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Qurbana - A devotional study and Explanations

The priest behind the veil - preparation (Thooyobo) The congregation, meditating on the prophesies and annunciation of Gabriel.

Opening of the veil - we remember the birth and baptism. Reading the Epistles and Gospel invites the congregation to meditate on the ministry of our Lord.

We remember the institution of the Sacrament when bread and wine are consecrated,

Again, behind the veil, the priest breaks the Body and mingles it with the Blood. The congregation commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The opening of the veil - typifies the opening of Heaven by the Holy Sacrifice of our Lord on the cross.

Elevation of the Holy Elements shows the Ascension. (When all these related to the ministry of Our Lord, the celebrant communicates.)

Procession with the Holy Elements shows the second coming of our Lord. To a contemplating and meditating person the priest's begging for pardon thrice - 1.Before the preparation 2. before beginning of Liturgy and 3.before the priest's communicating - are all thought provoking.

The Holy Qurbana is the central act of worship. A perfect worship includes - adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and dedication.

The Holy of the Holies - Madbaha - Thronos - Throne - Altar. Madbaha shows Ammanuel: Tree of Life (St. Dionysius) - The tomb our Lord (St. John Chrvsostam). other Holy Fathers compare it to Golgotha, Heaven, Paradise.

The leavened bread should be prepared in the morning of each day of Qurbana. Like the Manna. Renew ourselves every day.

The Incense - it is compared to John the Baptist by some. Censor shows the Mother of God and the live coals as our Lord.

The Incense begins from the Madbaha and ends there - the Word came down and offered Himself as incense for us and purified us and returned to the Father. Mar Serveius says - incense represents pure prayer.

Only one Qurbana on the same Thronos, each day - because thronos is the Tomb of the Lord. He was entombed only once.

We receive holy Communion with fasting - The first Fall has been by avarice. By fasting we overcome the belly and receive our Lord, the Bread of Life.

The bread and wine are covered by Susepho before Qurbana; which shows our Lord in the manger  wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

When the creed is recited, the priest washes the tip of his fingers - The congregation should wash themselves from all temporal thoughts. By this, the priest shows that his conscience is clear before God, and also he is free from mortal sins.

The priest kneels and prays - remembering before God the Holy Mother of God, all Saints and all the departed and the whole congregation especially those who have asked for prayers.

The Kiss of peace - we are expected to have perfect peace. When we are reconciled to one another, God is reconciled with us - mutual enmity vanishes - reminds us of our Lord's word in the Sermon on the Mount.

The unveiling of the Susepho - At first the bread and wine are covered by it. Shows the invisible state of God - the stone placed at the tomb of our Lord. He was invisible in the Old Testament sacrifices. It is opened - He who was invisible has become visible - The stone at the tomb rolled away by the Angel - Ammanuel  who has been invisible in the O. T. sacrifices, revealed Himself to the believers.

"Our thoughts etc..." Be cleaned from earthly passions and meditate upon the heavenly.

"Let us..." because the hidden mysteries are revealed to us - The angels stand in awe around the mysteries - Our Lord made us worthy for this incomparable gift.

Consecration and descent of the Holy Ghost explained earlier.

The 6 intercessory prayers - The first three for those who are alive - the Hierarchy, priestly orders, the laity and those who are in temporal authority , the fourth remembering the Holy Mother of god and the Saints, the fifth the Holy Teachers and fathers of the Church and the sixth for the departed.

"The Holy - given to Holy..." The response asserts that God alone is holy. We are holy since the Father, son and the Holy Ghost are "with us" - the mysteries are given to those who are pure at heart, by priests who are pure at heart.

We are made holy by our state as children of God.

The elevation - the Ascension of our Lord.

The veil is drawn - Our Lord has entered into His glory.

The procession after unveiling - the second coming.

Holy Qurbana or the "Holy Offering" or "Holy Sacrifice", refers to the Eucharist as celebrated according to the Syriac Orthodox Church traditions.

