Malankara World

Holy Qurbana, An Explanation

The Public Service

At the beginning of the public service, the veil closing the sanctuary is drawn aside, signifying the appearance of the promised Messiah. The opening of the curtain also signifies that the Heaven is opened. At this time we speak of St. Mary who brought forth the Christ and John the Baptist who baptized Him. This is a special occasion which proclaims the Birth of the Christ. The church bells start ringing, songs are sung in high pitch. The altar transforms into the manger of Bethlehem. Presence of heavenly beings is represented by the sounds made by a special fan called "Maruvahsa". The whole congregation sings a song of praise while the priest, the deacon and the servers go solemnly around the altar carrying lights and incense, and waving the fans. (These two Saints are remembered and their prayers are asked for because they were the two most intimately connected with the incarnation of the Lord, Mary who brought Him forth and John who prepared His way.)

The priest offering incense along with deacons holding candles move in a procession around the altar. The priest represents Christ, the High Priest. The deacon who leads the procession represents John the Baptist, and the other deacons represent the Apostles and Disciples of Christ.


'Holy art thou, O God!
Holy art thou, Almighty,
Hoy art thou, Immortal,
Crucified for us,
Have mercy on us.'

According to Bar Sleebi three sets of angels came down at the time of burial of Christ. They sang, the first set 'Holy art thou god', the second, 'Holy are Thou mighty', and the third 'Holy art Thou immortal' and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemose (Mark 15:43) inspired by the Holy Spirit burst forth 'Thou that was crucified for us have mercy on us'.

God is a trinity and so the number three has special significance. After the Trisagion the priest and the congregation chant kurielaison (Lord have mercy upon us) thrice.

The church has accepted this Trisagion as a prayer to be said at the beginning of every prayer.

Readings of the Scripture

In the Syrian Orthodox Church, there are three readings, one from the Acts, one from St. Paul and one from the Gospel. They are each preceded by a chant.

The first reading is done by the deacon from the northern side of the chancel, standing on the steps. It represents preaching of the gospel to the Jews.

The second reading is done form the southern side, representing preaching of the gospel to the gentiles.

The reading from the Gospel is done with great solemnity, as in all liturgies, the priest standing in the center of the sanctuary, while the servers carry lights and incense. The two lighted candles on both sides of the Gospel reading table point out that the word of God is light. The situation is made more reverberating by the sound of the bells ringing, the sound of the Maruvahsa.

Promeon and Sedro

The proemion and Sedro are the typical form of solemn prayers in the Syriac church. It first offers praise and thanksgiving for the blessing which God has bestowed on us, above all in the sacrifice of his Son, then makes petition for his grace to be given to his people. There are seven different proemions and sedros which may be used for the Qurbana.

Blessing of the Censer

The prayers for the blessing of the censer are proclamations of the faith in Trinity. The chains on the censer represent the Holy Trinity. The first chain stands for God the Father. The second and third chains represent the human and Godly nature of the son. The fourth chain represents the Holy Spirit.

The priest puts incense in the censer and grasps one of the chains and makes sign of cross over it and says: 'Holy is the Holy Father'. Grasping two more chains the priest proclaims: 'Holy is the Holy Son' and finally he grasps the last chain and says 'Holy is the Holy Spirit'.

The Nicene Creed

We believe the following:

St. Mary is described as the Mother of God and so this is a confession of faith against Nestorians

What does the priest pray privately in the kneeling position?

While the creed is being said, the priest turns to the clergy and people and asks for forgiveness and requests them to pray to the Lord to accept his oblations. The priest then kneels before the altar and beseeches the Lord for remission of sins and acceptance of his offering. The priest prays for and makes the sign of the cross with his right thumb on the altar mentioning the names of those alive and departed for whom prayers have been requested.

The deacon goes about the whole nave and returns to the altar. This signifies that:

God the Word came down from heaven and offered himself for us all

This is a sign for the un-baptized to leave

The Anaphora of the Faithful

The word 'Ana' means 'Up' and 'Phora' means 'to carry'. The Anaphora is the solemn prayer of thanksgiving which our Lord uttered at the Last Supper and the works and actions which He used when he instituted the Eucharist. The original Anaphora of the rite of Antioch is that of St. James, but there are a great many others, eighty-eight in all, which were introduced in later times. Of these about sixty-four have their authors identified, which may be used for celebration.

The Kiss of Peace

The kiss of peace is of apostolic origin (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20) and is used in every liturgy to signify the 'fellowship of the Spirit' of which the Eucharist is the outward sign. It shows the love and harmony which should exist among the followers (disciples) of Christ. By this we fulfill the word of the Lord which says, 'If thou offer thine offering and remembers that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave thine offering, and go, be reconciled with thy brother' (Mathew 5:23)

Bowing of Head

After the kiss of peace, we bow our heads. This is to express our humility and receptive mood for Gods blessings. According to Bar Sleebi, we collectively bow before Christ who sees all secrets and cleanses, lightens, and completes each one as he or she deserves.

