Search this site
I - THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY
LITURGY II - TRADITION AND REFORM IN VATICAN II
HH. POPE BENEDICT ON THE LITURGY
THE EUCHARIST (Russian)
THE EUCHARIST (Russian)
The Eucharist in the Ancient Church and Contemporary Practice
B. I. Sove
From “LIVING TRADITION” YMCA Press, Paris, n.d.
Translated by Alvian N. Smirensky
[Endnotes in this translation are taken directly from the Russian text and do not conform with the accepted American academic style. They are given for information and illustration of the author’s thoroughness. Those readers familiar with Russian may recognize the names of the various sources used by the author. A.N.S]
On that great day of the mystical Pentecost the beginning of the new kingdom of Grace was forged – the community of the New Israel, the Church of Christ – Christ’s Mystical Body. Human nature, torn asunder by sin, was reestablished in the Church. The proud structure of the Tower of Babel, the mixture of tongues and the separation of humanity was set aside by the fiery tongues of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of Pentecost and the Divine-human catholic body of the Church.
“That they may all be one, even as thou, Father art in me and I in thee, that they may all be one” (John 17:21), as Christ prayed to the Father in the High Priestly prayer. This prayer and Christ’s preceding farewell discourse with his supper companions, his friends the Apostles, in the Upper Room, is a hymn which proclaims and solemnizes love and the theology of the Eucharist, is found in the Gospel of the “beloved disciple” John, and corresponds to the description of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels. The first Eucharist which took place there, which established the New Covenant. “Do this in remembrance of me”. In carrying out Christ’s commandment, being fully conscious of the great significance of the Eucharist, the Apostles performed that Mystery. The reconstruction of that first form of the Eucharist presents a complex problem. In all likelihood the Apostolic Eucharist’s form resembled, if not copied, the order of the Hebrew Habura, or perhaps the Passover Kiddush.
The Book of Acts states that following Apostle Peter’s first sermon and the baptism of 3,000 persons “they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42) and “attending the Temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). This breaking of bread illumined the early Christian community’s whole life which was a constant joy of the blessed Eastertide .”And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own. . .There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4: 32, 34). The lives of the Christians was suffused with the consciousness that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Cor 12:26). The way for resolving social problems for Christians was through the “Cup of thanksgiving”, the difficult aspects of which in the Roman Empire as well as today disturbs our hearts, just as it disturbed the hearts of Christians in the first centuries. The Eucharist intensified the acuteness of the problem. The Eucharist united and equalized everyone – the lords and the slaves, the rich and the poor. All Church members were equal and free in Christ. All were children of God, all were Christ’s friends, brothers and sisters, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf” (I Cor 10:17
This oneness of all Church members in Christ in the image of the Holy Trinity and the union in love given in the Eucharist  can be heard in all the Eucharistic prayers beginning with “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” which still preserves the verbal formula of the Hebrew meal ritual but includes in it a new context of Christology and ecclesiology.
“Let Grace come and let this world pass away” the Liturgist prays. And the community greets the Eucharistic Christ with a solemn Messianic hymn. “Hosanna to the God of David. . .Maran atha – Our Lord, come”. He appears to the believers in the Eucharist. The Parousia approaches. The visions and hopes of the ancient prophets are realized. “Thy Kingdom come”. The Messianic kingdom begins. “Behold, the King of glory enters”. Christ reigns. The Christians participate in the bridal night of the Lamb, in the Messianic banquet, They offer the prayer of thanksgiving with one voice and partake in Christ’s Body and Blood. This was the joy about which the Book of Acts speaks. This was the Grace-filled experience which inspired those feats of witness and martyrdom.
The unity of the Eucharist, of the community’s feast of the Cross and resurrection which is lucidly expressed in every one of the liturgical rites – of the Church’s “common act”, beginning with its first description in Justin Martyr’s Apology(which was written between 150 and 155 C.E.)
The Eucharist is celebrated on the day of resurrection – “the day of the Sun”. All members of the community take part in it. Following the reading of the Sacred Scripture and the sermon, all bring the offering – the Gifts – the sacrifice to God, the elements for the Mystery, and in this way participate in the common Eucharistic offering of the sacrifice. “We make an offering to God not as if he needs it, but in thanksgiving for his providence and for the sanctification of creation . . .The Word desires that even we should offer gifts at the altar, often and without omission” Gifts to neighbors were added to these Gifts not as a simple act of charity but as an offering to God. “Those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses to. What is collected is deposited with the president and he takes care of orphans and widows and those who are in want on account of sickness, or any other cause, and those who are in bonds and the strangers who are sojourners among us and, briefly, he is the protector of all those in need”. Without love, the sacrifice is incomplete (Mt. 5:23-24). Participation in the liturgical thanksgiving was preceded by a reconciliation and healing of the mutual relationships of the community’s members. This requirement is brought out in “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [Didache]” to the participants in the Eucharist on the same level with the directive to admit only those who were re-born in the waters of Baptism. The reconciliation was sealed “with a holy kiss” (I Cor 16:20), “ ”the kiss of love” (I Peter 5:14), “the kiss of reconciliation” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Five Mystagogical Sermons) “the Divine kiss” (Dionysus Areopagite), which “mutually unites the souls”. Tertullian writes, “When is the kiss between the brothers not more appropriate than at the time when the common prayer, more worthy to God is offered, after which they, as participants in our prayerful zeal, seal their brotherly union with us with a kiss. What prayer is complete unless sealed with a holy kiss?” “Let us love one another”. A Oneness of mind is impossible without love. Christ is the source of love. United in one body with this “sacred act of peace” (Dionysius Areopagite), which brings about “a oneness of mind and soul, and a verbal solemnity” (St Maximus Confessor), The community approaches the Eucharistic prayer which is read by the bishop surrounded by his clergy. The prayer is often improvised since the Anaphora is still in a state of flux. The liturgist, on behalf of all the faithful offers thanksgiving and the “reasonable and bloodless service” “in behalf of all and for all”. He is not separated from the faithful. He is the “President of the brothers” (St Justin ) the “mouth of all” (Theodore Mopsuestia. and Narsai), he is the corytheus of the chorus “united with the bounds of love” which offers “thanksgiving and praise to the Giver of the world to all”. The whole community participates creatively in the Eucharistic prayer, the Eucharistic offering and thanksgiving, sealing the prayer with their collective and triumphant “Amen”. The first communal act, the Liturgy, was completed by this act of prayer. It was one of the most important responsibilities not only of the hierarchy but of all members of the Church, the people of the “New Israel”, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (I Peter 2:9. St Basil’s Anaphora), inasmuch as in the Church that ideal, the universal priesthood, which was awaited by Moses (Exodus 19:6) and the prophets, was realized.
