Divine Liturgy

a simple guide

The Liturgy Part 1 - The Blessing to the Gospel


The first part of the Liturgy as we now have it, was originally a separate service. It is sometimes called the "enarxis" in Greek. It begins with a blessing, then a long Ectenia.


Ectenias are a very important feature of Orthodox worship, and we sing them or read them at every service. The first one is called the Ectenia of Peace, because it begins with "In peace let us pray to the Lord." In an Ectenia the deacon asks us to pray for many things, for example, for peace, for the Archbishop, for the Queen, for those who travel, for the sick, and for many other needs. Each of his petitions ends with "let us pray to the Lord" and we reply "Lord have mercy." At the end he remembers the Mother of God and the saints, and concludes "let us entrust ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God" and we reply "To you O Lord."

While this is going on, the priest will say a prayer quietly at the altar. You can read the priest's prayers in the liturgy book or online. The priest will sing the end of his prayer out loud (these endings are called ekphoneses in Greek), we reply, "Amen." and then sing the Antifon. If there is no deacon the priest takes the deacon's part himself. This happens in most other parts of the Liturgy too.

Some people find it odd that the priest will pray quietly at the altar and we cannot hear him. We must remember, however, that the priest in these prayers is a) doing a special job or task reserved for the priest and b) he is talking directly to God. He is our representative at the altar of God and he is praying for us. If you want to know what these prayers are they can be found easily in books or online.

I remember once a well known Orthodox nun was praying in her church, rather quickly and not very loudly. At the end someone said, "Mother, I could not hear a word of what you said!" to which she replied. "Well, I was not talking to YOU!" This is a funny story but I think it illustrates the point. It is God who hears the prayers of all of us. It is to him we speak in Church.

We sing Antifon 1, then we have a Small Ectenia which is a drastically shortened version of the Ectenia of Peace, and during it the priest says another quiet prayer. Then we have Antifon 2, another Small Ectenia and prayer, and Antifon 3.


The singing of the antifons is something which varies quite a lot from place to place, and there is more than one way of doing it. I shall try to explain the two systems.

The First System

The old system was as follows: After the Ectenia of Peace, sing the WHOLE of Psalm 102, Glory to the Father and to the Son And to the Holy Spirit, then Both now and forever and to the ages of ages, Amen. then repeat the opening verses of the psalm to finish off.

After the Small Ectenia, sing Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, then the whole of Psalm 145, then Both now and forever and to the ages of ages, Amen. and then the hymn Only Begotten Son (Unule Născut).

Then after the next Small Ectenia, sing the Beatitudes (Fericile), but with special verses in between. The verses would be special ones for that day taken from the service books, or, on Feasts and Saints Days, they may be taken from the 3rd and 6th Songs of the Canon.

This system is still used in monasteries and in many other churches.

In the Russian Church this system is used but with modifications. The two psalms are not sung in full, and only selected verses are used. Also when it comes to the Beatitudes, the special verses for the day are usually left out. There is, however, a trend in the Russian Church now to go back to the old way using full psalms and special verses.

In the Romanian Church a similar development has occurred as in the Russian Church. Psalm 102 is drastically shortened down to just a couple of verses, and Psalm 145 has been dropped altogether. Also the Fericile are done without special verses.

The Second System

This second system was originally intended to be used only on Great Feast Days e.g. Christmas. Churches who use the old system may switch to the second system on Great Feasts. However what has happened in some churches is that this second system has taken over, so that it is used at all liturgies, even on weekdays and normal Sundays.

In Greece one tends to find that monasteries use the first system and the parishes use the second. In other countries there are also churches who use the second system for every liturgy.

The second system uses psalm verses with a short hymn after each verse. The following shows how it would be on an ordinary Sunday:

Ectenia Mica

Antifonul I

Stih: Binecuvintează, suflete al meu, pe Domnul şi toate cele dinlăuntrul meu, numele cel sfânt al Lui.

Pentru rugăciunile Născătoarei de Dumnezeu, Mântuitorule, mântuieşte-ne pe noi.

Stih: Binecuvintează, suflete al meu, pe Domnul şi nu uita toate răsplătirile Lui.

Pentru rugăciunile Născătoarei de Dumnezeu, Mântuitorule, mântuieşte-ne pe noi.

Stih: Şi îşi aduc aminte de poruncile Lui, ca să le facă pe ele. Domnul în cer a gătit scaunul Său şi împărăţia Lui peste toţi stăpâneşte.

Pentru rugăciunile Născătoarei de Dumnezeu, Mântuitorule, mântuieşte-ne pe noi.

