by Very Rev. Dr. Yohannan Sankarathil Cor-Episcopa, New York
Holy Qurbana is the most important sacrament of the Church. Our Lord instituted this sacrament on the eve of His death and gave special instruction to continue to celebrate it. (St. Luke 22:19). He blessed the bread and said "this is my body", He blessed the wine and said "this is my blood". The apostles were asked to eat the body and drink the blood and to celebrate this in His remembrance. All the other sacraments are perfected by the Holy Qurbana.
Holy Qurbana is celebrated by the faithful in order that our Lord may continue to abide in them. Our Lord said "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life and I will raise him up, at the last day" (St. John 6:53).
There are three parts in the service.
1) Private preparation
2) Public celebration, and
3) Private post communion
1. What is the meaning of the word 'Qurbana'?
2. What are the widely accepted names for 'Holy Qurbana'?
Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion.
3. Who celebrated Holy Qurbana for the first time after Jesus Christ?
St. James, the first bishop of Jerusalem.
4. How did Jesus institute Holy Qurbana?
He took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to the disciples saying
"This is my body" and "This is my blood".
5. Who are the celebrants of the Holy Qurbana?
The whole congregation including the living and the souls with the priest or the bishop as the chief celebrant.
6. What is the role of the priest in the Holy Qurbana ?
The priest is the one called to be the symbol of the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ who is the mediator between God and the congregation.
7. What are the portions of the church building?
1. Madbaha (holy of holies),
2. Azhikkakam, where the table of Prayer (Namaskaara Mesha) is kept. The table stands for the Paradise, where a small cross and two candle stands with candles are placed on both sides of the cross. The cross represents our Lord God and the candles represent the two
Cherubims whom God had posted on the eastern side of the Garden of Eden with flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.
3. The Nave (Hykla) and
8. What was in the holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple?
The Ark of the Covenant with the sprouted rod of Aaron, golden vessel containing Manna and the two tablets on which the 10 commandments were written.
9. What do we have in the Madbaha in the place of the Ark of the Covenant?
The cross in the place of the sprouted rod of Aaron and the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the place of Manna, the gospel is placed on a separate table in the place of the 10 commandments.
10. What is the purpose of the big bell and the hand bell?
The big bell is to summon people to the church for worship and the hand-bell is to mark the important occasions of the Holy Qurbana.
11. What is the symbolic meaning of censor?
The censor is the symbol of the church and it is used to offer incense. The bottom represents the earth and the upper lid represents sky.
Four chains hold the censor. One chain represents the Father, two chains represent the Son's divinity and humanity and the fourth one represents the Holy Spirit.
Each chain has 72 links representing the 72 Evangelists and the 12 bells in the chains represent the 12 Apostles.
The charcoal represents the congregation, the sinners. As fire kindles the charcoal and sends fragrant smoke, our prayers should be sweet smelling to God and to all around.
12. How do we commemorate the life of our Lord in the Holy Qurbana?
At the beginning of the Holy Qurbana when the Madbaha is opened, we remember the birth and baptism of our Lord.
We remember the public ministry of our Lord when the epistles and gospel are read, the sermon is delivered and when the bread and wine are blessed.
At the time of the fraction we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord.
When the Holy Elements are lifted up in glory we remember the ascension of our Lord.
When the holy elements are taken to the congregation to give communion we
remember the second coming of our Lord in
13. What is Tablitha?
It is the portable altar (a piece of wood or marble 9 inches wide, 18 inches long).
It is consecrated with Holy Mooron at the time of the consecration of the church building. The patten and chalice are placed on this. Holy Qurbana can be celebrated with Tablitha even when there is no church building. Tablitha may be considered as the cross on which our Lord was put to death.
14. What is the significance of the veil?
Veil shows the hiddenness of heaven. The drawing aside of the veilmarks the opening of heaven.
15. Why is wine mixed with water?
It is to show that the divinity and humanity are joined together in our Lord. This reminds us that blood and water flowed from our Lord's side when He was pierced with a spear.
