Today, on the feast of our beloved father St. Ambrose of Milan, I think it entirely appropriate to talk about the eucharist. Let us therefore look at a passage from Isaiah (6:1-7) that is strongly associated with the Divine Liturgy and the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said:
‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.’
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
‘Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.’
Note what the angels sing at the throne of God. Orthodox Christians sing a hymn based on this (Holy God, Holy Might, Holy Immortal have mercy on us) right after the Small Entrance when the Liturgy proper begins with this prayer:
Master and Lord our God, You have established in heaven the orders and hosts of angels and archangels to minister to Your glory. Grant that the holy angels may enter with us that together we may serve and glorify Your goodness. For to You belong all glory, honor, and worship to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
With the words of the priest at the Small Entrance (Wisdom! Arise!), Orthodox Christians ascend to that same place that Isaiah finds himself in his vision. Indeed, right in the middle of the Anaphora (the prayers that surround the words of institution), Orthodox Christians sing the very same words of the angels:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!
Upon taking communion the celebrant (bishop or priest) quotes Isaiah 6:7 while kissing the cup:
Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.
Evidently, this very same verse was used as a proof text by those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit because St. Ambrose felt the need to make a counter-argument. His opponents pointed out that the source of communion was a Seraph, not the Holy Spirit. Ambrose counters with grammar. The Seraph does not say “I have touched your lips” or “I have taken away your sins.” Rather, the angel says “it.” St. Ambrose explains that this is:
that fire from the altar of God, that is, the grace of the Spirit. For what else can we piously understand to be on the altar of God but the grace of the Spirit? Certainly not the wood of the forests, nor the soot and coals. Or what is so in accordance with piety as to understand according to the mystery that it was revealed by the mouth of Isaiah that all men should be cleansed by the passion of Christ, Who as a coal according to the flesh burnt up our sins, as you read in Zechariah: ‘Is not this a brand cast forth from the fire? And that was Joshua clothed in filthy garments’ (Zech. 3:2,3).
Herein we observe the pattern seen in the Divine Liturgy:
Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.
And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. (Amen).
And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. (Amen).
Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. (Amen. Amen. Amen).
The Holy Spirit is the fire that prepares Christ the coal which is to touch our lips and burn away our sins.
Therefore, the next time you approach the Cup know that you are standing at the foot of the Throne of God, surrounded by the Cherubim and the Seraphim and you are about to be bathed in the fire of the Holy Spirit as you partake of the coal which is the Body and the Blood of Christ. Before you cower in fear, however, also know that this is exactly where God wants you to be. Amen.