The Presanctified Divine Liturgy
The “Presanctified Divine Liturgy” – or the “Divine Liturgy of the
Presanctified Gifts” – may be celebrated on the weekdays (Monday
through Friday) of the Great Fast (Great Lent). The current practice
is to celebrate this Liturgy on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as on
certain feast days falling during the Great Fast.
The Divine Liturgy, with the consecration of bread and wine as the
Body and Blood of Christ, is not celebrated on weekdays during this
period. Yet, the faithful desire – and need – the Communion of these
Holy Gifts especially during the struggles of the season. Moreover, in
earlier centuries the custom of pious Christians was to receive Holy
Communion several times during the week throughout the year.
Thus the Holy Fathers established the practice of distributing Holy
Communion during Vespers (Evening Worship) on weekdays of the Great
Fast. This developed into a formal liturgical service, which was
recorded, or compiled, by Saint Gregory the Great in the sixth century.
At our Saint Nicholas parish church this unique, Lenten Liturgy is
usually celebrated on Wednesday evenings of the Great Fast. We begin
with the Ninth Hour at 5:30 pm, followed immediately by the Liturgy
beginning at about 6:00 pm.
Why should I go to the church and participate in the Divine Liturgy of
the Presanctified Gifts?
Indeed! What a question!! Why should I go to church and receive the
immaculate Body and precious Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus
Why wouldn't I want to do this? What could possibly be more
Come! Taste and see that the Lord is good!!
What is the Presanctified Divine Liturgy? Where did it come from?
The Divine Liturgy we celebrate on Sundays and weekdays is the Mystery
(Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion). In the Liturgy
the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to change bread and wine into the
Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we receive as Holy
Obviously this “banquet of Christ” (the Divine Liturgy) is a festive,
joyous, and triumphant celebration. Great Lent, however, is a serious
period of reflection and preparation anticipating the great joy of
Pascha. It therefore does not seem quite appropriate to be
celebratory and joyous on the weekdays of Lent.
This has long been the mind of the Church and, accordingly, its
ancient discipline did not permit such a celebration during the
weekdays of the Great Fast. Lent is a period of mourning for sin and
for repentance. It is a time to reflect on the fall of Adam and of
the whole creation with him. It is a time to contemplate our slavery
to the enemy of salvation and to sin. It is a time to make the first
steps toward a life of self-control and freedom from sin and death.
Nonetheless, to allow the faithful to receive in the Mysteries of Holy
Communion for their strength and consolation during this very serious
season, we preserve a portion of the Holy Gifts (of Holy Communion)
from the previous the Sunday Liturgy and offer and offer these to the
faithful at the Liturgy of the “Presanctified” (i.e., sanctified
previously on Sunday) Liturgy.
How is the Presanctified Divine Liturgy structured?
Quite simply, the Presanctified is a Vesperal Divine Liturgy - one
celebrated in the evening like those before Christmas, Theophany, and
in Holy Week. It consists of Vespers, and a “Communion Service”
(rather than a Liturgy with a consecration) after the customary
Since we structure our services more closely according to the monastic
Typikon (order of services) we begin with the Ninth Hour. Also, you
will see the priest opening and closing the Beautiful Gate at certain
times during the Presanctified Divine Liturgy.
It contains its own unique and very beloved hymns and melodies which
so characterize the magnificent somberness of Great Lent.
For more information, go to:
Five Articles Concerning the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts:
Tracing the Origins of the Presanctified Liturgy
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Its Meaning and Practice in Today’s World
Observations on the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Its Meaning and Practice in Today’s World
Tracing the Origins of the Presanctified Liturgy
April 3rd, 2013
During the period of Great Lent, except Saturdays and Sundays, the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated, which is the result
of two factors. First, during this period the celebration of the
Divine Liturgy, which is paschal and festive in character, is
inconsistent with the character of the period. Canon 29 of the Synod
of Laodicea (AD 363) ruled: "During the period of Great Lent bread is
not offered, except Saturday and Sunday only." Canon 51 of the same
Synod also forbids the celebration of the memorials of the martyrs on
fasting days during Great Lent and requires them to be transferred to
Saturday or Sunday, because the celebration of the memorials of the
martyrs are connected with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
According to the testimonies of the Fathers of the Church (cf.
Basil the Great, Epistle 93 to Caesaria the Patrician, PG 32,484)
Christians received Communion regularly on Saturdays, Sundays,
Wednesdays, Fridays and as many times during the week the Divine
Liturgy was celebrated. The faithful received the Precious Gifts in
the way we receive the antidoron [blessed bread] today. They
Communed from a portion of the Body of Christ which is immersed in the
Precious Blood, and that which remained was kept so they may receive
on days when it was not possible to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.
