We Partake of the Body of Christ to Become the Body of Christ

“At the Divine Liturgy we live the mystery of the Church, because each eucharistic community is the one flock which offers its gifts to the one Shepherd (John 10:16) ‘with one mouth and one heart‘ (cf Acts 4:32 and Rom 15:6).  We are nourished on the holy Body of Christ, on Holy Communion, and the Church is made manifest as the Body of Christ.

‘With this we are nourished, with this we are mingled, and we have become the one Body of Christ’ (St John Chrysostom).  Communion in the holy Body of Christ creates the communion and unity of the Church: ‘As we partake of the holy Body of Christ, so we too become the Body of Christ’ (Nicholas of Methoni).”  (Hieromonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 88)

Worthily Partaking of Communion

St. Cyril of Alexandria  considers what the Lord Jesus teaches us in John 6:56 – “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”  He writes:

6219061154_d4264b409d_mNow if we really yearn for eternal life, if we long to have the provider of immortality within ourselves, let us not abstain from the Eucharist like some of the more negligent, nor let us provide the devil in the depths of his cunning with a trap and a snare for us in the form of a pernicious kind of reverence. “Yes, indeed,” someone might say, “But it is written, ‘Any one who eats of the bread and drinks of the cup unworthily, eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ [1 Cor 11:29]. I have examined myself and I see that I am not worthy.” But then when will you be worthy? . . . Make up your mind, then, to lead a more devout life in conformity with the law, and so partake of the Eucharist in the conviction that it dispels not only death but even the diseases that are in us [1 Cor 11:30].”  (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4998-5003)

Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou comments:

Cassian JohnAs St. John Cassian put it, and which is a good note to end on, We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy … we should more greatly desire the medicine of our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do … considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people manifest more pride than humility … for when they receive, they think themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride, think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them.”   (Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy, Kindle Loc. 854-62)

The Liturgy: Another Love One Another

Bill interjected, “I don’t go to church to relate with others, I go to receive the sacrament. Receiving Christ feeds my prayer life, makes me feel closer to him. It helps me to keep up my devotions throughout the week.”

“I think part of the reason you say this, Bill, is that you’re missing a crucial dimension of what the eucharist is about,” Father answered. “The Liturgy is not a ‘me and Jesus’ phenomenon. The eucharist ushers in the kingdom of God and makes us its citizens. Here we willingly enter into a relationship with God and with each other through the command of Christ and his mediation. This transcends and supersedes every separation and division – a challenge for us all, for Christ says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ Isn’t it remarkable that we come mostly truly who we are by giving ourselves entirely to others! That’s the only way we can become most fully ourselves. The sacraments feed our union and make it visible in the assembly where we partake of them.

Many of us still don’t understand that this worship is more than just ‘me and Jesus’; after all, no one can ‘muster up’ the eucharist alone; it’s interpersonal, ‘we together’ who are shown how expansive the mystery of Christ is. Again, it’s beyond anything we could achieve alone.”

(The Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness, p. 233)

Communion: Partaking of God

That of which we partake is not something of His, but Himself. It is not some ray and light which we receive in our souls, but the very orb of the sun. So we dwell in Him and are indwelt and become one spirit with Him. The soul and the body and all their faculties forthwith become spiritual, for our souls, our bodies and blood, are united with His. 

What is the result? The more excellent things overcome the inferior, things divine prevail over the human, and that takes place which Paul says concerning the resurrection, “what is mortal is swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4), and further, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). 

…Out of love for man He received all other things from us, and out of even greater love He joins what is His to us. The first means that God has come down to earth, the second that He has taken us from earth to heaven. So, on the one hand God became incarnate, on the other man has been deified. In the former case mankind as a whole is freed from reproach in that Christ has overcome sin in one body and one soul; in the latter each man individually is released from sin and made acceptable to God, which is an even greater act of love for man. Since is was not possible for us to ascend to Him and participate in that which is His, He came down to us and partook of that which is ours. So perfectly has He coalesced with that which He has taken that He imparts Himself to us by giving us what He has assumed from us. As we partake of His human Body and Blood we receive God Himself into our souls. It is thus God’s Body and Blood which we receive, His soul, mind and will, no less than those of His humanity.

