Fr Thomas Hopko: Is Your Preaching a Sacramental Act?

Feast of Sts Amplias, Apelles, Stachys, Urban, Aristobulus & Narcissus of the 70

Hopko_Square_1.jpegTHE TASK of the preacher at a liturgical service is to deliver the message that God speaks through His risen Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power to the specific gathering in that time and place. The homily at a Divine Liturgy, vespers, matins, baptism, ordination, marriage, unction service, funeral, or special service of prayer is spoken and heard only once. It is a unique word of God that has never been spoken or heard before and will never be spoken and heard again.

The liturgical sermon is normally delivered by the head of the gathered church community who is formally responsible for the preaching of God’s Word. If it is not the bishop or presbyter himself who is preaching, the sermon must be delivered by someone whom he appoints and for whose words he is accountable to God and the people. Any baptized man or woman capable of preaching may, in principle, give the homily.

The liturgical sermon is preached from a “high place,” from the ambo or pulpit. This shows without any doubt that what is being preached is the Word of God and not the opinion of human beings. The homily follows the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the proclamation of the gospel, which are also read from a “high place.” The liturgical homily is not preached at another time or place during the service. Nor is it to be preached when the service is over. It is not mixed together with other words, such as announcements or personal remarks. It is not done while standing or walking about in a casual or conversational manner. It is not done from the floor of the nave, except when practical purposes may require it, for example because of acoustics.

Preaching God’s Word is a sacramental act. It is an essential element in the liturgical action of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. When the bishop or priest, or the faithful person whom he appoints to the task, stands to deliver the liturgical sermon, it is truly “time for the Lord to act” (Ps. 119.126). There is no Christian liturgy without the proclamation of God’s Word. Believing Christians, with catechumens and other good-willed persons, may have communion with God through His Word without participating in the Lord’s mystical supper, but they are not to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion without first communing with God in His divine Word: the way to the altar table is always by way of the ambo or pulpit. The condition for Holy Communion with the Lamb of God and the Bread of Life is obedience to the Word of God, all of which are the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

The liturgical sermon, therefore, is not missionary evangelizing, catechetical teaching, biblical exegesis, theological instruction, spiritual direction, or pastoral counseling, though it must be connected to these inspired tasks. It is also not a sharing of thoughts, opinions and experiences, or an offering of food for thought and discussion. It is most certainly not the preacher’s time for baring his soul, sharing his troubles, revealing his burdens, grinding his axes, or taking vengeance on his enemies.

—Fr Thomas Hopko, On Preaching in Church

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