The same method was followed by the hermits, who were separated from
organized monastic communities and were not able to participate in
Eucharistic gatherings that took place during the week. To receive
Communion properly prepared they formulated a Service. Here is the
origin of the Presanctified, which included excerpts from the Divine
Liturgy, prayers before and during Communion, and thanksgiving
The Presanctified does not include essentially anything but the
transfer of the Presanctified Gifts from the prosthesis [Table of
Preparation] to the altar, and Communion prayers which are accompanied
by preparatory and thanksgiving prayers. The first testimonies for
this liturgical type is found in the Chronicon Paschale (7th
cent.) and in the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod held in Constantinople in
692 ("On every fasting day of Holy Great Lent, except Saturdays and
Sundays and the day of the Annunciation, a Presanctified Sacred
Liturgy is done.").
In various places different types of the Presanctified Service were
formed, which are attributed to James the Brother of our Lord and
preserved only in the Diakonika (Codex Sinia 1040), and the
Alexandrine attributed to Mark the Evangelist, from which is preserved
the prayer "After Receiving the Holy Mysteries" (Codex Paris Gr. 325).
It is already seen in the West in the seventh century (Gelasian
Sacramentary) and it was only celebrated on Good Friday.
The Presanctified Liturgy of the Byzantine typikon is attributed to
several authors (James the Brother of our Lord, Basil the Great,
Epiphanios of Cyprus, Gregory the Dialogist, etc.), but none claim
authorship of the writing.
In its current form this Service is associated with the monastic
Vespers. It should be noted that the typikon of the monasteries
prevailed also in parish churches.
In closing we will note that the Presanctified Liturgy was celebrated
also in the past on Wednesday and Friday of Cheesefare, as well as
Good Friday. Eventually under the influence of the Jerusalem typikon
these days were considered liturgically idle. According to the
testimony of Nikephoros of Constantinople, the celebration of the
Presanctified occurred on every Wednesday and Friday throughout the
year, as well as on feasts with strict fast days like the Exaltation
of the Holy Cross (September 14).
Today the Presanctified is celebrated every day except Saturdays,
Sundays and the feast of the Annunciation, from Clean Monday until
Holy and Great Wednesday.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
Archpriest Victor Potapov
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Washington
March 27th, 2013
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts may be characterized, without
exaggeration, as the heart and center of the services of Great Lent.
In some ancient manuscripts of the service books it is known as the
“Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima.” In fact, it is the service that
best typifies this sacred time of the year.
The essence of this service is revealed in its very name: it is the
“Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts.” This distinguishes it from the
Liturgies of Saint Basil the Great and of Saint John Chrysostom, in which
the Eucharist – the offering and sanctification of the Gifts – takes
place. During the “Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima” we are offered
the Holy Gifts “pre-sanctified,” i.e., already sanctified at a Liturgy
served on a previous day. These Holy Gifts are offered to us that we
might have the opportunity to commune of them and be sanctified by
them. In other words, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is
essentially not a “liturgy” in the sense of the Liturgies of Saint John
Chrysostom or Saint Basil the Great, but is rather a special rite of
In order to understand why a rite of Communion of presanctified Holy
Gifts came into being, one must consider its history. Its roots lie in
the ancient practice of the Church. In the early centuries of
Christian history, the faithful approached to receive the Holy Gifts
at each Liturgy. It was even a practice among the faithful, when there
was no weekday Liturgy, that they would privately commune of Holy
Gifts left over from the Sunday Liturgy. On this foundation, a special
rite of prayer crystallized within the monasteries: all monastics
would pray together before Communion and afterwards they would
together thank God, Who had enabled them to be Communicants of the
Holy Mysteries. This would be done either after Vespers or after the
Ninth Hour (about 3:00 PM). In time, this rule of prayer took on the
form of a short service, somewhat similar to the rite of the Liturgy.
Thus developed what we now call the “Order of the Typica,” in
contemporary practice served after the Sixth and Ninth Hours. The very
name “Typica” points to the fact that in some measure this short
service typifies the Liturgy. It is in this sense a precursor to our
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
During Great Lent, the full Divine Liturgy is served only on Saturdays
and Sundays. Ancient church practice, confirmed in the canons of the
Councils, forbids the serving of Liturgies on weekdays during Great
Lent, inasmuch as those days are entirely dedicated to fasting and
repentance. Serving the Divine Liturgy would be incompatible with the
mournful character of such days. The Liturgy is a Paschal Mystery, a
Feast of the Church, filled with joy and spiritual jubilation.
As Saint Basil the Great states, the faithful of that time were used
to receiving Communion not only on Saturdays and Sundays, but also at
least twice during the week – on Wednesdays and Fridays. Therefore,
the question arose: How could they commune outside the Liturgy? The
answer had already been provided: they could commune of the Holy Gifts
sanctified at one of the earlier Liturgies. In those days, fasting
meant complete abstinence from food until sunset, and Communion of the
Holy Gifts was the crown and end of the Lenten day. For this reason,
on those weekdays, it took place after Vespers.
The rite of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts consists of
Vespers, at the conclusion of which the Holy Presanctified Gifts are
offered, and the prayers before Communion are read. Communion itself
takes place, and is followed by prayers of thanksgiving. The service’s
connection to Great Lent is reflected in its special “mournful”
character. The Altar Table and sacred vessels containing the Holy
Gifts are covered with dark-colored vestments. Prayers are read
with a sense of humility and tenderness. Overall, the entire
service is marked by a special sense of mystery.
