The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Our devout & pious Forefathers contemplating the Strict Obligation of the holy & great Lent; instituted & established by the express Command of the Apostolic Laws; were apprehensive that even the celebration of the ever blessed Eucharist might be in some sort a violation of the strictness of the Fast; in as much as this is the festive Rite. Wherefore, that they might accommodate all things; preserve the Fast entire & yet the Food of Life not be witheld from pious Souls:…dureing the Lent… the preconsecrated Body & Blood should be administered in the Evening Service after the IX (ie three o’clock) when it is permissable to take some Sustenance for that Day.

These words are part of the preface to an English translation of the liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts made in the early 1760s by Colonel Philip Ludwell III of Green Spring Plantation, Virginia. It is not known if these were Ludwell’s own words or if they came from the unidentified Greek text that he used to make this translation. Philip Ludwell III is America’s first known convert to the Orthodox Church. He was received on December 31, 1738 (O.S.), fifty-six years before the first Russian missionary clergy arrived in Alaska. Ludwell was a native Virginian, born in 1716, who had to travel 3000 miles to London, England to find his nearest Orthodox church. After his reception he returned to Virginia and became in due course a member of the House of Burgesses in the 1740s and of the Royal Governor’s Council in the 1750. Throughout this time he secretly practiced his Orthodox Faith.

In 1760 he returned to London with his three daughters, all of whom themselves were received into the Orthodox Church on Holy Wednesday of 1762. The London parish records show that Ludwell communed on Holy Wednesday in 1761, this being the last day in the period of Lent and Holy Week on which the Presanctified liturgy is celebrated. The English translation that Ludwell made of this service is found in a handwritten book dated as beginning in 1760 that starts with translations of the liturgies of St John Chrysostom, St Basil and the Presanctified. At the end of the translation of the Presanctified is the date “June 25.” It thus seems likely that the Presanctified translation was made in 1761.

In recent years a number of Orthodox parishes in America have been serving memorials for Colonel Ludwell’s repose on his anniversary of March 14/27. This year the Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington DC will serve Ludwell’s translation of the Presanctified Liturgy on March 20, the evening of the fourth Friday of the Fast. To make this possible an edition of my transcription of Ludwell’s translation with a short introduction has been prepared for use and can be purchased here. It is my hope and prayer that other churches will also make use of this. It is an elegant translation in intelligible 18th century English that stands as a testament to the Faith and Piety of an Orthodox Christian from Virginia born almost three centuries ago.

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