by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
Following the hymn dedicated to God the Father, the faithful sing a hymn dedicated to Jesus Christ, called Vorti Asdoudzo. As the faithful sing this hymn to Christ, the most mystical moment takes place on the Holy Altar table. This is called the “Epiclesis,” and cannot be seen by the attendees. I would like to share this moment with the readers and reflect on its spiritual significance.
Before chanting the “Son of God” (Vorti Asdoudzo) hymn, the celebrant and all the altar servants bow down and kiss the Holy Altar. At the same time, the celebrant asks God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to the Altar with the following prayer:
“We bow down and beseech and ask you, Beneficent God, send upon these gifts set forth, your co-eternal and consubstantial Holy Spirit.”
This moment is spiritual. It cannot be understood academically or scientifically. We can only experience God’s work spiritually. We have to observe the spiritual movement taking place on the Holy Altar, beyond our physical scenes. We have to concentrate, pray privately, and asks for God’s guidance. We need His guidance to experience the moment when the Holy Spirit descends upon the gifts on the Holy Altar. Let us ponder further what the Holy Spirit will do on the Holy Altar.
The celebrant prays for the Holy Spirit to descend and transform the bread and wine into Christ’s true body and blood. No power on earth, nor angels, can transform the bread and the wine into Christ’s body and blood. Until this moment, the bread and the wine only symbolize the body and the blood of our Lord. At this moment, however, the Holy Spirit descends, transforming the bread and wine into the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the Holy Spirit makes the church and the body of Christ, one in His name.
Here the faithful are not mere witnesses to the Holy Spirit mysteriously working the greatest miracle of the church. The faithful, rather, are invited to participate in the mystery, and to be transformed by the Holy Spirit themselves. Despite our best efforts, none of us are immortal. Our physical nature is destined for death. The only person who can make us immortal is God. As Jesus became human and gave Himself for us, He united our mortal nature and His immortality. To be more explicit, we are not merely made immortal. We become resurrected and triumphant in Christ. “We cannot clap with one hand.” On one hand, God gave Himself in order for us to share in His triumph over death. But we must supply the other hand. We have to participate! We must place our hearts and spirits under the descending Holy Spirit to receive the grace of transformation. We must keep our hearts under the rain of the grace to receive the blessing coming from Heaven.
Christianity, however, is not centered on the self. This transformation is not meant for our own welfare. Rather, Christianity centers on the glory of God. God's glory cannot be contained in a single thing or a single person. Heaven and earth, together, declare the glory of God. When we live in unity, we represent the body of Christ. The Spirit bows down to earth to restore the church, strengthen the bond of love, remove the polluting influence of sin, and restore grace to the earth.
How does Epiclesis take place?
The deacon approaches the Holy Altar with the Pourvar (incense burner). The celebrant takes the gifts in his hands and prays over them, first one by one, and then together. He makes the sign of the Holy Cross over them, saying:
“Whereby blessing this bread, make it truly the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3 times over the bread).
“And blessing this cup, make it truly the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3 times over the cup).
“Whereby blessing this bread and this wine, make them truly the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, changing them by thy Holy Spirit” (3 times over the bread and the wine together).
We believe that through these powerful prayers and the intercession of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine miraculously become the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This act symbolizes the dead body of Christ being laid in the tomb, but then being resurrected. The rays of the resurrection shine over the Holy Gifts and dawn a new day for all. Imagine the shadow of sin being abolished. How refreshing would that be? How much strength would that give us? If you truly live in that moment, you may feel like you’re at the gates of Heaven. The man-made bread and wine become the divine body and blood of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for all.
These reflections help us find the true meaning behind why we stand there, before God. We often ask God for miracles, while not seeing the miracles before our eyes. There is no greater miracle on earth than the transformation of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We stand before the holy tomb of Christ and feel Christ manifest His divinity through the glorious resurrection, thus trampling down death. Halleluiah!