Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Implications of the Eucharist

The liturgy is not only the work of the people but the greatest gift we can offer each other. As the following quotes demonstrate the greatest gift we can offer each other is ourselves. As Christ became the paradigm offering himself to show us the true human being (cf. John 19.5) then the Eucharist becomes the greatest gift we can offer to each other. It is not about what we can do or what we have to offer but rather who we are that unites us in the body of Christ. We are simply human beings and we tend to forget this point. Instead what we do is box people in. For example we visit a doctor and see a doctor, we go buy prescription drugs and see a pharmacist or we attend a lecture and see a teacher. We box these people in forgetting the all to human fact that they are simply human beings. By seeing the human being we see Christ and once we see Christ we can start the process of offering ourselves to each other. It is only through the Eucharist that we truly are made human beings. It is in our death that we are made alive as Ignatius of Antioch reminds the Romans. He tells them that in order to become a true human being he must not be stopped of his death..."do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow to to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man (human being) of God". By offering ourselves we become true human beings. Through the Eucharist we become true human beings.

At the turning of the bread and wine into Your body and blood, our souls shall be turned unto fellowship with Your glory, and our souls shall be united to Your divinity...And as You are one in Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, may we be one in You and You in Us, that your saying may be fulfilled, "That they may all be one in Us".

+ From the Fraction by St. Cyril (Frace of "O Lamb of God")

First of all, our life itself is the greatest gift to give-something we constantly forget. When we think about our being given to each other, what comes immediately to mind are our unique talents: those abilities to do special things especially well. You and I have spoken about this quite often. "What is our unique talent?" we asked. However, when focusing on talents, we tend to forget that our real gift is not so much what we can do, but who we are. The real question is not "what can we offer each other?" but "who can we be for each other?" No doubt, it is wonderful when we can repair something for a neighbor, give helpful advice to a friend, offer wise counsel to a colleague, bring healing to a patient, or announce good news to a parishioner, but there is a greater gift than all of this. It is the gift of our own life that shines through all we do. As I grow older, I discover more and more that the greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy of living, my own inner peace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of well-being. When I ask myself, "Who helps me most?" I must answer, "The one who is will to share his or her life with me".

+ Fr. Henri Nouwen, The Life of the Beloved, Given, P.113.

But then, what should we do? You hear every Sunday in the Liturgy words that say, 'Let us lay aside all the cares of this life'. Does it mean that we must turn away from the earth on which we live, from the tasks which are ours, from the joys and true sorrows that come our way? No!...It means that if we are dead with the death of Christ to everything which is destructive of love, destructive of compassion, which is self-centredness, which is self-love, which leave no space for anyone but ourselves-if we are dead to all this, and if we have accepted life on Christ's terms, ready to live for others, live for God, live for the joy and life of those who surround us-then we are risen with Christ, and our life is indeed hid with Christ in God, it is at the very depth of divine love!

+ Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, on the Bridal Feast, 24 December 1989

"Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live".

+ Fr. Stephen Freeman

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Eucharistic Gift

Fr. Alexander Schmemann always had a way with words. In the following passage Fr. Schmemann is trying to show the reader that in our modern western (America) society we have forgotten our Eucharistic vocation and in losing this vocation we have turned the Eucharist to a Sunday practice. By divorcing the Eucharist from our day to day lives we have forgotten what it means to live a life in Christ. Christ is present in all places and fills all things showing us what it means to be a human being. Fr. Schmemann warns us that if we continue to separate the Eucharist and the life in the world then we have lost the meaning of living a Eucharistic life. I recommend this book as Fr. Schmemann shows us the meaning of Lent through understanding what it means to live a Eucharistic life.