(St Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 115-116, 122)

The Eucharist: Food for the Spiritual Battle

Holy Communion is the fulfillment of all our efforts, the goal toward which we strive, the ultimate joy of our Christian life, it is also and of necessity the source and beginning of our spiritual effort itself, the divine gift which makes it possible for us to know, to desire, and to strive for a “more perfect communion in the day without evening” of God’s Kingdom. For the Kingdom, although it has come, although it comes in the Church, is yet to be fulfilled and consummated at the end of time when God will fill all things with Himself. We know it, and we partake of it in anticipation; we partake now of the Kingdom which is still to come. We foresee and foretaste its glory and its blessedness but we are still on earth, and our entire earthly existence is thus a long and often painful journey toward the ultimate Lord’s Day.

On this journey we need help and support, strength and comfort, for the “Prince of this world” has not yet surrendered; on the contrary, knowing his defeat by Christ, he stages a last and violent battle against God to tear away from Him as many as possible. So difficult is this fight, so powerful the “gates of Hades,” that Christ Himself tells us about the “narrow way” and the few that are capable of following it. And in this fight, our main help is precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that “essential food” which keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all temptations and dangers, makes us Christ’s followers.

(Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, p. 47-48)

Preparing for Pascha

“Therefore, I exhort all of you not to take in your hands these divine mysteries because you feel that the feast forces you to do so. If ever you should be going to share in this holy sacrificial offering, I urge you to cleanse your hearts many days before. How? By repenting, praying, giving alms, and devoting your efforts to things of the spirit. Do not, like a dog, turn yourself back again to your own vomit.

Is it not foolish to show such great concern for material things? Yet, many days beforehand, because the feast is coming, you select the best clothes from your wardrobe and get them ready. You buy new shoes. You prepare a more sumptuous table. You think of many means to provide for yourself in every way. You overlook nothing which will brighten your appearance and make you look stylish and smart. But you take no account of your soul. It is neglected, clothed in shoddy garments, unwashed, wasted with hunger, and you let it stay uncleansed. Will you bring here to church your stylish body but overlook your soul, which is half clad and filled with disgrace? Your fellow servants see only your body, and it does them no harm no matter how you have neglected it. But the Master sees your soul and he inflicts the greatest punishment on it since you have been careless and negligent about it.”   (St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pp. 181-182)

When Should I Abstain from Holy Communion?

Q: A certain Christ-loving man asked the same Elder: Should one be curious about the Divine Mysteries? And is a sinner who approaches them condemned as unworthy?

A: When coming into the holy temple to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and when receiving Them, pay heed to yourself that you unfailingly believe the truth of this (Sacrament). But as to how this happens, do not be curious, as it has been said “Take, eat, This is My Body and Blood.” The Lord gave them to us for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22). We have hope that he who believes thus will not be condemned, but he who does not believe is already condemned. And thus, do not forbid yourself to approach, condemning yourself as sinner, but recognize that a sinner who approaches the Savior is vouchsafed the remission of sins. (Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance toward Spiritual Life, p. 111)

Receive the Body of Christ

“When Christ comes into us, he does not sanctify our soul alone but our whole being. For by Holy Communion, ‘Body [is mingled] with body, Blood with blood…What great mysteries are these! What a miracle, that the mind of Christ should become one with our mind, that His will should be amalgamated with our will, His Body with our body, His Blood with our blood! What is our mind like when the divine mind prevails over it; what is our will like when the divine will predominates; and what becomes of the dust [our body] once the fire [of the Godhead] overcomes it!’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas).    The distribution of the pure Mysteries ‘makes those who partake worthily to be similar – by grace and by participation – to Him who is the causal Good’ (St Maximus the Confessor).

. . .  St. Symeon the New Theologian extols the Lord after Holy Communion:

‘What is this measureless compassion of Yours, O Savior?

How have You accounted me worthy to become one of Your members

– I who am impure, a prodigal, a harlot?

How have You dressed me in a garment most bright,

glistering with the radiance of immortality

and making all my members into light?

