Eucharist


In this seventh chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom, Father Alexander Schmemann focuses on the exclamation “Let us love one another!” that precedes the symbol of faith. This was originally the kiss of peace that was an action of the whole assembly. From being a call to an action, it has become a call to a condition. At first glance, this may seem insignificant, for everyone knows that love is the highest Christian commandment. However, Father Schmemann argues that we need to consider the liturgical meaning of “Christian love.”

In fact, we have become so accustomed to this expression, we have heard preaching about love and the summons to it so many times that it is difficult for us to be struck by the eternal newness of these words. And yet Christ himself pointed out this newness: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another” (Jn 13:34) (134-135)

The world knew about love before Christ and the Old Testament clearly teaches love for God and for one’s neighbour. The newness of Christian love consists in extending it even to one’s enemies.

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Father Alexander Schmemann concludes this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdomby focusing on the meaning of commemoration. What does it mean for the priest to ask God to remember us in his kingdom during the Great Entrance? What does it mean to refer everything to the memory of God? While memory is fundamental to the life of the Church, school theology cannot adequately account for it, for it is not sufficiently “objective” or based on “texts” and so memory remains outside of the theological field of vision.

And, strangely enough, this theological obliviousness leads in fact precisely to the “psychologization of worship, which, like a splendid flower, blossoms in its reduction to outward “illustrative” symbolism and so greatly interferes with a genuine understanding of and genuine participation in worship. If, on the hand, the liturgical “remembrance,” the “celebration of the memory” of this or that event, is perceived today entirely as a psychological, intellectual focus on the “meaning” of that event (which inevitably abets its “symbolization”), and if, on the other, commemoration in prayer is simply identified with a prayer on behalf of another human being, then it is of course because we forget the genuine meaning of memory and commemoration, which is manifested in the Church. (124)

Memory is our human capacity to resurrect the past, but this very capacity is ambiguous for what it resurrects is no longer for it is past.

For, in the end, memory in man is nothing other than the knowledge, peculiar only to man, of death, of the fact that “death and time rule on the earth.” (125)

It is only in relation to this “natural” memory that we can appreciate the newness of that memory given to us in Christ. In the biblical understanding memory refers to the attentiveness of God to His creation. Thus

memory, like everything else in God, is real, it is that life that he grants, that God “remembers”; it is the eternal overcoming of the “nothing” out of which God called us into “his wonderful light.” (125)

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Father Alexander Schmemann continues this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom, by locating the meaning of the censing of the gifts during their offering in the foreknowledge of what they and we are destined to become, for

it is not “simply” bread that lies on the diskos. On it all of God’s creation is presented, manifested in Christ as the new creation, the fulfilment of the glory of God. And it is not “simply” people who are gathered in this assembly, but the new humanity, recreated in the image of the “ineffable glory” of its Creator. To it, to this humanity, which is eternally called to ascend to the kingdom of God, to participation in the paschal table of the Lamb and to the honor of the highest calling, we also show reverence with the censing, signifying by this ancient rite of preparation, sanctification and purification that it is “a living sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” (118)

A similar foreknowledge is at work in the “hymn of offering” which has a particularly “royal” tonality. While this royal key and symbolism has specific historical roots, we should especially note that

the theological meaning of this royal “key” is rooted above all in the Church’s original cosmic understanding of Christ’s sacrifice. By his offering of himself as a sacrifice, Christ established his reign, he restored the mastery over “heaven and earth” that was “usurped” by the prince of this world. The faith of the Church knows Christ as the conqueror of death and Hades, as the King, who has already been manifested, of the kingdom of God, which has already “come in power.” … From here stems the breakthrough of the Church into the glory of the age to come, her entering into the eternal doxology of the cherubim and seraphim before the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (119-120)

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Father Alexander Schmemann continues this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdomby arguing that it is not the order of the proskomidē that stands in need of cleansing, but rather our understanding of it, and in particular, our understanding of commemoration. Far from being something individual or utilitarian, its meaning is to be found

in referring all of us together and each of us individually to the sacrifice of Christ, in the gathering and formation of the new creation around the Lamb of God. In this is the power and joy of this commemoration, that in it is overcome the partition between the living and the dead, between the earthly and the heavenly Church … in taking out particles and pronouncing names, we are caring not simply for the “health” of ourselves or certain of our neighbours, nor for the fate of the dead “beyond the grave”; we offer and return them to God as a “living and well-pleasing” sacrifice in order to make them participants in the “inexhaustible life” of the kingdom of God. (112)

This offering is real because Christ has already made it his own and it therefore ends with a joyful confession and affirmation.