The first part of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts consists of
Great Lenten Vespers, with some specific distinguishing features. The
priest is vested in dark vestments. Vespers itself begins not with the
usual “Blessed is our God,” but rather with the opening doxology of
the Divine Liturgy: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit…” In this manner, the entire service turns
toward hope in the Kingdom, that same anticipation that characterizes
all of Great Lent.
Then, as in other Vesper services, Psalm 103 is read. This “opening”
psalm begins with the words “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God,
Thou art greatly magnified…”
This psalm, which praises God, the Creator of the whole world, is a
sort of “preface” to Vespers, and with it the entire cycle of daily
services for, according to Old Testament tradition, evening and the
coming night are considered the beginning of the day.
After this “preface,” the deacon (or in the absence of a deacon, the
priest himself) invites the faithful to communal prayer, in the Great
Litany, the Litany of Peace, which begins with the words “In peace,
let us pray to the Lord…”
Then Psalms 119 and 133 are read. These psalms form the 18th kathisma
(chapter) of the Psalter, the book of psalms. These psalms are known
as “hymns of ascent.” In Old Testament times, they were sung while one
was ascending the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem.
While these psalms are being read on the kliros, in the Altar the
priest prepares the Holy Gifts on the Table of Oblation. The
Presanctified Lamb (the Body of Christ, permeated with His
Most-precious Blood), which had been left on the Altar Table since the
previous Sunday or Saturday, is transferred to the Table of Oblation.
Then ordinary, unsanctified wine and water are poured into the
Chalice, and the Holy Vessels are covered, as is done before a full
Liturgy. All of this is performed in silence, with no accompanying
prayers. The Order of Divine Service underscores that distinctive
feature: all of the prayers have already been read at the Sunday
Liturgy at which the Holy Gifts have been sanctified.
After this preparation and after the reading of the 18th kathisma, the
evening service continues with the chanting of selections from the
usual Vespers psalms – beginning with the words “Lord, I have cried
unto Thee, hearken unto me…” The stichera for “Lord I have cried…”
appointed in the service books for the given day are interspersed with
the text of the psalms. Upon conclusion of these chants, the clergy
perform the usual Evening Entrance, the procession into the Altar
through the Royal Doors, concluding with the prayer “O Gladsome Light.”
Following the Evening Entrance, there are two readings (paremoi) from
the Old Testament. One is from the Book of Genesis, and the other from
the Book of Proverbs by Solomon. Between these two readings, a rite is
performed which reminds us of the times when Great Lent was dedicated
to preparing people for Holy Baptism. During the reading from the
first Old Testament passage, the priest places a lighted candle upon
the Gospels lying on the Altar Table. At the conclusion of the first
reading, the priest takes this candle and a censer and blesses the
faithful, with the words “The Light of Christ enlighteneth all!” The
candle is a symbol of Christ, the Light of the world. The fact that
the candle rests upon the Gospels during the reading of the Old
Testament points to the fact that all prophecy was fulfilled in
Christ, Who enlightened His disciples, that they “might understand the
Scriptures.” The Old Testament leads to Christ, just as Great Lent
leads to the enlightenment of those being baptized. The Light of Holy
Baptism, uniting people to Christ, opens their minds to the
understanding of Christ’s teachings.
After the second Old Testament reading, there emanates from the center
of the church a moving and solemn chant: “Let my prayer be set forth
as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening
sacrifice.” These words come from Psalms 140. During this chant,
censing takes place before the Altar Table and before the Table of
Oblation. The chant, with other verses from the same psalm
interspersed, is repeated six times.
There follows fervent prayer for all members of the Church, and also
for the catechumens. After Wednesday of the fourth week of Great Lent,
these petitions are followed by a special litany for those catechumens
who this year are preparing for “holy illumination,” i.e., for the
Mystery of Holy Baptism. In ancient times, Holy Baptism was performed
on Holy and Great Saturday. After all of the catechumens are
dismissed, the second part of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts,
the rite of Holy Communion, begins.
The solemn moment of the transfer of the Holy Gifts to the Altar Table
approaches. Outwardly, this Entrance resembles the Great Entrance at
the Liturgy, but in essence and spiritual meaning it is, of course,
quite different. In the full Eucharistic service, the Great Entrance
is the transfer/offering of as- yet unsanctified Gifts. The Church
offers itself – its life, the life of its members, and all creation –
as a sacrifice to God, incorporating this sacrifice into the one
perfect sacrifice of Christ. Remembering Christ, the Church remembers
all those whom He has taken upon Himself for their redemption and
salvation. The transfer of the Holy Gifts symbolically represents the
appearance of Christ and the conclusion of fasting and prayer, with
the anticipation and approach of that help, comfort, and joy that we
have been awaiting.
