The Epiclesis /Part one: The Difference between Eastern and Western Liturgy/

21 November 2018

Part one: The Difference between Eastern and Western Liturgy, the Question of Epiclesis

Part two: The Holy Spirit and the Epiclesis

Part three: How to experience the Epiclesis in the Liturgy

Part four: Liturgical Space and Iconostasis

Part one: The Difference between Eastern and Western Liturgy, the Question of Epiclesis

The Eastern Liturgy of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom (4th century) contains the Epiclesis. The Epiclesis is also found in other Eastern rites. It comes directly from the Apostolic Tradition.

What is the difference between Eastern and Western Liturgy? The Western Liturgy was radically modified at the Second Vatican Council. The reform introduced four Canons instead of one. The pre-conciliar Latin Liturgy had no mention of the Holy Spirit in the Canon. The reformed conciliar Liturgy does make mention of the Holy Spirit but it has been inserted before the words of Institution. Unlike the Latin Liturgy, the Eastern Liturgy includes a so-called intense invocation of the Holy Spirit, or the Epiclesis, after the words of Institution.

Vatican II liturgists had the courage to take radical steps – they turned the altar to face the people and in many places removed the tabernacle from the centre of the temple. Why did they not venture to adopt the Eastern Epiclesis into the Canon of the Latin Liturgy? They only introduced the above-mentioned prayer to the Holy Spirit before the words of Institution, but not in the form of the Epiclesis after them. The Epiclesis was subject to liturgical disputes for centuries. But without result. The West influenced by scholastic philosophy presented so-called logical arguments against the Epiclesis. They argued that it seemed as if there were two Consecrations, which they regarded as nonsense. The problem was that both the East and the West had their own point of view. The Epiclesis is not another Consecration. First, it is a mystery of faith, and second, it is to emphasize that the sacraments, and especially the Liturgy, are the action of both the word and the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of the Eastern Liturgy. Both the Western and Eastern Liturgy make present the bloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The Holy Spirit plays an extremely powerful role in the Eastern Liturgy. One can say, according to the Eastern theologians, that it is an ever-new Pentecost. An intense invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) does not only apply to the bread and wine consecrated by the words of Christ, but to the whole Mystical Body of Christ – the Church.

The main difference between the East and the West lies in the culminating moment – the Transubstantiation (Consecration) – when through the words of the priest, the substance of the bread and wine changes into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Latin Liturgy pinpoints that this moment occurs at the words of Christ which were spoken at the Last Supper. In the Eastern Liturgy, these words are considered to be just the words of Institution, not the words of Consecration, and the culminating moment of the Consecration is pinpointed to occur at the Epiclesis, after the words of Institution and Anamnesis. In the Epiclesis, the Holy Spirit makes real the words of Christ by which He instituted the essence of the Liturgy. The Incarnation of the Word of God – Jesus – the Second Divine Person – happened through the Holy Spirit in response to Mary’s fiat. Similarly, through the priest’s words uttered in the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit can make present Christ’s sacrifice of the cross on the altar.

After the words of Institution and the Anamnesis, the priest prays intensely to the Holy Spirit to come down not only on the blessed gifts but also on the priest himself and on the people present, i.e. the Church: “Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here present.” These are the opening words of the Epiclesis which, to a certain extent, has the character of new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. During the Epiclesis, the people pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit “upon us” (the faithful present) as well as upon the gifts, and sing an antiphon of praise and petition: “We praise You, we bless You…”. Some Eastern priests kneel during the intense invocation of the Holy Spirit, and there is a practice in some monasteries that a hieromonk lies prostrate during the singing of the antiphon. The singing is to dispose the priest and the believers to composure of heart and a personal invocation of the Holy Spirit. Then the priest says the words over the blessed bread: “And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.” (Amen.) And then: “And that which is in this chalice the precious Blood of Your Christ.” He concludes the Epiclesis by saying: “Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.” These concluding words refer again to both the blessed gifts and the faithful. The faithful receive the Holy Spirit more and more deeply in stages.

As for the Consecration of the gifts, the words “Changing them by Your Holy Spirit” are connected with the words of the Epiclesis over the blessed gifts. The words of Consecration in the Epiclesis and the participation of the Holy Spirit can be interconnected as follows: And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ” “(Changing them) by Your Holy Spirit”. The same is true for the words over the chalice: And that which is in this chalice the precious Blood of Your Christ” “(Changing them) by Your Holy Spirit”. The priest prays to God, asking Him to make the change (Consecration or Transubstantiation) by His almighty power, and asking the Holy Spirit to actualize this mystery.

A Western theologian or liturgist probably looks at the Epiclesis uncomprehendingly.

Brief summary: On Thursday evening, Jesus instituted the Eucharist through His words which are recorded in three Gospels. After the Last Supper, Jesus and the Apostles went to Gethsemane, where He prayed. He was arrested and brought to trial leading to His death. Then He was brought before Annas, Caiaphas and Pilate. He is unjustly condemned, carries His cross to Calvary, is crucified, and after a three-hour struggle and intense suffering accomplishes the work of our salvation by His redemptive death.

The Eastern Liturgy makes a difference between the words of Institution uttered at the Last Supper and the Epiclesis in which the Holy Spirit makes present the accomplished redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The words of Institution and the Epiclesis are linked by the Anamnesis (remembrance). The Anamnesis calls to mind the main events of the redemptive work of Christ – the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day… After the Anamnesis, the priest lifts up the chalice and discos with the blessed gifts and says (singing): “Your own of Your own, we offer to You, on behalf of all and for all.” After these words comes the Epiclesis, i.e. the intense prayer for the Holy Spirit to come down upon us and upon these gifts here present. The concluding words of the Epiclesis: “Changing them by Your Holy Spirit” also refer to the faithful present – the Mystical Body of Christ. The Epiclesis is ended with the triple “Amen”. This “Amen” is meant for both the consecrated gifts and the people who have received the fullness of the Holy Spirit anew. In the end, Christ, present under the species of bread and wine, is honoured with incense. Then the priest turns and incenses the faithful. He thus symbolically emphasizes the presence of the Holy Spirit in them before they receive Christ in Holy Communion at the end of the Liturgy. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

Conclusion: Let us point out that Saints Cyril and Methodius translated this Liturgy from Greek into Old Slavonic. The Orthodox Church has celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Old Slavonic like Saints Cyril and Methodius until the present time. This Old Slavonic Liturgy was also confirmed in Rome, where it was solemnly celebrated by the two Apostles of the Slavs in Santa Maria Maggiore. At that time, they also brought the relics of Pope St Clement, the disciple and successor of the Apostle Peter, from Chersonesus in the Crimea.

Furthermore, let us point out that the Apostles in Jerusalem, as follows from the Scriptures (Acts 2:42), “broke bread” – celebrated the Liturgy – only after the descent of the Holy Spirit, not before. The Epiclesis was an essential reality for them. They said the words of the Lord – the words of Institution – and then asked the Holy Spirit to make these words real. The Eastern Liturgy, adapted by St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom, is the continuation of the Apostolic Tradition.

In the Latin Church, the Eastern Liturgy can be publicly celebrated only by the priests who have the local Bishop’s permission for biritualism.


+ Elijah

Patriarch of the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate

+ Methodius OSBMr                                    + Timothy OSBMr

Secretary Bishops


Download: The Epiclesis /Part one: The Difference between Eastern and Western Liturgy/ (21/11/2018)

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Word of Life

“Now he who keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

1Jn 3:24 (14/7/2019 – 28/7/2019)