Stih: Binecuvântaţi pe Domnul toate lucrurile Lui; în tot locul stăpânirii Lui, binecuvintează suflete al meu pe Domnul.

Pentru rugăciunile Născătoarei de Dumnezeu, Mântuitorule, mântuieşte-ne pe noi.

Marire ...

Si acum ...

Pentru rugăciunile Născătoarei de Dumnezeu, Mântuitorule, mântuieşte-ne pe noi.

Ectenia Mica

Antifonul II

Stih: Lăuda suflete al meu pe Domnul, lăuda-voi pe Domnul în viaţa mea, cânta-voi Dumnezeului meu cât voi trăi.

Mântuieşte-ne pe noi, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, Cel ce ai înviat din morţi, pe noi, cei ce-Ţi cântăm Ţie: Aliluia.

Stih: Fericit cel ce are ajutor pe Dumnezeul lui Iacob, nadejdea lui, în Domnul Dumnezeul lui.

Mântuieşte-ne pe noi, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, Cel ce ai înviat din morţi, pe noi, cei ce-Ţi cântăm Ţie: Aliluia.

Stih: Cel ce a făcut cerul şi pământul, marea şi toate cele din ele; Cel ce păzeşte adevărul în veac.

Mântuieşte-ne pe noi, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, Cel ce ai înviat din morţi, pe noi, cei ce-Ţi cântăm Ţie: Aliluia.

Stih: Împărăţi-va Domnul în veac, Dumnezeul tău, Sioane, în neam şi în neam.

Mântuieşte-ne pe noi, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, Cel ce ai înviat din morţi, pe noi, cei ce-Ţi cântăm Ţie: Aliluia.

Marire ...

Si acum ...

Unule Născut...

Ectenia Mica

Antifonul III

Stih: Lăudaţi pe Domnul că este bun, că în veac este mila Lui.

Troparul Invierii Glasul de rand (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Stih: Să zică, dar, toţi cei ce se tem de Domnul, că este bun, că în veac este mila Lui.

Troparul (repetat)

Stih: Aceasta este ziua pe care a făcut-o Domnul, să ne bucurăm şi să ne veselim întru ea.

Troparul (repetat)

The Troparul is a short hymn which changes each day. The psalm verses given above are the ones for the normal Sunday service. On special feasts and weekdays they can be different. Also the hymn Mântuieşte-ne pe noi, Fiul lui Dumnezeu in Antifon 2 can change its wording slightly on certain occasions.

After the Fericile or Antifon 3, whichever system you are using, this part of the service ends. Remember this used to be a seperate service.

The hymn Unule Născut is worth studying. Attributed to the Emperor Justinian, it encapsulates a lot of theology in very few words.

The hymn Unule Născut is worth studying. Attributed to the Emperor Justinian, it encapsulates a lot of theology in very few words.


The Liturgy used to actually begin here, with the priests processing into the church from the doors at the back. Of course they cannot do that now (because they are already here!)

That is why this part of the service is called the Entrance, because here the priest used to enter the church. What happens now is that the priest, preceded by candles, comes out through the North door of the sanctuary into the main part of the church and stands in front of the Holy Doors in the icon screen. He holds the Gospel book and prays quietly. When the singers have finished Antifon 3 the Priest will sing "Wisdom, stand upright" and lift the Gospel high, then enter the sanctuary through the Holy Doors. This recalls the fact that this was originally the beginning of the Liturgy and that in this first part, the Synaxis, the reading of the Gospel is really the climax of the worship. The prayer said by the priest at this point emphasizes that we are joining with the Liturgy in heaven, and the angels are entering the church with us. This is a theme often repeated in the prayers of the liturgy. We sing the Veniți at this point.


Then we sing the special troparele and the condacul for the day. These hymns change at each Liturgy. On Sundays we begin with the the Resurrection troparul in the Tone of the Week, then maybe a troparul of a Saint we are remembering, or of a feast, then the troparul of the dedication of our church. In our church, it is the troparul of the Nativity of the Mother of God. We sing this at all our Liturgies except on a Great Feast Day when we sing only the one for the Great Feast itself.

Finally we sing a hymn called a condacul. These usually are seasonal, so that, for example, in the period leading up to Christmas, we sing the Christmas condacul, in the period leading up to the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God we sing the condacul for that day. Because our church is dedicated to the Mother of God we sing the condacul for the Nativity of the Mother of God whenever there is no other specified for that day.

