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Holy Communion

The Divine Liturgy is the way the Orthodox Church conducts the Mystery or Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. There are several forms of the Divine Liturgy but the most common is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom….

The Sacrament had its beginning with the last supper which Christ shared with His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion. It is written:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink of it ye all; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

The results of taking into ourselves the Body and Blood of Christ are many. “The first and most important [is] the unity of the believer with Christ and the subsequent increase of the new life of grace which arises and is maintained through it” says theologian Panafiotes Trembelas. [He] points out that frequent participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion aids in weakening our tendencies to sin and in increasing our growth in the true and abundant life. The sacrament is also a source of forgiveness of sins which are not great enough to bar us from communion as unworthy participants. …The sacrament is called communion not only because we commune with Christ, but also because “through it we commune with and are united with one another. For because we all receive one bread, one Body of Christ and one Blood, we become members of one another–all together one body with Christ.

[In] the Holy Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ which unites us with Christ, helps us to grow into the image and likeness of God, unites us with our fellow Christians, becomes the means by which our membership in the Kingdom of God is celebrated, mediates to us the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and reveals for us the whole divine and holy history of the saving life and work of Jesus Christ.

Above taken from Living the Liturgy by Stanely S. Harakas

Existential Transformation

The Church is a Meal, an act of eating and drinking. But in order to grant life (and not to serve a transitory survival), this eating and drinking presupposes the life giving activity of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of perishable food into the food of imperishability, into a possibility of eternal life, into a �medicine of immortality.�….

The existential change which is completed in the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist refers to neither to objects in themselves nor to individuals in themselves, but to the relationship of individuals with the objects, a relationship of reference and offering of creation to God by man, a relationship which transfigures the mode of life, changing the existence both of the individuals and of things in the eucharistic communion with God into participation in the triadic fullness of life. We call down the Holy Spirit �on us and on these gifts before us� seeking precisely the transformation of life, that life be made imperishable, that the gifts be changed and that those who share in the gifts share in a new creation, freed from death–in the Body of Christ.

What is transformed by the life-giving descent of the Spirit is not the nature of individuals or of things, but the mode of existence of the nature. Man remains a created nature; the same is true of the gifts offered. But this created nature is offered to exist and be permitted to exist by drawing its life not from its own vital possibilities (which are transitory and perishable) but by reference to and surrender to the love of God and by communion with him–as the created flesh of the uncreated Word, the Body and Blood of Christ. From Elements of Faith by Christos Yannaras

Holy Communion

Holy Communion is the chief reason for the Divine Liturgy. The laity as well as the clergy receive the offering. Communion is given to the laity on a spoon, containing a small piece of the Holy Bread together with a portion of the Wine. After the priest takes communion he invites those who have been baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox faith to come forward “with fear of God, faith and love.” Children are asked to partake first. Participants approach slowly and when you reach the priest, make the sign of the cross, hold the red cloth of the chalice under your chin. The priest will say, “The servant of God [give him your baptismal name] receives the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” Hand the chalice cloth to the person behind you, make the sign of the cross and take bread from the alter boy and return to your seat. Say a prayer of thanks using one of the prayers in the Liturgy book in your pew if you like.

To prepare for receiving this holy gift, self-examination and strict fasting is required. Nothing can be eaten or drunk after waking in the morning. It is suggested that you follow the traditional fast on Wednesday and Friday For an evening Liturgy, it is suggested that you adhere to the strict fast for at least six hours prior. Women are asked to remove their lipstick prior to taking Communion “A short fast, a simple confession, a few moments of meditation, and self-examination were adequate for the early Christians. They are adequate today….And of course, proper preparation includes your presence and participation in the Liturgy as a worshiper as distinguished from a communicant” (Harakas. The Living Liturgy). While many Orthodox today receive Holy communion only two or three times a year, more frequent participation is preferred, weekly if possible. Participation in Holy Communion is the purpose of the weekly Divine liturgy. After the Liturgy ends people come up to receive a small piece of bread which is blessed but not consecrated. It is a symbol of fellowship.

Contributing to the Eucharist

The Orthodox church invites its members to contribute the bread (prosforo) and wine needed for the Eucharist. You may bring these items along with a list of names of living and deceased persons you would like the priest to commemorate in the Divine Liturgy. The bread calls for a special recipe given below. There are no specifications regarding the wine except that it be red. Please notify the priest that you would like to bring the bread. He will need it before Orthros service that precedes the Divine Liturgy.

Prosforo (Communion Bread)

A religious seal (sfrayitha) stamps a special design on the prosforo before baking. During preparation of the Eucharist, the priest conducts the proskomithi in which he first cuts out the center of the stamped design that says “IC,XC, NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers). It becomes the Body of Christ (the Lamb). Then the large triangle on the left is cut in honor of the Virgin Mary. The nine small triangles on the right are cut to commemorate the angels, prophets, apostles, holy fathers and prelates, martyrs, ascetics, holy unmercenaries, Joachim and Anna, and all saints, including the saint of the day’s liturgy. The last cuts are tiny squares to remember specific names of the living and the dead.

The sfrayitha has two sides. One side features the full seal described above, and the other side has a smaller circle with the letters IC XC NIKA. When a large number of people are expected for communion, prepare extra bread, making imprints with the small seal around the large circle or on separate loaves. Purchase the seal at the church bookstore.

Take the prosforo to church with a list of names for the priest to mention during the Divine Liturgy. Put the first names of the living in one column of your note (including those who have baked the bread, and others you want remembered) and the names of any deceased in another column. The priest cuts the prosforo in their honor and recites their names during the service.

Recipe

1/2 cup luke warm water
4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast
1 cup water
sfrayitha (seal)

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with sugar and let rise until bubbly. Mix liquid ingredients. Slowly add 3 cups flour, while continuing to mix. Work the sticky dough until it forms a loose ball. Turn out on a floured surface and add additional flour until a stiff dough is formed. Knead a few minutes. Make two balls, and place one on to of the other in a cake pan that has been floured, not greased. (The double layer represents the dual nature of Christ.) Press out to edge of pan. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. Place the sfrayitha in the center and press down as far as possible. Remove seal and make holes about an inch apart with a toothpick around the edge of the design. Cover the bread with a dry cloth, and let rise in a warm lace until double in size. Open the holes with a toothpick again. Before baking make the sign of the cross over the bread and say the �Lords Prayer� and/or a short prayer for those for whom you are baking the bread. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. Reduce oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes or until hollow when tapped.

Above recepie taken from A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America by Marilyn Rouvelas