Table of contents
The Liturgy of the Faithful.This third part of the Liturgy is so called because only the faithful are allowed to be present during its celebration - those already baptized. It can be divided into the following sections:
- The transferal of the honored Gifts from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Table,
- the preparation of the faithful for the consecration of the Gifts,
- the consecration (transformation) of the Gifts,
- the preparation of the faithful for Communion,
- Communion, and
- the thanksgiving for Communion and the Dismissal.
The Transferal of the Honored Gifts.
Following the request for the catechumens to depart from the church two short litanies are proclaimed, and the Cherubic Hymn is chanted: "Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the Life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly care, that we may receive the King of all, Who cometh invisibly upborne in triumph by the ranks of angels. Alleluia."
The words of the original Greek for "upborne in triumph" mean literally, "borne aloft as on spears." This refers to an ancient practice when a nation, desiring to solemnly glorify its king or war leader, would seat him upon their shields, and raising him aloft would carry him before the army and through the city streets. As the shields were borne aloft on the spears, so it would seem that the triumphant leader was carried by their spears.
The Cherubic Hymn reminds the faithful that they have now left behind every thought for daily life, and offering themselves as a likeness of the Cherubim, are found close to God in Heaven and, together with the angels, sing the thrice-holy hymn in praise of God. Prior to the Cherubic Hymn the Royal Gates are opened and the deacon performs the censing, while the priest in private prayers requests of the Lord that He purify his soul and heart from an evil conscience and by the power of the Holy Spirit make him worthy to offer to God the Gifts which have been presented. Then the priest, with the deacon, three times quietly says the words of the Cherubic Hymn, and both proceed to the Table of Oblation for the transferal of the precious Gifts from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Table. The deacon, with the Aer on his left shoulder, carries the Diskos on his head, while the priest carries the Chalice in his hands.
Leaving the altar by the north door, while the choir chants "Let us lay aside all earthly care...," they come to a stop on the ambo, facing the people. They commemorate the patriarchs, metropolitians, archbishops, the local ruling bishop, the clergy, monastics, the founders of the church (or monastery) and the Orthodox Christians who are present. They then turn and enter the altar through the Royal Gates, place the precious gifts on the Holy Table, on the opened Antimins, and cover them with the Aer. As the choir finishes the Cherubic Hymn the Royal Gates and curtain are closed. The Great Entry symbolizes the solemn passing of Jesus Christ to His voluntary suffering and death by crucifixion. The faithful should stand during this time with bowed heads and pray that the Lord remember them and all those close to them in His Kingdom. After the priest says the words, "and all of you Orthodox Christians, may the Lord God remember in His kingdom," one must say softly, "And may the Lord God remember your priesthood in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages."
The Preparation of the Faithful.
Following the Great Entry is the preparation of the faithful so that they might be worthy to be present during the consecration of the Gifts which have been prepared. This preparation begins with the Intercessory Litany, "Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord" for the "Precious Gifts set forth (offered)," so that they might be pleasing to the Lord. At the same time the priest prays privately that the Lord sanctify them with His Grace. We then pray that the Lord help us to pass the entire day in perfection, that is, holy, peaceful, and without sin, and that He send us a Guardian Angel to be a faithful guide on the path of truth and goodness, keeping our souls and bodies from every evil. We ask that He forgive and forget our accidental sins as well as our frequently repeated transgressions, that He grant us all that is good and beneficial for the soul and not those things which gratify our destructive passions, and that all people might live and work in peace and not in enmity and mutually destructive conflict; that we might spend the remainder of our lives at peace with our neighbors and with our own conscience and in contrition for the sins we have committed; that we be granted a Christian ending to our lives, that is, that we might confess and receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ before our repose. We ask for an end to our lives which is peaceful, with peace of soul and reconciliation with our fellow men. Finally, we ask that the Lord deem us worthy to give a good, fearless account at His Dread Judgement.
In order to be present worthily at the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, the following are absolutely required: peace of soul, mutual love and the true (Orthodox) Faith, which unites all believers. Therefore, after the Litany of Intercession, the priest when blessing the people, says "Peace be unto all." Those praying express the same desire in their souls with the words, "And to Thy spirit." Then he exclaims, "Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess...," and the choir chants, "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One in essence and indivisible." This response indicates for us Who should be confessed in unanimity in order to recite the Creed in a worthy manner. Then comes the exclamation, "The doors! the doors! In wisdom, let us attend." The Symbol of Faith (the Creed) is then sung or read, in which briefly, but exactly, our faith in the Holy Trinity and the other main truths of the Orthodox Church are set forth. At this time the curtain behind the Royal Doors is opened and the celebrant lifts the Aer from the precious Gifts, and gently waves it over them in expectation of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The words "The doors! the doors!" in ancient times reminded the doorkeepers to watch carefully at the doors of the church that none of the catechumens or unbelievers enter. Today these words remind the faithful to close the doors of their souls against the assault of thoughts. The words, "In wisdom, let us attend," indicate that we should be attentive to the truths of the Orthodox faith as set forth in the Creed.