The Trisagion - Sfinte Dumnezeule

After all these hymns we sing the Trisagion. Before the Trisagion the priest says, quietly, quite a long prayer. It is well worth reading all these priest's prayers online at home: they tell us a lot about what the church believes regarding the Liturgy. In this prayer the priest asks God to make us worthy to approach and worship him, and stresses again that we are taking part in the Liturgy of heaven.

Occasionally the Trisagion is replaced by As Many of You as Were Baptized Into Christ. This usually happens on Great Feasts of the Lord and their leavetaking (usually about a week later). This is because on these days it was customary to perform many baptisms. There is also a different hymn here on the Exaltation of the Cross and on certain other days.

The Readings

Then we have the readings from the Apostle and Gospel.

The Apostle reading is preceded by some psalm verses called the Prochimen, these can be either read or sung in a special way. Then we read from the Apostle (that is, from the books in the New Testament but not the four Gospels or the Apocalypse.)

Then we sing the 9 Alliluias with psalm verses in between, in the Tone of the Week. During this the priest will pray quietly and then cense the church. After the Alliluias, the priest or deacon read the Gospel for the day facing the people from the Holy Doors. It is said that when we hear the Gospel read in Church at the Liturgy, it is as if we are really present at the events described in the reading, and we should act and behave accordingly. It is a very solemn moment in our worship.

Following the Gospel, there are 4 more ectenias (in some churches, 5.) However, these are often shortened, or in some churches missed out altogether.

The first one is sometimes called the Insistent Ectenia. The first two petitions we reply Doamne miluește as usual, but then, for the others, we sing Doamne miluește 3 times. In this ectenia we pray for the church, and for the sick, the departed, and other needs.

Then we have the Ectenia of the Catachumens. This is often omitted, and in any event, we do not say it in between Pascha and Pentecost. We do not usually have it in our parish. Catachumens are people who are preparing for baptism. It used to be the case that adults preparing for baptism would only come to the first part of the service. After we prayed for them in this Ectenia, the priest would dismiss them, and they would leave the church. Now we do not dismiss them, although the words of dismissal are still said by the priest in some churches.

Then we have two Small Ectenias, similar to the ones we had near the beginning of the service. Usually in our parish, we just do the second one.

The Liturgy Part 2 - The Anaphora

The Herouvic (Heruvicul) - Noi care pe heruvimi ... and the Great Entrance

Except on a couple of occasions in Holy Week, we always have this hymn. It is sung very slowly and solemnly, to an elaborate tune in the Tone (Glasul) for that week. During the first half of this hymn, the priest prays at the altar. In this prayer, the priest asks that we be made worthy to approach God, and worthy to offer him the sacrifice/offering. This prayer makes a lot of things very clear. It tells us that our worship is linked to the worship of the angels in heaven. The hymn sung by the chanter also says We who in a mystery represent the Cherubim- in other words, we are representing the angels worshipping in heaven, and linking our prayers, offerings and worship, to theirs. The hymn also says Let us lay aside all the cares of this life, and in its second half- for we are about to receive the King of All, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts.

After the priest has censed the sanctuary and the icons, he asks for forgiveness from the people then enters th church carrying the bread and wine. (Where there is a deacon, he carries the wine in the cup.) This is called the Great Entrance.

Walking in front of the priest and deacon should be someone carrying a candle, another with the cross, and another with an exapterygon (a design representing the Seraphim angel on the end of a pole). Then someone should carry incense, and then follow the deacon and priest. Another person carrying exapterygon and another with a candle should follow the priest. (We do not currently have exapteryga in our church, nor a processional cross.)

They enter the main part of the church from the left hand (north) door in the icon screen and walk around the church in an anticlockwise direction. The priest stops in front of the Holy Doors in the middle of the screen. Note that the men carrying the exapteryga, cross, candles and incense must not go through the Holy Doors, but always through the side doors. Also they must not cross in front of the altar, but go behind it.

The holy cup and the plate for the bread (the diskos) are covered. The diskos, although basically a plate, has a little stand at the bottom, and the bread itself is covered by a cross shaped, metal bracket, known as the star (as it represents the star in Bethlehem.) Both diskos and cup are covered by cloth veils.These are cross shaped and usually embroidered with wheat and grapes images. There is a large cloth veil which covers both diskos and cup (the aeron), but during this procession, the priest wears this on his shoulders.

As the priest walks around the church he may pray for various causes and people. Before he enters the sanctuary (through the Holy Doors this time) he faces the people and blesses them. He places the diskos and cup on the altar, on a special cloth called the antimension.

Without an antiminsion it is not usually possible to celebrate the Liturgy. The antimension is blessed and signed by the bishop-it gives the priest permission to perform the Liturgy. It represents the altar in heaven- without it, the table below is really just a table.

