Project Canterbury

An Aid for Churchmen Episcopal and Orthodox
Toward a Mutual Understanding, by Means of a Brief Comparison of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Orthodox Church
with those of the Episcopal (Anglican Church)

By the Rev. H. Henry Spoer, B.D., Ph.D.
Sometime Lecturer at the Lichfield Theological College, England

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Morehouse, 1930.
London: Mowbray, 1930.

Chapter IV. The Holy Communion

The communion service is known in the Orthodox Church as the Divine Liturgy. There are three liturgies in present use: two named after Fathers of the Church. St. Chrysostom and St. Basil, as their reputed authors, and the other as the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified.

The Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified, proegiasmena, is that used in Lent, except upon Sunday, which is a feast-day, and upon Saturday, which is its Vigil. As its name indicates, the sacred Elements have been previously prepared. This took place during the Celebration, on the foregoing Sunday, of the Liturgy of St. Basil.

This Liturgy, which is an older and fuller form of that of St. Chrysostom, is celebrated upon all Sundays in Lent, except Palm Sunday; also on Holy and Great Thursday, i.e., Maundy Thursday; the Great Sabbath, i.e., Saturday in Holy Week; the Feast of St. Basil (Jan. i); and on Christmas Day and Epiphany, if these feasts fall on a Sunday or Monday, but if they fall on other days, upon their Eve. It is commonly, though erroneously, attributed to St. Gregory the Homiliastes, Bishop of Rome (ob. 604), whom it commemorates.

As the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom is the one commonly used, except on the days indicated, it is that which, in its essential and general features, may be most usefully described.

The Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church is divided into three parts: (1) the Preparation, (2) the Liturgy of the Catechumens, (3) the Liturgy of the Faithful. We have seen that in the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified, the Elements used are from an earlier Service, therefore no Preparation is required.

The Preparation. The bread and wine are prepared behind closed doors in the chapel of the prothesis, upon the credence table, upon which stand two lighted candles and a cross. The bread, which is always leavened, is arranged upon the paten, and remains upon the Priest and Deacon bringing in the Book of the Gospels during the Liturgy of the Catechumens.

Liturgy of the Catechumens. This Liturgy begins with a blessing by the priest, followed by the Great Litany chanted by the deacon, standing in his accustomed place. Among the prayers said at this point is that well known to us as the "Prayer of St. Chrysostom."

The Royal Door is now opened for the Little Entrance, that is, the bringing in of the Gospels. The priest takes the book from the altar, and hands it to the deacon who, preceded by light-bearers, carries it high, holding it by the lower corners, the priest following. They leave the sanctuary by the Prothesis door or Servers' Door and reenter by the Royal Door, when the deacon returns the book to the altar.

After the Trisagion has been chanted three times, the Epistle and Gospel are read, and the sanctuary and its contents, as well as the congregation, are censed. The book of the Gospels is returned to the priest, who replaces it upon the altar, and the Royal Door is closed.

The deacon remains outside, and standing upon the solion in his accustomed place, reads a litany with responses, followed by the Commemoration of the Departed. The catechumens are now enjoined to make their supplications, and after the priest has dismissed them with a blessing, the deacon cries out, "Let all the catechumens depart!"

This is the last survival of the early days when there were still catechumens, those formerly heathen, under instruction for Baptism, who were not allowed to be present during the performance of the Holy Mysteries.

Liturgy of the Faithful. The priest says several prayers inaudibly, and the deacon meanwhile chants a litany with responses by the choir. After this he opens the Royal Door for the ceremony of the Great Entrance, the most solemn and impressive detail of the entire Service.

