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The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts – Fr. Gavril (Galev)

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The Divine Liturgy in one hand is a real life environment, and on the other hand, a source from which we feed with everlasting food. Therefore we need to live in such a liturgical atmosphere and eat that food. That is why the Lord, before He was crucified, before He died on the Cross, before He was resurrected and ascended into heaven, showed us and gave us that true food – His Body and Blood. Before ascending into heaven, He promised His apostles that He would send them the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, and He fulfilled this promise on the day of Pentecost, and consequently He established the Church. Therefore the Church is our true abode in which we live, and the Holy Communion (Holy Eucharist) is our real food and drink which we eat, and outside of the Church, and without the Holy Communion, there is no life.

The Divine Liturgy is a joyous event. When they asked the Lord Christ why the apostles did not fast, He replied that while the Bridegroom was with them they should not fast, but rejoice because the Bridegroom is with them. But the time of sadness is coming, He replied. That sad time is the present time, especially the days of strict fasting. In those days the Holy Fathers of the Church determined that the Holy Liturgy should not be celebrated during the week. That is why during the Easter Lent there is no Liturgy from Monday to Friday.

As aforementioned Holy Communion is our real food and drink from which we receive eternal life, and therefore a way had to be found for the faithful to be able to receive Holy Communion even during those days of mourning.

In the first centuries when Christians were persecuted, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated (ministered) on Sundays, and, to all faithful, the Priests, to be more precise the Bishops, gave Holy Communion from the table (then there was no altar, everything was uncovered) and the faithful used to take It home, they used to take Holy Communion every day.

When freedom for the Christian religion was permitted, there was no need to take the Holy Communion home anymore, because the Liturgy could be celebrated (ministered) every day. Later, only the monks who lived in the desert, and not the laity, partook of the Holy Communion, they took It with them, and before of partaking of It, certain prayers were said.

When the Christian faith became official, when it was universally proclaimed in Byzantium as the state religion. With the freedom to practise religion, the Liturgical services also received luxury and grandeur, but the Holy Fathers, having considered all, wanted to keep both rules – not to celebrate the Liturgy because of the mourning, but also to take the Holy Communion. That is why the Holy Fathers of the Eastern Church introduced this way of Holy Communion, which is essentially an evening service with Holy Communion and because of the nature of communion it received the name “The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts”.

It is thought that St. Gregory Dialogist Pope of Rome invented this way of ministering, but it is not so – he just actualised and glorified (favoured) it. When he came to Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) he saw that it was celebrated (ministered) there and he liked it, so when he returned to Rome he introduced that way of prayer, because until that time in Rome the Liturgy was still being ministered (Monday to Friday or Wednesdays and Fridays) during the Easter Lent. That is why at the previous Liturgy held on Sunday, as many “Holy Lambs” are taken out and consecrated as we want to have such Liturgies during the week and because of this way of consecration of the “Lamb” those Liturgies received the name “The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts”. When the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is performed (ministered), we do not say any prayers for  consecration, but only the prayers for Holy Communion, because everything is done previously in the Sunday’s Resurrection Liturgy, which, due to the emphasized asceticism during Lent, the Holy Fathers envisaged to minister Saint Basil’s Liturgy, as being longer.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is considered as an extended Liturgy of the previous one (Sunday’s Liturgy), that is why it begins with the exclamation “Blessed is the Kingdom…”, but there is no call of the Holy Spirit as in the Sunday’s Liturgy. When the priest gets dressed before the normal Divine Liturgy, he says certain prayers, but now, there are no prayers. When the act ends, it is said: “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers…”

In the triodion is written that the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is ministered on Wednesdays and Fridays, but this is not an absolute rule that forbids the Liturgy to be ministered every day, because in the typicon is written… “…and if on one of those days falls the memory of a saint…”, which means that it is possible for Liturgy to be ministered on other days except Wednesdays and Fridays. Only on the Annunciation, on which ever day it falls, the Divine Liturgy can be celebrated.

