In the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy is the primary worship service in the Church. The Divine Liturgy is served every Sunday as well as at many other times during the year. Therefore, it is important that faithful Orthodox Christians properly appreciate its significance. This series of articles sheds some light on the Divine Liturgy and pays particular attention to its significance, meaning and symbols to enlighten the reader and to present a greater understanding of this beautiful and prayerfully powerful worship service.
We start our series with a two-part feature on the Proskomedia—sometimes called the Liturgy of Preparation. Proskomedia is the preparation and the symbolic arrangement of the Eucharistic bread on the Diskos, the pouring of the wine in the Chalice that will be used for Holy Communion, and the commemoration of all the orders of saints together with the living and the departed members of the Church. Its purpose is to manifest that the whole Church is represented on the Diskos with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as its centre.
Before every Divine Liturgy begins, the priest arrives early to prepare for the coming service. The priest starts by reading what are called the Entrance Prayers. Following these prayers, the priest and the deacon enter the Sanctuary and put on their liturgical vestments reciting the specific vesting prayers. Fully vested, they go to the Table of Oblation to begin the Liturgy of Preparation.
Prosphora is the word taken from the Greek word meaning “Offering”, and is the bread used for the Holy Eucharist. It is made using only four simple ingredients: white flour, yeast, salt and water. A loaf of holy bread, called prosphoron, is made up of two round pieces of leavened dough that are placed one on top of another and baked together to form a single loaf.
In the Ukrainian tradition, five prosphora are used, while the Greek tradition uses one prosphoron. Part two of this feature will discuss these differences. Before baking, each prosphoron is stamped with a seal bearing the image of a cross with the Greek letters IC XC NIKA, which stands for “Jesus Christ conquers”, around the arms of the cross. This impression is baked into the bread and serves as a guide for the priest who will be cutting it. In the Ukrainian tradition, four of the prosphoron being used have this IC XC NIKA seal, while one prosphoron has the Panahia seal. This Panahia prosphoron is often stamped with an icon of or a monogram representing the Holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos.
Parts of the Proskomedia
With the five prosphora, red wine and water, the priest begins the Proskomedia. Using the spear, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the first prosphoron three times saying, “In the remembrance of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Next, the priest cuts the loaf on all four sides, making it into a perfect cube so that the seal with the IC XC NIKA symbol is completely intact. This square portion, called the Lamb, is the part that becomes consecrated during the Divine Liturgy and becomes the Body of Christ that the clergy and the laity will communion from.
The priest places the Lamb upside down onto the Diskos and cuts it cross-wise being careful not to cut through the seal. Placed in the centre of the Diskos with IC XC NIKA seal facing up, the priest takes the spear and pierces the right side of the Lamb, directly underneath the IC portion of the seal. Next the wine and water are blessed and poured into the Chalice.
From the second prosphoron, called the Panahia, or Mother of God, a large triangle is cut out of the top and placed on the Lamb’s right side. This is in commemoration of the Holy Theotokos.
With the third prosphoron, nine smaller triangles will be cut from the top and placed to the Lamb’s left side in three rows of three. These nine small triangles commemorate the various saints of the Orthodox Church.
The fourth prosphoron is used for commemorations of the living. Two triangles are cut out and placed at the foot of the Lamb, one in commemoration of the episcopacy, clergy and faithful of the Church, and the second triangle in commemoration of the country. The priest then takes out smaller particles in commemoration of others among the living from the lists of names that the faithful give him to read. He must always commemorate the bishop who ordained him if he is still living, the clergy who are concelebrating with him, and any living Orthodox Christian whom he wishes. All of the particles for the living are placed in a line below the Lamb.
The fifth prosphoron is used for commemorations of the departed. A triangle is cut out as a general memorial of the departed hierarchs, rulers and the founders of the church. The priest then takes out smaller particles in commemoration of others among the departed Orthodox Christians, again from lists of names that the faithful give him to read. He must always commemorate the bishop who ordained him if he is departed and any departed Orthodox Christian whom he wishes. All of the particles for the departed are placed in a line below the particles for the living. For the last commemoration, the priest takes a particle out of the prosphoron for the living for himself.
