Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eucharist: The Embodiment of Truth

Father Stephen Freeman has a post that got me thinking about the Eucharist, which is, more than anything else, what drew me out of where I was as an Evangelical and made me hungry for something more -- the reality of God in this physical plane. I constantly tell folks that the main reason I joined the Orthodox Church was that, when I looked at the bishops of the first and second centuries AD, then re-read the Scriptures in light of their consensus, I came away with a drastically different view of what the reality of being "in Christ" actually means.

The Eucharist (no pun intended) embodies that reality. This is not something that can be "reformed," "rediscovered," or "recreated." It's either a reality that exists within a given community as the ultimate gift of God, the ultimate testament to a "one-storey universe" -- or it doesn't. And it doesn't--it can't!--exist just because such-and-such a group says they've "got it." There were (and are) certain qualifications for being a truly eucharistic fellowship and gathering -- all of which qualifications (the apostolic laying on of hands, the physical transmission of the faith from bishop to bishop, from babushka to baby, and others) are themselves also beautifully organic. These seeming limitations, supposedly confining God's saving presence in physical boundaries, nevertheless bring us to the realization that Christ's Church is, that it is to be joined, and that it cannot be manufactured. It is not a matter of parsing apart theological positions to ensure the "validity" of some self-made community's communion service. This reality of the presence of the God Who Is and Who Is with us -- is not something we make, but (to paraphrase Rich Mullins here) is something which is making us, which was given to mankind from the Outside, to be taken into our inside (not merely the stomach but also our heart of hearts), and which cannot be separated from the eternal life of our Creator, the One Who Gives.

I remember my moment of realization, when I realized that my assent to this Church of God made no difference. When I looked at an icon of the Theotokos and Child, the border of which was surrounded by saints that were (at that time) completely unknown to me, I realized that this Church has been what it's been for 2,000 years and has gotten along just fine without my approval -- or even my knowledge of its existence, for that matter. It was I who needed Her, not the other way around. I needed Her to give me the Bridegroom's Flesh and Blood, for it was to Her that such saving antidotes to the death that reigns in my members had been given.

I know the common cliché is that Evangelicals tend to stress "knowledge about God" whereas Orthodox actually "know God" through sacrament and living the Holy Spirit's life in the Church -- and, granted, the cliché can get far too simplistic if we make it the soundbyte I've seen it become in certain places -- but the flesh-to-flesh encounter with our Lord is too intimate to be excluded from our walk with Him. Christ, found in the Eucharist and received in faith by those united with Him in His death, is the seed of immortality that will blossom forth on the Last Day and give us Life (John 6:54) -- it is through this that the mortal puts on immortality (1 Cor. 15:54).


Anonymous said...

But Evangelicals, also known as Anglicans, serve the Eucharist as well. Are you sure you don't mean fundamentalist when you say Evangelical?

David Bryan said...


Yes, though I think it'd be more accurate to say that "Anglicans, who comprise some of those in the large camp of Evangelicalism," are divided among themselves as to exactly what the Eucharist is. The same is true with Lutherans. High Church Anglicans (or Anglo-Catholics, if you prefer) will insist on the patristic view--that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, no questions asked and no qualifications made--while Low-Church Anglicans (who more readily accept the term "Evangelical," imo) can, though not all do, hold to a stance little better than the "memorial view" of most Evangelicals. Lutherans can go that "low," as well, if I'm not mistaken, but even their "high mark" falls short of saying of the one loaf, "This IS His body," and of the cup, "This IS His blood." The most they can say is "His Body/Blood are in here WITH the unchanged bread and wine" (which, though it allows for some kind of contact with the Lord, is not what the Lord Himself said). The fact that these communions are allowing for this distinction is a tragic compromise, imo.

James the Thickheaded said...

"I remember my moment of realization, when I realized that my assent to this Church of God made no difference. ... It was I who needed Her, not the other way around."

I think this is the bottom line. Thanks! It was I who needed to accept the authenticity of her saints lives... their "proofing" of what is otherwise a nice bunch of ideas... by living it out. And the consistency of their writings, their views, attests that these folks at the start, were no different than you and I... except they came to love God with an intensity and reality that few of us have even managed for the tangible, visible lives of the neighbors, friends and families living in our midst. They were transfigured by Grace into something simply different: the true image and likeness of living in relationship to the true God. How wonderful that these saints were so engaged to feel this sort of tangible loving relationship for the ineffable Triune God! And that where before - and for us - it was all ideas of God... these folks made it real. Isn't that what we really want? Isn't that the draw? Aren't we focused on overcoming the sense that where we've been, and where we may still be... much has been or remains "Lost in Translation" ? If our lives are a "Song without Words"... then think of how far we have to climb, to learn the language, to learn to sing our faith so that it resonates in every fiber of ourselves and beyond, and to evangelize without words. How far indeed.

Jim H. said...

Hi Fellow Texan! Actually, I've lived 20 years in Virginia, but almost every day I'm reminded that I'll always be a Texan.

I've been reading Ignatius of Antioch's letters and am blown away by the emphasis he puts on the importance of submitting to the Bishops.

He was on his way to be eaten by "wild beasts" and this was a topic her returned to repeatedly.

It's all start to come together for me, but I'm still having difficulty with the lack of gospel preaching in Orthodox churches. I've just read through Acts and preaching the Word is one of the main themes it seems to me.

I've posted about this on my blog and would be interested to get your reaction: http://restlessevangel.wordpress.com/

I enjoy reading your blog.

John said...

David Bryan--glad you are back in the blogging business. You have been missed.

Jim H.--I found your reference to St. Ignatius interesting. He is the one who hooked me. After reading the letters of this 1st-century bishop (by chance, I thought at the time), the scales really fell from my eyes--on bishops and the Eucharist. I thought "Wait a minute--this isn't what I've always been taught about the early church!" My next thought was that if I had been taught wrong on these issues, what other presuppositions were in error?

And regarding the "lack of gospel preaching in Orthodox churches," I haven't really noticed the deficiency. Certainly the homilies are very different than what I was accustomed to as an evangelical--no more proof-texted, 3-point sermons. But I am no longer being preached at, either. I am truly being shepherded. And then throughout the rest of the service, I find that I am literally being drenched and saturated in scripture. In the process, I absorb more scripture than I ever did before by flipping back and forth in my bible during a sermon.

And thanks for the link to your blog.

David Bryan said...

James and Jim (heh!),

Thanks for posting! Yes, the making of saints is something this Church is in the excellent habit of doing, and it offers the "proof in the pudding" that many folks need. And St. Ignatius the Godbearer is wonderful. They say that "hanging concentrates the mind marvelously." One about to die a martyr's death for one's faith is not likely to be given to innovation regarding what he's been given, eh?

Jim -- I've actually been to your blog already through Fr. Stephen's Glory to God blog. But I'll swing by and comment. And thank you for the compliment. You're very kind.


Yes! Good to be back, and great to see you again! Can we expect you at St. Barbara's for little James' illumination?

John said...

David Bryan--I am going to try and make it. What is the time of the ceremony? (I also want to attend the pre-Lenten retreat at Holy Trinity, if possible.) And will there be Shiner Bock afterwards?

David Bryan said...

The baptism is at 5 pm; the time was chosen specifically so that folks could go to the retreat and make it back here in plenty of time for the baptism.

As for Shiner...I may just have to provide said ambrosia myself... ;-)