The solemn transfer of the Holy Gifts from the Table of Oblation to
the Holy Altar Table is accompanied by the ancient hymn “Now the Hosts
of Heaven…” In English it is rendered: “Now the Hosts of Heaven
invisibly worship with us; for behold the King of Glory enters in.
Behold the accomplished mystical sacrifice is being escorted in. With
faith and love let us draw nigh, that we may become partakers of life
everlasting. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
The Entrance with the already-sanctified Holy Gifts is performed with
extreme reverence and piety. During the Entrance, the faithful
prostrate themselves upon the ground. According to the practice of the
Russian Church, following the Great Entrance at the Liturgy of the
Presanctified Gifts, the prayer of Saint Ephraim of Syria, “O Lord and
Master of my life…”, is read.
After that prayer is read, the immediate preparation for Holy
Communion begins. Its essence lies in the Lord’s Prayer, in the “Our
Father,” with which preparation for Holy Communion always concludes.
In pronouncing Christ’s own prayer, we take unto ourselves the Spirit
of Christ. We adopt as our own His prayer to the Father, His will, His
desire, and His life.
The Communion of the clergy takes place, and is followed by the
Communion of the laity, during the singing of the verse “O taste and
see, that the Lord is good!”
The Service ends, and the priest proclaims: “Let us depart in peace!”
At the conclusion of the Service, the Prayer before the Ambo is read.
The concluding prayers at full Liturgies and at the Liturgy of the
Presanctified Gifts are known as Prayers before the Ambo because the
priest says them near the place where at one time there stood in the
midst of the church the ancient “ambo,” i.e., a special stone
cathedra, from which the Gospel was read.
“The Prayer before the Ambo” read at the Liturgy of the Presanctified
Gifts is especially beautiful. It reflects the connection between the
serving of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the time of
Great Lent. The Holy Quadregesima is a time of spiritual struggle, a
time of difficult battle with the passions and with sins. Yet there is
no doubt that victory over invisible enemies will be granted to all
who, according to the words of the Prayer before the Ambo, struggle
“to fight the good fight.” And the day of the Holy Resurrection
already is at hand.
The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is one of the most
marvelous and moving services of the Church. At the same time, it is
an urgent call to frequent Communion of the Holy Gifts of Christ. In
it we hear a voice from distant centuries, the voice of the living,
ancient tradition of the Church. This voice says that a believer
cannot live the life in Christ unless he constantly renews his
connection with the fountain of life, by communing of the Body and
Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For Christ is, according to the words
of the Holy apostle Paul, “our life” (Colossians 3:4).
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Its Meaning and Practice in Today’s World
Archpriest Adrei Tkachev
March 1st, 2012
Saturdays and Sundays of Great Lent are not considered fasting days.
This is not because non-fasting foods are allowed on these days.
(Non-fasting food is prohibited until Pascha for the physically
healthy.) Rather, it is because on Saturdays and Sundays the full,
real Liturgy is served. The Liturgy is the cornerstone of the Church,
and whether or not it is celebrated determines whether it is a feast
day or a day of mourning.
If during all of Great Lent you go to church only on Sundays you will
not sense that it is Lent, regardless of abstention from food. One
also needs to attend the special Lenten services to experience the
contrast between these days and the other days of the year and to
breathe in deeply the healthful spirit of the Forty Day Fast. The most
important of these special services is the Liturgy of the
It differs from the traditional Liturgy in that the Bloodless
Sacrifice is not offered to God in it. The Sacrifice is offered and
the Gifts are consecrated in advance, and one can Commune of these.
The entire service is a preparation for Communing of the Gifts
prepared in advance.
The main idea that should arise from a consideration of the present
topic is the yearning for Communion and the sorrow of separation. It
is the reluctance to remain even for a single week without the Holy
Gifts – even if one is not to feast, but rather to humble oneself and
weep. Nonetheless, one cannot go without Communion, which means that
one should at least Commune of the Gifts prepared in advance.
It is impossible to understand the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
– its ritual, origin, and necessity – without love for the Mysteries
and for the practice of frequent Communion. Say what you will and
think what you will, but if the tradition of the Early Church had been
to Commune five or six times a year, then the Liturgy of the
Presanctified Gifts would never have arisen. The very need for it
would not have arisen. The need, however, is that one cannot be
without Christ and without Communion. “For to me to live is Christ,
and to die is gain.”
If one Communes rarely, then the Liturgy need only be served rarely,
and the remaining days can be filled with the reading of the Typika,
psalmody, akathists, teaching, and preaching. But this is an honest
path to nowhere, which even a blind man should understand. The Liturgy
cannot be abandoned. It is our only wealth. Rather, one should so love
the Liturgy that one understands all of church life through it.
Khomiakov was perfectly correct when he said: “Christianity is
understood only by those who understand the Liturgy.”
Mary of Egypt did not go into the desert for many years without first
Communing. Not yet cleansed of the passions, she received Communion
and grace as a pledge for the future, so that she could receive Divine
help in the desert.
We, too, in the words of Andrew of Crete, should settle “in the desert
of repentance for the passions.”
During Lent the passions are awoken, tormenting and disturbing the
soul. At times they do not simply trouble us, but burn and scorch us.