To be sure, this teaching about the universal priesthood does not exclude the Divinely established hierarchy who celebrate the Mysteries. “You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorizes”.
St Cyril of Jerusalem pointedly stresses the people’s participation in the Eucharistic prayer “We must thank. . .we remember. . . we repeat. . . we implore. . .we remember. . . we repeat”  and St John Chrysostom profoundly laments over the indifference expressed by many Christians towards the Liturgy. “The people have an active participation in the prayers. For example, common prayers are offered for the mentally disturbed and the penitents by both the priest and the people. At the crucial moment of the Great Mystery the priest prays for the people and the people pray for the priest, since the words “and with thy Spirit” mean nothing less than that.. The prayers of thanksgiving are also in common, since it is not the priest alone who offers the Thanksgiving, but all the people”. St John Chrysostom emphasizes the responsibility of all Church members as he continues: “All this I say that each of those who are subordinate would be attentive, so that we would know that we are all one body and we differ one from another as one member from another, and that we would all not burden the priests alone, but all be concerned about the whole Church as a Body common to all of us.”
The deacon’s summons “Let us stand aright!. Let us stand with fear! That we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace” is addressed to all the faithful. The Eucharistic prayers are addressed to God on behalf of the whole community (“We” prayers). For example in the Syrian Liturgy of St James, following the words of the Anaphora after the priest pronounces “Do this in commemoration of me” we have:
“People: We proclaim your death, O Lord and we profess your resurrection and we await your second coming. We ask of you mercy and grace and we pray for the remission of sins, and may your mercy be upon all of us.
“Priest: “Calling to mind, O Lord, your death and resurrection on the third day. . .we offer you this awesome sacrifice renewed in word and not in blood. . .Your people and your heritage supplicate you and through you and with you, your Father, and say:
“People: Have mercy almighty Lord God, have mercy on us”
“Priest: And we, your helpless and sinful servants, O Lord, thank you and praise you for everyone and for all things.
“People: We praise you, we thank you, we bow before you, we thank you and pray for forgiveness, O Lord God, have mercy and hear us.
“Deacon: How awesome is the present hour. How terrible, my beloved, is that moment . .when the Holy Spirit comes upon this Eucharist. . .and sanctifies it. . .You who are present, with fear and trembling, stand and pray. . .Let us proclaim and thrice say: Lord have mercy!
“Priest: [Pronounces the Epiklesis]
“People: Lord have mercy! (Three times), sealing the Epiklesis with a double Amen
Later the people are invited by the Deacon to participate in specific parts of the intercessory Eucharistic prayer which is read by the priest. Each of the six parts is affirmed with the people’s “Amen”. They end the Anaphora with the words “As it was and is from generation to generation and (will continue) for future ages. Amen”
This communal participation during the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice is culminated with the communal partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful, united “in one heart and mind” through their prayer, are united with Christ and in Him, with each other. “And unite all of us to one another who become partakes of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” (St Basil’s Anaphora).Each person’s partaking was affirmed by “Amen”, perhaps a collective one.
The collective communion by all participants at each Liturgy was the norm in the Ancient Church. It was closely linked with the general Eucharistic prayer and offering.
Those who were under bans and deprived of the right to approach the Chalice, could not participate in the Liturgy. The Liturgy took place on Sunday (Teaching of the 12 Apostles. Justin Martyr’s Apology. cf Acts 20:7) In the 4th century the Eucharist was celebrated on Saturday as well, in Alexandria, Egypt in general, in Asia Minor and in Constantinople.
