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
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Revelation 21:2
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the early centuries of the church, the faithful used to commune in a similar way as the clergy. They approached and had the Body of Christ placed in their hands and then they would drink from the Holy Chalice. In other words they would receive the Body and Blood of Christ as separate elements. (This is still done when the Divine Liturgy of St. James is served, which is customary only on his feast day, October 23.) The way we receive at present, the Body and Blood of Christ on the spoon, received together, came about with the advent of infant baptism, which was in approximately the 8th century.
Because we now receive the Body and Blood of Christ together, they must be combined in the Holy Chalice to facilitate this. Thus, after receiving Communion but before distributing it to the faithful, the priest transfers the Body of Christ from the Paten to the Chalice. He does this by carefully lifting the pieces of the Body and placing them into the Chalice. Since Holy Communion is a foreshadowing of our personal Resurrection in Christ, as the priest is doing this, he recites prayers and hymns from the feast of the Resurrection, as follows:
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. Your Cross, O Christ, we venerate, and Your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. For You are our God; apart from You we know no other; we call upon Your name. Come, all faithful, let us venerate the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection; for having endured the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.
Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. Dance now and be glad, Zion, and you, O pure Theotokos, rejoice in the Resurrection of your Son.
O voice divine, beloved and most sweet! For you, O Christ, have promised in truth to be with us unto the close of the age, and we faithful rejoice, having this anchor of hope.
O Christ, our Pascha, most sacred and great: wisdom, Word, and power of God. Grant unto us to partake of You more profoundly in the unending day of Your Kingdom.
(These prayers are from the 2016 translation of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary Press.)
Also present on the Paten are particles of bread representing the Virgin Mary, the Saints, the church militant and the church triumphant. These are NOT the Body of Christ. Articles have been written and arguments made over the centuries as to whether these particles should be placed into the Chalice before or after the Communion of the faithful. When you receive Communion, it is from only the Body of Christ. As a priest, you can tell which pieces are for the Virgin Mary and the Saints, because they are triangular. The crumbs, the particles for the living and the dead, those sink to the bottom of the chalice. And what is left are the four (unless there is more than one chalice used) pieces of the Body of Christ that float on the top of the Chalice (remember that the Body was broken into four pieces after “The Holy gifts for the Holy people of God”).
When the priest places the particles of the living and the dead into the chalice, whether he does it before the distribution of Communion or after, he prays the words:
Wash away, Lord, by Your Holy Blood, the sins of all those commemorated, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all Your saints. Amen.
This beautiful prayer reminds us of two things: First, we pray that our sins are washed away through the Blood of Christ. And second, we are all one in the Body and Blood of Christ. Remember at the preparation of the Holy Communion, how I reflected that this is the place where my family stands together, even though my father has joined the church triumphant and the rest of my family lives in another state. In this moment of transferring all of the particles into the Chalice, it is again an affirmation that we are all ONE in the Body and Blood of Christ, those who are present, those who are absent, those who are alive and those who have passed away. We are all one.
The priest uses a sponge to sweep all of the particles off the Paten into the Chalice. Undoubtedly in this process, some crumbs fall onto the Antimension, the cloth that is placed under the Gifts, in large part for this purpose. Then the priest will clean the Antimension (many of us flip over the Paten and run it over the Antimension to clean up the loose crumbs and then wipe those into the Chalice). This process is very meticulous because this is THE Body of Christ we are handling. And so It must be handled with great reverence and care.
Once in a while, someone will opine (or complain) why does it take so long for the priest to prepare Communion to distribute it to the faithful? My answer to this question is something I once heard from another priest: You can tell a lot about a priest by how he handles the Eucharist. I try to always be careful with the Eucharist. I’d rather be reverent than efficient.
Many priests also put the spoon in the Chalice and break up the large pieces of the Body of Christ into smaller particles for easier distribution, which can also add a little bit of time to this preparation.
After preparing the Gifts and as I am about to distribute them, I always offer two more prayers. The first prayer is a personal prayer to the Lord to hold my hands steady as I am distributing Communion. On a Sunday, it can take 30 minutes or longer to distribute Communion. Thus, the prayer to stamina. And the second prayer is the prayer of St. Simeon, which he offered over the Lord when Jesus was presented in the temple on his fortieth day. He offered this prayer because he was promised by God that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Christ. This prayer was for his peaceful death and entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This prayer is part of every Vespers service and I offer it at each Liturgy, reflecting on my own life, and asking the Lord, that if this is indeed my last Liturgy on earth, if I am going to be called back to the Lord before I celebrate the Liturgy again, that my departure be in peace.
Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
When I was ordained, the Bishop told me to celebrate each Liturgy as if it was my first and my last, with the joy of the first and the purposefulness of the last. I encourage each of you to worship in the same way, as if it is your first and last liturgy, with both joy and with purpose. And with this, we turn now to our personal encounter with Christ in the receiving of Holy Communion. The most important moment of the Liturgy is upon us!
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Photo credit: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral
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