Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Lectures 1961 – 1962. Lecture 8

Theme: Liturgy, The vocation of man   Place:    Period: 1961-1965   Genre: Talk

I want to speak on the connection there is between the liturgy and life, between worship and action, between what happens in the Church both to us and thanks to us and what is going on in the outer world. A German theologian, called Urs von Balthazar has written a book on St. Maxim the Confessor and called it “Cosmic Liturgy”, in this title he underlines the link there is between the cosmos and the liturgy which is perhaps one of the most characteristic features of the teaching, the world outlook we find in St. Maxim. But before we come to this I would like to say a few words about the liturgy, not in its specific sense of the Eucharistic service of the Orthodox the Church but in the general sense in which it can be used.

The word Liturgy means the common action of the people of God, in that respect it has got no limitation, it is not limited to acts of devotion, to sets or sequences of prayer, it is not limited to one section of life, it is the specific activity of the people of God considered as such. And it is not the activity of its individual members in their separatedness but it is the activity of the total people of God in each of his members as well as in the totality of them. What I mean by underlying this side is the fact that one can not in the people of God distinguish the totality from the part because each is the vehicle of the total grace that belongs to the Church in so far as he belongs to it itself and the Church possesses in its oneness that very grace that very life which belongs to each of its members in its fullness in its integrity.

Sometime before St. Maxim expressed his theology of worship and life in Constantinople; in the desert of Syria an ascetic which at the same time was a poet and a theologian, Ephraim, underlined the fact that prayer should never be shut up in words of worship, that the totality of life should be an act of prayer. And if we bring together the views of St. Maxim, the definition which I have tried to give of the liturgical action of the Church, the clear witness of Ephraim which could be supported by others, we may say that prayer must be life in contemplation while life is prayer in action. There is no divergence between the two; otherwise than as a result of sin that is of the fall, that although we belong to the Church we also do not belong to it, although we are members of the Church, we also belong and very deeply, very concretely to the world as contrasted with the Church. There is here a tragic moment, there is here also provi­dential moment. It is not enough to think of the effects of the liturgy on the life of the world and on the life of the Christians only in terms of more perfect, more moral, more adequate activities, it goes without saying that when we have prayed in church, when we have received again, when we have renewed in ourselves (?) the peace of God, when we have acquired a new dimension or depth, when we have heard God’s concrete word and teaching, we can go into the world with a new inspiration, in a new disposition, with a clearer and better knowledge of what we should do in this world, but this is only a small part of the significance of the link there is between the liturgy on the one hand and the world on the other, because if the function of the people of God is a liturgical function, if everything which the people of God does in its entirety as well as in each of its members has got the value of a liturgical action, the link between the two is more profound than the one which I have just mentioned, inspiration gained within the pressings of the Church and becoming the moving power of our activity outside, and indeed so it is.