In some parts of the Church Communion was even more frequent. Thus St Basil, in his letter to Patricia in Caesarea writes: “We partake four times each week, on the Lord’s day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, as well as on other days if there be a memorial of some Saint”, but “it is good and beneficial to partake and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ on each day”. The practice of daily Communion was common both in Rome and in Spain. At the end of the Third and beginning of the Fourth centuries the Great Lent gradually becomes established, the sacred Forty Days, which grew out of the brief pre-Paschal fast of the early years. Lent was a time of repentance and grieving over sins. During the sorrowful days of Lent the complete Liturgy, the feast of the Christian community with its Paschal and Resurrectional joy of Golgotha and the radiant night, could not be celebrated However, the faithful were permitted to receive Communion even during the days of Lent. This was the inception of the Presanctified Liturgy which was a combination of Vespers with Communion. This “Liturgy” offers the opportunity for Communion outside of a full Liturgy. This was permitted in the Early Church. Thus for example, Justin Martyr notes than the Holy Gifts were brought by the deacons to those who were not present. The Early Church knew of the practice of reserving the Holy Gifts in the homes and of self-Communion. This was later continued in monastic practice. However, neither self-Communion nor the Communion of the sick could replace the complete Liturgy with its communal Eucharistic sacrifice and the corporate Communion. Self-Communion was permitted “for the sake of need” just as today presence at the Anaphora and the offering of Gifts without Communion, or a kind of “spiritual Communion” is permitted.
The corporate character of the Eucharist called for the celebration of only one Liturgy in each city. The Western practice of the Fermentum sent by the bishop to parish churches developed from this.
This corporate Eucharist in the Early Church gave light to the world and sanctified it. The participants in the Kingdom of Christ in the temple at the Liturgy were inspired with the desire to bring love, joy and light to the world for the healing of social illnesses which distort God’s wonderful universe. The Christian’s whole life, sanctified by the Church’s Mysteries, took place near the Eucharist and was sanctified by it, inasmuch as all Mysteries were united with it. Arising out of the baptismal font of regeneration, receiving the blessed privilege to address God as his Father and signed with “the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” joyfully, the newly baptized, for the first time approached the Sacred Cup. This is where those entering into the bridal union in Christ received their blessing from the Church. Sinners who disturbed the Church’s conscience carried out lengthy and severe penitence for the sake of that Cup. The gifts of the grace of priesthood and of the Blessing of Oil for the sick were given at the Liturgy Other sacred rites, such as monastic tonsure, the sanctification of Chrism and the blessing of Epiphany water likewise occurred at the Liturgy.
This was the Eucharistic practice of the Early Church. The Eucharist was the joy in the life of the individual member of the Church. It was the foundation and the grace-filled inspiration for the ascent upon the ladder of virtue. It was the “Medicine of immortality, the means for healing, that we not die but live constantly in Jesus Christ”. It is the Deification of the believer in Christ, his Theosis. However, the Eucharist has a corporate character as well. Participation in the Eucharist is the common act of all Church members. And should someone, for one reason or another, usually due to negligence towards that great spiritual treasure, the Holy Gifts, due to a neglect of one’s responsibility as a member of the Church and a neglect of the commandment of love towards other members of the Church, that someone should refuse or decline to participate in that corporate act, then the Church would become concerned and would immediately attempt to discover a cause for that spiritual wound in order to heal it. The canons of the Councils of the post-Constantinian era are permeated with that concern. The Empire’s adoption of Christianity brought numerous nominal Christians into the Church. “For the majority, the purely sacrificial zeal of Christianity was replaced by the need to be socially correct and at times even by self-service” (Metr. Sergii of Moscow). The spiritual intensity of Christians was weakened and brought about a negligent and unworthy relation towards the Liturgy. There were occasions of people leaving the Liturgy following the reading of the Scripture and the sermon. Such conduct distressed St John Chrysostom. Canon Two of the Council of Antioch in 341 and Canon 9 of the Apostolic Canons excommunicated those “who come in and hear the Scriptures but do not stay for the prayers and the Holy Communion” or, as the final canon of the Slavonic Kormchaya of 1787 which reads, in agreement with the commentaries of Zonaras and Aristinus: “Those who do not remain in Church until the final prayer are not Communed.
By that time Christians stopped coming to the Liturgy. This carelessness towards the Liturgy on the part of the people “who dissipated the strength and fervor of faith and turned towards the cares of the world”  roused the Church to adopt decisive measures. Canon 21 of Elvira (305), Canon 11 of Sardica (343) which was repeated in Canon 80 of Trullo (692) deposes the clergy and excommunicates clerics and laymen “who fail to attend the Liturgy for three Sundays during three consecutive weeks”. These measures did not have the desired effect. We know that in Byzantium both the Patriarch and the Emperor would leave the temple following the reading of the Gospel. The decline in spiritual life continued and expressed itself in a diminished participation in the Liturgy and Communion. At the time of Chrysostom some people received Communion once or twice a year notwithstanding the Hierarch’s admonitions. St Cassian likewise condemns infrequent participation in the Eucharist. “Daily penances for monastics”, attributed to St Theodore Studite, were directed against that practice.6) He who through ignorance does not partake of communion. –
He who for more than 40 days, without a penance, remains without Communion, must show his reason and if it happens that he does this through negligence, he must be subject to penance for 40 days.
41) He who does not receive Communion during the Liturgy must indicate his reason and if he fails to do so, he must fast until evening and make 50 prostrations.
62) A monastic or a layman who is not under penance and through his own negligence does not come to Communion for forty days must be excommunicated from the Church for one year .
Works of our Father and Confessor St Theodore Studite, Russian translation, SPB 1908, v. II pp 848, 850, 852.
