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TALK ON THE VARIOUS

INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LITURGY

Part 6

18th Nov 2010

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Today’s talk is the last in a series of talks on the various interpretations of the Divine Liturgy. Last week we finished with the consecration of the Holy Gifts. The bread and wine we offered to God as a representation of our life and a thanksgiving for all the wondrous things he has bestowed upon us have now been returned to us as the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: they have been returned to us as life eternal in the kingdom of heaven. From the beginning of our offering of sacrifice we saw in our offering not just an act of supplication; but also an act of thanksgiving. Now with the consecration of the Holy Gifts we see clearly the reasons for our thanksgiving.
The Priest uniting thanksgiving with petition states the reasons for thanksgiving and names those for whom prayer is still needed. The reasons for thanksgiving are the Saints; for in them the Church finds that which she seeks and obtains that for which she has prayed - the kingdom of heaven. Those for whom she prays are they who have not yet reached perfection and are still in need of prayer.
These are the Priest’s words concerning the saints:
“We offer thee also this spiritual sacrifice in honour of those who rest in faith, our fathers and ancestors, patriarchs, apostles, prophets, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, virgins and all souls who have departed in peace, and especially for our most holy and undefiled, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary.”

Then he commemorates the whole assembly of the saints. They are the cause for which the Church gives thanks to God. It is for them that she offers to him a spiritual sacrifice in thanksgiving; above all, it is for the blessed Mother of God, who surpasses all others in holiness. That is why the Priest asks for nothing on behalf of the saints; rather, he asks that he may be assisted by them in his prayers; because, as we have said, for them the gifts are offered not in supplication but in thanksgiving. That is also why at this moment the choir sing hymns to the Mother of God as a thanksgiving:
“Meet it is in very truth to call thee blessed who didst bring forth God, ever blessed and most pure, and Mother of our God. More honourable than the cherubim and past compare more glorious than the seraphim, who inviolate didst bear God the Word, very Mother of God, thee we magnify.”
The Priest continues:
“For St. John the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, for the holy and all-glorious Apostles, for St. [Name] to whose memory we dedicate this day, and for all Thy saints, at whose intercessions visit us, O God.
And remember all them that are fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection unto life eternal: (and here he remembers such as he will of the departed, pronouncing their names and then saying) and give them rest where the light of Thy countenance watcheth over them.
Also we beseech Thee, remember, O Lord, all the Orthodox episcopate who rightly divide the word of Thy truth, all the priesthood, the diaconate which is in Christ, and all clerical and monastic orders.
Also we offer unto Thee this reasonable service for the whole world; for the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; for them that live in purity and decency; for those in authority over us who are faithful and pious and all their household. Grant unto them, O Lord, to rule over us in peace, that we also may lead a peaceable and quiet life in all godliness and decency.
And remember first, O Lord, our Archbishop [Name], whom do Thou grant to serve Thy Holy Churches in peace, safety, honour, health and length of days that he may rightly divide the word of Thy truth.”
“And everyone that each of us has in mind, and all and everyone.”
We ask the Lord to remember everyone that each of the faithful has in his thoughts so each of us should at this moment inwardly remember and pray for his loved ones and all those who have asked for our prayers.
The Priest continues:
“Remember, O Lord, this city [monastery or village] in which we live, and every city and land, and them that dwell therein with faith. Remember, O Lord, them that travel by water, by land, by air; the sick and the suffering; those in captivity and their salvation. Remember, O Lord, them that strive and bring forth the fruit of good works in Thy holy Churches and them that care for the poor; and upon all of us, do Thou send down Thy mercies.”
“And grant us with one mouth and one heart to glorify and praise Thy sublime and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”