The need for Divine help becomes more urgent and palpable. The Liturgy
of the Presanctified Gifts was established for just the sort of people
who labor in pious fasting, people who perceive their weakness with
The service is united with Vespers and best served in the evening. (Do
not rush to object – allow me to continue.)
Properly speaking, there is only one difficulty in serving it in the
evening: the long Eucharistic fast. Everything else is a matter of
technical details. The excuse that, well, it has not been done this
way in ages does not work. There are many good things that we have not
done, and many bad things that we have grown accustomed to. Are we
really to hang a “do not disturb” sign in front of all errors, all the
while dismissing our entire forgotten heritage?
The unusually long Eucharistic fast is the only serious concern in
regards to serving the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the
evening. But does not the fast exist precisely in order that we
experience hunger and thirst, a subtle physical weakness, and a light
dryness in the belly? Have we really entirely abandoned labor, effort,
and abstinence, and become fit only for gratifying our weaknesses? One
only needs to try, and there will turn out to be more people prepared
to struggle and pray than we had thought. Children do not Commune at
this service. They have Saturday and Sunday. One might say that older
people cannot go long without medication and food. They, too, have
Saturday and Sunday. As for those who can go without eating and
drinking until evening, those who are strong and healthy, those who
are disturbed by carnal passions due to their youth and excess of
strength, let them endure and do battle with themselves. I will say
more: in actual fact it turns out that older people are often more
ready than young people to abstain from eating and to pray in
preparation for Communion. And even young people yearn for ascetic
struggle more often than we think.
There are no more difficulties. All that remains is delight.
It is worth celebrating this service in the evening at least once in
life, if only for the sake of experience and for the sense of
contrast. One should sing “having come to the setting of the sun,
having beheld the evening light” not at 8:30 in the morning, but at
6:00 in the evening, when the sun is in fact in the west. It is worth
experiencing how much better one can attune one’s mind to the words of
the psalm “the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice” in a
darkened church, lit only by oil lamps, and not when the sun is
shining brightly. “Let us complete our evening prayer unto the Lord”
is incomparably better and more natural pronounced is the late
evening, and not before noon. It is worthwhile for the body to
understand how much better it is to pray on an entirely empty stomach,
in order later to choose the more ancient and better path, even if it
is a more difficult one.
All the singing, censing, and kneeling; all the processing with
candles and incense around the Eucharistic Lamb; and all the prayers
of Saint Ephraim are intended for the evening. This service is
mysterious and especially intimate. It eschews sunlight and electric
light, inasmuch as the people Communing of Christ are those who have
decided to take on a greater ascetic struggle, those who have
restrained themselves for the sake of the broadness of the Heavenly
The Liturgy in general is not for the eyes of outsiders. It is a
downright sickness and a true punishment that the doors to our
services are always open to random people who buy candles and haggle
at the table with the commemoration sheets at any moment of the
service. The Gospel is being read or the Cherubic Hymn is being sung,
and there will always be someone looking around at the candle-stands
trying to find a place to put their candles. May God grant that we
would grow up and become more serious, and one day at the exclamation
“The doors! The doors!” actually shut the doors, so that there would
be no coming and going until the end of the service!
This is what it is like at a regular Liturgy.
But at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts it is even worse. Here
there really is no place for random people wandering towards the
flame, “not capable of praying with us.” They stand out immediately.
They do not kneel with everyone else; they stare at the priest when he
exclaims “The Light of Christ enlightens all!” and, what is even
worse, during the entrance with the Gifts. By no means can they be
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts raises the bar of requirements
for the clergy. One has to do a lot of explaining and teaching. One
has to learn how to interpret the texts of Genesis and Proverbs read
at these services. One needs to reassure those who see renovationism
in everything to which they are unaccustomed.
Renovationism is the lowering of ecclesiastical discipline to conform
to the spirit of the times. But a return to tradition is a movement in
the opposite direction: from dispersion to self-possession and from
indulgence to self-discipline. It is a move from proof-texting to an
understanding of the spirit of the texts. So, for example, at the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts there are frequent prayers for
catechumens and for “those preparing for holy illumination.” This is a
remnant of ancient times, when people prepared for Baptism for a long
time and went through the catechumenate. Today, in order neither to
omit these prayers as unnecessary nor to read them just for the sake
of reading them, we must find an application for them. After all, many
people have relatives, friends, or acquaintances that have heard about
Christ but have not accepted Baptism. Many are almost ready, but are
still wavering. So could we perhaps accept commemoration lists with
the names of those who are on the verge of Baptism but require a
Divine push? Especially if these are the relatives of our regular
parishioners. And even if there are no such people, one can still pray
for the illumination with the light of Christian faith of the many
peoples who still remain in the darkness of paganism.
This will not work everywhere. At the very least, this will not work
everywhere immediately. This, too, is fine. Everyone is different and
we do not need revolutions, radical reforms, or instantaneous
uniformity. But we do need to have love for the Church and the fervent
desire to do things correctly, and not simply to do “what we are used
to.” If it is always “what we are used to,” then this is simply a
matter of self-love and the fear of disturbing our familiar
environment rather than advocating for the truth.