Other changes in Liturgical practice developed. There was a gradual introduction of the secret reading of the Eucharistic prayers. Some liturgists see the genesis of this practice in Canon 19 of the Council in Laodicaea (343) which may be questionable. The reading of the Anaphora secretly prevailed during Justinian’s epoch. Vainly struggling against this innovation, and referring to Romans and I Corinthians 14, the Emperor prior to his death decreed: “We command that all bishops and presbyters do not pronounce the prayers of the Divine Offering and Holy Baptism secretly, but with a voice (meta phonis) which could be heard by the faithful people, that the minds of the listeners would be moved towards greater pangs of conscience. . . It is fitting that prayers to Our Lord Jesus Christ our God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in all occasions and at other services be pronounced loudly (meta phonis). Those refusing to do so will give their answer before God’s throne and if we should find out, we will not leave them without punishment” 
By the 8th century the secret reading of the Anaphora becomes the commonly accepted practice. The perplexities, questions and arguments among the liturgists continue and are given as the explanation for the evolution of the prayer behind the ambo  as a substitute Anaphora for the laity. “Some, standing outside the sanctuary, are frequently puzzled, arguing amongst themselves and saying: what is the point, the purpose and the meaning of the prayers quietly read by the bishop. They would like to have some understanding of them and thus the Holy Fathers wrote (the prayer behind the ambo) as a summary of all that was prayed for (during the Liturgy) letting them who desire to have an understanding of just the fringe of the whole garment”.
By the 8th century the secret reading of the Eucharistic canon which engendered silent Masses was observed in the West. Various assumption were made for the reason for introducing secret readings of the Anaphora. The proposition that this practice was adopted for shortening the Liturgy , for the same reason which St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom shortened the Anaphora, as given by St Proclus, cannot be accepted as convincing since at that time the process of lengthening the Liturgy of the Catechumens began and there was the introduction of litanies and processions before the Liturgy. There was also the beginning of our Services of Intercession which for some time were performed prior to the Liturgy and continues to be in some places, and not after it. One cannot agree with the assumption of Duchesne about the difficulties of reading the prayers aloud in large temples or with the hypothesis of the misunderstanding coming out of the incorrect understanding of the word mystikos, placed before the Anaphora as a directive “for some kind of a special mystical method” of reading it.
Neither is the hypothesis that the secret reading of prayers arose out of the decrease in the number of communicants. Since the celebrants alone took Communion at the Liturgy, they alone read the Anaphora for themselves, secretly.
On the other hand it is quite evident that the secret reading is connected with the Eucharistic carelessness of the Church’s people. The Eucharist is the Mystery which evokes a sacred trembling in the faithful. “Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and in fear and trembling stand”. Such trembling is inherent in the Liturgy at all times. But the Eucharistic carelessness of the people forced the Fathers and the liturgists to focus their principal attention towards the development of the necessary reverence, a sacred fear and trembling, before the Holy Gifts, before which the Angels veil their faces. The Holy Cup must be approached “with fear and love”. The sacred trembling
completes the usual feeling of unworthiness and sinfulness. In the Eucharist is the Christ – rex tremendae magestasis. One can find in St John Chrysostom, who grieves over the collapse of the Eucharistic sensitivity and fervor, constant reminders for the need of sacred trembling before the Awesome Mysteries. Suggestions for such attitudes are found in St Cyril of Jerusalem. St John Chrysostom, during whose time the Anaphora was undoubtedly read aloud, likewise had great influence, especially in Syria. It is among the Syrian writers and liturgists that the prayers with “sacred trembling” are especially developed, which were almost completely absent from the ancient liturgical rites, as in the Liturgy of the Apostolic Constitution in the Anaphora of Serapion of Tmuita ,and in the Fathers of the 4th century, with the exception of St John Chrysostom and St Cyril mentioned above. In Theodore of Mopsuestia’s commentary on the liturgy given in book two of Liber ad Baptizandos the term “fearsome” is found constantly, as applied to the Eucharistic Mystery, the Offering and the Holy Gifts. Here directions are given for a mystical silence. “When we approach silence during the great and reverent fear the priest begins the Anaphora. The hymn of the Seraphim is sung by all those present. . .and the priest unites audibly with the invisible hosts.” “The priest reads these prayers quietly”. The Nestorian author Narsai († 502), founder of the Nyzbin school and who was under the strong influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia, writes about the feelings of fear and trembling and the silent reading of the Anaphora. In his 17th homily he describes and comments on the liturgy contemporary with him which is very similar except for the Anaphora, with the Nestorian liturgy of Addai and Mari.
For example, following the Creed “the priest brings the Mystery of the redemption of our life, full of trembling and clothed with fear and great awe. The priest abides in awe and in great fear and trembling because of his trespasses and the trespasses of all the children of the Church... Trembling and fear for himself and for the people lies upon the priest at this awesome hour. In fearful conditions of service he even brings on fear to the Seraphim, the son of decay as the mediator, abides in great fear. The fearful king, mystically immolated and buried, and the fearful guardians (angels), standing in fear in honor of their Lord. The priest abides in these thoughts for the Divine service, reverently and with great fear and trembling.” The deacon’s exclamation is permeated with the same feelings.