To glorify the sublime and majestic name of God, the faithful and the whole Church must have one voice and one heart and to do this they must be joined in their love for God and one another. This is a gift from above and is only possible with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
So now after the consecration of the Holy Gifts, the thanksgivings and supplications the Holy Anaphora is finished and we begin a new phase of the Liturgy - The Preparation of the faithful to partake of the Holy Mysteries. The Priest turning to face the people shall bless them saying:
“And may the mercies of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with you all.”
The faithful who are preparing to partake of the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord have great need of his mercy to receive forgiveness of their sins. The Priests also have need of his mercy for they also are men with weaknesses. Thus the people respond with: “And with thy spirit.” The Priest then continues with a new set of supplications:
“Calling to remembrance all the saints, again and again in peace let us pray unto the Lord.”
“For the precious gifts here offered and hallowed, let us pray unto the Lord.” “That our God, which loveth mankind, who hath received them unto His holy and heavenly and spiritual altar for a sweetsmelling savour of spiritual fragrance, may send down upon us divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray unto the Lord.”
Here we pray not for the gifts to be sanctified for they have already been sanctified and transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but that they may impart this sanctification to us. For this is what we mean when we ask the merciful God, who has accepted these offerings, to send us grace in return. “Let us pray for the offerings” says the Priest, that they be not rendered powerless to produce this grace, as occasionally happened when our Saviour was on the earth — there were cities in which his almighty hand could work no miracles, because of their lack of faith. (Mark. 13:58) Thus with the next petition we ask for faith:
“Having besought the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
The unity of faith is assurance that we will be accepted in the unity of the Divine Eucharist. That is why before we approach the Chalice of life we ask from the Lord to grant us unity of faith. The one faith gives us the possibility to be nourished from the one Bread of life. The Church is one body, the Body of Christ. She has one soul, one heart, one mouth. That is why the Church denies communion to heretics- those who belong to other churches and are not in unity of faith with us. This at times can seem as hard and unchristian but how would it be possible to give communion to people who believe in Christ in a different way, with a different soul, a different heart and mouth. We would lose the unity of faith which is essential for our salvation.
The Priest then offers this prayer silently:
“Unto Thee we entrust our entire being and our hope, O Master and lover of mankind, and we beseech Thee and we pray and implore Thee, account us worthy to partake of Thy heavenly and dread mysteries at this sacred and spiritual table, with a pure conscience, unto the remission of sins, the forgiveness of transgressions, the communion of the Holy Spirit, an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, and for boldness to approach Thee, neither unto judgement nor unto condemnation.”
We are now at the threshold of our communion of the Holy Mysteries and recognize the burden of our sins, which remind us of our unworthiness to approach. Our only hope is God’s compassion and his love for mankind. Thus we now lay before God our whole life and all our expectations beseeching him to forgive us all our sins and give us the boldness to approach the sacred and spiritual table.
The Priest then says aloud:
“And vouchsafe, O Lord, that boldly and without condemnation we may dare to lift our voices unto Thee, O heavenly God and Father, and say:” The Priest, considering that our preparation is now complete and that we are worthy of Divine adoption and to be called sons and heirs of the Kingdom of the Father, asks God that we may be held worthy and dare to call him Father in the prayer that our Lord taught us. Thus with one voice we lift up our voices and say:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

And the Priest recites the conclusion as a doxology saying:
“For Thine is the kingdom. The power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”

