Christ is With Us Always

The Ascension

“I am you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.20). So it is, Master: Thou art with us throughout all days; we are not a single day without Thee, and we cannot live without Thy presence near us! Thou art with us especially in the Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood. O, how truly and essentially art Thou present in the Holy Mysteries! Thou our Lord in every liturgy takest upon Thyself a vile body similar to ours in every respect save that of sin, and feedest us with Thy life-giving flesh. Through the Sacrament Thou art wholly with us, and Thy Flesh is united to our flesh, whilst Thy Spirit is united to our soul; and we feel this life-giving, most peaceful, most sweet union, we feel that by joining ourselves to Thee in the Holy Eucharist we become one spirit with Thee as it is said: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp. 23)

The Holy Eucharist: In Remembrance of Christ

The Holy Eucharist is given by the Lord “in remembrance of me(1 Cor. 11:25). First of all, in sensu realissimo, the Eucharist is the power of the Incarnation, the realized and abiding Divine-humanity, including all the faithful: “we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (10:17). The Divine Eucharist is the abiding of Christ in the world, His connection with the world, despite the ascension: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20) by the Holy Spirit, sent by Him into the world from the Father: “and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever…I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16, 18).  

Communion with the body and blood is therefore not yet all that the Eucharist signifies as the divine “It is finished” (John 19:30), as the sacrificial and abiding Incarnation. It is the sacrament of sacraments, the foundation of all the sacraments, and its accomplishing power is the Pentecost, the coming into the world of the Holy Spirit, who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you“ (14:26). “In remembrance of me [anamnesin]” and “to bring…to your remembrance [hypomnesei]” are closely connected, which is expressed in the fact that the “breaking of the bread” appears in the life of the Church only after the Pentecost, as the accomplishment of Divine humanity.

Thus, originally, in the apostolic age, the Divine Eucharist as the basis of all the sacraments was exclusively that which it is as the realization of the body of the Church as the body of Christ. Its essential character was not hierarchical but koinonic. That is, its character was one of sobornost, but this character was replaced as early as the second century by hierarchism, which, of course, did not completely eliminate it, but was capable of obscuring it. How this happened has to be explained by church history.” (Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, pp. 286-287).

Community and Communion


Georges Florovsky recalls the words of Tertullian: ‘Unus christianus, nullus christianus,’ that is, ‘an isolated Christian is not a Christian.’ A person who enters into the life of the Church thereby enters into the Body of Christ, which is the Church, in the mystery of communion. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul develops this important concept. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of communion, incorporates us not only into Christ as Person, but into the totality of the Body of Christ, which is inseparable from the Head. This new life includes our communion with the Body of Christ, where we are nourished by His Body, quenched by His Blood, and vivified by the Spirit who unites us into one body. This ‘Body’ contains not only the eucharistic assembly ‘here and now’, but the Church of all times, of all places – the communion of saints.

This point is crucial to our understanding of theology. My theology is not my theology, not even that of the group to which I belong, Rather, my theology has been formulated through living experience: the life and suffering of the saints since Pentecost – and even before Pentecost by the patriarchs and the prophets – in communion. The communion of the saints implies a communion of faith. This explains why the Orthodox Church does not accept intercommunion, which would make light of this profound unity, what Fr. Florovsky calls ‘ecumenism in time’. Communion of faith entails not only attempts to create unity with the dispersed members of churches in our world today, but also constancy in maintaining unity with our church fathers.”

(Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, pp 128-129).

Be Nourished by the Eucharist of Love

“For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”  (J0hn 6:55-58)

[St.] Isaac’s use of the symbolism of wine and inebriation is sometimes transformed into a Eucharistic symbolism which is characteristic of the Syriac tradition from [St.] Ephrem onwards. According to Isaac, love is food and drink, bread and wine, and these are at every hour given to those who love God:

“When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of the angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. ’He that eateth of this bread,’ he says, ’which I will give him, shall not see death unto eternity.’ Blessed is he who consumes the bread of love which is Jesus! He who eats love eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness saying, ’God is love’…Love is the kingdom where the Lord mystically promises his disciples [they will] eat in his kingdom.