Holy Qurbana - An explanation

The Public Service

The curtain covering the sanctuary is drawn aside,signifying the arrival of the promised Messiah.It also signifies the opening of heaven. This special occasion proclaims the Birth of the Christ, and the altar at this time represents the manger of Bethlehem.

Presence of heavenly beings is represented by the sounds made by  "Maruvahsa".(A special fan like instrument mounted on a pole.)

The entire congregation joins in a song of praise while the priest offering incense and the deacons holding candles goes around the altar in a procession, waving the "Maruvahsa".

(The two Saints Mary and John are remembered, and their prayers requested for as they were the ones who were intimately connected with the incarnation of the Lord, Mary who brought Him forth and John who prepared His way.)

The priest represents Christ who is 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 groups of angels came down at the time of burial of Christ.While the first group sang 'Holy art thou God', the other two groups sang 'Holy are Thou mighty', and'Holy art Thou immortal' and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (Mark 15:43) inspired by the Holy Spirit burst forth 'Thou that was crucified for us, have mercy on us'.

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

The church adopted this Trisagion to be said as a prayer at the beginning of each prayer.

Readings of the Scripture
There are three readings in the Syrian Orthodox Church,one each from the Acts of the, Apostles,from Epistles of St. Paul and from the Gospel.Each reading is preceded by a chant.The first reading by a deacon standing on the steps from the northern side of the chancel, It represents preaching of the gospel to the Jews.The second reading  form the southern side, represents the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles.

The reading from the Gospel the priest standing in the centre of the sanctuary,is done with great solemnity, with the deacons carrying 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 occasion is made more solemn by the ringing bells ,the and sound of the Maruvahsa.

Promeon and Sedro

The proemion and Sedro are solemn prayers unique to the Syriac Orthodox church. While offering praise and thanksgiving for the blessing God has bestowed on us,through the sacrifice of his Son. A petition is then made for God's grace be given to his people.

There are seven different proemions and sedros that may be used for the Qurbana.

Blessing of the Censer

The blessing of the censer is a proclamations of the faith in Holy Trinity. The chains on the censer represent the Holy Trinity.

The first chain represents 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 adds incense to the censer and grasps the first chain and makes the sign of the cross over it and says: 'Holy is the Holy Father'. Grasping two more chains he proclaims: 'Holy is the Holy Son', and finally he grasps the last chain and says 'Holy is the Holy Spirit'.

The Nicene Creed

By reciting the Nicene creed We assert that we believe:

In the one True God, the Father Almighty
In the one Lord Jesus Christ who took birth for the salvation of humanity
In the one living Holy Spirit
In the One Holy, Catholic (universal) and Apostolic Church
We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins
In the Resurrection of the dead and In the new life in the world to come
St. Mary is described as the Mother of God.

While the creed is being said, the priest turns to the other clergy present and congregation seeking forgiveness and requesting them to pray for the Lord to accept his oblations.He then kneels down before the altar and entreat the Lord for remission of sins and acceptance of his offering.He prays and makes the sign of the cross on the altar with his right thumb mentioning the names,including departed souls, for whom prayers have been requested.

The deacon with the censer goes about the whole nave and returns to the altar, 
Signifying that God the Word came down from heaven and offered himself for all of us.

This is also a sign for the non-baptised 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 many others, eighty-eight in all, which were introduced at a later period. Out Of this, the authors of only sixty-four have been identified. 

The Kiss of Peace

The kiss of peace is of apostolic origin (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20) and signifies the 
'fellowship of the Spirit'in the liturgy  of which the Eucharist is the outward sign. It reminds us about the love and harmony that should exist among the followers (disciples) of Christ, and thereby fulfil the word of the Lord which says, 'If thou offer thine offering and remembers that thy brother hath faught against thee; leave thine offering, and go, be reconciled with thy brother' (Mathew 5:23)

Bowing of Head

We bow our heads before the Lord to express our humility after the kiss of peace, and get ready to receive Gods blessings. According to Bar Sleebi, we bow before Jesus Christ who knows all our secrets and cleanses us and makes us complete as each one deserves.

