Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts,
heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.
from Common Worship Holy Communion: Order
AN ENGLISHMAN on holiday in Greece decided to attend the liturgy
at the local village church. The tiny building was packed with a
crowd of worshippers, who came and went as they pleased, lighting
candles before the icons, crossing themselves, and murmuring their
Against this background of continuous disturbance, the liturgy
unfolded her mystery - slowly, solemnly, magnificently.
Suddenly, the Englishman felt someone pulling his sleeve. He
turned to find a man holding a basket. Would he like to buy some
onions? No, no, thank you. Why not? Was there anything wrong with
the onions - perhaps they were bad onions? No, no, they were
excellent onions, but not now - perhaps after the liturgy.
"After the liturgy?" the Greek replied. "After the liturgy? But
the liturgy" - and his look embraced the whole scene: the priest,
the candles, the vestments, the incense, the music, and the
murmuring congregation - "the liturgy is eternal."
At the eucharist, we sing the words that since earliest times
have introduced Christians to the central mystery of worship - what
the onion-seller understood as the eternal liturgy:
Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company
of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising
thee and saying, Holy, holy, holy . . .
The praise which we give, we do not initiate. Before we enter
church, the cherubim and burning seraphim, those great sentinels of
heaven, are already singing alleluias. That is the sound that
Isaiah heard when he saw "the Lord, high and lifted up" in the
Temple (Isaiah 6).
John, too, heard it in his vision of heaven (Revelation 7). It
has reverberated down the centuries in both Jewish, and, later,
Christian worship in Temple, synagogue, cathedral, church, and
It began before the introit, and it continues after we return
home to prepare the vegetables, or read the papers, or wash the
After the service, the congregation chats. In Greece, the young
men light their pungent cigarettes. The onion-seller persists. A
continent away, outside a village church in Sussex, they talk about
the weather, and the fête next week, as the sidesmen count the
collection and the churchwarden puts away the sacred vessels.
We measure out our daily lives. Breakfast, lunch, tea, supper.
Today, the golf course; tomorrow, the office; one day, the
hospital. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. The planet turns - to
some, a world laid waste by sinful humankind; to others, a land of
delight and God's redeeming.
Yet always, beneath the surface restlessness of our daily lives,
the getting and the spending, the arrivals and departures, there
lies that other continuum of being where the eternal liturgy
unfolds her mystery, slowly, solemnly, and magnificently; and the
angels sing "Holy, holy, holy."
The Revd Adrian Leak was, until his recent retirement,
Priest-in-Charge of Withyham in the diocese of Chichester.