August 26, 2020

Homily One on the Sacred Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church: "The Gospel" (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The Sacred Liturgical Books of the Orthodox Church:
The Gospel

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

This year's sermons will refer to the Sacred Books that are in the Sacred Temples and are for the use of our worship, and without them we cannot perform the Sacred Services and the Mysteries of our Church. We must know of them, as our Church has chosen them through the ages. The first sacred and liturgical book is the Sacred Gospel, which is always on the Holy Altar, and in fact in the center of the Holy Altar, as the most sacred book of our Church.

The word gospel means "glad tidings", and so the Gospel was named after the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as the Word of the Father, revealed to us His will, which is also the will of our Triadic God, for our salvation. Already, in the early Church, as it is preserved by Saint Justin, a martyr and philosopher, the memoirs of the Apostles were circulated, which were called "Gospels". In time the Church chose four of them, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and included them in the canon of the New Testament.

The Fathers of the Church ordained that various Gospel passages be read during the Sacred Services, the Mysteries and the Divine Liturgy in order to hear the words of Christ concerning the Services and the Mysteries. They chose and allocated these Gospel passages, on Sundays, feast days and various occasions, and thus the book called the Sacred Gospel was formed, which always remains on the Holy Altar as our most beloved book during our worship.

Thus, the Sacred Gospel found on the Holy Altar contains various selected Gospel passages from the four Gospels and is read throughout the year, that is, every Sunday and weekday. Then, there are the other Gospel passages that are read during Great Week, as well as the Eothina Gospels that are Resurrection Gospels read during Matins on Sundays, and other Gospel passages read on the feasts of Saints and for the Mysteries (Baptisms, Weddings, Anointings), along with various other circumstances and sacred services. There is a series of them and it is determined when they are read and who reads them, some by a Bishop, others by a Priest and others by a Deacon.

The Church through the Fathers also determined the order in which the Gospels are read. From Pascha Sunday to Pentecost the Gospel of John is read with various exceptions in between. From the Monday of the Holy Spirit until the Friday after the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross, in September, the Gospel of Matthew is read. From the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross until the Saturday before Great Lent, the Gospel of Luke is read, with various exceptions. Excerpts from the Gospel of Mark are also read during Great Lent. Of course, there are various other occasional passages according to circumstances. Thus, throughout the ecclesiastical year, different sections of the four Gospels have been allocated and we have the opportunity to hear the words of Christ, His teachings, His parables and His miracles.

It is characteristic that, when the Gospel is to be read, the Deacon or the Priest says: "Wisdom, arise, let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be to all". Then, it is announced by which Evangelist the Gospel reading will be and the priest urges: "Let us be attentive", that is, to stand upright carefully to hear the Holy Gospel. And the Chanter chants: "Glory to you, Lord, glory to you".

According to the typikon of the Church, after the reading of the Holy Gospel, the sacred sermon is delivered, which analyzes the Gospel or Apostolic reading, and for this reason the sermon is a sacred work, an ecclesiastical interpretation of the Gospel or Apostolic reading.

Because the reading of the Gospel is a sacred work, a true "hierurgy of the word of God", therefore we must take care at this time to be present in the Divine Liturgy to receive the Grace and energy of the word of God, and to be taught to adapt our lives to the commandments of Christ.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.