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TALK ON THE VARIOUS

INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LITURGY

Part 2

21st Oct 2010

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Last time I spoke to you about the two schools of Alexandria and Antioch which were influential in developing the theological thoughts of fathers who gave us various interpretations of the actions and symbols of the Divine Liturgy. Today we will begin with a look at the first part of the Liturgy which is called the Proskomide or as it is better known in English “the office of oblation”.
For the preparation the priest needs the two basic vessels: the Paten or Discus and the Chalice and he will also need the spear. Each has a practical use but also a symbolic meaning or even many meanings. Thus for its practical use the Paten is used to carry the sacrificial lamb to the Altar but it also symbolises the manger where Christ was laid in the cave of Bethlehem and also the place where he was laid after his saving death on the Cross. According to St. Germanos of Constantinople, it also represents the hands of Joseph and Nicodemus who buried Christ. This interpretation will become clearer when we come to the symbolic meanings of the Great Entrance.
The Chalice is the vessel through which we give Holy Communion to the people, but is also represents the very cup that Christ used at that first Mystical Supper. The cup that after he had blessed, he gave to his disciples saying “Drink ye all of it; this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”
The Spear is used to cut away the lamb from the rest of the bread but it also represents the spear the soldier used to pierce the side of Christ when He was on the Cross and having pieced his side, there forthwith came out blood and water.(John 19:34)
So having selected the breads and wine he will use he will say, as he prepares to begin, the hymn from the pre-feast of Christmas:
“Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life has blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin. For her womb has been shown forth as a spiritual paradise, in which is the divine plant, from which if we eat thereof, we shall live and not die as Adam. Christ shall be born raising the image that fell of old.”
The hymn is appropriate before the sacrificial offering begins because as I mentioned last time, the Prothesis is symbolically linked to the cave of Bethlehem and it is in this cave that our salvation becomes manifest. It is from this symbolism that the Paten is given the symbolism of representing the manger which was in the cave of Bethlehem and where the newly-born Jesus was laid as if in a baby-cot. It is in this cave that God appeared in the flesh as a human being with the intention of being sacrificed for the salvation of the whole world. Very often we hear a hymn and don’t pay attention to what is really been said. In we look carefully at the hymn we will see that we are given the whole story of Adam and Eve’s fall from immortality to death and how we can reverse our condition and go from death to eternal life. Adam ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and fell from grace and eventually died. But in Paradise there was another tree called the “Tree of Life”. In Genesis we are told that God cast out Adam from the Garden of Eden because as God himself says “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever… So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24) The hymn identifies the tree of life as Christ who has blossomed forth in the Virgin’s womb, the divine plant from which if we eat thereof, we shall live and not die as did Adam. And that is the purpose of our offering that it will be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, from which, if we partake we will have eternal life.
The Priest then takes the spear and placing it on the Prosphoron (bread) he raises them to his forehead saying:
“Thou hast redeemed us by Thy Precious Blood from the curse of the law: being nailed to the Cross and pierced with the spear, Thou art become for men the fount of immortal life: our Saviour, glory to Thee.” (Troparion for Great Friday)
The first hymn the Priest said revealed Christ’s Nativity. The Second reveals his Crucifixion for as Christ said “for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27) In other words he was born to suffer the passion and the crucifixion. The lifting of the bread represents his lifting up on the Cross. His Sacrifice on the Cross has redeemed us from the curse of the law and we are made free men with the gift of the Holy Spirit which followed.
The Priest then officially begins the Office of oblation saying:
“Blessed is our God, always now and forever world without end.”
Then holding with his left hand the prosphoron and with his right the holy spear, he makes with the spear, the sign of the Cross three times over the prosphoron saying each time:
“In remembrance of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
At that very first celebration of the Mystical Supper, Christ took the bread and after giving thanks, broke it and gave to his apostles saying: “This is my Body which is given for you,” then offering the cup he said “This is the cup of the New Testament in my Blood, which is shed for you.” Thus Christ at this supper performed a remembrance of his own sacrifice on the Cross before his Passion and Crucifixion and gave the commandment for us to also do this in remembrance of him. We are called to remember Christ’s suffering – his Passion, his Crucifixion and death, in other words the events which seem to denote nothing but weakness, because it is through his sufferings and death that brought about our salvation, it is through his death that we were redeemed. This is verified by St. Paul who writing to the Corinthians concerning this mystery added after the Lord’s words “Do this in remembrance of me” “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor. 11:26)
The priest now has to separate the Lamb from the rest of the bread and to do this he needs to make five cuts. As he does so he calls to mind the prophecy by the Prophet Isaiah and the words he said concerning the Lord’s Passion. Thus taking the spear or a sharp knife used solely for this purpose, he makes an incision into the right side of the seal where is the IC, and while he cuts it, he says:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.”
The Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross was prefigured by the Jewish Passover and the sacrificial slaughter of the lamb. The lamb is a harmless gentle animal and is used to symbolize Christ who was meek and gentle. St. John in his Gospel also makes mention of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Then making a cut on the left side where is the XC, he says:
“And as a lamb without blemish before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.”
Just as the lamb remains silent when being led to have its wool cut by the shearer, Christ also remained silent when he was led before his accusers and judges. Christ is silent before the High priests, he is silent before Pilate. His silence underlines the fact that he willingly accepted to be crucified as he himself said “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.
The Priest then cuts the upper part of the Seal saying:
“In his humiliation, his judgement was taken away.”

