by the Very Reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier"UNDERSTANDING THE DIVINE LITURGY"(A Guide For Participating In The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom)
In order to participate in the entirety of what Christ has done on our behalf, and in order to fully carry out Christ’s command, “Do this in memory of me,” the priest recites a prayer called the anamnesis, the “commemoration.” The celebrant remembers the Lord’s crucifixion, entombment, resurrection on the third day, his enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and his “second and glorious coming.” The fact that Christ’s Second Coming is “remembered” highlights an interesting aspect of the Eastern Liturgy: there is no past, present or future. We have been elevated outside of time. In the Liturgy time and space are obliterated because, in the presence of Christ, we are in the presence of the Eternal and the Infinite.
The priest (or deacon) then takes the Diskos in his right hand and the Chalice in his left. With his right forearm over his left one, forming a cross, he elevates the gifts over the antimension and he makes the sign of the cross. He then lowers the gifts on to the antimension, offering to God gifts from God's own gifts to us. After praying quietly “for those things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious coming,” the priest concludes the sentence out loud: “...offering to You these gifts from Your own gifts, in all and for all.”189
The first part of the offering, “offering to You these gifts from Your own gifts,” has its origins in Hebrew prayers. When King David, for example, was taking offerings for the building of the Temple, he blessed the Lord, saying, “For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You.”190 Among the early Christians, who were likely inspired by David’s prayer, similar phrases are found on foundation stones of churches, shrines and memorials. When the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was built by Emperor Justinian (527-565), he had etched on the altar, “O Christ, Your servants Justinian and Theodora [the Empress] offer You Your gifts from Your own gifts.” Justinian was probably echoing the Liturgy, which no doubt already contained the offering, “these gifts from Your own gifts.”
Thus becoming eye-witnesses of the mysteries of God and partakers of eternal life, sharing in the divine nature, we glorify the Mystery of Christ’s love for us: “We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, O Lord our God.”
The priest then asks God to accomplish the Mystery His Son gave to His Church, that the bread and wine be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ our God. Known as the epiclesis, it is the prayer whereby the celebrant entreats God to send down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts and the people. The Holy Spirit, invisibly present by the good-will of the Father, changes the holy gifts which are set forth into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It was to give us this eucharistic Mystery that the Lord came into the world: “For their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified,”191 and, “I am the bread of life...This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat it and not die....He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”192
The Orthodox don’t believe the change of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ occurs at the words of Institution, “This is my body, etc.” Jesus said a blessing over the bread at the Last Supper before breaking it,193 leading Orthodox liturgists to the conclusion that the change occurred at Jesus’ prayer rather than afterwards at the declaration, “This is my body,...This is my blood.” It seems unthinkable that the bread would be first broken, a liturgical act known as the fracture, and then changed into the Body of Christ. The normal order is to effect the change and then to break the Body, symbolizing the sacrifice: “Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you.”194
The idea of a consecratory “formula” (i.e., like, “This is my body, etc.”) was a preoccupation of the Scholastic theology which developed in the West at the height of the Middle Ages. At this time in Western Church history there was a need to stress the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament against those who were challenging it. In reaction to this, there arose the desire to pinpoint the exact moment in which the change occurred. Thus it was decided that before Christ’s words of Institution are spoken by the priest, the gifts are merely bread and wine; afterwards, the gifts become the very Body and Blood of Christ.
The Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accidents” were employed in the West to describe the phenomenon and the whole process was dubbed “transubstantiation.” One of the unfortunate results of this approach has been to render the other elements of the Liturgy nearly meaningless. While any particular liturgical detail may have a certain functional, illustrative or pedagogic value, they aren’t seen as necessary for the “efficacy” of the Eucharist. Consequently, Western liturgists have felt free to run rampant in reforming their Latin Mass, adding, deleting and re-arranging elements at a whim in order to make it “relevant” to the contemporary world. While some Scholastic terminology, like the word transubstantiation itself, has in the past crept into some Orthodox theological text-books under Western influence, this whole approach to the Mystery of the Eucharist is quite alien to Orthodoxy. It should be stressed here that Orthodoxy doesn’t hold that the epiclesis is a consecratory formula like Roman Catholics believe the words of Institution are a consecratory formula. Perhaps the best way to describe the Orthodox understanding of the role of the epiclesis is to say that the epiclesis is the “climax” of the Anaphora. While the epiclesis is important, it does not detract from the importance of the rest of the Liturgy. The presence of such an invocation of the Holy Spirit in the ancient Christian Liturgy is a controversial one among liturgists. Toward the end of the second century, Hippolytus of Rome gives the text of the epiclesis as known in his day: “And we pray You that You would send Your Holy Spirit upon the oblation of Your holy Church; [and that] You would grant to all [Your saints] who partake to be united [to You], that they may be fulfilled with the Holy Spirit for the confirmation of [their] faith in truth.”195 Here the Holy Spirit is asked to come upon the oblation and upon all gathered to celebrate. We find the epiclesis is fully developed by the time of Cyril of Jerusalem. Writing in the fourth century, in the midst of the controversy over the nature of the Holy Spirit which was then rocking the Church, Cyril is very explicit about the role of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis: “Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual hymns [“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth”], we call upon the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Spirit has touched, is sanctified and changed.”196
We have seen that the transformation of the bread and wine is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power from on high that transformed a group of simple fishermen into Apostles. The Holy Spirit which descended in tongues of fire at Pentecost has never forsaken the Church. The Spirit created the Church, is presently with the Church, and will remain with the Church until the end.