At this point, if a deacon is serving, he holds the censer as the priest blesses the incense saying the Prayer of the Censer. Next, the priest takes the Star cover, holds it over the censer and places it on the Diskos. The Priest then holds each of the smaller veils over the censer and places them on the Diskos and the Chalice, respectively, saying ap propriate prayers for each. The larger veil, called the Aer, is wrapped around the censer and then covers the Chalice and Diskos together. Finally, the priest takes the censer and censes the covered offerings, which now become the Gifts ready to be brought forth during the Divine Liturgy to the Holy Altar for consecration. Then, the concluding Prayer of Oblation is read.
With the Proskomedia complete, the priest is now ready to begin the Divine Liturgy. The remaining prosphora will then be broken up and distributed to the faithful at the end of the Divine Liturgy. This remaining prosphora is known as Antidoron, which comes from the Greek word meaning “Instead of the gifts”.
First, we will examine the meaning of prosphora. In Part one, we described the prosphoron. A prosphoron is made up of two round pieces of leavened dough, which are placed one on top of another. As these two pieces of dough are baked together, they become one united piece of bread. According to the Holy Orthodox Church, our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ is both perfect God and perfect man. Thus, this doubleloaf symbolically represents the two natures of Jesus Christ: His human nature and His divine nature. In addition, the prosphora is leavened with yeast. Prosphora must always be leavened because we are celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. This is symbolized as the bread being risen and living, so to speak.
But why do we use bread and red wine? Firstly, Christ Himself said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) He also said, “I am the living bread which comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51) Christ said, “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.” (Jn. 6:55)
Secondly, at the institution of the Eucharist we hear in the Gospel of Matthew how “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My Body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'” (Mt. 26:26-28) As well, in the Gospel of Luke, Christ also breaks bread and says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Lk. 22:19)
A clear connection is drawn between Christ’s body and blood with the use of bread and wine. During His crucifixion on the Cross, Christ sacrificed his real body and blood. During the Divine Liturgy, we offer bread and wine to God and receive the grace of Christ’s sacrificial offering. In turn, God consecrates this offering of bread and wine, and they become the real Body and Blood of Christ. This is the reason that we use bread and wine for Holy Communion.
Finally, Part one noted that the Ukrainian and general Slavic tradition uses five prosphora loaves, while the Greek tradition uses one prosphoron loaf. The five prosphora are symbolic of the five loaves that Jesus Christ used to feed the five thousand (See The Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21). The one prosphoron is symbolic of the one “Bread” that all share (See 1 Corinthians 10:16- 17).
Let us now take a look at each step performed by the priest during the Pros komedia, or the Liturgy of Preparation, to get a better understanding of its importance. Before Proskomedia, the priest selects the best of the four prosphora with the IC XC NIKA (Jesus Christ conquers) seal which will become the Lamb. In this case, “best” means the prophoron with the clearest imprint of the “IC XC NIKA” seal. From this prophoron a square portion, called the Lamb, will be cut and consecrated during the Divine Liturgy. It becomes the Body of Christ that the clergy and the laity will communion from. The lettering of seal must be clearly seen when the priest breaks the Lamb. The priest then prepares the prosphoron as was detailed above. The priest takes the spear and pierces the right side of the Lamb directly underneath the IC portion of the seal, saying, “One of the Soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness, and his witness is true.” This is a symbolic representation of when the soldier pierced Christ’s side with a spear at His crucifixion as recorded in the Gospel of St. John. Next, the priest completes all of the commemorations, such as for the names of the living and the reposed provided by parish members.
After these commemorations have been completed, this preparation service continues with the offering of incense and covering the bread and wine with the veils. Incense is made of resins from special trees that are mixed with fragrant oils, rolled, cut into small pieces, and dried. The incense is then placed on a hot coal where it burns and produces a sweet-smelling smoke. Because incense is costly, it is an offering made to God when we burn it. The burning of the incense symbolizes our prayers rising up to God. St. Simeon of Thessalonika says that filling a church with the smoke of incense reminds us that God is present. In the Old Testament, during the dedication of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the presence of God filled the temple with so much “smoke” that the priests were forced to go outside.