“The Church’s herald now calls upon and reminds each person to confess his sins to the Lord and petition Him with a clean heart. ‘Let us stand aright!’, he says ‘look with your mind at the great Mystery taking place, which you, sinful ones, accomplish. The awesome Mysteries are blessed with the hands of the priest. Let each one abide in fear and awe while this is accomplished. The priest has already began to pray himself: all of you now pray with him that your peace may increase through his intercession. Direct the sight of your heart to the ground and raise the secret sight of your mind and implore fervently. Raise the petitions of all to God at this hour full of trembling and with great fear.” Following this there is a call for silence. “Let no one dare to say a single word with your mouths...Let the heart pray and not the mouth and let him petition with the mind and not the mouth.” After the exclamation “Let us lift up our hearts” the whole community observes silence and everyone prepares for the fervent prayer in their hearts. The priest does not speak and the deacon stands silent. The people are calm and do not speak. . .The priest is the mouth of the Church, he opens his mouth and conversed with God in secret as with a friend”. He proclaims the prayer’s end aloud. After the hymn to the Seraphim, sung by all the people “the whole Church returns to silence and the priest begins his conversation with God”. At the end of the prayer he raises his voice, that the people may hear him ... and blesses the Mysteries with his hand. . .and the people with their “Amen”affirms and concurs with the priest’s prayer. Then the Church’s herald calls the people and says: “Pray in your mind. Peace be to you”.. .  During the invocation of the Holy Spirit “the Church’s herald proclaims: Stand in silence and in fear: peace be to you. Let all the people be in fear at that moment, when the mystery of the descent of the Holy Spirit takes place”. The priest raises his voice and points to the Mysteries with his hand”.
The first evidence of silent or quiet reading of the Anaphora and the mystical Eucharistic silence is found in Theodore of Mopsuestia and Narsai. It is natural to assume that this practice arose in Syria and as a consequence first spread in Eastern Syria. The practice of the disciplina arcana likewise had an effect upon the secret reading of the Anaphora, in order to protect the sanctity and the majesty of Christian mysteries. This is clear from the response of the Syrian author, Bishop Jacob of Edessa (640-708) to the question: “Why are Mysteries performed behind closed doors and traditionally in silence”. It is likely due to the demands of the disciplina arcana and this explains absence of the words of institution in the interpretations of Theodore of Mopsuestia, in the rites of the Nestorian liturgies of Addai and Mari and their oral tradition. Certain ideas expressed in the Corpus Areopagiticum, especially in “The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy” undoubtedly influenced the implementation of the secret reading of the Anaphora.  The Corpus apparently appeared in Syria at the end of the 5th century and became very popular there. The mystic Sergius Rissaina († 536) translated it into Syrian. From Syria the Corpus finds its way to Constantinople and was at first looked upon with great suspicion.
The Liturgy in the book “The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy” strikingly resembles and perhaps is the same as that of Narsai, with only the difference that in Narsai’s diptychs living members of the Church are included and the Creed is placed following the carrying of the Gifts to the altar.
One of the chief ideas of “The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy” which heralded the beginning of liturgical symbolism, is the teaching of the ecclesiastical structure, the various levels of performing the Divine mysteries, the fulness of which belongs only to the bishop. This he relates to the lesser levels, particularly to the second or “contemplative” rank of the laity, the holy people, by sensual signs and symbols which they are capable to discern.
The divine hierarch “. . .generously hands down to his inferiors that unique hierarchic understanding which is especially his own. He resorts to a multitude of sacred enigmas. Then, freely and untrammeled by anything beneath him, he returns to his own starting point without having any loss. In his mind he journeys toward the One. With a clear eye he looks upon the basic unity of those realities underlying the sacred rites. He makes the divine return to the primary things the goal of his procession towards secondary things, which he has undertaken out of love for humanity.”
This distinction of the divine hierarch from the people and the motive for mystery is emphasized in the designation of the Liturgy as the “mystery of mysteries”, the “perfection of mysteries, “the mystery of the synaxis or communion”. For example, “Having himself partaken of and imparted the divine communion (to others) the hierarch concludes the ceremony with a sacred thanksgiving together with the entire assembly (which participates in the thanksgiving, privy only to the divine symbols) but he himself always elevated by the divine Spirit to the divine hierarchy, in the purity of the order of the divine image and the blessed and rational contemplation”. Or as later paraphrased by George Pachimer, “the crowd sees only the divine symbols since it cannot understand anything higher, and the hierarch himself is led to those prime symbols, to the very real Body and Blood of the Lord, believing that the symbols present before him have been changed into the true Body and true Blood by the holy and all-powerful Spirit”.
These views on the material character of the Eucharist led to the spreading of the Syrian practice of reading the Anaphora secretly and the development of those moods of fear and trembling which is especially developed in Narsai’s commentary who is familiar if not with the Corpus Areopagiticum then in any case, with its basic ideas which, one may say, floated through the Syrian atmosphere. It must be noted however that the secret reading of the Eucharistic prayers at first did not mean the laity’s estrangement from the participation in the Eucharistic offering.
According to Theodore of Mopsuestia “the priest is the voice of the Church’s community”. “We all constitute the one Body of Christ our Lord, and we are all members of one another and the priest merely carries out the responsibilities of the member which is higher than other members of the body such as, for example, the eye or the tongue. . .As the tongue he offers the prayers of all. . .All of us make the offering with the priest and even if the latter stands alone in order to make the offering, he does this as the tongue, on behalf of the whole body. In this way the offered Gift belongs to all, and it is placed before all of us that we may equally participate in it”.
According to Narsai, ‘the priest offers the prayer of the whole community with the petition”, and this is affirmed by the Monophysite Jacob of Sarug (†521), Narsai’s younger contemporary who writes in his homily “together with the priest, the whole community asks the Father to glorify his Son”.