The priest takes off the two small veils and puts them to one side on the table. He then takes the big veil and puts it over both diskos and chalice, and censes towards them, as the singer continues with the hymn.

This Great Entrance really marks the beginning of the offering or sacrifice part of the service. The priest enters the Holy Place, the sanctuary, and places the bread and wine, (the offering, the gifts) on the holy table. It is made clear that we are doing this with the angels, who are also entering the Holy Place in heaven and worshipping with us. The end of the Herouvicul hymn says we are about to receive the King of All, and this procession could be said to represent Christ (our true priest) entering the church and the sanctuary to offer the sacrifice (to offer himself, because of course he is in a dual role-he is the priest but he is also the sacrificial lamb offered to free us from sin.)

There follows another ectenia, this time, it is the one where the first few petitions have the reply Doamne miluește and then the next few Dă Doamne. At the end the deacon or priest commemorates the Mother of God and saints, as in the first Ectenia of the Liturgy, and we reply, Ție Doamne. The priest prays quietly, asking that we may be worthy to offer sacrifices and praise to God, and that he will accept them from us. The sacrifice is described as a sacrifice of praise-in other words, what we are offering is our love, our praise, our hearts to God.

The priest then blesses us with the words Peace to all, and we reply and to your Spirit. He then sings Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess, and we reply, Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided. At this point the Kiss of Peace takes place, between the clergy in the sanctuary.

This is an extrememly important moment. What it means is that, unless we love one another, we cannot truly share the same faith, or proceed with the Liturgy. Of course, loving one another is often a very difficult thing indeed. We are human beings, and we come into conflicts, arguments, anger, jealousies and all the rest. In any group of people there will always be some friction and conflict. But we are asked to set these aside when we are in church, and love one another, so that we may approach God in the Liturgy. We have to confess (declare, state) our faith with one mind.

We do this by reading the Creed, the statement of what we as Christians believe about God, and his work in the world. During the Creed the priest waves the aeron gently over the chalice and diskos, folds it and kisses it at the mention of the ascension of our Lord, then places it to one side on the table.

The priest says The doors the doors! immediately before the Creed. This is because in ancient times no one who was an unbeliever was allowed to stay for this part of the Liturgy, and the doors were literally locked. Of course we no longer do this, but the words remain.

The Anaphora

This is the main part of the Liturgy, where we make our offering to God and the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit.

It begins with a diologue between the priest and the people.

We are asking for God's mercy and peace: but we must also show our own mercy and peace toward each other.Once again it is made clear that we are offering a sacrifice of praise.

The priest blesses us with the ancient prayer: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

We reply And with your spirit.

Priest: Let our hearts be on high.

People: We have them with the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord.

People: It is meet and right.

This dialogue tells us two important things: firstly, that our hearts should be on high with the Lord in heaven, as we are now participating in the great Liturgy in the heavenly places, with the angels. Therefore we should forget our everyday worldly concerns, worries and obsessions.

Secondly, it reminds us we are here to thank God for everything he has done for us.

The priest now prays quietly, and gives thanks to God for all that he has done, and the prayer lists many of God's blessings. Interestingly, the priest also thanks God for allowing us to perform this liturgy, alongside the angels in heaven. He has the angels' praises in heaven, he does not also need ours, but but we are permitted to take part, although unworthy.

This prayer leads into the Angels hymn from the Old Testament:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the Highest! and then the hymn sung as Jesus entered Jerusalem: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!

We are now fully joined with the praises and worship of the angels in heaven.

The priest continues his prayer, which include the words describing the institution of the Liturgy by Christ at the last supper:

In the night in which He was given up, or rather, in which He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands; and when He had given thanks and blessed it, and hallowed it, and broken it, He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying:

Take! Eat! This is My Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest: And likewise, after supper, He took the cup, saying:

Drink of it all of you! This is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest: Do this in remembrance of Me!

(Passages marked bold are sung aloud.)

There follows the anamnesis: the commemoration or remembering of the key moments in our salvation:

The Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the Second and glorious Coming.

Your own, of Your own, we offer to You, on behalf of all and for all.

People: We praise You. We bless You. We give thanks to You, O Lord; and we pray unto You, O our God.

You may well wonder why we are remembering the Second and glorious Coming, which has not yet happened! This, of course, is because when we are in the Liturgy we are in eternity, not in time, and so all these things have happened. We are already in the age to come.

As we sing the above hymn, the deacon or priest raises the chalice and diskos, with arms crossed. Then the priest asks the Holy Spirit to bless and change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This is known as the epiclesis. It is said quietly and reverently as we sing the hymn.

