by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
After adoring the Holy Gospel and reciting the Creed, the celebrant asks for Christ to bestow His peace upon the congregants (Khaghaghutyamp kov…) so that they will be able to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. The celebrant blesses the faithful, removes his helm and slippers, and prepares to welcome the gifts of the Holy Communion.
At this moment, the Holy Church prepares herself to welcome the gifts of the Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a liturgical transition. The faithful hear the words of the celebrant, who asks for Christ’s peace in order to be able to worship in spirit and in truth:
“With your peace, O Christ our Savior, which is beyond all understanding and speech, strengthen us and keep us fearless of all evil. Number us among your true worshipers, who worship you in spirit and in truth. For to the all-holy Trinity is befitting glory, dominion, and honor, now and always and forever and ever. Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
After praying for the Lord’s peace for the faithful, the celebrant makes the sign of the Holy Cross. He prepares himself by removing his helmet and slippers. The deacon sings from the Holy Altar, “Let none of the catechumens, none with little faith, and none of the penitents or the unclean draw near to this divine mystery.” (Mi vok herakhayits…)
“Catechumens” refers to those who are not yet baptized. Previously, the catechumens would leave the nave (Adean) and go to the narthex. In those times, the nave was not completely closed off from, but separated from, the narthex. Almost all church attendees today are baptized. Accordingly, the Armenian Church enlarged the nave to accommodate all attendees. The chant remains in the liturgy, therefore, to remind the faithful to be careful when approaching the Lord.
Why would we need to be baptized in order to stand in God’s presence? How is worshiping in spirit and in truth related to the deacon’s caution?
In order to understand these questions, we must examine the nativity of Christ. The Magi brought three kinds of royal gifts to the baby Jesus: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Rather than explaining each of the three gifts, I will focus on the gift of Frankincense. Frankincense represents Jesus’ priesthood. Jesus came to the earth as our High Priest, King, and Prophet? What is the significance of Christ being High Priest?
We are God’s masterpiece of creation. We are born to worship God and glorify Him. We once lived in direct communion with God. Adam’s fall, however, severed this relationship. Throughout history, God taught His people how to worship Him, including specific instructions that we refer today as the liturgy. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to restore our eternal communion with God. We start worshiping God during our earthly lives, and continue in the Heavenly Kingdom. Worshiping God is not an extra effort to show that we belong to Him, but it used to and shall be a natural living habit that keep our nature alive eternally. A spiritual and divine mystery takes place through the rituals of worship. The Israelite leaders detached the spiritual aspect from their worship and focused on the material and the external that is why they were disconnected from the true meaning of worship. For instance, keeping the Sabbath day holy had become a cultural habit, with no spiritual significance. The business taking place in the Temple vividly illustrates how worshipping life had turned away from the spiritual. This, in turn, made Jesus overturn the tables of the money changers. (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18) This is just one example which shows how worship had been subverted by Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Rulers.
As a result, Jesus came to restart our spiritual lives. He made a new covenant with humankind, which lies at the heart of the mystery of the Divine Liturgy and the Last Supper. Jesus restored our nature as worshiping creatures of God, enabling us to worship Him “in spirit and truth.” Therefore, baptism and participation in Christ’s salvific grace restore us as His worshiping children. Accordingly, baptism is essential to stand in His presence. It allows us to receive His Body and Blood, making us one once again with our Creator.
Let us examine ourselves. Our bodies, minds, and souls resist praying and connecting with God. This does not mean that we do not want to pray and connect with God. On the contrary, we feel the need to have a special connection with God. Without Him we are lost. Going to church and standing before God for over an hour while trying to focus on worship can be challenging. The evil one tries to tempt us, to disrupt our connection with God. The deacon’s chant asks: are you standing before God, ready to welcome Him in spirit and truth? Or are we only standing there physically? Participation in spirit and truth gives meaning to the liturgy and restores us as children of Christ, the High Priest. As the celebrant removes his helmet and take off his slippers, you may take off your watch, jewels and rings from your hands too with the celebrant until receiving the Holy Communion, as a sign of participation in welcoming the body and the blood of our Lord. It may help to feel the difference of the moment and the Liturgy.
As a final reflection on worshiping in spirit and truth: this part of the Divine Liturgy is especially holy. The Lord physically sits before our eyes. We celebrate Him for suffering the penalty of our sins. No matter what tries to distract us from concentrating on the liturgy with our whole existence, we should persist. This challenges us to deepen our faith and bring our best before the High Priest, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Baptism and chrismation bestow upon us the grace to touch the spiritual surface of the holy mystery, which will lead us to worship God in spirit and truth. Christ said, “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)