By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis
The GREATEST prayer that there is, is the Divine Liturgy. There is no higher expression of prayer. For at the climax of this prayer is the Eucharist, is receiving Christ Himself. No other expression of prayer affords us this. However, the Divine Liturgy is very dry without a personal life of prayer. The Divine Liturgy should be the crown of a week of private prayer.
I like watching documentaries and reading about Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. To reach the summit of this mountain is truly an accomplishment. Because helicopters can’t fly that high, the only way to reach the summit it to climb the mountain. It takes a lot of effort to climb the mountain. Each step becomes harder and harder. That’s why when the climbers reach the summit, there is such a feeling of accomplishment, because they’ve put in the hard work to get there.
Now imagine that it was possible for you to be dropped off by helicopter on the summit of Mount Everest. After you stepped out of the helicopter, would you raise your arms in triumph? How would you feel if you were standing at the summit, having been dropped off there, as others who have made the climb reached the summit? I’m sure that they would feel euphoric but you would probably feel empty, a hollow victory, if that.
Daily prayer and the Eucharist work in the same way. The Eucharist is the summit. Daily personal prayer is the climb. All week we pray, we climb, we struggle. And each Sunday (or at each Divine Liturgy), we get a chance to reach the summit, the ultimate experience of prayer and of the Lord-the Holy Eucharist.
No one arrives casually at the summit of Mount Everest. One arrives having exerted a great effort and thus arrives with great exaltation. If we are finding the Divine Liturgy to be boring, we have to ask ourselves what we did to get to the summit. If the Divine Liturgy is not supplemented by a daily exertion to know Jesus, through daily prayer, it should not be a surprise if we walk away from it less than satisfied.
I confess that I personally walk away from the Divine Liturgy sometimes with an empty feeling. And the exact cause each time is the lack of effort not necessarily during the Divine Liturgy but preceding it. When my prayer life is strong, when I’m exerting effort on a daily basis to communicate with the Lord through prayer, I experience the Divine Liturgy with much greater joy. When my prayer habit is not going particularly well, these are the times when I don’t take as much away from the Divine Liturgy.
While the Divine Liturgy is the consummate form of prayer, and is done communally, it is the personal private prayer that gives us a greater experience of the Liturgy. In fact, it is hard to arrive at the summit of the Divine Liturgy feeling joyful if we haven’t exerted the effort in private prayer to get there.
Lord, You have granted us to offer these common prayers in unison and have promised that when two or three agree in Your name, You will grant their requests. Fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Your servants as may be of benefit to them, granting us in the present age the knowledge of Your truth, and in the age to come eternal life. For You, O God, are good and love mankind, and to You we offer glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prayer of the Third Antiphon, from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 2015)
Spend time in prayer each day so that you will feel joy at the summit of prayer each Sunday (or at each Divine Liturgy)!
~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.