At the beginning of Netflix’s historical drama “The Crown,” King George VI is describing the mystery of coronation to a very young Princess Elizabeth:
“Unless I am anointed, I cannot be King.”
“Do you understand?”
“When the holy oil touches me, I am transformed: brought into direct contact with the Divine — forever changed — bound to God. It is the most important part of the entire ceremony.”
This conversation forms the background for Queen Elizabeth’s own coronation later in the episode. When the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints Queen Elizabeth by placing the holy oil on her hand, her chest and her head, the television cameras filming the event cut away to another shot. Despite this being the first televised coronation in the history of the British Monarchy, the moment of the anointing is considered so sacred that it is not televised.
The meaning King George VI ascribes to the anointing is a thoroughly Christian one. His explanation of the mystery involved in the coronation echoes the reality of the Christian Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist. For it is the privilege of every member of the Church to be “brought into direct contact with the Divine — forever changed — bound to God.”
While filmmakers use King George’s monologue to explain the meaning of anointing, for Orthodox Christians, the meaning of the Eucharist is unpacked through pre-Communion Prayers. These prayers are said privately before partaking of Communion.
Just as King George’s discussion with Princess Elizabeth provides the inner meaning of the coronation in “The Crown,” reading through these prayers provides insight into the inner meaning of the Eucharist for an Orthodox Christian.
What follows are selected and arranged excerpts from Orthodox pre-Communion prayers, taken from The Ancient Faith Prayer Book.
To Whom do we come in Holy Communion?
“O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God, the Source of life and immortality, Who are the Maker of all creation, both visible and invisible, the co-eternal and co-beginningless Son of the Eternal Father, Who in the abundance of Your goodness were in the last days clothed in flesh, were crucified and buried for us ungrateful and thankless ones, and by Your own Blood refashioned our nature, which had been corrupted by sin …”
“I believe, Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.”
Of what is the Christian partaking?
“I believe that this is Your immaculate Body and that this is Your precious Blood.”
“… trusting in Your compassion, I take courage and approach You, for You have said, ‘He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him” (John 6:54).
On what basis may one approach Holy Communion?
“I know, O Lord, that I partake of Your immaculate Body and precious Blood unworthily, that I am guilty …”
“From lips tainted and defiled, from a heart impure and loathsome, from an unclean tongue, and out of a polluted soul, receive my prayer, O my Christ.”
“I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that You should come under the roof of the house of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen, and You do not have within me a place fit to lay Your head.”
“For I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against heaven and before You, and I am not worthy to look upon the height of Your glory; for I have provoked Your goodness by transgressing Your commandments and not obeying Your ordinances. But in Your forbearance, patience, and great mercy, You, O Lord, have not given me up to be destroyed with my sins, but You await my complete conversion.”
“Do not reject me, nor my words, nor my ways, nor even my shamelessness, but give me courage to say what I desire, O my Christ …”
“… accept the repentance even of me, a sinner, and incline Your ear and hear my words.”
“This I know: that neither the greatness of my offences nor the multitude of my sins surpasses the great patience of my God and His immense love for me.”
“For You Who love mankind have said through Your Prophet that You desire not the death of the sinner, but that he should return to You and live. For you do not will, O Lord, that the work of your hands should perish, neither do You delight in the destruction of men, but You desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.”
“Receive even me, O Christ, Lover of mankind, as You received the harlot, the thief, the publican and the prodigal; and take from me the heavy burden of my sins…”
What sins may be forgiven?
“O Lord Jesus Christ my God, loose, remit, forgive, absolve, and pardon the sins, offences, and transgressions which I, Your sinful, unprofitable, and unworthy servant have committed from my youth up to the present day and hour, whether in knowledge or in ignorance, whether by words or in deeds, whether in my intentions or in my thoughts, and whether by habit or through any of my senses.”
How should Christians prepare themselves?
“When you, O man, are about to eat the Body of the Master,
draw near with fear, lest you be burned: it is fire.
And before you drink the divine Blood to share in communion,
reconcile yourself with those who grieve you.
Then, with boldness, venture to eat the Mystic Food.”
What does partaking in the Eucharist do?
“Let the burning coal of Your most-holy Body and precious Blood be for the sanctification, enlightenment, and strengthening of my humble soul and body; for a relief from the burden of my many sins; for a protection from all diabolical practices; for a restraint and a check on my evil and wicked way of life; for the mortification of the passions; for the keeping of Your commandments; for an increase of Your divine grace; and for the advancement of Your kingdom.”
“… let these Holy Things be for my healing, purification, enlightenment, protection, and salvation; for sanctification of body and soul; for the averting of every delusion, wicked deed, and devilish activity working with intent in my members; for confidence and love toward You; for reformation of life and stability; for an increase of virtue and perfection; for fulfilment of the commandments; for communion with the Holy Spirit; as a provision for eternal life; and as an acceptable defence at Your dread Judgment …”
“… make me worthy to receive without condemnation Your pure, immortal, life-giving, and fearsome Mysteries, for forgiveness of sins and eternal life; for sanctification and enlightenment; for strength and healing; for health of soul and body; and for the blotting out and disappearance of my evil thoughts, intentions, and prejudices, and the nocturnal visitations of dark and evil spirits.”
“Cleanse me from all defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach me to attain perfect holiness in the fear of You, that with the testimony of a clear conscience I may receive a portion of Your Holy Things and be united with Your holy Body and Blood, and have You dwelling and remaining in me with the Father and Your Holy Spirit.”
How is the Christian united with God?
“Whoever partakes of Your divine and deifying gifts certainly is not alone, but is with You, my Christ, the Light of the Triune Sun which enlightens the world. That I may not remain alone without You, O Giver of life, my Breath, my Life, my Joy, and the Salvation of the world, I draw near to You, as You see, with tears and with a contrite spirit.”
“O Lord, You Alone are pure and incorrupt. Through the ineffable compassion of Your love for mankind, You assumed our whole nature through the pure and virgin blood of her who supernaturally conceived You by the coming of the Divine Spirit and by the will of the Eternal Father … You assumed our nature … ”
“You Who by Your glorious Ascension deified our nature which You had assumed, and honoured it by sitting at the right hand of the Father, make me worthy, through partaking of Your holy Mysteries, of a place at Your right hand among those who are saved.”
What Christians say before partaking
Immediately before partaking of communion, the entire congregation declares:
“I believe, Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Moreover, I believe that this is Your immaculate Body and that this is Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You: Have mercy on me and forgive me my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance; and make me worthy to partake of Your immaculate Mysteries without condemnation, for the remission of sins and eternal life. Amen.”
The sacred mystery of the royal coronation is a dramatic focal point in the reign of each British Monarch. Yet every Sunday, Christians come together and joyously celebrate a sublime Divine Mystery that unites them to Christ even more surely than the coronation of the Monarch.
Surely it is the privilege of every communicant of the Church to say, “I am transformed: brought into direct contact with the Divine — forever changed — bound to God.” This is what is said — and much more — in the pre-Communion prayers of the Orthodox Church.
The other day, a parishioner related to me something about her experience each week. “During Liturgy, my face looks like this,” she said, with a serious expression on her face, “but inwardly, I am doing cartwheels with joy and thanksgiving!”
- The Holy Mystery of Baptism
- The Holy Mystery of Chrismation
- Symeon the New Theologian on the Eucharist
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