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Father Alexander Schmemann begins this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom,by noting the fundamentally human character of sacrifice which I quoted him discussing previously. But this is followed by a discussion of the inadequacy of human sacrifice, in which we discover that we are powerless to reach God, for it is only God who can save us and He does this in His Son.

In this sacrifice everything is fulfilled and accomplished. In it, above all, sacrifice itself is cleansed, restored and manifested in all its essence and fullness, in its preeternal meaning as perfect love and thus perfect life, consisting of perfect self-sacrifice: in Christ “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” and in Christ man so loved God that he gave himself totally, and in this twofold giving nothing remains not given, and love reigns in all… in it man’s eternal thirst for God was fulfilled and slaked the divine life became our food, our life. (104)

The sacrifice that the Church makes is not a new sacrifice but rather an entrance into the sacrifice of Christ in which “our life has become offering and sacrifice.” (105)

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Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on the Inner Eucharist in the sixth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby looking at the common principles that unite the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart.

Both the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart have an “exclusive” aspect which involves a “setting apart” of both the liturgical community and the one who prays. Just as we are called to lay aside earthly cares in the Liturgy, so also inner prayer involves a withdrawal to the cell of the heart and a laying aside of thoughts.

But both ecclesial prayer and personal prayer also have an inclusive aspect, involving intercession for the world, and a carrying of the world that is both filial and maternal.

During the invocation of the blessed Name of Jesus, a content dark and ambiguous rises from the depths. The heart is purified and freed from the passions and their roots; the forces of evil are exorcised to the extent of the encounter with the Name of Jesus that consumes, purifies, and sanctifies. This deep healing is not limited to the praying individual, but spreads around him or her like a sweet-smelling perfume. Sufferings, pains, preoccupations, and passions good or bad fill the human heart, and they cannot be left at the outer door of the church. If unheeded, these invade us to such a degree that prayer ultimately becomes impossible.

Therefore, it is important to present to the Lord a heart which is “falling apart at the seams” with the misery and suffering of the world and to purify it and exorcise it. The more the heart is purified and freed from the forces of evil, the more it echoes the suffering found in the heart of the Master who had compassion on the crowds and the sick. Through purification, it images the Master’s own heart. (115)

Moreover, both the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart have an apostolic aspect which involves a being sent into the world. In the “liturgy after the liturgy” we see the relationship between the Sunday, which is both the first day of the week and the eighth day which represents fullness, and the rest of the week. During the week we both prepare for the Eucharist and live out its fullness.

The rhythms of the eucharistic liturgy have been compared to the flux and reflux of the blood in the anatomical heart. There is an alternation between the systole – the contraction of the heart for the expansion of the blood that penetrates the organs, the cells, and reoxygenates them – and the diastole where, on the contrary, the heart becomes larger. When we leave the eucharistic banquet – where the Name of Jesus has become our food and where we are absorbed in Him – the Blood of Christ flows in our veins and irrigates our cells. When our heart beats in unison with the heart of the Master, we are – in the image of the apostles at Pentecost – sent back into the world to announce the wonderful things of God. …

As in the Eucharist, the encounter with God in the prayer of the heart must pass into another mode, a mode in which we present God to others. In benediction and with compassion, we lay the Name of Jesus on every creature, our own inner world, and our remembrance of the past and the future. (115-116)

In addition, both the eucharistic Liturgy and the prayer of the heart ascribe a key role to the Holy Spirit. It is a misunderstanding to see the prayer of the heart as exclusively Christ-centred. Prayers to Christ

constitute, in reality, the Pentecostal turning point, the basic gift of the Spirit: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (Cor 12:3). Consequently, the motion of the Holy Spirit causes the heartfelt urge to call Jesus “Lord,” and to desire His Lordship to live in the heart. (117)

It is the Spirit who engraves the Name of Jesus in our hearts so that Christ is formed in us.

