Silence is not only a question for our personal prayer lives, but also for our liturgical experiences as well. We do not often consider the importance of silence in the liturgy, but it is a very key consideration. Since the word “liturgy” comes from a Greek word “leitourgia” which means “public work” and has also been translated as “people’s work,” it seems logical that liturgy should be busy, full of people working; and it is. The congregation has their part, the priest has his part, and it builds from the beginning with something constantly happening. You may ask how anyone can experience any silence at all with all that is going on. That is one of the beautiful characteristics of the liturgy. Even though there is usually something happening all the time, there are moments where we can all experience a bit of silence. In fact, the celebrant is often engaged in prayers silently during the Holy Qurbono. Silent prayer in one’s private prayer life and silence in the liturgy can be, and often are, two different things. They should be appreciated and experienced as such.
For an Orthodox Christian the Liturgy is ‘Heaven on Earth’ and as one participates in the Eucharistic liturgy one experiences a profound peace; a true silence in the soul. In silence, we journey toward God, becoming aware of His presence, leaving behind all the cares of this world. In silence we prepare the gifts, and encounter God in communion. The beauty of the Holy Qurbono is that it lifts us up out of our narrow sphere and lets us have a glimpse of the glory of God.
The Eucharistic liturgy allows us to participate in that greater world that is God’s Kingdom. And what do you do when you come before a king? You become silent. That is why we hear in the divine liturgy the deacon asking the congregation at various times to attend in silence and reverence, to stand well and in awe at the Liturgy. During the Liturgy, we need to be able to “tune out” everything else that is going on and feel as though it’s just us alone with Christ in this Holy Mystery. If we choose to experience silence in the liturgy, it provides a profound spiritual connection with Christ that will grow in us.
Silence is the perfect statement of faith. It is the perfect prayer. Silence allows a connection to God beyond what words can express. It is a special gift to us if we will only cultivate it and use it. Silence allows us to allow God to reach out to us and hold us in His arms. Silence is that perfect path to peace in Him. “For God is silence, and in silence is he sung by means of that psalmody which is worthy of Him. I am not speaking of the silence of the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without knowing how to sing in mind and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied and becomes filled with evil thoughts: … There is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence of the spirit.” It is in profound silence that we truly experience God and it is in silence that our hearts become attentive to the voice of God.
1. Esther Stern, Just One Word, (New York, 2004), pp. 16 – 24.
2. Metropolitan Hilarion, “Prayer and Silence” in http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Hilarion-Prayer-And-Silence.php.
3. Sebastian Brock, The Wisdom of Isaac of Nineveh, (New Jersey, 2003), pp. 54 – 59.
4. Sr. Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, (Cistercian Studies 59, Kalamazoo, 1975), pp. 153-155.
5. St. John of the Cross, Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, (Washington, DC, 1991), pp. 45 – 50.
7. Catherine Doherty, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer, (Madonna Publishing House, 2000).
8. Kyriacos Markides, The Mountain of Silence, (New York, 2002), pp. 35 – 40.
9. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Power of the Name, The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford, 1991), p.1.
10. Igumen Hariton of Valamo, The Art of Prayer: An Anthology, (London, 1997), pp. 25 – 28.
11. Lawrence Farley, Let Us Attend, A Journey Through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, (California, 1997).
12. John the Solitary, The Syrian Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, (Cistercian Studies 101; Kalamazoo, 1987).