Saturday, March 21, 2009

Meditation: 4 Lent (22 March 2009)

There is a moment in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at which the priest exclaims, “The Doors. The Doors.” The catechumens, aspirants to the faith, are escorted from the service – at least they were in Chrysostom’s day – and behind them the doors, the doors, are closed and bolted. The catechumens were welcome to hear the Word – in Scripture, Psalm, and exhortation – but what follows is so deep, so profound, and so intimate that only the illumined – the baptized – are permitted to see and hear and know.

What takes place behind the doors once they are shut and bolted against prying eyes or just immature eyes? The Creed: the baptized recite the Symbol of the Faith – the Nicene Creed. Only those who are willing to stake their lives, in this world and the next, on their faith in One God, the Father, the Almighty; in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God; and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life are allowed to know, hear, and speak the Creed. And following the Creed the faithful approach the greatest of mysteries, the heart and soul of our faith – the Eucharistic Feast, the table of the Lord. In Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy God is described as ineffable – beyond words – and incomprehensible – beyond intellect; the same could and must be said about the Eucharist. Eucharistic theology, the attempt to explain and “demystify” the Feast, is a fool’s errand. When asked to explain a dance she had just premiered the great artist Isadora Duncan responded, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have to dance it.” Likewise, if we could explain the Eucharist, we wouldn’t have to break the bread and lift the cup. At best, eucharistic theology is the search for metaphors – metaphors that shine a bit of light on first this facet, then that one, of this great jewel of our faith and life. Of course, the Eucharist is itself the overarching metaphor that shines light on all of human existence and on the glorious redemption of man through the love of God the Father, the sacrifice of God the Son, and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

These are the mysteries we will explore at Trinity Church this Sunday, 4 Lent 2009. I approach the task of speaking about these holy mysteries with fear and trembling (ref. Isaiah 6:1-7), knowing my own deep limitations. And yet, I was comforted by the words I read this week in a small book titled Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life (Archimandrite George, Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios Mount Athos, 2006). What the abbot says about theosis I say about the eucharist:

“It is very daring for someone to talk about Theosis without first having tasted it. But we have dared what is beyond our power because we have faith in the mercy of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”


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