For when we hear him say, ’Ye shall eat and drink at the table of  my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a man. This is the wine ’which maketh glad the heart of a man.’ Blessed is he who partakes of this wine!

Licentious men have drunk this wine and become chaste;

sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling;

drunkards have drunk this wine, and become fasters;

the rich have drunk it and desired poverty;

the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope;

the sick have drunk it and become strong;

the unlearned have taken it and become wise.”

(Hilarion AlfeyevThe Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, page 255-256)

In the Church We Live in Christ

“Hence the Church, in the Orthodox Tradition, is identified with the Sacrament of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist. She is a Sacramental Body of Christ and not a hierocratic institution. The eastern Church Fathers consider the nature of the Church as primarily and essentially a priestly mission of her divine Bridegroom (cf. Exod. 18:; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 5,10). In the Eucharistic service, the whole Church is associated with the sacrifice of Christ, united essentially with His flesh and blood, and transformed into the very body of Christ, Who is her Heart and Head (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 27)

‘When the Church partakes of them (the holy mysteries)’, John of Damascus and Nicholas Cabasilas write, ‘she does not transform them into the human body, as we do with ordinary food, but she is changed into them, for the higher and divine element overcomes the earthly one. When iron is placed in fire, it becomes fire; it does not, however, give fire the properties of iron; and just as when we see white-hot iron it seems to be fire and not metal, since all the characteristics of the iron have been destroyed by the action of the fire, so, if one could see the Church of Christ insofar as she is united to Him and share in His sacred body, one would see nothing other than the body of the Lord.’

Commenting on Saint Paul’s expression: ‘You are the body of Christ and members in particular’ (1 Cor. 12.27), Cabasilas adds:

If he called Christ the head and us the members, it was not that he might express…our complete subjection to Him…..but to demonstrate a fact – to wit, that from henceforth the faithful, through the blood of Christ, would live in Christ, truly dependent on that head and clothed with that body (1 Cor. 12.27).’” (Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, Introduction to Easter Patristic Orthodox Theology, pp 100-101)

Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts!

‘Let us lift up our hearts,’ says the celebrant, and the people answer: ‘We have lifted them up to the Lord.’

The Eucharist is the anaphora, the ‘lifting up’ of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven. ‘But what do I care about heaven,’ says St. John Chrysostom, ‘when I myself have become heaven…?’ The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what ‘happens’ to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have ‘constituted’ the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

‘Let us lift up our hearts,’ says the celebrant. ‘We lift them up until the Lord,’ answers the congregation. ‘Let us give thanks unto the Lord’ (Eucharistisomen), says the celebrant.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do by give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

‘It is fitting and right to give thanks,’ answers the congregation, expressing in these words that ‘unconditional surrender; with which true ‘religion’ begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s ‘betting’. It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a ‘lack’ of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. ‘It is meet and right’ expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.”  (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the Worlds: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, pp 37-38)

The Eucharist: Nurturing Relationships

“The Eucharistic meal dynamically realizes and foreshadows the reversal of the stipulations of the natural need to receive nourishment: the bread and the wine in the Eucharist are shared in, not consumed individualistically, and the eating and drinking serve relation, not nature; life, not survival. Sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharist refers to the transformation not of mortals or of conduct but of mode of existence. That is why the Eucharist is the sign that reveals the Church’s identity, the event that realizes and manifests the Church.” (Christos Yannaras, Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, p 44)

Holy Communion is the common meal of the Christian community.  Communion cannot be separated from the community, nor is the community separate from the communicant.   We receive communion to inspire us to love one another and to abide in the community of love.

Confession as Love and Communion

“Our culture encourages us from an early age to be strong and assertive, to handle matters alone. Yet, for the spiritual wisdom of the early desert, such a way is false; it is, in fact, the way of the Devil. For ‘we are members one of another’ (Rom. 12:5), not islands unto ourselves. And the Orthodox spiritual way proposes a variety of contexts within which we may begin to open our hearts and affirm the communion that exists among us: these include the sacramental way of confessing to a parish priest and the spiritual way of sharing with an experienced elder, whether male or female. People need others because often the wounds that they feel are too deep to admit to themselves; sometimes, the evil is too painful to confront alone. The sign, then, according to the Orthodox spiritual way, that one is on the right track is the ability to share with someone else. This is, of course, precisely the essence of the sacrament of confession or reconciliation. Yet repentance (or metanoia) should not be seen in terms of remorse, but rather in terms of reconciliation, restoration, and reintegration. Confession is not some kind of transaction or deal; it defies mechanical definition and can never be reduced in a juridical manner merely to the – albeit significant – act of absolution.