The Cherubic Hymn is begun by the choir while the procession of the Great Entrance," the bringing in of the Sacred Elements, is being marshalled behind the iconostasis. [It may be mentioned that Hymn 339 in our Hymnal --"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"--is translated from the Cherubic Hymn in the Liturgy of St. James, sung by the choir at the Great Entrance. The entrance with the Gospel may be seen in some of our own churches, and in many of the ancient churches and cathedrals of England this, among other ancient usages, is still maintained. In Westminster Abbey, for example, we may observe the preparation of the Elements at a side altar, as also the processional entrance with the Gospel, and later with the Offertory, corresponding with the Little and the Great Entrances of the Orthodox Church.] The deacon meanwhile censes the altar on all four sides, the icons, the priest, and the people, saying inaudibly the Fifty-first Psalm, and such penitential troparia as he pleases. The procession issues, as did that of the Little Entrance, from the north door. Preceded by light-bearers, the deacon walks first with the veiled paten on his head, holding it with one hand, and carrying his censer. The priest follows, carrying the chalice, and other ecclesiastics present carry each some instrument connected with the liturgical ceremonies. They proceed round the church, and reenter by the Royal Door, the light-bearers remaining outside, standing to right and left.

After the cry "the doors, the doors!" again a reminder of former times, the Royal Door is shut, and the veil behind it is drawn. The priest places the sacred vessels upon the altar, the chalice upon his right. They are censed, as well as the aer or offertory veil, which the priest has taken from the shoulders of the deacon, and with which he covers the oblations. The deacon receives a blessing, and leaving the sanctuary by the Servers' Door, chants, in his "accustomed place," a litany with responses. The Nicene Creed is recited but, according to the early custom which has been given up in our Church, without the filioque clause (i.e., and the Son).

The Anaphora, or, as we call it, the Canon, follows. It begins with the familiar words: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . be with us all," with the response "And with thy spirit." Then comes the Sursum Corda, differing somewhat in form from our own: "Let us lift up our hearts," with the response: "We have them toward God." The Preface and Ter Sanctus come next, as in our Prayer Book, followed by the Benedictus which, together with the Ter Sanctus, forms the "Triumphal Hymn."

At the Consecration of the Bread and Wine the only words said audibly by the celebrant are those of the divine Institution. As with us, there follows the epiklesis, the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, which is no longer found in the Roman Rite. While breaking the bread, the priest says inaudibly "Make this Bread the precious Body of Thy Christ . . . changing them by Thy Holy Spirit." The deacon fans the Sacred Elements with the rhipidion, a metal disc, upon which is a Seraph in repousse work, attached to a long handle, originally used for the driving away of flies.

The reading of the diptycha, the commemoration of the living and dead, as in our prayer "For the whole State of Christ's Church," follows, parts of which are said inaudibly. At the point at which the priest prays for "the city in which we live" he blesses the antidoron, the unconsecrated bread left over from that from which the particles for the Communion were cut, and which is generally distributed at the end of the Service.

[The Greek word antidoron, signifying "in place of the gift," indicates that it was formerly given to non-communicants in place of the Divine Elements. Now it is received by all, to be consumed at once, or to be taken home to others unable to be present, as it is believed to confer blessing upon those who eat it, even apart from the partaking of the Holy Sacrament. The underlying thought is that all may thus feel themselves in communion with the faithful. The custom fell out of use in the Western Church about the eleventh century, except for the reminiscence found in the pain bénit dispensed in certain churches of northern France, which is not part of the anaphora but ordinary bread blessed by the priest.]

The deacon leaves the sanctuary by the Servers' Door, and in his accustomed place chants a litany with responses. Finally the Lord's Prayer is recited by "the people or the prelate," the doxology being said by the priest alone. At this point the deacon crosses the stole at the back and front, tucking the ends into the waist-line.

After silent prayer by the priest, the Elevation of the Holy Bread takes place. The deacon enters the sanctuary at the words: "Holy things unto the Holy" when the priest slightly elevates the paten. The Royal Door is now closed and the curtain drawn.

The Consecrated Bread, the "Lamb," is now broken into four parts, and the fragments are placed upon the paten, their position being determined by the letters stamped upon each. With the part bearing the Greek letters IC the celebrant makes the sign of the cross over the chalice into which he drops it. This is called henosis, commixture. Although the chalice has already been consecrated, a small quantity of warm water is now blessed and poured cross-wise into it by the deacon. [In reference to the water which came out of our Lord's wounded side. "Because the whole of this celebration is so as to figure the sufferings of Christ; and when He suffered there flowed from His pierced side blood and water." Longer Catechism, p. 91, cf. Note 10. The warmth of the water symbolizes the vitalizing power of the Holy Ghost.] The priest then partakes of the Bread, using the piece upon which are the letters XC, and bidding the deacon approach, administers to him from another fraction with the words:

"N., deacon, to thee is imparted the precious and holy and undefiled Body of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, unto remission of thy sins and unto life eternal."

