THE EXPLANATION OF THE DIVINE LITURGY
by Bishop Theophilos of Campania
Translated by Rev. Dr. George Dion. Dragas
The Divine Liturgy is a recalling (anamnesis) of the whole mystery of the incarnation of Christ, from his divine birth to his ascension and his sitting at the right hand of the Father. All these things are represented in material and visible signs through the Divine Liturgy to the senses of the children of the Church, so that they may be led to the things which are immaterial and heavenly. Since, however, it is not easy to use as many material things as there are deeds and passions of Christ, the Church combines into one object many different symbols, according to the time and place and words: for example, the cover of the chalice sometimes signifies one mystery and sometimes another, as we shall see.
First of all the prosphora (the bread for the Eucharist) is brought to the Church, representing the Virgin Mary when she was brought to the temple of the Lord by her parents. Imitating Zecharias, the priest takes it and places it in the "Holy of Holies," the Holy Table, while he puts on his vestments and gets himself ready for the proskomide — representing the years which the Virgin spent in the temple.
Then the priest lifts it from the Holy Table and brings it to the prothesis, which symbolizes the journey to Bethlehem which the Virgin Mary took with Joseph because of the census. It was there that the Virgin, being with child (for the prosphora is marked with the name of Jesus Christ), gave birth to Christ in the cave, symbolized by the hollow cavity of the prothesis. "Then the child was laid in the manger," which is the paten. The covers denote the swaddling cloths. The asterisk represents the star which made its appearance. The thurible and the incense symbolize the gifts of the Magi.
Isaiah says, "Unto us a child is born … and the government shall be upon his shoulders." This represents the cross, by means of which [Christ] conquered the enemy and reigned forever. And Christ himself says, "I did not come to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many." Therefore the Church combines Christ’s birth with his death. She "gives birth" to him from the Virgin, removing him with the lance saying, "As a Lamb he was brought forth to the slaughter…” She also pierces the same Lamb on the right side.
It was from his side that blood and water came forth, and John the Apostle was present and saw it — using the vessel in which the vinegar and gall had been brought and offered to [Jesus], to catch the blood and water (which some say are preserved to this day). Therefore the Church today uses the chalice as a type of that vessel, into which is poured first wine and water. But after the transubstantiation, the chalice becomes a type of the cup with which Christ offered his blood to his disciples.
Thus, according to these two mysteries of the birth and death of Christ, the prothesis becomes a type both of the cave for the birth and of Golgotha for the crucifixion. Likewise, the covers signify both the swaddling cloths for the birth of Christ, and also the new linen and the soudarion (shroud) for the crucifixion and the burial.
Again, because Christ implored his Father, saying that wherever He is there should his servants be also, the various ranks of saints are placed round about Him. First of all the Virgin is represented on his right-hand side; and then a portion [is set aside] for the Forerunner, for the Apostles, the Prophets, the Martyrs, the Teachers; and, in a triangular pattern, the [nine] Orders of the angels in heaven who stand before Him. This is because our hierarchy is an imitation of the heavenly one, as St. Dionysius (the Areopagite) says. Then, below these portions, we place the portions for the living and the dead, whomever we wish to commemorate.
We recall, however, that Christ will come as judge of the living and the dead. Accordingly, the prothesis denotes both the throne of the Kingdom of Christ and the throne of his grace, before which we now stand: offering an apology for what we have done before the former, and asking for forgiveness before the latter. The prothesis therefore recalls all four mysteries associated with Christ: namely, his birth, his passion, the throne of grace, and the throne of judgment. Leaving the other three for their own times and places, we now return to the birth of Christ which determines the pattern and beginning of the Divine Liturgy, as follows.
First of all the priest censes the holy prothesis and the whole altar and thanks God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was so pleased. Then he ascribes to God's love for mankind that glory which the angels ascribed at the birth of Christ, the "Glory to God in the highest …” He does this inaudibly ("mystically"), since the angels revealed this privately only to the shepherds. He also shuts the lower doors, leaving the upper veil open, in order to show that the world below and the crowds of people did not know then, in the beginning, the birth of Christ, which was known only to those on high who had acquired the form of God: namely, the prophets and the patriarchs, as well as the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi.
Then he gives the acclamation: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit;" for through the incarnation of Christ we came to know the mystery of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Then the Litany of Peace and the prayers follow, because the Divine Liturgy is not only a recalling of the birth of Christ and his passion, but also a meditation to God for our sins.
