Category Archives: 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.

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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

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The Eucharist

I’m currently reading The Eucharist by Alexander Schmemann. Father Schmemann was a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The book was finished shortly before his death in 1983. My mentor has been recommending it for a while and I’ve finally started.

It can only be summed up as a tour de force of Eucharistic Theology. My western sensibilities scream a bit as I read it (I’ve just started chapter 4). The Eastern Church hardly acknowledges an individual approach to Christ and His Church. However, the explanations of liturgy and the arc of the entire ancient service are eye opening. A modern American low church, nondenominational experience seems like a bland saltine cracker compared to the majestic cake of ancient rites and liturgy.

I anticipate having to read this a second time before I can write something sensible on it.

Soli Deo Gloria

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