The covering and Lifting of the Anaphora

The veil covering the patten and chalice is lifted and waved solemnly over the offering. The priest says a prayer comparing the veil to the stone which covered the tomb of Jesus, that was rolled away and also to the rock in the desert which gave water to the people of Isreal, as a sign or indication of the water of life which Christ gives to his people during the Holy Qurbana (2 Cor. 10:4).

Benediction given by the priest

The priest turns to the right side after making the sign of the cross on him-self and then on the congregation. The priest blesses the people three times during the Qurbana. He blesses by 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 following prayer by the priest and people which follows, is one of the most ancient of all liturgies. The congregation is asked to give thanks and lift their hearts and minds to the seat of Jesus which is near the right hand of God the Father.

The congregation then worships with the song of the angels 'Holy, holy, holy'' (Isaiah 6: 3) and 'Blessed is He that commeth'' (Psalms 118: 26) reminding us that the angels are present and joins the church on earth with their praise at this solemn moment.

The congregation is directed to lift their heart to heaven, in order to see heaven, the heavenly altar, the heavenly priest the heavenly Body and Blood, the heavenly worshipping host and not anything earthly. 

Celebration of the Holy Qurbana

The priest blesses the bread and wine by narrating that which the Lord did, and making the sign of the cross. They then become the Body and Blood of our Lord. By allowing Him to bless us,our ordinary lives, are also transformed into the vehicle of God's grace (Jn 2:9) just as the ordinary bread is changed to His Body.By giving His blood, our Lord has given us everything He has. When He blesses us, He makes our whole being His.

Anamnesis or the Sacrificial Memorial

The priest and the entire congregation recalls the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus which is present in its entire saving power, This mystery prepares them to look forward to the second coming of Christ. 

The priest lifts the spoon and cushion over his head with his right hand and quickly places them on the left side of the Altar.This signifies the second coming of the Lord on the last day, which will be like a flash of lightning.(Matthew 24:27).

Invocation of the Holy Spirit

The consecration of the bread and wine is followed by invocation of the Holy Spirit. Here the Holy Spirit is called upon to descend upon the gifts. The mystery of the Holy sacrifice is considered to be perfected and completed by the action of the Holy Spirit. The priest waves his hands over the bread and wine, signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit. The deacon warns the congregation to stand in awe as the Holy  spirit is descending and hovering over the mysteries. The Holy Spirit here is represented by the dove, flying and hovering over (Mark 1:10). The hands signify the wings of the dove.

The priest then repeats the following prayer three times. 'Answer me, O Lord' to which the congregation responds by saying, 'Kurielaison' meaning 'Lord have mercy' three times. This is to 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 descending of the Holy Spirit upon the offering transforms the offerings into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus.

Diptychs (Thubden) or The prayers of Intercessions for:-

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

St. Mary, The Most revered saint of the church

John the Baptist, The forerunner of Christ (Feast on 7th of January)

St. Stephen, Known as the head of deacons was the first martyr of the Church who was stoned to death.At the time of his death, he saw the heavens opened and the Son of God standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). The church commemorated his memory through the feast held on the 8th. of January.

St. Peter, Was called to tend the Church by Lord Jesus Christ and is thus known as the chief of the Apostles. He is the foundation of the One Apostolic and Catholic (Universal) Church and was the first Patriarch of the Church of Antioch (Mathew 16:17). He was publicly crucified by the Emperor of Rome. He was nailed to the cross with his head downward, at his own request, symbolically kissing the feet of His Lord (Pollock, 1985).

St. Paul, The greatest evangelist of the church was Originally a persecutor of the Church, he was transformed into a most eloquent leader of the early church. He was born at Tarsus and was known as Saul before his transformation. He was condemned to death by the Roman Senate and was beheaded on the same day that St. Peter was crucified. His memory is commemorated by the Church on the 29th. of June along with that of St. Peter.

St. Thomas,is believed that He arrived in Malankara (Kerala) during A.D. 52. He is believed to have performed several miracles and installed seven crosses in different parts of Kerala. He was martyred at Mylapore, near Madras, India in A.D. 72. His mortal remains were later transferred to Uraha (Edessa) in A.D. 394. The feast of St. Thomas is celebrated on July 3rd.