St. Maxim is one of those theologians which has thought out in the deepest way this connection and the meaning of man’s existence on earth. For him man according to Biblical teaching belongs completely to two worlds. On the one hand he belongs completely to the visible world of the created beings, there is a deep generic relatedness between man and all those things material, visible, tangible, in which is our world; he is from a certain angle, on one side of his reality, the last term of God’s creative acts that begin with creating matter and energy and energy combining them in the most complex way which is observed in a human being, the human being appears to St. Maxim as a summing up of all there exists in this world of ours, in this cosmos of ours, he is akin not only to living beings but also to every thing that has existence in terms of matter and energy, and his link, his kinship is so profound that he can be the summing up of all creation, sense and know in his experience all that belongs to the created world, visible, tangible, material. On the other hand, God created man akin to the world of the spirits, of the angels. We have already noticed the fact that the word spirit must be understood when we speak of angels, of the heavenly powers not in the same sense in which we say that God is Spirit; what we mean to say when we speak of the angels of God, or the demons being pure spirits, is that they do not belong to this heavy, tangible, materiel world of ours, but not that they do not belong to the concreteness, (?) to the compactness as it were, of the created. God is a spirit in a more radical sense. He simply is not what we are. Man belongs to this invisible world by his soul, he is akin to all the invisible and he stands on the threshold of the visible and invisible not only simply connected with both but also connected with God. He is related to God profoundly. God has created him in His own image, he is in this created world a revelation of God Himself and his vocation consists, according to St. Maxim to achieve within himself not only the static image of God which is given once and for all, which is conformity, but also a dynamic likeness with his Creator to be not only an icon but to be a living and active presence, and a presence which is not simply analogy, but which is a real presence of God, because this conformity between man and God is the condition of man’s ability to become the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, the Temple of the Father and of the Son and the partaker of the divine nature. In this relationship with God fulfilling what he is called to be he can bring to God all those beings which are akin to him, but it is extremely important to realise that this bringing to God, into the full harmony of the divine kingdom, of all those beings to whom he is akin, does not begin when he acts as guide or as king of creation, it begins deeper, it begins within himself when all that belongs to this created world in him as a microcosmos is presented, offered, dedicated to God, is touched by divine grace, set on fire, transformed and transfigured and ultimately partakes of what is God’s life and to the extent to which it is given to a creature, to Gods’ nature. The basic event is not activity, it is being, in that respect it is only by becoming holy that man can achieve his vocation, (not as I have said (?), because only being holy he can act in accordance with the will of God, but because the conquest by God of the cosmos, begins by the conquest of the microcosmos man is. In him, in his person, the totality of the created world is reunited to God when he becomes a saint of God, the Temple of the Holy Trinity and in that respect, the Incarnation of the Word of God is an event of cosmic significance and not only of historical significance. In Him, in Jesus of Nazareth, in Christ our Lord, the created and the uncreated are reunited into a mystery of oneness which is the pattern of what should and will, we believe and hope, happen when God shall be all in all. The vocation of man is therefore first of all to become what he is called to be and becoming and being what he is called to be, his vocation consists in being the guide who can lead all creatures into this relationship with God; but this relationship with God is the kingdom of God, not a kingdom in which God reigns, or in which certain circumstances, certain characteristics are achieved and fulfilled, but a kingdom in which God and His creatures enter into an ever increasing relationship which can be defined finally paraphrasing in a word the words of the Apostle “All in All”, by the word which Father Bulgakov like so much ‘Panentheism’ the state in which all things are in God and God is in all things. This vocation of man has been made impossible in its directness and simplicity by the fall of Adam. He has fortified (?) his own vocation and as a result he has become incapable of fulfilling “ad extra”, outside of himself what he had not fulfilled “ad intra” within himself. As I have said, in the Lord Christ, the new Adam appears who fulfils in himself all the plenitude which not only was given to Adam, but was offered to him as a possibility which he possessed in a germinal way but not in an active and actualised way and this the moment where the liturgy comes into the picture. I will now say a few words about the liturgy in its sacramental sense in its more intense meaning. The very centre of the Church’s life, what makes the Church’s life unique, completely profoundly different from anything there is in the created world, are the Sacraments. The Sacraments in which for a moment, on a minute space of God’s world the very thing is achieved for which the world was created. The bliss of the creature reintegrated into a relationship with God which is already the plenitude of the kingdom already come with power, it is the Incarnation of the Word of God which is at the centre of this event, not only because the Lord Christ has power to grant to His Church the possibility which I have mentioned, but because what we are speaking of is an eschatological reality; it is not in vain or to make the talk more difficult that I use this word which is so much misused, but because it is necessary I think for us to unders­tand clearly the situation which the Incarnation of the Word of God has created. “To eschaton” means in Greek two different things, that which is decisive and that which is final. That which is decisive may be an event to which nothing can be added and yet which has not acquired, does not possess yet all its possible extension, all his comprehensiveness; it is only when the decisive event has conquered all the ground to which it was destined that the eschaton acquires the meaning of finality, of perfection, of fulfilment. The Incarnation of the Word of God is the absolute eshaton in the sense         of the decisive event, the earth has born its fruits and God has given its increase, the earth has offered to God the flesh of the Incarnation in an active painstaking heroic endeavour throughout history and God has accepted the gift and has fulfilled it to the fullness to which the whole creation is called. In the Incarnation which is conditioned equally by the earth and by heaven in the words of Gregory Palamas, “by the acceptance of the Virgin as well as by the positive will of God”, in the Incarnation the vocation of the creature is fulfilled, not the vocation only as far as one being, Jesus of Nazareth, is fulfilled, but in Him all that there is, all the energies and all the matter of the world summed up, are fulfilled. In the life in the death, in the Resurrection, in the Ascension of Jesus, this is brought to its plenitude and finality as far as He is concern, in Him the created is united totally with the uncreated, the only thing which is not reunited to God is man who has got a free will and a free determination, but even so man is not left outside this process of reintegration because the sacrifice of Christ once offered is sufficient and the new man in a new way has become the New Adam. In the resurrection of Christ the whole world, all that is created, visible and invisible has gone through an event and in the ascension of the Lord and the sitting at the right hand of the Father we see again in a new way the mystery of our relatedness to God; the material substance of this world which to makes (?) the body of Christ, man very man, true man for ever, is now in an incomprehensive way, has entered into the very mystery of the Holy Trinity. But in this world of ours the events which are decisive are still finite, they are not final yet because if the whole world is recapitulated by Christ as St. Iraeneus of Lyon puts it, if the whole world, in Him, has got a head, a guide, a master, one who holds all things together now and has brought them into the very mystery of divine life, it still remains that every human being is to be conquered one after the other and within this mysterious relationship which we call the Church in which God and man are together already in the world to come although they are still in this becoming world, men on their way from limitation to openness, in their gradual becoming what they are to be and what they should be, men are held by divine Grace which are sacramental actions. The substance of this world, free of sin because only man has sinned, the substance of this world, Godbearing, Spiritbearing united because and through the Incarnation to the Lord and God become a way in which man receive divine participation. But these sacraments have not only got a subservient instrumental meaning as far as we are concerned, it is not only for us that this water becomes the water of the kingdom, water charged filled with angelic and divine power, it is not only for us that this oil, this chrysm, this bread and wine are transfigured into creatures of the world to come, it is also for themselves and in themselves. We participate in something which is far wider, we participate in the mystery of a world already reconquered to God; already fulfilled and which is held back only by us, and yet it is only in us, through us and together with us that this world can be fulfilled in this mysterious way of the kingdom of which we have no idea because one think of it in terms of relationships and not in terms of transfiguration, a new earth a new heaven and God all in all. Without us things cannot happen because we stand on the threshold.

