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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part II: Faith and Worship
    • Orthodox Worship: The Sacraments
      • The Eucharist
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The Eucharist

Today the Eucharist is celebrated in the eastern Church according to one of four different


1) The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (the normal Liturgy on Sundays and weekdays).

2) The Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great (used ten times a year; outwardly it is very little different

from the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, but the prayers said privately by the priest are

far longer).

3) The Liturgy of Saint James, the Brother of the Lord (used once a year, on Saint James’s

Day, 23 October, in certain places only. (Until recently, used only at Jerusalem and on the Greek Island of

Zante; now revived elsewhere (e.g. the Patriarch’s church at Constantinople; the Greek Cathedral in London; the

Russian monastery at Jordanville, U.S.A)).

4) The Liturgy of the Presanctified (used on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, and on the

first three days of Holy Week. There is no consecration in this Liturgy, but communion is given

from elements consecrated on the previous Sunday.).

In general structure the Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil are as follows:

1. The office of preparation — the Prothesis or Proskomidia: the preparation of the

bread and wine to be used at the Eucharist.

2. The liturgy of the word — the Synaxis

A. The Opening of the Service — the Enarxis (Strictly speaking the Synaxis

only begins with the Little Entrance; the Enarxis is now added at the start, but was originally a

separate service).

• The Litany of Peace

Psalm 102 (103).

• The Little Litany

Psalm 145 (146), followed by the hymn Only-begotten Son and Word of God

• The Little Litany

• The Beatitudes (with special hymns or Troparia appointed for the day).

B. The Little Entrance, followed by the Entrance Hymn or Introit for the day

• The Trisagion — ‘Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy

upon us’ — sung three or more times

C. Readings from Scripture

• The Prokimenon verses, usually from the Psalms

• The Epistle

Alleluia sung nine or sometimes three times, with verses from Scripture intercalated


• The Gospel

• The Sermon (often transferred to the end of the service).

D. Intercession for the Church

• The Litany of Fervent Supplication

• The Litany of the Departed

• The Litany of the Catechumens, and the dismissal of the Catechumens

3. The eucharist

A. Two short Litanies of the Faithful lead up to the Great Entrance, which is then

followed by the Litany of Supplication

B. The Kiss of Peace and the Creed

C. The Eucharistic Prayer

Opening Dialogue

Thanksgivingculminating in the narrative of the Last Supper, and the words of

Christ: ‘This is my Body ... This is my Blood...’

Anamnesis — the act of ‘calling to mind’ and offering. The priestcalls to mind

Christ’s death, burial, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming, and he ‘offers

the Holy Gifts to God

Epiclesis — the Invocation or ‘calling down’ of the Spirit on the Holy Gifts

• A great Commemoration of all the members of the Church: the Mother of God,

the saints, the departed, the living

• The Litany of Supplication, followed by the Lord’s Prayer

D. The Elevation and Fraction (‘breaking’) of the Consecrated Gifts

E. Communion of the clergy and people

F. Conclusion of the service: Thanksgiving and final Blessing; distribution of the Antidoron

The first part of the Liturgy, the Office of Preparation, is performed privately by the priest

and deacon in the chapel of the Prothesis. Thus the public portion of the service falls into two

sections, the Synaxis (a service of hymns, prayers, and readings from Scripture) and the Eucharist

proper: originally the Synaxis and the Eucharist were often held separately, but since the

fourth century the two have virtually become fused into one service. Both Synaxis and Eucharist

contain a procession, known respectively as the Little and the Great Entrance. At the Little Entrance

the Book of the Gospels is carried in procession round the church, at the Great Entrance

the bread and wine (prepared before the beginning of the Synaxis) are brought processionally

from the Prothesis chapel to the altar. The Little Entrance corresponds to the Introit in the western

rite (originally the Little Entrance marked the beginning of the public part of the service, but

at present it is preceded by various Litanies and Psalms); the Great Entrance is in essence an Offertory

Procession. Synaxis and Eucharist alike have a clearly marked climax: in the Synaxis, the

reading of the Gospel; in the Eucharist, the Epiclesis of the Holy Spirit.

The belief of the Orthodox Church concerning the Eucharist is made quite clear during the

course of the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest reads the opening part of the Thanksgiving in a low

voice, until he comes to the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “Take, eat, This is my Body...”

Drink of it, all of you, This is my Blood...” these words are always read in a loud voice, in the

full hearing of the congregation. In a low voice once more, the priest recites the Anamnesis:


Commemorating the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection after three days, the Ascension into

Heaven, the Enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second and glorious Coming


He continues aloud: ‘Thine of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and for all.’