We often talk of Christ’s humility but don’t understand the full extent of this humility. Just think that Christ is God the creator of heaven and earth and to save mankind, who disobeyed and rejected him, he humbled himself to the level of becoming a lowly creature like us, a servant suffering the same consequences of Adam’s fall, but not only this, he willingly became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. (Philippians 2:7-8) From his divine throne on high Christ walked the road of humility until he reached the Cross. His humility was so great in relation to his height as God. It is a great humility that Christ became a servant, something that can not be put to words, but to suffer death is so much more. And what sort of death because not all deaths are the same? He suffered the most humiliating of all deaths because crucifixion was considered a curse and the most humiliating form of death. As St. Paul says: “being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13) Because he remained humble his judgement was taken away, in other words, although innocent in all things, he was deprived of all righteousness and was condemned to death. He was not given the usual trial where someone is innocent until proven guilty. His accusers and judges had already found him guilty long before the trial.
Then cutting the lower part of the seal the Priest says:
“Who shall declare his generation?”
The Prophet means by generation - who shall declare his existence, because who can explain the existence of the Only-Begotten Son. What language can narrate how the Son was begotten of the Father before all ages. We know and believe that the Son was born of the Father, but how is beyond our understanding.
Then the Priest thrusting the spear or the knife horizontally into the side of the prosphoron he cuts it so that he can lift out the lamb from it saying:
“For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the lamb is placed on the paten for the moment inside down.
This reminds us of Christ’s words when he said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” (John 12:32-33) His sacrifice was offered for all mankind. St. John Chrysostom says: “Why was Christ’s sacrifice not made within the temple, but rather outside the city walls in a high place? And he replies to this question: So that you might learn that his sacrifice was for all men. So that you might learn that his offering was for all the earth. The lamb of the Jewish Passover was sacrificed in secret confined within the temple walls, but Christ stretches out his pure hands and embraces the whole of creation. One of the hymns that we sing on Great and holy Friday evening around the Epitaphion also gives us this understanding: “The lamb of old was in secret sacrificed, but under open skies. O Saviour longsuffering, cleansing all creation, thou wast sacrificed.”
In the Acts of the Apostles you might remember that when the Apostle Philip approached the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch who had the charge of Queen Candace’s treasure, he was reading aloud from the Book of Isaiah. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading and he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? The passage he was reading was the prophesy the priest just said: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” And the eunuch asked Philip, of whom does the prophet speak, of himself, or of some other man? And Philip starting from the same scripture, preached unto him Jesus. (Acts of the Apostles 8:32-35) The Priest with these same prophetic sayings does the same thing: he begins preaching the good news of the Eucharistic sacrifice and presence of Christ.
With the Lamb upside down on the Paten the Priest now makes two more cuts in a form of a cross right down to the crust but still leaving the seal intact. As he makes the first cut he says:
“The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, is sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world.”
The verse is in two parts and taken from the New Testament. The first is taken from the words said by St. John the Baptist when he saw Christ coming to him to be baptized. (John 1:29) The second, “is sacrificed for the life and salvation of the world” is taken from Christ’s own words when he said: “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (St John 6:51)
The Priest then makes the second cut crosswise saying:
“When Thou wast crucified, O Christ, the tyranny of the enemy was destroyed, and his power was trampled underfoot. For it was not an angel nor a man that saved us, but Thou Thyself, O Lord: glory to Thee.”
This verse reassures us that with Christ’s crucifixion, the devil’s tyranny was crushed and destroyed, his power was trampled underfoot. No more is there the religion of demons: creation has been sanctified with the Divine Blood, the temples of idols have been destroyed and the knowledge of God has taken root. The consubstantial holy Trinity is worshiped, the uncreated Godhead, the one true God, the creator and Lord of all. And this, our salvation came about not because of an angel or a man, but because Christ himself saved us through his Passion and death on the Cross.
