The Eucharistic canon is the heart of the Divine Liturgy because it is during this moment in the service the bread and wine become the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This part of the Liturgy is also called the anaphora, which means the lifting-up or the elevation. Let us take a look at the first prayer of the anaphora.
In the altar the priest reads the following words which conclude the introductory part of the anaphora (known as Praefatio in Latin): “though there stand before Thee thousands of archangels and ten thousands of angels, the cherubim and seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, borne aloft on their wings.” With these words comes the indication for the next part of the anaphora also referred to as sanctus (“Holy” in Latin) and implies that this part is no longer an earthly matter but rather that of the Heavens with an angelic undertone. If the first part of the anaphora implies people praying on earth and showing their thanksgiving through prayer, then this part elevates the prayer into the angelic realm where the angels also participate in the eucharistic thanksgiving. Through this we see an indivisible unity between the church on earth on the Heavenly church.
The priest exclaims: “Singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying”, while at the same time making the sign of the cross with the star over the diskos and the prepared Lamb (this signifies that the Angles are glorifying Christ who has suffered and died on the Cross for all mankind). The star is then placed on the side on the antimension. It is interesting to note that during this part of the anaphora and the last words of the previous eucharistic prayer there is a four part structure to the prayers.
For example, the priest says “six-winged, many-eyed, borne aloft on their wings”. In the next part, we hear that the angelic forces are singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying (the victory song of Christ over the devil, sin and death). It all has an important meaning. The fact is that in the Old Testament and New Testament several saints (Prophets Isaiah Ezekiel and Apostle John the Theologian) saw the heavenly world, in which there are certain mysterious angels appearing in the form of a man, a lion, a calf and an eagle. The saints actually saw them. These Angels are often portrayed as symbols of the evangelists. An angel in human form – the holy apostle and evangelist Matthew (symbol of the connection of the Old and New Testaments, the symbol of the messiahship of our Lord Jesus Christ); the lion – the holy apostle and evangelist Mark (symbol of royalty, the Divine nature of the Savior); calf – the holy apostle and evangelist Luke (symbol of Christ’s atoning sacrifice); eagle – the holy apostle and evangelist John the Theologian (symbol of the ascended spiritual state, heavenliness, the divinity of the Savior’s teachings).
Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel along with Apostle John the Theologian have seen these angel-like creatures, as we see from their writings in the canonical books of the Old and New Testament:
«Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.» (Ezekiel 1:1–10).
«Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”» (Revelation 4:5–8).
Prophet Isaiah also speaks of the Angels glorifying the Lord in their songs: «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!”» (Isaiah 6:1–3).
After the priest says the words of the «Triumphant Hymn…» the choir responds with: «Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!». It is as if people are glorifying God following the angelic example. And we believe that at this moment the Angels truly sing together with us.
This is exactly why this part of the eucharistic canon is referred to as Sanctus or “Holy”. This part ends with the words “Hosanna (save us or save us Lord) in the highest!”(as one from the Heavens, from God), blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord”. These were the words people exclaimed when they greeted Christ as he entered into Jerusalem.
This connection within one prayer “Holy…and Hosanna” demonstrates an unbreakable bond between the Old and New Testaments as well as the Heavenly angelic church and the church of mankind on earth.