Next the cantors, who represent the prophets — to whom alone the economy of Christ was known — sing from the Old Testament the hymn, "Bless the Lord O my soul." Then follow "My soul magnifies the Lord," and Christ's first teaching, which was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit …” Now the lower gates are opened and the priest stands in front of them, looking at the people, signifying Christ who preaches the gospel to the people.
Christ did not remain only in Jerusalem, however, but says, "Let us go to the nearby town to preach there also, because for this I have come." Therefore the priest too raises the Gospel, comes out to the people, and standing in the center says: "Wisdom! Stand aright!" — that is, the gospel is the only true and "upright" wisdom, and not the Greek or pagan one. For this reason too the people sing at this point, with joy, "Come, let us worship and bow down …;" and in former times they prostrated themselves to the ground.
A lambada [lamp] now goes before the priest, representing John the Baptist, for whom he says, "I prepared a lamp for my Christ." It also represents the other prophets who preached before Christ’s coming. The lambada also indicates that "Your word is a lamp unto my feet," and "walk in the light while you still have the light," and "Believe in the light, that you may become children of the light."
When Christ preached the gospel he gathered the apostles and sent them to preach his word. That is why the epistle is read at this point. Again, Christ continued to preach the gospel and to work miracles. Thus the gospel is read, either by the deacon (who represents the apostles) or by the priest (who represents Christ). Incense is offered between the epistle and the gospel reading, because of what has been said: we are Chrises fragrance before God when we teach God's word.
This is how the Mystery is drawn out according to when a priest celebrates alone or together with a deacon. When a Bishop celebrates the Liturgy, however, we commemorate other mysteries as well. For the Bishop vesting outside the Holy Bema, before the people, symbolizes Christ who came into the world to seek and to save the lost sheep on the mountain (i.e. humanity) and who left the ninety-nine who did not go astray (namely, the angels). The Holy Bema represents heaven. Finding, then, the lost sheep on the earth, Christ raised him up high on his shoulders, i.e. the "shoulders" of his Godhead and Manhood, which are indicated by the homophorion.
The priests and deacons stand around the Bishop, serving according to their order, like the angels who escorted Christ on the mountain after his baptism and at his victory over the devil when he came to tempt Him. As it says: "Behold, angels came forth and ministered to him." He has in front of him the primekerios with a lambada which is lit, because Christ says, I am the light of the world," and again, "Let your light so shine before others…”
Being outside the bema, the Bishop faces the doors which are always open and represent the gates of heaven which were opened when the Son of God came down and became incarnate; as it says, "henceforth you will see the heavens open… Since, however, Christ did ascend to his Father (as it is written, "I have completed the work which you had given me to do, and now I come to you") the Bishop too enters into the Holy of Holies after the "Wisdom, stand aright," first giving a blessing to the world — just as Christ, being lifted up to heaven, first raised his hands and blessed his disciples.
Entering into the sanctuary, the Bishop kisses the holy icons, revealing that through [Christ] we come to be loved by the Father. With his entry into the Holy Bema, one Bishop fulfills the type of that which the great Paul says, that Christ did not enter into anything constructed by human hands, but into heaven itself, in order to appear before the Father for us. And this was like arriving at the Ancient of Days and standing before Him, according to Daniel the Prophet, and receiving the same authority and honor, and the Kingdom: namely, the glory which he had before He became a man as well, which He petitioned as man when He was still here, saying, "and now glorify me, Father, with the glory which I had beside yourself, which I had beside you before the world came to be."
For this reason, then, the angels prostrated themselves and praised him with the previous hymn, "Holy, holy, holy." And we too, imitating them, sing the Trisagion Hymn, taking on the one hand the "Holy, holy, holy" from the Seraphim which Isaiah saw, and the "God, mighty and immortal" from David who said, "My soul has been thirsting for God, the Mighty, the Living One." This signifies that one Church has been constituted both of angels and human beings, and one hymnody is offered to Christ.
When the Trisagion Hymn is sung by the people, the Bishop holds the dikerion above the gospel, indicating that this hymn is sent to the two natures of Christ the God-man. And because we were taught by the gospel to glorify Christ together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, when "Power! " (dynamis) is exclaimed he holds the trikerion above the gospel.
