In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. How mysterious the Church is; one at the core, one at the root and yet so painfully, monstrously divided.
In the communion service, in the Liturgy, after the words “The Holy Things to Them that are Holy” the priest breaks the Holy Bread, already consecrated, which is the Body of Christ and says “The Lamb of God is broken and distributed, which being ever broken, never is divided but halloweth them that partake thereof”.
Is that an image of the Church in history? If it is true that all those who believe in Christ, all those who through baptism have died with Christ and risen with Him, if it is true that all those are at one with Him, then it is true also that there is unity; but it is also so patently true that we are divided on all levels.
Dare we say that we are so one with each other that nothing can break the bonds of solidarity and of love? Can we say that the Churches which call themselves Christ’s own are so one that there is no divergence of faith, no competition, suspicion, mutual dislike, all things that are unthinkable in one body possessed of one spirit which is called to be to the world a revelation of the fact that God came into the world, into a world divided, a world broken and, like the key of harmony in music, brought everything into oneness, is it thinkable? And yet so it is.
We may say that no one but the saints can experience that oneness of which we speak. But this is not enough. To say that only the saints experience it does not mean that we have a right to remain outsiders to it, and in our every day life it is dividedness and separation that we perceive so painful. Can we say that we love one another? Certainly not. We love a few, we ignore the many, we dislike or hate a number of people. Are we at one? Yes, at blessed moments, when prayer takes over, when God takes over and we forget ourselves and one another in a way, to see one another only in Christ; but otherwise, no.
It makes each of us question: have I a right to come to the Table of the Lord? Yes, I may be proclaiming to the extent to which I know and understand it, the wholeness and integrity of the Orthodox Faith, but it is not enough to proclaim things with our lips; one must identify with them in such a way that what we proclaim, profess with our lips, must be our life. We can be heretics, we can be apostates of the Church and of Christ through the way in which we live; and this is why the Apostle says to us “Beware! beware! be attentive to the way in which you live” lest when you come to Communion you be condemned, lest you come to Communion and cannot commune with the God to whom you have come. Saint Paul has some very frightening words about it when he says that we should be aware of how we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, because it is fire, we may be consumed in it.
Perhaps the most tragic thing is that we are not aware either of the fact that the Body and Blood of Christ are fire, or of the fact that by receiving them unworthily we are consumed, we are dried and gradually reduced to cinders. But there is also another saying, of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, as a warning; anyone who comes to communion without a living awareness of Christ Whom he is meeting in a mystery, receives neither the Body nor the Blood of Christ, because in His mercy Christ allows him to receive nothing but bread and wine. Is not that tragic?
And when we think of ourselves and ask ourselves, who of us can receive the Holy Gifts? Yes, we must profess the Orthodox faith, we must belong to the Church, but this is not enough. We must belong to it through life; all our life must be in accordance with Christ’s life, our thoughts with His thoughts, our hearts attune to His heart, our will at one with His will; not perfectly because we are still incapable of this, but at least in longing, in determination, in a passionate, stern effort to overcome in us anything which is alien to this.
Who is entitled to come? Certainly no one who is not here for the beginning of the service, because the liturgy is not something done by the priest, it is something that takes place within the community, and every member of the community is active in its fulfilment; and so, if you do not care to be here from the very beginning of it, do not dare to come to communion. There is no place in it for you. If we discover hatred, rejection of anyone, refuse inwardly to make our peace, within our heart, within our will, within our life and action, with anyone, we cannot dare come to corn-come (?) to communion. Christ has said “If you bring your gift to the sanctuary and feel you have ought (?) against someone, leave your gift, go and make your peace”, and only then come, because otherwise it is condemnation that we will receive, claiming a right to be at one with Christ while we reject someone for whom He became man, for whom He died upon the cross.
So let us be very very careful. It is not greed that should bring us to communion, it is not the desire to receive something for ourselves, it is a desire to unite ourselves with Christ so as to be in conformity with Him in thought, in heart, in mind, in action, in everything which is us, and ask Him to make it possible by His power and grace. So again, again let us think of it. Is it possible that you have come simply in order to receive and not in order to share with Christ His own destiny. Can we say in the Lord’s prayer “forgive us as we forgive” if there is no forgiveness in us, and in that case how can we come to receive communion?
Let us reflect a little lest the warning of Saint Symeon the New Theologian and the more terrifying warning of Saint Paul come upon us. Amen.
Published: Newsletter № 248 1992 March