After the incense is offered, the bread and wine are covered. The Diskos is first covered by the Star cover. The priest holds it over the censer and then places it on the Diskos, saying, “And the star came and stood over the place where the young child was.” The Star cover (Asterisk) serves both a practical and symbolic purpose. From the practical perspective, the Star cover is placed on the Diskos to support the cloth veil and to keep the cut pieces of prosphora in their proper place. Symbolically, the Star cover represents the Star of Bethlehem which came over the place where the Christ Child lay. In the next step, the priest covers the Diskos with the small veil and the Chalice with the second small veil. These two small veils also serve a practical and symbolic purpose. Practically, they protect the Diskos and Chalice from dust and insects. Symbolically, the veils represent the swaddling clothes in which the Christ Child was wrapped. Finally, the Aer, or the large veil, which represents the shroud of Christ, is placed over both the covered Diskos and covered Chalice. Finally, the priest takes the censer and censes the covered offerings, praying, “Bless this offering and accept it on Your heavenly altar. Remember those who offered it and those for whom it was offered.” This now becomes the Gifts ready to be brought to the altar for consecration during the Divine Liturgy.
Usually, the only ones to see this service being performed are the deacons and the altar servers, who are in the sanctuary alongside the priest. In most parishes, the Proskomedia service takes place during the reading of the Third and Sixth Hours, right before the Divine Liturgy begins. As soon as this Proskomedia service concludes, the priest or deacon censes the altar area, the iconostasis, the people, and the whole church. At this time, the bells are rung. All is now ready for the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Word
The first half of the Divine Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the Word because it culminates with the reading of the Holy Scripture, followed by a sermon, or a homily. This first part is also known as the Liturgy of the Catechumens because the Catechumens in the early Church were only permitted to be present during this part of the Div ine Liturgy—the instructional part. The Catechumens were those people being instructed in the teachings of the Christian Faith and preparing for Holy Baptism. The main function of the Liturgy of the Catechumens is instructive and educational: We are listening to the Word of God in the Gospels and Epistle readings, there are Psalms, Antiphons and Tropars that guide our behaviors, educate us on being Christians and provide examples from the lives of Saints on how to conduct ourselves as Christians.
Following Proskomedia, the deacon censes the Altar, the Iconostasis, the entire Church, the celebrant(s) and all the people. This is called the Great Censing. Censing is an offering made to God and symbolizes our prayer rising up to God. If there is no deacon, then the priest performs most of the actions performed by the deacon.
As the Holy Altar is be ing censed, the pray er; “In the tomb with the body, in hades with the soul, as God, in paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, were You, O Christ, filling all things, Yourself infinite” followed by Psalm 50, are recited. Next, the priest prays the O Heavenly King… imploring the presence of the Holy Spirit, followed by the angelic salutation, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” The Royal Doors are opened now to signify the heavens opened at the Baptism of Lord. We are ready to begin the Divine Liturgy.
The Liturgy Begins
The priest begins by taking the Holy Gospel, raising it above the Holy Altar in the form of a cross and exclaiming, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” This exclamation reveals the key to the entire Divine Liturgy—that God is the source and the goal of the divine service of the People of God. This exclamation is a glorification of the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, which Jesus Christ, the Son of God has come to establish on earth and which is mystically reigning already in the faithful Disciples of Christ by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Following this, the deacon intones the Great Litany. This Litany begins every liturgical service of the Orthodox Church, as well as nearly all the sacraments as well. It is the all-embracing prayer of the Church, which consists of petitions, or requests, dealing with our most pressing needs for every one and everything. Following the Great Litany, there are three Antiphons divided by two smaller Litanies. The three typical Antiphons are Psalm 103, Psalm 145, which is followed by the hymn Onlybegotten Son, and the Beatitudes. However, the typical Antiphons are not always sung. The Great Feast Days have their own special Antiphons, which consist of prophetic verses selected from the Psalms, appropriate to the particular feast being celebrated.
The Small Entrance
At the third Antiphon, the priest makes what is known as the Small, or Little Entrance. The Small Entrance is the solemn, ceremonial procession of the clergy to the altar led by the Holy Gospel Book. In ancient times, during the persecutions of Christians, the Gospel Book was carried in from a secret and hidden place into the Church and then into the Sanctuary. This custom has been preserved as a memorial of the old usage and as an allusion to Christ’s coming and bringing the preaching of the Gospel into the world.
