“He was led as a sheep to slaughter—and as a pure lamb before His shearers is silent,
so He opened not His mouth—in His humiliation His judgment was taken away—Who shall declare His generation?—For His life is taken from the earth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Do you wonder what happens before your arrival for the Divine Liturgy? I recite some two dozen prayers for a start, followed by more prayers, one for each article of vestments donned by the priest, and another for the washing of hands. But then comes the glorious preparation of the Holy Gifts. Special breads and some wine are on the table of oblation, along with a spear, chalice and paten. After a profound bow to the earth, I take up one of the breads, mark it thrice with a cross sign on the seal, saying each time: “In commemoration of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Then comes the first of those awesome and humbling acts that are given by the grace of God to the priest, for nothing he has done in life can warrant that precious blessing. With the spear I make an incision into one side of the special bread prosfora] along the seal, reciting the first of the above prophecy from the book of Isaiah. I could never make myself cut the jugular vein of a real lamb, yet there am I performing what the world had done to my Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who was led as a sheep to slaughter.
Certainly it is done for the practical purpose of removing the Host as a cube from the loaf; yet it expresses something both historical and mystical. The prophet Isaiah was gifted with the insight from the Holy Spirit to recognize that the gift of the Father to humanity, His only-begotten Son, would inevitably end in His death. Israel was prepared for this inevitability by their daily slaughters of spotless lambs at their temple in Jerusalem. Nothing, however, could prepare human souls for the awesome irony of the actuality. The evangelist John described that sublime paradox: “He came to His own (Israel) and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). His life, His words, His miracles, and finally His sacrificial crucifixion were not enough to enlighten the darkened hearts of His enemies. Nevertheless: “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).
In my unworthy hands the entire process of humanity’s salvation is expressed. The Son of God is being led along the narrow path through this world of ours from Bethlehem to Egypt, thence on to Nazareth, across the Jordan River, into the wilderness, on to Galilee and throughout its regions, across the Sea of Galilee and back again, to Tyre and Sidon, Magdala, Caesarea Philippi and down through Samaria, along the coastline of the Dead Sea, Jericho, back again to Jerusalem and after several appearances, for the last time eastward, across the Kidron Valley and up to Bethany. He returned to the Father, for He said that “I came forth from the Father and I have come into the world; Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:28).
This very phrase is a divine prelude, like the overture that introduces and anticipates an opera. When the curtain is opened and public Liturgy begins, that sublime, world-changing event, the journey of the Lamb of God into, through and beyond our world is recreated in symbols by the people of God who celebrate their salvation at every altar everywhere on earth. How blessed are those who have a hand in that mystical passage—yes, and how much more blessed are those who comprehend even a portion of the expedition!