The Holy Fathers of the Church chose the Eucharistic fast – of not eating, i.e. preparation before the Holy Communion, and the ascetic fast – which we always practice in order to be closer to God and to purify ourselves from the passions, as well as to reduce the dominance of the body in relation to the spirit.

For the Eucharistic fast there is no canon for how long not to eat before the Holy Communion, but there are only rules given by the local Churches, from 5 to 8 hours of abstinence of food and water, so the spiritual father, i.e. the Bishop, determines the rule, and it would be most practical to depict some middle ground. While no one can and should deprive us of the ascetic fast.

The Holy Communion Itself in the evening has a more beautiful essence – we place our life aspiration and longing for the union with God, which is our calling and for which we were created. We strive at the end of the day, as at the end of the life, to be united with God. We fast and abstain all day so that at the end of the day we are ready to take Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ.

Nowadays, it is often the practice to do this Liturgy in the morning after all possible Worship services have been read till the evening prayer when the Liturgy should begin.

In my opinion, this practice was introduced because of the weaknesses and the urban character of the present time and the society in which we live, in order for believers to be able to receive Holy Communion often, who unfortunately do not use this right. However, it is important to strive for union with God, but it is also nice when we start the day with the Holy Communion, with Christ.

The Liturgy begins like any evening Worship service, but this time, with the exclamation “Blessed is the Kingdom… ” which shows, as we have previously emphasized, that we are continuing the Liturgy from the preceding Sunday. In the beginning everything is the same as in every festive evening service, Psalm 103 is read, which is a psalm in memory of Adam’s expulsion from paradise, which is why the priest reads the prayers outside the altar in front of the King’s door (Holy Door). A catechism is said from the psalms when the priest prepares the Holy Gifts on the Holy Altar Table, where he brings the paten (discus), the “Lamb” is placed on the paten and censing is performed, then It is taken to the Table of Oblation (Proskomide), wine and water are poured into the chalice (putir), censing is performed again, and everything is done without prayers for consecration. Then we sing: “Lord I called…” and the singing of the sticherons (stihiri) of the day and the saint that we commemorate on that day begins and the entrance with the censer is done, and when it is intended the reading of the Gospel, then the entrance with the Gospel is done.

Then the paroemias (parimii) are read – part of the Old Testament from the First Book of Genesis, the Wisdom of Solomon or the Book of Job. The priest then takes a candlestick and places it on the Gospel, which shows that what the prophets of the Old Testament foretold was fulfilled in the New Testament. That is why the priest then says to “Stand upright, let us stand like the Archangel Michael once did when he stood before the devil and before his army and exclaimed ‘Wisdom'” in order to gather all the angels who remained faithful to God, we also exclaim “Let us attend”, but with readiness that what is to be read should enlighten our lives and fulfil it. The Light of Christ enlightens all – and we kneel. And we begin to sing “Let my prayer arise…”

Something new that can be found in this Worship service is the singing of the verses: “Let my prayer arise…” by reading certain verses from the psalms. The priest reads the verses, and then the people sing: “Let my prayer arise…”. This is done from two “kliroses” (pevnica, places for the choir), and while one choir sings the other does “metania” (bow, prostration), and vice versa. That is the beauty of the Orthodox worship. And if one cannot do “metania” for any reason, then the head is slightly bowed down out of respect. Everyone kneels at the end, then everyone stands up. Then the prayer for the catechumens (oglaseni) is said. This prayer has remained since the time when mass baptisms were performed before Easter, so that the newly baptised could also receive Holy Communion on Easter. The prayers for preparation for the Holy Communion and the prayers of thanksgiving after the Holy Communion in this Liturgy are not the same as the prayers of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

At the point in time when we exclaim “Holy things unto the holy”, we now emphasise: “Previously  Consecrated Holy things unto the holy” and we do not raise the “Lamb” again, but covered with the veils (covers) of the discus (paten) we touch It with our finger indicating which Holy It is, and the faithful people gently bow their heads showing a sign of piousness.