The covering and Lifting of the Anaphora

When the Holy sacrifice is about to begin the veil is lifted form the paten and chalice and solemnly waved over the offering. The prayer which the priest says, compares the veil to the stone which covered the sepulcher (tomb) of Christ, which is now rolled away and to the rock of the desert which gave water to the people of God, signifying the water of life which Christ gives to his people in the Qurbana (2 Cor. 10:4).

Benediction given by the priest

When the celebrant turns to bless, he turns to the right side after making the sign of cross on him-self and then makes the sign of the cross on the people. The priest blesses the people three times during the Qurbana. The first blessing is using the words of St. Paul: 'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all' (2 Cor. 13:14)

The Eucharistic Prayer

The dialogue between the priest and people which follows is one of the most ancient liturgical formulas found in all liturgies at this point. The people are asked to lift up their hearts and minds to where Christ sits, at the right hand of God the Father, and then to give thanks. Then the congregation breaks with the song of the angels 'Holy, holy, holy'' (Isaiah 6: 3) and 'Blessed is He that cometh'' (Psalms 118: 26) recalling that the angels are present at this solemn moment, joining their praise to that of the church on earth.

'The people are directed to lift up their heart to heaven, to see heaven not earth, the heavenly altar not the earthly altar, the heavenly priest not the earthly priest, the heavenly Body and Blood, not the earthly bread and wine, the heavenly worshipping host, not the earthly congregation.' (Bishop Pakenham Walsh p. 36)

Celebration of the Holy Qurbana

The priest narrates that which the Lord did, and blesses the bread and wine by making the sign of the cross. Thus, they become the Body and Blood of our Lord. If we allow Him to bless us, just as the ordinary bread is changed to His Body, we ordinary men and women, our ordinary lives, are thus transformed into the vehicle of God's grace (Jn 2:9). By giving His blood, our Lord has given us everything He has. He makes our whole being His, when He blesses us.

Anamnesis or the Sacrificial Memorial

The priest and the people together recall the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ which is made present in all its saving power, while they look forward to the second coming of Christ, for which this mystery prepares them.

The spoon and cushion are lifted up and placed on the left side of the Thronos (Altar). The priest lifts them over head in his right hand quickly, signifying the second coming of the Lord on the last day, which will be like a flash of lightning. 'For just as lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be' (Matthew 24:27).

Invocation of the Holy Spirit

The consecration is followed by invocation of the Holy Spirit in which the Holy Spirit is called upon to descend upon the gifts. The mystery of the Holy sacrifice is considered to be complete and perfected by the action of the Holy Spirit. The priest waves his hands over the bread and wine with a fluttering motion, signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit. We find the deacon warning the people to stand in awe as the Holy Spirit is descending and hovering over the mysteries. The Holy Spirit is here represented by the dove, flying and hovering over (Mark 1:10). The hands signify the wings of the dove.

This is followed by the thrice repeated earnest prayers of the priest. 'Answer me, O Lord' and the people respond with a three fold, 'Kurie-elaison' meaning 'Lord have mercy'. This reminds us of the repeated prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel to send down fire from heaven upon the sacrifice - 'Hear me, Lord, hear me' (1 Kings 18:36-39). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the offering is to transform the offerings into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

Diptychs (Thubden) - The Great Intercessions

1. For the living spiritual Fathers who tend the Church
2. For the living faithful brethren
3. For the living faithful rulers

4. Intercession of the Mother of God and Saints

5. For the departed spiritual Fathers of the Church

6. For the faithful departed. The names of the departed for whom the Qurbana is said are remembered, after a silent prayer. The priest draws the sign of cross on the right rim of the paten while remembering the names of the departed.

Prayers for the Faithful Departed

The Church believes that the faithful departed are present in the Holy Mass along with the living faithful. St. Peter ascertains that the judgment is for both the living and the dead. Therefore, Jesus Christ preached the Gospel to the departed. 'That is why the Good News was preached also to the dead' (1 Peter 4:6). Thus the congregation intercedes for the remission of sins of the faithful departed, so that the Lord may make them worthy of inheriting the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus' Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection

Why is the Sanctuary closed after the above?

The veil is pulled over the sanctuary as a reminder of the time of His redemptive passion, death, burial, and resurrection, when the earth was engulfed in darkness (Luke 23:44, 24:1; Mat 28:1; John 20:1)

The Fracture and Commixture performed by the priest while the sanctuary is hidden: The breaking of the host (bread) signifies the suffering and death of our Lord. The priest breaks the bread and anoints it with the precious blood, signifying that the body and blood of Christ, which are separated in death, were reunited at resurrection. Then the host is lifted signifying our Lords resurrection.

