Sacrifice, Priesthood, and SolidarityPosted: December 22, 2016
A passage from St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews regarding Jesus Christ as our High Priest reads,
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (Heb 7: 26 — 27).
The phrase in the above text of interest is “once for all” coming from the Greek word ephapax. This word has brought about a good deal of argument from Protestants. Let me make it clear: it is not the Eastern Orthodox position, nor Roman Catholic position, that the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy (or the Latin Mass) is a re-offering of Christ. In other words Christ is NOT sacrificed again, as far too many ill-informed Protestants teach about our understanding of this sacrament. No, the sacrifice of Christ was done once, and done for all! It is very clear in the Orthodox Church’s prayers found in the anaphora and elsewhere in the Eucharistic prayers, that the offering of the Eucharist is a thanksgiving offering, reasonable, and bloodless. The prayers of the Eucharist make this very clear — Christ’s once for all sacrifice is RE-presented to us by the Eucharist!
We read this from St Luke’s gospel:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is being given [didomenon] for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is being poured out [ekchunnomenon] for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22: 19 -20).
The above Greek words are specifically passive substantival participles in the present aspect (or tense). The present aspect holds within itself ongoing action — there is no intended end to the quality of the action. Thus, my translations “…is being given,” and “is being poured out” reflect this meaning. In other words, the Bread is constantly being given, and his Blood is constantly being poured out by Christ for those who consume it — in the Eucharist!
What this additionally means is that the first Eucharist / Last Supper (Passover) is the initiating action which then subsequently leads to Jesus’ death on the Cross, and then his resurrection and ascension. Again, the Eucharist is a RE-presentation of Christ’s Incarnation, Passion/Cross, Resurrection, Ascension, and Coming Again. And once more, the Eucharist is perpetually a RE-presentation of our salvation! We read this from the Cherubic Prayer: “For Thou art the Offerer and the Offered, the Receiver and the Received, O Christ our God…” And at the Fractioning: “Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God: who is divided, yet not disunited; who is ever eaten, yet never consumed; but sanctifying those who partake thereof.”
I now turn from Jesus’ sacrifice to the subject of priesthood. We read these words of St. Peter declaring that we are sanctified,
…and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2: 5, 9).
I am a priest of Christ in the Orthodox Church, this is a special gift from God which has placed me within the sacramental life of the Church as one who, by the work of God, gives the Sacraments of the Triune God to the people of God. But, I am not the only priest at each Divine Liturgy — every Christian is also a priest as St. Peter teaches. What does a priest do? Fr. Alexander Schmemann describes a priest as one who offers all of creation to God, and bears God to all creation. A priest blesses, a priest acts as God for all and all things, and thus bears a sanctified creation back to God. As St. Peter tells us in the above verses we who have been called out of darkness into light are to draw all out of darkness and bear all into the light of God.
This is the state of existence in darkness: alienation, enmity, suspicion, death, sin, and fear. This is the contrasting existence in the realm of God’s light: relationship, union, love, peace, self-giving and other-receiving, gratitude, prayer and joy. This is our existence in Christ. As extension, this is to be our ministry as bearers of God’s light to all of humanity and all of creation. Thus, we exist in solidarity with all of God’s creation. This brings to mind St. Paul’s words to the church of Thessalonika: “See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always pursue the good both for one another and for all” (1 Thes 5: 15).
Allow me to expand a bit on solidarity. A scribe, in attempting to challenge Jesus, asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer tells us that everyone is our neighbor when he relates the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are in solidarity in, with, and for all and all things. We do not look upon outward appearances, dress, color, home, language, ethnicity. Our neighbor is everyone and is found everywhere. We bring our neighbor before God, and bear God to our neighbor. Acting as such holy priests, acting in solidarity with all whom we interact, and minister to, we bear them all back into the Eucharist. All are joined to the simple gifts of bread and wine that are offered back to God in thanksgiving. Here the focal point of the Eucharist is found in these words of the celebrating priest acting for all the priests present: “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee in behalf of all and for all!” In the Eucharist all are transformed into and have union with Christ’s all holy Body and Blood! — the ultimate in solidarity!
Let us all act as God’s holy priests!