The Divine Services Liturgy - 8
Today we will conclude our series of sermons on the Divine Services.
Last week, we ended with the opening of the curtain and the Royal Doors as the chalice is brought forth for Holy Communion. The opened Royal Doors are symbolic of the open tomb of the Savior, and the bringing forth of the Holy Gifts symbolizes the appearance of Jesus Christ after His resurrection. The faithful bow to the holy chalice as before the very risen Savior Himself, while the choir, representing them, chants: ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord...’.
The priest calls us to come forth in the fear of God and with faith. We then recite the statement of faith before communing, ‘I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ…’ We confess our belief that what is contained in the chalice is truly Christ’s Most Pure Body and truly Christ’s Most Precious Blood. We ask God for His mercy and forgiveness for all of our deeds and thoughts so that we may be made worthy to partake of the immaculate Mysteries for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life. We pledge our fidelity to the Lord and ask that our communing would be to the healing of our soul and body.
Those Orthodox Christians who have prepared themselves through fasting, confession, and prayer, then step forward and go up to the ambo. Our arms are crossed over our chest in a sign of humility and also to assure that we do not cross ourselves when at the holy Chalice, so that the Precious Gifts are not accidentally hit. As each person comes up to receive the Gifts, he should clearly state his baptismal name so that the priest may pray specifically for him or her: ‘The servant of God, <and the name is stated>, partakes of the precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins and life everlasting.’
In the Slavic tradition, after receiving the Precious Gifts, the communicant gently kisses the base of the Chalice. We do not kiss the priest’s hand. The communicant then goes to the small table where we have prepared wine mixed with water and the blessed bread. The communicant consumes these to wash down any of the Holy Gifts that might remain in their mouth.
After the communion of the faithful, the chalice is returned to the altar table and all the particles of commemoration taken from the offered prosphora are poured into the holy chalice, praying that the Lord will purify with His Blood the sins of all those commemorated. Nikolai Gogol explains, ‘In this act of immersion, the whole Church communicates of the Body and Blood of Christ, both the pilgrim and militant Church on earth and the Church Triumphant in Heaven. The Mother of God, the Prophets and Apostles, Church Fathers, prelates, solitaries, martyrs, all sinners for whom particles were removed, those living on earth and the departed, communicate at this moment of the Body and Blood of Christ. And the priest, standing before God at this moment as the representative of His whole Church, prays for all, that their sins may be washed away in His precious Blood.’ This is why it is so important for us to remember our loved ones, both the living and dead, by offering the prosphora along with our list of names. All are united in God’s mercy at this great and sacred moment when the portions are placed into the Holy Chalice.
The priest then blesses the congregation: ‘Save O God Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance!’ The Choir responds: ‘We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.’
The Chalice and Diskos are then prepared to go back to the Table of Preparation. As the priest takes the Chalice and Diskos, he says quietly, ‘Blessed is our God…’ and then taking them up, he turns toward the people with the exclamation, “Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages,” and carries them to the Table of Preparation. This last elevation and presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation, and their removal to the Table of Preparation, and the exclamation, are to remind us of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven and His promise to remain in the Church ‘always, even unto the end of the world’.
Bowing to the Holy Gifts for the last time, as to the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the faithful express their thanks to the Lord for Communion of the Holy Mysteries. The choir chants the hymn of gratitude: ‘Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory; for Thou hast made us worthy to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-giving Mysteries. Keep us in Thy holiness, that all the day long we may meditate upon Thy righteousness. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!’
Having glorified the Lord, we ask Him to preserve us in the holiness which we have received through the Mystery of Holy Communion, that we may contemplate the righteousness of God throughout the day. We ask Him for peace and holiness and that we may commit ourselves and one another unto Christ our God.
The priest carefully folds up the antimens (the cloth on which the sacrifice takes place) and exclaims, “For Thou art our sanctification ...” And then he adds, “Let us depart in peace.” This indicates that the Liturgy has concluded and that we should leave the Church at peace with all – that peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
The priest then comes out through the Royal Doors, descends the stairs, and stands facing the altar in front of the ambo. He reads a prayer which summarizes all the supplications made throughout the Divine Liturgy: ‘O Lord, who dost bless them that bless Thee, and sanctify them that put their trust in Thee: Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Preserve the fullness of Thy Church. Sanctify them that love the beauty of Thy house; do Thou glorify them by Thy divine power, and forsake us not that hope in Thee. Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to the priests, and to all Thy people. For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from Thee, the Father of Lights, and unto Thee do we send up glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.’
The faithful devote themselves to the will of God with the prayer of the Psalmist ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord henceforth and forever more…’ The priest then turns to the people and says, ‘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.’ We offer final glorifications to Christ our God, and then the final blessing and dismissal is given.
What a gift and what a joy is the Divine Liturgy! Through the Liturgy we participate in the life of Christ and the life of Christ is given to us. Through the Divine Liturgy, mankind’s proper relationship to God is restored. For mankind was created to worship God and to commune with Him in love. Through the fall of Adam, that communion of love was fractured. But through the coming of Christ our Lord, and through His sacrifice upon the Cross, and through His offering of His Body and Blood as our spiritual food of reunion, that communion of love is restored. The Divine Liturgy provides for us that lost key to the gates of Paradise!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… there is no more powerful medicine for our soul than the Divine Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we partake with humility, repentance, gratitude, faith, and love, then we begin to step into Paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven, even while here in this earthly life.
I pray that these explanations of the Divine Services have been edifying and may magnify our appreciation of the immeasurable gift God has given us with the Divine Services of His Holy Church. May we run to take advantage of these spiritual gifts and medicines that have been offered. And may our participation in the life of the Church, the life of Christ Himself, may this be to our spiritual healing, to the increase of love, and the communion with God Himself, which is the ultimate purpose and destination of our lives.