Then the Priest turns the lamb the right way up and pierces it with the spear on the right side, immediately below the IC saying:
“One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true.” (John 19:34-35)
And saying this, the Priest pours wine and water into the Chalice.
With these words, the Priest recalls the Roman soldier who with a spear pierced Christ’s side. The Holy Fathers write that the blood and water that came forth, are an image of the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. These two Sacraments that flow from Christ’s side create the Church. From these two Mysteries the Church was born. Thus Christ created the Church from his side exactly as he created Eve from the side of Adam. And as he created Eve while Adam was asleep, so too the Church was created as Christ the New Adam was sleeping in death. From his side he gives life to mankind.
The Priest then blesses over the chalice saying:
“Blessed is the union of Thy holy things, always, now and for ever: world without end. Amen.”
In other words, he blesses the Church that has been born from Christ’s side.
The first part of the offering is now complete. We have prepared the Lamb and poured the wine and water into the chalice which during the Liturgy will be consecrated and transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ. But if you remember our last talk I mentioned that our offering is not only a sacrifice, but also a thanksgiving for all the things God has bestowed upon us and also an offering of ourselves and the whole world to God. The Divine Liturgy is not just a symbolic act; it is the ascension of the Church to heaven, the return of man to God. Christ himself takes all of us and our whole life back to God. So of necessity our offering must represent the Church comprising of both the living and the dead, or rather the earthly and the heavenly Church.
The second part of the offering is therefore dedicated to representing the Church of whom Christ is the head. The first person to be remembered is the Mother of God. The Priest takes a second prosphoron or using the same prosphoron he will cut out a triangular piece from the left of the seal of the lamb 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. 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 a 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 lays 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.
On the Paten we now have the sacrificial Lamb, the Mother of God and all the ranks of saints, in other words, the Church Triumphant: the members of the Church we know who fought the good fight and were victorious in their struggles: the members of the Church who found union with Christ. But the Church comprises of many more who are still living, who are still fighting and hoping for their complete union with Christ: the Church Militant.
So again from the same prosphoron or from another the Priest takes out particles for the living remembering first the bishop in whose metropolitan area he serves and all the priesthood, 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.”
He will then commemorate [if he is still among the living] the bishop who ordained him and those of the living whose names he has, in other words, the names of those he wishes to remember like his fellow priests, his family, the church committee, the choir, those who freely give their time to help in the parish activities and charity work, those who have made the bread and brought the wine for the offering, those who have asked him to be remembered, and those who are ill. At he mentions each name, he takes out a small particle and places it below the Lamb saying:
“Remember, O Lord, [names].”
But the Church is still not complete. On the Paten is the Lamb, the Mother of God, the saints and the Living members, but we need to remember also those members who died in the hope of the Resurrection. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who passed over to the spiritual world, and although members of the Church, we do not know if in the other world they have found salvation or are in torment. But wherever they are, they are still our brethren and still members of the Church and we have a duty to remember them also. So again from the same prosphoron or from another, he Priest takes out particles and lays them 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 commemorates the bishop who ordained him [if he has departed this life] and then all those of the departed whose names he has and those who names he has been given for a memorial. Thus he says:
“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 denotes 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. During our English Liturgies where we don’t sing Mattins, but only the Divine Liturgy I cense the whole Church. Here the censing has a double purpose. The first is the censing at the end of the Proskomede and the second to welcome the faithful into the house of the Lord for the start of the Divine Liturgy whereby 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.