Then he comes out of the gates and facing the people, blesses them, praying for and transmitting the divine gifts commonly granted by the three Hypostaseis of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, exclaiming the following: "Lord, Lord, look down from heaven…” For [scripture] says, "Having ascended on high, Jesus captured captivity (which for us human beings means captivity by the devil) and granted gifts to human beings" — namely, the gifts (charisms) of the Holy Spirit.
After the blessing he comes out and sits on the sacred synthronon and removes the homophorion. This represents that [Christ] has offered the lamb — his humanity — and delivered it to God the Father; for it says, "Through Him we acquired entrance to the Father, and for this reason the Father exalted Him and made Him sit on His right hand in the heavenly places, above every principality and authority and power and dominion …;" as David too says, "The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand…”
This is the appropriate time, at great Feasts, to say the "pheme of Kings," while the Patriarch, as any other Bishop, stands in a posture of prayer. Then the pheme of the Patriarch, or any other Bishop present at that time, is said, while he is seated and the others remain standing in the posture of prayer. The pheme is said three times inside the bema and three times by the cantor outside.
Then the augmented prayer (ektenes) is offered for all Christians, and separately for all the catechumens-who at this point may be many, being catechized; that is, those who have believed and are undergoing instruction, but who are not yet baptized and who, for this reason, stand at a distance. Next the antimension is unfolded while the following is said: "So that they too may glorify with us …” (antimension is a Latin term indicating a table, or a basket if spelled with an "e" and not with "i," according to John of
Kytrous; that is, either from mensous, a table, or from minsous, a basket.) The antimension represents the tomb of Christ, which Joseph had prepared new for himself and then dedicated to Christ.
After the prayers we come to the mystery of the cross, and we find Christ crucified at the prothesis as at Golgotha. We offer incense to the whole sanctuary (hierateion) and the Bishop, giving thanks for such a gift and love from God, says "Have mercy on me O God, according to your great mercy …" up to the agathynon Kyrie. Then the rest is said after he places the Gifts on the Holy Table. With his head uncovered, he then takes from the prothesis the portions of the kings, the Bishops and the people, mentioning them by name at will, and remains with his head uncovered until he receives the Holy Gifts.
Since the Bishop carries the type of Christ, he does not make the entrance with the Holy Gifts, but gives these to the priest and the deacon, who represent Joseph and Nicodemus. Then the aer represents the linen and the other two covers, the soudarion and the other winding-cloths of the sepulcher. The censor is used as a symbol of the myrrh and the aloes with which the body of Christ was anointed. And because they did not bury Him at the same place as the cross, the priest comes out of the prothesis as from Golgotha, with lambadas lit, going before him and behind him, representing the prophets who went before, and the apostles who followed.
Remembering the thief on the cross who prayed to Christ, the priest prays for all the people, "May the Lord God remember you all …” Likewise the people prostrate themselves all the way to the ground, asking for the same as they recall their sins and beg forgive ness through his sacred passion and death for sinners, not thinking of the sacred Gifts as completed.
When the Body of Christ arrives at the bema, it reminds us of the mysteries of the burial. For this reason the antimension now represents the sepulcher and the holy table at the Garden. The cover of the chalice, which remains on the antimension, represents the burial cloths. The aer represents the shroud, and the cover of the paten, the soudarion which remains at the place of the antimension. (The terms ourarion and soudarion are synonymous, and represent mourning).
The aer, which up until now represented the shroud, from now on is taken instead as-the stone which was rolled away by Joseph before the gate of the tomb. This is why [the celebrant] covers the Holy Gifts with it, and offers incense for the myrrhon of myrrh and aloe, closing the gates of the Holy Berna, both those above and those below. The lower gates represent the hidden descent of Christ into Hades, and the upper gates, the [Roman] guards. The asterisk, which is still there, stands for the seal of the tomb. Then the prayers follow.
Wishing to reveal his holy resurrection, Christ caused a great earthquake; and after this earthquake the tomb opened and the guards ran away in fear. This is why, when we say, "The doors, the doors!" the aer is raised by the priests, and they shake it above the "tomb," while the Bishop "falls down." Then the upper doors are opened, representing the opening [of the tomb], and the earthquake and the fleeing of the guards and the Bishop falling down, all representing our burial with Christ, which precedes our resurrection with Him.
