Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Holiness as Idol

Orthodox Christians are expected to fast completely on Sunday mornings before partaking of the Eucharist. Not just from food; from most everything that would distract us significantly from the Act of intimacy we are about to undergo. I won't go into specifics, but I broke the fast rather severely last Sunday morning and, thus, refrained from communning. The temptation is there to do several things at that point.

The first temptation is to feel as though I'm "unworthy" or--better put--that I haven't "earned it" this week; the former is always true--I'm never worthy of the Body and Blood--and, that being the case, makes the latter a heresy--to say one has earned it makes him or her a liar.

The second temptation is to fall back into the process of preparation for "communion" in my Evangelical days, when Communion was no more than a memorial meal through which God was not expected to (though He certainly could) move within our lives. The idea--which is frowned upon by Evangelicals in theory, yet nonetheless colors their approach to repentance and forgiveness--is the idea that the verse in I John that says that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" means that we simply confess the transgression of the commandment, feel relatively sorry (though no one ever knows just how sorry is appropriate; certainly it is never emphasized that godly sorrow requires work, as this, they say, would infringe upon Christ's work in our forgiveness), and we can move along in our lives, confident that the Blood of Christ has wiped our leger clean. Whether our heart has changed--and this, the Fathers say, requires great effort and cooperation over time with the Holy Spirit--is another matter.

So I could reduce communion to a reward for being good enough, or dismiss my sin as being something that, ultimately, wouldn't separate me from communion. I wanted to go this second route, as I felt I needed the Eucharist (we all, of course, need God's grace) to make progress in my spiritual life. And yet...that's yet another wrong reason for communing!

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (of blessed memory), in his book Beginning to Pray, has this to say:
At such moments [of disobedience], how can we come into His presence? We can indeed, in prepentance, broken-hearted; but we cannot come in the way in which we immediately with to be received--with love, with friendship. [...] Not to speak of all the occasions when we should be aware that He cannot come to us because we are not there to receive Him. We want something from Him, not Him at all. Is that a relationship? Do we behave in that way with our friends? Do we aim at what friendship can give us or is it the frind whom we love? Is this true with regard to the Lord?
My behavior was a reflection on my heart that morning, as was, I think, even my desire to repent. My sins showed I was not so enthralled by the soon-coming Lord, escorted invisibly by the angelic hosts, that I was willing to abstain from certain things (only a few hours!) to prepare to receive Him. Likewise, my reasons for wanting to "repent" ("Perhaps Father has time for a 'quickie' confession this morning before Liturgy") was out of a desire, not for Christ alone, but out of an indignation that (tsk, tsk) I couldn't control myself, I couldn't do what I should do. Not even desiring holiness will do; such a desire makes holiness an idol. Only a desire for Christ should move us to the Chalice.


seraphim/seattle said...

really well said. i've struggled with this issue many times... particularly the 'i need communion, and my sins aren't sufficient to stand in the way of that need'. appreciate your reflection.

)( s

Aaron said...

ditto what Seraphim said. We want the medicine, but we must remember the substance of the medicine.

Also, i wonder if it is the medicine we've received thus far that has brought us the ability to be more careful in the discerning of the Lord's Body and Blooad.

Hope that makes sense.

David Bryan said...

Partook last night at presanctified. Hardly a day of perfection (surprise), but the anticipation was there, at least, of the culmination in Eucharist.

Good thought, Aaron, re: medicine received bringing discernment. I have no idea. Could be!