The Lord’s Prayer is of the greatest importance because it was given to us by Christ himself as an example of prayer pleasing to God. We will not, as this time, analyze the deeper meanings of the prayer, but look only at two points of the prayer. The first we have already seen - Our Father. We call God our Father because we are sons and children of God. But this adoption, which we now receive and enjoy in the Church, is an image of the future adoption and the inheritance of the Kingdom. Children inherit wealth and lands from their parents and in a similar way we inherit the wealth of the Holy Spirit. What is this wealth? It is the Gifts and Grace of the Holy Spirit that will bestow upon all those found worthy of the kingdom the greatest gift of God’s love by making them sons and heirs which in reality means their deification, their elevation to sainthood becoming gods through the grace of God. St. John the Theologian writes in his Epistle:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2)
The other point is “Give us this day our daily bread.” From very early on, the Church placed the Lord’s Prayer at this very moment of the Liturgy as a prayer to prepare the faithful for Holy Communion, because it mentions to give us our daily bread. In Greek it is “ἐπιούσιον ἄρτον” which literally means “the bread of substance.” Many of the Church fathers interpret this bread as the bread of the Divine Liturgy, the Body of Christ.
The Priest then blesses the people saying: “Peace unto all.” As we said last week, the Priest gives this blessing of peace immediately before an important event. He gave it before the reading of the Gospel because we needed inner peace to help us understand the spiritual wisdom of the scriptures. He gave it before our confession of faith when we were called to love one another because inner peace prepares the road for love and when we are at peace we are close to God. He gives it again now because the need for peace is greater as we approach for communion. St. John Chrysostom says: Through Holy Communion, you are about to receive inside you Christ the King of all. When the King enters inside you, there must be great calm in your soul. A great quietness and peace in your mind.
We are next asked to bow down our heads before the Lord.
With the Lord’s Prayer we were reminded of our nobility by calling God our Father, now we are called upon to acknowledge him as Lord, and to show him a sign of our servitude by bowing our heads, thus indicating our dependence on him. We bow before him not simply as creatures before our Lord and Creator, but as purchased slaves to him who obtained us at the price of the blood of his only Son; for he possesses us by double right, as slaves whom he has made his children. For the same precious Blood both increased our slavery and brought about the Divine adoption.
While the faithful bow their heads, the Priest gives thanks to God for all that he has made and once more asks for those things which are necessary to each, saying:
“We give thanks unto Thee, O King invisible, who in Thine immeasurable power didst fashion all things, and in the multitude of Thy mercies didst from non-being bring all things into being. Do Thou, O Master, look down from heaven upon them that bow their heads unto Thee; for they are bowed not before flesh and blood, but unto Thee, O dread God. Therefore, do Thou grant, O Master, that these Thy gifts may be for each of us beneficial, for each according to his needs. Sail with them that sail, accompany them that travel by land, heal the sick, O Thou who art the physician of our souls and bodies.
Through the grace and compassions and love for mankind of Thine only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thine all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”