Today, the deacon, following a candle-bearer with the priest following behind, carries the Holy Gospel around the Altar, out the North Deacon’s Door, comes to the center of the Church stand ing before the Royal Doors. This Entrance is the movement of the entire Church through Jesus Christ, in the person of the celebrant, to the Altar which symbolizes the Kingdom of God. This movement is made possible by the Gospel of Christ, who is the Way to the Kingdom. The deacon then raises the Gospel, making the sign of the Cross and exclaims, “Wisdom. Let us attend.” Then, he enters the Sanctuary through the Royal Doors and places the Gospel back on the Altar.
Following the Small Entrance, the Troparia and Kontakia are sung. These are special hymns sung in one of the Eight Tones and are dedicated to the Resurrection or to a specific Feast or Saint(s). The Troparia and Kontakia express the essence of the Resurrection, Feast or life of the Saint(s). The Troparia and Kontakia are very similar to each other in length, literary form, and style, but each stresses a different aspect of the essence of the commemoration. The Troparia provide us with a picture of the external aspect of the commemorated event, while the Kontakia draw our attention to the inner aspect and, as such, the Kontakia usually reflects more fully the essence of the sacred event.
Following this, the Trisagion— “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”—is sung. On some occasions, such as at Christmas, the Trisagion is replaced with the singing of: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia.” The Epistle and Gospel lessons follow, which are preceded by special Prokeimena, usually verses from the Psalms that serve as an introduction to the lessons to prepare us to comprehend what is about to be read.
After the Epistle lesson, during the singing of the Alleluia verses, the deacon takes the Holy Gospel and stands in the middle of the Church facing the Altar. If there is no deacon, the priest reads the Gospels standing in front of the Royal Doors, facing the people. After the Gospel has been read, the deacon brings the Gospel to the priest, who blesses the people with it. Then, the Gospel is placed standing up right on the Altar, revealing the folded Iliton and Antimins. The Iliton is a silk or linen cloth used to wrap the Antimins and the Antimins is a silk or linen cloth on which is represented the Descent from the Cross and the preparation of Christ’s Body for interment. Following the Gospel reading, the priest gives a sermon, or homily. The sermon may be moved to the end of the Liturgy, however, its proper place is immediately following the Gospel.
Following the sermon, the Litany of Fervent Supplication is intoned. Here, we offer up prayers for all of the members of the Church, living and departed, and for the things necessary for soul and body. As the deacon is intoning the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the priest unfolds the Iliton and Antimins. The Iliton and Antimins are folded into thirds vertically and then in thirds horizontally. The priest first completely unfolds the Iliton which has the folded Antimins inside. The priest then unfolds the Antimins leaving the top third folded. This remaining top third will be unfolded later on.
On certain days, such as the Saturday of Souls, it is proper to intone the Litany for the Departed after the Litany of Fervent Supplication. Finally, completing the first part of the Divine Liturgy is the Litany for the Catechumens, in which the Church prays for those Catechumens who are preparing for Holy Baptism. If this Litany is intoned, then at the petition, “That He will reveal to them the Gospel of Righteousness,” the priest unfolds the remaining top third of the Antimins. If this Litany is omitted, then it is unfolded at the First Litany of the Faithful.
Once this Litany is completed, the Catechumens would be dismissed, according to ancient practice. However, nowadays in the West, this practice of dismissing the Catechumens has fallen into disuse because baptism is now often administered in infancy, and there are seldom any Catechumens in the Church. But, the Litany reminds us of the vows made at Baptism and awakens in the faithful a humble consciousness of sin. With the dismissal, the Liturgy of the Catechumens ends.
The Liturgy of the Faithful
The second half of the Divine Liturgy, called the Liturgy of the Faithful, begins with the command, “All catechumens, depart. Let none of the catechumens remain. Let us, the faithful, again and again, in peace, pray unto the Lord.” In ancient times, only the Faithful—meaning those who were baptized—were permitted to be present for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the most important part of the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy of the Faithful is composed of four main parts:
- the final preparation of the Holy Gifts and the faithful for the Sacrament of the Eucharist;
- the Sacrament of the Eucharist, primarily the Eucharist Canon—Anaphora;
- the preparation for Communion and the partaking of Communion; and
- the Thanksgiving for Communion and the conclusion of the Liturgy.
The Liturgy of the Faithful begins with two small Litanies, or series of petitions, called the Litany of the Faithful. These Litanies of the Faithful are similar to the two Small Litanies that separate the three Antiphons earlier in the service. It should be noted that when a deacon is serving, the Second Litany of the Faithful is longer, as supplementary petitions are added.
