Fr. Kyrillos’ Comments and Confessions
We have been two months since our last encounter. Then we were preparing for the celebration of Great and Holy Week, Passion Week. That week in which we encountered the Bridegroom, Christ, suffering for our sins, giving his human life for us:
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”
(μείζονα ταύτης αγαπήν ουδείς έχει, ίνα τις τήν ψχήν αυτού θή υπέρ τών φίλων αυτού) (Jn. 15:13.)
Changed by this vision we sung transformed: I see Thy bridal chamber adorned and prepared for me and, if I have no wedding garment, you my Lord and King, make the robe of my soul to shine, because You are the Giver of Light. Passion week, and even more Pascha Week with the joy and security gained through the resurrection of the Lord, has opened that veil of doubt, of fear, of loneliness of the night that is this mortal and temporal life of ours. Our Faith shines in the midst of our uncertainties and sorrow:
“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18)
There is only one thing we have to do:
“blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching.”
That is the life of the disciple of Jesus, the Christian, a continuous watching to fulfil His commandments, and a continuous repentance for his inadequacies, changing him, if short in perseverance to a growth in humility, thanksgiving and love. A difficult task for man, which, in Christ’s love for him, He took in hand to ease with His own Life, with His own Being, with His own Natures, with His own Flesh and His own Blood:
“I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed… so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (Jn. 6:32-58).
The simplicity of the words of Jesus is extreme: “this is my body,” “this is my blood”- “τουτό μού εστι τό σώμα,” “τουτό εστι τό αιμά μου.” The human intellect experiences vertigo leaning over this chasm, this… Mystery! The bread and wine changed –μεταβαλών- in such a real manner that, as Kyrillonas, the priest, will say, in the 4th century, in that Last Supper Jesus carried Himself in his own hands. (Paschal Homilies, paragraph 1035.)
St. Cyprian, explains the meaning of something we, the priests, do in the Divine Liturgy. Just before the receiving the communion -and following the breaking of the Holy Body and mixing of a particle with the Holy Blood in the chalice- we add hot water, after this has been blessed with the words “Blessed is the warmth of thy holy things”, and pour it into the chalice saying: “The warmth (of faith, full) of the Holy Spirit.” The Saint explains that in the water is understood the people, which are conjoined with Christ in whom they believe and from whom they will never be separated:
“For because Christ bore us all, in that He also bore our sins, we see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ. But when the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people is made one with Christ, and the assembly of believers is associated and conjoined with Him on whom it believes; which association and conjunction of water and wine is so mingled in the Lord’s cup, that that mixture cannot any more be separated. Whence, moreover, nothing can separate the Church—that is, the people established in the Church, faithfully and firmly persevering in that which they have believed—from Christ, in such a way as to prevent their undivided love from always abiding and adhering. Thus, therefore, in consecrating the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered. For if any one offer wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us; but if the water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ; but when both are mingled, and are joined with one another by a close union, there is completed a spiritual and heavenly sacrament (mystery). Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other; just as, on the other hand, the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless both should be united and joined together and compacted in the mass of one bread; in which true sacrament our people are shown to be made one, so that in like manner as many grains, collected, and ground, and mixed together into one mass, make one bread; so in Christ, who is the heavenly bread, we may know that there is one body, with which our number is joined and united.” (Letter to Caecilio, number 13)
Through the centuries there have been men and women who have not been able to receive and accept this act of the Lord Jesus in the night when He was going to be betrayed. Not only the Scribes and the Pharisees of the Jews also some of His own disciples were not able to accept it. When He on a certain occasion said, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.”
“many of His disciples, when they heard this, said ‘this is a hard saying; who can understand it?’…. From this time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (Jn. 6:60, 67)
Saint Kyrillos of Jerusalem precisely, because it is difficult to believe the grandiosity of this Mystery, explained to his learners in this manner:
“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?”
And he answered:
“Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee 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 became partakers of the divine nature.” (Mystagogia IV.)
Frequently in these pages I bring to your attention the fact that the Christian life is a life of action, of three types of action. Now comes the action of learning to the fore. Have we asked ourselves, ‘Do I know that which I am going to receive in the Holy Communion?’ Better still, ‘Do I know Who I am going to receive?’ Even more, ‘who am I and what am I to receive Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God? What is the disposition of my soul to receive such Holy Food and Drink?'
Sometimes I wonder if the Christians, who come to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord from my hands, really know Who is He they are receiving. Why? Firstly, there is the general attitude of approaching the Sacrament; secondly, the way of retiring away after receiving it. Usually the communicants have learned well that they should approach fasting from food. In general, I feel they do so, although some times they confuse the Eucharistic fast with the fast of Lent or that of Wednesdays and Fridays. However, very few think of the need of fasting from sin and cleaning themselves through the Mystery of Confession and Repentance before receiving the Sacrament, thereby producing a change to their lives, towards fulfilling the Commandments and establishing a life of prayer in their daily routine.
Let us remember the troparion we commented for Passion Week: “…blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching.” Watching is learning; watching is praying and watching is fulfilling the will of God, His commandments. The Mother Church suggests to us reading The Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion, the night before coming to Communion and in the morning, before we leave for the Church, the Prayers of Preparation; these ones in fear and trembling. Reading these texts we learn. It is also advised to us that we reconcile ourselves to those that have wronged us or those we have wronged: doing so we love, even our enemies, as the Lord commanded.
However, if we approach simply fasting from food, we shall be the unworthy servant which the Bridegroom finds in slothfulness who like the five foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1-13) went to meet the Bridegroom unprepared. Yes they carried lamps, but with no reserved oil
Brethren, let us love the Bridegroom and prepare our lamps –that is, our life- with care, shining with virtues and right faith; that, like the wise virgins of the Lord, we may be ready to enter with Him into the wedding feast. For God the Bridegroom grants to all the incorruptible crown. (Holy and Great Tuesday)
© Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir. June 2003
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