When the Lord commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle of the Covenant and put Aaron as high priest over Israel, the Lord ordered Aaron and all his priests descendants to give special God’s blessing, which is: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:24-27). What is this triple blessing and is it preserved in the Christ’s Church, the successor of the Old Testament Church?
This is a special priest blessing, which is also called the “Aaron’s Blessing” and its strength lies in the triple invocation of the Holy Name of God to the people. It can be assumed that before the practice of banning the pronunciation of the Name of God (except from once a year at the service in the adytum of the Temple by the High Priest) became widespread, the priests of the Aaron clan had pronounced the Name of God itself, and did this three times.
In the Old Testament temple’s service, the follow-on priests pronounced the blessing after each morning sacrifice. During this action, according to the rules, the priest turned his face to the people and raised his hands for blessing, while the people bowed their heads and had no right to look at the blessing priest at that time. The Christian tradition of bowing the head when the bishop or presbyter blesses the people is based on this Old Testament rite. It can even be assumed that the Aaron’s blessing has in itself a kind of prophetic anticipation of the Christian Revelation about God, having three divine persons Who share one essence. Is it true?
Eventually, the church separated from the divine service performed in the Hebrew Temple, and separated from Judaism, for having found the Messiah, it no longer needed the Old Testament divine service and rites. However, despite the obvious gap, the Church, to some extent, preserved many traditions of the ancient cult, as it was now the only legitimate heir and successor of Ancient Israel and its promises. The Aaron’s blessing has also been preserved in the Church, which has acquired its special form in various liturgical rites. We are interested in the Byzantine rite, because it is the main rite of the Orthodox Church. How does the Aaron’s blessing sound in our Church? Each of the Orthodox heard it and received this blessing, attending the main sacrament – the Holy Eucharist, which is also performed in the morning. Before performing Anaphora, the main part of the Liturgy, the bishop or priest turns to people and gives peace with the words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). As you can see, the priest invokes thrice the Name of the Most Holy Trinity on the faithful, bestowing Grace from the Son, the love of the Father, and communion to the Holy Spirit, while performing a sign of the cross over the Christians with their heads bowed.
Why is this important to us? To understand what is happening at the Divine Liturgy, who we are, what we are called for, and Who is our God, it is very important for us to know the history of our service, to know its roots and its meaning. The origins of our service lead us to the very Temple of Solomon and the Tabernacle of the Covenant. By better understanding what is happening with us in the church, we can participate more fully and deeply in the life of the Church, have our ‘doxa’ (Greek – opinion) on worshipping to the Creator ‘orthos’ (Greek – right) and be who we are called for to be: “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).