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    TALK ON

 THE INTERPRETATION AND

MEANING OF THE DIVINE LITURGY

Part 2      26th April 2007

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Last week we looked at the Office of Oblation. We saw how the Priests cuts away the Lamb from the rest of the prosphoron and we finished with the pouring of wine and water into the chalice. All the things we did last week we did in remembrance of the Passion of our Lord. Today we begin with the second part of the Oblation which begins with the remembrance of the Mother of God and the Saints. The Priest takes a second prosphoron and to the left of the seal of the lamb he cuts out a triangular piece saying:
“In honour and remembrance of our blessed Lady, Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary; at whose intercessions do Thou, O Lord, accept this sacrifice unto Thy heavenly altar.”
Here we are asking that God accepts our offering through the prayers of the Mother of God. As we mentioned last week, the Mother of God is the Ladder that joins heaven and earth. Through her own free will she became the vessel through which the Divine Economy cured the injury caused by the fall. Through this service to man, the Mother of God became a benefactor to all creation. In life, her womb became the throne of the Godhead, in falling asleep it was only fitting that she would be recognized as the Queen of heaven. She sits as the Queen of Heaven at her Son’s side, having entered into perfect union with God and watches over the destiny of the world. Thus the Priest taking out the particle for the Mother of God, lays it on the right side of the holy bread [the Priest’s left hand side] saying King David’s prophecy concerning the Mother of God:
“The Queen stood by on the right hand, clothed in vesture wrought with gold, and arrayed in divers colours.”
(Psalm 44:9 Septuagint)
Then from the same or third prosphoron the Priest shall take out nine smaller triangular particles and lay them on the left of the holy bread [the Priest’s right hand side], making three ranks each with three particles. Thus taking out the first particle, he shall place it to the left of the Lamb, beginning with it the first rank saying:
“In honour and remembrance of the holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the bodiless heavenly hosts.”
We honour and remember the Angels because they also took part in the work of the Divine Economy and are also spiritually present during the Divine Liturgy. Before the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Angels had only a vague idea of the Mystery of Christ, but with God appearing in the flesh, they also received enlightenment. And when the time was fulfilled, it was to the Angels that God first revealed the Mystery of the Divine Economy and they in their turn revealed it to man. It was the Archangel Gabriel who visited Zacharias to tell him of the birth of John the Baptist who was himself an angel, a messenger and forerunner, come first to prepare the way of the Lord. It was the Archangel Gabriel who revealed to the Virgin Mary that she was to conceive in her womb the Son of God, It was Angels who revealed to the shepherds that Christ was born in Bethlehem. Here also at the Prothesis which mystically represents Bethlehem and the cave where Christ was born, the Angels sing aloud saying “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”
And taking out a second particle, he shall lay it below the first saying:
“Of the glorious Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist, of the holy and glorious Prophets, Moses and Aaron, Elias and Elisha, David and Jesse; of the Three Holy Children and Daniel the Prophet; and all the holy prophets.”
And taking out a third particle, he shall lay it below the second, thus completing the first rank saying:
“Of the holy and all-glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, [of the holy and all-glorious Apostle Barnabas, the founder and protector of the Church of Cyprus]; and of all the holy Apostles.”
And taking out a fourth particle he shall place it next to the first particle, thus beginning the second rank saying:
“Of our fathers among the saints, the great hierarchs and teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, Athanasius and Cyril, Nicholas of Myra, and of all the holy hierarchs.”
Then taking a fifth particle, he shall place it below the fourth saying:
“Of the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen; of the holy Greatmartyrs George the Victory bearer, Demetrius the Outpourer of myrrh, Theodore of Tyron and Theodore Stratelates; of the holy Hieromartyrs Charalambos and Eleutherius and of all the holy martyrs.”
And taking out a sixth particle, he shall place it below the fifth, thus completing the second rank, saying:
“Of our sacred fathers whom God inspired, Anthony, Euthymius, Savva, Onuphrius, Athanasius of Athos, Silouan the Athonite, and of all the holy ascetics.”
And taking out a seventh particle, he shall place it at the top next to the fourth particle, thus beginning the third rank, saying:
“Of the holy wonderworkers and selfless physicians Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleimon and Hermolaus, and of all the holy physicians.”
And taking out an eighth particle, he shall place it below the seventh, saying:
“Of the holy and righteous progenitors of God Joachim and Anna; of [name of saint to whom the Church is dedicated]; of [name of saint] to whose memory we dedicate this day; and of all the saints, at whose intercessions visit us, O God.”
And so taking a ninth particle he shall set it below the eighth particle, to complete the third rank saying:
“Of our father among the saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. [But if the Liturgy of St. Basil is to be celebrated, he shall say Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia].”
The Divine Liturgy is the revelation of the communion of the saints and at the same time a thanksgiving on our part for the communion of saints. Thus remembering the various ranks of saints, the Priest takes out a small particle for each rank placing them in order to the left of the lamb. For just as in heaven the unaccountable numbers of the saints are with Christ, here also we show the saints’ undivided bond and union with him. The saints suffered for Christ and with Christ, and with this awesome mystery they become partakers of even greater glory. For us they reconcile us with Christ beseeching him as our fellow brothers to show his mercy upon us. In the Divine Liturgy, we live the mystery of the Church, the mystery of the communion of the Saints. We are nourished with the Body of Christ the Eucharist, and revealed is the Body of Christ the Church. Through the Eucharist we are nourished and we become one Body of Christ and one flesh. Nicholas Cabasilas writing in the 14th Century says that: “The Choir of the saints is the purpose of the Divine Economy. For this reason did God become man and preached, suffered and died, so that men might be translated from earth to heaven and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom. The choir of the Saints is the proof that the kingdom of God has already been granted to us. With millions of her members sent to heaven like a colonization, the Church has indeed inherited the Kingdom of heaven.
Then either from the same prosphoron or from another he shall take out a particle and lay it below the holy bread saying:
“Remember, O Master and lover of mankind, all the Orthodox Episcopate, our father and Archbishop [Name], the honourable order of priesthood, the diaconate which is in Christ, and every clerical and monastic order; our brethren and fellow-ministers, the priests, the deacons and all our brethren which Thou hast called into Thy fellowship, by Thy tender mercy, O gracious Sovereign.”
Then he shall commemorate [if he is still among the living] the bishop who ordained him and those of the living whose names he has, and at each name, he shall take out a particle and place it below the Lamb saying:
“Remember, O Lord, [names].”
Then either from the same prosphoron or from another, he shall take out a particle and lay it below the particles of the living saying:
“For a remembrance and remission of the sins of the blessed founders of this holy temple [monastery].”