In spite of the secret reading of the Eucharistic prayers in the Syrian and Persian rites of the liturgy, the laity’s participation is stressed thanks to the summons and exclamations of the deacon before each part of the Anaphora. Linked together, these exclamations become a litany.
Although the Corpus Areopagiticum in no way suggests to diminish the corporate nature of the great “mystery of the synaxis”, it did introduce a significant distance between the laity and the sacred ministers. It diminished laity’s understanding of their responsibility for the Eucharistic prayer. By the middle of the 6th century the Corpus spreads over the whole East, it intrudes into Constantinople and has a great influence upon later Byzantine theology. John Skithopolis writes scholias (530-540) on the Corpus.If John Skithopolis can be identified with John III Scholasticus , Patriarch of Constantinople (565-577), (according to I. Sokolov, in the Orthodox Theological Encyclopedia, vol. VII, col. I,) then the Cherubicon was introduced at that time and if its composition can be attributed to him (according to Bishop Porfirii Uspensky), then the influence of the Corpus becomes self-evident. Along with the Corpus, the practice of the secret reading of the Anaphora is also spread. The groundwork for this was prepared by St John Chrysostom’s teaching about fear and trembling which must accompany one’s approach to the Holy Gifts, and by the great Christological controversies. Justinian vainly struggles against this new practice. His Novella could not curb the process once it began. John Moschus speaks of the audible reading of the Anaphora as occurring only in some places. A solemn Great Entrance, with all its symbolism, is introduced, along with the Cherubicon and total fear and trembling.See Eutychius of Constantinople (†582) for an incorrect understanding of the Great Entrance in Sermon on Easter and Eucharist, Collection, v. 4, pg 65.
The liturgist of the years following wrote: “The priest approaches and comes into contact with the Angelic powers and stands as if no longer on earth but at the heavenly altar, before the awesome altar of God’s throne.” The priest, with boldness, approaches the throne of God’s grace. . .Opening his mouth before God and alone conversing with Him, and looking upon the Lord’s glory no longer obscured in the clouds, as it was for Moses in the Tabernacle, but with an open face. And with Divine inspiration and faith in the Holy Trinity, he secretly utters the Mystery before God, and in mystical actions proclaims the Mystery”.
Following the introduction of the secret reading of the Anaphora,, the Liturgy remained and could not do otherwise, a corporate Divine service, but somehow the responsibility for the corporate prayer and offering was taken away from the laity. With the exception of the initial dialogue, between the liturgist and the people, the rest of the Anaphora, which goes back to Apostolic times, began to be heard by the laity in disjointed exclamations, more often as disjointed clauses. “Singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying;”. . .”Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all”. . .”Especially for our most holy. . .” During the reading of the Anaphora the people hear the singing of “It is meet and right”. . .”Holy, Holy, Holy. . .” “We praise Thee. . .”, “It is meet. . .” or the appropriate substitute, . The choir’s singing separated the liturgist from the people and reenforced the passivity of the latter. With the advent of the icon screen, the practice of reading the Anaphora behind closed Holy or Royal doors grew, with the exception of the bishop’s liturgy
The introduction of the secret reading of the Anaphora contributed to further weakening of Eucharistic piety and life. The Church’s greatest prayer, the Eucharistic prayer which in ancient times, many knew by memory, began to be forgotten by the laity. This led to the arguments about its content, noted by the liturgists. The majority of the laity are not conscious of the Church’s heartbeat as it can be heard in the Anaphora, which contains all of the Church’s prayers “in behalf of all and for all”, about the transfiguration of the world, and about the Kingdom of God. The Anaphoras of the liturgies, along with the prayer of St Basil the Great, in one sweep overwhelm the world’s cosmic prayer, which contains the thanksgiving and the petitions of individual Church members, with the depth and strength of the grace-filled love of the Church, both by the precision and the flexibility of dogmatic formulas. This corporate prayer’s hymn does not reach the ears and the consciousness of the faithful. Many have lost the understanding of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist and the knowledge of their responsible participation in the Anaphora’s offering, even though their offering of the prosphora with lists of names of living and dead (the ancient diptychs) attests to that part of the corporate Eucharistic act. Many people in Church pray for their own personal rather than the corporate needs during the Anaphora , thanking God for their joys, bringing to Him their own needs and asking Him for help in their own difficulties. The assembly of the faithful, to profound regret, does not see itself of one mind and one heart before the Diskos, upon which the whole Church and the whole world surrounds Christ, its Head. An element of corporate and communal disintegration can be observed in the people’s relationship to the Eucharist and the Liturgy, which is only magnified by the infrequent partaking of the Eucharist. This is a common participation in the communal sin, a sin of the lack of love for one’s neighbor.
The communal disintegration in practice can be felt in the manner of participating in the Eucharist. At one time the celebrants and the people partook together. Today the celebrants partake in the sanctuary behind closed Royal doors and a drawn curtain. The sanctuary, at that moment according to the liturgists, becomes Mount Sinai, from which the laity are excluded. During the communion of the celebrants the choir sings the Communion Hymn which in the ancient church was sung by the partaking people. For example, “Receive the Body of Christ, taste the fountain of immortality”. “Taste and see, for the Lord is good”. Later the Communion hymn varied according to the season and the feast. Today it is “sung to maintain the pious attitude of those present and to occupy their attention at that moment” (it being the communion of the celebrants). This explanation by a Russian liturgist is a testimony to the breakdown of Eucharistic piety since in the Early Church it was not necessary to occupy the faithful when they were standing before the Eucharistic Christ. The frequent practice of preaching a sermon or the choir’s rendition of a “concert piece” or of verses the content of which is far removed from the given moment when Christ reigns on His throne and Christians are presumably participating in the Messianic kingdom, is further testimony to this breakdown. Here is where Eucharistic silence is most appropriate, during this “day without evening of Christ’s kingdom”.
