A Note on Commemorations at the Divine Liturgy

Dear Broth­ers and Sisters,

It has come to our atten­tion that, as a result of the influ­ence of ren­o­va­tion­ism and ecu­menism on the Ortho­dox faith­ful in Amer­i­ca, there are cler­gy that com­mem­o­rate non-Ortho­dox Chris­tians at ser­vices for the reposed and at the prepa­ra­tion for the Divine Litur­gy, the Prosko­me­dia. In an arti­cle post­ed on Ancient Faith Blogs, one  jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for such an aber­rant prac­tice is that the litur­gi­cal man­u­als of the Holy Fathers on the sub­ject are “…dusty and some­times dubi­ous tomes…” and thus need to be revis­it­ed with a more up to date inter­pre­ta­tion. I have asked Fr John Bod­deck­er, a pro­fes­sor in our Sem­i­nary, to comment.

+ Bish­op Luke

Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery

Com­mem­o­ra­tions at the Divine Liturgy

By Priest John Boddecker

At the Divine litur­gy, the Ortho­dox faith­ful reg­u­lar­ly com­mem­o­rate their liv­ing and depart­ed loved ones by offer­ing prospho­ra and sub­mit­ting names to be read by the cler­gy in the altar at the time of the Prosko­me­dia. Dur­ing the Prosko­me­dia, the priest will remove a par­ti­cle from the prospho­ron for each of the liv­ing or depart­ed Ortho­dox Chris­tians he has been asked to com­mem­o­rate and place it on the diskos on which stands the Lamb, the bread which will be trans­formed into the Body of Christ, along with larg­er par­ti­cles com­mem­o­rat­ing the Moth­er of God and the var­i­ous ranks of saints in Heav­en. The Holy Fathers have seen the diskos as an image of the Heav­en­ly King­dom and the Church where our Lord reigns with all His saints. Because of this, the Church has only ever includ­ed in her com­mem­o­ra­tions at the Prosko­me­dia those who are fit to receive of the Holy Mys­ter­ies of Christ’s Body and Blood and who may hope to have a share in the Heav­en­ly King­dom. There­fore, while we cer­tain­ly must pray for our loved ones who are out­side of the Church, dur­ing the Divine Litur­gy we only com­mem­o­rate the Ortho­dox liv­ing and departed.

Con­cern­ing this, our Father among the Saints, Syme­on of Thes­sa­loni­ca, one of the great­est litur­gi­cal the­olo­gians of our Church’s Tra­di­tion, says the fol­low­ing: “There is no place here on the diskos for unbe­liev­ers, let alone for the het­ero­dox. ‘For what com­mu­nion does light have with dark­ness?’, since, Scrip­ture says, the angels will sep­a­rate out the evil from the midst of the just. There­fore it is also not at all right for a priest to make an offer­ing for a het­ero­dox or to make a com­mem­o­ra­tion of him; nei­ther is he per­mit­ted to do so for those open­ly sin­ning and unre­pen­tant. For the offer­ing is to their con­dem­na­tion, just as it is also for the unre­pen­tant who receive com­mu­nion of the awe-inspir­ing mys­ter­ies, as the divine Paul says.”

The par­ti­cle of the one improp­er­ly com­mem­o­rat­ed at the Prosko­me­dia before the Litur­gy, by being placed in such close prox­im­i­ty to the Lamb, which will become Christ, and on the diskos, imag­ing the heav­en­ly king­dom, is like that man who sought entry into the wed­ding feast of the Heav­en­ly Bride­groom with­out the prop­er wed­ding gar­ment and so was expelled. And not only this, but as St Syme­on also points out, “the par­ti­cle that is placed near the eucharis­tic Bread, when that becomes the Body of Christ in the course of the Litur­gy, the par­ti­cle too is imme­di­ate­ly sanc­ti­fied.  And when it is placed in the Chal­ice, it is unit­ed with the holy Blood.  That is why it trans­mits divine grace to the soul of the one for whom it is offered.  So a spir­i­tu­al com­mu­nion takes place between that per­son and Christ.  If the per­son com­mem­o­rat­ed is among the god­ly, or those who have sinned but then repent­ed, that per­son receives the com­mu­nion of the Holy Spir­it invis­i­bly in his soul.” Here again, we must keep in mind the warn­ing of St Paul about the risks of improp­er recep­tion of the Eucharist (I Corinthi­ans 11:27–32) and rec­og­nize that it is not fit­ting that we should com­mem­o­rate at the Prosko­me­dia those who, either because they are out­side of the Church or because they are liv­ing in unre­pen­tant sin, would be unfit to receive from the Chal­ice them­selves in the course of the Divine Litur­gy, were they in attendance.