16. What is the name of the cloth used to cover the patten and chalice?
Sosaffa. When they are not covered with Sosaffa, they are covered with two pieces of cloth called Kablana.
17. What is the significance of the altar-step?
The altar-step represents the ladder to heaven.
18. How does the public celebration of the Holy Qurbana begin?
It is by opening the Madbaha and the procession around the altar and remembering the birth and baptism of our lord.
19. What does the opening of the Madbaha signify?
This signifies the opening of heaven and the manifestation of the Son through His incarnation.
20. What is the significance of the Marvahsas?
They show the presence of angels
21. Whom does the deacon represent when he stands with the lightened candle in front of the priest in the procession?
The deacon represents John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord.
22. What is the origin of the trisagion prayer?
There is a tradition that at the time of the burial of the body of Jesus, angels
came down from heaven and said the trisagion
"Holy art Thou O God,
Holy art Thou Almighty,
Holy art Thou Immortal".
Then Joseph of Arimathea and
Nichodemus and other believers joined the worship saying,
"Thou who was crucified for us, have mercy on us" .
23. What passage from the Bible is read by the deacon in the beginning of the Holy Qurbana?
It is a portion from the Acts of the Apostles or from a catholic epistle. This reminds us of the mission to the Jews.
24. What does the reading from St. Paul's epistle remind us?
This reminds us the mission to the gentiles.
25. What is the meaning of the blessing of the censor?
It is the adoration of the Holy Trinity.
26. What is meant by Orthodox?
'Orthodox' means true glory or true worship. This implies true faith.
27. What is doxology?
28. What is meant by heterodox?
This means untrue glory or untrue worship. This implies untrue faith.
29.. What is the creed?
The Nicene Creed is the declaration of our faith.
30. When was the Nicene Creed formed?
It was formed in the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and completed in the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.
31. What are the main points in the Nicene Creed?
1. Declaration of faith in the Holy Trinity
2 in the second coming of our Lord
3. in the Catholic, Apostolic, Holy and One Church
4. in the sacrament of baptism
5. in the resurrection of the departed souls, and
6. in the eternal life in the other world.
32. Why does the deacon go to the western end of the church with censor, during the recitation of the Nicene Creed?
To make sure that no non-believer is present in the church.
Our order of Holy Qurbana has got two portions, the first one is for the Catechumen and the other is for the real faithful. Catechumen are supposed to remain in the Church during the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, from the ‘Mariyam Deelethok’ when and where we remember the incarnation of our Savior and Redeemer till the blessing of the Censor, when and where we remember the Holy Baptism of our Lord and Savior.
If a Catechumen or a non-member has to attend the rest of the worship, the real Holy Eucharist service for the real faithful, he or she has to accept the Holy Baptism and confess the faith of the Holy Church. This is the teaching of our Lord, who only told that the mystery is for us and our own family members. (Rahasyam Rahasyam udayon Arulee, Rahasyamenikkum en veettukaarkkum).
When the Deacon will go to the western side, censing starts from the Altar, the presence of our Lord God. Then he censes all those who are in the sanctuary in their seniority basis. Then censes the side altars, the central portion of the Nave where all our departed faithful are supposed to remain, censes the Baptismal font, and the living faithful on both sides.
When the Deacon might cense, each and every faithful has to make the sign of cross and show him (or must make the sign of cross looking at the Deacon) It is also to show the Deacon that he or she has accepted the blessings from God Almighty.
When the Deacon would go back to the Sanctuary, he has to hold the chains of the censor tightly in his both hands as a report to the Celebrant that he has linked all the faithful in true faith and proper attention. When the Deacon enters the Sanctuary he utters ‘Staumen Kaalos” (Stand ye well) and the entire congregation replies Kurielaison. (God have mercy upon us.)
33. What is the significance of the "kiss of peace"?
It is a service of reconciliation. Our Lord has asked us to get reconciled with our brothers before offering our gifts to God.
34. What does the lifting up and waving of the Sosaffa signify?
It signifies the presence of God.