Then the people say the Creed (the Symbol of the Faith): I believe in one God …" For the focal point of our faith is the death and the resurrection of Christ, which are followed by all the rest. The seal, which was represented by the asterisk, is lifted at this point, while the hymn "Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabbaoth” is sung; for the angels who are dressed in white served in all these things. And once again the Supplication Prayers and the Prayers of Thanks giving are offered along with the consecration of the Holy Gifts, so that the faithful may partake of the perfect Body and Blood of Christ.
Before communion, however, to represent the resurrection [the celebrant] lifts up the Holy Body and says, "Holy gifts are for the Holy," out of concern for those who are to communicate; because only those who are holy should partake of the Holy Gifts. Then, after the divine communion of the Holy, the priest shows the holy chalice to the people and thus indicates that having risen from the tomb, Christ appeared to his disciples and through them to the whole world.
Since after his resurrection, because his holy body had been glorified, he did not manifest himself often during the forty days up to his ascension, the priest "hides" the holy chalice within which, at this point, the holy body and blood are united. Because again the last manifestation of Christ was on the Mount of Olives, from which place he ascended into heaven, the priest turns with the holy gifts and says, "Always, now and ever …" representing Christ's ascension into heaven. He then brings the Holy Gifts from the Holy Table to the Prothesis — as it were, from earth to heaven. Then the Holy Table remains as the throne of God the Father, and the Prothesis as the Cathedra on the right of the exaltation on high … And because Christ said, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day, when I drink this with you anew in the kingdom of my Father," the priest or the deacon comes again and communicates for a second time; and as they say, he consumes (diskizei) the Holy Gifts, indicating in this the mystical and last bliss of the Kingdom of Heaven which is to come.
After Christ's ascension the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, remained alive for fourteen years to console the Christians. For this reason the antidoron is distributed to the people from the same Prosphora from which the Lamb was taken, as a type of the Virgin. Some say that in ancient times the Christians partook often of the Divine Mysteries, and now do so rarely, and therefore the Antidoron is given to them as containing some blessing instead of the great Gift (doron) of the Mystery. Thus, through the Divine Liturgy all the mysteries of the incarnation of Christ are celebrated. Since, however, Holy Communion has certain special significance, we need to continue the discourse.
When the Bishop is ready to communicate, he takes off the miter as if he ceases at that point to be a type of Christ, and becomes a humble man carrying weakness. He remains with his head uncovered until he transmits to others the body and blood of Christ. He breaks the Holy Bread into four parts, because Christ said: "This is my body which is broken for you," etc.; and he places one portion in the chalice, because at the resurrection all the members are mingled together and become one. He also pours the hot water (zeon) and says, "The fervor full of faith …” It is hot, first of all, because it signifies the Holy Spirit, who is always described as "fire" and "rivers of waters." Secondly, it is so that the blood and the water may become warm to the taste, as it was when it came out of Christ's side; we sense that it comes out of a living body, namely the side of Christ. Third, it is in order to show that these two, the blood and water, perfect us as Christians in God's grace, namely in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Then the Bishop communicates, saying mystical prayers of communion; most notably, the confession of the Apostle Peter, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God … with faith, compunction [catanyxis] and awe, as one who partakes of the flesh and the Godhead of Christ, and becomes one body with Christ. The same is done by each Christian when communicating in the immaculate and awesome mysteries taking place.
The Bishop communicates once of the Body of Christ, and three times of the Blood, saying, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," because when Christ indwells a faithful Christian, he indwells him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Then he wears the miter or cidaris as a type of Christ, the true High Priest.
After the divine communion of all the priest or the deacon takes the paten and the other portions of the Body of Christ, and places them all with much reverence into the chalice, saying the resurrection hymns, "Having seen the resurrection of Christ …" and "Be illuminated (photizou) O new Jerusalem …" and "O pascha, the great and most sacred one, O Christ …” He does the same with the portions of the saints, of the living and those who have fallen asleep.
No one should criticize this order and tradition of our Church, because by mixing the portions for human beings with the deified Body of Christ, the portions too become Body of Christ. No! It is impossible that a mere man should become God by nature. If, however, the portions are mixed with the Body of Christ, they receive divine grace and the sins of the living and of those fallen asleep are cleansed. This is why many priests do well when, after the prayers, they place the portions [into the chalice] and pray to God saying, "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those commemorated here with your precious Blood, through the intercessions of your saints." The priest, however, should be careful not to transmit to the faithful these portions, but only from the Body of Christ, because [otherwise] he sins greatly and falls into idolatry. And in some Eparchies the priests do well when they place portions of all the saints and of the other human beings into the Holy Chalice.