The Seraphic Hymn (While sanctuary is hidden) 'Anpudayonae' (Hearken gracious): Hymn is based on Isaiah's vision (Isaiah Ch. 6). It describes the worship of the seraphim and our desire to draw near to our Lord.

The veil is opened at the end of the resurrection of the Lord symbolizing the appearance of our Lord to His disciples after his resurrection several times, before Pentecost.

The Lords Prayer (Mat. 5:6)

It is the family prayer of the Church, addressed to the Father in heaven by His little children. It is all inclusive, and can be used for every kind of intention. Every clause is wonderful in its combined depth and simplicity. But its very familiarity makes men repeat it hurriedly without thinking of its meaning in other words, saying it, instead of praying it. This we must avoid.

Elevation of the Holy Mysteries (Ascension of Jesus Christ)

The priest holds up the sacred mysteries, bells rings, two lighted candles on either side, and fans on either side shaken (Acts 1:10). The deacon calls to watch with fear and trembling, emphasizing the solemnity of the occasion. This commemorates the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to heaven.

Hymns of Eucharistic Devotion (Dhoopa Prarthana)

The Church commemorates the saints and seeks their intercession through these hymns. The Church venerates the memory of St. Mary, the mother of God, the patron saint of the parish or the saint whose feast is being celebrated. The congregation also intercedes for the departed clergy and the faithful departed through these hymns, based on Psalms:

"The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree'' Psalms 92:12-14

"Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness'' Psalms 132:9-10, 12

"Just as a father has compassion on his children..." Psalms 103:13, 15

Why is the sanctuary closed again?

It symbolizes that our Lord is now hidden to our bodily eyes and also the age in which the Church awaits the second coming of our Lord.

The Second Coming

The veil is then opened symbolizing the second coming of our Lord and the Day of Judgment. The priest, carrying the paten in his right hand and the chalice in his left hand, turns counter-clockwise to face the congregation to specially signify the coming of the Lord of judgment. This is in contrast to the usual clockwise turn, which is symbolic of the first coming of our Lord as the Redeemer. The priest then proceeds west in a procession which signifies the anticipated second coming.

The accompanying deacon's with lighted candles, marvahtso (fans, symbolic of the presence of angels), and bells represent the tumultuous second coming of the Lord with trumpets and accompanied by the angels. (Mathew 25: 31 - 'And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds'')

The priest returns to the altar where he sets the paten and chalice on the tablitho.

Prayers of Thanksgiving

Also known as the concluding prayers, the priest thanks the Father on behalf of the congregation for having considered us worthy of partaking in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. After the prayers of thanksgiving, the faithful are dismissed by saying 'depart ye in peace and pray for me always.'

Receiving The Qurbana by the Faithful

Different churches use different times for giving the qurbana to the faithful. In most of the Jacobite churches, the qurbana is given after end of the public service of Qurbana. In some cases, it is given at the end of "Dhoopa Prarthana" and before the second coming. In some cases, it is given in the middle of the second coming service. You should fast at least for 6 hours prior to receiving the Holy Qurbana. Also, you must confess before a priest before taking the qurbana. (Confession is mandatory if you wish to take the qurbana during Passion week (especially Monty Thursday or Pessaha.) Other times, the priest will prepare you to receive the holy mysteries by a Hoosoyo service. You must come prepared for the Hoosoyo service after proper introspection and prayers of repentance.

In Orthodox service, the bread is co-mixed with wine during the fracture and co-mixture service. This is done to show that the body and blood of Christ cannot be separated. The priest serves the bread/wine/water combination that has transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the service. This should be fully consumed right there. The deacon will provide water so you can wash any remnants of the holy mysteries into your body and so there is no danger of it being spitted out. (Some people mistake the water as substitute for the wine as the Catholic Church and many protestants serve the bread and wine separately. But, as mentioned, in orthodox tradition, the bread and wine are mixed together and served as one unit. The water is simply to wash it down from the mouth.)

Conclusion of the Holy Qurbana

The Qurbana is concluded behind the veil when the priest completes his communion. He concludes by kissing the altar three times saying: 'Farewell, O Holy and divine altar of the Lord. Henceforth, I know not whether I shall return to Thee or not.' This reminds that death is always at the door and makes us vigilant in preparing ourselves to meet the Lord whenever the call comes.

See Also:

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.

Holy Qurbana - Questions and Answers
51 questions dealing with all aspects of the Holy Qurbana are answered. Great overview of the Holy Qurbana.

Holy Communion
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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