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
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
Good morning Prayer Team!
Always, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
As the people sing “We have seen the true Light” the priest, carrying the chalice, reenters the altar and sets the chalice down on the altar table. If he didn’t transfer the particles of the Virgin Mary, Saints, Church Militant and Church Triumphant into the chalice before distributing Communion, he would do so at this point. He then takes up the censer and censes the Gifts, offering the words of Psalm 57:5: “Be exalted, O God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over all the earth.” He offers this prayer three times.
This verse of scripture makes for a beautiful prayer in itself. Imagine offering this prayer each morning several times. Imagine offering this prayer before a meeting, or before driving:
Be exalted, O God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over all my day.
Be exalted, O God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over my commute to work.
Be exalted, O God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over my marriage.
Be exalted, O God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over my children.
Be exalted, o God above the heavens. Let Your glory be over this meeting.
The possibilities are many.
After offering this prayer, the priest offers the words that begin each service (aside from the Divine Liturgy) “Blessed is our God, always, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.” This is obviously not the beginning of the service and the emphasis here will be on the last half of this phrase. So the “Blessed is our God” is offered silently. The priest then turns towards the people, and holding the chalice aloft (and without a deacon present, the paten underneath it), the priest exclaims “Always, now and forever and to the ages of ages.”
There are two meanings to this action. The first is that it represents the Ascension of Christ. If Holy Communion is our preparation for our personal resurrection in Christ, before we leave the church, we have, like the disciples, a “post-Resurrection” appearance of Christ, this one more viewing of the Holy Gifts, representing the Resurrection. As we near the end of the service, and we are nearing the end of our re-creation of the life of Christ, we will be “commissioned” again to go out into the world and spread the Gospel. And so we hear the last verse of the “Great Commission” from Matthew 28:16-20, that He is with us always, to the close of the age.
The second meaning is the meaning of the words. “Always, now and forever.” The climax of our lives should be receiving Holy Communion. After all, what could bring greater joy? That means that having received Communion, we are now faced with the prospect of re-entering the stressful world. The “vacation” of worship is now about to end. That’s kind of a depressing thought.
The Church doesn’t want us to leave the service sad, any more than Christ wanted the Disciples to be sad after His Ascension. Jesus reassured His Disciples that He would be with them always, even to the close of the age. In the Divine Liturgy, we hear these words as well. Christ is with us, not only in the Divine Liturgy, not only in receiving Holy Communion, but now, having been fortified by worship and Communion, He is going to go with us as we exit the church. He will be with us at work, on the road, in our families, in our relationships, in our triumphs and in our struggles. He is with us always.
Imagine for a moment this image. You stand in front of a door. Christ is on the other side of the door, knocking on it. The door, however, only has one knob on it, and it is on your side. Christ is always present, knocking on the door of our hearts, wanting to come in. He does not, however, force His way in. It is up to us to invite Him. As I think of this line of the Liturgy, “Always, now and forever” I recall that Christ is ever present with me. And then I have to assess honestly, am I always present with Him? This line “Always, now and forever” should serve both as an affirmation that Christ is always with us, and it should be a statement of recommitment on our part, that we will strive to walk with Him, that we will invite Him into our hearts, “Always, now and forever” but beginning with this day.
Let our mouths be filled with Your praise, that we may sing of Your glory. You have made us worthy to partake of Your Holy Mysteries. Keep us in Your holiness, that all day long we may meditate upon Your righteousness. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. (This hymn is sung in certain churches and monasteries following the exclamation “Always now and forever.” It has been, however, suppressed in most parishes.)
Invite the Lord into your heart today, and always!
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Photo credit: Serbian Orthodox Church
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