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     (A Guide For Participating In The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom)
by the Very Reverend Michel Najim & T.L. Frazier

13. Holy Communion


The congregation now chants the Communion Hymn (the Koinonicon), which for Sundays is Psalm 148:1: “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the highest. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

While we sing this hymn, the priest breaks the sacred Bread, saying in a low voice: “The Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not divided; ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake of Him.”

The breaking of the Eucharist is called the “fracture,” as has already been mentioned. While it has a practical end in enabling everyone to have a portion, it is also rich in symbolism. The dominant symbolism is of course Christ’s sacrificial death. When the priest says, “broken but not divided,” he means that we don’t receive a “piece” of Christ when we consume a “piece” of the Eucharist. Christ is fully present in even the smallest particle or drop of the consecrated gifts.

Similarly, when the priest says, “ever eaten yet never consumed,” he means that Christ’s body can never be entirely eaten, no matter how many liturgies are celebrated around the world on any Sunday. Like the miracle of the multiplying loaves,216 there are always “leftovers” regardless of how much is consumed. The Church will never run out of the grace of the eucharistic Mystery.

The priest now arranges the pieces of the Lamb on the rim of the Diskos in the form of a cross:

IC (placed in the Chalice)
NI KA (for the people)
XC (for the clergy)

Placing a portion of the sacred Bread in the Chalice, the priest says: “The fullness of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

He then blesses the warm water, called zeon, saying: “Blessed is the fervor of Your saints.”  Pouring the water into the Chalice in the manner of a cross, he says: “The fervor of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

He drops into the Chalice a little warm water to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The zeon (“boiling” in Greek), is not mere water: it has been sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit. This point in the Liturgy represents a sort of reenactment of Pentecost. Two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit descended after Christ had accomplished all the Father had sent him to do. The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost turned a frightened and motley crew of uneducated fishermen into the Body of Christ, the Church. Even so, during the Liturgy, the Spirit has come down upon mere bread and wine and has turned them into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist. The hot water is added to signify this reality.

The Communion prayers are then recited. Like the apostle Peter, we confess that Christ is the living God,217 declaring the gifts to be truly His Body and Blood. The priest prays that God will have mercy on him, will forgive his sins, and make him worthy to partake of the Mysteries to eternal life. Imploring the Son of God to receive him as a partaker of His mystical Supper, the priest also promises not to reveal God’s Mysteries to the enemies of Christ, nor to give the Lord a kiss as did Judas. Thus, like the thief on the cross, he petitions Christ, saying, “Remember me, Lord, in Your kingdom.”218

The priest first gives the Eucharist to himself, and afterwards to the deacon. Following the ancient order of the Church, the priest receives the Body and Blood separately. After he has received three sips from the Chalice, the priest says: “This has touched my lips, taking away my transgressions, and cleansing my sins.”  This is obviously another allusion to the heavenly vision of the prophet Isaiah. After giving the burning coal to the prophet, the angel tells Isaiah, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.”219

The Eucharist is that fiery coal from heaven, burning away the filth and corruption of sin. The priest then transfers the remaining portions of the consecrated Bread into the holy Chalice, glorifying the resurrection of Christ. 

Summoning the Faithful to Communion, the priest (or deacon) proceeds to the Royal Doors, raises the holy Chalice, and calls to those who wish to receive, saying: “With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.”

The priest is asking us to look beyond the humble appearance of the Mystery by acknowledging God’s presence within it. The only way to approach God is in fear, that is, in reverential awe. The priest also directs us to approach without doubts, though the reality before us transcends even reason itself. Finally, we are to recognize the Mystery as the expression of divine love, the source of eternal life for those who receive it, and we are to approach the eucharistic Gift ready to reciprocate that love in our own humble way.  The origin of this command can be gleaned from the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions. The rubric for Communion states that the clergy were to take Communion first, then deaconesses and widows, then, “finally all the people in order, with reverence and godly fear, without noise.”220 This instruction later became an actual pronouncement to maintain order as the crowds came forward for Communion.

The people express their faith by blessing Jesus and proclaiming His divinity, hidden under the sacramental veils: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The Lord is God and He is revealed to us.”

The Apostolic Constitutions explains that, in the early Church, the people sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will among men. Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord, being the Lord God who appeared to us. Hosanna in the highest.”221 Then, while the people took Communion, Psalm 33 was chanted.

Those who are prepared now come forth with reverence to receive the Eucharist while the choir sings the Communion hymn. The priest’s prayer for the Faithful who approach to receive Communion asks for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. The long Communion spoon characteristic of Orthodoxy was introduced in the eighth century, which innovation was later heavily criticized by Western writers. With the increase of more frequent Communion, there is now oftentimes a rather lengthy line in order to receive the awe-inspiring Mystery of Christ. This is the perfect opportunity to better prepare ourselves by slowly reciting a Communion prayer.

The following simple prayer by Saint John of Damascus is a jewel from the Orthodox treasure-chest of spirituality: “O Lord and Master, Jesus Christ our God, who alone has power to forgive our sins, do, O Good One, the lover of humanity, forgive all the sins that I have committed in knowledge or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation Your divine, glorious, immaculate and life-giving Mysteries -- not for punishment or for the increase of sin, but for purification and sanctification, and a promise of Your Kingdom and the Life to come; as a protection and a help to overthrow the adversaries, and to blot out my many sins. For You are a God of mercy and compassion and love toward humanity, and to You we give glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”


216 John 6:1-14.
217 Matthew 16:16.
218 Luke 23:4.
219 Isaiah 6:7
220 The Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, 13.
221 Ibid.

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Page created: 24-12-2012.

Last update: 24-12-2012.