Confession is not some narcissistic self-reflection. Sin is always understood in Orthodox spirituality as a rupture in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship of the world; otherwise metanoia could easily lead to paranoia. Instead, genuine confession always issues in communion; it is ultimately the ability to utter, together with at least one person, ‘Our Father’. It is the sacrament of the Eucharist, the mystery of communion, lived out day by day.” (John Chryssavgis in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, p 160)

The Eucharistic Fast

The fast of Great Lent is a form of abstinence practiced over an extended period of time in which certain foods are abstained from during the Lenten season and/or also food is abstained from for designated periods during the day –  for example, in the morning or until after Vespers.   Besides the periods of fasting of the various lenten seasons and the usual weekly fasting days in the Orthodox Church there is also a fast done in preparation for receiving Holy Communion.  Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas comments:

“In the beginning the Eucharist was celebrated within the context of an evening community meal, referred to as the agape or love feast. By the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, the celebration of the Eucharist was separated from the community meal and transposed to the early morning hours. From that time forward, every Eucharistic celebration is preceded by a fast, called the Eucharistic fast. The Eucharist is Christ himself. It is his sacrificed, risen, and glorified body, which is given to the faithful ‘for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.’ As such, it is the most precious of gifts, through which the life of God continually becomes the life of those who believe in him, receive him in faith, and abide in him. That is why the Eucharistic fast has become a fixed prerequisite for Holy Communion. It is meant to place the faithful in a state of readiness, vigilance, expectation, and anticipation for an encounter with the living God who calls his people to communion and holiness.

Participation in the Divine Liturgy, therefore, requires prayerful preparation, for we stand on holy ground in the presence of the Triune God (Ex. 3:4-7). Hence, in preparation for this profound experience, we are called to quietness, abstinence, and forebearance, to a quickening of body and soul that we may receive the King of all. Fasted from the night before, as a sign of spiritual vigilance and awareness, we approach the Holy Table ‘with the fear of God, with faith, and with love,’ to receive the Holy Gifts as the first meal of the day and as the essential food of life.”  (Essays in Theology and Liturgy, pp 166-167)

Respecting the Lord at the Liturgy

St. Paul in his epistles to the various parish communities that he worked with frequently deals with practical community issues.    Obviously even in the very first local churches and from the very beginning of Christianity,  Christian leaders had to deal with the age old problem that people will be people.  So in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34  St. Paul takes to task the parish at Corinth for their misbehavior during their Eucharistic celebration.  St. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it,  for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—  if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Fr. Paul Tarazi commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 writes:

Even more serious is the misconduct during the Lord’s supper, an occasion for which the Corinthians gather to become one Messianic community in practice as well as in belief. Notice Paul’s use of the expressions ‘come together as a church; (synerkhomai en ekklesia; v.18) and ‘come together in one place’ (or ‘for the same purpose’; synerkhomai epi to avto; v. 20) as well as the repeated occurrence of ‘come together’ (synerkhomai; vv. 17, 33, 34). The believers are not themselves ipso facto ‘the church’ but are called to gather as one. And it is always the Lord who defines that gathering: the calling (kerysso) is through his word and the matter at hand is his supper (vv.20), which is not a potluck dinner (vv. 21-22)!

[…]  Therefore (v.27), let us watch our conduct at the Lord’s suppers. These gatherings are a test (vv. 28-29) as to whether we realize that the Lord seated at the head of the table is none other than the one coming to judge us. They are opportunities for us (v. 31) to be judged by him and chastened (v. 30) for the purpose of instruction (paidevometha, v.32a), lest at his coming we be judged worthy of condemnation (v. 32b). Therefore, let us behave at these suppers in accordance with the host’s will, that we love our neighbor (v. 33); if we fail to do that we shall indeed be condemned (v. 34)!”   (The New Testament Introduction: Paul and Mark, pp 68-69)