On Sunday, when they are blessed, we do not say bless these breads in the plural, but only “this bread” in the singular, which is in fact only one, because there is only one Christ “which is broken, yet not disunited; which is ever eaten, yet never consumed.”, and that is the Bread which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave to the apostles at the Last Supper, and it is He who gives it to us, or to be more precise He gives Himself to us. It happens mysteriously, and we inexplicably but realistically participate in the same Divine Liturgy with Jesus Christ and the apostles.

During the cherubim song, Holy Gifts are offered to the Lord, and this is not symbolic but mysterious and real act. Then all the gifts, all the universe, all the creatures are offered to God. The Hierarch (Bishop) who is an icon of God receives and offers these gifts to God and lays them on the throne of God, and with them, all of us and all the creation is offered (laid before) to God. Those gifts have already been offered and consecrated at the previous (Sanday’s) Liturgy, and now I hold the Lord whole in my hands and because of my unworthiness the “air” (veil,) is over my head. That is why the cherubim song is not sang here, but the song: “Now all the Powers of Heaven with us invisibly do minister; for lo! The King of glory enters now, behold, the Mystical Sacrifice is completed, and the sacrifice is offered honourably.”

And at the end after we have sung all the songs and read the prayers including the Lord’s prayer “Our Father, Who art in heaven…”, which in this Liturgy are like prayers before Holy Communion, at the end of the day we receive Christ, we partake of the Holy Communion and therefore we sing the song: “Taste ye the heavenly Bread, and the Cup of life, and see how good the Lord is. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”

After we partake of the Holy Communion we pray: “We give thanks unto Thee, O God, the Saviour of all, for all the good things which Thou hast granted unto us and for the communion of the Holy Body and Blood of Thy Christ. And we beseech Thee, O Master, Who lovest mankind, to keep us under the shelter of Thy wings. And grant that, even unto out last breath, we may worthily partake of Thy Holy Things unto the illumination of soul and body and unto the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“For Thou art our sanctification, and unto Thee we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”

Very beautiful is the prayer behind the amvon that the priest, after calling the partakers of the Holy Mysteries, deified faithful people, in peace and enlightened by the light of God, to go forth into the world and bear witness of that light given to them by God, to glorify and celebrate Him.

The priest prays: “O almighty Master, Who hast made all creation in wisdom and by Thine inexpressible providence and great goodness hast brought us to these all-holy days, for the purification of soul and body, for the controlling of passions and for hope of resurrection, Who, during the forty days didst give into the hands of Thy servant Moses the tablets of the Law in characters divinely traced by Thee: Enable us also, O good One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to preserve inviolate the faith, to crush under foot the heads of invisible serpents, to be accounted victors over sin; and, uncondemned, to attain unto and worship Thy Holy Resurrection. For blessed and glorified is Thine all-honorable and majestic Name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages.” And then the priest quietly, in the sanctuary before the Holy Gifts of Christ, which are placed on the Table of Oblation concludes the prayer saying:  “O Christ our God, Who hast brought us to these all-holy days and hast made us communicants of Thy dread mysteries: Unite us to Thy rational flock, and make us heirs of Thy Kingdom, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is set to be ministered for one reason only, that the faithful can partake of the Holy Communion in it, but nowadays, unfortunately, no one partakes. Few are those who minister this Liturgy, even fewer are those who come to it, and, almost none of those partake of the Holy Communion. Where is our faith, our zeal, our love…? In order to receive Holy Communion we need to have prior preparation, yet, nowadays, we do not have it. We do nothing for God, we have become insensitive to God, but we also have become insensitive for our salvation.

It is the time for fasting. Let us repent and offer sincere tears of repentance before the throne of God so that we can wash our hearts of the passions and be able to partake worthily of the Holy Communion and participate in the glorious and saving Resurrection of Christ. Amen.

Father Gavril Galev

Abbot of the monastery “St. Clement of Ohrid”,

Kinglake, Melbourne, Australia

18/03/2016


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