The Divine Liturgy is intended to be celebrated at the third hour of the day. On Sundays in Great Easter and Nativity, it is done before dawn, for some mysterious reason — perhaps because in the opinion of the divine fathers, it was after midnight that both the birth and the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ took place.
On Holy Thursday and on Great Saturday, the Eucharist is ordained to be celebrated towards evening so that catechumens may be baptized first, as there may be many; and when the Liturgy is done, they may communicate in the immaculate Mysteries. Now if the times of the Liturgies differ, this does no harm, because the grace of the all-Holy Spirit is not restricted nor circumscribed by times. For we do not worship Time as the Greeks once worshipped Chronos.
This is the order of the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church. At Vespers the lambadarios (lamp-carriers) go before the Bishop when he enters the Church. This signifies faith: as a pillar of fire, the High Priest leads the new Israel to the Land of the Promise, the heavenly Jerusalem. He stands next to the High Priest until the "Lord I have cried to You …” At the words, "Give heed to the voice of my supplication," both the lambadarios and the canonarches depart, making a schema (reverence), because now the ancient dim light gives way to the new. Likewise, at Matins one lambadarios departs immediately as soon as the Bishop stands on his throne. He rekindles his lamp again at the time of the Praises (ainoi) and stands by the Bishop until the end of the Orthros, because the saving grace of God has dawned upon all humanity.
At the Liturgy when a Bishop does not celebrate, the lambadarios stands by him until the commencement of, "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father…” After the Dismissal (apolysis) he goes before the Bishop, escorting him as far as his house. When the Bishop celebrates, the lambadarios stands by him until he enters the Holy Bema, because of the saying, "You are the light of the world." The one, however, who has invited the Bishop to the Church (with a lambada) is called primikerios, "of the good orders." The title, lambadarios is also used for the first cantor of the responses, and this is done because he used to hold the so-called dibampoulon, which was a utility vessel for the Holy Gifts, along with a lighted golden lambada.
After putting on the other sacred vestments, the High Priest wears his miter when he is to celebrate. This represents the mystical and heavenly kingdom of Christ. This is why on this occasion the verse to be said is, "The Lord has reigned …" (O Kyrios ebasileusen).
The Bishop may celebrate with one deacon and at least two priests. If, however, out of much humility a Bishop wishes to celebrate alone, as a priest, the Holy Synod does not regard this as wrong, because the higher orders have in them the power of the lower orders. The Synod says, however, that a Bishop should celebrate alone only privately [kata monas] so that he may not be looked down upon but may maintain the dignity of the High Priesthood.
Response of the spiritual son:
Woe [is me], Elder. I thought all these symbols of the Divine Liturgy were simply for showing off [megaloprepeian] and pomp and ceremony [geremonian] as we commonly say. But now I have come to know that these represent great Mysteries!
Bishop Theophilos of Campania (1749–1795) was one of the brightest figures of the Church in the 18th century. Distinguished for his theological and canonical expertise. He was born in Ioannina and became a Bishop in Campania, the area west of Thessalonika and opposite Chalcidice. He was probably a student of the famous teacher/theologian Eugene Voulgaris. He is particularly known for his book Tameion Orthodoxias which ran through eight editions from 1780 to 1939.
The present text is taken from the Tameion Orthodoxias of Bishop Theophilos of Campania (published in Venice in 1780 by Nicholaos Glykes), a book that is indeed a treasury of Orthodox teaching that served many generations of Orthodox Christians during the difficult years of Tourkokratia. It represents a succinct but profound explanation of the symbolism of the Divine Liturgy. Some of the practices described in this text are no longer observed in the contemporary celebration of the divine liturgy — at least not in every context — but it is useful to receive the message that nothing practiced in the Orthodox Liturgy is devoid of meaning; rather everything is connected in one way or another with the particular events and acts in the life of our Lord which constitutes the Gospel of our salvation. What this explanation clearly reveals, is that the Divine Liturgy is literally a representation of the Holy Gospel and as such a concrete invitation to salvation.