From this point onward, we have the body and blood of Christ present on our Holy Table, and we are joined to the sacrifice of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. With our offering before us on the altar, we are now in a position to ask God for His blessings, mercy, help and salvation. With this in mind the priest prays quietly for all our needs. His prayer includes this summary of the benefits of receiving Holy Communion: That to those who partake they may be for the vigilance of soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion of Your Holy Spirit, for the fulfilment of the kingdom of heaven, for boldness towards You, but not for judgment or condemnation.

He remembers the saints: Furthermore we offer You this reasonable worship for those who have fallen asleep in the faith: ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith,

... especially for our most holy, pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary.

As the priest censes the gifts on the altar we sing a hymn in praise of the Mother of God. Usually this is the Axionul but it can change on Great Feasts and at other times. After commemorating the saints, the priest continues to pray for the needs of the church and for the needs of the whole world. He commemorates the Bishop aloud and we reply And each and all.

He ends the prayer aloud as follows:

And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and praise Your all-honourable and majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen.

Priest: And the mercies of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ shall be with all of you.

People: And with your spirit.

Notice that we worship with one mouth and one heart. This is an important concept in our worship. We are worshipping as one, although individually we may have different roles, jobs and tasks.

Another ectenia, similar to the one just before the Creed, is sung. One of the petitions is particularly interesting as it sums up the meaning of the Liturgy very well:

That our God, Who loves mankind, receiving them (i.e. the gifts of his Body and Blood)upon His holy, heavenly, and ideal altar as a sweet spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us in turn His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

In other words we offer the sacrifice on God's heavenly altar, and he responds by sending us His gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit.

At the end of this Ectenia we say the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father ...the prayer taught to us by Christ Himself.

The priest blesses us and asks us to bow our heads to the Lord, and prays for our needs. The curtain is usually then closed. (In former times the curtain was closed for much of this second part of the Liturgy, but now the custom is to leave it open except for the communion of the clergy.) He then raises the Body of Christ over the Holy Table, praying quietly and singing The Holy Things for the Holy, and we respond One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the Glory of God the Father, Amen.

Then the Communion Chant (which can change) is sung slowly and elaborately as the priest prepares the Holy Gifts, by breaking the Holy Bread into 4 pieces and putting one of the fragments into the chalice. He also blesses then pours in warm water into the chalice. The clergy receive Holy Communion in the sanctuary. Then sufficient fragments are broken off the Holy Bread and put into the chalice for the Communion of the people.

The Priest comes out through the Holy Doors with the Chalice and sings With faith of God with faith and love draw near and we reply Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, The Lord is God and has appeared to us. Those who wish to receive communion and are properly prepared then approach the chalice and receive Communion from the spoon. When all have received the priest blesses the people and returns to the sanctuary as we sing We have seen the true light. This hymn is replaced by the Troparul on Feasts of the Lord and their leavetaking, and also during Paschaltide.

The deacon or priest wipes any remaining pieces of the Holy Bread from the diskos into the chalice, and prays that our sins may be washed away. The priest censes the chalice 3 times. The deacon shows the diskos, the star and the covers to the people then takes them around the back of the Holy Table and places them on the table of Prothesis at the side of the sanctuary. The priest takes the chalice, shows it to the people and blesses them and we sing Let our mouths be filled with your praise, O Lord. The priest takes the chalice to the table of Prothesis, returns, then folds up the Antimension and we then have the final Ectenia of the Liturgy.

The Conclusion of the Service.

The dismissal and final blessings are as follows:

Priest: Let us depart in peace.

People: In the name of the Lord.

Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Prayer before the Ambo (said by the priest in the middle of the Church).

Priest: O Lord, You bless those who bless You and sanctify those who trust in You: save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Preserve the fullness of Your Church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in turn by Your divine power, and do not forsake us who put our hope in You. Give peace to Your world, to Your churches, to Your Priests, to all those in civil authority, and to all Your people. For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of lights, and to You we ascribe glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen. Blessed be the name of the Lord henceforth and forevermore. (x3)

Priest: + The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

People: Amin.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. (3x) Father, bless.

Priest: May He Who rose from the dead , Christ our true God, through the prayers of His most pure Mother; of the holy, glorious, and all-laudable Apostles; of our father among the saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople of (of the day), whom we commemorate today; of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all the saints: have mercy on us and save us for He is good and loves mankind.

People: Amin.

Priest: Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ Our God have mercy on us.

People: Amin.

:: document maintained by Martin Almond.