The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church
© Syrian Orthodox Dioceses of North America and Canada. Reproduced with permission. No part of the material may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without written permission from the publisher.
The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church is perhaps the richest in all of Christendom with more than eighty existing anaphoras in testimony. The usual Syriac word for the Eucharistic Liturgy is either qurobo, meaning "approach" or qurbono, "oblation" or "sacrifice." The Holy Fathers of the Syrian Church often refer to the Liturgy as the rozé qadeeshé (the Holy Mysteries), signifying the profound mystery of the bread and wine, identified with our human nature, becoming the Body and Blood of our Lord in a manner not comprehensible to the external human senses.
The Liturgy itself consists of two basic parts, the Order of Offering and the Anaphora proper. The Order of Offering is composed of the Liturgy of Preparation and the Liturgy of the Word and concludes with the Creed. The Anaphora opens with the Prayer of the Kiss of Peace, directed to God the Father, and includes the Blessing of the Bread and Wine, the Anamnesis, Invocation of the Holy Spirit, the six Prayers of Intercession, the Prayer of Fraction and Commixture, the Lord's Praver, the Great Elevation, the Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, Dismissal of the Faithful and the Post Communion Prayers. The consecratory portion of the Holy Liturgy begins with the Blessing of the Bread and Wine and is completed by the Epiclesis.
Two of the great Church Fathers of the Syrian Orthodox tradition, Moses Bar Kepho (d. 903) and Dionysius Bar Salibi (d. 1171) have left behind two precious commentaries on the Liturgy. Through these Fathers of the Church one is given an insight into the rich symbolism and profound mysticism of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syrian Church. Their insights provide the basis of the liturgical commentary to follow.
Two times during the Holy Liturgy the priest washes his hands, once following his vesting as part of preparation to ready the altar for the Holy Liturgy and, again at the time of the Creed. As the priest washes his hands, he thereby reminds the congregation to leave all worldly thought and become clean in heart, spirit and mind. The second washing reminds all that one should be thoroughly cleansed to offer up and share in the Lord's Supper.
The Trisagion or Thrice Holy recalls the vision experienced by the Prophet Isaiah of the Lord's throne and the proclamation of the six-winged seraphim (Isaiah 6: 1-3): "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." Moreover, the tradition of the Syrian Church of Antioch records that at the time of our Lord's crucifixion, the seraphim descended from heaven and encircled the Body of Christ, singing the first three verses of the Thrice Holy, excluding the phrase "Who was crucified for us " as Jesus had died for men and not for the angels. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea, who was to request the Body of Christ from Pilate, was present and was inspired to complete the seraphim's chant, singing forth: "You Who were crucified for us, have mercy upon us." At the Trisagion, the priest touches first the edge of the altar board (tablitho), then the rim of the paten and finally the lip of the chalice. This action mystically signifies that the praise of God the Son ascends through three ranks of the angelic choir in three separate stages, and that the mystical presence of the Lord is associated with these three liturgical objects.
Throughout the Liturgy, the bending of the knees as the priest kneels before the altar signifies our fall through the transgression of Adam. As the priest rises, our own resurrection through the resurrection of Christ is symbolized.
The veiling of the altar prior to the Liturgy of the Word represents the time of preparation before Christ's coming. The reading from the Old Testament is done at this particular time in appropriate correspondence to what is being symbolized by the silent acts taking place behind the altar curtain. The veiling at the Fraction emphasizes the awesome moment of our Lord's suffering and death upon the Cross. It also represents the darkening of the sun at the time of the crucifixion. The veiling before the Presentation of the Holy Mysteries signifies the darkening of the sun on the last day in prelude to Christ's second coming in glory and majesty.
At the Blessing of the Censer there is a profession of the Holy Trinity. The entire congregation responds "Amen" as the priest declares the holiness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The censer signifies the Blessed Virgin who conceived within herself the Son of God, represented by the incense placed in the censer upon the burning coals, which symbolizes our humanity. The censer likewise recalls John the Baptist going forth before Christ to prepare His way. The censer is brought into the sanctuary, carried forth to the people and is returned to the altar. This signifies Christ coming into the world and bringing to all mankind the infinite love of His Father, offering up Himself as a sacrifice for us all and returning to the Father, reconciling heaven and earth.
