A little contemplation on the liturgy, with a linguistic turn…
The Anaphora in the Coptic rite is that part of the Eucharistic liturgy that begins with the priest praying the words,
“The Lord be with you all”,
to which the congregation respond,
“And with your spirit”.
The word anaphora is Greek and is derived from two roots: ano or ‘upward’ and phero meaning ‘to bear, carry or bring’. Thus we find it used in Matthew 17:1…
“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves”
So, the Anaphora is that part of the liturgy where we are enjoined to allow ourselves to be carried up to God. Note that in Matthew 17:1, it is Jesus who leads the three disciples up the mountain, in that sense ‘bringing’ them. And yet, they must walk on their own legs to actually follow Him, so in that sense, they ‘bring’ or ‘carry’ themselves. Neither is sufficient to get them up the mountain by itself. Christ will not pick them up physically and carry them if they choose not walk on their own feet, and if they walk alone without Christ they will not know where to go. So also, our lifting up of our hearts to God cannot be accomplished by our own efforts, or by the grace of God alone, but the two must act in concert, in harmony.
As part of this dialogue, the priest enjoins the people to
Lift up your hearts: ano emon tas kardias
Again, the words are Greek rather than Coptic. Looking into the Greek origins reveals layers of textured meaning that are sadly lost when translated:
ano – “upward or on the top: – above, brim, high, up” (according to Strong’s; see John 3:3 anothen ).
So the Greek word has the implication not just of height, but height to the very brim: reaching up as far as possible. So we are to lift our hearts not half heartedly, but generously, fully, all the way to the brim. This in turn is derived from:
anti – “A primary particle; opposite, that is, instead or because of (rarely in addition to): – for, in the room of. Often used in composition to denote contrast, requital, substitution, correspondence, etc.”
The implication here is that our new state must be substituted for the old state. The lifting is no mere change in position, it is a change in the very nature of the thing lifted. There must be a noticeable difference, a contrast, between our hearts before and after they are lifted up.
And of course, ‘kardias’ is the Greek for heart, from which English words like cardiac and cardiology are derived. Diseases of the heart are generally life or death matters. A malfunctioning heart means that one’s life is in peril. Even the ancients understood the link between a beating heart and life. So what we are being asked to lift up to God is not just our superficial emotions, not just words from our lips, but the very deepest things that make us who we are. Nothing is to be held back from God in this encounter. The hearts we lift up contain within them our whole lives, our very existence.
This brief exchange often flits by quickly in the liturgy, and I often wonder how many people really absorb it, really take it to heart. It is the essential introduction to the prayers that follow, so essential that as far as I can tell, it is found in virtually every Christian tradition that has a Eucharistic liturgy. It origins would seem to lie very deep in the long history of the Christian faith, very close to its origins, and for that reason alone it is to be treasured and enjoyed. But more importantly, it embodies and expresses the ‘how’ of ‘how to approach God’.