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)
The Anaphora, also known as the Eucharistic Prayer, is the heart of the Liturgy. The word “anaphora” is from the Greek verb anapherein, and is found frequently in the Bible where it has the sense of “offering a sacrifice.”164 It also is used in the sense of being “taken up,” as when Jesus took Peter, James and John and “led them up (anapherei autous) a high mountain,” where He was then transfigured before them.165 Interestingly, it can also be used in the sense of “to impose a burden,” as when the prophet says the Lord “shall bear their sins.”166 In the Anaphora, Christ leads us up the mountain where we behold His glory and offer up the eucharistic sacrifice for the burden of our sins.
After the Creed, the deacon cries out: “Let us stand aright; let us stand in awe; let us attend, that we may present the holy offering in peace.”
Through the deacon’s admonition, “Let us stand aright; let us stand in awe,” we are asked to stand firm in the Creed and not to be thrown off balance by the persuasive arguments of heretics. Then he asks us to stand in awe of the Lord so that the perils of entertaining doubt or hesitation on matters of Faith may be realized by all.
Peace must be a part of every offering to the Lord. Therefore the deacon adds: “Let us attend, that we may present the holy offering in peace.” Along with peace, we must also offer mercy, for the Lord says, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”167
Mercy is the fruit of true peace. Therefore the people proclaim: “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.”
Mercy, peace and praise are three types of Old Testament sacrifices which are now fulfilled in Christ. When our soul rests in Christ, it is naturally filled with mercy, peace and joyful praise.
The deacon’s admonition to stand was originally a mere rubric. In the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions, the deacon’s command reveals its practical nature: “Let the mothers take their children in hand. Let no one have anything against anyone; let no one remain here in hypocrisy. Let us stand up straight before the Lord with fear and trembling to offer [the holy oblation].”168 This practical command became an admonition and a fixed part of the text, appearing as it now stands in the Liturgy around the eighth century. As such, a response to the deacon’s admonition developed: “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” This response did not, however, immediately appear in its present form. There were originally many versions appearing around the eighth century: “Mercy, peace;” “Mercy and peace and the sacrifice of praise;” and so forth.
After the people’s response to the deacon, the priest wishes us the greatest of all blessings: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”169
This prayer procures for us the benefits of the Holy Trinity, the font of every perfect gift, asking from each of the Divine Persons His own special gift: From the Father, we ask for agape, love. The apostle John wrote, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”170 As it is written, “every good gift and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.”171
From the Son, we ask for charis, grace. The grace of the Son is the love of the Father actualized in the world, as John said above. To be filled with grace is to be filled with divine life, which is love itself. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”172 From the Spirit, we ask for koinonia, that is, communion and fellowship. We receive the love of the Father through the grace of the Son and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. It is thus, in the words of the apostle Peter, that we “participate (koinonia) in the divine nature.”173 In the Holy Spirit we enter into relationship with the Father, rendering love complete in the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
The people return the priest’s blessing that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with them all, saying: “And with your spirit.”
Then the priest begins to lead everyone to the heavenly Jerusalem on top of the heavenly Zion. Calling all to be heavenly-minded, he exclaims: “Let us lift up our hearts!” This is taken from the prophet Jeremiah, “Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”174
We then give our consent, saying that our hearts are where our treasure is, that is, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we declare: “We lift them up to the Lord!”
Nothing remains but to give thanks to God, the Author of all good things. As we have already observed, the very word eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Consequently it is fitting, before the great prayer in which the holy offerings will be consecrated, that the celebrant leads us in an act of thanksgiving, saying: “Let us give thanks to the Lord.”
We affirm the appropriateness of giving thanks to the Holy Trinity: “It is proper and right to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.”
At the same time the priest prays silently to the Holy Trinity, who he addresses as “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same.” In this prayer, the priest is initiated into the very splendor of the Trinity: The splendor of the Father, who is eternal and unbegotten; The splendor of the Son and Word, who is begotten without beginning; The splendor of the Holy Spirit, who is co-essential with the first two Persons of the Trinity, eternally proceeding from the Father.