35. When do the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord?
When the priest narrates the passage telling us how our Lord blessed the bread and wine and blesses them. We do not stipulate any particular time.
36. What is 'Epiclesis'?
It is the invocation of the Holy Spirit. The priest prays three times, "answer me O Lord". When Prophet Elijah prayed thrice saying "O Lord answer me", fire came down from heaven and burned the sacrifice.
When the priest prays, the fire of the Holy Spirit comes down on the bread and wine to perfect (consubstantiation) the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord.
37. What is 'Thubdhen'?
The word means "And then" or "again". It is the beginning of each prayer in the Great Intercession.
38. How many 'Thubdhens' are there?
Six. First three are for the living and the following three are for the souls.
39. Who are all remembered in the fifth Thubdhen?
The three ecumenical synods (Nicea, Constantinople & Ephesus), and a long list of fathers who led the church in true faith.
40. How do we perform the fraction and the commixture?
The sanctuary is closed to remind us of the darkness at the time of the crucifixion.
The priest breaks the blessed bread and mixes it with the blessed wine.
This is the time when we have to crucify our old man and get resurrected with our Lord. We sing "Hearken gracious Lord we pray" at this time.
41. Before the elevation of the Holy Mysteries what does the deacon say?
The deacon exhorts the congregation to watch and pray with fear as a preparation to receive Holy Qurbana.
42. What is the significance of the elevation of the Holy Mysteries?
It is the memorial of our Lord's ascension into heaven.
43. What is communion of saints?
It is the seeking the intercession of saints and praying for the departed souls.
There are four sets of prayers connected to
1. St. Mary
2. other saints
3.the souls of the clergy and 4. the souls of the faithful.
44. After the communion of saints, the priest kneels down before the altar and prays. What is it for?
It is to make him worthy to receive Holy Qurbana.
45. What is the significance of the procession to the west with the Holy Mysteries?
It is to give communion to the congregation. This can be considered as the remembrance of our Lord's second coming in advance. The veil is drawn aside is the opening of heaven. The altar boys with lighted candles remind us of the angels and the sounds of the bells proclaim the trumpet at the second coming of our Lord.
46. What is the significance of the 'thanksgiving' prayer at the end of the Holy Qurbana?
It is a thanksgiving for the blessings we have received through Holy Qurbana.
47. What is 'Huthomo'?
'Huthomo' is a prayer of benediction. It is usually in the form of a hymn or prose related to the particular day.
48. What is the significance of the final benediction?
It is to dismiss the congregation. A request is also made to pray for the priest who celebrated Holy Qurbana.
49. How do the congregation depart?
They put their offertory and kiss the hand or hand cross of the priest.
50. What is 'post communion' service?
It is a service conducted by the priest as the end of Holy Qurbana. This is done privately behind the curtain.
51. What is the importance of the Holy Qurbana?
It is the central act of Christian worship and dynamic center for Christian life. All other sacraments are completed with Holy Qurbana.
We become one with the Lord and with one another through Holy Qubana. We receive Holy Qurbana in order that our Lord may renew His indwelling in us to help us to lead a sinless and virtuous life like Him.
A Brief Introduction to the Holy Qurbana (The Liturgy of St. James)
The Liturgy envisages a cosmic worship, involving the heavenly hosts, all of creation, and the Church constituting of all its believers, those who have departed, the living and those yet to come. The worship has, as its model, the worship of God in heaven. And to create this effect, the Church uses physical gestures, the use of incense and the beautifully embroidered altar covering and vestments of the celebrant. Along with its simplicity and brevity, this liturgy remains one of the most beautiful expressions of worship in all of Christianity.
Explanation of the Holy Qurbana
A step by step explanation of the holy qurbana
It is our central act of worship and sacrament of sacraments. It is the perfection of all other sacraments. St James, half-brother of our Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, was the first to conduct it and form a written liturgy in AD 37. Syrian Orthodox Church has a wealth of about 80 liturgies. All the liturgies are based on St James liturgy but nevertheless St James liturgy is the finest, the first and the most important of all.
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