The Anaphora

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’.

Rating: 5.0/5. From 1 vote.
Please wait...
Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

5 Replies to “The Anaphora”

  1. One of the 14 Anaphoras used in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the Anaphora of Our Lord. I think it perfectly and beautifully captures the spirit and meaning of the call to ‘Lift up your hearts’.

    It starts off with the priest asking for a blessing of grace and a gift of help for the Abune (Archbishop), it then proceeds as follows:

    Deacon: Lift up your hearts unto heaven.
    Congregation: Yes, our hearts are in heaven. For thy name’s sake strengthen us, and make us worthy, Jesus Christ our Lord and our God.

    Deacon: If there is anyone quarrelling with his neighbour, let him forgive him.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is doubt in the heart of anyone let him believe.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is blemish in the heart of anyone let him not approach.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is anyone who has fallen into sin, let him not forget it because it must not be forgotten.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is anyone who has a diseased conscience let him not approach.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is anyone who is an adulterer and impure, let him be sent out.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is anyone who is alienated from the commandments of Jesus, he shall be forbidden to come.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: If there is anyone who disdains the prophets, let him deliver himself from the wrath of the Only-Begotten and save his soul. Let him not oppose the cross, but flee from the wrath of the Lord, because there are those who look upon us, namely the Father of Light with his Son and his holy angels who visit the church. Examine yourselves and cleanse yourselves and do not mention your neighbour’s sin. Be careful that no one should maintain any hatred against his neighbour.
    Congregation: According to thy mercy, our God, and not according to our sins (thrice repeated)

    Deacon: God is looking. Lift up your hearts. Let us come near to the medicine of Life. Let us receive the holiness that is granted unto us by grace through the wisdom of the Lord.

    After this exchange between the deacon and the congregation, the Priest then himself calls for the people to “Lift up your hearts”, after “The Lord be with you…etc”

    To which the congregation responds: “We have lifted them up unto the Lord our God”

    I think the deacon-congregation exchange which precedes beautifully allows the congregation to contemplate and finally declare that they HAVE lifted up their hearts to the Lord.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  2. Great stuff Nathan , every day we learn something . It does not only lift our pure hearts to the lord but all our purified senses . Truly our lord do not want more than our pure hearts to dewell in it , amen .

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  3. why don’t Coptic priests pause for a moment (a different moment each liturgy) to explain what is going on next? May be once every other week? I heard that Fr. Bishoy Salama in Canada does that because his church is full of converts, but I think “native” copts need it even more… today I didn’t chant with the deacons the Heteniat because the sound volume was overkilling, and I am not used to be silent in the liturgy since long time ago, I travelled back when I used to listen to hitenneyat and understand nothing! To me it was a nice music that end in the rhythm: khoury moury, and I liked how they switch between north and south choruses.

    I think if the priest pauses for a second to explain, that would be a major step towards understanding practice.

    @Nathan: thanks a lot for the Ethiopian Anaphora!

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  4. A knowledgeable one! I agree with you that to make pure one’s soul it is the best way to park himself before almighty. But not about approach. Because intuition is important, not the way to pray to supernatural.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  5. Nice post which 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. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*