Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifte up; and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then flew one of the Seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” Isaiah 6:1-7
Good morning Prayer Team!
After offering the Communion Prayers, a series of events occurs as the priest receives Holy Communion. I share this with you for three reasons—first, so you can better understand what is going on in the altar at this moment of the Liturgy. Secondly, because the faithful have an important role to play at this moment. And third, because what is said at these moments of the Liturgy pertains to the faithful as well as the clergy.
As he concludes the Communion Prayers, he makes three bows before the Holy Altar, saying “God be gracious to me a sinner and have mercy on me.” This is a modification of the prayer of the Publican in Luke 18:13, “God be gracious to me a sinner” and the Jesus Prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is done by the priest before the significant moments of the Liturgy—the Small Entrance, the Great Entrance, the Consecration and now before he receives Communion.
Next the priest turns towards the people and asks for forgiveness. He says “My brothers and sisters in Christ, please forgive me.” At the moment that I am saying this, the choir or chanters are always singing in the church, so I’m not sure that I’m even heard. I wish that this could be done with nothing being said, so that it could be heard. This moment is important because it is necessary for a priest to reconcile with his people before receiving Communion, just as it is important for the people to reconcile with the priest and with one another. In the ideal world, the priest could ask each person individually for forgiveness, but obviously that is impractical. What is practical though, is that everyone in the congregation should be looking up as the priest comes out from the altar and asks for forgiveness. It is actually a pretty humbling thing to stand in front of an entire church and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes I even try to make eye contact with people I have wronged to ask forgiveness. So, what should the people do at this moment—they should offer forgiveness in return. They should say the words, “May God forgive both you and I,” or “May God forgive the both of us.”
The priest then turns toward the altar and says “Behold I approach Christ our immortal King and God.” These words are also profound. The priest (and in a few moments the people, which is why this is significant for all of us) is not merely approaching a table and he is not merely going through a ritual, he, and we are approaching Christ HIMSELF! This is profound and awe-some in every sense of the word.
The priest then communes from the Body of Christ, taking a portion of the Body in his left hand, and then placing it in his right hand, so that the right hand “receives” from the left. This is also significant, since no one “takes” Communion of his own volition, but receives it as a gift from God, through the hand of the priest, or in the case of the priest, through both of his hands. The priest says, as he communes, “The precious and most Holy Body of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, is given to me (name), the priest, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” What is significant here is that the priest says his own name, even though both he and the Lord know his name, and as we will learn shortly, everyone should offer his or her name when receiving Communion. That is our representation of ourselves to the Lord.
The priest then wipes his hands on the sponge on the Antimension, to make sure that no particle of the Body remains on his hands. He next lifts the chalice and receives the Blood of Christ. There is no rubric indicating whether the priest should lift the chalice high before receiving or after receiving. So, each priest does this a little bit differently. I had the great blessing to observe one of the best liturgists I’ve ever seen for many of my formative years as an altar boy. His name was Fr. John Zanetos (of blessed memory). Every Liturgy, at this moment, he would lift the chalice high in the air over his head. For a young boy of 10 years old, I thought this was so powerful, like the Lord was towering over every head in the church. It is one of the things that inspired me to follow God’s call to the priesthood. So, I raise the chalice as well, the same way that he did, as I say the words that each priest says, “The precious and most holy Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is given to me (name), the priest, for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” And then the priest drinks from the chalice.
After receiving Communion, the priest wipes his lips with the cloth and says the words from Isaiah 6:7: “This has touched my lips, taking away my transgressions and cleansing my sins.” This statement is also profound, not only for the priest, but for each person who receives Communion. We touch the Divine God and we are not eviscerated because of the experience. Somehow God allows us to do the incredible, to touch Him. He offers a miracle to us, as He comes into us. And this is supposed to be a renewed start for us, each time we receive Communion. We are cleansed and perfected and we are supposed to live in a new way, in a way that honors the Gift we’ve received.
Lord, thank You for the Gift of Holy Communion. Thank You for this wonderful opportunity to become one with You. May I always approach with humility and hope, and may I always depart with gratitude. Please allow me to continually receive this Gift and may it continually draw me closer to You. Amen.
Remember, in approaching Communion, we approach Christ our Immortal King and God.
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