peace to protect us from the evil hosts as it is,
"the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28), "The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
V Litany for the Fathers - the priest prays this litany and the deacon urges the congregation to pray for the fathers of the church. They say, "Lord have mercy," remembering the Patriarch, Metropolitans and Bishops,
praying that the Lord give them health, strength and keep them for the Church for many years and peaceful times.
We ask the Lord to have mercy on the Church's fathers by giving them grace and wisdom to guide His holy Church. For them to keep the Orthodox faith until the end, and to shepherd their flock through example and teaching.
V Litany for the Place - when the priest prays this litany, requesting its safety and peace, the deacon asks the congregation to pray for the safety of, "this holy place of Yours, and of the world, this city of ours, all the cities, districts, islands and monasteries." The congregation respond, "Lord have mercy," asking for God to have mercy on the world; giving it peace, safety from famines, plagues, earthquakes and other disasters. We pray for the islands surrounded by sea that God protects it from sinking, and the monasteries in the wilderness that God protect them from attacks of barbarians and evil wars. We pray that the monks and nuns have peace and safety, so that they may pray for the safety and salvation of the world.
Then the priest prays the rest of the litany saying, "And every city, every region, the villages and all their ornaments. Save us all from famine, plagues, earthquakes, fire, captivity of barbarians, sword of the stranger and rising up of heretics." We should inaudibly repeat these prayers with the priest. For example, if he says, "Save us from famine," we should answer, "God save us from famine, plagues, floods, fire and wars. Save the faith and the Church from heretics. Amen." At the end, the
congregation responds, "Lord have mercy." We pray with this gathering all that was requested throughout the litany.
V Litany of air, water and plantations - (In Egypt, the litany prayers are said in accordance to the seasonal time of cultivation and harvesting, or the rising of the River Nile). The priest prays for the waters of the rivers and for the cultivation of crops, seeds and herbs, and for the air of the heaven and plants of the field. The deacon responds accordingly, urging the congregation to pray also. We then respond with, "Lord have mercy" three times.
· Lord have mercy on the waters to be plentiful to make happy and fruitful the land by the Nile, to avoid drought.
· Lord have mercy on the plants and herbs to grow and multiply to bear much fruit, to be kept from worms and stealing, so that happiness prevails on all.
· Lord have mercy on the air of heaven so God may give it adequacy as it nourishes and matures the fruit in due time. As winds whether hot or sudden damage the fruit.
While the priest prays for waters of the river in the due season, the deacon recites reverently and the congregation respond, "Lord have mercy," thrice, not once like the pervious litanies.
What is the reason?
First, thrice for the waters of the river to request its abundance, in persistence. Repetition of one prayer many times denotes persistence and knocking on God's door to respond to the important and persistent request.
Second, while the congregation prays to God for mercy on the waters, they do not forget the plants, herbs and air of heaven. So three times, one for the waters, second for the plants, third for the air as they are related to each other. Water needs wind to carry clouds for rainfall into the Nile sources to flood, also the plants need water and air to grow and mature, also air needs plants to intake oxygen and the most important constituent is water to cool and modify the air.
All these factors are necessary for man's livelihood, for when he is in need of nothing, he increases in every good deed, thanking God for being generous in giving and distributing, according to our needs.
V Prayer of the Gatherings - when the priest prays for the church's meeting, and the deacon asks the congregation to, "Pray for this holy Church and for our congregation," the congregation responds, "Lord have mercy", meaning :
· Lord have mercy on all of us, and keep us from internal divisions that weaken and deteriorates our gathering;
· Lord have mercy on us and make us regular in attending these spiritual meetings, "Not forsaking the assembly of
ourselves together, as is the manner of some"
· Lord have mercy on us and let the door of Your Church open before our faces until the end of ages;
· Lord have mercy on us by blessing this assembly