Following on parts one and two, this is the final in the presentation of my notes from the discussion Building the Body of Christ given by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) at my parish church, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland. Please keep in mind that these are notes, and only seldom verbatim; I don’t write that quickly. As in the other sections, I’ve made an attempt to track down and present in full various quotations. Likewise, the “I” in these notes is Metropolitan Kallistos, not myself. We continue and conclude with this installment.
Saturday afternoon, 23 February: “Eternity in the Present: Baptism and Eucharist”
Last night there was a question that still needed answering, about the salvation of all. Will it happen that the majority are not save, and would that mean God has failed?
Answer: We cannot answer this. First Timothy [2.4]: God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The offer of salvation is made to all. In extreme forms of Calvinism, some are predestined to hell. The Orthodox have never believed that. The offer of salvation is to all. But in creating man with free will, God took a risk. He is a God of love and love requires freedom. Desiring a world of love, humans are all created with freedom of conscience. God’s love is infinite. But we are free. We can say Yes to God, or say Not to God forever, which is hell. God doesn’t wish anyone to go to hell. Some Christians have theorized that all would be saved, like Origen, an idea called apokatastasis. He was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Gregory of Nyssa believed the same. Isaac the Syrian hoped for the same, saying God does not requite evil, but sets evil aright. He found it a mystery. He couldn’t believe that God’s love would fail. It is false to say, with Origen, “All must be saved.” But it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. In this we are confronted with something beyond our imagining. From Father Sophronius in his book on St Silouan:
I remember a conversation between him [St Silouan] and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, “God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.”
Obviously upset, the Staretz [St Silouan] said, “Tell me, supposing you were in paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?”
“It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,” said the hermit.
The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. “Love could not bear that,” he said. “We must pray for all.”
[end of answer]
How do the two hands of the Father work together in the Divine Liturgy? Revive your wonder. Nicholas Cabasilas said of the Eucharist, “This is the final mystery: beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it.” St John of Kronstadt said the Eucharist is a continual miracle.
The word for liturgy is leitourgia. Some explain it as ergon tou laou, which is bad etymology, but good theology. The classical usage is “something done by many persons together.” In the Divine Liturgy there are no spectators, only participants. It’s character is “we” not “I.” “I” does appear, in priestly prayers and the “I believe” of the Creed. But “we” is everywhere. In the Lord’s Prayer, it is “our,” “us,” never “my” or “me.” In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, is the story of the old woman and the onion:
Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.
If she had only said, “It’s our onion,” might it not have been strong enough to pull them all out? To be in the image of God to be in the image of the Trinity, a community of love. The old woman was also non-liturgical: “my” and not “our.” In the Divine Liturgy, we are precisely sharing the noetic onion. In the preparation at the beginning of the Liturgy, usually before anyone else has arrived, the priest comes out and bows to the west [to where people will be later]. Before bringing the gifts, he bows again, and says, “Forgive me.” The people bow back and respond, “Forgive me, too.” He bows again a third time, too. What is the meaning of this threefold bowing exchange? It is a threefold exchange of mutual pardon. We come to communion as members of one another, asking forgiveness, without which we are not truly sharing. William Blake prophetically said, “And throughout all Eternity / I forgive you, you forgive me. / As our dear Redeemer said: / This the Wine, and this the Bread.” Notice the great drama before the anaphora. The priest says, “Let us stand aright; let us stand with awe; let us attend, that we may present the Holy Offering in peace,” and the people respond, “A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” The priest then says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” to which the people respond, “And with thy spirit.” The priest then says, “Let us lift up our hearts,” and the people respond to him, “We have unto the Lord.” The priest then says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord,” Eucharistosomen to Kyrio, which also means, “Let us offer the Eucharist to the Lord.” And the people respond, “It is right and proper,” Axion kai dikaion estin. St John Chrysostom said, “As we begin the actual celebration of the dread mysteries, the priest prays for the people and the people pray for the priest, for the words ‘and with thy spirit’ mean precisely this: Everything in the Eucharistic thanksgiving is shared in common. For the priest does not offer thanksgiving alone, but the whole people give thanks with him. For after he has replied to their greeting, they then give their consent by answering: ‘It is meet and right.’ Only then does he begin the Eucharistic thanksgiving.” St John says they need to give their consent, and everything in the Eucharist is shared in common. Keeping this meaning of the Divine Liturgy before our eyes, as a shared action, let us see how the two hands of God work in it. We call the Eucharist the Sacrament of the Upper Room. But there are two such Upper Rooms: for the Last Supper and for Pentecost. A real presence of Christ and a real presence of the Holy Spirit. A different presence of the Holy Spirit, but no less real. We think of Communion as Christ, his Body and Blood, but it is also communion of or in the Holy Spirit. Let us look now at five Christological moments in the Divine Liturgy, and then five Pentecostal moments when the Holy Spirit is particularly emphasized.