The priest then thanks God for all blessings, either manifest or hidden, that have been granted to us. He also thanks God for the Liturgy which the Lord is pleased to accept from his hands. The priest is humbled that the Lord should accept such a simple offering, seeing that the heavenly throne is surrounded by thousands of angels rendering constant praise. The priest contemplates the glorification of the angelic powers and resolves to join in their unending hymn of praise; consequently, with the Cherubim and the Seraphim, he exclaims: “Singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying...”175
Then the people join the priest in singing: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Your glory; hosanna in the highest: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
While we shout the triple acclamation of, “Holy, holy, holy,” it is nevertheless understood that there is only one lordship, one power, and one divinity. It will be remembered that the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord on an exalted throne in mists of incense with the angelic powers surrounding Him crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”176 And “one of the seraphim flew to [the prophet], having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: `Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.’”177
The details in this passage from Isaiah are interpreted allegorically as the priest at the Holy Table holding in his hands the spiritual coal, the eucharistic Christ, sanctifying and purifying those who partake. For Christ has penetrated the heavens,178 and we have Him as an advocate before the Father, the one who forgives all our sins.179
The Faithful also shout, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Hebrew word hosanna, found only in Psalm 118:25 in the Old Testament, consists of the imperative hosa, “save,” followed by the participle na, meaning “we beseech.” Thus Psalm 118:25 is translated, “Save now, I pray, O Lord.” The word hosanna is therefore a cry for help from those in distress. In the Liturgy, hosanna is an admission of the wretched position our sins have placed us in; and at the same time it is an exclamation of trust that our God can save us if we beseech Him.
The phrase, “Hosanna in the highest!”, might mean that we are calling upon all the angelic hosts “in the highest” realms of heaven to assist us in crying to the Lord, “Save us now!” Or “in the highest” may mean, “to the utmost,” so that we are imploring God to perfect His salvation in us. Blessed be Jesus Christ who is about to come to us in the Eucharist to save all who partake!
After shouting, “hosanna,” the next thing the people shout in the Divine Liturgy is, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is also taken from Psalm 118, verse 26. This psalm is the final one of what is called the “Egyptian Hallel,” a series of psalms used by the Israelites during the great feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Psalm 118 was sung as part of a great procession into the Temple in Jerusalem, as seen by verse 27: “Yahweh is God and He has given us light; bind the festival sacrifice with cords on to the altar’s horns.” The word translated “festival” means “festal procession,” so the verse can also be translated as, “Begin the festal procession with branches as far as the altar’s horns.”
Thus Psalm 118 was originally part of a thanksgiving liturgy. The procession started outside the Temple gate by singing the first nineteen verses of the psalm; then, after exclaiming in verse 19, “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them and I will praise the Lord,” everyone proceeded into the Temple and sang the rest of the psalm in the court. Upon entering the Temple, the people sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then a thanksgiving offering was made. How appropriate, therefore, is the use of this psalm in the Divine Liturgy, when we celebrate the ultimate Passover after the procession of the Great Entrance. As we prepare to offer our eucharistic (thanksgiving) sacrifice, the Church welcomes everyone with this same psalm.
After singing the above verses from Psalm 118, the priest then says a silent prayer declaring each Person of the Trinity to be utterly holy. The prayer celebrates all that God in his unbounded love has done to save us. The priest cites John 3:16 to this effect: “Holy are You and most holy, and magnificent is Your glory: Who has so loved Your world as to give Your Only-begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Then, recalling how Christ “fulfilled all the divine plan” to accomplish our redemption, the prayer tells us about that night when the Lord celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples: On the night of His betrayal, the night before He gave Himself up for the life of the world, Christ took bread in His all-holy, pure, and blameless hands, and then gave thanks and praise. He sanctified it, broke it, and gave it to His holy disciples, saying: “Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
This is said aloud by the priest so that all may fully participate. It will be noted that the words which the priest utters is from 1 Corinthians 11:24 (“Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you.”) with the addition, “for the forgiveness of sins.” The addition has always been a normal feature of Eastern liturgies. In the Liturgy of Saint James, the oldest liturgy still in use, the words are, “This is my Body, which is broken for you and for many, and is given for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal.” The fourth century Apostolic Constitutions has: “This is the mystery of the New Testament, take of it and eat. This is my Body, which is broken for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”180
The reason for the addition may lie in the fact that, when Jesus took up the Chalice at the Last Supper, He said, “[T]his is My blood...which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”181 Since His Body just as much as His Blood was given “for the forgiveness of sins,” it is appropriate to say so in order to avoid any confusion on the matter.
