The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church (Part 3)


By Fr. George Morelli

Suggestions and Resources for an Interconnected Curriculum Based On 'Connections'

The Four Evangelists: Ss. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on a Russian Gospel BookThe Four Evangelists: Ss. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on a Russian Gospel Book

Some of the material below repeats a few of the points made above. This model catechetical lesson on "The Church" material is meant as a guide and illustration of how the topic can be approached.

The Church

Linking Scripture and the Church Fathers

In Sacred Scripture, (Old and New Testament), reference to: Ekklesia (assembly). In the Old Testament we read of the creation of the assembly of angels. The writer of the book of Job speaks of the creation of the angels: "when the stars were born all the angels in a loud voice sang in praise of me" (Job 38, 7).

Prophet JobProphet Job

This could be associated with the words of St. John Chrysostom who noted that the prophets and righteous of the Old Testament belong to the Body of Christ: "they too knew Christ."

St. John ChrysostomSt. John Chrysostom

New Testament: The assembly of saints, laos-the people of God. In the New Testament a deeper meaning: through the incarnation of Christ not just a gathering of people, but the Body of Christ, itself. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16, 18). The rock (petra) on which the Church is built is Peter's confession that Christ is the Son of God.

Ss. Peter and Paul: Having the Rock of Faith Holding Up the ChurchSs. Peter and Paul: Having the Rock of Faith Holding Up the Church

St. Paul:  "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all" (Eph. 1, 22-23).

St. PaulSt. Paul

The Church is a Eucharistic Community (deepest expression of the Church). The Church contains the whole truth; she has all God's revelation. St. Paul:  "Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim. 3, 15).

St. Maximus the Confessor: "[The Church], the mystery hidden from the ages and from the generations, was now made manifest by the true and perfect incarnation of the Son of God, who united our nature to Himself inseparably and unconfusedly."

St. Maximus the ConfessorSt. Maximus the Confessor

Further Connections: Linking the Divine Liturgy, Scripture, Icons

The Prothesis Service:

This service is performed by the priest before the start of the Divine Liturgy. It prepares the bread and wine to be made into the Body and Blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.

The sacred vessels used in the Prothesis Service (and Divine Liturgy) are depicted below.iv

DiskosDiskos

ChaliceChalice

SpearSpear
Star CoverStar Cover
Veils (2) for Diskos and ChaliceVeils (2) for Diskos and Chalice
AerAer

The sacred vessels, the actions of the priest and the prayers he says all refer to God's sending of His Son: Christ's action of salvation united with ecclesia, all those who make up the Church with Christ as its Head. Below is a drawing of the Loaf of Bread on the surface of which are traced the sacred symbols which will be cut from it and eventually arranged in the same pattern of the Diskos, on which have the raised sacred symbols   on the surface of the loaf, they will be cut and  they  will be eventually  arranged on the Diskos in the same pattern.  Some of prayers said during the Prothesis Service are included below:

Holy Bread to Be ConsecratedHoly Bread to Be ConsecratedBeginning Prayer:

You have redeemed us from the curse of the law by thy precious Blood. By being nailed to the Cross and pierced by the spear, you have become a foundation of immortality for all people. O our Savior, Glory to you." This introductory prayer has its roots in St. Paul's words to the Galatians (3: 13-14):  "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" -- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The priest, using the spear (representing the lance used to pierce the side of Christ while He hung on the cross: "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water . . . " (Jn 19: 34), cuts the middle portion, called The Lamb (ICXC NIKA - Jesus Christ Conquers), representing Our Lord who takes on the sins of the world. He is called The Lamb because He accepted His death with humility and without protest. Some of the prayers during the cutting follow:  "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter"- "And as a spotless Iamb is dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth." "In his humiliation his judgment was taken away." "And for his generation who shall declare it?" "For his life is taken away from the earth." All these prayers have their foundation in Isaiah 53: 7-8. The next action of the priest is to make a cross incision [+] on the back of the Lamb while saying a prayer derived from the Gospel of St. John (6: 51): "Sacrificed is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, for the life of the world and its salvation."

The priest then pierces the IC symbol while praying the words from St. John's Gospel (19:34) quoted above: "One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side and immediately there came forth blood and water. And he who saw it bore witness, and his witness is true."