The Great Entrance
After the Litanies of the Faithful are completed, the priest and the deacon begin another important part of the Divine Liturgy—the Great Entrance. The Great Entrance is a solemn procession where the Gifts of bread and wine that were prepared during the Proskomedia are brought from the Table of Oblation to the Altar. The procession of the Great Entrance also holds great symbolic meaning. It represents Jesus Christ’s voluntary suffering and death on the cross. Therefore, during this procession the faithful stand, bow their heads in reverence and pray that the Lord remember them and all those close to them in His Kingdom.
There are several steps before the procession itself begins. First, the choir begins singing the first part of the Cherubic Hymn: “Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the Lifegiving Trinity, let us now set aside all cares of life.” At this time, the priest, standing before the Altar, recites a silent prayer that prepares him to minister at the Throne of God, while the deacon performs a Small Censing. After the censing, the priest and deacon together recite the whole Cherubic Hymn three times. The priest says the first half and the deacon responds with the second half, “That we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
With the choir still singing, the priest turns to the faithful, bows and asks forgiveness of his sins. Then, a set of symbolic liturgical movements takes place before the procession. The priest and deacon move to the Table of Oblation. The priest censes the covered Gifts on the Table, and passes the censer to the deacon, who bends down onto one knee. The priest removes the large veil and places it on the deacon’s left shoulder. Then, the priest takes the Diskos, on which the portions of the prosphora have been cut and arranged during commemorative prayers, and gives it to the deacon, who now stands up as the priest takes the Chalice, containing the wine. Throughout this time, the choir has been singing the first half of the Cherubic Hymn in a measured and solemn way, and now stops as the procession begins.
The deacon goes first, followed by the priest. They leave the Sanctuary through the north Deacon’s Door and, in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, walk slowly in front of the Iconostasis to stand before the Royal Doors, facing the faithful. The deacon, holding the Diskos, recites the first petition at the Great Entrance commemorating the hierarch as well as any hierarchs present at the Divine Liturgy. In the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, the Metropolitan is commemorated, reciting his full title. The deacon then enters the Sanctuary through the Royal Doors, and kneels to the right of the Altar. The priest recites the remaining petitions, which includes commemorations for the clergy, monastics, the country and government, as well as parishioners.
The choir now completes singing the second half of the Cherubic Hymn, as the priest enters the Royal Doors and places the Chalice on the Altar. He also takes the Diskos from the deacon and places the Diskos on the left side next to the Chalice. The priest first removes both small veils from the Chalice and Diskos and places them on the Altar. Next, he takes the large veil off of the deacon’s shoulder and wraps it around the censer briefly before using it to cover the Chalice and Diskos. The priest censes the Gifts and the deacon, then censes around the Altar.
The Kiss of Peace
The deacon then recites the Litany of the Offering, thanking the Lord for these precious Gifts, as the priest re – cites the Prayer of the Offering.
Following this Litany, if several priests or hierarchs are present, they exchange the kiss of peace at the point just prior to the Symbol of Faith when the deacon proclaims, “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess.” In the early Church, the entire congregation would observe this kiss of peace, but only the clergy preserves it today.
In response to the deacon’s call, the Choir sings the short confession of the Holy Trinity, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One-in-Essence, and Undivided.” The deacon then exclaims, “The doors! The doors! In wisdom, let us be attentive.” In ancient times, the doors to the Sanctuary were guarded so that no unworthy person could enter during the celebration of the Eucharist. While the Sanctuary is no longer guarded, the declaration itself serves as a symbolic reminder to guard the doors of our souls against all evil thoughts as we prepare to confess our faith and to take part in the Holy Mysteries.
The deacon proclaims, “The Doors, the Doors…” which is followed by the singing of the Creed, or the Symbol of Faith. In Ukraine, the Creed is recited by all of the faithful gathered in the church, led by the senior deacon. The Creed contains the fundamental beliefs and is the confession of Faith of the Orthodox Church. The recitation of the Symbol of Faith stands as the official acknowledgement and formal acceptance by each individual member of the Church of their own baptism, chrismation and membership in the Body of Christ. It is the place in the Divine Liturgy, along with the very similar pre-communion confession of faith, where the first person pronoun “I” is used. All throughout the Liturgy, the community prays in the plural “we”, and it is only here that each person confesses for themselves, their own personal faith. Therefore, we say “I believe.”
