Anaphora - Offering of the Gifts
This is the climax of the Divine Liturgy. The Anaphora is what we call the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. It means ascension. We are called to "Stand aright, stand in fear, be attentive, that we may offer the Holy oblation in peace." With profound reverence we are asked to focus intently on what is about to take place. Our earthly altar is about to become one with the one in heaven. The Holy Spirit is about to descend and make the Divine Conversion of the wine and bread into the Blood and Body of Jesus Christ.
The Priest blesses all in attendance.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
What is about to take place is not some kind of theatrical performance but the same exact Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Golgotha. The Congregation responds with "And with Thy Spirit." Everyone joins in with the Holy Spirit.
The Priest then asks us to "Lift up our hearts unto the Lord." God grabs us from within the church and elevates us to the Throne of His divine Majesty where the mystery of the communion of the Holy Spirit is being consummated. Our souls should long for this ascension with all their might. The greater our humility and sincerity the greater will the be the gifts of the inner spiritual metamorphosis. With the words, lift up our hearts, the soul is being lifted up to heavenly heights with intense hunger for the immortal food, Holy Communion. We respond to the priests call with, "We lift them up unto the Lord." Fear, awe, respect reverence and vigilant attention should dominate inside the church at this moment. Our eyes should be attentive on the Holy Table along with our souls.
Next, the priest says, "let us give thanks unto the Lord." With our hearts uplifted we give thanks to god for all the endless benefits He provides is with. We affirm this call with, "It is meet and right." In this way we have given our consent for the Holy Eucharist to be officiated. The Priest and the entire congregation are in agreement. At this moment we can experience the unity of the Body of Christ and the equality which clergy and laity approach the divine gifts.
At this point the priest reads the Eucharist prayer:
"It is proper and right to praise Thee, to glorify Thee, to bless Thee, to thank Thee, to worship Thee, in all places of Thy Dominion; for Thou art God ineffable, incomprehensible, invisible, inconceivable, existing always, as Thou dost exist; Thou and Thine Only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit. Thou hast brought us from nothingness into being, and when we fell away didst raise us up again, and Thou ceaseth not, until Thou hast done everything to bring us to Heaven, and grant us Thy Kingdom to come. For all these things we thank Thee, and Thine Only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit; for all the things we know and do not know; for the visible and invisible bounties, which have been bestowed upon us. We thank Thee also for this Liturgy, which Thou dost deign to receive from our hands, even though Thou art surrounded by thousands of Archangels, and myriads of Angels, by the Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, which are many-eyed, and soar aloft on their wings."
All God's benefits given to us are for one purpose, our salvation. This is why we owe him gratitude, thanksgiving and doxology. The more we give thanks for His benefits the more he provides for us.
We have followed a journey in the Divine Liturgy. We entered the church and first received Christ as the Gospel was brought out in the small entrance. We listened to the Divine Word. We heard about His miracles. Then with the Great Entrance we escorted Him to the dreadful Golgotha where He suffers, is slaughtered and we are saved. He is crucified and then we are raised up with Him. Step by step we move towards the center of the universe. We are transfigured through a liturgical transformation.
Next the triumphal hymn is sung.
"Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabbath, Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest."
This is the hymn of the Seraphim along with the part of the Psalm 117 that foretells Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Saint John Chrysostom tells us,
"The Angelic hosts above are glorifying; on earth the people in the Churches are chanting a chorus offering the same doxology as them. The Seraphim above cry the Thrice Holy (Trisagion) Hymn; on earth, crowds of people ascribe the same hymn. Common is the banquet that of the heavens and of earth that is being set up..."
The heavenly being and the earthly beings are having a common celebration. When we chant this triumphal hymn in the Liturgy we stand along with the angels before God's throne, both glorifying the Lord. This why the priest calls us to "Singing the victory hymn, proclaiming and crying out."
The priest begins his steep ascent to the most heavenly Holy of Holies. Each step and every movement are being observed by the myriads of angels who are surrounding the Holy Table.
The priest reads the prayer of the Anaphora.
"With these blessed powers, O Master, who lovest mankind, we also cry and say: Holy art Thou and all-Holy; Thou, and Thine only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit. Holy art Thou, and all-Holy and magnificent is Thy Glory. Who, didst so love Thy world, as to give Thine only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life; Who, having come, and having fulfilled all the dispensation for us, in the night that He was betrayed, or rather, surrendered Himself for the life of the world, having taken bread in His holy, and immaculate, and blameless hands, and having thanked, blessed, and sanctified and broken it, He gave to His Holy Disciples and Apostles saying:"
We are experiencing the mystery of Christ's redeeming Sacrifice on the Cross but now bloodlessly. The Lord is present, ascending to Golgotha, nailed to the Cross, sacrificed, dying for our salvation. He lies on the altar as the slaughtered lamb "who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29).