Both partake of the Cup, the priest drinking three times of it, once in the Name of each Person of the Holy Trinity. All fragments remaining of the Consecrated Bread are brushed by the deacon, with a sponge, into the chalice, which is covered with its special veil.

The Royal Door is now opened, and the deacon, having received the chalice from the priest, stands within the doorway, and elevates it before the eyes of the people with the words: "In the fear of God and with faith and love draw near." The choir sings "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. The Lord is God and hath appeared unto us." Those who have prepared themselves for Holy Communion now receive it in both kinds in a spoon from the priest, who, as before, mentions the name of the recipient: "The servant of God, N., is made partaker," etc. The mouth is wiped with the chalice veil, the communicant kisses the chalice, and, going to a side table, drinks a little warm water as an ablution and eats a morsel of the antidoron. After the Communion the priest blesses the people, saying: "O God, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance."

The priest places the chalice upon the Holy Table and censes it three times. The deacon takes the paten to the credence-table, and the priest turns toward the people with the chalice in his hands and blesses them with it. He then carries it to the credence table where, later, the remainder of the Elements is consumed. The choir sings the Thanksgiving, and then the deacon, who has meanwhile returned by the Servers' Door to "his accustomed place," with his stole uncrossed, recites a short litany. He then leaves his position and stands before the picture of Christ on the iconostasis, and the priest, coming out of the sanctuary, stands before the Royal Door and, with a cross, blesses the people, who come forward to kiss it. [It is a custom in the Orthodox Church for the people to be anointed "In the Name of the Father," etc., with the sign of the cross on the forehead at the end of the Eucharistic Service. This anointing must not be confused with that of Holy Unction, though it is probably derived from it. The oil used on this occasion is that presented at the artoklasia Service, when oil, wheat, and wine are blessed, a custom which seems to be less frequently observed in the Russian Church than in some of the other national Churches in the Diaspora.] It is interesting to note that on the occasion of the consecration of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, he blessed the assembled people "taking his cross in his right hand."

The antidoron is distributed to the people as they pass by. The priest returns to the sanctuary and the Royal Door is closed.

The Reserved Sacrament The Reserved Sacrament consists of the Consecrated Bread moistened with Consecrated Wine. It is generally kept on the altar in a ciborium, varying in form and material, or may hang above it in a silver receptacle in the form of a dove. What is not removed for the use of the sick during the week is generally consumed at the Sunday Communion, when the Elements are again reserved. It is also used for the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified in Holy Week.


As only one liturgical Service can be performed in a church on any given day, the custom of co-celebration, originally common to the entire Church, has continued in the Eastern Church as a general observance. All the priests present at the altar repeat the words of consecration with the celebrant and, in turn, the concluding words of the prayers. Co-celebration is still in use in the Roman Church at the ordination of a priest and the consecration of a bishop.

Communion of the Sick In our own Church, which encourages frequent Communion, the administration of the Blessed Sacrament to the sick is one of the primary duties of the parish priest. In the Orthodox Church, however, the communion of the laity is infrequent, but is of general obligation at Christmas, "the Lesser Feast," and at Easter, "the Greater Feast." The Russian Church speaks with no uncertain sound and instructs on this point as follows:

"With regard to the sick, the priest is bound to take unremitting care that they depart not to the other world without the Communion of the Holy Mysteries which is their most necessary and salutary viaticum." ["The Duty of a Parish Priest," Sec. xlv, Chap. III, in the Doctrine of the Russian Church, translated by the Rev. R. W. Blackmore, Aberdeen, 1845. This book contains also the Longer and the Shorter Catechisms.]

The parishioners are urged to notify the priest of the illness of anyone in the parish and upon receipt of the information he "is to leave everything else and hasten to the sick person . . . and after hearing his confession to give him the Communion, not unworthily."