It is useful to note here that the Orthodox liturgical tradition, different in this from the Latin practice, has no adoration of the Eucharistic Gifts outside Communion. But the preservation of Gifts as reserved sacrament, used for Communion for the sick and other emergency situations, is a self-evident tradition which has never been questioned in the Orthodox Church. We mentioned already that in the early Church there even existed a practice of private "self- communion” at home. We have thus the permanent presence of the Gifts and the absence of their adoration. By maintaining simultaneously these two attitudes, the Orthodox Church has avoided the dangerous sacramental rationalism of the West. Moved by the desire to affirm—against the Protestants—the objectivity of Christ’s "real presence” in the Eucharistic Gifts, the Latins have, in fact, separated adoration from Communion. By doing this, they have opened the door to a dangerous spiritual deviation from the real purpose of the Eucharist and indeed of the Church herself. For the purpose of the Church and of her sacraments is not to "sacralize” portions and elements of matter and by making them sacred or holy to oppose them to the profane ones. Instead her purpose is to make man’s life communion with God, knowledge of God, ascension toward God’s Kingdom; the Eucharistic Gifts are the means of that communion, the food of that new life, but they are not an end in themselves. For the Kingdom of God is "not food and drink but joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” Just as in this world food fulfills its function only when it is consumed and thus transformed into life, the new life of the world to come is given to us through the partaking of the "food of immortality.” The Orthodox Church consistently avoids all adoration of the sacrament outside Communion because the only true adoration is that having partaken of Christ’s Body and Blood, we "act in this world as He did.” As to the Protestants, in their fear of any "magical” connotation, they tend to "spiritualize” the sacrament to such an extent that they deny the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ outside the act of Communion. Here again the Orthodox Church, by the practice of reserving the Holy Gifts, restores the true balance. The gifts are given for Communion but the reality of Communion depends on the reality of the Gifts. The Church does not speculate on the mode of Christ’s presence in the Gifts. She forbids the use of them for any act other than Communion. She does not reveal, so to speak, their presence outside Communion, but she firmly believes that just as the Kingdom which is yet to come is "already in the midst of us,” just as Christ ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father yet is also with us until the end of the world, the means of Communion with Christ and with His Kingdom, the food of immortality, is always present in the Church.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent. Pages 59-60! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Let Us Look at Each Other with Compassion: On the Sunday of the Paralytic

The following is a homily given by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom on the Sunday of the Paralytic (after the feast of Pascha).
So we are surrounded, all of us, by people who are in the situation of this paralytic man. If we think of ourselves we will see that many of us are paralysed, incapable of fulfilling all their aspirations; incapable of being what they longed for, incapable of serving others the way their heart speaks; incapable of doing anything they longed for because fear, brokenness has come into them.

How tragic today’s story of the life of Christ is. A man had been paralysed for years. He had lain at a short distance from healing, but he himself had no strength to merge into the waters of ablution. And no one – no one in the course of all these years – had had compassion on him.

The ones rushed to be the first in order to be healed. Others who were attached to them by love, by friendship, helped them to be healed. But no one cast a glance at this man, who for years had longed for healing and was not in himself able to find strength to become whole.

If only one person had been there, if only one heart had responded with compassion, this man might have been whole years and years earlier. As no one, not one person, had compassion on him, all that was left to him – and I say all that was left to him with a sense of horror – was the direct intervention of God.
We are surrounded by people who are in need. It is not only people who are physically paralysed who need help.

There are so many people who are paralysed in themselves, and need to meet someone who would help them.

Paralysed in themselves are those who are terrified of life, because life has been an object of terror for them since they were born: insensitive parents, heartless, brutal surroundings. How many are those who hoped, when they were still small, that there would be something for them in life. But no. There wasn’t. There was no compassion. There was no friendliness. There was nothing. And when they tried to receive comfort and support, they did not receive it. Whenever they thought they could do something they were told, ‘Don’t try. Don’t you understand that you are incapable of this?’ And they felt lower and lower.

How many were unable to fulfil their lives because they were physically ill, and not sufficiently strong… But did they find someone to give them a supporting hand? Did they find anyone who felt so deeply for them and about them that they went out of their way to help? And how many those who are terrified of life, lived in circumstances of fear, of violence, of brutality… But all this could not have taken them if there had been someone who have stood by them and not abandoned them.

So we are surrounded, all of us, by people who are in the situation of this paralytic man. If we think of ourselves we will see that many of us are paralysed, incapable of fulfilling all their aspirations; incapable of being what they longed for, incapable of serving others the way their heart speaks; incapable of doing anything they longed for because fear, brokenness has come into them.

And all of us, all of us were responsible for each of them. We are responsible, mutually, for one another; because when we look right and left at the people who stand by us, what do we know about them? Do we know how broken they are? How much pain there is in their hearts? How much agony there has been in their lives? How many broken hopes, how much fear and rejection and contempt that has made them contemptuous of themselves and unable even to respect themselves – not to speak of having the courage of making a move towards wholeness, that wholeness of which the Gospel speaks in this passage and in so many other places?

Let us reflect on this. Let us look at each other and ask ourselves, ‘How much frailty is there in him or her? How much pain has accumulated in his or her heart? How much fear of life – but life expressed by my neighbour, the people whom I should be able to count for life – has come in to my existence?
Let us look at one another with understanding, with attention. Christ is there. He can heal; yes. But we will be answerable for each other, because there are so many ways in which we should be the eyes of Christ who sees the needs, the ears of Christ who hears the cry, the hands of Christ who supports and heals or makes it possible for the person to be healed.

Let us look at this parable of the paralytic with new eyes; not thinking of this poor man two thousand years ago who was so lucky that Christ happened to be near him and in the end did what every neighbour should have done. Let us look at each other and have compassion, active compassion; insight; love if we can.
And then this parable will not have been spoken or this event will not have been related to us in vain. Amen.