Great Lent flies by quickly. And having flown by, it often leaves
behind a residue of dissatisfaction. People say: the fast has gone by
again, and I did not manage either to labor or to change myself.
Pascha is drawing near, but I feel as if I have wasted the entire
Forty Day Fast; I feel sorry for myself for only having half-fasted. I
seem to know that “the kingdom of heaven sufferth violence” and that
“strait is the gate, and narrow is the way,” but I keep repeating the
same old habits, thinking that “it’s not the right time” and that I
lack the strength. I relax, and I soothe the other people who are also
Therefore even Pascha the Beautiful will not fill us to the brim with
eternal life if we have not succeeded in using the fast to cleanse
ourselves on the inside. The Lord will not pour “new wine into old
wineskins” for us. It is we are to blame, not the Lord – for we have
sat comfortably behind the fence for a variety of reasons.
This is not good. This is not pretty. This is not honest.
The planets dance around the Sun.
Our Sun is Christ. But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of
righteousness arise with healing in
His wings, says the Prophet Malachi (4:2).
Thus in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts we touch the Lamb with
fear and we ring the bell so that people would fall to their knees; we
make prostrations; we sing many hymns of repentance and praise. And
the heavenly powers serve the King of Glory with us invisibly. As a
result this gives us such a prayerful feeling and disposition, such a
thirst to appear before Christ, that it should be enough to last for a
Lent will pass, but the reverential attitude will remain. After Pascha
other feast days will follow, and the desire to pray with tears, to
make prostrations, and to fast will not leave our souls. Therefore we
need to breathe deeply of the sorrowful but healthful air of Great
Lent, so that the chastity and austerity in this air will sink deeply
into every cell of our spiritual organism.
Observations on the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
Observations on the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts by His
Grace, Bishop Klemes (Clement) of Gardikion. His Grace has
written widely on Orthodox theological issues. He is a
graduate of the Theological School of the University of
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which consists of the
Service of Vespers and the appointed liturgical particulars
for the Communion of the Faithful with the Holy Gifts. In
monastic communities it is celebrated daily, except for
Saturday and Sunday, during the period of the Great Fast (or
Great Lent). In parishes it is celebrated on Wednesday and
Friday, with the Holy Bread—that is, the Body of Christ—which
has been intincted in the Holy Blood and consecrated at the
preceding complete Liturg on the previous Sunday.
The reason for this Liturgy is that the celebration of the
Divine Liturgy, festive and Resurrectional in character, is
not allowed during the Great Lent and the somber period of the
fast, according to ancient tradition and the forty-ninth Canon
of the Synod of in Laodiceia in AD 336.
However, from their side, the faithful children of the Church,
engaged in the abstemious struggle of the Great Fast and
having a clear and particular need for reinforcement by the
Immaculate Mysteries during this period of intensive spiritual
combat, desired to commune as often as they could, since Holy
Communion was indeed their life and sustenance.
For this reason, so that the faithful not be deprived of the
Holy Eucharist on the weekdays of the Great Fast, but that
they might be able to commune from the Presanctified Holy
Bread (the Body of Christ), the Church, by way of the
fifty-first Canon of the Fifth-Sixth (Quinisext) Synod in AD
692, appointed that the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified
Gifts take place on the weekdays of the Great Fast.
In his explanatory scholia on this canon, Saint Nikodemos the
Hagiorite (+1809), in his Pedalion (the “Rudder” or Book of
Canons), citing the the 14th-century (Byzantine) canonologist
Matthew Blastaris, reminds us that the faithful resemble
wrestlers in the arena; just as wrestlers cease their matches
in the afternoon to take nourishment, in order to strengthen
themselves for the upcoming bout, so the faithful commune from
the Body and Blood of the Master during the period of
spiritual combat in the Great Fast, that they might be
reinvigorated and reinforced by the Lord, thus to continue
their match against the passions and the spiritual enmity of
the devil with renewed powers and more valorously.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is attributed to St.
Gregory the Dialogist (+604), Pope of Rome, or to Patriarch
Germanos of Constantinople [+732]; but in actuality, it is not
the work of any one individual, but is a composite work coming
down to us from Holy Tradition and of ancient provenance.
The Presanctified or “abridged” Divine Liturgy (since it is
affixed to Vespers), is normally celebrated in the late
afternoon, when Christians, having fasting completely until
that time, commune, afterwards eating a meal of dry foodstuffs
(dried fruits and nuts).
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Its Meaning and Practice in Today’s World
The Divine Liturgy which celebrates and offers the Eucharist, is the
grace and power of the kingdom, which are at work in the world. It is
the supplier of the ‘essential food’, and weapon of our spiritual
fight to live the gift of life according to God, in Jesus Christ.
But, because the Divine Liturgy is the “Banquet of Christ,” the
mystery and revelation of the Church, a festive, joyous, triumphant
celebration of Life in Christ’s eternal life, the ancient discipline
of the Church came to regard it as out of harmony with the penitential
climate of Great Lent.
