A Family’s Introduction to The Divine Liturgy



The Cross Valley Ukrainian Catholic Education Program has prepared a booklet that explains in simple language our Divine Liturgy. It is meant to be read by a child with supervision by his/her parent. The actual booklet has drawing and simple word “assignments” to reinforce what is being taught. It also has a list of common Ukrainian(Slavonic) terms used during Liturgy. What follows is the text of that booklet:

A Family’s Introduction to The Divine Liturgy

Conceived and written by the Cross Valley Ukrainian Catholic Education Program

Dedicated to the memory of Rev. Dr. Nicholas Kostiuk

This book builds on the idea that children will like going to church more if we try to involve them rather than distract them from the idea of being in church. Hopefully, you will read the pages together over time outside of church, illustrating each page when opportunities arise (while you are busy with a church meeting or project, after bedtime prayers, perhaps during a homily you sense will not keep your child’s attention, etc.). You might also find, once the book is illustrated, that you can use it during Divine Liturgy, if needed, to help your child understand and focus on “what part you are up to.” Here are some other suggestions for helping your family get more out of going to church.

  • Make time the morning of or evening before church to read and discuss the Gospel reading for that Sunday.
  • Getting out the door with children ready and on time for church will rarely be less than hectic, but you can use the ride or walk to church as a time to calm things down. This is also a good time to talk about something you hope your child will attend to during the Divine Liturgy, such as the Gospel, the feast day, or a particular prayer.
  • Try not to bring toys to church that are stimulating to your infant or toddler. Children can learn from the youngest age that church is a needed place for calmness and meditation.
  • Don’t hide in the back or the “cry room,” if your church has one. Sit near the front, where your child can see what is happening.
  • However, if your church does have a “cry room” with a good view of the altar, sometimes you can use it as a place to talk to your child about what is happening during the Divine Liturgy, without distracting others.
  • One of the first things even a toddler can learn is the proper way to bless him/herself when being blessed by the priest. A way to periodically bring a child’s attention back to the altar is to whisper, at the appropriate moments, something like, “Get ready, Father’s going to turn around and bless you.”
  • Children might respond to moments in church in flamboyant but positive ways (pretending to conduct the singing, imitating a movement of the priest, singing enthusiastically, etc.). Do not automatically stifle what might be a child’s expression of joy or connection with God.
  • If your child’s behavior becomes an uncontrollable and prolonged distraction to others during church, calmly try going to the back together, then outside if necessary. Do not consider it a failure if you must take your child out of church.
  • Do not avoid going to church with your child just because you are nervous about your child’s behavior. Try to look for progress in being able to stay a little longer as weeks go by.
  • After church, do something pleasant together (even something simple at home) to reward your child and help him/her associate Sunday and church with good feelings.
  • Look for simple opportunities outside of church time for your child to get together with other parish children. The basic concept of fellowship reinforces the idea that they are part of a parish family.
  • Be open to advice from other parents and clergy whom you consider to be good with young people.
  • Continue to learn about our faith and practices, showing your child that spiritual growth is a lifelong process. Do not be afraid to ask your priest questions about things you want to learn about.
  • Do not hope for perfection from your child or from yourself.

In our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches you will see many icons on the iconostasis, or icon screen. Icons are images of God and holy people. They are not supposed to look exactly like the person. They are supposed to look more mysterious to help you feel close to their souls. The icon screen separates the nave of the church (where the people sit) from the altar (where the priest and altar boys are). The icon screen reminds us that all the holy people and holy events in the icons connect us to God and to heaven. How many icons can you count on the icon screen? Can you recognize baby Jesus in any icons? How about His mother, Mary?

There are two small doors on the sides of the iconostasis. These are called the deacon doors. A deacon is a close assistant to a priest. (Most churches today do not have a deacon.) The priest, the deacon, the altar boys and regular people use the deacon doors. At the middle of the iconostasis are the royal doors. Only the priest and the deacon use the royal doors. Look at the royal doors in your church. Is there a big crown at the top of them when they are closed? There are also four special icons on the royal doors. They are of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We call these four saints “the Evangelists.” They told the world the story of Jesus Christ by writing the Gospels.