Here we touch upon the deep meaning of spiritual fatherhood for those who seek to be awakened to the mystery of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit. The mystery of Christ is like a fiery name, a name of blood inscribed in the heart. The Spirit hides from view in the names of Jesus, which He makes present through the invocation of the same name in the heart. (117)

In the sixth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherentitled “The Inner Eucharist”, Father Boris Bobrinskoy turns his attention to the relationship between the prayer of the heart and the Eucharist of the Church. He begins:

Our era is more sympathetic to an individualistic conception of salvation or to particular techniques of the prayer of the heart than to ecclesial, cosmic, and social implications. Nonetheless, personal sanctification restores the human being to the liturgical function and vocation to encompass the entire world, the totality of humankind, in a pacified and loving heart. Sanctification restores the liturgical and royal mediation of the human person in a world shot through with waves of hatred and death, obscured by the powers of darkness, a world that groans and waits for the liberation of the children of God (Rom 8:21). Inner transformation of the human heart necessarily restores the sacramental function of the Church, which is which is to unite all human life to the mystery of the dead and risen Christ and to become transparent to the sanctifying presence of the divine Spirit. The rediscovery of the human being as a liturgical being causes a celebration of praise to God and the inscription of these praises in all modalities of life and work. (109)

There is thus an inseparable, intimate link between common liturgical prayer centred on the Eucharist, and our personal intimate prayer which comprises a secret liturgy on the altar of our own hearts. Father Boris draws on the work of Father Dumitru Staniloaë which has helped to underline the dogmatic, ecclesial and eucharistic character of the texts of the Philokalia. He also cites the following patristic texts that are worth quoting here:

Saint Macarius: Just as wine mingles in all the members of the one who drinks it and is transformed in him and he in wine, so does the one who drinks the Blood of Christ quench his thirst with the divine spirit who comingles with his soul and the soul with Him. For, through the Eucharist, those who commune with dignity reach the ability to partake of the Holy Spirit, and in this manner souls can live eternally. (110)

Origen: You are, all of you, a priestly people. Consequently, you have access to the sanctuary; each one of you has in himself his holocaust and he himself kindles the altar of sacrifice, so that it burns continually. If I renounce all my possessions, if I carry my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I deliver my body in order to burn with charity, if I acquire the glory of martyrdom, I offer myself as a holocaust on the altar of God. If I love my brothers to the point of giving up my soul for them, if I fight to the death for justice and truth, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I mortify my members of all carnal concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and I to the world, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God and I become the priest of my own sacrifice. (111)

Saint Ephrem: [The solitaries] are ordained priests for themselves, and they offer their asceticism. Fasting is their offering and wakefulness their prayer; repentance and faith are the sanctuary, their meditations are the holocaust. Their contemplation is the priest who presides; their lips offer the sacrifice unceasingly, prayer that longs for inner peace. (111)

Saint Gregory the Sinaite: The heart freed from all thought is moved by the Holy Spirit Himself and has become a true temple even before the end of time. The liturgy is celebrated entirely according to the Spirit. The one who has not yet reached this state will, thanks to other virtues, perhaps be a good stone in the construction of this temple, but he himself is not yet the temple of the Spirit nor His high priest. (111)

To be continued…

Father Schmemann begins this fifth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom by looking at the antinomy between the universal and the particular that underlines the contrast between the Great Litany (at the beginning of the Liturgy) and the Augmented Litany which completes the first part of the Liturgy but which has lost its proper meaning and has consequently been omitted in the Greek practice. While the Great Litany calls us to focus on the whole, the personal and concrete find their place in the Augmented Litany.

the antinomy of Christianity consists in the fact that it is simultaneously directed to the whole – to the entire creation, the whole world, all mankind – and to each unique and unrepeatable human person. … The Christian faith can say that the world was created for each individual, and it can say that each person was created for the world, to surrender himself “for the life of the world.” (82-83)

However, when the proper balance between the common and the private is lost in the liturgy, we find a profusion of “services of needs.” While these are indeed a contradiction in terms, as Archimandrite Kyprian Kern pointed out, “this essentially correct accusation remains fruitless as long as the balance between the common and the private is not within the liturgy itself…” (84)