The priest now says,
"Take eat this is my Body which is broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins."
"Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
These are the Words Christ used at the institution of the Holy Eucharist during the Mystical Supper.
The priests prays silently,
"Therefore, remembering this command of our Savior, and all that He endured for us, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into Heaven, the sitting at the Right Hand, the second and glorious Coming again,"
"We offer to You these gifts in all and for all."
Saying these words the Priest elevates the diskarion and the Holy Chalice with crossed hands, to make the sign of the Cross. (At this point, in the Greek Orthodox Churches in N.A, parishioners are to kneel until the completion of the consecration.)
The Choir sings one of the most beautiful Hymns of our Church:
"We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, and we entreat Thee, our God."
This is the most crucial and the most sacred moment of the Divine Liturgy. What we offer as a sacrifice to our God, is the very Sacrifice our Lord >made upon the Cross for us.
Up to now the bread and wine were only symbols of our
Lord's Body and Blood. Now, through the invocation
to God, the Holy Spirit descends and changes the elements
into the real Body and Blood of Jesus. The Priest prays
"Again we offer to Thee this rational and bloodless Worship, and we beseech Thee, and pray, and supplicate Thee: send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us, and upon these Gifts here presented.
The Priest rises and making the sign of the Cross over the bread he says:
"And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ",
The Priest making the sign of the Cross again over the Chalice he says:
"And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ",
Then making the sign of the Cross over both Gifts he says:
"Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen, Amen."
This prayer has approximately one hundred words that have been sanctified for two thousand years. The bread and wine are now the actual Blood and Body of Jesus Christ.
Kneeling, the Priest continues praying:
"So that They may be to those who receive Them, for the purification of the soul, for the remission of sins, for the fellowship of Thy Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven, and for the boldness to approach Thee, neither unto judgment nor unto condemnation."
Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable Worship for those who have fallen asleep in the Faith: Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith."
Our worship is then offered for all the saints, especially the Theotokos, to our Bishop, and to those each of us have in mind and all the faithful.
After the Consecration of the Holy Gifts, transforming
them into the real Body and Blood of our Savior, we have,
as we have seen before, various inspired prayers
commemorating the Saints and Martyrs, the governing heads,
in order that by their peace we may live in tranquility,
etc. Parts of these prayers are audible while the
greatest parts are inaudible.
At this point of the silent prayer of commemoration, after the Hymn "We praise Thee, we bless Thee . . ." and the Consecration having been completed, we hear the Priest aloud in continuation:
"Especially for our most holy, pure, most blessed, glorious Lady, Theotokos, and ever-Virgin Mary."
In response to the appeal of the Priest to especially
commemorate our Holy
Virgin Mary the Choir sings the Hymn "Axion Esti."
"Truly it is worthy to bless Thee, the Theotokos, ever blessed and pure, and the Mother of our God. Thee, who art more honorable than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim; who incorruptibly didst bear God, the Word, verily the Theotokos we magnify."
Silently, while the Choir chants the Hymn "Axion Esti," the Priest continues the prayer:
"For the holy Prophet and Forerunner, John the Baptist, for the holy, glorious and most lauded Apostles, for Saint (of the day) whose memory we celebrate, and for all Thy Saints, by whose supplications do Thou, O God, visit us. Remember also, O Lord, those who have fallen asleep in the hope of a resurrection to life Eternal.
The Priest at this point commemorates, whom he wills.
During the singing of this most magnificent description of our Lady Theotokos, an altar boy hands the Priest the tray or basket containing the pieces of Bread (Antidoron) to be blessed and distributed to the Faithful after the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.
Give them rest, O God, where the light of Thy countenance shineth. Further, we entreat Thee: Remember, O Lord, the Orthodox Episcopate, who rightly teach the word of Thy Truth, all the Priests of the diaconate in Christ, and all Priestly and monastic orders. Further, we offer to Thee this reasonable Worship for the World, for the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for those living in purity and temperance, for our faithful Civil Authorities. Grant them, O Lord, peaceful government, that we in their tranquility may live a serene life in all piety and temperance."
Finally, the Anaphora is completed with the following epilog by the priest.
And grant with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise Your most honored and majestic name, of the Father and the Son and the Holy spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
These gifts that our Lord has given to us in this bloodless sacrifice for our salvation, He who took on the role of a servant, was humiliated, mocked, slandered, arrested as a thief, scourged, reviled, slapped, wore a crown of thorns, and was crucified. Instead of condemning us he makes us worthy of offering this sacrifice bloodlessly at the Holy Table. He proves us with immortal nourishment so we can be transfigured and redeemed, forgiven, saved and made holy. This is why we glorify and give thanks to Him with "one mouth and one heart."
This is the purpose of Holy Communion, so that it may lead to a "purification of the soul," "remission of sins" and the "fellowship with the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven."