Understanding the Teachings of the Orthodox Church - Page 4
by Reverend Thomas Fitzgerald (edited)
The words of Institution
The choir takes up the triumphal Hymn: "Holy, Holy, Holy", while the Priest silently begins a prayer in which he recalls the events that took place on the night when Christ was betrayed; he recalls how Christ took bread and blessed it, and said to His disciples, "Take, eat; this is my Body which is broken for you for the remission of sins" and then how He took the cup and blessed it saying: "Drink ye all of it. This is my Blood of the New Testament which is shed for you and far many for the remission of sins". The words which Christ spoke (The Words of Institution) are spoken by the Priest out loud. The choir responds with "Amen". Then the Priest recites the Epiclesis, or Prayer invoking the Holy Spirit.
The Prayer of Sanctification
This is the most precious and sacred moment of the entire Divine Liturgy. All the people kneel, unless kneeling is not appropriate for the season, while the Priest asks the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Even though outwardly they may appear to be still bread and wine, they are now the Real Body and the Real Blood of Jesus. The Orthodox Church has never attempted to explain in philosophical or any other terms how this change takes place, but this is the Orthodox Church's belief without any qualifications, and this is her unchanging teaching. We must have a full understanding and complete realization of this fact; otherwise Holy Communion can never provide the spiritual strength and uplifting exaltation that it should. Our attitude as we kneel during the Prayer of Sanctification should represent the highest form of spiritual receptiveness and devotion of which we are capable. We have prepared for it by visualizing the scene at Golgotha, Christ's death on the Cross. In dying on the Cross for us, He took our place.
We in turn take the place of those who stood at the foot of the Cross, and try to offer love, devotion, and humility. The eyes of our souls must try to visualize Jesus descending in that moment from Heaven and imparting His Body to the bread on the Disk and His Blood to the wine in the Chalice, thus once again offering Himself to the faithful as He did at the Last Supper with His Disciples. Whether we are prepared to receive Holy Eucharist or not, our hearts and souls should be filled with spiritual joy and exaltation and thankfulness as Jesus offers Himself to us with His undying love. This is what transpires in the Divine Liturgy, and this is what should be in our souls and minds as the choir sings "We praise Thee" and we kneel before our Savior to ask Him for understanding and guidance and help in all our needs. The Prayer of Sanctification is followed by prayers remembering all those who have gone before us, especially the Holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, in whose honor the choir sings a beautiful hymn.
After another series of petitions we recite together the Lord's Prayer. The Holy Gifts are uncovered. "Holy things are for the Holy", says the Priest. The choir responds with "One is Holy, One is the Lord". At this point warm water is added to the Cup because the Blood and water that flowed from the side of our Lord was warm living blood. The Priest breaks the Host into four parts, One part he places in the Cup, and after asking forgiveness of the faithful and reciting the appropriate prayers, he partakes of the Holy Communion from one of the parts. Then he puts the remaining three portions in the Cup. With the Communion Spoon, the red cloth, and the Chalice, he turns toward the people and says, "With fear of God and faith and love, draw near". At this time all the faithful who have prepared themselves for Holy Communion come forward and partake, When all have received the Priest says, "O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance". The choir responds with a hymn of thanksgiving.
On the fortieth day after the Resurrection, Jesus went to Bethany with His Disciples. There, after giving them His final instructions, He ascended into Heaven. When the Priest turns and faces the congregation with the Holy Vessels and says, "Now and ever and unto ages of ages", making the Sign of the Cross over the faithful, this symbolizes Christ's Ascension into Heaven. After this, he recites a few petitions, a prayer before the icon of Christ, and the final dismissal prayer. The people of the congregation all pass by and receive “blessed bread” from the offering loaves which were not consecrated for Holy Communion. It was originally intended only for those who did not receive Communion, but today it is offered to all.
Benefits received from the Divine Liturgy
The Divine Liturgy, although its intention is primarily for man to worship God and to give thanks to Him, also showers actual grace and blessings upon those in attendance to aid them as the Lord's chosen people. There, in the atmosphere of the worship, a spiritual renewal comes to each of them from the higher thoughts the Liturgy suggests to them, from the sacred hymns, from the reading and teaching of the Gospel, from prayer and from the Grace of our Lord, Who is actually present in the Divine Liturgy. Worshipping together with others is very beneficial, too. It strengthens the faith of each one and lifts one, as in no other possible way, into the very presence of God. Thus the spirit of each worshipper soars upward into the realm of inspirational thought and purpose, which cannot be reached in any other atmosphere or relationship. The mind and the heart of each worshipper becomes responsive to the influences that make him a receiver of and instrument for witnessing to righteousness, benevolence, and truth.
However, during the six days of the week, our work, earthly cares, worries, anxieties and disappointments, temptations and provocations to sin, all these worldly things, exhaust us spiritually and physically. God, in His infinite mercy provides us with Sunday, the day of the Lord, when by going to Church we are supplied with new spiritual and moral nourishment for our needs for the coming week. When God, in His wisdom, set apart one day out of every seven and hallowed it as His own day, He was not thinking of any need to be worshipped, but of our need for renewal of our spiritual energies. Therefore, attending, Church on Sunday is like the winding of a clock. Spiritual life cannot go too long without "rewinding". By attending the Divine Liturgy every Sunday we are equipped spiritually and morally for whatever lies ahead.
All these benefits and blessings are conferred upon us in even greater abundance, when we partake of Holy Communion. This is the purpose of the institution and consummation of the Holy Eucharist. Holy Communion, being divine food and medicine, affords our souls nourishment, growth, strength, health, and, even more important, eternal life. It is also a safeguard and cure for the ills of our bodies, because the abundance of Grace, with which the Eucharist enriches the soul, is also communicated by it to the body, which is so intimately united with the soul. The Grace that the soul receives exercises wholesome influence on the body, whose sensual nature is consequently weakened. Partaking of the Holy Eucharist as often as possible, we really partake of Christ's Life, so that our lives might be transformed into the very likeness of His Life (John 6:54 56). Christ's life, which is imparted to us through reception of Holy Communion, removes the barriers which separate the poor from the rich, the ignorant from the learned, …and thus strengthens the bonds of Christian love and harmony among all men (1 Cor 10:17).
There are people, however, who attend the Divine Liturgy and receive Holy Communion regularly, yet they receive little or no benefit from it, because they do not prepare themselves properly. It is similar to a student in a class room, who does not pay attention to what the teacher says and never does his homework. He gets very little out of school. Likewise, those who arrive late to church and do not understand the meaning of Divine Liturgy or those who are hypocrites in their lives, and those who go to church as mere spectators, or to hear the choir, or to indulge passively in praise and prayer much as they go to see a ball game; all such people cannot be fully benefited from the Divine Liturgy.
The worshippers who are richly blessed by attending the Divine Liturgy are those who are present for the entire Liturgy and follow it with a spiritual understanding. These are those who are sincere and well disposed to it, and those who receive Holy Communion only after being properly prepared and approach the altar "With fear of God, with faith and love".