As faith reveals to us the mysteries of God and proclaims the Resurrection of Christ, Who accepts death on the Cross for our sake, the priest lifts the veil which covers the gifts and fans them with it from above. This is to symbolize the breath of grace of the Holy Spirit, the earthquake occurring at the time of Christ’s Resurrection and the truth of the doctrines embodied in the Creed. This fanning was also an act of veneration used toward the earthly emperor in the Byzantine period, during which time it was incorporated into the Divine Liturgy. It was in corporated as an act of veneration toward the “presences” of the Heavenly King in the midst of His people, namely towards the book of the Gospels and the Eucharistic Gifts. In some churches, special liturgical fans are carried by the altar servers at all processions and expositions of the Gospel book and the Eucharistic Gifts.
Following the Creed the Eucharistic Canon begins. The Eucharistic Canon is also called the Anaphora, which means the lifting-up or the elevation. At this time, the gifts of bread and wine which have been offered on the altar are lifted up from the altar to God the Father, and receive divine sanctification by the Holy Spirit, Who comes to change them into the very Body and Blood of Christ. The general form of the Eucharistic Canon is that of the Old Testament Passover ritual, now fulfilled and perfected in the new and everlasting covenant of God with men in the person and work of Jesus Christ the Messiah, “our Paschal Lamb who has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 4:7; Heb. 5-10).
“Let us stand aright. Let us stand in fear. Let us be attentive, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace,” the deacon intones, to begin the most sacred part of the Divine Liturgy. The Holy Oblation refers to Christ, the Son of God who has become the Son of Man in order to offer Himself to His Father the life of the world. In His own person Jesus is the perfect peace offering who alone brings God’s reconciling mercy. The deacon’s words summon the faithful to inner spiritual concentration, to become respectful and to turn their attention towards the Sacrament about to be celebrated so that they may worthily offer the sacrifice to the Lord. “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise,” the choir responds for the faithful, explaining their sacrifice. The priest blesses their intentions, saying: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” During this blessing, the faithful bow their heads as a sign of reverence, and respond, “And with your spirit.” The priest once more invites the faithful to focus their attention and to keep free of all earthly things: “Let us lift up our hearts!” to which the faithful respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The faithful are called to attention during this very important point in the Liturgy.
The consummation of the Sacrament begins with the priest’s exclamation: “Let us give thanks unto the Lord.” As we in Christ lift up the Eucharistic gifts, we lift up our hearts as well. In the Bible, the heart of man stands for his whole being and life. Thus, in the Anaphora, as Apostle Paul states, the whole man is taken up into that realm where Christ is now seated at the right hand of God. The manner of lifting up oneself to God is through thanksgiving. The word Eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving. Thus, the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy preeminently involves the action of lifting up one’s heart and giving thanks to God for all that he has done for us and the world in Christ and the Holy Spirit. The faithful are not simply watching or waiting. They have been called on to actively participate by focusing their inner selves—mind and heart, affirming their attitude through their responses.
The faithful, in response to this invitation, worship the Lord, and mindful of all His mercies, sing the hymn, “It is proper and right to worship the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Trinity, One-in-Essence and Undiv ided.” At this point the bells begin ringing in single-strokes in order that the absent may also, at this solemn moment of the service, join their prayers of thanksgiving to those of the faithful in the church. After worshipping the Holy Trinity, the priest then lifts the star from the Diskos, and makes the sign of the cross over the Diskos with the star. He invites the faithful to express their thanksgiving to the Lord, not only by worship, but also by singing the triumphal hymn in His honour.
The priest quietly reads the prayer of thanks to God for all His mercies. Then, he chants the words in which Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is the greatest testament of God’s supreme love for us: “Take, eat this is My Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He adds, “Drink of this, all of you: this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” These words remind the faithful of the Mystical Supper, the Passion and death of Christ. The faithful respond, “Amen.”
To fulfill Christ’s instruction to do this in memory of Him, the priest, after silently praying, raises the Diskos and the Chalice, saying: “Yours of Your own, we offer unto You, on behalf of all and for all.” The faithful, taking up the priest’s words chant, “We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks unto You, O Lord, and we pray unto You, O our God.” While the congregation sings, the priest prays that the Lord may send down His Holy Spirit on the offered Gifts, consecrating and changing the bread into His true Body, and the Wine into His true Blood, then blesses the Gifts. This is a very sacred moment. Everyone in Church express their veneration for the sacred Mystery by making a prostration.
The prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit is considered by the Orthodox to be an essential part of the Divine Liturgy. It is called the Epiklesis, which means literally the call ing upon, or the invocation.
Continuing with the epiklesis, which literally means the calling upon, or the invocation, the priest prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon the bread and wine, and upon all the people, and to change, or as the Liturgy of St. Basil says, to show, the bread and wine offered in remembrance of Christ to be the very Body and Blood of the Lord. The prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit is considered by the Orthodox to be an essential part of the Divine Liturgy as the Holy Church believes that, as it prays, the Holy Spirit is always “everywhere and fills all things.” The invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Divine Liturgy is the solemn affirmation that everything in life which is positive and good is accomplished by the Spirit of God.
After the consecration of the elements, the priest commemorates the members of the Church, in whose behalf they have been offered. The priest says in his prayer that this sacrifice is offered for all the Saints who have gone to their rest, more especially for the Mother of God. The priest also prays that the Lord would hear their prayers, and remember all those who have died in the hope of a resurrection. After praying for the reposed, the priest prays for the living. He asks that the Lord remember the bishops, the priests, and all Christian people. The priest quietly begins this commemoration of the members of the Church, at the same time as the choir is singing, “We praise You, we bless you, we give thanks unto You, O Lord, and we pray unto You, O our God.” When this prayer has ended, he commemorates aloud the Mother of God, “Especially for our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever- Virgin Mary” to which the faithful responds with the hymn of praise in honour of the Mother of God, “It is truly worthy to bless you.” On Great Feast Days, instead of this hymn, the choir sings the irmos of the ninth ode of the Matins canon.
Next, the priest commemorates aloud the living bishops of the Church, “Among the first remember, O Lord, His Eminence, Yurij, Archbishop of Winnipeg and the Central Eparchy, Metropolitan of Canada.” Each Eparchy will also commemorate the bishop of their Eparchy as well, that the Lord will “grant them for His holy churches in peace, safety, honour, health, and length of days rightly to define the word of His truth.” The priest also commemorates the place where we live, those who live there, travelers, the sick, those who do good works and the poor. He ends the commemoration of the members of the Church with the prayer, “And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may praise Your most honourable and majestic name…” The word ‘we’ refers to all those who have been commemorated together with the Saints and all who have died in the hope of resurrection. The worshippers respond with “Amen,” as a sign of their participation in offering the Sacrifice and in commemorating members of the Church. This part of the Liturgy of the Faithful also concludes with the priest’s blessing, “And may the mercies of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with all of you.”
Litany before the Lord’s Prayer
Once these commemorations have been completed, the preparation of the faithful for Communion begins. The deacon recites the Litany of Supplication, also called the Litany before the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the invitation, “Having remembered all the saints, again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord.” The petitions are important reminders about our preparations for Communion, “For the precious Gifts offered and consecrated,” and “That our God, Who loves mankind, having received them on His holy, heavenly, and ideal altar as an offering of spiritual fragrance, may in return send upon us divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This litany concludes with the priest praying that the Lord may vouchsafe to let us address Him uncondemned as our Father in the Lord’s prayer.
At the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, Otche Nash, the priest gives his blessing of “Peace be unto all,” and the deacon invites the faithful to bow down their heads before the Lord. At this moment, the Royal Doors are closed. The curtain is drawn closed, and the faithful no longer see the Altar. The priest also prepares for Communion. The priest washes his hands and prays, makes the liturgical bows in veneraveneration, and says silently, “O God, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me.” As he does at many important points during the Liturgy, the deacon calls the faithful to attention, chanting, “Let us be attentive.” The priest lifts the Diskos with the consecrated Lamb, saying, “The Holy things for the holy.” This means that the Holy Gifts can be offered only to those who are holy. This is why we have prepared ourselves with prayer, fasting, confession and repentance. The faithful with profound veneration worship the Holy Lamb by making a prostration, and say in the consciousness of their unworthiness, “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.” The choir then sings the Communion or Feast Day verse.