From this point on, the faithful should not leave the church until the end of the Liturgy. The Fathers condemned the transgression of this requirement, writing in the ninth Apostolic Canon, "all faithful who leave the church... and do not remain at prayer until the end, as being those who introduce disorder into the church, should be separated from the church community." After the Symbol of the Faith the priest exclaims, "Let us stand aright, let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the holy oblation in peace," directing the attention of the faithful to the fact that the time has come to offer the "holy oblation," or sacrifice. It is time to celebrate the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist, and from this moment one ought to stand with special reverence and atten-tiveness. The choir then responds, "A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise." We offer with gratitude for the mercy of heavenly peace granted to us from above the only sacrifice we can, that of praise. The priest blesses the faithful with the words, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." His next words, "Let us lift up our hearts," summon us to a reverent presenting of ourselves before God. The choir responds with reverence in the name of those praying, "We lift them up unto the Lord," affirming that our hearts are already striving and aspiring to the Lord.
The Consecration of the Gifts.
The act of the Holy Mystery of Communion comprises the main portion of the Liturgy. It begins with the words of the priest, "Let us give thanks unto the Lord." The faithful express their gratitude to the Lord for His mercy by bowing to Him, while the choir chants, "It is meet and right to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and indivisible." Praying silently, the priest offers a eucharistic prayer (one of thanksgiving), glorifying the infinite perfection of God, giving thanks to the Lord for the creation and redemption of mankind and for His mercy, in forms both known and unknown, and for the fact that He deems us worthy to offer Him this bloodless sacrifice, although the higher beings, the archangels, angels, Cherubim and Seraphim stand before Him "singing the triumphal hymn, shouting, crying aloud, and saying:." These last words of the priest are said aloud as the choir proceeds with the described hymn by singing the angelic hymn, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory." Then the choir adds to this hymn, which is called the "Seraphic Hymn," the exclamation with which the people greeted the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, "Hosanna (a Hebrew expression of good will: save, or help, O God!) in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!" The words, "singing the triumphal hymn," are taken from the visions of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:4-24) and the Apostle John the Theologian (Rev. 4:6-8). In both their visions they beheld the throne of God surrounded by angels in the form of an eagle (singing), a bull (shouting), a lion (crying out) and a man (saying) who continually were exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts."
The priest privately continues the eucharistic prayer which glorifies the benevolence and the infinite love of God, which was manifest in the coming upon the earth of the Son of God. In remembrance of the Mystical Supper, when the Lord established the holy Mystery of Communion, he pronounces aloud the words of the Saviour which He spoke upon instituting the Holy Mystery, "Take, eat; this is My Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins" and "Drink of it, all of you: this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins." The priest then inaudibly recalls the commandment of the Saviour to perform this Mystery, glorifies His passion, death, and resurrection, ascension, and His second coming, and then aloud says, "Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all," for all the members of the Orthodox Church and for the mercy of God.
The choir then chants slowly, "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, and we pray unto Thee, O our God," while the priest in private prayer asks the Lord to send down the Holy Spirit upon the people present and the Gifts being offered and that He might sanctify them. In a subdued voice he reads the troparion from the Third Hour, "O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles at the third hour, take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray unto Thee." The deacon pronounces the twelfth verse from the Fiftieth Psalm, "Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Then the priest again reads the troparion from the Third Hour, and the deacon pronounces the next verse from the same psalm, "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy holy spirit from me." The priest reads the troparion for the third time. Blessing the Lamb on the Diskos, he says, "And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ." Blessing the wine in the Chalice, he says, "And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ." After each blessing the deacon says, "Amen." Finally, blessing the bread and wine together the priest says, "Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit." Again the deacon says, "Amen, amen, amen." At this great and sacred moment the bread and wine are changed into the true Body and true Blood of Christ. The priest then makes a full prostration to the ground before the Holy Gifts as to the Very King and God Himself. This is the most important and solemn moment of the Liturgy.
