CELEBRATING THE EUCHARIST
As I prepare on a Saturday for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, to preside at the Eucharist, I am sometimes taken aback or find myself in child-like awe of what is before me the following morning.
Tomorrow’s first reading (Genesis 28: 10-19a) is a reminder that we can encounter God anywhere and everywhere, in the most unexpected places. But wherever it happens, that place is an awesome place, none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.
A popular hymn by Dave Evans opens with the lines:
Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here.
Come bow before him now, with reverence and fear.
For every priest, the Divine Liturgy should be an experience that brings about awe, and that brings us to the gate of heaven.
The book Experiences during Divine Liturgy (Εμπειρίες κατά την Θεία Λειτουργία), by the Greek priest Father Stephanos K Anagnostopoulos, is a treasure that combines explanations of the Orthodox Liturgy with memorable stories throughout.
This book is more than a manual as it weaves together liturgy and mysticism, the public prayer of the Church and personal insights into spirituality. At times, these stories mix personal experience of the Liturgy with the priest’s accounts of miracles and encounters with the Divine.
A story from this book was retold on her Facebook page yesterday (17 July 2020) by my friend the icon writer Alexandra Kaouki, who runs her workshop and studio beneath the slopes of the Fortezza in the old town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete:
Once upon a time, a married priest was holding by the hand a five-year-old boy, his own child, as they went to church for Vespers.
The small child, as he was walking with his father, kept saying something, until in the end – and completely unexpectedly – he asked this question:
‘Why, Dad, in Divine Liturgy, when it comes to sanctifying the Holy Communion, you keep crying?
‘And then you go up flying into the sky and come down again holding a lot of fire in your hands?
‘And why do you put it on the bread first and then in Holy Chalice with the wine?
‘Why aren’t you burning? I never saw your hands burnt!!!’
The priest stopped, speechless by the surprise, and then, terrified, he asked his child: ‘When did you see all this, my child?’
‘Here, the other day when it was Sunday!’ the small child replied.
And then the priest tells his child very seriously: ‘Be careful, my child, don’t tell that to anyone until I die. Do you hear? to anyone!!!’
‘Well, dad … to … kiss a cross!’
And he shaped the cross with his little fingers and kissed it.
This was told by the very child, who was now a 50-year-old man, about his priest father.
The second verse of that popular hymn by Dave Evans opens with the lines:
Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around;
he burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned.
For every priest, the Divine Liturgy should be an experience that brings us to the gate of heaven … a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in a church in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)