After the faithful have been prepared for receiving Holy Communion, the priest breaks the Lamb into four parts on the Diskos, saying “Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God, who is divided, yet not disunited; who is ever eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake thereof.” He places these parts on the Diskos in the shape of a Cross. Then, taking the portion with the “IC” stamped on it, the priest places it in the Chalice saying, “The fullness of the Holy Spirit.” This means that the Sacrament is fulfilled through the action of the Holy Spirit. Next, warm water is blessed. The priest says, “Blessed is the warmth of Your saints always, now and ever unto the ages of ages. Amen.” He pours the warm water into the Chalice saying, “The warmth of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
After all these actions have been completed, the priest and deacon take Communion. They do so differently than the faithful. They first partake of the Body and then of the Blood of Christ. After, the remaining portions of the Lamb are placed into the Chalice.
If there are no communicants—those who have duly prepared to receive Holy Communion—all the portions taken during Proskomedia—in honour of the Theotokos and the Saints, as well as in memory of the departed and the living, are transferred into the Chalice as the priest prays, “Cleanse, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated, by Your precious Blood and through the prayers of Your Saints.” If there are communicants, these portions remain on the Diskos until after the Communion of the faithful.
The Communion Hymn
While the clergy is breaking the Lamb and taking Communion, the choir sings a hymn called “the Communion Hymn,” which relates to the feast day and lessons from the Gospels and the Apostle. After the Communion of the clergy, the curtain is drawn open. The Royal Doors are opened, the deacon brings out the Chalice with the Sacrament, and stands facing the faithful. He says, “With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.” The choir responds, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Those faithful who have prepared themselves to receive Holy Comm union approach the Chalice, and the priest leads them in the pre-Communion prayer, recited together, “I Believe, O Lord…”. The faithful communicants approach one by one. Liturgical gestures carry great importance and meaning. At this time, each person raises their arms to cross them right over left across their heart with fingertips touching their shoulders. It is with this sign of the cross that they reverently receive the Body and Blood of Christ out of the spoon from the priest. The communicant then venerates the edge of the Chalice, as if it were Christ Himself. During this time, the choir sings, “Receive the Body of Christ; taste the Fountain of Immortality. Alleluia.”
Having administered the Sacrament, the priest carries the Chalice back to the Altar. He adds the remaining portions on the Diskos. This part of the Liturgy ends with a blessing, “Save, Your people, O God, and bless Your inheritance.” The choir responds with the hymn “We have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the Undivided Trinity, Who saved us.” The priest censes the Chalice and gives the Diskos to the deadeacon who carries it to the Table of Oblation. The priest takes the Chalice, faces the people and says the concluding words of the Doxology, “Always now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” He then places the Chalice back on the Table of Oblation with the Diskos.
The choir sings, “Let our mouths be filled with Your praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Your glory; for You have made us worthy to partake of Your Holy Divine, Immortal and Lifegiving Mysteries. Keep us in Your holiness, that all day long we may meditate upon Your righteousness. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Following this, the deacon intones the last small litany, called the Litany of Thanksgiving, which differs from the other small litanies. Instead of chanting, “again and again in peace,” the deacon says, “Let us stand aright. Having partaken of the Divine, Holy, Most-pure, Immortal, Heavenly, Life-giving and Awesome Mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord.” The priest then blesses the faithful, who will be departing the Church soon, reminding them that they should go forth and live outside of the Church in the same peace with which they entered it. Then, the priest leaves the Altar area and stands in front of the Ambon, facing the Royal Doors to chant the Prayer Behind the Ambon, which summarizes the essence of the entire service.
The choir, speaking for everyone, expresses the desire to go forth with the blessing of God, “Amen. Blessed be the Name of the Lord, henceforth and for evermore.” Following this, the priest blesses the faithful for the last time, saying, “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you through His Grace and Love for mankind, always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” The service ends with a closing prayer that the Lord may have mercy on us and that the Mother of God and His Saints would intercede on our behalf.
In conclusion, the Poychronion is sung, asking the Lord to protect and grant a long and healthy life to the hierarchy of the Church, the Metropolitan and Bishops, the parishioners, and all Orthodox Christians. Following the dismissal, the priest comes to the Ambon and distributes the antidoron to the faithful and offers the Holy Cross for veneration. Those who received the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ gather to listen to the Prayers of Thanksgiving.