After this the Priest prays once more, in a low voice. Alls the prayer of the Divine Liturgy have up to now been directed to the Father and through the Father to the Holy Trinity. With this prayer the Priest now invokes Christ himself, who is Victim, Priest, and Bread, that he may give himself, by his own hand, to his servants.
“Give heed, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, from Thy holy dwelling place, and from the glorious throne of Thy kingdom, and come to sanctify us, O Thou that sittest on high with the Father and art here invisibly present with us. And vouchsafe by Thy mighty hand to impart unto us of Thy most pure Body and precious Blood; and through us unto all Thy people.”
At this point the Priest exclaims:
“Let us attend,” in other words let us pay attention.
And taking the Bread of Life with both hands, and raising it and making the sign of the Cross with it says:
“The Holy Things unto the holy.”
He does not invite everyone to receive Communion, but only those who are worthy, for holy things are only for the holy.” Those whom the Priest calls holy are not only those who have attained perfection, but those also who are striving for it without having yet obtained it. Nothing prevents them from being sanctified by partaking of the holy Mysteries, and from this point of view being saints. It is in this sense that the whole Church is called holy, and that the Apostle, writing to the Christian people as a whole, says to them: “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” (Heb. 3:1) The faithful are called saints because of the holy thing of which they partake, because of him who’s Body and Blood they receive. But they are also holy because the Divine Liturgy transcends our earthly time, and is in fact the Feast, the Banquet of the New Kingdom. If we understand “The Holy Things unto the holy” with our earthly time then no one can receive Communion for no one is holy but God, and to this we reply:
“One only is holy, One only is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
If the Holy things are only for those who are Holy, how do we dare approach and partake of these dread Mysteries? We partake because we anticipate the Universal Kingdom. We say “The Holy things unto the Holy” because we have been transported to the banquet of the New Kingdom. We are with Christ at the Wedding banquet which means that we have been saved and if we have been saved then we are saints and therefore Holy. If we are found standing with Christ after the General Resurrection then Christ has found us worthy to be among the ranks of saints and therefore worthy to partake of the Wedding Banquet.
The Priest now breaks the Body of Christ into four parts saying:
“Broken and divided is the Lamb of God; which being broken yet is not divided; Being ever eaten, never is consumed; But sanctifieth them that partake thereof.”
During that first ever Divine Liturgy, Christ broke the Bread and gave it to his disciples saying: “Take, eat: this is my Body which is broken for you.” At each Liturgy this act of Christ is repeated, the Priest breaks the Lamb of God and offers it to the faithful. Christ is broken but not divided. After the breaking, Christ is complete and whole in each part of the Holy Bread. When we partake, we don’t partake of a little part of Him, but we take in us the whole of Christ and being eaten he is never consumed.
Next the Priest takes one of the four pieces and puts it into the Chalice saying:
“The fullness of the Holy Spirit.”
At this moment the union of Christ’s Body and Blood takes place and means that Christ is One and proclaims the union of Christ’s nature. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit” means that Christ fills us with the Holy Spirit. Then taking a vessel with warm water, called the Zeon which means warm water, the Priest shall first bless it saying:
“Blessed is the fervency of Thy saints, always, now and for ever: world without end. Amen.” And then he pours the warm water into the chalice, saying: “The fervency of faith, fill of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The warm water symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. For the Holy Spirit came down when the whole plan of redemption had been completed. And now the descent of the Spirit comes about when the sacrifice has been offered and the holy offerings have reached their perfection. Starting with the Preparation for the Divine Liturgy until now we have seen the whole scheme of Christ’s work. We saw the symbol of the infant Christ, of Christ led to death, crucified, and pierced with a lance; then we saw the bread transformed into the most holy Body which actually endured these sufferings, and rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, where it sits at the right hand of the Father. So it is fitting that the later fulfilment of all these events should be symbolized, that the celebration of the Liturgy may be complete, the final effects being added to the work of redemption. What is the final effect? It is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. And this is represented by the warm water poured into the chalice. Since this warm water is not only water, but shares the nature of fire, it signifies the Holy Spirit, who is sometimes represented by water, and who came down upon the Apostles in the form of fire. This point of the liturgy represents that moment in time, for the Holy Spirit came down after all things pertaining to Christ had been accomplished. In the same way, when the holy offerings have attained their ultimate perfection, this water is added. For the mysteries also represent the Church, which is the Body of Christ; she received the Holy Spirit after our Lord’s ascension; now she receives the gift of the Holy Spirit after the offerings have been accepted at the heavenly altar; God, who has accepted them, sends us the Holy Spirit in return, as we have said; for then and now there is one Mediator and one Spirit.
The Priest will then say to himself the prayers of preparation and receives communion. After his Communion he will place the other pieces of the Body into the Chalice and call the faithful to approach saying: “With fear of God, with faith and love thaw near.”
Repentance, confession, prayer and fasting comprise the spiritual preparation for our participation of the Divine Mysteries. Fear of God, faith and love constitute the way in which we must approach for communion: our spiritual and physical attitude before Christ who calls us to his Supper. St. John Chrysostom says: When you are about to approach the holy and fearful table, to this Divine Mystery, approach with fear and trembling, with a clear conscience, with fasting and prayer. Without making a noise, without stepping on toes, and without pushing those next to you. Because this disorder is a sample of the greatest madness and contempt of the Holy Mysteries. Tell me, o man, why do you make a noise, why are you in such a rush? Are you being pressured by the need to do your chores? And are you at this moment thinking that you have work to do? Do you have the feeling that you are on earth? Do you think that you are together with other men?