After the sanctification of the Holy Gifts the priest in private prayer asks the Lord that, for those who partake the Holy Gifts, it might serve "unto sobriety of soul (that is, that they may be strengthened in every good deed), unto the remission of sins, unto the communion of the Holy Spirit, unto the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven, unto boldness toward Thee; not unto Judgement or condemnation." He then remembers those for whom the Sacrifice is offered, for the Holy Gifts are offered to the Lord God as a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving for all the saints. Then the priest gives special remembrance of the Most-holy Virgin Mary and says aloud, "Especially for our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary," to which the faithful respond with the laudatory hymn in honor of the Mother of God, "It is truly meet" (During Holy Pascha and all the twelve great feasts, until their giving up, instead of "It is truly meet..." a special hymn is chanted, which is the ninth irmos of the festal canon from Matins with its appropriate refrains). The priest at this time privately prays for the reposed, and in beginning the prayer for the living says aloud, "Among the first, remember, O Lord, the Orthodox episcopate...," that is, the most holy Eastern Orthodox patriarchs and the ruling hierarchy. The faithful respond, "And [all mankind]." The prayer for the living ends with the exclamation of the priest, "And grant unto us that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and hymn Thy most honorable and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages." After this he gives his blessing to all those present, "And may the mercy of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, be with you all."
The Preparation of the Faithful for Communion.
This section begins with the Supplicatory Litany, "Having called to remembrance all the saints, again and again, in peace let us pray to the Lord....For the precious Gifts now offered and sanctified - That our God, the Lover of mankind, Who hath received them upon His holy and most heavenly and noetic altar as an odor of spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us Divine Grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit..." Then come the usual requests of the Supplicatory Litany, which ends with the exclamation of the priest, "And vouchsafe us, O Master, with boldness and without condemnation to dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God, as Father, and to say." The choir chants the "Our Father...," and in some churches all those present sing this prayer together. Then follows the bestowal of peace and the bowing of one's head during which the priest prays to the Lord that He sanctify the faithful and enable them to partake without condemnation of the Holy Mysteries. At this time the deacon, while standing on the ambo, takes the orarion from his shoulder and girds himself with it in a cruciform pattern, in order to 1) serve the priest unencumbered during Communion and 2) to express his reverence for the Holy Gifts by representing the Seraphim who, as they surround the Throne of God, cover their faces with their wings (Is. 6:2-3). During the exclamation of the deacon, "Let us attend," the curtain is closed and the priest lifts the Holy Lamb above the Diskos and loudly proclaims, "Holy things are for the holy." This means that the Holy Gifts may be given only to the "holy," that is, the faithful who have sanctified themselves with prayer, fasting and the Mystery of Repentance.
In recognition of their unworthiness, the chanters, in the name of the faithful, exclaim, "One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen."
The faithful who intend to come to Holy Communion must in advance attend the Vigil service in the church and read at home "The Order of Preparation for Holy Communion."
Then follows the communion of the serving clergy in the Sanctuary. The priest divides the Holy Lamb into four parts, and communes himself and then gives the Holy Mysteries to the deacon. After the communion of the clergy, the portions intended for the communion of the laity are put into the Chalice. During the communion of the clergy various verses of the psalms termed "Communion verses" are chanted, followed by various hymns relating to the feast, or the Prayers before Communion are read. The Royal Gates are opened then in preparation of the communion of the faithful laity, and the deacon with the sacred Chalice in his hands calls out, "With the fear of God and faith draw near." The opened Royal Doors are symbolic of the open tomb of the Saviour, and the bringing forth of the Holy Gifts of the appearance of Jesus Christ after His resurrection. After bowing to the Holy Chalice as before the very risen Saviour Himself, the choir, as representatives of the faithful, chant, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us." Those of the faithful who are to commune, "with the fear of God and faith," make a preliminary bow to the Holy Chalice and then listen quietly to the prayer before Communion, "I believe, O Lord and I confess..." in which they confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners, their faith in the Mystery of Communion by which, in the visible form of bread and wine, they receive the true Body and Blood of Christ as a pledge of eternal life and the Mystery of Communion with Him. They beseech Him to deem them worthy of partaking without condemnation of the Sacred Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins, promising not only not to betray Christ, as did Judas, but even amid the sufferings of life to be like the wise thief, and to firmly and boldly confess their faith. After making a full prostration - if it is not a Sunday - the faithful step forward and go up to the ambo. To keep good order and out of reverence one should not leave one's place, nor is it proper to impede or embarrass others with a desire to be first. Likewise, one should not be overly cautious and fearful, but should step forward with gratitude and serenity of faith. Each should remember that he is the first among sinners, but that the mercy of the Lord is infinite. With one's hands crossed over one's chest one should step forward to the Royal Gates for Communion and, without making a sign of the Cross near the Chalice, receive Communion from the spoon in the priest's hands. After receiving, one kisses the side of the Chalice, again without making any sign of the Cross, so that the Chalice will not be accidentally hit.