The priest, having put into the chalice a particle of the Reserved Sacrament, pours upon it sufficient wine to enable the sick person to swallow it. He begins with the familiar benediction, "Blessed be our God always, now and forever," recites the Trisagion, the Lord's Prayer, with a twelvefold "Lord have mercy," a thrice-repeated "O come, let us worship and fall down," and the Creed. A short prayer follows, which is part of the confession of faith made by a priest or deacon when receiving the Holy Communion:

"Receive me today, O Lord God, as a partaker of Thy mystical Supper; for I shall not speak of the Mystery to Thy enemies, nor shall I give to Thee a kiss as Judas, but like the Thief I shall confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."

Other prayers follow, and if the sick man has not made his confession, those who are present are asked to leave the room that he may do so, after which he is ready to receive the Holy Communion. The prayer which follows is one of those used in the Office of Confession:

"O Lord our God who forgavest the sins of Peter and of the harlot, because of their tears, and didst justify the publican who acknowledged his iniquities, receive the confession of Thy servant N. and wherein he hath erred, the voluntary and involuntary sin, in word or intention, as the good and Man-loving God, do Thou forgive. For Thou only hast the power to forgive sins, and to Thee we ascribe the glory with the Eternal Father and Thine All-holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and evermore. Amen."

After the Communion the priest recites the Nunc Dimittis, the Trisagion, the Lord's Prayer, the Troparion for the day, the Theotokion, and the Dismissal for the day.


The Oblation, Prosphora

Five small round loaves of leavened bread are used, resembling in shape a small loaf above a larger one, symbolizing the two Natures--Divine and Human--of Christ. The top is stamped with the Greek letters IC XC NI KA, "Jesus Christ Conquers," two pairs above the other two, separated by lines forming a cross. This is called the "Holy Seal" or "Lamb." The priest cuts it out with the "Holy Lance," following the square outlines of the seal, and saying, "The Lamb of God is sacrificed," he places it in the middle of the paten.

The arrangement of the bread upon the paten symbolizes the presence of our Lord in the midst of His Church, triumphant and militant. At the fraction, the Lamb is broken at the lines forming the cross, into four parts, each with a pair of letters. These are laid in the form of a cross on the edge of the paten with the words: "The Lamb of God is broken and distributed, the broken and not severed, the ever-eaten and never consumed, but sanctifying the partakers." The priest puts the fraction bearing the letters IC into the chalice, and the deacon pours warm water into it, according to a very ancient Byzantine usage. The portion marked XC is reserved for the celebrant. If a priest should happen to have been ordained during the Service, it is given to him to hold in the hand until the words "Holy things to the Holy" are said at the Elevation, when he returns it to the bishop, who puts it back upon the paten.

From the second altar bread (not from its Seal) a small "pyramidal" piece is cut, and placed upon the paten to the left of the Lamb in commemoration of the Theotokos, the Mother of our Lord. Nine smaller particles of similar form are cut from the third altar bread, in commemoration of "the Fore-runner and Baptist John," the Prophets, Fathers, Martyrs, etc., and of St. Chrysostom or St. Basil, according to the Liturgy which is being used. These particles are placed in three rows of three each, to the right of the Lamb. As the Lamb is conceived of as hanging upon the cross, the particle for the Virgin is in fact to the right, and the remaining nine to the left of the Lamb, which must be borne in mind when reading the rubrics referring to them. In the same way particles are taken from the fourth altar bread in commemoration of bishops, priests, etc., and others, living or dead, and placed in a row below the Lamb.

Those cut from the fifth altar bread are in remembrance of patriarchs and rulers, of the bishop by whom the celebrant was ordained, and of any others whom he desires to remember; as before, a separate fragment for each person.

All the particles which are on the paten are put into the chalice after the communion of the celebrant, the deacon, and the co-celebrants, if any. 'The remaining parts of the loaves are reserved for the antidoron.

People wishing for prayer, for themselves or others, send to the celebrant a small loaf like those used for consecration, with the Christian name of the person to be remembered written on a slip of paper (cf. diptycha. The priest cuts a small piece out of the loaf, and returns it to the sender. These fragments do not become part of the Communion, as they are not consecrated. The custom is much observed in the Orthodox Church.

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