During the first petitions at the start of the Liturgy the Priest prayed: For this holy temple and for them that enter therein with faith, reverence and fear of God. We now again hear of this fear of God: With fear of God, with faith and love draw near. I said then that this fear is not to be misunderstood as fear because of the threats of hell and damnation. When we speak of having fear of God we do not mean that we tremble before the fearful God who will punish us for our sins, but we fear of losing the communication we have with him and of losing the grace we have been granted to be able to feel his love for us. Fear in biblical language means reverence. We have a good example from the epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians which we read during the marriage ceremony where is says: “ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα” If we translate this in the modem concept of the word then it would read “and the wife see that she fear her husband.” In the King James translation of the text it is correctly translated as “and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” A wife who reverences her husband shows not only that she loves him but also that she has complete trust in him to be there for her and the family no matter what difficulties they might encounter throughout their married life. Here also in the Liturgy we are told to have reverence for God; to love him with our whole being and to have complete trust in him that he will be there for us no matter what we encounter in life.
We approach also with faith not doubting for a moment that what we are about to receive is the Body and Blood of our Saviour. Of course our eyes see bread and wine and our tongue senses the taste of bread and wine, but things are not as they appear. From the moment when the Holy Spirit descended and the Sacrament was perfected, we no longer have that which we see with our eyes or taste with our tongue. We have that which we believe, worship and adore. We have the very Body and Blood of our Christ who communicates to us life and incorruptibility.
The communion of the faithful concludes the Sacrament of the Eucharist. From the very beginning the Church perceived the partaking of all the faithful at the Liturgy. It was the realization of the Lord’s words “That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.” (Lk. 22:30) As a member of the Church and the Body of Christ it was unthinkable for anyone not to partake. But we see in the history of the Church a gradual falling away of great numbers of the Church who have been brainwashed into believing that they can only partake one, two, three or four times a year or at the most once a month and before one is worthy of Communion he is obliged to first go to the Sacrament of Confession and also prepare himself by fasting for a number of days. So why this profound change in our perception of partaking? Were the early Christians more holy than us? Did they live in a world without sin? The answer is no. Certainly the world was different then but the devil was still the same and his evil influenced the world then as it does today. What is different in our times is how sin is manifested. We have progressed and evolved into a society of telecommunications and computerised gadgetries which more easily convey and bring sin before our eyes but the basic sins are still the same. Our world today is completely different from the world of two thousand years ago but it is not responsible for the non participation of the faithful of the Holy Sacrament.

The reason why people do not have frequent communion today is not because they are more sinful that their ancestors. This is the customary explanation for the gradual disappearance of communion among the laity. It is blamed on the unworthiness of the laity to approach the cup frequently and need purifying before they approach. The world we live in brings them into continual contact with impurities, untruths and sinfulness and these need special cleansing, a special preparation, a special effort of repentance. But these are not characteristics only of our modem world: all past generations had their share of evils and even in the heart of the Byzantine Empire where everyone strived to live in the Christian ideal we see such evils that even in our times they sound unbelievable and shocking. The non participation of the laity cannot be blamed on our contemporary world which in fact has seen a slow but steady revival of frequent communion among the laity. The cause for infrequent communion began with past centuries long before the age of science and telecommunications so this is where we must look if we want to know why. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause and it probably was a combination of causes occurring from the evolution of the Church, but it would seem that monasticism played a major role.

