The Little Entrance, Epistle and Gospel
The Little Entrance
The priest comes out the north door of the Iconostas carrying the Book of the Gospels to the Royal Doors and says:
“Wisdom! Let us attend!’
We are being asked to listen and pay attention. The Gospel is the teachings of Jesus Christ and that Christ is coming to speak to us.
Altar boys have led the way for the priest with lighted candles. This has been interpreted to symbolize John the Baptist who helped prepare the way for Jesus Christ by telling the people to confess their sins, baptizing them and showing them who Jesus Christ is when He came. The Gospel the priest is holding up represents Jesus Christ. Christ is present in the church. The Gospel is then brought back into the sanctuary and placed on the altar table. This represents Jesus Christ birth, public ministry which began after his baptism in the Jordan River.
History of the Little Entrance
In the early days of the liturgy, the Gospel had to be hand written and was a very precious and valuable book. Also, the Gospel had to be hidden for safe keeping from pagans (people who are not Christian) because they would sometimes come and destroy the Gospel Book.
The Gospel was sometimes hidden in caves or underground crypts and torches were needed for light. A procession would lead the priest to the place where the Gospel was kept and from this procession we acquire our procession. The Altar Boys lead the priest from the sanctuary to the royal doors where the priest presents the Gospel to the people.
After the Little Entrance there are eight sets of hymns commemorating the Resurrection of Christ called Troparions and Kontakions are sung.
The Little Entrance has been interpreted to symbolize the walk of Jesus Christ through the cities and villages of Judea with His disciples and His preaching of the Gospel.
Trisagion means: thrice holy or three holies.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. Isa. 6:3
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is and is to come. Rev. 4:8
Before the Trisagion is begun, the priest asks God to accept the song of praise and to give grace to all who sing it. The priest prays that their bodies and souls be cleansed and forgiven of all their sins and that the people will worship God always.
In the Great Litany, the priest asked that we pray in peace. During the Trisagion, the priest prays to God, asking Him to give us this peace in order that we will hear and understand the reading of the Gospel.
The Trisagion is sung in preparation for the reading of the Gospel. The priest will make his way to the back of the sanctuary behind the altar table and recite the prayer of the Trisagion while the choir and people sing the hymn of the Trisagion.
Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal!
This is sung three times and is the Angelic song that came to us from the Bible which is dedicated to the Trinity. After singing the above three times, it is followed by:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.
Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal Have mercy on us.
The Epistle Reading
Actually it is the writings of the Apostles that are called Epistles or letters. As the Apostles traveled to different places teaching about Jesus Christ. They often wrote letters about the teachings of Christ so the people would always know and remember them. Also, there are readings from the Book of Acts, which tell about what the Apostles did after Jesus went back to heaven to live with the Father (Ascension). Many Epistles were written by St. Paul and these also are read on many Sundays.
The Epistle begins with the priest asking the people:
Let us attend ( Be attentive)
The priest is asking all of us to listen and pay attention to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The reader will enter the South Door of the Iconostas and the priest will greet the reader with peace and bless him. The reader will walk around the Altar Table and exit from the north door and stand in the center of the church. The priest will face the people and say;
The reader will sing the prokeimenon (verses from the Psalms) in a certain tone.
The reader will next tell us what book of the Bible the reading is from.
There are actually 32 tones, but only eight different tones are used for the Divine Liturgy on a rotating basis. A tone is the melody with verses to be sung.
The Story of St. Paul:
During the early days when the Apostles first began to teach about Jesus Christ, Christians were hated and sometimes put to death by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. A man named Saul was one of the Jewish leaders.
The Gospel is actually four books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke. and John. The Gospel tells us about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John knew Jesus and told others about Him and realized that Jesus’ teachings had to be preserved permanently.
The priest will repeat the-phrases of Wisdom Let us attend. And he will announce from which book he will be reading. The priest will be reading the words to us, but it is God’s Word we hear.
After the priest has read the Gospel, the people respond:
Glory to Thee, 0 Lord, glory to Thee.
This is an expression for joy and thanks. The Prayer recited by the Priest before the Reading of the Gospel:
Illumine our hearts, 0 Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, 0 Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The sermon usually follows after the reading of the Gospel but not always, sometimes it comes at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
The sermon is a lesson in itself. The priest may explain the Epistle and the Gospel Readings or if it is a Feast Day or Holy Day, the sermon would reflect that day.
Litany of Fervent Supplication:
The priest will renew the prayer and praise of the Liturgy. Appeals will be made for God’s mercy and grace by a series of petitions being sung.
Prayer recited by the Priest:
0 Lord our God, accept this fervent supplication of Thy servants, and have mercy on us according to the multitude of Thy mercy. Send down Thy bounties upon us and upon all Thy people, who await the rich mercy that comes from Thee.
Litany for the Departed:
This Litany is not normally sung on Sundays
Through a series of petitions we are praying for the souls of the faithful Orthodox Christians who have died. We will pray that God will have mercy forgive their sins and be just in judging them.
Even though someone we care for has died, it does not mean that we stop loving that person or forget that person. Through our prayers we talk to them through Christ.
The Orthodox Church prays for the dead to express her faith that all who have fallen asleep in the Lord, live in the Lord;
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Col. 3:3
Death changes the love we have for someone who has died from a physical love to a spiritual love. The person who has died is alive in God’s presence.
I am the God of Abraham and the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Matt. 22:32
Even though we pray for those who have died, it is our present life that determines what our eternal life will be like.
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. John 9:4
The Day represents the present life and it is still possible to believe and have faith. The night is the darkness of death and we will be judged by the things we have done.
Litany for the Catechumens:
A Catechumen is someone who is taking instructions to become a Christian and has not been baptized as yet. This portion of the liturgy is to have the catechumen pray to God and to have the faithful pray to God for the catechumen. When we pray for the catechumen we pray that God will have mercy on them, that God will teach them the Word of God and that the catechumen will be able to understand and become one of the faithful and that God will keep them and protect them.
After we have prayed for the catechumens, then comes what may be called the Dismissal of the catechumens. During the early days of the church, the catechumens were not permitted to participate in the Divine Liturgy past this point. Up until this point of the liturgy is considered instructional because we had the Epistle, the Gospel and the Sermon all of which gave us a lesson about the teachings and the life of Jesus Christ. Now the catechumens are permitted to stay and participate in the Liturgy except for receiving Holy Communion which will be permitted after they are baptized.