Yet to provide the faithful with the “food of immortality,” the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, that is, with the Eucharistic
Gifts consecrated beforehand at the Liturgy of the previous Sunday,
came into use early on in Christian practises.
WHY SERVE THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS?
Its main service is to offer the faithful the heavenly manna that
keeps us alive in our spiritual journey/pilgrimage, especially through
the desert/fasting of Lent.
Therefore it was attested as the approved custom by the Quinisext
Council in AD 692.
So, permeated as it is with the “bright sadness” of Lent, it has taken
on a special beauty and solemnity.
Of all the Lenten rules, this one is unique to Orthodoxy, and so gives
us a key to our liturgical Orthodox spirit which
forbids the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on weekdays in
This is because the Divine Liturgy is incompatible with fasting,
because the Eucharistic celebration is one continuous movement of
festive joy, not sorrow.
From the earliest times until the fourth century, Communion was
considered so much a part of the Eucharistic Sacrifice/Liturgy that it
was unthinkable to attend without partaking.
For example, some of the faithful sometimes received the Sacrament
more often than they attended the Liturgy, which was usually
celebrated on Sunday only, the Lord’s Day, and this was by
virtue of taking the Sacrament home with them, in a special ‘arca’
fashioned for this purpose.
The Presanctified Gifts were offered to the faithful, after the ninth
hour, about 3:00 p.m., usually at the end of a day of prayer or work
with fasting, in what is actually an elaborated Office of Vespers with
Holy Communion. (Liturgical hours = 1st hour 6am sunrise,
3rd hr 9am Lit, 6th hr 12pm, 9th hr
3pm, 1st hr 6pm, 3rd hr 9pm 6th hr
12am, 9th hr 3am)
Fasting, consisted of the total abstinence from food and drink, at
least from the early morning hours of the day, and trying to maintain
good thoughts throughout the day.
This approach is understood as a state of preparation and expectation,
the state of spiritual concentration on that which is about to come.
Physical hunger corresponds to the spiritual expectation of
fulfilment, the opening up of the entire human being to the
Thus, the Lenten fast is not only a fast of the members of the Church;
it is the Church itself as fast, as expectation of Christ who comes to
the Church in the Eucharist, who shall come in glory at the
consummation of all time.
WHEN IS THE PRESANCTIFIED LITURGY SERVED?
As the years passed, the Christians unfortunately lost their original
zeal and ignored the benefits from Holy Communion, and so they did not
receive it every day or even every Sunday. They received it at long
intervals. Therefore the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts lost its
original and main meaning to those celebrating it.
In our times the Presanctified is conducted from fifteen to
eighteen times a year:
1. On Wednesday and Friday of the first six weeks of Lent.
2. On Thursday of the fourth week of Lent.
3. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week.
The Sacrificial (or Resurrection) Liturgy is celebrated on all
Saturdays and Sundays in Lent, on the Feast of the Annunciation, on
whatever day it falls, and on Holy Thursday. (Good Friday is a
liturgical day.) It is also likely that the Liturgy of the
Presanctified Gifts was not always confined to Lent, but was common to
all of the Church’s fasting seasons.
The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts consists of Vespers, with special
Prayers together with a portion of the Divine Liturgy, omitting its
most important part, the consecration of the Holy Gifts; and the
Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours (with the Typical Psalms) are used in a
particular manner at the beginning.
HOW ARE THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS PREPARED BY THE PRIEST?
On the preceding Sunday, at the Prothesis, after dedicating the
principal Amnos, or “Lamb,” to be distributed in Holy Communion that
day, the Priest prepares as many additional “Lambs” as there will be
Liturgies of the Presanctified during that week, saying for each the
same dedicatory prayers as for the first.
However, at the Consecration of the Gifts, all the “Lambs” are
presented as one, for Christ is One. Similarly, at the elevation, all
the”Lambs” are elevated together.
At the fraction, the Priest breaks only that Amnos which he dedicated
first at the Prothesis. As for the others, he takes them one by one in
his left hand, and with the spoon in his right pours a small amount of
the Holy and Precious Blood of the Lord crosswise on the underside
incised with the Cross, then places them in the tabernacle (a chest
especially built to carry the Holy Lamb/ artophorion).
On the actual Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday and Friday, the
Sacred Elements which were consecrated at the Divine Liturgy on
Saturdays and Sundays, and preserved on the holy Altar in the
tabernacle/artophorion, are moved by the priest who places the Gifts
on the diskos with prayer and incensing after the Great Litany,
during the chanting of the psalms (kathisma).
He carries them in solemn procession around the back of the Altar, and
to the Table of Oblation (Proskomide).
The evening psalm, Lord, I have cried is then sung with the
special hymns for the day. This is followed with the evening entrance,
the hymn O joyful light of the holy glory, and two Biblical
readings; from Genesis and from Proverbs.
