Who Am I?

For the Life of the World 4

Posted: October 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 4

In this week’s podcast, Deacon Michael Hyatt covers sections 5-8 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. This chapter walks through the whole of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, so there is a lot in it. First, the link to the next podcast in this series.

The next step in the liturgy is the entrance, sometimes called the little entrance, in which the celebrant comes to the altar.  This involves a procession with the Gospels. Father Schmemann notes that though the act has been given many symbolical explanations, it is not itself a symbol.

It is the very movement of the Church as passage from the old into the new, from “this world” into the “world to come” and, as such, it is the essential movement of the liturgical “journey.” In “this world” there is no altar and the temple has been destroyed. For the only altar is Christ Himself, His humanity which He has assumed and deified and made the temple of God, the altar of His presence. And Christ ascended into heaven. The altar thus is the sign that in Christ we have been given access to heaven, that the Church is the “passage” to heaven, the entrance into the heavenly sanctuary, and that only by “entering,” by ascending to heaven does the Church fulfill herself, become what she is. And so the entrance at the Eucharist, this approach of the celebrant — and in him, of the whole Church — to the altar is not a symbol. It is the crucial and decisive act in which the true dimensions of the sacrament are revealed and established. It is not “grace” that comes down; it is the Church that enters into “grace,” and grace means the new being, the Kingdom, the world to come.

There is something to the way N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, describes the Eucharist as a point where past, present, and future come together transcendentally in Christ. As we participate together, we are not remembering the past, living in the present, or looking toward the future Kingdom. It is, as the above passage says, a place and a time when we enter into the world to come.

I’ve been familiar, in Western liturgy, with the division between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As we will see, there is not the same sharp distinction between Word and Eucharist in the East. The entire Divine Liturgy is the Eucharistic liturgy and it is instead divided into the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful. It’s an interesting division because it means that the parts we have retained in the so-called “non-liturgical” churches (the reading of Scripture and the homily or sermon — though we often omit the formal reading of Scripture these days) were the parts that were, in significant measure, directed toward the education and teaching of those who were interested, but not yet Christian. In the ancient Church the catechumens left after the Liturgy of the Catechumens was complete. Though those who are not among the Orthodox faithful no longer physically leave, the Divine Liturgy remains marked by that distinction. I think there is much to ponder here. Has the majority of the Protestant tradition virtually abandoned that part of the liturgy intended to sustain the faithful?

As the celebrant enters, the Church sings the Trisagion, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal one, have mercy on us!” It’s the song of the angels before the throne of God.

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this on, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this one word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.

Father Stephen Freeman has an excellent post on The Knowledge of God which fits in excellently at this point and says better what it means to know God than anything I could write. I recommend you take a moment to read it. Holy. It’s a word that has little actual meaning as anything but a name for God.

Next the celebrant turns and faces the people for the first time in this journey. The Church has ascended.

And the priest whose liturgy, whose unique function and obedience in the Church is to re-present, to make present the priesthood of Christ Himself, says to the people: “Peace be with you.” In Christ man returns to God and in Christ God comes to man. As the new Adam, as the perfect man He leads us to God; as God incarnate He reveals the Father to us and reconciles us with God. He is our peace — the reconciliation with God, divine forgiveness, communion. And the peace that the priest announces and bestows upon us is the peace Christ established between God and His world and into which we, the Church, have entered.

It is not a gesture or a symbol. The celebrant proclaims peace and the gathered Church receives the peace of Christ — “which passes all understanding.” Father Schmemman next makes the point I alluded to above.

Western Christians are so accustomed to distinguish the Word from the sacrament that it may be difficult for them to understand that in the Orthodox perspective the liturgy of the Word is as sacramental as the sacrament is “evangelical.” The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word. And unless the false dichotomy between Word and sacrament is overcome, the true meaning of both Word and sacrament, and especially the true meaning of Christian “sacramentalism” cannot be grasped in all their wonderful implications. The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Spirit.