After the consacration of the Gifts, the priest and deacon immediately prostrate themselves

before the Holy Gifts, which have now been consecrated.

It will be evident that the ‘moment of consecration’ is understood somewhat differently by

the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. According to Latin theology, the consecration

is effected by the Words of Institution: “This is my Body...” “This is my Blood...” According to

Orthodox theology, the act of consecration is not complete until the end of the Epiclesis, and

worship of the Holy Gifts before this point is condemned by the Orthodox Church as ‘artolatry

(bread worship). Orthodox, however, do not teach that consecration is effected solely by the Epiclesis,

nor do they regard the Words of Institution as incidental and unimportant. On the contrary,

they look upon the entire Eucharistic Prayer as forming a single and indivisible whole, so

that the three main sections of the prayerThanksgiving, Anamnesis, Epiclesis — all form an

integral part of the one act of consecration (Some Orthodox writers go even further than this, and maintain

that the consecration is brought about by the whole process of the Liturgy, starting with the Prothesis and including

the Synaxis! Such a view, however, presents many difficulties, and has little or no support in Patristic tradition). But

this of course means that if we are to single out a ‘moment of consecration,’ such a moment cannot

come until the Amen of the Epiclesis (Before Vatican 2 the Roman Canon to all appearances had no

Epiclesis; but many Orthodox liturgists, most notably Nicholas Cabasilas, regard the paragraph Supplices te as constituting

in effect an Epiclesis, although Roman Catholics today, with a few notable exceptions, do not understand it

as such).

The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As the words of the Epiclesis make abundantly

plain, the Orthodox Church believes that after consecration the bread and wine become in very

truth the Body and Blood of Christ: they are not mere symbols, but the reality. But while Orthodoxy

has always insisted on the reality of the change, it has never attempted to explain the manner

of the change: the Eucharistic Prayer in the Liturgy simply uses the neutral term metaballo,

to ‘turn about,’ ‘change,’ or ‘alter.’ It is true that in the seventeenth century not only individual

Orthodox writers, but Orthodox Councils such as that of Jerusalem in 1672, made use of the

Latin termtransubstantiation’ (in Greek, metousiosis), together with the Scholastic distinction

between Substance and Accidents (In medieval philosophy a distinction is drawn between the substance or

essence (i.e. that which constitutes a thing, which makes it what it is), and the accidents or qualities that belong to a

substance (i.e. everything that can be perceived by the sensessize, weight, shape, color, taste, smell, and so on).

A substance is something existing by itself (ens per se), an accident can only exist by inhering in something else

(ens in alio). Applying this distinction to the Eucharist, we arrive at the doctrine of Transubstantiation. According to

this doctrine, at the moment of consecration in the Mass there is a change of substance, but the accidents continue to

exist as before: the substances of bread and wine are changed into those of the Body and Blood of Christ, but the

accidents of bread and winei.e. the qualities of color, taste, smell, and so forthcontinue miraculously to exist

and to be perceptible to the senses). But at the same time the Fathers of Jerusalem were careful to add

that the use of these terms does not constitute an explanation of the manner of the change, since

this is a mystery and must always remain incomprehensible (Doubtless many Roman Catholics would

say the same). Yet despite this disclaimer, many Orthodox felt that Jerusalem had committed itself

too unreservedly to the terminology of Latin Scholasticism, and it is significant that when in

1838 the Russian Church issued a translation of the Acts of Jerusalem, while retaining the word

transubstantiation, it carefully paraphrased the rest of the passage in such a way that the technical

terms Substance and Accidents were not employed (This is an interesting example of the way in which the

Church is ‘selective’ in its acceptance of the decrees of Local Councils (see above, p. 211)).


Today Orthodox writers still use the word transubstantiation, but they insist on two points:

first, there are many other words which can with equal legitimacy be used to describe the consecration,

and, among them all, the term transubstantiation enjoys no unique or decisive authority;

secondly, its use does not commit theologians to the acceptance of Aristotelian philosophical

concepts. The general position of Orthodoxy in the whole matter is clearly summed up in the

Longer Catechism, written by Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow (1782-1867), and authorized by

the Russian Church in 1839:

Question: How are we to understand the word transubstantiation?

Answer: …The word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the

bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand

but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes

the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord (English translation in R. W.

Blackmore, The Doctrine of the Russian Church, London, 1845, p. 92).