The priest then says: “Likewise after supper He took the cup, saying...” And bowing his head while pointing to the Chalice, he recites the words of the Lord recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: “Drink of this, all of you: this is my Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”182
The Orthodox do not think of the Eucharist as a mere memorial in the sense of a sentimental journey down Memory Lane. The Eucharist is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover, when the Israelites were saved from Egypt by eating the Passover lamb. After this spectacular saving act of the Lord, the Jews were expected to celebrate the Passover annually on the 14th of the month of Nisan: “This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord -- a lasting ordinance.”183 The deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh was not to be viewed as an isolated instance of God saving one group of Israelites. The Passover was to forever be the heart of Jewish religious consciousness, and each new generation was to personally relive the divine intervention into human history, thus actually participating personally in the salvific act of God. The New Testament makes clear that the Passover was but a shadow of the reality to come. The Eucharist is the reality which cast that shadow. In the Eucharist, we participate in God’s saving act in the crucified Lamb, a salvation infinitely greater than that experienced by Israel in Egypt. Therefore the Apostle says, “For indeed Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast (i.e., the Eucharist).”184 Our Lord began His ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.”185 As none of us were there at the time, we plainly can’t remember our Lord’s sacrifice in the usual way we “remember” an event. Nor will it do to simply recall biblical texts about what He did for us. By commanding us to “remember” Him within the context of the Passover meal, Christ intends for us to remember Him by actually reliving His death and resurrection in the Eucharist. Holy Friday and Easter Sunday are not merely historical incidents which we only read about in the Gospels, they are what we are to personally experience at the sacramental “wedding supper of the Lamb.”186
Thus the Eucharist is not only a liturgical “memory aid” of Christ's sacrifice; it is the actual entrance into the kingdom of God, the actual deifying Body and Blood of the Lord. This is as the Lord taught: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day....He who eats this bread will live forever.”187
While we don’t know the method by which the change takes place, we do know that the Eucharist is the glorified Body of the resurrected Savior, deifying those who consume it in faith. The resurrection made the gift of Christ’s Body the gift of immortality. In the words of Saint Ignatius (110), the third bishop of Antioch after the apostle Peter, the Eucharist is “the medicine of immortality, the antidote that we should not die, but live forever in Jesus Christ.”188 By participating sacramentally in Christ’s resurrected body, we too shall know the resurrection to eternal life on the Last Day.
164 In the Septuagint, Genesis 8:20; Leviticus 14:20; 17:5; Isaiah 57:6. Also Hebrews 7:27; 13:15; and James 2:21.
165 Matthew 17:1.
166 Isaiah 53:11 (LXX). 167 Hosea 6:6; cf. Matthew 9:13.
168 The Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, 12. 169 2 Corinthians 13:13.
170 1 John 4:10.
171 James 1:17.
172 John 3:16. 173 2 Peter 1:4.
174 Lamentations 3:41. 175 As the priest says these words, he (or the deacon) touches the edge of the Diskos with each of the points of the asterisk in succession. He then makes the sign of the cross over it, kisses it and lays it aside.
176 Isaiah 6:1-4.
177 Isaiah 6:6-7.
178 Hebrews 4:14.
179 1 John 2:1-2. 180 The Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, 12.
181 Matthew 26:28.
182 Matthew 26:27-28. 183 Exodus 12:14.
184 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.
185 Luke 3:1. 186 Revelation 19:9.
187 John 6:53-58.
188 Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, 20:2.
Page created: 24-12-2012.
Last update: 24-12-2012.