Of Thy Mystical Supper

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On this day the Church remembers Our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Liturgy is that of St. Basil’s, which is used on all the Sundays of Lent as well. It is one of the most complete statements of the faith, despite its brevity (compared to Catechism or a book). Printed here is a portion of the Anaphora of St. Basil’s Liturgy, in the translation of Archbishop Dmitri (Royster) of the South (OCA). 

With these blessed Powers, O Master, Lover of man, we sinners also do cry out and say, Holy art thou, in truth, and all-holy, and there is no measure to the magnificence of thy holiness, and holy art thou in all thy works, for in righteousness and true judgment hast thou brought about all things for us. When thou hadst fashioned man, taking dust from the earth, and hadst honored him with thine own image, O God, thou ‘didst set him in a paradise of plenty, promising him life immortal and the enjoyment of eternal good things in the observance of thy commandments. But when he disobeyed thee, the true God, who had created him, and was led astray by the deceit of the serpent, and was slain by his own trespasses, thou didst banish him, in thy righteous judgment, O God, from Paradise into this world, and didst turn him back to the earth from which he was taken, dispensing salvation for him through regeneration, which is in thy Christ Himself. Yet thou didst not turn thyself away till the end from thy creature which thou hadst made, O Good One, neither didst thou forget the work of thy hands, but thou didst look upon him in divers manners, through thy tenderhearted mercy. Thou didst send forth prophets; thou hast wrought mighty works through the saints who in every generation have been well-pleasing unto thee; thou didst speak to us by the mouths of thy servants the prophets, who foretold to us the salvation which was to come; thou didst give the Law as an help; thou didst appoint guardian angels. And when the fulness of time was come, thou didst speak unto us through thy Son Himself, by whom also thou madest the ages; Who, being the brightness of thy glory, and the express image of thy person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, deemed it not robbery to be equal to thee, the God and Father. But albeit He was God before the ages, yet He appeared upon earth and sojourned among men; and was incarnate of a holy Virgin, and did ‘ empty Himself, taking on the form of a servant, and becoming conformed to the body of our humility, that He might make us conformed to the image of His glory. For as by man sin entered the world, and by sin death, so thine Only-begotten Son, Who is in thy bosom, God and Father, was well-pleased to be born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, to be born under the Law, that He might condemn sin in His flesh, that they who were dead in Adam might be made alive in thy Christ Himself, and, becoming a citizen in this world, and giving ordinances of salvation, He removed from us the delusion of idols and brought us unto a knowledge of thee, the true God and Father, having won us unto Himself for His own people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and being purified with water, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself a ransom to Death, whereby we were held, sold under sin. And having descended into hell through the Cross, that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the pains of death, and rose again from the dead on the third day, making a way for all flesh unto the resurrection from the dead – for it was not possible that the Author of life should be holden of corruption – that He might be the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born from the dead, that He might be all, being first in all. And, ascending into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of thy majesty on high, and He shall return to render unto everyone according to his works. And He hath left with us as remembrances of His saving Passion these Things which we have set forth according to His commandment. For when He was about to go forth to His voluntary, and celebrated, and life-creating death, in the night in which He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy and immaculate hands, and when He had shown it unto thee, the God and Father, and given thanks, and blessed it, and hallowed it, and broken it

And exclaiming, he says this:    He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.     The choir sings: Amen.    

While this is being said, the deacon shows the priest the holy diskos, holding his orarion with three fingers of his right hand, and in like manner when the priest says: Drink ye all of this. . . he shows him the holy chalice. The priest, secretly:    Likewise, having also taken the cup of the fruit of the vine, and mingled it, and given thanks, and blessed and hallowed it, And again he exclaims this:    He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying, Drink ye all of this; this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.

The choir sings: Amen. The priest, bowing his head, prays:    Do this in remembrance of me, for as often as ye shall eat this Bread and drink of this Cup, ye do proclaim my death and confess my resurrection.

Wherefore, 0 Master, we also remembering His saving Passion and life-creating Cross, His three-day burial, and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and sitting down at thy right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and fearful second coming,

The priest exclaims:    Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all.

5 Responses to “Of Thy Mystical Supper”

  1. luciasclay Says:

    Father,

    Forgive my ignorance. What makes a liturgy valid ?