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 the cross on the right rim of the paten while remembering the names of the departed.

Prayers for the Faithful Departed

The Church believes that our departed ones are present along with the living faithful during the Holy Qurbana. St. Peter asserts that Jesus Christ preached the Gospel to the departed and that the judgement is for both the living and the dead. '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 to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus' Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection

The curtain is pulled over the sanctuary to remind us of the time of His Passion, death, burial, and resurrection and that the earth was engulfed in darkness (Luke 23:44, 24:1; Mat 28:1; John 20:1)

The Fracture and Co mixture of bread and wine is performed by the priest while the sanctuary is hidden from the congregation. The breaking of the bread signifies the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus. The priest breaks the bread and anoints it with wine, signifying that the body and blood of Jesus, which were separated in death, were reunited at the time of the resurrection. Then the host is lifted signifying the resurrection of our Lord. The Hymn 'Anpudayonae' is sung by the congregation.

The curtain is now opened to symbolize 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 children. It is all inclusive and is used during every prayer. Each clause is wonderful due to its depth and simplicity. Unfortunately, most of the time,its familiarity makes us recite it without ever thinking or understanding its true meaning. 

Elevation of the Holy Mysteries (Ascension of Jesus Christ)

To commemorate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to heaven,The bells rings while the priest lifts up the chalice and paten with two lighted candles on either side.The Maruvahsas on either side are shaken (Acts 1:10).The deacon entreats the congregation to watch with fear and trembling, in order to emphasize the solemnity of the occasion. 

Dhoopa Prarthana - Hymns of Eucharistic Devotion

Through these hymns, the Church while remembering the saints, seeks their intercession . 
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.

The sanctuary is closed again to symbolizes that our Lord is at present hidden to human eyes and also the time in which the Church awaits the second coming of our Lord Jesus.

The Second Coming

The veil is then opened to symbolize the second coming of our Lord Jesus and the Day of Judgement. The priest, carrying the paten  and the chalice in his right and left hand, turns counter-clockwise to face the congregation to specially signify the coming of the Lord to judge. This is in contrast to the usual clockwise turn, which is symbolic of the first coming of our Lord as our Redeemer. The priest then moves forward in a procession to signify the second coming.

The deacons accompanying with lighted candles, Maruvahsa (symbolic of the presence of angels), and bells to 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 worlds.The priest then returns to the altar and places the paten and chalice back on the tablitho.

Thanksgiving prayer

This is also known as the concluding prayer,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 congregation is dismissed by saying the words 'depart ye in peace and pray for me always.
Receiving Qurbana (Communion) by the Faithful

The time for giving the Qurbana to the faithful varies from church to church although in most of the Jacobite churches, the Qurbana is given after end of the public service of Qurbana. Sometimes it is given  at the end of "Dhoopa Prarthana". In some churches it is given during the middle of the second coming service. 

We should fast at least for 6 hours before receiving the Holy Qurbana. Before taking the Qurbana, one must confess before a priest.(Confession is mandatory if one wishes to take the Qurbana during Passion week (especially Monty Thursday or Pessaha.) on other occasions the priest will prepares the person to receive the holy communion by a Hoosoyo service. 

The person must come prepared for the Hoosoyo service only after proper introspection and prayers of repentance.

The bread is co-mixed with wine during the fracture and co-mixture service,to show that the body and blood of Christ cannot be separated. The priest administers the bread/ wine/ water combination that is transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the service. 

This should be consumed fully immediately. A deacon will provide water so as to wash down the remnants of the holy mysteries  and avoid the danger of it being spit out. (Some people mistake the water as a substitute for the wine as the Catholic Church, and many Protestants serve the bread and wine separately. But according to orthodox tradition, the bread and wine are mixed together and served as one unit. The water is only to wash it down from the mouth.)

Conclusion of the Holy Qurbana

The Qurbana is completed behind the curtain when the priest takes 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.Reminding that death is always near and be vigilant in preparing ourselves to meet the Lord at any time.of his coming.

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