Then he shall commemorate the bishop who ordained him [if he has departed this life] and such that have departed this life, as he will, and at each name he shall take out a particle and place it below the particles of the living saying:
“Remember, O Lord, [names].”
And he shall take out a last particle for the departed saying:
“And all our Orthodox fathers and brethren, fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection, of life eternal and fellowship with Thee, O Lord and lover of mankind.”
So now the Priest has called to remembrance the living who are the Church Militant and those who have departed, the Church Triumphant. St Symeon of Thessalonica says that the particle that the priest takes out for each living brother and placed near to the Lamb receives sanctification when the Lamb becomes the Body of Christ and partakes thereof. And he continues. “The Particle is placed in the holy chalice and is joined to the Divine Blood of Christ, thus, the soul of the person for whom the particle was offered receives Grace. In this way there is a spiritual communion of the person with Christ. And if the person is a person who lives piously or has repented of his sins, he invisibly receives in his soul the communion of the Holy Spirit. This sanctification that the Holy Communion gives to the living is not deprived from those who have fallen asleep. The grace that our departed brothers receive from our Lord is no less from that which is received from the living. During the Divine Liturgy, the souls of the departed through the prayers of the priest, receive forgiveness of sins. St John Chrysostom says that the holy Apostles instituted the remembrance of the departed during the Divine Liturgy because they recognized that the souls had much to gain and benefit. And in another talk he tells us “not to weary from helping those who have departed from this present life offering prayers on their behalf.
The priest shall last of all take out one more particle and place it among the living saying:
“Remember, O Lord, my sinful self, and forgive me my trespasses, voluntary and involuntary.”
Thus having finished remembering the living and the dead, we now have on the paten an image of our gathering, in other words an image of our Holy Church.
Near to Christ and the Mother of God, together with the saints and the heavenly powers, we live the mystery of the Ecumenical gathering, a thanksgiving of our One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
It now remains for the Priest to cover the offerings until the time for their uncovering after the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy.
The Deacon taking up the censer and putting incense therein shall say to the Priest:
“Master, bless the incense.”
And the Priest shall bless the incense saying:
“We offer incense unto thee, O Christ our God, for a sweetsmelling savour of spiritual fragrance, which do thou accept upon Thy most heavenly altar; and send down upon us the grace of Thy most Holy Spirit.”
The Lord speaking through the Prophet Malachi said: “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering.” (Malachi 1:11) The pure offering is the Divine Eucharist, the bloodless sacrifice which is offered with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The incense now to be used by the priest foreshadows the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Gifts. The prayer said at the blessing of the incense denote exactly this, that God will find our offering of incense pleasing and in return will send down upon us the grace of the Holy Spirit. The sweet smelling aroma of the smoke suggests the spiritual fragrance of the Holy Spirit. The Priest by offering incense at the Prothesis, honours God with his offering and at the same time shows that what he performs, he does with the Holy Spirit and that through this Mystery the grace of the Holy Spirit has been poured out to all the earth.
Before the covering the Priest shall place above the Lamb the Asterisk (star).
Thus blessing it first with the incense, he shall set it over the holy bread saying:
“And the star came and stood over where the young child was with Mary his mother.”
The Asterisk has a practical use for it protects the lamb from the covering especially if the coverings are of cloth, but also represents the star of Bethlehem which guided the Magi to Christ the true God.
Then censing the first veil, the Priest shall cover the holy bread and the paten saying:
“The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” (
Psalm [92] 93)
Before the coming of Christ, we were under the tyranny of the devil, under sin and death. Christ became man to set us free from this tyranny and to grant us the freedom of the Holy Spirit. With the fall man was exiled from the kingdom of God, but now the Lord has come and set man under his royal sceptre. The prophecy “The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: is thus fulfilled. But what is the strength the Lord has girded himself with? It is his most holy Body. This is the garment he has clothed himself with. Christ’s flesh became the garment and belt with which he girded himself and by which he overcame the devil. Christ was victorious and established the world upon the true stone which is Himself.
Then censing the second veil he shall cover the chalice saying:
“Thy virtue, O Christ, covered the heavens, and the earth was full of Thy praise.”
(Hab. 3:3)
The greatest example of God’s blessing upon man are the gifts of Baptism and the Divine Eucharist which he grants us. What can equal these gifts that make man into gods and sons of God, that honours human nature with Godlike honour, which makes the clay to climb to such points of glory that it becomes through grace one with God. This is the virtue of God which has covered the heavens and caused the earth to be full of his praise.
The Priest shall then cense the third veil, that is the aer, and cover both the paten and the chalice saying:
“Hide us under the shadow of Thy wings, and drive from us every foe and adversary. Grant us a peaceable life, O Lord. Have mercy upon us and upon Thy world and save our souls, for Thou art good and loving-kind.”
(Psalm 17: 8)
The offering remains covered from this moment until the reading of the Creed during the Divine Liturgy. With the covering of the holy offering, it reminds us that not everyone recognized Christ from the beginning. When Christ was born, his life remained almost hidden for thirty years. And then when he appeared publicly his brothers said unto him “ show thyself to the world,” and Christ answered them “My time has not yet come.” (St John 7:3-6) Christ’s time is the time of his sacrifice. The covers are lifted during the Creed because that is the beginning of the Liturgy of the faithful and that is the time for the sacrifice, that is the time for Christ to reveal himself.
Then taking the censer the Priest shall cense the whole oblation saying three times:
“Blessed is our God, who hath been well pleased on this wise. Glory be to Thee. Always, now and for ever: world without end. Amen.”
In Genesis we read that God blessed creation, man and time. And because man accepted God’s blessing, he is obliged to acknowledge this gift by glorifying his holy name. But sin did not allow man to glorify his creator but rather turned the blessing into a curse. But now God has sent a greater blessing, he has sent Christ his only begotten Son. Christ sets us free from the curse of old by becoming himself a curse for us: for he humbled himself so that he might raise us, and he died on the cross that we might have eternal life. This is the blessing that we receive at the Divine Liturgy and we give thanks unto God by blessing him and glorifying his holy name for all his wondrous gifts and benefits he has wrought upon us.
Then the Priest lifting his hands shall say the following prayer of Oblation:
“O God, our God, who didst send the bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth food to all flesh, Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, our Saviour, Redeemer and Benefactor, by whom we are hallowed and blessed: do Thou bless this oblation here set forth, and receive it unto Thy most heavenly altar. Remember of Thy goodness and loving-kindness them by whom and for whom these things are offered; and preserve us uncondemned in the sacred service of Thy divine mysteries.
For hallowed and glorified be Thy most honourable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end. Amen.”

