The Eucharist as Ecclesial Practice (Part Three)

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The following paper was written in the year 2000.  It was formative and powerful as all the pieces of everything I had been learning about the Eucharist were put together.  It was written while a seminarian at Regent College in Vancouver, B. C., Canada.  I was not yet an Orthodox Christian, let alone ordained.  Note that the liturgical passages are mostly from western sources – I was a liturgical / sacramental western Christian at the time.  Also, some of the citations are from Protestant authors – after all Regent College is an evangelical seminary, yet the quoted authors impart wisdom, and their insights were employed in this paper.  It is a bit lengthy and will be posted in parts.


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While breaking into this present brokeness, alienation, and chaos we are to see that all which is not yet finally gathered together has a secure promise.  It is the Holy Spirit who makes all these mysteries real and present.  The Holy Spirit is the Guarantor of this future:

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.  (Eph 1: 13 – 14)

It is with the Holy Spirit that we work, or better, it is the Holy Spirit who works among us to ensure this glorious outcome.

The Eucharist is also a glorious gift of the Holy Spirit.  For as we participate in it quiet, yet profound, changes take place within God’s faithful people, his priests.  Within his book, For the Life of the World, Fr. Schmemann puts forward this powerful truth:  “What is offered is transformed.”[1]  The Eucharist is also for our transformation in the here and now.  A transformation for service takes place.  The Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church gives us this in the epiclesis;

Again we offer unto Thee this rational and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee:  Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered…

And we also find this in a western rite.  The Book of Common Prayer’s eucharistic prayers all ask the Holy Spirit to not only transform the offered bread and wine, but also those who worship.  For example, we have, “Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace…”[2]  Fr. Schmemann also teaches that the Church is made the sacrament for the world by her liturgies.[3]  As the Holy Spirit works in God’s priests as they, by faith, participate in the Eucharist we bring Christ to the world.  And as we participate, as we offer ourselves, we are to seek to be transformed into broken bread and poured out wine, “for the life of the world.”  How is this to be done?  We see these actions of our Lord in the Eucharist:  He gives of himself to us as he receives us to himself in Communion.  To practice this, and to participate in this we are to give ourselves to others in loving relationship and receive others to ourselves in loving relationship.  By self-giving and other-receiving we will carry Christ to the world and creation as priests.

Fr. Schmemann presents a wonderful definition of priesthood.  It reflects the worshipful service that God originally intended for his vice-regents and priests:

The first basic definition of man is that he is priest.  He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God.[4]

Unfortunately all of this is frequently difficult to do, but not impossible.  Rodney Clapp captures our problem:

Much of our difficulty in being Christians is due to awkwardness, a deficiency of skill in deploying our heartfelt dispositions — in more than one sense, a lack of gracefulness.  We may feel the need to love, to be at peace with others, to express kindness of joy or gentleness, to be quietly faithful and patient, but we have not learned how to do it…So it is that oftentimes when we actually do love, are at peace with others or are disposed to gentleness, we cannot live it out.  We are ready to dance, but we are clumsy and step on our partner’s toes.[5]

Rather than give up and resign ourselves forever to the role of the lout, it seems that we should participate and practice.  I return to the topic of tennis.  When I first started the sport I had a terrible backhand.  It was pathetic.  But, I did not give up.  I practiced.  I participated.  A transformation took place, I developed a powerful and consistent backhand.  Clapp offers an identical solution:  by participating and practicing the subtle drills of the liturgy we are conformed to the intended reality.[6]

To have a proficiency at any skill one does not wait for it to magically appear:  one works and practices.  Likewise, Diettrich affirms that participating in the Church’s practices, as with the Eucharist, involves active, intentional participation:  “The fullness of the Christian life in the Spirit does not spring forth without intentional cultivation.”[7]  Furthermore, she explains we are in participatory preparation so that we might receive the Holy Spirit’s working.

The Holy Spirit’s presence will ensure the outcome.  The Eucharist is educating, defining, and transforming us.  Therefore, when speaking of the Eucharist, one can fully expect and anticipate the charisms of the Holy Spirit to break through and come upon us as we cultivate a eucharistic culture in the community being formed and transform by the Sacrament.  What we are to practice will be addressed in part four of this series.

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[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, (Crestwood NY:  St. Vladimir’s, 1973).  Hereafter referred to as Schmemann.
[2] Eucharistic Prayer A.
[3] Schmemann, 8.
[4] Schmemann, 15.
[5] Clapp, 117.
[6] Clapp, 118.
[7] Diettrich, 149.

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