Next follows the litany for the catechumens, which is another anomaly in contemporary practice, given the lack of catechumens who depart at this point. Here Father Schmemann takes issue with those who omit, or recommend omitting this part of the service. While agreeing that “nominalism can have no place in church life,” he goes on to ask “how nominal these petitions are and what is the proper meaning of the ‘relevance of the service to real needs’?” (85) He warns of the danger of taming the tradition according to our own perceptions and asks: “what must we see in the prayers for the catechumens – only a dried and withered limb … or an essential part of the very order of Christian worship?” (86-87) He sees them as the latter and argues that

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Having considered the relationship between word and sacrament, Father Schmemann continues this fourth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom by returning to the Little Entrance which in contemporary practice has become identified with the entrance with the gospels.

While the altar has become the central focus for both the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the faithful, this was not the case in ancient times. Rather access to the altar was restricted to the strictly eucharistic part of the liturgy, and before that the clergy would take their places on the bema, among the people, which was the place for listening to the Word of God – and we see a remnant of this practice in the place of the bishop’s throne. Even today, the most important parts of the non-eucharistic services, such as the polyeleion, are performed in the middle of the church and not in the altar. This historical detail is important because it shows that the liturgy involved an ascent to the altar, which is also the ascent to the kingdom. The Little Entrance marks a stage in this ascent in which the clergy and people, having entered the temple, take their places for listening to the Word of God.

This entrance with the gospels also forms a parallel to the entrance with the Gifts,

in which the consecration of the gifts is preceded by the offering. It is appropriate here to recall that the gospels are part of the Orthodox liturgical tradition not only in their reading, but precisely as a book. This book is rendered the same reference as an icon or the altar. … for the Church, the gospel book is a verbal icon of Christ’s manifestation to and presence among us. Above all, it is an icon of his resurrection. The entrance with the gospels is therefore not a “representation,” a sacred dramatization of events of the past – e.g., Christ’s going out to preach (in which case it would be not the deacon, but the celebrant, as the image of Christ in the ecclesial assembly, who should carry the gospel book). It is the image of the appearance of the risen Lord in fulfilment of his promise: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). (71)

We are reminded of this reality of Christ’s presence in the midst of the assembly when the celebrant proclaims: “Peace be unto all!” for peace is the name of Christ himself. To understand the prokeimenon we should realise that these verses of psalmody that it now comprises used to be an entire psalm that preceded the reading of scripture and, for the early Church, the psalms were the prayer of Christ Himself which become also the prayer of His Body the Church.

The prokeimenon – “the psalm that precedes” – introduces us to the sacrament of the word. For the word of God is addressed not to the reason alone, but to the whole man – to his depths or, in the language of the holy fathers, to his heart, which is an organ of religious knowledge, in contrast to the imperfect, discursive and rational knowledge of “this world.” The “opening of the mind” precedes the hearing and understanding of the word… (73)

The prokeimenon is followed by the reading of the epistle, although there is reason to believe that the ancient Church included passages from the Old Testament and the evolution and possible reform of the lectionary is a topic that requires serious attention if the scriptures are to be perceived “as the chief, incomparable and truly saving source of faith and life.” (74)

After the epistle comes the gospel which is preceded by the singing of the alleluia
and the censing. The alleluia verses held an important place in early Christian worship belong to the type of singing called melismatic which means that the melody takes preference over the word, unlike in psalmodic singing. This

expressed the experience of worship as a real contact with the transcendent, an entry into the supernatural reality of the kingdom. … The alleluia is a greeting in the most profound sense of the term. … It presupposes a manifestation and is a reaction to this manifestation. (75)

The alleluia is accompanied by the sensing of the gospel book and of the assembly and is followed by the prayer before the gospel.

This prayer, which is now read silently, occupies the same place in the sacrament of the word that the epiklesis, the supplication for the Father to send down his Holy Spirit, occupies in the eucharistic prayer. Like the consecration of the gifts, understanding and acceptance of the word depend not on us, not only on our desire, but above all on the sacramental transformation of the “eyes of our mind,” on the coming to us of the Holy Spirit. (76)

The homily which follows the reading of the gospel is a witness to the hearing of the word of God and its reception and is organically connected to it. The contemporary crisis of preaching in the Church is not simply due to a lack of technical skill on the part of the preacher, for

The homily can be, and often is even today, intelligent, interesting, instructive and comforting, but these are not the criteria by which we can distinguish a “good” homily from a “bad” one – these are not its real essence. Its essence lies in its living link to the gospel that was read in the church assembly. (77)

All theology and all tradition grows out of the “assembly as the Church” which is the sacrament of the proclamation of the good news and this is what it means to say that only the Church is given custody of the scriptures and their interpretation.