For many, the Liturgy has lost that meaning of the most significant and central Divine service, that joy of the ecclesiastical community which was preparing for it by participating in all services of the daily cycle. For many, enchanted by the beauties of the service’s Biblical imagery and the poetry of the Church’s great and inspired hymnographers, the Liturgy is relegated to the second place, behind the All-night Vigil. The Liturgy has become overgrown with extraneous additives – abridged Matins, intercession services, services for the dead, which, in the minds of the faithful, frequently act as a substitute for the sacrificial and merciful character of the Eucharist.
Communion has become infrequent. For many it is replaced by the Antidoron. The faithful receive Communion once a year. Communion is closely linked with a penitential exercise and the sacrament of Penance. In this a great spiritual truth is resolved. “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.” (I Cor 11:28-29) The exclamation in the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles “if anyone is holy, let him approach, and if he is not, let him repent” resounds in all liturgies. “Holy things to the holy”. Chrysostom, in his fervent desire that all of his flock approach the sacred Mysteries as frequently as possible demands that Communion be “with a clear mind, a clear heart and a blameless life,” “with a great oneness of mind and a fervent love with trembling and in all purity”. On the day of his regeneration and the sealing with the seal of the Holy Spirit, the Christian is called to such a life, during which he would have the opportunity, even with a profound consciousness of his sinfulness and unworthiness, to approach the sacred Cup as often as possible “in the fear of God and love” and participate in the prayers of the Holy Offering.
The Ancient Church protected the sanctity of the Eucharist and kept obvious sinners from the holy cup for long periods and at times even until death. Later the strict rules of the penitential discipline was relaxed as the result of the general decline in the spiritual lives of Christians. The emerging monasticism had a tremendous influence on the lives of the laity. The liturgy was celebrated once or twice a week in the monasteries and the remaining time was spent in the preparation for the mystery and for efforts to cleanse one’s heart by zealous “sweat and works”. In monasteries, due to the needs of the intense spiritual life, the practice of daily confession arose in two forms: one before the Elder, and a sacramental one. This brought about the inseparable link between communion and confession, which was unknown in the Early Church, which followed the rule that “the individual conscience is the guiding rule (o kanon) for the reception of the divine Mysteries”.
This new monastic practice was carried over to the laity, with the one difference that for a monk the effort for the preparation for communion was a constant one but the laity began to come to communion more and more infrequently, blaming their spiritual negligence and sinfulness which would require special preparation forgetting the words of St Cyril of Jerusalem addressed to illuminati : “Do not deprive yourselves of communion; do not deprive yourselves of those holy and spiritual mysteries because of your sinfulness”. The words of St John Cassian have also been forgotten, who says: “We must not estrange ourselves from the Lord’s communion because we consider ourselves sinners. We must thirst for him that much more in order to heal our soul and cleanse the spirit, but with such humility of spirit and with faith, that although considering ourselves unworthy to receive such grace, we would seek the healing of our wounds. Otherwise we will receive unworthily even once a year, such as some do who live in monasteries and who look upon the worthiness, sanctity and efficaciousness of the heavenly mysteries in such a way that they think that they can be received only by saints, and the righteous. But it is better to think that these mysteries, through their grace, make us pure and holy. They actually express a greater pride than humility because when they receive them, they think themselves to be worthy. It would be much better if we, with that same humility of the heart, by which we believe and confess that we can never worthily approach the Holy Mysteries, but would receive them each Sunday for the healing of our faults, rather than believing with a vain heart that we, after a year’s time, become worthy to receive them.”
In the second half of the 11th century the Kievan Metropolitan John II († 1089) probably following the practice of Constantinople in his “Rules of the holy Fathers for the penitent sons and daughters” speaks about communion on great feasts and on all Sundays of Great Lent  which add up to 22 days. It is apparent that the attempt to introduce or to preserve the practice of frequent reception was extremely difficult.
In the 15th century Symeon of Salonika, following the practice of the Ancient Church recommends approaching the holy Cup “if possible, every Sunday”.
Nonetheless, there was a gradual introduction of the practice of a single reception each year, preceded by intensive fasting and prayer. Many Church members fail to carry out even this minimal requirement and do not receive Communion for several years. Ecclesiastical authorities in Byzantium as well as in Russia frequently pointed to this sad phenomenon and attempted to remedy it with measures which unfortunately were not always prudent nor spiritually edifying especially when combined with other motives. We will not dwell on the spiritually-repulsive legislative and administrative measures implemented in Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries which compelled every Orthodox individual to confess and receive Communion annually (register of penitents, fines and punishments). The Mysteries were the government’s weapons in its struggle against the Dissenters. It is only natural that Article 20 of the “Statute on the deterrence and prevention of criminal acts” had such a negative meaning which only hardened the hearts against the Church and resulted in a monumentally blasphemous attitude towards the Church’s Mysteries.