    By this I mean we have the Liturgy of St. Basil, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostam, and others. I see in some literature where we pray “for those who travel by land, by sea, and by air”. And the by air indicating to me recent change, minor and not in any way significant to be sure. But change none the less.

    If my understanding is correct, and it may not be, the church emerged from the early persecutions with some variance in style but not in substance of the liturgies. There appears to have been a standardization around prominent leaders within the church. Also over time there have been fairly modern changes in style and length. For example in The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos Ware, I read how the Russian Church had a style of worship that was different than the folks in Constantinople were used to. It was still Orthodox but it was different.

    As I understand it the Liturgy is part of the act of preserving the deposit ( Timothy ) as part of the act of communion with God, the Church, the Saints.

    I am not asking what is the lowest common denominator for a valid liturgy. But I am curious what it is that makes a liturgy valid. What allows some change but prevents to much change.

    If there is something that addresses this that you could point me to I would be greatful.

    Regards,

    Lucias

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    There are liturgies that have become a part of the received Tradition: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. James, St. Gregory (the Presanctified Liturgy used on weekdays of Lent); There were a number of others in the early Church as well that no longer have a particular place (there is some work being done on Western Liturgies, to restore them to Orthodox content and order and are used in the “Western Rite” Orthodox Churches under Antioch and ROCOR.

    Obvious changes, such as “by air,” or praying for the president instead of the Tsar or Emperor, etc., are minor adaptations.

    Any change in a liturgy would have to be approved by the Holy Synod (Bishops) of that Church, and if it were somehow substantive, likely by a much broader scope of Orthodox synods.

    The liturgies have primarily been adapted over the centuries in order to guard the faith. Thus the Creed begins to be said after the defeat of the Arian Heresy, etc. Icons become intetgral after the 7th Ecumenical Council, etc.

    The Church “prays what it believes,” and occasionally does not have to change what it prays, but usually adds to its prayers in order to clarify or guard against various things. Thus, we do not usually take the kind of radical steps seen in the West where reform has often gutted liturgies and left people defenseless.

    For the Orthodox, a liturgy should proclaim the Whole Faith, and not simply a minimum.

  3. Lucias Says:

    Thank you.

  4. luciasclay Says:

    Father,

    Another question if I may.

    Is what we are witnessing in a liturgy essentially what happened in the synagouge’s at the time of the Apostles when they preached the Gospel in those places of worship ? With the transformation of Christ applied and the Christian symbols and icons etc. in place ?

    By this I do not mean to make any simplifications or trivializations. I am trying to understand. From my background ( fundamentalist evangelical protestant ) I have watched the liturgy several times now and wondered is it possible that the apostles really came up with such an involved ceremony ? I mean wouldn’t they have just preached the good news of Christ and not worried about when the candle bearers would march this way or that, and who waved what when. Its nothing like what I watch in a good Southern Baptist congregation.

    I heard in various places it was related to the temple service but I couldn’t quite connect it.

    I spent some time looking at the internal pictures of various synagouges. A picture is worth 1000 words. I saw in synagouge after synagouge the same basic layout that I see in my parish and what I saw in various Roman churches when visiting Italy etc. Or at least I think I did. Its so uncanny to see the same thing in essence. The liturgy could easily be conducted in a synagouge it seems to me. I suppose thats obvious to some but I’m a slow learner.

    So the light finally dawned. The apostles didn’t come up with the concepts of incensing, of the reading of the scripture from the podium out in the sancturary facing the front, the kissing of holy objects, the ornateness, and all of that. That was the environment of the church in the synagouge from the beginning. They interjected Christ, the sacraments, the objects changed and even the images in the synagouge changed. Some variations etc. over time.

    So my question is. Is this really what I am watching in my parish ? This is what is preserved in the Orthodox faith ? Is that really it ?

    If this is true then it explains one of my big questions of how could such a detailed service spring up more or less uniformly across the empire in the midst of persecution.

    Thank you for your work on this blog. It is a blessing.

    Respectfully,

    Lucias Clay.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Lucias,

    This is generally an accurate description. I don’t think the Apostles had any idea of creating or designing something new. They took what they knew, the worship of the synagogue, and it became Christian, with the addition of certain elements, sacraments, etc. The kind of behaviors, attitudes to ornamentation, sung services, etc., were already in place. There is no “hellenization” of worship, as protestant historians (such as Harnack) claimed in the 19th century. It’s just a myth.

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