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
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights! Psalm 148:1
Good morning Prayer Team!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the highest. Alleluia.
After the short hymn “One is Holy,” a Communion hymn is sung by the people as they prepare for Holy Communion. In contemporary times, the hymn is usually offered by the choir or a chanter and people are encouraged to sing along. The Communion Hymns vary depending on the day of the week, and there are different Communion Hymns for various feast days of the liturgical year.
The Communion Hymn is very short, usually only a verse of scripture, so it is sung in one of three ways. It may be elongated, so that it is only sung once, with each word being stretched out syllable by syllable. It can take 5-10 minutes to sing the above-quoted “Praise the Lord from the heavens” with certain pieces of music. A second way the hymns are heard is that the one verse of scripture is repeated several times, as long as it takes for the clergy in the altar to commune and to prepare to distribute Holy Communion. The third way that the hymns can be done is that they are sung several times and in between each time, an additional verse of the Psalms is intoned, with the verse of the hymn being sung more slowly. This third example is rarely seen in parishes. Most use the first two ways.
It is interesting to note that the Communion Hymns are based (with one exception) on verses from the Psalms, that are part of the Old Testament and precede Jesus’ earthly ministry. A remnant of the Old Testament and its “Old Covenant” is very present as we are about to partake of the “New Covenant”.
Here are some examples of Communion Hymns, that are derived from the Psalms and which feast day(s) they are chanted:
Blessed is He who enters in the name of the Lord. . .The Lord is God and He has given us light. Psalm 118:25-26, sung on Palm Sunday
O taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8, sung at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Lent.
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. Psalm 116:13, sung on all the feast days of the Virgin Mary
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Psalm 47: 5, sung on Ascension
The Lord has sent redemption to His people. Psalm 111:9, sung on Christmas
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Psalm 19:4, sung on the feast days of the Apostles
Let Thy good spirit lead me on a level path! Psalm 143:10, sung on Pentecost.
The only Communion Hymn that is based on New Testament Scripture is the Communion Hymn of the Paschal (Resurrection) season, which is based off of John 4:14 (Whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst; the water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.) and John 7:37-38 (Jesus stood up and proclaimed “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and rink. He who believe in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”) The Communion Hymn is “Receive the Body of Christ. Taste from the eternal fount.”
The Communion Hymns do two things for us. They are traditionally chanted very slowly, so they slow down the service, and hopefully our thoughts, so that we are contemplative and meditative and still as we prepare to receive Holy Communion. A hymn like the Doxology is up-tempo and quick. Because at the beginning of the service, it is calling us to worship with enthusiasm. The Communion Hymn is deliberately slow because it calls on us to very reverently consider the task that is at hand—we are about to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
During the Communion Hymn, several things happen inside the altar, as the clergy receive Communion and prepare to distribute it to the faithful. There will be more to come on this subject in the next reflections. The Communion Hymns provide us a time to pray the pre-Communion Prayers as well (more on this to come).
The second thing that the Communion Hymns do for us, at least I know they do for me, is that they stick in our heads. Repeating the same hymn several times on a slow cadence in church allows us to hold these hymns in our minds and our hearts during the week. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself humming one of these hymns, in slow cadence, which in turn slows down my busy mind and provides a calmness, a reverence and a purposefulness in the middle of a busy week. Learning some of these hymns can do the same for you. Listen to the choir, hum along, internalize the music and internalize the meaning. On almost every Sunday, we are reminded through the Communion Hymn of the importance of praising the Lord, something that is done in deed, and also in word. Is your life a praise of the Lord? It’s an appropriate question to ask every day, but certainly as you prepare to receive Communion each Sunday.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His host! Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars! Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For He commanded and they were created. And He established them forever and ever; He fixed their bounds which cannot be passed. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling His command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all His saints, for the people of Israel who are near to Him. Praise the Lord! Psalm 148
Praise the Lord, in word and in deed!
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Photo Credit: St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
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