Liturgical Directives in the Orthodox Church in America: Three Points

Recently the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America issued liturgical instructions for clergy on a change in the anaphora of St. Basil the Great and the order for Holy Communion at the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. The Synod issued these changes on the eve of Great Lent, as the Liturgy of St. Basil is appointed for the Sundays of Great Lent, and the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is celebrated on Lenten weekdays. The changes are supported by pithy explanations on the historical trajectory of the two liturgical practices by Dr. Vitaly Permiakov and Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak). I welcome these changes and explain why they’re good for Byzantine Liturgy in three short points.

The Epiclesis of the Basil Anaphora: Restoring its Inner Integrity

In the Byzantine version of the anaphora of St. Basil, the text of the epiclesis reads as follows:

Priest: We now dare to approach Thy holy altar and, offering to Thee the antitypes of the holy Body and Blood of Thy Christ, we pray Thee and call upon Thee, o Holy of Holies, that by the favor of Thy goodness Thy Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon the gifts now offered, to bless, to hallow, and to show….

[Prayer of the Third Hour in some Euchologia]

Deacon: Bless Master, the Holy Bread!
Priest: This Bread to be the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Deacon: Amen. Bless, Master, the Holy Cup.
Priest: And this Cup to be the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Deacon: Amen.
Priest: Shed for the Life of the World.
Deacon: Amen. Bless both, Master.
Priest: Making the change by Thy Holy Spirit.
Deacon: Amen. Amen. Amen.

The Synod instructs celebrants to remove “Making the change…,” so the threefold Amen affirming the epiclesis follows “shed for the life of the world.” Permiakov and Majkrzak note that the presider’s “making the change” is an interpolation from the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom. Removing the “making the change” clause is a step towards restoring the inner integrity of the Byzantine anaphora of St. Basil, as the Church had already petitioned God that “by the favor” of God’s goodness, the Holy Spirit would come upon the gifts offered (and upon “us”).

I referred to the change as a first step because the text of the epiclesis is still cluttered by the inclusion of the prayer of the Third Hour. The recitation of this prayer is not universal in the Byzantine liturgical tradition, as it is absent from many Greek liturgical books. The Prayer of the Third Hour interrupts the flow of the epiclesis itself. Without the Third Hour Prayer, the epiclesis would read “to bless, to hallow, and to show…This Bread to be the precious Body.” The epiclesis flows better without the Prayer of the Third Hour. In fact, in my experience, the diaconal command to the priest to “bless” the Holy Bread also interrupts the flow of the epiclesis – many priests have simply continued “to show this Bread” without pausing for my command. Furthermore, in many parishes, the celebrants wait until the choir has finished singing the conclusion of “we praise Thee,” so all the people say “Amen” to affirm the descent of the Holy Spirit on the gifts. Perhaps one can hope that the Synod will issue instructions in the future to omit the Prayer of the Third Hour, an act that would bring the anaphora into conformity with the liturgical practices of Greek Orthodox communities, and would appoint the recitation of the Amens to the people, and not the deacon, to affirm the anaphora as the prayer of the whole Church, and not a dialogue among clergy at the altar.

The Order of Communion at the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts

The purpose of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts (PRES) is to receive Holy Communion consecrated at the previous Liturgy on Lenten week days for spiritual strength during Lent, as the Byzantine Rite fasts from Eucharistic celebration on Lenten days (with the exception of the Annunciation feast on March 25). When the presider prepares the lamb to be used for PRES, he adds the consecrated blood of the Lord by dipping it into the cup, or by using a Communion spoon, carefully pouring a little of the Precious blood onto the Lamb without soaking it, as it will be stored in a container for a few days before PRES. In preparation for Communion, the priest adds the presanctified lamb to the cup, which is filled with the wine used for all Eucharistic Liturgies. Permiakov and Majkrzak note that Byzantine sacramental theology views the commixture of the lamb with the plain wine in the cup as an epiclesis. The wine in the cup becomes the Lord’s blood through its commixture with the lamb. And we should emphasize that the Lamb is intincted – it contains the Lord’s blood consecrated at the previous Liturgy. The contents of the cup are transformed into the complete presence of the risen Christ.

In practice, some Byzantine Rite parishes have prohibited deacons from receiving Communion from the cup, along with laity unable to consume the Lord’s body. This prohibition is based on notion that the wine in the cup was not consecrated at a Liturgy. If deacons partake of the cup, they violate the absolute Eucharistic fast, which can be broken only after they have consumed the remnants of the cup (i.e., purifying the cup). The medieval scholastic theology of the moment of consecration grounds this prohibition: since the wine in the cup was not consecrated at the previous Divine Liturgy, it remains mere wine. The Synodal instruction not only restores the authentic Byzantine theology of consecration through commixture, but also results in the ability for all baptized people of the assembly to partake of the cup. In practice, then, infants can also receive Communion since the wine of the cup has become the Lord’s Blood through commixture.

One minor issue that could require clarification in the future is the instruction to follow the order of Communion in the liturgies of Saints John and Basil. It is customary for deacons and priests to refer to Communion as receiving “the body and blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ” as they approach the presanctified bread. This slight modification honors the intinction and presence of the Lord’s blood when clergy receive the body of Christ.

Will Anyone Notice?

In my limited digital world, people have been buzzing about these changes. I suggested that many people wouldn’t even know about the changes of St. Basil’s liturgy since the prayer is recited quietly, often while the choir is singing. A friendly interlocutor disagreed. Yes, some parishes involve all the people in reciting the Amens to the Eucharistic prayers, but at the global level, this part is recited quietly. This episode reminds us of the limited influence of the liturgical instructions – they apply only to the Orthodox Church in America, so the changes, while good, are not universal. Furthermore, the predominance of quiet recitation reminds us that the Eucharistic Prayers are offered by the whole Church, and not only the clergy. Only good can come from the people participating in and knowing their tradition of liturgical prayer.


  1. Footnote: in Byzantine liturgical history, intinction of the consecrated bread began around the 15th century. The theological notion of commixture remains the same in my estimation – the presence of the Lord in the Lamb consecrates the wine in the cup. I admit that the doctrine of concomitance comes to mind when I think about explaining the consecration. But I think a better analogy is this one: the Byzantine blessing of waters (baptismal and Theophany) calls upon Christ himself to enter the waters, like a Logos epiclesis. When Christ enters, the waters are sanctified and those who enter (or partake of them) receive remission of sins, healing of body and soul, and protection from evil assault. I would propose the same process as applying to the commixture of a lamb with unconsecrated wine, even if the lamb is not intincted with the Lord’s blood.

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