We made our annual visit to the Middle Eastern food festival put on by Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in McLean. This year, for a change, we attended Divine Liturgy, rather than just showing up for the festivities. The church is beautiful, and we’ve enjoyed the tour in prior years; now it was time to experience the liturgy.
I am not really able to do a point-by-point comparison between the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; I’d do Divine Liturgy grave injustice because of all the things I just don’t know. I was struck by a few things: The Melkite chant tones are very easy to pick up. If you know some of the psalms and have a general knowledge of how theologically sound prayers are structured, you can actually chant along for a good portion of it even without a book (with the words in front of you, it would have been very easy). I was surprised that “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us” (a prayer used in the Divine Mercy chaplet) figures so prominently in the liturgy; it is apparently quite an ancient prayer. Although I had a sense of the progression through the Liturgy, it is very difficult to say where one section ends and the next begins. Sure, the Deacon (maybe Protodeacon? Sorry, my knowledge of the Eastern hierarchy and roles in the liturgy is very slim) exits the sanctuary to intone prayers at several points, but it isn’t completely clear that those points correspond to a new segment. It was impressive to see the congregation crowd around the lectern for the Gospel reading–almost a sense of “let me be as close as possible to the Word of God.” Even though I had done a little research prior to attending, I’m sure we stuck out like sore thumbs, but it didn’t matter–it was Divine Liturgy, a slice of Paradise, and we were welcome to participate to the best of our ability (even if I did make the Sign of the Cross the Latin way more often than not).
The Pastor spoke very eloquently on the Gospel, which was the parable of the tenants from Matthew 21:33-46. In essence, he said that we all know the surface meaning of the parable (the people of Israel had all they needed for salvation, but rejected it, including putting Jesus to death, so salvation came to all throughout the world), but that there is a deeper meaning to this, and all parables. In this case, it hinges on the idea that Jesus’ followers answer at the end of the parable that the wicked tenants would meet a wretched end. Jesus replies with the stone that the builders rejected line, which yes, refers to the obvious (Jesus), but also points to a new way of living, that of forgiveness. In fact, Jesus put this on display when he, during his crucifixion, forgave those who killed him. We are likewise called to live as shining examples of Christianity and forgive all, be welcoming, and entice others to Christ by our actions. Now, this isn’t to downplay the fact that at the end of time the Father will mete out His justice; it’s that it isn’t our job to do that. Instead, we need to bring people to Christ, now, so that they can experience His mercy.
A great homily to go along with a spectacular liturgy done right. That, and a fantastic food festival to follow it all up. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.