Yes, our God, let none of us be guilty before these, Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in body and soul by partaking of Them unworthily. But enable us, even up to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your Holy Gifts worthily, as a provision for eternal life and as an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ. So that we also, together with all the saints who throughout the ages have pleased You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You, Lord, have prepared for all those who love You.
And make us worthy Master, with confidence and without the fear of condemnation, to dare to call upon You, our heavenly God, Father, and to say:
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 37-38)
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to receive Christ in the Eucharist. There are lots of things wrapped into the Divine Liturgy—i.e. we hear the reading of Scripture (which was a big deal before people knew how to read because this was the only place they heard it), we hear a sermon expounding on Scripture, we offer prayers for all kind of things and people—but the thing that makes the Divine Liturgy unique is that this is the place where we receive the Eucharist. Having offered many prayers, heard Scripture and sermon, and having consecrated the Gifts that now sit on the altar table as the Body and Blood of Christ, it is time to focus our attention on receiving them.
This part of the prayer has several important elements. First, we hear the words “guilty” and “worthily.” No one is worthy to receive Christ for two reasons. First, to feel worthy is to feel entitled. When we work all year, we are worthy of a vacation. When we work all week, we are worthy of a day off. However, no matter what we do, we are not worthy of Christ. Why? Because we all sin, and all sin is failure to love Christ. Since we are constantly sinning, we are constantly failing to love Christ, so how can we go and present ourselves to Him with any sense of worthiness. And the truth is, we can’t. We can only come to Christ if He makes us worthy, which is done through His grace and mercy.
We have already discussed how in I Corinthians 11, St. Paul was writing to warn people to not receive the Eucharist unworthily, because it was making people ill. We pray to not be unworthy in the presence of the Holy Mysteries. Instead, we pray that He will enable us to partake of them worthily.
The focus then changes to something greater than the present Divine Liturgy. It moves outward towards eternal life. We are reminded that the Eucharist helps to prepare us for eternal life. That is really fascinating. Because we think of Holy Communion as something we do weekly (or frequently) for strength in this life. However, even more important than this, it prepares us for eternal life. We practice being with Christ. We practice receiving Christ in a way that we can handle Him in this life. So that we can receive Him fully for eternal life.
They say in sports that there is no substitute for real game experience. However, no one would be ready for the real game without practicing. You can’t create the intensity or pressure of a real game, like a Super Bowl. But one can practice to be ready for the big game. There is no way to understand what heaven will be like until we go there. At the center of all of it will be the Holy Trinity—God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. What that will look like, we don’t know. What that will feel like, we don’t know. What we know is that in this life, we have an opportunity to experience Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, and the grace of the Holy Spirit through prayer and the sacraments. We experience God the Father through prayer, more on that in a minute. If we never experience grace, or never receive the Eucharist, how will be ready to be with God in heaven? The truth is, we won’t. The Church has provided, in the Divine Liturgy, an opportunity for us to “practice” being with God, “as a provision for eternal life.” Being with Christ in the Eucharist will prepare us to stand before Him as His awesome judgment seat.
The prayer includes our hope that we will one day stand with the saints who have pleased God throughout the ages. In this life, we partake of good things, all of which are transient and temporary, as we will leave them at the conclusion of this life. What we hope for, believe in and work for it to partake of these “good things” of God for eternity.
The prayer concludes with the familiar exclamation that leads us into the Lord’s Prayer, one of the ways we experience God the Father, as the prayer is addressed to Him. This lead-in asks that we may come to God “with confidence and without the fear of condemnation” to dare to call upon God as our “Father.” That is an act of boldness. To be able to call the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, to call Him “Our Father.” Yes, Jesus instructed us to do this, but it is still an act of boldness to do so.
God’s purpose for us, His hope for us, is to be with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why He created mankind to begin with. After the Fall, His hope is still for us to make it back to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Christ opened that path again because of the Resurrection. He instituted the Eucharist as a way to “practice for eternal life.” And the Church provides the means for us to receive the Eucharist through the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy leads us to the Eucharist. The Eucharist leads us to be ready to stand before the awesome judgment seat of Christ. Heaven is for those who love Jesus in this life. The Eucharist—our preparation for it and reception of it—is an expression of God’s love for us, and also our love for Him. We pray to be worthy of that love, now, in this life, and forever, in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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
View all posts