In my early experiences of the Byzantine tradition I struggled to find God in our liturgies. He might have been present in the Liturgy but all I cared about was getting to the Eucharist. I understood the need for the ritualistic symbolism that is found in our liturgies but I could not connect with it. In my case, I was heavily influenced by a piety found in the Roman Catholic tradition that is intensely focused on the Eucharist. Not that such piety is a bad thing but in my case the Eucharist became my only means to encounter the fullness of God.
Perhaps the piety I experienced is the result of the reformation era for it seeks to reinforce the concept of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If I had to guess, I believe this piety is common among the people in our churches. For example, we may not have trouble with people coming to a Sunday Liturgy but any other liturgical service without a Eucharist is not met with similar devotion. I have even at times witnessed people leaving after they receive the Eucharist, as if the rest of the Liturgy did not matter. I can’t speak for others in this regard but that was how I would think. Fortunately, after having a conversation with my pastor many years ago I was liberated from that thinking. He told me that in the Divine Liturgy Christ is fully present and becomes most present at the Eucharist. This helped me to understand that I can encounter God fully in every part of our liturgical tradition.
The Liturgy is our living Tradition, it is divine revelation, and the way God has chosen to come down to our earthly level in order to raise us up to his own. There might be different aspects of divine revelation in our liturgies but the same experience of God is in every part of it. When the day of judgment comes for us we will discover that God didn’t hold any of what he is back from us in our liturgies. He will be just as present to us then as he is now. As soon as we began to participate in any aspect of our liturgical tradition we will encounter God. He can be found through the incense, the chant, the words, and every symbol. Our liturgical traditions in the fullest sense becomes a way for us to experience God.
The liturgical traditions we celebrate are the icons of the Kingdom of Heaven. As he will continue to do in the future Kingdom God now invites us into an eternal participation of what He is. Based on this I am bold to say that if you go to Vespers you get 100% God. If you go to 3rd hour you get 100% God. If you got to that panachida service its 100% God. The deepest expression of God’s intimacy might solely be expressed by the Eucharist but everything else in our liturgies facilitates and enhances that intimacy. Next time you participate in a liturgical service I encourage you to be open to the experience God wishes to share with you.