Moreover, the Lord Himself promised to be with us, even to the end of the world.197 This “presence” of the Lord Jesus is achieved in the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit effects the great and holy Mystery, making the Son present under the appearance of bread and wine. And as the Mystery is accomplished by the will of the Father, the sacramental presence is truly Trinitarian.
The priest blesses the holy bread, saying the following epiclesis: “And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ...”
Then he blesses the holy Chalice: “...and that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ...”
And making the sign of the cross over the gifts, he says: “...changing them by Your Holy Spirit; amen, amen, amen.”
In a low voice, the priest prays for those who will partake of the Mysteries. He prays that our Communion in the Eucharist may bring a cleansing of our souls, forgiveness of sins, the communion of the Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, and boldness before God. Remembering Paul’s warning that those who partake unworthily are guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord,198 the priest asks that our Communion may not be for judgment or condemnation.199
Then the priest remembers both the living and those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. The Holy Spirit calls all to the unity of Christ, and will continue to call us to unity until the Second Coming of the Lord to judge the living and the dead. In the priest’s prayer, the souls of departed Christians are called to assemble with the prophets, apostles, and priests, who are even now reclining with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the mystical banquet in Christ’s kingdom. When talking about prayers for the departed, it is important to bear in mind that there is only one Church, one bride of the heavenly Bridegroom Who is Jesus Christ our Lord. And as our Lord is a strict monogamist, there will never be more than one Church. Thus there aren’t two Churches, one on earth and another in heaven, completely separated by the yawning chasm of death.
To switch metaphors, the Body of Christ “is one though it has many parts,”200 and Christians don’t become amputated from the Body simply because they die. Christ has trampled down death, and so the saints on earth are in communion with the heavenly, glorified saints, thus forming one Church. The Church is one by being “in Christ” and so all of us who are “in Christ” are able to pray for each other. Thus there is a union of all who share in the life of Christ, whether on earth or in the kingdom of heaven. The priest finishes his prayer by commemorating out loud the Mother of God and the whole assembly of the saints. The saints prompt the Church to give thanks to God because their glorification is the assurance of our own eventual glorification. As the saints have already received the fullness of what we ask for in the Liturgy, the priest asks that he may be assisted by their prayers.
The commemoration of the Theotokos is spoken aloud by the priest: “Especially our most holy, pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.” To which the people respond with a well-loved hymn called the Megalynarion: “It is truly right to call you blessed, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word. Truly the Theotokos, we magnify you.”
The origin of the Megalynarion is unknown. Legend has it that it originated on Mount Athos in Greece during the tenth century when the archangel Gabriel appeared before an icon of the Theotokos known as, “The Loving Icon.” He then sang the hymn we know today as the Megalynarion, and the name of the icon was promptly changed to, “It Is Truly Right Icon.” However, the evidence suggests that the Megalynarion appeared even earlier, likely during the sixth century. No doubt some would look upon this hymn as heaping far too much glory upon the Virgin Mary. But the hymn itself contains its own justification: we honor Mary because she bore God the Word and is in consequence “truly Theotokos,” the “God-bearer.” In other words, we are merely imitating God by honoring Mary, for God paid Mary the highest honor He could pay to any created being, human or angelic. She was privileged to literally bear the Second Person of the Trinity in her own body and, when Christ was born, to care for Him as a child. Could we in a mere hymn pay Mary any higher honor than that which God has already paid her?
Next, the priest asks for the salvation of “all humanity.” The list of those commemorated can be divided into three groups. First, the priest makes supplication for the Church hierarchy. Second, he prays for the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church everywhere, and for all those in public service that they may serve and govern in peace. This is in accordance with the Apostle’s instructions that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all in authority.”201 Finally, the priest prays for the local church and for the community in which it is located, for the sick, the suffering, the captive, and for those traveling. The prayer is of a supplicatory nature, but it is also an act of thanksgiving, for it implies that God is our supreme Benefactor.
At this point in the Liturgy, the gifts have been received at the heavenly altar of God as an offering and a spiritual fragrance; they in return bear divine grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are now called “sanctified” since they can now impart this sanctification to us. To receive this sanctification, we must not approach the gifts as “individuals,” but corporately as the Church. We are the Body of Christ partaking of the Body of Christ. It will be recalled that immediately after instituting the Eucharist, the Lord Himself prayed for those of His Church, “that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me”202
Having this need for Christian unity in mind, the priest prays aloud: “And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify203 and praise Your most honorable and majestic name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.”
With the end of the Commemorations also ends the Anaphora. The Anaphora has preserved its form, with only insignificant changes, since the fourth century. This can readily be seen from reading such ancient liturgies as the one found in the Apostolic Constitutions.
After the Anaphora follows what is called the Litany of Supplication as a preparation for holy Communion. It is composed of twelve petitions, the first being not so much a “petition” as an exhortation to earnest prayer. After the twelve petitions, the priests adds one last request: “And make us worthy, Master, that with boldness and without condemnation, to dare call You, the heavenly God, Father, and to say...”
189 The Greek idiomatic expression, “in all and for the sake of all,” ought to be translated, “always and everywhere.”
190 1 Chronicles 29:14. 191 John 17:19.
192 John 6:48-56.
193 Cf. Matthew 26:26.
194 1 Corinthians 11:24. 195 Hippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition, 3:4. Emphasis added.
196 Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catecheses, 5:7.
197 Matthew 28:20. 198 1 Corinthians 11:27.
199 1 Corinthians 11:34. 200 1 Corinthians 12:12. 201 1 Timothy 2:2. 202 John 17:21.
203 Cf. Romans 15:6.
Page created: 24-12-2012.
Last update: 24-12-2012.