The surreal beauty of the liturgy turned immediately into surreal shock. I saw the priest raise the spoon to the pilgrim's lips and then saw the priest's face go ashen with horror. An then he was shouting something else, not angry this time, but pleading. This time, says Nick, he was begging, "Don't move, hold still."This respect and veneration of the Holy Mysteries stood out in stark contrast to some of the practices and questions raised in our previous experience in the Lutheran church. In many congregations, the Holy Communion, particularly the Blood of Christ, was given in individual glasses, sometimes plastic and disposable. But, in many places, what remained of the elements were unceremoniously washed down the drain or tossed in the trash. And there were and continue to be great debates as to "how long" and "when" the bread and wine remain the Body and Blood of Christ.
Immediately, two monks appeared at the pilgrim's sides, gripping his shoulders and hold him absolutely still, as the priest covered the chalice with the scarlet cloth and, without moving his feet, handed the chalice back through the royal doors to the deacon, who returned it to the altar. From the choirs, three other emonks arrived with lit candles, moving in slow motion, inspecting the floor, the pilgrim's clothing, his shoes.
Somehow or other, the Holy Mysteries on the end of that spoon had fallen. And this is what I beheld: for the next half hour--during which time I barely breathed -- the priest picked up every possible bit of the elements that he found on the pilgrims clothes and shoes; he picked up every stray bit of anything he fo0und on the marble floor, be it the Holy Mysteries or candle wax, lin or speck of mud, and placed it in his mouth. The pilgrim was now openly weeping; one of the monks holding him relaxed one hat to pat his shoulder. When the priest was as certain as he could be that nothing remained on the floor, the trembling pilgrim was led through the left-hand deacon's door and back to the area of the table of oblation. Another monk arrived with a glass vessel, from which the priest poured an abundance of thick liquid. He then set a lit taper to the pool, and the entire marble floor before the royal doors cam alive with blue flame. (pp. 66-7)
So, it did strike us as we headed for the Divine Liturgy that day. And we gave thanks to God for the ancient Church as we experienced through reading what Scott Cairns experienced on that Day on Mt. Athos.