1.) Just before “Blessed is the Kingdom…,” when a deacon is present, he says to the priest, “It is time for us to start,” but not exactly that way. He says, “It is time for the Lord to act,” Kairos tou poiēsai tō Kyriō. This is a from Psalm 118.126 in the Septuagint. Suddenly we learn the liturgy isn’t just words, but the actions, and not ours, but the Lord’s. The primary actor and agent in the Divine Liturgy is Christ, invisible but with full and immediate power.
2.) During the Cherubic Hymh, before the Great Entrance, the priest says, “You are the one who offers and is offered, the received and the given, O Christ our God.” The true celebrant is Christ, the sacrificer and the sacrifice, both priest and victim.
3.) At the exchange of peace between the clergy, just before the Creed, they say to one another, “Christ is in our midst.”
4.) At the anaphora, when the priest says, “Take, eat, This is my body” and “Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood.”
5.) At Communion itself, “The servant of God, (name), is granted to partake of the precious and all-holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The Holy Spirit’s work in the Divine Liturgy:
1.) After the Great Entrance, when there’s a deacon, the priest says, “Remember me, my brother and fellow celebrant.” The deacon responds, “Pray for me, holy master.” The priest then says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The deacon then says, “The Spirit himself will concelebrate with us all the days of our life.” Just as Christ offers, the Holy Spirit concelebrates.
2.) The dialog before the anaphora. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
3.) Especially important is the epiklesis. The priest says, “Again we offer unto Thee this rational and bloodless sacrifice and beseech thee and pray thee and supplicate thee: Send down they Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts set forth.” “We” and “us” not “I.” And note that the Spirit will change them. The consecration is not performed by the priest, nor by the priest and the people, but by the Holy Spirit, who himself changes the gifts. As over the font, so over the bread and wine. One difference: the waters are sanctified, but are not changed. The gifts are changed. After a baptism, the waters are poured out on clean earth, but the consecrated gifts are consumed with great care, every crumb and drop. The Holy Spirit here as always is making Christ present, enabling us to have communion. Jesus said at the Last Supper of the Holy Spirit, “He will take what is mine and declare it to you” [Jn 16.14].
4.) Placing the bread in the wine, the celebrant says, “The fullness of the Holy Spirit.” The celebrant then pours the hot water, the zeon, into the chalice, saying “The fervor of the Holy Spirit.” Ephrem the Syrian:
In your Bread is hidden a Spirit not to be eaten,
in your Wine dwells a Fire not to be drunk.
Spirit in your Bread, Fire in your Wine,
a wonder set apart, received by our lips.
See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you.
See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized.
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism.
In the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit.
5.) After communion, in the hymn of thanksgiving: “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit.” And then “Let us go forth in peace”—not an end, but a beginning. The liturgy is finished. The liturgy after the liturgy is about to begin, spreading into the world the life we’ver received in Christ, to combat all the ills of the world. St John Chrysostom described two altars, one decorated in the church with gold and silver. Another on every street corner, in the marketplaces. We can sacrifice on it any time. What is this second altar? The poor, the homeless, all those for whom Christ died and who are in special need. Without this sacrifice, the liturgy is grievously incomplete. St John of Kronstadt said, “In the words, ‘Take, eat…drink,’ is contained perfect love, invincible love. What shall we give to God in gratitude for this love?”
