Category Archives: Ancient Traditions

The Eucharist by Alexander Schmemann – finished reading it

I had no idea what I was getting into by reading this book. It was recommended by my mentor, several times actually. Since my dad loves buying books, I included it on the list of suggested items for Christmas gifts for me. I must confess I opened it before Christmas to start reading it.

So, here I am about six weeks after starting it and I finished it up a few minutes ago. The word that comes to mind is holistic:

ho·lis·tic

/hōˈlistik/adjective

  1. PHILOSOPHY: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

Throughout the book Schmemann is disdainful of consecratory formulas. The idea that some particular words or appeals are “the point at which” the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.

Nothing perceptible happens – the bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine. For if it occurred “palpably,” then Christianity would be a magical cult and not a religion of faith, hope and love.
Thus, any attempt to explain the conversion, to locate it in formulas and causes, is not only unnecessary but truly harmful. Chapter 11, section 6

To sum up a much longer argument, the sacrifice of Christ has been accomplished both here on earth and in Heavenly Places, in the true Holy of Holies. This is a rebuke of the (to my understanding) Roman Catholic theology of the ongoing sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist. As an aside: to me the finished work of Christ is essential theology. My only hope of salvation is in the firm assurance that it is already accomplished in and through Christ Jesus.

Schmemann’s main point, in my reading of the book, is this: The Eucharist is the entire service, the whole of the Liturgy. From the entrance, to the reading of the Word, to the preaching/teaching, to the gifts, to the declaration of belief (creeds), to the prayers of the people, to the table, to the prayers said over the gifts of bread and wine, to the distribution, and finally consumption by the body of believers: the church. That all are gifts of God to His people for their growth in the Spirit. That without a church, there is no Eucharist. The Eucharist then, rightly understood, is something the gathered body of believers do.

The conclusion is also carefully calibrated. The final chapter is on communion, the final act of consumption, the eating and drinking of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is, in a way, consummated in the consumption: it is made complete (whole) in the eating.

The Trinity, the Godhead, is in a state of perfect communion within the Godhead. The theological term is PerichoresisA divine inter-dwelling, the Father knows the Son, who knows the Father, who knows the Holy Spirit, who knows the Father, and the Son knows the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit knows the Son. In the consuming of the elements we enter into communion with GOD because the Son joined himself to sinful flesh, redeemed it and joined it to the Godhead. Because western thought has traveled so far down the road of individualism, we miss another larger and powerful truth. By being in communion with GOD, we are also in communion with any and all who have ever been in, are in, or will ever be in communion with GOD. It is a physical symbol of the divine truth of He in us and we in Him.

I loved the book. It was consistently challenging and always interesting. Each section reads as a carefully chewed over thought from a devote man concerned about the health of the church, the body of believers. He had criticisms of modern developments in Eastern Orthodoxy along with the expected ones towards Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. He really didn’t delve too deeply, if at all, into any of the Eastern Mysticism that so typically unnerves westerners. I highly recommend it.

Copyright © 2019 Amateur Anglican, All rights reserved

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancient Traditions

The Eucharist

I wish I could tell you where this post is going, but I’m not altogether sure yet myself. I’ve entered the phase of reading a book (I’ve been reading The Eucharist by Alexander Schmemann) where some of its core ideas are really starting to make me think. Not just think about them to understand them, but make me compare them to my own ideas on the topic. To consider what is essential to the idea and what is extraneous.

There is plenty in the book that is unremarkable as Christian Theology: Jesus is the Savior, the bible is the revealed word of God, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit is given to us as Christians, there is but one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, to name a few.

The concept that I’m digging through at the moment is this, that in the garden Satan did tempt Eve, but additionally he subverted language, he subverted words to do this. He lied and twisted God’s words. The meaning of words are subverted. We regularly dissect the meaning of words, trying to pinpoint what is exactly being said. Schmemann uses this idea to undergird one of his main assertions, that symbols are more powerful than words. Symbols join something together. A symbol points to something that mere words can falter with. I think instinctively of the Cross. Jesus said “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The image of the cross immediately brings to mind that sacrifice. That symbol has been imbued with a power beyond mere words. Likewise the bread and wine of communion have been imbued with power. Jesus said we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Many of his followers left him after he said this and he never modified the statement. He then instructs his disciples in the institution of the Lord’s supper: Bread is the body and wine is the blood, do this in remembrance of me.

The son of God joined himself to sinful flesh and became joined to human flesh for eternity. He redeemed us on the cross. Fully God and fully man. God remembered us. It’s not like God forgets, this is an active engagement, he did something for us. The remembrance in the Eucharistic feast draws from this understanding of “remembering”. His body, broken for us. His blood poured out for us. Thus in taking the bread and drinking the wine we are joined to Christ, into his body and blood. AND, we are joined to each other as partakers of the divine mystery. And then to all who came before us in Christ and to all who are to join with Christ.

Ok, that’s enough mind blowing concepts for one sitting. I need a glass of wine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancient Traditions

The Prayer before the Gospel reading

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

-Orthodox Liturgy

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancient Traditions