As the Creed is being chanted, a deacon goes about the nave of the church with the censer and returns to the altar. This act signifies the goodness of the Holy Trinity which goes forth from the Godhead, but is not changed or diminished. It likewise represents God the Word Who came down from heaven and became an incense of reconciliation, offering Himself for us to the Father and making atonement for all humanity by bringing us back to His Father without being changed or losing His Divinity.
By the Kiss of Peace is externally shown our inward love and concord with our neighbor. Being made at peace with one another, one is made at peace with God. The peace given to one another does away with mutual enmity, signifying that Jesus has made an end of the enmity between God and man, making peace and love reign among us. The Kiss of Peace also fulfills the words of our Lord (Matthew, 5:23 and 24): "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your broker, and then come and offer your gift." It likewise recalls the words of St. Peter (I Peter, 5:14): "Greet one another with the kiss of love."
As the priest folds back the left corner of the chalice veil (shushefo) at the Offertory is symbolized the placing of a seal on the tomb of Christ. The unfolding of the veil at the close of the Preface (Proemion) following the Gospel signifies the removal of the tomb's seal. The shushefo is spread over the Holy Mysteries to symbolize the invisibleness of the Godhead concealed in the Mysteries and to manifest that Christ's sacrifice was foreshadowed by the sacrifices of the Old Law. As the chalice veil is lifted and waved over the bread and wine, the Church recalls the angels rolling away the stone from the tomb of our Lord and underlines the flow of grace into the Mysteries and through them to all believers, bestowing upon the faithful forgiveness and salvation. This action also indicates the need to remove from our hearts the blind passions surrounding our human nature in order to truly see and comprehend what is about to take place upon the altar as we relive the sacrifice of Christ.
Following the words of blessing upon the bread and the cup, the priest lifts up the spoon and its small cushion (gomouro) placing these to the right. He lifts these over his right shoulder in a quick motion to signify the second coming of Christ on the last day which shall be like a flash of lightning in the sky. The spoon here represents our Lord and the cushion His throne. By placing these to the right is revealed that Christ sits at the righthand of the Father.
As the celebrant waves his hands over the bread and wine, he signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit from above and the Spirit's hovering over the Mysteries, as the Third Person did over Christ in the Jordan. The hands are waved in a fashion to reflect the fluttering of the wings of the Holy Spirit Who descended upon the womb of the Virgin Mary and incarnated the Word and Who now descends to make the bread and wine truly the Body and Blood of our Lord.
At the Fraction the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ are symbolized with all humanity being turned from evil to salvation as the priest turns the Body from the left to the right in his hands. As the celebrant smears the Blood over the Body, we remember the dreadful and redemptive act of Christ upon the Cross, after which the Body is lifted up to signify the resurrection of our Lord.
Later, at the awesome moment of the Great Elevation, the priest raises up the Holy Mysteries, recalling Christ's ascension and His glorification before the heavenly host. Two deacons stand with lighted candles, one to the left and the other to the right of the altar, as the Mysteries are elevated before the congregation, signifying the two angels who appeared at the resurrection and who were present at Christ's ascension when they proclaimed (Acts 1:11): "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven."
As the Holy Mysteries are brought down from the altar to the congregation for the Communion, Christ's second coming is foreshadowed and we are taught that at His coming in glory from heaven, we must stand in awe. As he turns from the altar, the celebrant holds the Mysteries with his hands crossed to signify that these are the united Body and Blood of the crucified Christ.
At the Final Blessing, the faithful are dismissed with the reassurance of our salvation in Christ and our commitment to Him through baptism, a reassurance extended not only to those present, but encompassing all who have been baptized into Christ, both near and far, living and departed. Sent forth in peace, the faithful are asked to pray for the priest always who will shortly take leave of the holy altar, after consuming the remaining portions of the Holy Mysteries, in the prayerful hope of returning to once again celebrate the Lord's Supper.
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|Last Update: December 1, 1997|