Christ is the heavenly Bread, he came down from heaven as he tells us in St. John’s Gospel: “my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”(6:32) The Aer symbolizes the consent of the Father, the consent from heaven for the Son to be sacrificed. The Father’s consent is confirmed by Christ’s words to Pilate when he said to him: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. ( St John 19:11) Thus the Office of Oblation is the preparation of the Mystery and work of the Trinity. Christ the Lamb is offered, the Father symbolized by the Aer gives his consent and the Holy Spirit symbolized by the Incense prepares the entrance of the Great King. All of God’s works, the works of creation, recreation and the salvation of man are brought about by all three Persons of the Godhead for the Father does all things through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
After this the Priest will give the dismissal and taking up the censer will cense the Sanctuary, the Iconostasis and all the Church. In most Churches where the Divine Liturgy follows Mattins, this censing has been reduced to just censing the Sanctuary. In older times the Priest would cense the Church and all the people at the start of the Doxology. The censing has nothing to do with the Doxology, which is the end of the Mattins service, but to welcome the faithful into the house of the Lord and at the start of the Liturgy we ask Christ to receive our prayers and to send down his Holy Spirit to enlighten us to understand the sacrifice and all that he has done for us. This censing is a remnant of a custom which eastern peoples had when they received guests into their homes. They would anoint their heads with aromatic oils. In Cyprus we also have a remnant of this custom. In villages where they still hold on to the old customs, the women would receive their guests by offering incense with olive leaves. They still do this when one of their Children brings home for the first time their future husband or wife to meet the family. The Mother offers incense and censes the new member of the family and in this way offers up a prayer for the safekeeping of her family.