The Divine Liturgy is what we call going to church or to mass. Before the Divine Liturgy begins, the priest goes to the prothesis. The prothesis is a table behind the iconostasis and to the left, where the priest gets the chalice and other holy things ready. Maybe you can see the priest there before he opens the royal doors. When your priest opens the royal doors at the beginning of church, make sure you stand up and bless yourself with everyone else.

During the Divine Liturgy, the church becomes the kingdom of heaven for us. The things that we do during this time, like the praying, the singing and the incense (holy smoke) all are supposed to make us feel like heaven has come down to us for a while.

The Liturgy begins with a litany, and there are a few other litanies later on, too. This is when the priest says what we are praying for and we say “Lord have mercy” again and again. Whether it is in English or another language, join in and say or sing these words with everybody. During the litanies, the priest is asking us to pray with him, and we must do our part. When you are able to read well, ask your parents to borrow one of the Divine Liturgy books. Then you can take a good look at home at the many different things we pray about during the different litanies.

At a few times during the Liturgy the priest will turn around and bless everyone. Usually he will say “peace be with you” when he blesses everyone with his hand. Try to be ready for when he does this, and always bless yourself silently whenever he blesses you. Maybe you can ask a grownup ahead of time to let you know when he is about to give a blessing. Remember to bless yourself with the three fingers as you were taught, and to go from right to left. (Roman Catholics go from left to right.)

The little entrance is the part when the priest and the altar boys come out through the deacon doors while the priest is holding up the Gospel Book. The Gospel is made up of four books (called Gospels) written by four of Jesus’ first followers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). These four Gospels tell all about what Jesus did, what He said, and what He taught us. Just like the priest and altar boys come out to us, the little entrance reminds us that God sent Jesus out to us, to give us God’s word. What does the Gospel Book in your church look like?

Most of the things we say during the liturgy are the same each time. There are a few things that change each week. These are special readings that are taken from the Bible. These readings and little prayers usually have something to do with the ideas the priest will read about from the Gospel. The readings include the tropar, kondak, and epistle, and they might be printed in your church bulletin each week so the people can follow along. Before or after church you can ask a grownup what the readings were about that day.

When everybody says or sings Holy God, in English or another language, say it or sing it along with everyone. This is the Trisagion Hymn, or Thrice Holy Hymn. It is such an important hymn that even the angels constantly sing it for God! It is a great hymn to sing for your prayers at home, too. Talk about what the words mean. Each time we say “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us” you should silently bless yourself. We also bless ourselves during the “Glory be…”

Join in with everyone when they sing or say “Alleluia” three times. This is when the priest gets ready to read from the Holy Gospel. Try to see if you can understand some of what the Gospel is about. Stand up straight and still during the Gospel reading. Think of a question you can ask about the Gospel. After church you can ask a grownup.

After the Gospel, everyone usually sits and listens to the sermon or homily. This is when the priest talks to everyone about the readings for the day and what we can learn from the readings. You should try to listen to the sermon. Sometimes it may be hard for you to understand. You should try not to distract other people during the sermon, even if you cannot pay attention. Make a plan with your parents about what you should do during the sermon.

When the sermon is over we have another litany. Then we sing the Cherubic Hymn, in English or another language. A cherubim is a type of angel, and in the Cherubic Hymn we join in with the angels to start the holiest part of the Divine Liturgy. We are getting ready for Holy Communion. The Cherubic Hymn helps us forget about anything outside of church (like school and playing). We clear our minds out so we can welcome God into us 100 percent. What do you think it would be like to have angels coming into the church to welcome God?

We continue to get ready for Holy Communion with the Great Entrance. This is when the priest and altar boys come out through the deacon doors again. This time the priest is holding up the chalice. The chalice will be used later for Holy Communion. The Great Entrance reminds us that Jesus came to us not only to give us God’s word but also give Himself to us. What does the chalice in your church look like?

Soon everyone stands to say the Nicene Creed. “Creed” means what you believe. The Nicene Creed is named after the place (Nicea) where it was written. It was written over 1,500 years ago by a group of Church leaders who got together from all different places. They had to get everybody straightened out on what we believe about God, the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). During the Nicene Creed, watch the priest to see how he waves a special cloth. This reminds us that so much about God is mysterious. Right before the Nicene Creed the priest says “The doors! The doors!” This comes from the early days of the Church. Back then it was it was a punishable offense to be Christian and believe in Jesus! Someone in church would be sent to stand guard at the doors when everyone said the Nicene Creed, to make sure no intruders came in or listened outside. For many years after that, catechumens (people who did not yet receive Communion) exited before the Nicene Creed. It shows you how important the Nicene Creed is. Each time you go to church, try to understand one new part of the Nicene Creed.