Infrequent reception is found not only in the Russian Church but in other parts of the Universal Church for example, in the Balkans. Here, due to the absence of communicants, one can observe a shortening or an almost imperceptible end of the Liturgy. As far as the faithful are concerned, the Liturgy ends with the communion of the celebrants, after which comes the sermon, the distribution of the Antidoron and the veneration of the cross. The culminating part of the Liturgy passes by unnoticed by the people. There is no summons to the Bridal Feast of the Lamb and if there is a call then, as far as the majority of the faithful, it passes as a “voice crying in the wilderness”.
To be sure, the souls abiding in a vital spiritual life, will feel a thirst and hunger for the Eucharist. “As a doe thirsts for the stream so is my soul anxious for thee O Lord”. Unfortunately the practice of infrequent Communion is viewed by many as if it is on the same level as a Canon. ” An unhealthy suspicion and fear has developed which at times goes too far and not infrequently keeps the Church members away from Communion for years at a time”, (Metropolitan Sergii). Sad examples are known about priests who discourage frequent Communion or do not permit people to approach the Cup on the “brightest night” of Pascha, although in some places this can be explained by a zeal for worthy participation and a struggle against a careless attitude towards the Mystery, expressed in a superficial desire to fulfil one’s “obligation” quickly during the Paschal night.
However, within the Orthodox Church some movements have been observed leading towards a revival of the Church’s corporate Eucharistic life, similar to the strong Liturgical movement in the West which is constantly growing and spreading and which aims to return the Mass to its corporate character by encouraging the participation of the whole community.
Communion is becoming more frequent. This is especially evident in Soviet Russia where life’s special circumstances has resulted in a more intense spirituality among the believes which excludes that indifference which has been condemned by the Angel in his message to the Church in Laodicaea (Revel. 3:15-16). Of special interest are the views and practices of the late professor, Fr.N.N. Nalimov, of the St Petersburg Theological Academy, who called his spiritual children to a more frequent reception and replaced confession before each reception with a weekly spiritual discussion which gave him an opportunity to observe his spiritual children and to give them direction.
In 1930 the Moscow Patriarchal Synod received a petition from a laywoman, L. E. Ivanova and “a group of members of the Christian community” “concerning the introduction of serving the Presanctified liturgy during the whole of Great Lent except for the days when a complete liturgy is prescribed, thus enabling the faithful to receive Communion daily”. The petition was accompanied with an “Apology for the daily and regular reception of the Holy Mysteries as a commandment of Christ the Savior”. Metropolitan Sergii was critical of some parts of the Apology. After hearing his report, the Patriarchal Synod, by their resolution of 13 May 1931, No 85, rejected Ivanova’s petition. The argument for the need for daily Communion was rejected as not being essential for the spiritual benefits of the communicants and not being in conformance with the age-old practice of the Church”. However, “the desire respecting the possibility of frequent Communion by Orthodox Christians and for the more faithful of them Communion every Sunday, is deemed acceptable”.
In his response Metropolitan Sergii maintained a proper position that a mechanical introduction of daily communion without accompanying spiritual preparation would create a spiritual danger for the laity “of a careless and inattentive approach to the Holy Mysteries”. Frequent Communion is closely connected with a general spiritual growth of Church members.
The practices of Fr. Nalimov, the petition of Ivanova and other examples of Eucharistic hunger in the Russian and in other churches is indicative of an unquestionable Eucharistic renaissance in the Orthodox Church. and the mind is unwittingly directed towards the practice of the Ancient Church, to the radiantly expressed communal character of her liturgy which was tarnished by the human carelessness towards the great grace-filled gifts and the joy which was given to believers in Christ in the Upper Room at the Mystical Supper, and at the great day of Pentecost, and on the weakening of the consciousness of responsibility on the part of all Church members for participation in the Eucharistic offering and corporate communion, the responsibility for the fate of the Church and for the coming of God’s kingdom in the world. The pointed reminder of St John Chrysostom is recalled “that we should not depend entirely upon the priests but all of us should be concerned for the whole Church as the Body common to all of us. This will serve for our greater conformation and will lead us towards a greater disposition for good works. One must live in the Church as if in one house. Since it constitutes one body, everyone must be well disposed towards each other. . .Our real situation is worthy of tears. We have separated ourselves so far from each other that it is difficult to picture ourselves as one body”. 
As a recipient of the mystery of Chrismation, one must make a powerful effort to realize of one’s obligation to participate corporally in the Liturgy, both in the offering and in Communion. This will become the way which will create a spiritual rejuvenation. It will bring about a grace-filled inspiration for the Direction taken by Christians looking to the Deification of life and culture and the revelation of God.s Kingdom in this world. This would be the way of healing the wounds of social evil and of sin. This realization and the Eucharistic prayer’s spiritual experience will provide an opportunity to return to those particularities of the ancient Liturgy in a natural, corporal voice of the Holy Church. These things were obscured in the consciousness of Christians because of their spiritual negligence but they were preserved in the Church’s service books. Such a return would by no means be a repudiation of that great spiritual treasure which accumulated in the Church as the fruit of centuries of prayerful inspiration and effort. To reject this would be a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit who lives and acts in the Church and beautifies Her with His gifts.
The burning words of the Eucharistic prayers illumine the way as if a guiding star. The words of St Basil’s Anaphora resounds like heavenly music, which regrettably, does not reach the consciousness of the laity.
“And unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit. . . Receive us all into Thy Kingdom, showing us to be the sons of light and sons of the day. Grant us Thy peace and Thy love O Lord our God. . .And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may praise Thine all-honorable and majestic name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
Translation Copyright © 1999 by Alvian N. Smirens