In ancient Athens there was no such thing as taxation. There was no income tax, no capital gains tax, no value added tax, no inheritance tax – no tax at all, at least as we know it. I know it all sounds too good to be true, because even Utopians need roads and bridges, civic buildings and public amenities. They need to protect themselves too and armies and navies don’t pay for themselves. So how did they do it?
They invented a unique method of public service that expected every citizen to be responsible for financing one major public work once in their lifetime. It may be erecting a statue, building a temple or equipping a battle ship to defend their shores. When they’d done that they’d be free of any other financial responsibility for life. Now this act of public service performed by one person for the benefit of the whole community was called his ‘liturgy’.
So when Greek converts were told what Christ had done, they said that was the greatest ‘liturgy’ that anyone had ever performed. It was the greatest act of public service performed by one person for the good of all humanity. It wasn’t just something that was done in the past, but something that is continually being done in the present, so that all who believe in him can join him now in offering themselves, in with and through him to the Father, to share in the love that the Father endlessly showers on his son.
It is the greatest public act that has ever been performed, because it could not only change a person’s life permanently for the better, but the life of all humanity, if they only realised it. Although Jesus is no longer physically present, as he was while he was on earth, he is nevertheless still present now to all believers though signs and symbols, rites and rituals all bound together and set in the sacred scriptures as jewels are set in gold. This is what came to be called the liturgy. It is primarily through this Christian liturgy that Jesus remains with his people, as he promised, to the end of time. It is through it that Christ, relentlessly re-enacts the greatest public service ever performed, so that all who choose, can participate in it with him.
Every sign, every symbol, every rite and every ritual were called mystical by the Fathers of the Church, and so was the prayerful reading of the sacred scriptures. They were called mystical, because they were the means by which Christians could enter into the mystical or hidden life that fully penetrated Jesus on the first Easter day. They led them on and into the Mysterion, the spiritual kingdom of love, where, in with and through Christ, they could experience the joy of giving and receiving the love for which they were created.