Monasticism in one form or another was always present in the Church and while in the early centuries they were not considers as clergy, when they were eventually recognized as such, leadership of the Church slowly passed into their hands and under their influence. Thus asceticism constituted the moral ideal of Christian societies and introduced into the life of the people a pious consciousness of sinfulness and unworthiness. This gradually led to a distancing of the clergy and laity from each other. The whole atmosphere of the Church changed from being one body in Christ where all the members, whether clergy or laity, were equal into a Church where the clergy were always worthy to partake, but the laity had to go through a cleansing process before being considered worthy. This separation of Clergy and laity is seen in other areas and especially in the structure of the Church building. In the early centuries the sanctuary was visible to the laity and could see the clergy and everything that took place within it. Slowly the iconostasis began to divide the clergy from the laity which at first began with a low screen and eventually became the dividing wall we now have. Also the prayers of the Liturgy were said aloud and were heard by the laity, but slowly the laity was deprived of these prayers as they began to be said silently by the priests.

Today a good number of priests are beginning to say the prayers out loud, but the majority still say them silently and I’ve known one or two who skipped them altogether. What no one seemed to have asked or explained is why God’s chosen people cannot listen to the prayers that are offered not on behalf of the priest but on behalf of the people. All the prayers except one are plural in character and assume that the offering of the sacrament is made by the whole body of the church and the sacrament is consummated with the assumption that all the faithful will partake. They do not separate the people into two categories of those who are worthy to partake and those who are unworthy. From the dismissal of the Catechumen and the exclamation “The doors the doors” the sacrament is accomplished on behalf of the faithful and for them and everyone present who is a member of the Body of Christ is obliged to partake. That there is no division of worthy and unworthy is seen clearly when the priest exclaims” “The Holy Things unto the holy” and the choir reply “One only is holy, One only is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.” If there was meant to be a division of the worthy from the unworthy then the priest would have to say “The Holy Things unto the worthy” But who can say he is worthy except the priest and not because he is sinless, but because the priesthood of Christ with which he has been clothed with is sinless. But being worthy or unworthy belongs to our earthly time. Let us not forget that the Divine Liturgy is our ascent to the heavenly altar, our transportation to a different age after the Second Coming of Christ and our participation in the holy Sacrament is our participation of the wedding banquet which we will share with Christ in his kingdom together with the Mother of God and all the saints.

It is with this understanding that immediately after the communion of the faithful the priest blesses the people saying: “Save, O God, Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.” The words are taken from Psalm 27 “Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: and take care of them, and lift them up for ever.” These words are connected to another Psalm (Psalm 2) where in prophecy David wrote as though the Father was saying to the Son, “I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.” Christ inherited us when as a man he took upon himself the sins of many and through his victory over death he delivered our souls from the grasps of Satan and his demons. We are like the spoils of war that the victor takes as his reward, the inheritance of the conqueror who now carries his new possessions with him into his own kingdom which in this case is the kingdom of heaven. But even though we are the spoils of war, he accepts us into his kingdom not as slaves, but as free men, co-rulers and inheritors of his kingdom and there he takes care and provides for our every need and feeds us with his own body. The eyes of our souls for the first time see clearly the joys of this wonderful and bright kingdom and all our senses are imbued with the unbounded love that flows from our king and saviour together with his Father and Holy Spirit.

Thus with our newly found joy we sing: “We have seen the true Light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith. We worship the undivided Trinity: for the same hath saved us.” Notice now that we do not ask to be saved but say that the undivided Trinity has saved us. Salvation is now a reality because we have been made inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We are standing with Christ in the future age after his Second Coming where we will reign with him for ever and ever.
The Divine Liturgy took us on a journey to our future homeland. Our earthly altar truly ascended to the heavenly altar, but now after being given a taste of heaven and immortality, we must return again to our present world with all its imperfections and continue our lives of struggle so that in that future age we may be accounted worthy of sharing in its eternal glory. The Divine Liturgy is now coming to a close; the faithful have communicated and the priest returns the Holy Things to the altar. As he takes up the censer and censes the Holy Things he says “Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Thy glory be above all the earth.” This again is taken from the psalms (5 6:5) and it refers to Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. It expresses the wonder that fills the souls of the faithful when they see with the eyes of their souls the Risen Christ with his human nature sitting in glory on the right hand of God and at the same time it expresses our anticipation of our resurrection and ascension to the same place.
The Priest then takes up the paten and chalice saying in secret: “Blessed is our God” and then turning to face the people he says aloud: “Always, now and for ever: world without end.” The “Blessed is our God” is said silently because it seems to be a later addition to help make a connection with “Always, now and for ever: world without end.” But if understood properly there is no need for any connection. The “Always, now and for ever: world without end” refers to the Body and Blood of Christ which the Priest shows to the people for the last time before setting them down in the Prothesis. The Priest is praying that the Holy Things of which we participated will remain with us “Always, now and for ever: and unto all eternity.”
The choir respond with:

“Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory: for that Thou hast accounted us worthy to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-giving mysteries. Preserve us in Thy holiness that we may think on Thy righteousness all the day long. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”

We are now asking the Lord to grant us the grace required so that our mouths will be continually filled with praise for him. We wish to sing of his glory because he accounted as worthy of his holy and life giving mysteries. We then ask that the sanctification we have received may remain with us, that we may not lose grace or the gifts which have been vouchsafed to us. How? By preserving us in his holiness and by thinking of his righteousness all the day long. All that is left is to thank the Lord for all the wondrous gifts he has bestowed upon us.

The priest calls the faithful to give thanks. He says:
“Be upright: having partaken of the divine, holy, undefiled, immortal, heavenly, life-giving and awesome mysteries of Christ, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord.
Succour, save, have mercy and preserve us, O God, by Thy grace.
Having prayed that this whole day be perfect, holy, peaceful and without sin, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
The priest then offers a prayer of thanksgiving:
“We give Thee thanks, O Lord, and lover of mankind, who art the benefactor of our souls, for that Thou hast accounted us this day to be worthy of Thy heavenly and immortal mysteries. Make straight our ways, stablish us all in Thy fear, watch over our life, make sure our steps; by the prayers and supplications of the glorious Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and of all Thy saints. For Thou art our sanctification, and to Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and unto the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”
With the Liturgy at an end it remains for the priest to give the dismissal. During the first centuries this was simply a phrase like “Let us depart in peace” or “You are dismissed in peace”. With time, the dismissal was added upon so that today when the priest says: “Let us depart in peace” he then adds “let us pray unto the Lord” and as he does so he comes out of the sanctuary and stands in the middle of the Church. Why does he do this? Up until now he has remained in the sanctuary, he was transported to the heavenly altar and to a future time outside of our present time and there he conversed with God. We were all there with him but now we have descended and returned to our earthly habitat and to our present time. The priest as the good shepherd cannot remain in heaven abandoning his flock on earth. He needs to be with them and in the midst of them so that they can hear his voice and follow him. Here in the midst of his congregation the priest offers a prayer of common supplication for the church and for all the faithful. The prayer is called the “Ὀπισθάμβωνον εὐχήν” which literally means “Behind the pulpit prayer” It received its name from the fact that it was said in the middle of the Church behind the pulpit. It reads:
“O Lord, who dost bless them that bless Thee, and sanctifieth them that put their trust in Thee: save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Preserve the fullness of Thy Church, and sanctify them that love the beauty of Thy house. Do Thou, by Thy divine power glorify them, and forsake us not who put our trust in Thee. Grant peace to thy world, to Thy Churches, to Thy priests, to those in authority over us, to the army and to all the people. For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from Thee, the Father of lights; and to Thee we ascribe glory, thanksgiving and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.”
In response to the prayer that we ascribe glory and thanksgiving, the choir sing three times: “Blessed is the Name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.”
From the Holy Doors the priest gives the last blessing to the people: “May the blessing and mercy of the Lord come upon you, by His divine grace and loving-kindness, always, now and for ever: world without end.”
The Liturgy comes to end with the priest calling upon the Mother of God and all the saints that through their intercessions Christ may have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.