by Mark Host
At the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy (the sacred prayer of the consecration of the bread and wine spoken by the priest), the deacon (or priest) says the words, “Let us be attentive, that we may present the holy offering in peace.” What is this offering? As many would assume, it certainly does refer to the bread and wine that the priest offers up to God, but what has largely been lost today is the significance of those items.
In the ancient church, the wine, bread, oil, and other supplies used by the priest during the liturgy were brought to the church. Most churches had an alcove in which these offerings were left. These gifts would have included money, and practical items such as grains for the sustenance of the priest. During the Great Entrance, the deacon would bring these offerings from this alcove into the altar. As the practice of bringing such offerings to the church dwindled, the Great Entrance devolved into simply walking out in front of the iconostasis with the Chalice and discos and back to the altar. The bread, wine, and other supplies were simply purchased or prepared by the parish priest as needed. Today, instead of supplying priests with items for their sustenance, we supply them with a salary.
So there was a time when these offerings were the tithe given to the church. There was a ritual aspect in their giving, which gave them meaning far beyond the practical reality of what they supplied to the church. These were the first fruits given by the faithful back to God in grateful appreciation for all they had received. Then offered up to God, they received the Holy Eucharist in return for their faith in Him.
So why then has the Church not removed the vestigial remains of this practice? For many, it may be tempting to decry this as stubborn conservatism, but the truth is that this part of the service is not vestigial at all. For the most part we no longer bring the wine and oil, and we no longer bring them into the altar in a ritual way. In spite of this, these things remain to remind us of the sacrificial aspects of our financial contributions.
Over the time the modes have changed. Most of us are not agrarian, so our first fruits are not grain, wine, oil, or other similar products. Our first fruits are mostly monetary. We exchange our time or labor for money, so our first fruits look a little more like leaves. This does not change their purpose in the Divine Liturgy. They are the same sacrificial offering, made to God in Eucharistic thanksgiving.
So when the deacon prays that we present the holy offering in peace, let us all remember that the holy offering we give in contemporary times has taken on a different form, but it is still the same thanksgiving to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us.
Some questions for reflection – please feel free to use the ‘comment’ section to share with all of our readers what your parish practices are:
o What is our parish’s practice in receiving the offerings of the faithful?’
o What does it look like in my church?
o How might it be improved?
o When we come to the church, do we actually believe that we have something to offer to God?
o Do we believe that the offering we make is done in genuine thanksgiving for His blessings, and towards our sanctification? Or do we think that the check is simply a means to a worldly end?
Mark Host is a member of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH. He works in IT, teaches college English on the side, and is planning to return to school in 2017 to pursue his PhD.