Next the priest goes to the Chalice and pours wine and water into it while praying: "Blessed is the union [wine and water, to become blood and water] of thy holy gifts, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen"

Going back to the Bread, the priest cuts a triangular particle to represent the Theotokos while saying: "In honor and memory of our most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary: through whose intercession do thou accept, O Lord, this sacrifice upon Thy heavenly altar." He places the Theotokos particle on the Diskos on the right side of the Lamb (as in the diagram of the particle placement on the Diskos) while saying:  "On Thy right hand stood the Queen clothed in garment wrought with gold and arrayed in many colors" (Ps. 45:10): The beautiful icon below, with the Theotokos encased in gold, depicts this same spiritual perception:

The priest goes on to cut nine triangles symbolizing the nine orders of saints and the angels that make up the Church in heaven which he then places on the left of the Lamb:

  1. "In honor and memory of the great Angelic Leaders Michael and Gabriel, and all the bodiless Powers of heaven."
  2. "Of the honorable glorious Prophet Baptist John, of the holy glorious Prophets Moses and Aaron, Elijah, and Elisha, David and Jesse, of the three holy Children, Daniel the Prophet, and of all the holy Prophets."
  3. "Of the holy, glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, of the Twelve and the Seventy, and of all the holy Apostles."
  4. "Of our Fathers among the Saints, great Hierarchs and ecumenical Doctors, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom; of Athanasius and Cyril, Nicholas of Myra, and all the holy hierarchs."
  5. 5. "Of the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen; of the holy Great Martyrs George the Trophy-bearer, Demetrios Myrobletes, Theodore Tiro, Theodore Stratelates, and all the holy Martyrs."
  6. "Of our Venerable and God-bearing Fathers Anthony the Great, Euthymios, Paisios, Sabbas, Onouphrios, Peter and Athanasios of Athos, and of all the holy ascetics."
  7. "Of the holy, glorious and wonder-working healers Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleemon and Hermolaus and of all the holy Unmercenaries."
  8. "Of the holy and righteous Theopatores [Ancestors] Joachim and Anna, of the Saints (the saints of the day) whose memory we commemorate today and of all the Saints, at whose supplication, visit us, O God."
  9. "Of our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (or Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop Caesarea of Cappadocia), whose Divine Liturgy we now perform."

The large triangles are cut by the priest commemorating the Metropolitan Archbishop, Diocesan Bishop, Priests and Deacons and are placed immediately under the Lamb (this is not depicted in the accompanying graphic).

The priest goes on to cut particles commemorating the living and the dead and places them in rows at the bottom of the Diskos as shown:

The Diskos and Chalice are then incensed by the priest with the supplication: "Incense we offer thee, O Christ our God . . .  and send down us in return the grace of thine all-holy Spirit"

On the Diskos is placed the (incensed) Star cover. Then the Diskos and Chalice are covered with the (incensed) veils and both with the (incensed) Aer.  The star cover references the Star of Bethlehem, which announced to the world the birth of the Savior of the World. The beautiful Prothesis prayer said as the priest places it on the Diskos: "And the star came and stood over the place where the young child was." Recall that usually at the Prothesis Table is an icon of the Holy Nativity (as seen above). The small veil over the Diskos denotes the power, might and majesty of God: ". . . He hath clothed Himself with majesty . . ." The second veil denotes Christ's virtue which covers the world. The Aer is the large veil that covers both the veiled diskos and chalice. It symbolizes both the swaddling clothes of the Christ Child in the manger ("And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Lk 2:12) and the burial cloth in which Christ was wrapped and placed in the tomb after His Crucifixion and death ("They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews . . ." Jn 19:40). The words said by the priest while placing the Aer over the gifts can also be meditated on: "Shelter us in the shadow of they wings . . . ." Christ covers the whole world with His salvific grace.

During the Divine Liturgy the Aer is waved over the diskos and chalice during the recitation of the Creed to symbolize the Holy Spirit making efficacious all the spiritual actions of the ecclesia, the assembly. The words of St. Maximus the Confessor should not be lost to us: ". . .  the whole and complete Divinity is completely in the complete Father (Son and Holy Spirit)  . . . The essence, power and energy of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, for none of the hypostases or persons either exists or is intelligible without the others.” Philokalia II).  In this context can be understood the words of St. Theognostos: ". . . the bread and wine themselves that are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ . . . through the action and presence of the Holy Spirit.” (Philokalia II).  Thus can be understood the symbolism of waving the Aer

Prothesis Prayer:

O God our God, who didst send forth the heavenly Bread, the food of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer and Benefactor, blessing and sanctifying us: Do thou thyself bless this Oblation and receive it upon thine altar above the heavens. Remember, as thou art good and lovest mankind, those who brought this offering, and those for whom they brought it; and preserve us blameless in the celebration of thy holy Mysteries: for sanctified and glorified is the most honorable and majestic name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Then there is a reference to "He who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger . . .  rose from the dead . . . in the grave with the body . . . Hades with the soul as God, in Paradise with the Thief and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit was thou, O Christ, filling all things thyself uncircumscribed."