And the Catechism continues with a quotation from john of Damascus: ‘If you enquire how this

happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit ... we know nothing more

than this, that the word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable

(On the Orthodox Faith, 4, 13 (P.G. 94, 1145A)).

In every Orthodox parish church, the Blessed Sacrament is normally reserved, most often in

a tabernacle on the altar, although there is no strict rule as to the place of reservation. Orthodox,

however, do not hold services of public devotion before the reserved sacrament, nor do they have

any equivalent to the Roman Catholic functions of Exposition and Benediction, although there

seems to be no theological (as distinct from liturgical) reason why they should not do so. The

priest blesses the people with the sacrament during the course of the Liturgy, but never outside it.

The Eucharist as a sacrifice. The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice;

and here again the basic Orthodox teaching is set forth clearly in the text of the Liturgy itself.

‘Thine of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and for all.’ 1) We offer Thine of Thine own. At the

Eucharist, the sacrifice offered is Christ himself, and it is Christ himself who in the Church performs

the act of offering: he is both priest and victim. ‘Thou thyself art He who offers and He

who is offered’ (From the Priest’s prayer before the Great Entrance). 2) We offer to Thee. The Eucharist

is offered to God the Trinity — not just to the Father but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ

himself (This was stated with great emphasis by a Council of Constantinople in 1156 (see P.G. 140, 176-7)).

Thus if we ask, what is the sacrifice of the Eucharist? By whom is it offered? To whom is it offered?

— in each case the answer is Christ. 3) We offer for all: according to Orthodox theology,

the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice (in Greek, thusia hilastirios), offered on behalf of both

the living and the dead.

In the Eucharist, then, the sacrifice which we offer is the sacrifice of Christ. But what does

this mean? Theologians have held and continue to hold many different theories on this subject.

Some of these theories the Church has rejected as inadequate, but it has never formally committed

itself to any particular explanation of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Nicholas Cabasilas sums up

the standard Orthodox position as follows:

‘First, the sacrifice is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice; secondly, it is not the

bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ; thirdly, the Lamb of God was sacrificed

once only, for all time ... The sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immo-


lation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb’ (Commentary

on the Divine Liturgy, 32).

The Eucharist is not a bare commemoration nor an imaginary representation of Christ’s —

sacrifice, but the true sacrifice itself; yet on the other hand it is not a new sacrifice, nor a repetition

of the sacrifice on Calvary, since the Lamb was sacrificed ‘once only, for all time.’ The

events of Christ’s sacrifice — the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection,

the Ascension (Note that Christ’s sacrifice includes many things besides His death: this is a most important point

in Patristic and Orthodox teaching) — are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present.

‘During the Liturgy, through its divine power, we are projected to the point where eternity cuts

across time, and at this point we become true contemporaries with the events which we commemorate

(P. Evdokimov, LOrthodoxie, p. 241). ‘All the holy suppers of the Church are nothing else

than one eternal and unique Supper, that of Christ in the Upper Room. The same divine act both

takes place at a specific moment in history, and is offered always in the sacrament’ (ibid., p. 208).

Holy Communion. In the Orthodox Church the laity as well as the clergy always receive

communion ‘under both kinds.’ Communion is given to the laity in a spoon, containing a small

piece of the Holy Bread together with a portion of the Wine; it is received standing. Orthodoxy

insists on a strict fast before communion, and nothing can be eaten or drunk after waking in the

morning (‘You know that those’ who invite the Emperor to their house, first clean their home. So you, if you want

to bring God into your bodily home for the illumination of your life, must first sanctify your body by fasting’ (from

the Hundred Chapters of Gennadius). In cases of sickness or genuine necessity, a confessor can grant dispensations

from this communion fast). Many Orthodox at the present day receive communion infrequently

perhaps only five or six times a year — not from any disrespect towards the sacrament, but because

that is the way in which they have been brought up. But during recent years a few parishes

in Greece and in the Russian diaspora have restored the primitive practice of weekly communion,

and it appears that communion is also becoming more frequent in Orthodox Churches behind

the Iron Curtain. There seems every hope that this movement towards frequent communion

will continue to gain ground slowly but surely in the years to come.

After the final blessing with which the Liturgy ends, the people come up to kiss a Cross

which the priest holds in his hand, and to receive a little piece of bread, called the Antidoron,

which is blessed but not consecrated, although taken from the same loaf as the bread used in the

consecration. In most Orthodox parishes non-Orthodox present at the Liturgy are permitted (and

indeed, encouraged) to receive the Antidoron, as an expression of Christian fellowship and love.

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