Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before every Liturgy the priest prays a private service in which he prepares the bread and the wine for the Liturgy to come. A separate piece of bread is cut which bears the seal stamped onto it with a Cross and the Greek abbreviations for the sentence: “Jesus Christ Conquers.” Into the back of this square the priest deeply incises a Cross saying “Sacrificed is the Lamb of God … for the life of the world and its’ salvation.” He then pierces the bread saying “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side and there came forth blood and water.” At this point he pours wine and water into the chalice. Another triangle of bread is cut and placed to the side of the Lamb representing the Most Holy Theotokos, and on the other side, nine small triangles represent angels, prophets, apostles, heirarchs, martyrs, ascetics, unmercenary healers, and other Saints. Lastly, he takes out very small pieces of bread representing the individual living and departed people: the members of the parish, founders of the parish, relatives, friends, both the living and the departed, and all of those for whom he has been asked to pray and remember before God. For many priests, this service can last as long or longer than the Liturgy itself as the priest remembers all those many, many souls, both living and departed, who make up the parish family as ell as many others. It is a beautiful and very important gift which the Church has given us to enable us in a very tangible way to make present before God all of those precious souls whom we remember in love.
But this is not the end of these remembrances. They cluster together at the foot of the Lamb surrounded by the Most Holy Virgin and all the Saints. They are carried throughout the Church along with the Lamb and the Saints during the Great Entrance. They are placed in the center of the Altar during the Great Thanksgiving and all of the prayers which follow. But most importantly, after everyone present has communed, the priest slides all of these commemorative pieces of bread into the chalice saying: “Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated in the Blood of Thy Christ… ” This important moment is the goal and consummation of the preparation service. All these dear souls, our selves and our loved ones are washed in the Blood of Christ in the Kingdom of God. The Love of God washes over them purifying, healing, and comforting them: all the living and all the departed, those who are present and those who are absent or afar off. All are together at this moment in eternity in the Love of God.
This is one of the high points of the Divine Liturgy, but one which is largely hidden from those in attendance. No one is present at the preparation as these souls are remembered, and no one hears or sees the consummation of the commemorations. But it happens beautifully and gloriously, nevertheless, at each and every Liturgy.
This has so much meaning and comfort for us now during this present crisis. It is, of course, difficult not to be able to be present in Church for the Divine Liturgy; especially when we are so much in need of this comfort of prayer and the presence of our brothers and sisters in the Faith. But we can remember that in the Liturgy we are all made present in the loving commemorations made at the preparation and we are all together in the Sacred Chalice after Communion.
It is a great blessing that for the last three years we have also had the ability to share in the Liturgy from our own homes through the parish website or through youtube. We originally set this up for pour sick and shutins as well as for those living far away, but who want to be with us at Liturgy. Now, however, it allows all of us to be present in a visual way through the internet. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to make the Church present with you in your homes as we shelter inside in obedience to the civil authorities and for the well being of our fellow citizens. Please take this opportunity to share in the beauty and holiness of the Divine Liturgy as celebrated in our familiar Church setting. We, as Orthodox, offer the Liturgy for the whole world and for all of its cares and needs. But we also offer it for our parish in particular and for each of us, our families and our loved ones. May God always cover us with His protection and care, and fill us with His comfort and love.
With love and prayers,