Children are encouraged to take Communion often from their earliest infancy, in the name of the faith of their parents and educators in accordance with the words of the Saviour, Suffer the little children to come unto Me and Drink of it, all of you. Children under seven or so are allowed to take Communion without confession, as they have not reached the age of responsibility or discernment.
Following Communion, the communicants step away from the Royal Gates to the small table set out specially in the center of the church, upon which are a mixture of water and wine together with some small portions of prosphora, which they drink and eat so that none of the Holy Gifts remain in the mouth but are washed down. After the communion of the laity, the priest puts all the particles taken from the offered prosphora into the Holy Chalice with a prayer that the Lord purify with His Blood the sins of all those commemorated through the prayers of the saints. He blesses the congregation with the words, "Save, O God, Thy people (those who believe in Thee) and bless Thine inheritance," (those who are Thine own, the Church of Christ). In response the choir chants, "We have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, we worship the indivisible Trinity: for - He hath saved us." This means that we have seen the true light since, having washed our sins in the Mystery of Baptism, we are called the sons of God by Grace, sons of the Light. We have received the Holy Spirit by means of sacred Chrismation, we confess the true Orthodox Faith and worship the indivisible Trinity, because He has saved us. The deacon takes the Diskos from the priest, who hands it to him from the Holy Table, and raising it before him bears it to the Table of Oblation, while the priest takes the Holy Chalice and blesses the faithful with the exclamation, "Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages" and then likewise carries it to the Table of Oblation. This last elevating and presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation, their removal to the Table of Oblation, and the exclamation, are to remind us of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven and His promise to remain in the Church for all time unto the end of the ages (Matt. 28:20).
Thanksgiving for Communion and the Dismissal.
Bowing to the Holy Gifts for the last time, as to the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the faithful express their thanks to the Lord for Communion of the Holy Mysteries. The choir chants the hymn of gratitude, "Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may hymn Thy glory, for Thou hast vouchsafed us to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-creating Mysteries. Keep us in Thy holiness, that we may meditate on Thy righteousness all the day long. Alleluia."
Having exalted the Lord because He has deemed us worthy of partaking of the Divine and immortal and life-creating Mysteries, we ask Him to preserve us in the holiness which we have received through the Holy Mystery of Communion, that we may contemplate on the righteousness of God throughout the entire day. Following this, the deacon intones the Small Litany, "Aright! Having partaken of the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, and life-creating, fearful Mysteries of Christ," and thus summons us to "worthily give thanks unto the Lord."
Having asked His help in living the whole day in holiness, peace, and sinlessness, he invites us to devote ourselves and our lives to Christ God. The priest, folding up the Antimins and placing it on the Gospel, exclaims, "For Thou art our sanctification, and unto Thee do we send up glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages." And then he adds, "Let us depart in peace."
This indicates that the Liturgy has concluded and that one should leave the Church at peace with all. The choir in the name of all chants, "In the name of the Lord," that is, we go forth with the blessing of the Lord. The priest then comes out through the Royal Gates and stands facing the Altar in front of the Ambo and reads the "Prayer before the Ambo," in which he again requests that the Lord save his people and bless His inheritance, sanctify those who love the splendor of the church building, and not deprive all those who hope on His mercy, grant peace to the world, to the priests, to faithful rulers, and to all mankind. This prayer is a condensed version of all the litanies uttered throughout the Divine Liturgy.
After the conclusion of the prayer before the ambo the faithful devote themselves to the will of God with the prayer of the Psalmist "Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and forevermore." Often at this point a pastoral sermon, based on the Word of God, is given for the spiritual enlightenment and edification of the people. The priest then offers a final blessing, "The blessing of the Lord be upon you, through His grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages," and gives thanks unto God, "Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our hope, glory to Thee."
Turning to the people and signing himself with the sign of the Cross, which the people should also make, the priest utters the Dismissal, "May Christ our True God..." At the Dismissal, after the priest commemorates the prayers for us by the Mother of God, the saint of the church, the saints whose memory is celebrated on that day, the righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna (the parents of the Mother of God), and all the saints, he expresses the hope that Christ the true God, will have mercy and save us since He is good and loves mankind. He steps to the bottom of the ambo and holds the holy Cross for the faithful to venerate and distributes the antidoron, the remainders from the prosphora which are cut into small pieces. In an orderly fashion the faithful proceed forward to kiss the Cross as a witness to their faith in the Saviour, in Whose memory the Divine Liturgy was celebrated. The choir chants a short prayer for the preservation for many years of the most holy Orthodox patriarchs, the ruling bishop, the parishioners and all Orthodox Christians.