If you think of the eucharistic liturgy you will perceive that one of the things that is impressive is that we have in the liturgy in all reality a variety of moments. At the background of the liturgy there is both Calvary and the Resurrection, because our Lord is the Risen Christ, because He is the Word incarnate who has conquered, the Lord Supper is possible and all there is in it is possible, the Spirit of God comes upon this bread and this wine and it fills it and fulfils it, this bread and wine become partakers of the divine, not that their nature is somehow swallowed up and destroyed, but in a mysterious relatedness by which the creature outgrows itself and become partaker of what is God Himself and yet it (?) you follow the liturgy a moment comes when these creatures of bread and wine are given to us, the body and blood of Christ is given to us, as certain services say in the sacramental forms of bread and wine and then they are taken away from the Holy Table signifying the Ascension. The consecration is absolutely real, the transfiguration of this bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is absolutely real in the most realistic sense and yet the ascension is a sign, is given as a sign, because it is only in us that the holy Gifts can achieve the fulfilment which they are given for, and it is in us and not apart from us that the mystery of this total union of the world and God can be achieved. Now if we think, both of the liturgy as we know it in experience and of the teaching of St. Maxim the Confessor, we will see that it is our becoming real concrete member, limbs of the body of Christ that is the beginning of the salvation of the world, but not only this because the sacramental life, the divine touch that transforms and transfigures wine, oil, bread, water, into creatures of the world to come is already the beginning of this world that is to come and yet is present with us in power but there is further, there is more to it, if we are really becoming together with the head one body, if St Ignatius of Antiope (?) was right when he said that the Church, head and limbs is the total Christ and if St. Ireneus of Lyon was right daringly to say that together with Christ, in Christ, becau­se we are one with Him, the Church can be called the only begotten Son of God, then our function is that of Christ, we are called in our togetherness in our oneness as particulars members and collectively to be the great Litourgos (?), the great priest of this world and transform the totality of Life into an act which has liturgical, almost sacramental meaning, or perhaps increasingly sacramental meaning. St. Simeon the New Theologian, speaking of prayer says that if we want to pray we must find peace with God with our conscience our neighbour and with things[1] and in another place he comments, and Theophane the Recluse also comments and explains the same, that we can treat the created world either as a world which we make sacred or a world which we profane, which we desacrate. We should handle things, treat things the most humble things knowing that they belong to the substance of a world which is called to become fulfilled and filled with divine presence and if we only could realise this to the degree which is given us we can neither realise this nor fulfil it beyond the degree which we have already ourselves perceived understood or achieved. I cannot really explain it because I have as little a vision of it as anyone of us, we do not see things in this light because we ourselves are far below the mark which is our vocation and yet our vocation lies in these very facts this is the meaning, the contents of life for us, there is nothing else that makes sense except being the image of God, being a divine presence through not only dedication, but also assimilation to the body of Christ integration into and through partaking of the divine nature through communion that is community of life, of nature, of destiny with the uncreated God and through this to be not the leader that leads somewhere towards an end the flock (?) of those beings which are committed to his charge but to be a link (?), to be the way in which God is being revealed not only statically but actively, dynamically, in motion, in action transfiguring the world, the image of this transfigured world I have already mentioned to you but it comes so natural to my mind now is this image by Theophane the Greek of the Transfiguration of Christ: the mountain with the three peeks, the Christ in the middle, Elias and Moses the Apostles and light, divine light that falls from Christ, from His face and hands and feet from His clothes and which does not only throw light on everything that surrounds Him but, touching all things, calls of them a response of fragrance a response which is life itself as if this divine touch awakened a latent reality of transfiguration in them, and this meets with the words of St Isaac of Syria who wrote in the 7th century that if our heart was pure we would see all things glittering and shining with the beauty of grace which rests on all things. The link between the liturgy and the cosmos lies in us in the sacramental reality of our gradual transformation and through us because it is given us to bring forth the material substance of this fallen world into the kingdom of God through us of all those things which exist all those things which God has created that they should be glorious and rejoice in Him.

[1] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim. “The fringes of the prayer robe of the holy Bad Shem Tov had their own life and their own soul. They could move even when his body did not move for through the holiness of his doing, the holy Bad Shem Tov had drawn into them life and soul.


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