His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Homily at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
March 31, 2021
Beloved and Faithful Christians,
Even within this most contrite Liturgy of our Holy Church, I must express my deep joy to be with all of you, the Greek Orthodox community of Nashville.
I have come to Nashville for this first time to observe commemorations of the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution at both the State Capitol and at the extraordinary replica of the Parthenon. I was deeply moved to be invited by your governmental officials and to also have Ambassador Papadopoulou of the Hellenic Republic with us as well.
The fact that the State of Tennessee and the City of Nashville are desirous to observe the Greek Bicentennial should be a cause of great pride for all of us. It is a sign of their appreciation and valuation of the wellspring of Western Civilization.
But we know there is more. There is the conjunction of all that Greece represents, with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that shone forth from the Holy Land. This is the essence of our Orthodox Christian Faith.
Thus, my beloved Christians, we find ourselves on this Wednesday evening gathered in this beautiful Church – which is clearly modeled on Agio Sosti in Athens – to feed and nourish ourselves in the midst of the Holy Fast.
It is one of the great liturgical paradoxes of Great Lent. We are encouraged to fast, to restrain and to practice continence as regards the body. And yet, the Church never forgets to make sure we are supplied with the Bread of Heaven.
The Pre-Sanctified Liturgy – which is really a Vespers with the Distribution of Holy Communion – is at the forefront of our Lenten Services. Along with the Salutations to the Holy Virgin, it constitutes a necessary element in our preparation to receive the Holy Pascha of our Lord.
In a time of fasting and a degree of deprivation, we are more urgent in our coming to the Holy Table. And why? Because as our physical strength wanes, we need to be more spiritually fortified.
And this is why Holy Communion is distributed through the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. So that we would not be deprived of our source of spiritual strength.
And because this is a Vespers – the beginning of the liturgical day (for as Scripture says, “And the evening and the morning were the first day[*]) – we read from the Old Testament. Like the shadows of night that come before the dawn, the Old precedes the New.
As you listen to these Scriptures, which are read in a very specific order, there is always something that you can take away, to edify yourselves.
Tonight, we read of all the creatures that went two by two into the ark of Noah. They were clean and unclean, but they were all included.
The ark of Noah is an image of the Church, which encompasses all who enter into Her protection – whether they are clean or unclean, saintly or sinful.
Indeed, my dear Christians, we are all in the same boat, as the expression in English so wisely points out. There is room for everyone in the Ark of Salvation, which is the Holy Orthodox Church.
And I hope that is where your hearts are – in a place that is welcoming to others, even if you think they are unfit to be on the journey of this Ark.
For to be faithful to our Orthodox Faith means to be faithful to the Source of the Faith, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is “the bread of God, Who descends from heaven, granting life to the world.” [†] He is with us tonight in the Pre-Sanctified Gifts that are offered for the benefit of our souls and bodies. And He is the One Who welcomes all manner of creatures into the Ark of Salvation, like Noah did of old.
Therefore, even as you strengthen your souls on this journey of Holy Lent, I ask you to open your hearts to one another in the fullness of Christ’s love. Allow His love to overflow within you. The Ark of Salvation sails on the waves of this love.
Together with one another, safely within the Ship of the Holy Church, we shall arrive at our destination – in this life, at the Holy Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and in the next life, at the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Καλή Σαρακοστή, και Καλό Πάσχα.