August 14, 2015

The Ceremony of the Lifting of the Panagia

The term Panagia, besides being an epithet of the Virgin Mary that means "All-Holy", may also refer to the prosphoron (Greek: Aρτος της Παναγίας), the offering bread, which is solemnly blessed in honor of the Theotokos during the Divine Liturgy. From this loaf is cut a large triangle in honor of the Theotokos and placed on the diskos during the Liturgy of Preparation. The remainder of the loaf is blessed over the Altar Table during the hymn Axion Estin, just before the blessing of the antidron. The priest makes the sign of the Cross with the Panagia over the Sacred Mysteries (consecrated Body and Blood of Christ) as he says, "Great is the name of the Holy Trinity."

In some monasteries there is a special ceremony called the "Lifting of the Panagia"* which takes place in the trapeza. After the dismissal of the Liturgy, a triangular portion is cut from the prosphoron by the refectorian (the monk in charge of the refectory). The Panagia is then cut in half and laid crust downwards on a tray. The brethren will go in procession from the katholikon (main church of the monastery) to the trapeza, and the Panagia is carried on its tray at the head of the procession. Once there, the Panagia is placed on a table called the Panagiarion.

After the meal, the refectorian takes off his head covering (epanokalimavkion and kalimavkion), and bows to the assembled brethren, saying, "Bless me, holy fathers, and forgive me a sinner," to which the brotherhood bows and replies, "May God forgive and have mercy on you." Then, taking the Panagia in his fingertips, he lifts it up while saying, "Great is the name," and then the community continues with "of the Holy Trinity." The rite then continues with, "O All-holy Mother of God, help us!" with the reply, "By her prayers, O God, have mercy and save us." Two hymns are then sung while the refectorian, accompanied by a clergyman with a hand censer, offers the Panagia to those assembled. Each takes a piece between his finger and thumb, passes it through the incense, and then consumes it as a blessing.**

Origins of this Ceremony

After the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and before the dispersal of the holy Apostles for preaching, all the apostles were together; and when, after prayer, they reclined at dinner; they left a place at the head (of the table) empty, and placed at the head a portion of bread from which they partook as being Christ's portion. After dinner, when they had stood up and given thanks, they partook of the portion of bread which is called "the Lord's portion." Then they lifted this up, and said: "Glory to You, O our God, glory to You. Glory to the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Thenceforth: "Great is the name of the Holy Trinity. O Lord Jesus Christ, come to our aid." This then is how things were performed.

And each of them performed this wherever he happened to be in their missionary journeys, until the Dormition of the Theotokos. But when the clouds accomplished the worldwide gathering of the holy Apostles for the sake of the repose of the Lady Theotokos, who had reposed in majesty, on the third day after her burial they were having a commemorative meal. And after arising from dinner, and lifting up, according to custom, the portion of bread which lay in Christ's name, and saying, "Great is the name," they added, "O wonder most glorious!" The one who had died, with a cloud and light bearing angels, appeared as alive, in the air, saying: "Rejoice, for I am with you always," granting them this joy-creating event from her Son. The disciples, marveling at this wonder, instead of "O Lord Jesus Christ," cried out: "O Most-holy Theotokos, come to our aid!" Having come to her tomb and not finding her most holy body, they came to believe truly that she who had lived in the body was resurrected after three days like her Son, and she who had reposed had passed into the heavens, and reigns with Christ unto the ages of ages. Amen.

* The oldest known surviving manuscript containing the ritual of the Elevation or Lifting of the Panagia is found among the manuscripts preserved at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC.

** According to St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, this service took place daily in monasteries of his time during the ninth ode of Matins.