From Genesis each year we learn all over again about the creation of
the world, the fall of man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, God’s
covenant with Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham being put to the
test, and then about Joseph and his brothers. From Proverbs we are
taught the practical wisdom for living the moral life. While always
profitable for the believer these lessons date to the time when those
preparing to be enlightened in Baptism, the catechumens, attended the
Vespers part of this Liturgy.
As we pray for the Catechumens (those being made ready for Holy
Baptism on Easter Saturday), we sense a direct connection with the
Christian Church of the early centuries, and understand the initial
character of Lent as preparation for Baptism and for Easter.
The Bible readings are punctuated by the Priest blessing the faithful
with the censer and a lighted candle proclaiming The Light of
Christ shines for all! This blessing symbolises the light of
Christ’s Resurrection, which illumines the Old Testament Scriptures
and the entire life of mankind. This is the very Light with which
Christians are illuminated in the life of the Church through Holy
The Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, O Lord and Master of my
life, (always chanted at the ninth hour during vespers during the
Great Fast) characterised by frequent prostrations, is read after the
singing of the evening psalm, Let my prayer be directed like
incense before you.
The catechumens having been dismissed, two prayers introduce the
Liturgy of the Faithful. It is the Prayers of the Faithful that
really illuminate the Lenten road, giving us a fuller understanding of
the meaning and purpose of the Lenten discipline. In the first, we ask
for the purification of our soul, body, and senses:
First Prayer of the Faithful, by the Priest, after the unfolding
of the Antimension
O God, who are great and to be praised, who have brought us from
corruption to incorruption by the life-giving death of your Christ,
free all our senses from the death of the passions, setting over them
as a good leader the thought that comes from within. Let the eye
abstain from every evil sight, the hearing give no entrance to idle
words, the tongue be cleansed of unfitting speech. Purify our lips,
Lord, that praise you. Make our hands keep from base actions, to
perform only such things as are well-pleasing to you, making all our
limbs and our mind secure by your grace.
The augmented litany is chanted, and the Presanctified Gifts are
transferred solemnly in a great procession to the altar
table. This is when the following special entrance hymn is chanted:
Instead of the Cherubic Hymn (“Let us who mystically represent
the Cherubim”) the following is sung:
Now the hosts of heaven invisibly worship with us; for see, the
King of Glory enters. See, the perfected mystical sacrifice is being
borne in. Alleluia x 3.
The Prayer of Saint Ephraim is read again, accompanied with a litany
and a special prayer before Holy Communion (Eucharist). “Our Father
in heaven,” is recited and the faithful receive Holy Communion
after the singing of the communion hymn:
O taste and see that the Lord is good. Alleluia, Alleluia,
During Communion, the chanter reads: “Amen. Blessed is he who comes in
the name of the Lord. God is the Lord and He revealed Himself to us.”
Christ Himself tells us about the ‘narrow way’ and the few that are
capable of following it. Therefore, in this fight, our main help is
precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that ‘essential food’ which
keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all the temptations and
dangers, makes us Christ’s followers.
Thus, having partaken of Holy Communion the communicants depart in
peace with thanksgiving to God for His Coming. The special
dismissal prayer asks God for a successful fulfilment of Lent and to
worthily celebrate the Great Feast of Pascha: the Resurrection
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Finally, having completed the service we are invited to depart in
peace. The last prayer summarises the meaning of this service, of
this evening Communion, of its relation to our Lenten effort:
Prayer by the Priest behind the Ambon:
Master almighty, who fashioned creation with wisdom and through
your ineffable forethought and great goodness have brought us to these
most holy days for the cleansing of souls and bodies, for mastery of
the passions, for hope of resurrection; who through forty days
entrusted to your servant Moses the Tables of the Law in letters
divinely traced, grant us also, good Master, to fight the good fight,
to finish the course of the fast, to keep the faith intact, to smash
the heads of invisible serpents and without condemnation to reach and
to worship your holy Resurrection.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is one of the great
masterpieces of Orthodox Lenten worship and liturgical creativity. It
reveals the central Christian doctrine and experience in its form and
content; namely that our life must be spent in prayer and fasting
in order to be in communion with Christ who will come like a thief
in the night. It tells us that all of our life, and not only
on fast periods, is completed with the Presence of the Victorious
Christ who is Risen from the dead.
It witnesses to the fact that Christ will come at the end of the ages
to judge the living and the dead and to establish God’s Kingdom of
which there will be no end.
It tells us that we must be ready for His arrival, and to be found
watching and serving; in order to be worthy to enter into the joy
of the Lord.
In this world we can only anticipate the glory and joy
of the Kingdom, yet at Church we leave this world in spirit and
meet at the Lord’s table where in the secret of our heart we
contemplate His uncreated light and splendour.
And each time, in anticipation, having tasted of the peace and
joy of the Kingdom, we return into this world and find
ourselves again on the long, narrow, and difficult road.
From the feast we return to the life of fast, to preparation and
waiting. But the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts offers us a unique
taste of beauty and solemnity which make it the spiritual climax of
Lenten worship, a light that illumines our path through this world.
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