THE “FIRST PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL”
“We give thanks to You, O Lord God of Hosts, Who has made us worthy to stand even now before Your holy Altar of sacrifice and to fall down before Your compassion, for our sins (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἡμετέρων ἁμαρτημάτων), and the ignorances/ sins of ignorance of the people (καὶ τῶν τοῦ λαοῦ ἀγνοημάτων). Accept, O God, our supplication. Make us worthy to offer You prayers, supplications, and bloodless sacrifices (θυσίας ἀναιμάκτους) for all Your people. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, make us, whom You have appointed to this, Your ministry (εἰς τὴν διακονίαν σου ταύτην), free of blame…” (Priest’s “First Prayer of the Faithful,” Byzantine Divine Liturgy)
This “First Prayer of the Faithful,” read (silently) by the celebrating priest right after the Dismissal of the Catechumens, expresses both the humility and dignity of the Christian priesthood, as compared to Old-Testament, Levitic priesthood. This prayer of our Divine Liturgy calls to mind the description in Hebrews 9: 7, of the ”sacrifice” made “not without blood” by Levitic priests in the Holy of Holies of the Temple: “but into the second (tent/tabernacle) only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without blood, which he offers for himself (ὑπὲρ ἑαυτοῦ) and for the ignorances/sins of ignorance of the people (καὶ τῶν τοῦ λαοῦ ἀγνοημάτων).” Here as in the Christian priesthood, the priest did not have the excuse of ”ignorance,” as did ”the people,” for whose instruction the priest was (and continues to be, in the Church) responsible. That’s why, in the above-quoted “First Prayer of the Faithful,” our priests pray about their own sins as sins, period (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἡμετέρων ἁμαρτημάτων), while praying for those of the people as sins “of ignorance” (καὶ τῶν τοῦ λαοῦ ἀγνοημάτων). In other words, our priests, like Levitic priests, humbly accept more responsibility for their own “sins” than they place on the shoulders of their ”people.”
At the same time, differently from the Old-Testament priests, our Christian priests bring forth “bloodless” sacrifices, in offering the Gifts of bread and wine at the Eucharist, rather than the kind brought forth in the Temple, “not without blood.” Because our priests are called to a new kind of ”ministry” or “diakonia,” as it says further in this First Prayer of the Faithful (εἰς τὴν διακονίαν σου ταύτην), which is a ministry based neither on the blood of a sacrificed animal, nor on the priest’s own blood-line (as it was in the inherited, genetical line of Levitic priests, all belonging to the tribe of Levi, by blood) according to the Law. Nor is our priesthood based on any letter of the Law, as St. Paul writes: “(He) has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant (διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης), not according to the letter but the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3: 6). And this fact reminds both our priests, and the rest of us, of our New Employer, the Holy Spirit, Who is our common Giver-of-Life, not limited in His gift-giving capacities to any specific blood-line, nationality, gender, occupation, or whatever. He is open to giving to all of us, if we are open to Him. Glory be to God, the Holy Spirit. Amen!