I wrote this up ages ago, and I cannot remember the sources of my material, but I think a substantial portion of it is relevant to this discussion:
The Eucharist: More than just a meal
Despite the fact Liberal Protestant scholarship misinterprets the Eucharist as simply a memorial meal to commemorate a loved one, the sacrament was instituted by Christ Himself in a manner which clearly indicates that the Eucharist is in fact a memorial sacrifice, and has been understood as such since the inception of Christianity and throughout the ages. Because of the sacraficial nature of the Eucharist offering, there is hence relevance and significance for the New Testament church, and the divine liturgy, which is essentially the combines the function of the Old Testament temple — upon which the sacrifice is offered upon the altar, with the function of the Old Testament synagogue — where the people are taught. It follows from this, that those who preside over the church incorporate the functions of both the Old Testament priest and the Old Testament elder.
In both the Old and New Testament, we find three classes of “priests”: High priests, ministerial priests, and universal priests.
During the time of the Exodus, we have Aaron as the first established high priest (Exodus 31:30), his 4 sons as ministerial priests (Exodus 28:21), and the nation of Israel acting as universal priests (Exodus 19:6). Prior to this time, only ministerial priesthood existed, and these ministerial priests, who were the firstborn sons of each family (Exodus 19:22-24), were distinguished from the people in general.
In the New Testament we see this three-fold model also, with Christ as our high priest (Hebrews 3:1), Christ's ordained ministers of the Gospel as ministerial priests (Romans 15:16) and the Christian believers are the universal priests (1 Peter 2:5,9).
The office of the priest is synonymous to that of the elder - “priest” being a shortened version of the Greek word for elder “Presbyteros.” The New testament testifies to this when it fuses the function of both the Old Testament priest (who serves in the temple) and the Old Testament elder (who serves in the synagogue) into one:
Romans 15:15-16 "I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
Revelation 5:8, where we read: "And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." - Here we have the twenty-four elders depicted as offering incense to God in bowls, in like manner as the Old Testament priests (Num. 7:84-86).
The very Biblical emphasis of the fact that the functions of a ministerial priest are unique to him alone, and cannot be enacted by the universal priests, is clearly laid down in the story of Korah's rebellion, as depicted in Numbers 16:1-11. In their attempt to usurp the ministerial role of priesthood, they offered incense to God, but God did not accept it and ultimately destroyed them. This incident is referenced in the New Testament in Jude 11 — indicating that we cannot restrict the warning against Korah's rebellion to the age of Old Testament. There is a clear distinction between ministerial priests and the laity; and the fact that the elders of Revelations were acceptably performing priestly functions, indicates a fusion of roles in the New Testament..
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were essentially saying in their rebellion: "In Exodus 19 God said we are all priests, thus we don't need ministerial priests since we can perform that function ourselves." Likewise, Protestants today come along and say, "In 1 Peter 2, God said we are all priests, thus we don't need ministerial priests since we can perform that function ourselves.”
The role of the priest during the liturgy in offering the Eucharist as a memorial sacrifice:
The sacrificial dimension to the Eucharist is clearly established in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, in which it is shown to be the equivalent of the Old Testament passover feast, and hence a sacrificial meal to be consumed. Since elders have the duty of performing the sacraments, they thus have the duty also of performing the sacrifice, which again indicates the priestly nature of their office.
Second of all, we must take careful note of the linguistic, and religious context of Christ's command to “Do this in remembrance of me.”, and the implications this has to how we carry out this command:
The word poiein , translated "do", has sacrificial overtones in the scriptures. By examining its usage in the Septuagint (Greek version of the OT), we find the verb being used frequently in a cult or sacrificial sense, such as in Exodus 29:38 for example, where the same Greek word is actually translated as “offer”: "This is that which you shall offer (poieseis) upon the altar: two lambs . . . "
The word anamnesis, translated “remembrance”, also has sacrificial overtones, where in fact all occurrences of this word are employed in a sacrificial context, such as in Hebrews 10:3: "But those sacrifices are an annual reminder (anamnesis) of sins." An anamnesis is thus a memorial offering which one brings before the Lord, in order to prompt his remembrance. This thought is evidenced also in Numbers 10:10 - we read, "Also at your times of rejoicing . . . you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial (anamnesis) for you before your God."
Therefore in the Orthodox liturgy that we have received and maintained from the first century, the church first celebrates what is synonymous to the synagogue serveice- Liturgy of the Word, proceeded by what is synoymous to the temple service - the Liturgy of the Eucharist — where the ministerial priest who is also the elder, offers the memorial sacrifice upon the altar.