Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Receiving the True Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist

This past week in the Episcopal Daily Office, we have read through John chapter 6. John chapter 6 contains Jesus's discourse on the Bread of Life. It is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In the office the last two days, we read Jesus words about his Body and Blood:

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  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." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caperna-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."  After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 

- John 6.53-66 RSVCE

John's Gospel, which contains no account of the Last Supper, instead has this eloquent discourse on the Bread of Life. Jesus makes the startling claim "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you... my flesh is food indeed, my blood is drink indeed..." The Gospel records that many of his disciples quit following him after this discourse. They could not bear the words.

Is it hard for us to hear this saying today? Do we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Perhaps we question that the bread and wine can change into the Body and Blood of Christ. But St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures, assures us that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. He compares the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding of Cana:

Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

2. He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood , and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber Matthew 9:15, shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood ?

3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature 2 Peter 1:4 .

- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures (4th Century). 

St. Cyril says that through the Eucharist, we assimilate the Body and Blood of Christ, so we can be deified (citing 2 Peter 1.4) and one with Christ. Jesus says, "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." - John 6.56-67.

The Holy Eucharist unites us to Christ and each other, and deifies us to make us fit for union with God. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an Apostolic doctrine, and was taught by Christ Himself. Tradition holds that  John the Apostle who leaned on Jesus's breast at the last supper, is the author of the Gospel bearing his name. One of his direct disciples, Ignatius of Antioch, handed on the Apostolic teaching of Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist in this remarkable passage from his letter to the Smyrneans:

"They (the Docetists) have no care for love, no thought for the widow and orphan, none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry, or the thirsty. They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up..."

- Ignatius of Antioch (+ 107-110 CE) Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6-7.

Read the passage from John's Gospel; contemplate the words of Jesus; come to Him in the Holy Supper, and receive His Presence.

Christianity is Catholic

"For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts." - Malachi 1:11, RSV.

Justin Martyr in the 2nd Century used the passage above from Malachi to explain the Christian Eucharistic Sacrifice. Ignatius of Antioch, writing about 107 C.E., taught that "the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father, in His goodness, afterwards raised up..."

Christianity is Catholic; underscoring the truth of Catholic-Orthodoxy, we see that the Church offers the single sacrifice of Christ with the same basic understanding of the Holy Eucharist, throughout the various lands, nations and cultures that have been reached with the gospel: the Church reached from the British Isles, across Europe and Northern Africa, and even into Central Asia, and eventually as far as China, in the first millennium. Yet, all the Churches maintained a basic Catholic understanding of the Trinity and Person of Christ, Baptism, the Holy Sacrifice, the veneration of the Mother of God, and the Sacraments. This was not a top-down development, but the organic growth of the Church universal among various tribes, nations, and peoples, beginning with the original Apostles of Christ. For example, St. Mark the Gospel writer and interpreter for St. Peter in Rome, founded the Church in Egypt, and was the first Coptic Pope. St. Thomas founded Churches in Iraq and India. These Christian communities have existed in these lands since the first century. These Churches have faithfully preserved the Apostolic teaching.

The Protestant Reformation went to far; much of what was rejected were not the inventions of medieval Roman Catholicism, but ancient Christianity. True, Catholic, Christianity is based on the Bible, Creeds, and Sacraments, and is rooted in the traditions of the ancient Church.

That so much of contemporary Christianity has no liturgy or sacramental understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper is sad in my view. I don't say this to disparage my fellow Christians, but to point out that much of contemporary Christianity has rejected ancient Christianity, and is poorer for it. Salvation is seen as static and individualistic, rather than dynamic and corporate. It is often rationalistic, in both it's liberal and fundamentalist form, rather thn sacramental and mystical.

However, many young people today are seeking something more solid and reliable; they are seeking liturgy and sacraments. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Most of the Christians in the world are still adherents of Catholic Christianity,  the largest communions being the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox,  and Anglican Churches. Many other Christians and churches are taking a fresh look at liturgy, sacraments, and disciplines and practices such as the Daily Office.

- Lance Goldsberry

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bulgakov on the Glorification of the Mother of God - Post by Joe Rawls on the Byzantine Anglo-Catholic

For today's feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (the Assumption in Roman Catholicism; simply the feast of St Mary the Virgin in Anglicanism), we turn once more to Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, who provides insights into how Mary's post-earthly existence--variously understood as passing directly into heaven without dying, or experiencing a post-mortem resurrection similar to that of Jesus--is an instance of the divinization or theosis which is God's intention for all of us.  The excerpt below is found on pp 76-77 of The Burning Bush:  on the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, Thomas Allan Smith, translator, Eerdmans, 2009.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ her glorification the Mother of God receives through the Son from the Father the glory and power which are not inherently hers according to human nature.  This is divinization in the precise sense, a canopy of divine graced life unfurling over that being in which it is not inherent and which it transcends.  Because of this the whole difference between the Son and the Mother, between His and her power and glory, remains.  The first is boundless and unlimited, absolute, as the power of God in creation.  The second is derivative, a graced giveness, and in virtue of this derivativeness it is not unlimited, not absolute.  In other words, the Lord is God by nature, the Mother of God is not God by nature, but only by grace, no matter how full and complete her divinization is.  In her person is fulfilled only what is foreordained for all humans:  "I said, you are gods" (Ps 82.6; cf Jn 10.34-35).

...She is the petitioner on behalf of the human race and the mediator between God and human beings as a glorified and divinized human.  If the Lord is the petitioner and high priest in His capacity as the one offering Himself in sacrifice, she is the petitioner before Him...He joins in Himself two natures, but she raises up in herself, elevates to God humanity and all creatures.  As a creature, she does not participate in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity according to nature, as does her Son; she only partakes of it by the grace of divinization.  But this grace is given to her already in a maximum and definitive degree, so that by its power she is the Heavenly Queen.  Between her and all the saints, no matter how exalted, angels or men, there remains an impenetrable border, for to none of them does the Church cry out save us, but only pray to God for us.  With respect to the whole human race she is already found on the other side of resurrection and last judgment; neither the one nor the other has any force for her...She is the already glorified creation before its general resurrection and glorification; she is the already accomplished Kingdom of Glory, while the world still remains "in the kingdom of grace."


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Transfiguration [August 6]

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Gospel recounts Christ being transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Appearing with Christ our Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and Prophets of Israel. Christ is said to have shone like the sun. Our Gospel today is from Luke in the Episcopal Daily Office, but in the parallel passage in Matthew 17.2 we read: "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light," which is much more descriptive.

According to the 13th century Eastern theologian, Gregory Palamas, the Light that shone around Christ were God's divine energies, divinity itself. In the Transfiguration, we behold the Divinity of Christ, and our own call as human beings to become divinized by Grace.

The early Church Fathers said that Christ became a human being so that human beings might become God. We are reminded of Christ's uniqueness as the Son of God, but also, our own destiny to become sons and daughters of God as well.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature..."

- 2 Peter 1.3-4 RSV
The Collect.
O GOD, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle. 2 St. Peter i. 13.
I THINK it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
The Gospel. St. Luke ix. 28.
AND it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.