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
Indeed, under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Hebrews 9:22-26
Good morning Prayer Team!
Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.
And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen.
And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen.
Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.
As the choir sings the aforementioned hymn of thanksgiving, the people are kneeling and the priest offers the prayer of consecration. As with everything in the Divine Liturgy, there is a scriptural basis for these words as well.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish Law required the people to make sacrifices to God for various things—for sins, for atonement, even for joy. Each sacrifice required the shedding of blood. The 613 tenets of the Mosaic Law gave explicit instructions on what sacrifices were needed and how they were to be conducted. So, from the Old Testament, we get the tradition of the blood sacrifice.
One example of a sacrifice that required the shedding of blood was at the first “Passover,” which is told in Exodus 12. When the Israelites were held as slaves in Egypt, the Lord sent Moses to Pharoah and through Moses ordered Pharoah to let the people go. Pharoah refused. So the Lord inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptians. After each plague, Pharoah said that he would let the people go, only he didn’t. The tenth plague was the death of the first-born sons of each house in Egypt.
The Lord instructed the people of Israel that the angel of death would “pass-over” each home and kill the first born son. The only way to avoid this was to shed the blood of a lamb without blemish and place it over the doorway of each home. Seeing the blood of the lamb, the angel would “pass-over” the house. Hence the origin of the feast of Passover.
The lambs were slaughtered at noon on a Friday outside the city wall. This foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ, the “Lamb of God,” who shed His blood and died for us on a Friday afternoon outside the city wall of Jerusalem. By partaking of His blood, the angel of death will “pass-over” us and we can enter into eternal life.
Because Christ shed His blood for us, it is no longer necessary for blood to be shed when offering a sacrifice to God. We offer bread and wine, because that is how Christ instituted the Eucharist, the ritual He taught us how to do in order to remember what He did for us, until His second coming.
We offer the “sacrifice”, the offering of bread and wine, without the shedding of blood. And we ask, pray and entreat the Lord to send down His Holy Spirit on us and on our gifts. In asking Him to send the Holy Spirit upon us, we are living another Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles and allowed simple fishermen to become leaders and heralds of the Gospel. In other words He took ordinary men and made them extraordinary. Likewise, we ask for the Holy Spirit to come down on us in the same manner, to make us extraordinary people. We ask for His grace, which heals what is infirm and completes what is lacking in each person. This grace is imparted through our mere presence at this moment of the Liturgy. I have seen priests (and I do this myself) spread their hands wide, gesturing towards the people that before we ask the Lord to consecrate our gifts, we ask Him to re-consecrate US, to again send down His grace upon us through the Holy Spirit.
We then ask for the Holy Spirit to come down on our gifts and to make ordinary things into extraordinary things. We ask for Him to make the bread into the Body of Christ. We ask Him to make what is in the Cup to be the blood of Christ. And we “crown” this request by asking that they be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In our church, we do not have a theological term for what happens at this moment. I remember as a child looking up to see if I could see the Holy Spirit coming down on the gifts as a bright light or something. And He never did. After the Gifts are consecrated, they retain their chemical properties—they still look and taste like bread, they still look and taste like wine. But they are different. And how this happens is a “mystery.” This is why in the Greek language, we use the word “mysteria” or “mysteries” as opposed to the word “sacrament.” Indeed is a “mystery” how bread and wine become Body and Blood of Christ. Same way that it is a “mystery” how our sins can be lifted off in the sacrament of confession. Or how a man and woman can be united into a family.
In Luke 8: 10, Jesus says to His disciples: “To you it has been given to know the secrets (mysteria or mysteries) of the kingdom of God (ta mysteria tis Vasilias tou Theou in Greek); but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.” For the one who does not who looks at the Divine Liturgy with casualness or cynicism, the consecration is just a prayer while the choir sings a hymn. It remains a mystery. For the one who has truly given his or her heart and soul to the Lord, this moment is the loftiest moment of the Liturgy, and we are present for a little miracle, as the Holy Spirit comes down upon us and upon our gifts, and what we get is a re-consecration of ourselves, and the Body and Blood of Christ now standing in our midst.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 50/51: 10-12)
Be extra-ordinary today!
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