by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
The Deacon censes the Holy Altar, then the veiled chalice containing the gifts of the Holy Communion. He carries the chalice and processes around the Holy Altar, transferring the gifts to the celebrant.
Through the gifts and the chalice, God walks before us and sits on the Holy Altar. We should close our eyes and take in this moment in the Liturgy. Let your spirit take in this powerful event. How would you feel to see Christ is walking before your eyes? How would it feel to be at Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem? How about to be on the Calvary, and witness Christ carrying His cross?
What is happening at this moment? The procession of the gifts is known in Armenian as “Veraperoom” (Վերաբերում), which literally means “to take up.” Traditionally, the congregants would bring the bread and the wine used in the Holy Eucharist. Accordingly, they are called the gifts of Holy Communion. Before starting his prayers, the celebrant washes his hands in private. The choir sings the Hagiody (Surpasatsoutyoon-Սրբասացութիւն), the acolytes shake the flabellum (Kshots-Քշոց), and the deacon censes the Holy Altar and the Gospel. The deacon then moves to the Sacramental Niche (one of the two shallow recesses in the north and south walls of the apse). He bows then takes the veiled chalice and inaudibly recites the following Biblical verses: Psalm 19:5, Psalm 68:33 while facing East), and Habakkuk 3:3 while facing West. Before receiving the gifts, the celebrant censes the Holy Altar and the Gifts, while he and the deacon exchange Psalm 24, verses 7-10. The celebrant kisses the veil of the chalice, receives the gifts and blesses the congregants by making the sign of the cross over them with the chalice.
This moment of the Liturgy allows us to live the glory of Christ as He is brought before the people and seated on His Holy Altar. We often experience joy and excitement anticipating the meeting of a celebrity. But we are not about to meet a celebrity; rather, we are about to welcome the Savior of the universe, who saved us from death and the consequences of sin. Love and forgiveness incarnate. How much joy and excitement should this give us? Every Sunday we witness the arrival of the Host of hosts, Lord of lords, and King of kings.
Let’s examine the idea of gifts further. We call the body and blood of Christ gifts because Christ sacrificed Himself for our sins and our redemption. We offer gifts to show how much we love our friends and how much we appreciate them in our lives. The gifts are material reflections of our love towards those people. Through Jesus Christ, God offered humanity the gift of salvation, and through salvation, resurrection. Christ’s body and blood are gifted to us through His suffering, sacrifice, and death, even though we are unworthy. We are not unworthy because of our nature, but also practically, as we commit sins. In other words, God offers Himself on the Cross, while we only have our sins to offer Him in return. God wants our sins, to wash them from us and make us new. What can we offer Him in return for His great sacrifice? We are the best gift that we can offer, both in heart and in spirit. In that way, we can receive Him as His worthy children.
The procession of the gifts reminds us of two scenes from the life of Christ:
1) The Lord’s glorious entry into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44 and John 12:12-19) The people of Jerusalem welcomed Christ as the prince of peace and the sacrificial lamb by waving palm branches and spreading garments along His path. The procession of the gifts resembles Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, where He will start His sacrificial journey. The garments represent the sinful nature, or the “old cloth.” Likewise, we bring our old cloths, our sins and bad habits along Christ’s path, so that He may walk on them and proclaim His victory over death. We are the sinners against God, while God is trampling them under His own feet. He is cleansing the mistakes that we made against Him. During the procession of the gifts, we should lay our sins on that path, so that God can renew our spirits.
2) Jesus committed Himself to His death sentence. (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-54, John 18:3-11) Our Lord Jesus Christ knew that He would be sacrificed on the Holy Cross. He knew that His death and subsequent resurrection would grant us a new life. He willingly offered Himself to serve His death sentence. As we witness His glorious entry into Jerusalem, we also see Him walking to His death. Without His crucifixion and resurrection, He would not have accomplished His mission on Earth. While we experience joy from His entrance into Jerusalem, we should feel humility with the knowledge of Christ’s passion and sacrifice. How would we feel if we were there? What would it feel like to see Jesus bearing His cross to Golgotha, knowing that He would be crucified for our sins?
This moment is extremely holy. We can feel the angels filling the church and moving around us through the voices of the choir and the sounds of the flabellum. We can feel the tenderness of their voices as Christ walks into the sanctuary to offer Himself as a sacrifice. While we may feel that our sins are some of the worst gifts to offer before God, we let them go so that we can join the choir of angels in His praise. We do not want to be like those who cried “Hosanna,” yet stood for Christ’s condemnation. We should want to bring our best, because Christ gave His life for us. Letting our sins go enables us to be present while welcoming the Victorious Christ, bowing down before Him and asking for forgiveness. We may want to say, “My Lord and my Savior, walk over me and walk through my heart. Trample my sins under Your foot and grant me sanctification, so I may stand before You with all the saints and the angels.” Offering our sins up enables us to live this moment in truth and in spirit. In turn, we are able to more deeply worship Him.