Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk on the Divine Services
The liturgical texts used in many non-Orthodox churches, except for the Eucharistic prayers and certain ancient hymns still in use, are often characterized by a low level of theological content: as a rule they contain much “piety” that often borders on the sentimental, and very little theology. Orthodox divine services, whether it be the Liturgy, vespers, matins, hours, nocturnes or compline, are a totally different matter. From the priest’s exclamation at the very beginning of the service we are immersed in an atmosphere of uninterrupted prayer, in which psalms, litanies, stichera, troparia, prayers and the celebrating priest’s invocations follow one another in a continuous stream. The entire service is conducted as if in one breath, in one rhythm, like an ever unfolding mystery in which nothing distracts from prayer. Byzantine liturgical texts filled with profound theological and mystical content, alternate with the prayerful incantation of the psalms, whose every word resonates in the hearts of the faithful. Even the elements of “choreography” characteristic of Orthodox services, such as solemn entries and exits, prostrations and censing, are not intended to distract from prayer but, on the contrary, to put the faithful in a prayerful disposition and draw them into the theourgia in which, according to the teaching of the Fathers, not only the Church on earth, but also the heavenly Church and even te angels participate.
* Taken from Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology.