The Anaphora

“And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to me…” (John 12:32)

“Let us lift up our hearts…We lift them up to the Lord.”

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty.”1

Immediately after the people of God recite their faith in the Creed, we are directed by our deacon to “stand aright!”, in preparation for our offering to God, and his offering to us. We agree with the deacon, calling this action in which we will participate “a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise,” and then the priest blesses us, saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” When we respond, “And with your spirit,” we are told, “Let us lift up our hearts!” and we agree, saying, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” We have begun the “Anaphora,” that solemn and mysterious climax of our Divine Liturgy which means, literally, “The Lifting Up!”

But what is “lifted up”? Surely, our focus is trained upon Jesus Christ, lifted up for all, so that by his death He put an end to death, and conquered over the evil one. As St. Athanasius rejoiced,

…It was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors.2

During the prayers of consecration which follow, we find ourselves back in the Upper Room (when Jesus spoke of his body and blood given for the life of the world), back in Gethsemane, and back at the cross. We also find ourselves caught up into the heavenly Temple, where the Lamb is surrounded by the whole of a thankful creation:

Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth…Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Rev 5:9–10, 12, author’s italics)

As the Hebrew version of one Psalm puts it, He is “enthroned on the praises” of his people (Psalm 22:3, Hebrew MT).3 The Holy Mysteries are lifted up in praise, so Christ is lifted up before our eyes. Together, we are drawn and enraptured by the sight of the Lord, high and lifted up, who also is among us; as we adore him, our attention, our heart, the center of our being, is also lifted up. His luminous presence brings us to give thanks, to make Eucharist (literally, “Thanksgiving”) for all that He has done, is doing, and will do for us. We are even assured that this lifting up goes beyond the heightening of our attention. Father Alexander Schmemann sums up all that is happening in this way: “The Eucharist is the anaphora, the “lifting up” of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven.”4

Our practice and prayers during the Anaphora show the faith of the Orthodox in a vivid manner. Here, at the most solemn point of our gathering, the contours of what we have received from God’s hand, going back to the very beginning of creation, come into focus. We thank our Lord for the marvelous things that He has made, though we are aware of our fallen condition; we remember his work across time and space, in Israel and in the Church, and especially in the Incarnation; we thank him for his sacrifice, knowing that He has lifted Himself to the Father as an offering on our behalf; we wonder with rejoicing at the coming of the Holy Spirit, whose presence lifts up and transforms what we think of as “the ordinary”, the bread and the wine, into gifts of God, for the people of God; and we remember all those saints who show forth the glory of God.


  1. These are the famous words of Russian envoys to Constantinople, reporting what they saw in the Eucharist there. From Povest’ vremennykh let (The Russian Primary Chronicle).

  2. The Incarnation of the Word of God, 25.5-6, (opens in a new tab)

  3. The parallel verses of the Septuagint (LXX) (Psalm 21:4) do not contain this metaphor of the Lord enthroned on our praises, but simply speak of God dwelling among the holy ones. The Hebrew version is here more concrete, reminding us of the role of the Theotokos, who in her person shows forth the nature of the Church, as she presents Christ on her lap, as if on a throne.

  4. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2018), 47.