The Divine Services Liturgy – 6
Last week we talked about how our approach to the Holy Gifts set forth must be predicated upon peace, love, and faith. We now come to the point in the Divine Liturgy where our expression of faith is proclaimed.
The priest or deacon proclaims ‘The doors, the doors, in wisdom let us attend.’ The curtain, which has been closed since the Holy Gifts have been placed upon the altar table, is now opened. Nikolai Gogol, in his commentary on the Divine Liturgy, tells us: ‘this exclamation was formerly addressed to the door-keepers who stood at the entrance so that no one might be allowed to enter the church who did not have the right to attend the Liturgy of the Faithful. Now this exclamation is addressed to those present, that they may guard the doors of their hearts, where love belongs according to the Church’s teaching, so that the spirit of enmity may not invade this inner altar of the soul. But the doors of their lips and ears should be open to hear the Confession of Faith, in token of which the curtain behind the Holy Doors is drawn back. The curtain represents the doors on high which are opened only when the attention of the mind is directed to the highest mysteries. We are called to listen to and recite the Confession of Faith with the words ‘in wisdom let us attend.’ And then in firm, strong tones we sing loudly and clearly…’ the Orthodox Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed, which summarizes the basic dogmas from the vast treasures of Divine Revelation and unites us in our faith.
During the recitation of the Creed, the priest lifts up the ‘aer’ (the cloth that has been covering the chalice and diskos) and waves it over them. This gentle waving of the aer has both practical and symbolic meaning. Up until now the chalice and diskos have remained covered, but we are moving now toward the consecration of the Holy Gifts and so they are exposed. The waving of the aer served a practical purpose of protecting the Holy Gifts from any flying insects that might be hovering about. In addition to this purely practical purpose, the waving of the aer reflects and reminds us of the wings of the angels who are present and surround the holy altar and it invokes that ‘rushing wind’ of the Holy Spirit which descended on Pentecost.
With the completion of the Creed, we have united ourselves in the confession of our faith, now our attention is directed that we may be completely focused in the right way for the consecration about to take place. We hear, ‘Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace.’ The choir responds, ‘A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.’
The priest then turns toward the faithful and bestows the Apostolic blessing: ‘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.’ The people respond, ‘And with thy spirit.’ The Mystery of the Eucharist is the work of God, the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are called to lift up our hearts unto the Lord. We then give thanks unto the Lord and the choir sings: ‘It is meet and right to worship the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’
During this hymn, the priest prays silently in the altar a prayer to our God Who is: ‘inexpressible, incomprehensible, invisible, unattainable, ever existing, eternally the same’. We thank God: ‘for all the things we know and do not know; for the benefits both manifest and hidden which have come upon us. We give thanks unto Thee also for this service, which Thou hast been pleased to accept from our hands, though there stand before Thee thousands of Archangels, and ten thousands of Angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim, six winged, many-eyed, borne aloft on their wings.’
The Priest or deacon then takes up the asterisk, or ‘star’ which has been above the particles on the diskos and, before placing it aside, blesses in the form of a cross, while exclaiming in a loud voice: ‘Singing the triumphal Hymn, shouting, crying aloud and saying:’
The Choir completes the prayer, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.’
Our voices join chorus with the angels who surround the throne of God in heaven.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what an awesome thing it is that we can participate and partake in this Heavenly Mystery! In the earlier part of the Liturgy we petition God for our needs, we hear instruction from the Holy Gospels… now our words fail us, we stand before the Throne of God and offer the gifts of bread and wine saying: ‘Take, eat, this is My Body, which is broken for you for the remission of sins.’ And: ‘Drink of It, all of you: This is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins.’
The priest, in a low voice, recalls the commandment of the Savior to perform this Mystery, glorifying His passion, death, and Resurrection, Ascension and second coming. Then the priest or deacon, with his arms forming a cross, takes up the diskos and the chalice and holding them aloft says: ‘Thine Own of Thine Own we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all.’
The choir then chants slowly, ‘We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord; and we pray unto Thee, O our God’, while the priest silently asks that the Lord send down the Holy Spirit upon the people praying in the church and to sanctify the Gifts offered. The priest, blessing the Lamb on the diskos, says, ‘And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ.’ Blessing the wine in the chalice, he says, ‘And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ.’ After each blessing we say, ‘Amen.’ Finally, blessing the bread and wine together the priest says, ‘Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.’
It is at this moment that the bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ! If only we had the purity and spiritual sensitivity to truly understand and experience fully what is happening at this great and sacred moment! It has been the experience of many saints to have their eyes opened during these holy moments and they have seen the Lord descending like a tongue of fire upon the Holy Gifts. Others have seen the Holy Gifts as flesh and blood, the merciful disguise of bread and wine being removed from their spiritual vision.
The miraculous and mysterious event which has just taken place is the most holy, most wonderful, most awesome thing we can imagine! There is nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more life-giving and healing than that which is offered to us in the Divine Liturgy. The priest Stephanos Anagnostopoulos, in his excellent book ‘Experiences During the Divine Liturgy’ states, ‘During the Divine Worship, we find ourselves before a fearful event, which is incomparably more fearsome than that which occurred before Moses. Moses took off his sandals in order to receive God’s Presence inside the Divine Cloud. In the Divine Liturgy we are before the Word incarnate, eating of His Body and drinking of His Most Holy Blood, and yet we do not take off our passions, we do no throw aside our ‘sandals’ and the old garments of our sins. Unfortunately, we cleave to sinful, earthly things. We do not wish to devote ourselves solely and exclusively to God, not even for an hour! In this Divine, heavenly Liturgy we at times allow ourselves to think and daydream about earthly things, sinful images, and fantasies. Still we must pray fervently, with a warm heart, constantly think of this great Mystery, repent of our sins, thirst and pray for our purification, holiness, illumination, renewal, our reinforcement in the Christian life and in the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. We must pray for the living and the dead, for the liturgy is a Sacrifice of propitiation, thanksgiving, praise, and prayer. The Divine Liturgy is love.’
Indeed the Divine Liturgy is love, for there is no greater gift, no greater expression of love than the Creator’s willingness to lay down His life for His people. Christ offers Himself in the Divine Liturgy as we experience again the mystery of the Last Supper when Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and offered it to His disciples.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… this sequence of taking, blessing, breaking, and offering is a key to how we must approach our Lord. We must have enough faith in Him, enough love for Him to say, ‘Take me, bless me, break me, offer me, O Lord!’ If we would allow God to take us and bless us, if we would have the courage and humility to surrender and allow God to break us of our selfish ways, God could then perform His will in our lives and offer us as true Christians to a world that is hungry for His love.
The Lord offers Himself to us in the Mystical Supper which is Holy Communion. Through the mysteries of the Divine Liturgy we stand in the presence of God, Whose grace and love are made so abundantly accessible to us, unworthy as we may be. May 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.