Question One: What about the Father in the Divine Liturgy? How is our service Trinitarian?
Answer One: The whole structure is Trinitarian. “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, with some prayers addressed directly to Christ. Also, “O Heavenly King” is addressed directly to the Holy Spirit. It’s difficult for us to speak of the Father without Christ: “No one comes to the Father but through me” [Jn 14.6]. The Father is not distinctly emphasized. We come to him through his two hands.
Question Two: On the separation among churches, east and west, and the Holy Spirit in that.
Answer Two: Along with the filioque, there is the role of the pope. I am a dove, not a hawk, on the matter of the filioque. It is an unauthorized addition to the Creed. We say to our western brothers, please restore the Creed to its original form, in which errors are avoided. The Cappadocian Fathers emphasized the Son and Spirit find their origins in the Father, the fountainhead and source of all. St Augustine described the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Son but not as from the Father, “de principe Patri.” He maintained the difference. This is a valid theological opinion, and he is a saint in the Orthodox Church. I do not believe that the faith of the west in the filioque is fundamentally different than that in the Orthodox Church. With the filioque out of the Creed we could proceed. The problem lies more with the role of the papacy. Not all Orthodox would agree with me.
Question Three: Frequency of communion. St Mary of Egypt communed one in her life, at the end.
Answer Three: St Anthony also. He spent twenty years in a ruined fortress without seeing anyone. The great saints could receive communion very infrequently , but they lived very close to Christ. They received it with such intensity, it would last them many years. But we are not like them, and need more frequent communion. Not “I’m a sinner. I shouldn’t come.” Rather “I’m a sinner and I need supplies.” We don’t come because we’re worthy, but because Christ invites us. They’re the Holy Gifts. We didn’t earn them. Many things in the lives of the saints are to be admired, and not imitated.
Question Four: In the Creed, in the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, it was approved as “We believe….” So why do we say “I believe”?
Answer Four: It wasn’t originally envisioned that the Creed would be used in the Liturgy. It was originally used in baptism, so the candidate reasonably enough used “I believe.” About 476 in Antioch the Creed was taken into the Liturgy, keeping the form “I believe.” Some Western groups use “We believe.” but not the Orthodox Church.
Question Five: Where do you think the Church is going in the future? Do you expect another Ecumenical Council?
Answer Five: I am not a prophet. I would hope and pray rather than predict. We can see now a double movement, a great revival in Eastern Europer and the former Soviet Union. In Russia in 1988, there were 7,000 parishes. Now there are more than 23,000. There were 18 monasteries, and now there are over 700. In Rumania too, Bulgaria, and Serbia. There are many signs of hope. But there are signs of decline, as in Greece. When prosperity increases, people experience a diminishment of attachment to the faith. In the West, perhaps we’re opening more parishes, but I am afraid we’re experiencing losses. Fifty years ago, parish life was much more full. Let us look to ourselves. Do we turn personally to Christ in the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it’s not the time for a Great Council. When there is one, however, hopefully they’ll discuss the organization of the Church in the western world. The future is uncertain. We do not know when Christ will come. We cannot keep thinking of the future to continue always as is. Remember the end of Revelation: “Indeed, I am coming soon.” “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” We pray “Thy kingdom come.” We must keep an eschatological dimension to our conceptions of the future.
Question Six: John doesn’t mention the Eucharist in the Last Supper, but the footwashing, the divine washing of impure humanity, to be related to ecological matters.
Answer Six: Father Sophrony was once asked a last question at a lecture: “What is God?” Sophrony answered, “Tell me first, what is man.” The relationship of John to the Synoptic Gospels is not at all clear. It is generally assumed that it was the last gospel written, and he may or may not have known and chosen to mention things from the others. We might expect several things to appear that don’t: the Transfiguration, the suffering in Gethsemane. There are internalized in John’s Gospel. John 1[.14]: We beheld His glory. It is quite unexpected that there is no Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper. The footwashing is striking, and related to the early part of our discussion of the liturgy as a continuation of our service to those in need. Does he not emphasize how the Eucharist should then lead to self-sacrificing love to fellow man?