For your Body, pure and divine,

is wholly radiant, wholly intermixed

and commingled ineffably with the fire of Your Divinity…

I have been united, I know, also with Your Divinity

and have become Your most pure Body,

a member shining forth, a member truly holy,

a member glittering from afar, and radiant, and shining.'”

(Hireomonk Gregorious, The Divine Liturgy, p. 297-298)

Worthy to Receive the Body of Christ

Chrysostom also proves the importance of the forgiveness of sins both in the context of the assembly in the wilderness and in the Liturgical Assembly. He points out that the forgiveness of sins was essential to the Israelites before they could safely and beneficially partake of the manna and drink, just as it is essential to the members of the Ecclesial Community before they can receive the Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Moses leads the Israelites in the desert

As long as they [the Israelites] honored the equal distribution of their goods, the manna continued to remain manna. However, when they decided to be greedy, greediness made the manna become worms. Indeed, with this behavior they did not harm others because they did not grab from the food of their neighbor in order to have more than their neighbor; but they were condemned because they desired more. Even if they did not commit injustice toward their neighbor, they hurt their own selves very much because, with this manner of assembling together, they habitually continued to dwell in greediness. Therefore, the same manna was simultaneously admonished [educated] their souls. It not only nourished them, but delivered them pain.

If a Christian joins the Liturgical Assembly and receives the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily and without repentance, the Body and Blood of Christ will lead to his judgement and condemnation, like the manna that became worms to the greedy Israelites. The members of the Church must free themselves of greediness and other evils through repentance, and consider themselves as equals, before gathering together to constitute the Liturgical Assembly, or else receive God’s condemnation.

(Protopresbyter Gus George Christo, The Church’s Identity, p. 94)

Holy Things for the Holy Ones!

The Holy Things are for the Holy Ones! 

One is holy, one is Lord: Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.  (from the Divine Liturgy)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

St. Nicholas Cavasilas commenting on the Divine Liturgy says:

On the point of approaching the Holy Table…partaking of the Mystery is not permitted to all …  

The holy [Mysteries] are for the holy!  

…  The faithful are called holy because of the Holy Mysteries of which they partake, because of him whose Body and Blood they receive.

Members of His Body – flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone – as long as we remain united to him and preserve our connection with him [i.e., live in communion with the altar – Ed.], we live by holiness, drawing to ourselves through the Holy Mysteries, the sanctity which comes from that Head and that Heart. But if we should cut ourselves off, if we should separate ourselves from the unity of this most holy Body, we would partake of the Holy Mysteries in vain, for life cannot flow into dead and amputated limbs. And what can cut off the members form this holy Body? It is your sins which have separated me from you, [Is. 59.2], says God. Does all sin then bring death to man? No, indeed, but deadly sin only; that is why it is called deadly. For according to St. John [1 Jn. 5.16,17] there are sins which are not deadly.

That is why Christians, if they have not committed such sins as would cut them off from Christ and and bring death, are in no way prevented from partaking of the Holy Mysteries and receiving sanctification…   (quoted in The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church, p. 107)

For St. Nicholas Cabasilas the words in the Liturgy – Holy things are for the holy! – is packed with meaning.  The “holy things” refer to the Holy Mysteries such as Holy Communion.  These Mysteries are given not for everyone, but to the Holy Ones of God, the saints.  In the Liturgy they are given to the Faithful.  The people of the parish are (and are to be!) the Holy Ones of God.  For him, it is obvious why there is a practice of “closed” Communion.  One has to desire to be among the faithful, among the Holy Ones to receive the Holy Mysteries.  They are gifts for those who seek the Lord – for those who choose and desire to live a holy life.  Holiness is not magic that can change someone into something they are not.  Holiness comes to those who choose to be united to the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ.  We maintain holiness by maintaining our unity with Christ whose Body is the Church.

Fr Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World leads us into the mystery:

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.   (Kindle Location 389-395)

For Fr Schmemann holiness is the goal of our spiritual sojourn.  When we receive the Holy Mysteries of God and become the Holy Ones of God, we have come to the very purpose of our existence.  In the Holy Mysteries we are united to the One who is Holy, Jesus Christ.