During “Holy, Holy, Holy” we all kneel. (During a few weeks of the year we stand instead of kneeling.) At this part of the liturgy we praise God along with the priest. Then the priest asks God to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or Holy Communion. We call this the Consecration. This was first done by Jesus Himself at the last supper He ever had with his friends. Jesus’ best friends were called “the apostles.” Jesus told His apostles that He would sacrifice His life for all people so that we could go to heaven one day. When Jesus gave the apostles the first Holy Communion, He said to “do this in memory of Me,” so we still do this today.

You know the Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father. Stand up along with everyone when they sing or say the Our Father. If they do not do the Our Father in English in your church and you do not know how to say it in the other language, say it quietly in English for yourself. We do not say “amen” at the end like you do at home and in class. We say the “amen” after the priest adds on the final part of the prayer.

The Communion Prayer is said by everyone together just before Holy Communion. Until you learn this prayer you can listen or follow along in your liturgy book. The Communion Prayer is another creed, or statement of our belief. It also has two small prayers in it that go back to Jesus’ time on earth about 2,000 years ago. One of these prayers begins with “Remember me, Lord..,” and it was first said by a thief! The other short prayer begins with “God, be merciful to me, a sinner…,” and it was first said by a tax collector in a story Jesus told his followers. When you go to receive Holy Communion, walk up in line quietly with your hands crossed over your chest. The priest says “with fear of God and faith approach,” which means we should walk up in a very respectful way. When you return to your seat, kneel and say a prayer quietly until the priest has put the chalice away. (During a few weeks in the year we stand instead of kneeling.)

The Divine Liturgy ends with the priest giving everyone a big final blessing. Bow your head and bless yourself when he blesses everyone. Then the people may say extra prayers or sing. Before you leave church ask God to help you do your best to pray each day and to do the kinds of things Jesus would do.

A Few Words About Old Church Slavonic

Although it is the root language of many of today’s Slavic languages, Old Church Slavonic has not really been a spoken language for about 1,000 years. “Our people” no longer speak Slavonic outside of worship, but it is as special to our religious culture as Latin is to the Roman Catholic Church. When, in 860, the missionaries Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius brought Christianity to the Slav people, they integrated the vernacular language into Christian worship, whereas before then the language of Constantinople and the Byzantine Church had been classical Greek. The incorporation of the Slavonic language gave rise to the Byzantine Slavonic Church, and it also provided a model for missionaries to use the vernacular and culture of a people. Today, we use English more and more in the Divine Liturgy, which makes sense for most families; even so, we need to pass on some appreciation of Slavonic to the children. Here are some Slavonic terms that children often hear in church. The purpose of presenting these is just to get them familiar with what they are hearing so that they can participate. This list can also serve as a Slavonic survival guide for parents who were not raised in a Byzantine Slavonic Church or never were taught before:

  • Isusu Khristu: Jesus Christ
  • Voskresiy, voskres, voskrese (and similar words): risen
  • Hvalee, hvalite: praise
  • Boh, Boha, Bozhe:God
  • Slava, slavu: glory (not to be confused with slove…:word)
  • Otsa, Otsu, Otche: father
  • Svyat, svyatiy, svyatoho: holy
  • Dukhu, duhovi, duha: spirit
  • Hospod, Hospodi:Lord
  • Miluy, milost: mercy
  • Sinu, sine, sin: son
  • Bezsmertniy, bezsmerten: immortal (smert, smertiy, mertvich.. means death)
  • Bohoroditsi: God-bearer (the Mother of God)
  • Spase, spasa, spasi: savior, save
  • Mir, mira: peace
  • Blahosloven, blahoslovi: blessed, bless
  • Nebesee, nebes, nebesa: heaven
  • Zemlya, zemlee: earth
  • Yedin, yedino: one
  • Zhivot: life
  • Imya: name
  • Nash, nasha: our
  • Tvoye, tvoyemu: your
  • Molitvami: prayers
  • Prisno deevi: ever-virgin
  • Rozhden, rodniy, razhdayetsya: born, begotten
  • Dai, dazh: give, grant
  • Nebesi, nebesa: heaven