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, 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
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. I Corinthians 10: 16-17
Good morning Prayer Team!
The next several reflections will be about things that occur in the altar before the people receive Holy Communion, specifically the priest receiving Communion and the preparation of Holy Communion for distribution to the faithful. These things are generally unseen and unheard by the faithful. However, if you listen carefully, as most priests leave their microphones on during this time of the service, you will hear bits and pieces of the information that follows. It is not my intention to “debunk” or “take the mystery” out of what happens behind the altar. However, there is a rich meaning to what is transpiring during this time. After the priest elevates the Lamb (the piece of bread that is the Body of Christ) and intones “The Holy Gifts for the Holy people of God”, he “fractures” the Lamb, meaning, he breaks it into four pieces. As he does this, he offers the words:
The Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not divided. He is forever eaten yet is never consumed, but He sanctifies those who partake of Him.
This is indeed a profound statement. In a practical way, the Body must be broken in order to be distributed to the faithful. Yet Christ is not divided. When we serve a banquet, no matter how big it is, there is a finite amount of food that is serve. The supply is not inexhaustible. Yet, we never run out of Christ. There is enough Christ for every Christian in every Orthodox Church throughout the world on every day that a Divine Liturgy it held. How many hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Churches celebrate the Divine Liturgy each Sunday, yet there is enough grace of the Holy Spirit to consecrate the Gifts offered in every one of them. We never run out of Christ.
We never even run out of Holy Communion. Yes, on a practical level, there are times when the chalice is nearly empty when I’m done distributing Holy Communion, and after the Liturgy, whatever is left of the Communion is consumed by the priest so that the chalice is truly empty. Communion remains, however, at all times, on the Holy Altar Table in the Tabernacle on the back edge of the altar. If one had to classify the quantity of Communion that is kept, in human terms, it is a small amount. However, in Godly terms, to receive even the smallest amount of Christ is to receive a great amount of grace, holiness, power and encouragement.
This short line of the service also reminds the celebrant, and anyone else who may hear it, that the Body and Blood of Christ sanctify all those who partake of them. They re-consecrate us. They refocus us. They renew us.
Next, one piece of the fractured Lamb is placed into the chalice as the priest offers these words:
The fullness of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Holy Spirit consecrated the Gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ and now Body and Blood have been combined together. The fullness of what the Holy Spirit has done is no visible and tangible. Body and Blood are now in the form in which we will receive them—together.
Hot water is now added to the chalice, in a special vessel called the zeon, that is brought to the altar by one of the altar boys and blessed by the priest with the words:
Blessed is the fervor of Your saints, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
The words “warmth” and “fervor” are connected. A fervent heart is a heart that is warm to whatever ideas it is fervent to. The fervor, the excitement of the saints who have spread the word of God and who have lived and died for the Lord, are an integral part of our Orthodox history and of the Divine Liturgy. Without the fervor of the saints, we would not have received the faith from the generations who came before us. It is the fervor of the saints that kept the church going through times of persecution and strife. As the liturgy of a gathering of both Church Militant and Church Triumphant, we again acknowledge the importance of the saints, and the Holy Spirit who poured His grace so richly upon them.
As the water is poured into the chalice, the priest says the words:
The warmth of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Again, who provides the warmth that encourages the fervor? The grace of the Holy Spirit. The entire ministry of Christ is summarized and encapsulated in the Divine Liturgy. The Pentecost event is also part of the Liturgy, as discussed before at the Consecration. Following the Consecration, the warm water is added to the chalice, just like following the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit added His warmth to the church.
Incline Thy ear, o Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life for I am godly; save Thy servant who trusts in Thee. Thou art my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to Thee do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of Thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For Thou, o Lord, art good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on thee. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; hearken to my cry of supplication. In the day of my touble I call on Thee, for Thou dost answer me. There is none like Thee among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Thine. All the nations Thou has made shall come and bow down before Thee, O Lord, and shall glorify Thy name. For Thou art great and doest wondrous things, Thou alone art God. Teach me Thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear Thy name. I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Thy name forever. (Psalm 86: 1-12)
The more fervor you have in your faith, the more united to God you will feel.
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Photo Credit: St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
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