ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed

Part Thirty-Five

CHAPTER 6

The third stage: Christ Our Passover.

(Part 2)

2- The Supper of the Lamb (contd.)

The communion with members of Christ:

In our communion with Christ in the Eucharist we join all of His members as the Apostle Paul says, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17).  The individual Jesus, the Christ of history, is in a sense the "sacramentum", the sign, of the Mystical Body (i.e. the Church) and total Christ, who constitutes the full and ultimate reality of the Eucharist.

Receiving the holy sacraments (communion):

It is well known that the Orthodox Christians receive the Holy Communion far less frequently than the Catholics.  It is hard to get an exact idea of __the practice of the vast majority of the Eastern Christians in the time of Sts. Athanasius, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom.  According to St. Basil the faithful of the fourth century used to receive the Holy Communion four times a week: Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.[1]  St. Basil advises them to receive it every day.  In the days where there was no Mass, the faithful were able to receive the Holy Communion by themselves from the reserved Sacrament which they used to take to their homes.  On the other hand, St. John Chrysostom states that many people in his days used to receive the Holy Communion only once a year.  He blames them for their shortcoming and negligence and recommends frequent Communion.  We know that in the Coptic Orthodox Church the Sunday School servants put a spiritual system, since the forties and fifties of the twentieth century, for those who serve so that they receive the Holy Communion at least once every month (in addition to other elements in the spiritual system, such as praying regularly and reading the Holy Bible daily, etc. ..).  Before the forties generation in which the Sunday School started in Egypt, there was Abba Abraam Bishop of Fayum (passed 1914) and later the Archdeacon Habib Girgis (passed 1951) and his disciples the founders of the Sunday school service all used to urge people to receive the Holy Communion frequently.  

There is no doubt that more frequent participation in the Eucharist leads to an intimate and stronger relationship with our Lord Jesus.  In some churches or some groups within some Orthodox churches, there is a tendency to rather infrequent Communions, so the believer would prepare each time by assigning several days of prayer, fasting and solitude.  This method has the benefit of providing an opportunity to seriously prepare the self, and to increase the reverence for the Holy Communion.  On the other hand, this has the inconvenience of transforming what is considered by the authentic Christian tradition as the blessed comfort and consolation of each day, to an exceptional and rare event.  Also, it runs the risk of mistaking for a kind of reward what is really a remedy and strength for the journey of the spiritual life; i.e. the fuel of any trip.  However, it would be very contrary to the Orthodox mind to make the frequency of our Communions the criterion and measure of our personal approach to Christ.  As Father Lev Gillet says, "it seems that St. Augustine gave a profoundly wise judgment, when he said that both Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:5) and the Centurion of Capernaum (Mt. 8:8) had equally honored the Lord in a divine way through their different behavior, and that everyone ought to act according to his/her own conscience.”

The Orthodox Church and the service of the Eucharist:

There is an important fact, regarding the Eucharist and the Mass, in the mind of the Church that may be vague to many people, which is that the Lord Jesus Himself is the one who offers the Eucharist; He is the invisible priest who works through the visible priest who is leading the service.  This is evident from the introduction of the fraction prayer in the Gregorian Liturgy, as the serving priest says, addressing the Lord Jesus "O Thou, who blessed in that time, now also bless. O Thou, who sanctified in that time, now also sanctify … O, Thou, who broke in that time, now also break ... Thou, who gave to His holy disciples and saintly apostles, in that time now also give us and all Thy people ... "  It is also clear from the prayer of the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom which is used regularly in the Roman and the Byzantine churches: "You Yourself both offer and are offered, You Yourself both receive and are distributed, O Christ our God” (i.e. You are the priest who serves the Eucharist and also You are the sacrifice that is offered).

Eucharist is dying with Christ and Union with Him:

Every Eucharist means the spiritual death; a mystical stab in the heart, a wound in the souls of all the participants in the Eucharist.  It is union with Christ; and every believer who participates in the Eucharist should be spiritually imbued with the blood of our Lord Jesus.

The Eucharist is not a new Sacrifice. There is only one Sacrifice:

It should be absolutely clear that the Holy Eucharist in the Orthodox concept is not a new sacrifice of our Lord; Jesus Christ died only once for all on the cross.  Our present Eucharists are offerings, actualizations, and applications of this one all-sufficient divine Sacrifice (the sacrifice of the Cross).  This Eucharist is "a sacrifice of praise," a "spiritual sacrifice," "speaking sacrifice," (a mental sacrifice i.e. the sacrifice of the Logos (Word): Logical sacrifice).  These offerings are "bloodless sacrifice."  Our living and glorified Lord Jesus is actually present in the Holy Eucharist, and His one sacrifice truly exists in the Eucharist but in a spiritual and mystical way.  The prayers of the Orthodox Holy Liturgy make it equally clear that the Eucharist is the remembering, not only of the death of our Lord Jesus, but also of His burial, Resurrection and Ascension, and also mention His second coming from the heavens.

The Relationship between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of the Priesthood:

The Orthodox Liturgy for ordaining priests shows clearly a solid and strong bond established between the priesthood and the sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus.  In the ordination of a new priest, the priest declares his recognition that the Eucharist, which he jointly served with the bishop who has ordained him, is the life-giving body, that Christ, the Son of God took and made It one with His divinity without mingling, without confusion and without alteration, and He endured the pain and witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. And this body is given for us for salvation, remission of sins and eternal life to those who partake of Him.

The new priest repeats the whole of the last confession before starting the Holy Communion, repeating slowly after the bishop, who ordained him, one paragraph after another, to announce his pledge to save the trust to the last breath, before God, before the bishop and before the faithful.

                                                                                                                        (To be contd.)

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St Cyril of Jerusalem

The Baptism of Christ and Ours

Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, ye have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having foreordained us unto adoption as sons, made us to be conformed to the body of Christ's glory. Having therefore become partakers of Christ, ye are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs, or anointed. Now ye have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation, because ye are images of Christ. ... He washed in the river Jordan, and having imparted of the fragrance of His Godhead to the waters, He came up from them; and the Holy Ghost in the fullness of His being lighted on Him, like resting upon like. And to you in like manner, after you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given an Unction, the anti-type of that wherewith Christ was anointed; and this is the Holy Ghost.

Lecture XXI, (On the Mysteries III). NPNF, 2nd Ser., Vol. VII, p. 149.

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[1] De fide orthod., IV, 13.