by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
We all prepare ourselves when we go somewhere, whether it’s to someone’s house, a store, school, or church. For example, in the Middle East, you don’t visit a home without taking something to offer the person who invites you. In fact, I recently heard a story about a parish priest who had an interesting practice. Whenever he was invited to a parishioner’s home to conduct a home blessing, he would drive to the home the day before. He did this to make sure that he would not get lost or arrive late for his appointment. He prepared himself for home blessings, regardless of the length of the drive. Likewise, the Divine Liturgy is an invitation to sit with God and share in His divinity. Accordingly, we should prepare ourselves to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Due to the solemnity of the invitation, it may seem to require extensive preparation. However, some easy-to-follow tips will allow us to accept the grace of renewal. We can prepare a week before, a day before, or just as we enter the sanctuary.
The Armenian Orthodox Church conducts a prayer service on Saturday evening called Giragmdits (Կիրակմտից). Giragmdits prepares us for Sunday the day of Resurrection. It recalls the oil-bearer women who prepared spices and fragrant oils on Saturday in order to visit the tomb and offer incense on Sunday (Luke 23:56). They didn’t know that .
While we may not have the opportunity to attend this service, we can prepare ourselves for the Divine Liturgy in our homes on Saturday evenings. We can do so by contemplating three important questions.
1. Who am I going for? As Christians, we are called to be selfless and live as a community, as the body of Christ. That is why we gather around the Holy Table at church. We are called to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who selflessly sacrificed Himself for the salvation of the world.
We are called to pray for others. The act of prayer is the least that we can do to show gratitude for all of the blessings that we receive every day. When we go to church on Sunday, we should pray for others. But who? We are naturally drawn to praying and asking for God’s blessings for our family members and friends. However, in Christ’s words, “[i]f you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” (Matthew 5:46-47).
Every week, leading up to Sunday, we encounter many people, at work, at school, on the road, or even social media. We may not learn anything about them in our encounters. Further, we may never learn what spiritual or physical difficulties they may be enduring. Christ calls us to be like the Good Samaritan, who offered compassion and love to a stranger in need. If we don’t have the opportunity to help them physically or financially, we can offer prayers for them at God’s Holy Table, under His sanctified body and blood. We participate in the Divine Liturgy for all those who we meet during the week, and we should remember and pray for them during the Divine Liturgy.
This practice helps us more deeply feel compassion toward others. This, in turn, will help us practice compassion within our congregation.
2. Why am I going? In addition to encountering people, we experience many events, problems throughout the week, some positive and some negative. Sometimes it’s clear why a particular event occurred, but other times not. We take many of our experiences at face value, without asking if God has something to teach us. The following questions will help us to think about the events of the previous week:
A) What do I have to thank God for?
B) What problems do I need to address with God?
C) Is there an event that I need God to help me better understand?
D) What changes do I have to ask Him for?
E) What do I need for my future?
These questions can help direct our prayers during the Divine Liturgy.
3. How Do I Need to Renew or Change Myself? The Divine Liturgy is more than just an event that takes place on Sunday mornings. The Divine Liturgy is a Holy Sacrament, wherein the Holy Spirit descends and transforms the bread and wine into Body and Blood of Christ. If we are also not transformed in any way, something has gone wrong. Every Sunday, the Divine Liturgy offers us an opportunity to renew ourselves. All the burdens that we collect throughout the week can be lifted off of our shoulders, if we are ready to be present, to confess, and to let the Spirit take them. What do we need to work on? How are we working on our relationship with God? Our Lord is ready to accept us as we are, but are we ready to devote ourselves to Him?
These three questions form the core of a practice that we can use to prepare ourselves to participate in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday. Integrating preparation prior to the Divine Liturgy helps put us in right place to receive Christ. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for our eternal life, making it all the more important for us to prepare to receive His gifts. When we prepare for the expected, we will be ready for the unexpected as well.