V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
I have always thought about God’s commandment to keep the seventh day of the week holy. Before Christ, this was Saturday, and after Christ’s resurrection, this became Sunday. However, we only celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, and Church services typically end by noon. What should we do with the rest of our Sunday, if we are called to keep it holy?
God “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3) What did the Holy Bible mean by “rested on the seventh day” and “sanctified it?” God obviously does not need a “resting day,” especially given Jesus’s words, “My Father has been working until now.” (John 5:17) In order to understand what “to rest,” (nuah; נוּחַ), means, we have to examine it in different contexts in the Bible.
First, regarding Noah’s ark, “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat…” (Genesis 8:4) Noah waited “seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.” (Genesis 8:12). Moreover, during Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit of God descended as a dove and rested on Him…” (Matthew 3:16-17). The final example takes place on the day of Pentecost, where the Spirit “sat upon each one of them.” (Acts 2:5) What do these three contexts demonstrate? For God, resting signifies bringing His fulfilling presence on earth. Therefore, after creation, God rested. In other words, He fulfilled creation with His actual presence. In addition to “resting,” these same passages demonstrate a mysterious occurrence. This relates to the meaning of “sanctification.” Sanctification means making earthly reality divine, or holy. However, it also means bringing it alive, making it livable. Accordingly, when God rested in the seventh day, God brought His divine presence, life, to the earth. Earth’s movement around the sun makes it alive. Similarly, God’s presence makes us alive and complete by moving us into His glory.
How can we understand what it means to rest on the seventh day in the context of the Divine Liturgy? During the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist or the Divine Liturgy, we ask for God to descend on the Holy Altar in the same way that He rested on the seventh day. Specifically, during the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit descends on the bread and the wine to make them the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. God brings His full, moving, presence on earth and makes the earthly bread and wine into the living body and blood of the Lord. He turns the “dead” gifts onto the table into our living salvation. In other words, the Holy Spirit “rests” and the Holy Eucharist “sanctifies” us, completing us with God’s presence. God’s presence fills us like running water, sanctifying our life starting Sunday and carrying us through the week. Imagine sitting by a running river, taking in the life-giving environment of God’s presence.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many times the Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday around the world? You may be participating in the Divine Liturgy at your church, but across different time zones the Liturgy will have already been celebrated, and is yet to be celebrated.. In other words, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated continuously, around the world, in different languages, cultures, and traditions. Every Sunday, believers around the world unite and worship, complete by the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. His Holy Eucharist moves us together in His presence and Holiness. This brings us new life on earth, along with the promise of eternal life.
After five or six days of worldly life, our physical, mental, and spiritual selves need recovery and healing. The Divine Liturgy brings peace, fulfillment, recovery and renewal to our human nature through the Word of God, prayers, hymns, and the bread and wine. Would our lives be complete if we rest our physical bodies and neglect our spirit? The Divine Liturgy is fundamental for our being. It makes us holy, bringing us to rest in God’s moving and life-giving presence.