The Church alone knows and keeps the meaning of scripture, because in the sacrament of the word, accomplished in the church assembly, the Holy Spirit eternally gives life to the “flesh” of scripture, transforming it into “spirit and life.” Any genuine theology is rooted in this sacrament of the word, in the church assembly, in which the Spirit of God exhorts the Church herself – and not simply her individual members – into all truth.

I know that I said that I did not intend these summaries to get too detailed, but this seemed important and some of it is just eminently quotable. The rest of the chapter will hopefully follow tomorrow. I’m also aware that I’m not providing any comments or reflections. To be honest, much of what Father Schmemann touches on in this book touches me at a level that is too sensitive to speak about in public and so it seems safer to stick to summaries. However, there are also more general issues that are going through my head and which I will try and formulate more precisely sometime.

In this fourth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom, Father Schmemann begins by pointing out that the unbreakable unity between word and sacrament that we find both in the early Church and in the contemporary order of the eucharist, has become obscured by school theology which was influenced by western ideas and which led to a distorted understanding of both word and sacrament.

I daresay that the gradual “decomposition” of scripture, its dissolution in more and more specialized and negative criticism, is a result of its alienation from the eucharist – and practically from the Church herself – as an experience of a spiritual reality. And in its own turn, this same alienation deprived the sacrament of its evangelical content, converting it into a self-contained and self-sufficient “means of sanctification.” (66)

In Scholasticism, Scripture and the Church become two independent and external authorities, two “sources of faith,” so that the question becomes which has ultimate authority. And this leads to a further reduction:

For if we proclaim holy scripture to be the supreme authority for teaching the faith in the Church, then what is the “criterion” of scripture? Sooner or later it becomes “biblical science” – i.e., in the final analysis, naked reason. But if, on the other hand, we proclaim the Church to be the definitive, highest and inspired interpreter of scripture, then through whom, where and how is this interpretation brought about? And however we answer this question, this “organ” or “authority” in fact proves to be standing over the scriptures, as an outside authority. (66-67)

This is not simply a western problem but has also affected the Orthodox Church, for the application of the principle that the interpretation of scripture belongs in the Church remains unclear.

Insofar as it exists, our biblical scholarship finds itself entirely in the grasp of western positions, clinging as much as possible to the “moderate,” i.e., in fact the penultimate, western theories. And as far as church preaching and piety are concerned, they too have long since ceased to be “fed” by, to find their true source in the scriptures. (67)

This rupture between word and sacrament has also had serious consequences for the doctrine of the sacraments so that they cease to be evangelical in the deepest sense of the word. The focus shifted from their essence and content to their conditions and efficacy.

Thus, the interpretation of the eucharist revolves around the question of the method and moment of the transformation of the gifts, their conversion into the body and blood of Christ, but with almost no mention of the meaning of this transformation for the Church, for the world, for each of us. As much as it may seem paradoxical, “interest” in the real presence of the body and blood of Christ replaces “interest” in Christ. … Alienated from the word, which is always the word of Christ … the sacrament is in a certain sense torn away from Christ. (67-68)

However, in the liturgical and spiritual tradition of the Church, there is an unbreakable link between word and sacrament.

The word presupposes the sacrament as its fulfilment, for in the sacrament Christ the Word becomes our life. The Word assembles the Church for his incarnation in her. In separation from the word the sacrament is in danger as being perceived as magic, and without the sacrament the word is in danger of being “reduced” to “doctrine.” And, finally, it is precisely through the sacrament that the word is interpreted, for the interpretation of the word is always witness to the fact that the Word has become our life. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The sacrament is his witness, and therefore in it lies the source, the beginning and the foundation of the exposition and comprehension of the word, the source and criterion of theology. Only in this unbreakable unity of word and sacrament can we truly understand the meaning of the affirmation that the Church alone preserves the true meaning of scripture. (68-69)

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