Father Christopher, Your blessing!
What is the symbolism, if any, of elevating the αέρας above the
officiating high priest as the Creed is recited during the Divine
I thank You in advance and remain with all due respect.
Answer to Question 78.
The Divine Liturgy has many symbolic meanings and can be interpreted in
different ways depending on how the fathers themselves who gave us the
interpretations understood these symbols. In general the interpretation
of the Liturgy and theology as a whole is based on the school of thought
a certain father was most influenced by. In the early Church there were
two schools of thought that developed around the same time: the Schools
of Alexandria and Antioch. If you want a detailed explanation of the
differences of these two schools read the Talks I gave on the "VARIOUS
INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LITURGY".
In short the Alexandrian
philosophical approach to scripture led to teachings that gave
precedence to Christ’s divinity sometimes at the expense of his humanity
and the Antiochians gave precedence to Christ's humanity sometimes at
the expense of his divinity.
The Alexandrians perceived the entire Liturgy as an ascent from the
material to the spiritual; from the lower existence to the unity of the
divine. Their approach was exclusively eschatological and they didn't
give any emphasis to the historical events of Christ’s life. In
contrast, the Antiochians focused on Christ’s earthly ministry and all
the historical events of his life, thus everything taking place in the
Liturgy is symbolically associated with Christ's earthly life. Both
schools took their teachings to extremes which led to heresies like
Arianism and Nestorianism. The correct approach which the Church adopted
is a marriage of both schools.
The symbolism behind the Aer begins with the Great Entrance as
understood by the School of Antioch.
The Great Entrance is seen as Christ being led to his Passion and
Crucifixion and death on the Cross and at the same time the funeral
cortege. The Sanctuary becomes the tomb and the Holy Altar the actual
stone where Christ’s Body was laid. The Priest sets the Paten and the
Chalice upon the Altar and removes the veils. Then taking the Aer from
his shoulders he censes it and covers with it the holy gifts. As he does
so, he says the following hymn:
“Down from the tree Joseph, a godly man, took Thy most pure Body, and
wound it in linen clothes with the spices, and laid and closed it in a
With this interpretation the Aer represents the stone that was placed to
close the tomb.
During the reciting of the Creed, the Priest takes up the Aer and,
holding it over the Sacred Gifts and calmly shakes it up and down. At
the words of the Creed “And the third day He rose again according to the
scriptures, and ascended into heaven” the Priest lifts the Aer from the
holy gifts, folds it and kisses it and lays it aside with the other
veils. As already mentioned the Aer represented the stone which Joseph
placed upon the tomb and which was later sealed by the Roman guards. The
shaking represents the earthquake mentioned in the Gospel when Mary
Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb very early on that Sunday
morning of the Resurrection: “And behold, there was a great earthquake:
for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled
back the stone from the door.” (Matt. 28: 2) The lifting of the Aer at
the words “And the third day He rose again according to the scriptures”
represents the stone being rolled away to reveal that Christ Resurrected
from the dead.
But this does not fully answer your question which was why the Aer is
elevated above the officiating high priest during the reciting of the
Creed. If my memory serves me right, I remember reading that in older
times it was customary for the Creed to be written on the Aer. It was
raised above the high priest to symbolise that the Creed is above all
and no high priest, not even a Patriarch, is above or can teach anything
contrary to the Creed of Faith formulated by the Ecumenical Councils.
With love in Christ