- from the Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
The year is 988 AD, and the place is the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. A small but ragtag group of befurred delegates from a far-north land are observing the Divine Liturgy in its full glory in this, the crowning jewel of the churches of Constantinople and indeed of Christendom. The overwhelming experience of this Liturgy leaves these roughshod northern travelers completely speechless. They later report to their monarch, Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus, telling him "we knew not if we were in heaven or on earth!" Now, Prince Vlad at this time was in the market for a religion that would make his nation more received on the world stage, but what began as purely a political decision soon turned into a vibrant faith for the young Prince, as through the first Liturgy to be held on Russian soil Jesus Christ got hold of Vlad, and the formerly rowdy prince of the rowdy Rus was born again by the power of the Gospel! Soon too was his kingdom. This story represents something that is absolute fact - the Liturgy is indeed "heaven on earth," and as such it has an impact on those whom are open to what it has to offer. Detractors often scoff at this, saying "oh, it is just the smells and bells," or "yeah, the beauty just provoked an emotional response and is not a true spiritual experience!" However, they fail to understand something very important - the Liturgy is our dress rehearsal for the kingdom to come!! Many people - particularly predominantly Protestant North America - would never think of seeing the connection between the earthly celebration of the Liturgy and the Second Coming and the coming Kingdom of God. However, it is there, and the Liturgy has an almost other-worldly quality to it, a fact that Eastern Christians have known and accepted for centuries. Therefore, is the Liturgy a foretaste of the Coming of the Lord? Many early Church Fathers, as well as even some Jewish rabbinical authorities of the same period writing about the worship of the Temple, seem to have thought so as one reads their books on the subject. Being I believe personally the evidence is compelling for this idea, that is what we wish to explore this week.