I wonder if those who have been conditioned to hear and read “Word of God” essentially as referring to the Holy Scriptures in every usage will catch the nuance above. Think about what the phrase “Word of God” means in Scripture itself and then re-read the above. You might find yourself reading it in a different light.

This is why the reading and the preaching of the Gospel in the Orthodox Church is a liturgical act, an integral and essential part of the sacrament. It is heard as the Word of God, and it is received in the Spirit — that is, in the Church, which is the life of the Word and its “growth” in the world.

As I did last week, I’ll continue with the next two sections that were covered in Deacon Michael’s podcast tomorrow.


For the Life of the World 3

Posted: October 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 3

First, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast, At the Intersection of East and West, which goes along with today’s post.

Today’s post covers sections 3 and 4 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. After looking at the centrality of joy, we look at the journey of the liturgy of the Eucharist.

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word “dimension” because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies “come alive” when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.

I’ve always perceived reality as a journey, so the language of movement, of journey, feels more true to me than not. He describes this journey beginning when Christians leave their homes and beds.

The purpose of this “coming together” is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it “better” — more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.

Jesus calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. And if he is the beginning and end of anything, he is the beginning and end of all things. We aren’t coming together to “be fed” (a strange expression I’ve heard in an SBC context regarding listening to a sermon — I don’t know how common or widespread it is) or to be “discipled” or “trained”, though all of that and more may happen. It is not the central purpose.

We always want to make Christianity “understandable” and “acceptable” to this mythical “modern” man on the street. And we forget that the Christ of whom we speak is “not of this world,” and that after His resurrection He was not recognized even by his own disciples.

My background has been pluralistic enough that the idea that there’s anything we could do to make Christianity “understandable” or “acceptable” to the casual observer has always struck me as bizarre. I understand Father Schmemann’s insistence that Christianity is the end of all religion, but as you approach it, you will consider it a religion. And it’s fairly strange even by the standards of any world religion, much less by those who insist on a secular nature to reality. Christianity seems strange to people because it is strange. Life and joy and love may draw you into it, but there’s nothing that feels normal about Christianity to anyone who is not Christian.

I like his point that the resurrected Jesus is unrecognizable even to those who have known him for years and loved him save when he desires to be known. Go back and read the Resurrection narratives and feel how strange they truly are. They are unlike anything else in cult or history. Father Schmemann takes it further.

There was no physical imperative to recognize Him. He was, in other words, no longer a “part” of this world, of its reality, and to recognize Him, to enter into the joy of His presence, to be with Him, meant a conversion to another reality. The Lord’s glorification does not have the compelling, objective evidence of His humiliation and cross. His glorification is known only through the mysterious death in the baptismal font, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is known only in the fullness of the Church, as she gathers to meet the Lord and to share in His risen life. The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended.

Of course, by heaven, we do not refer to some other reality. We are not leaving this world for some other. One need only read the end of Revelation to put that common misconception to the lie. Heaven is never farther than a breath away and at the same time greater the largest sea. It is veiled from us today through the mercy of God. We often think of ascension as rising upwards, but the more common usage in the ancient world would have been for a king or an emperor to ascend to his throne, to take power. And “clouds” in Jewish imagery represent the presence of God.

We gather so that as the ecclesia we can become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

To leave, to come … This is the beginning, the starting point of the sacrament, the condition of its transforming power and reality.

This is the doxology that opens the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

From the beginning the destination has been announced: the journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going — and not symbolically, but really.

Amen. We agree. We should be careful not to voice our agreement unless we really intend to make the journey. If a worship service of any sort is not a journey, why are we bothering to meet at all? Amen is one of the most important words in the world.

It is Christ’s gift to us, for only in Him can we say Amen to God, or rather He himself is our Amen to God and the Church is an Amen to Christ. Upon this Amen the fate of the human race is decided. It reveals that the movement toward God has begun.

We are left here at the beginning. We’ll proceed farther on the journey next week. But the artist in me appreciates Father Schmemann’s note that beauty is never “necessary”, “functional”, or “useful”. But it is human. And if we did not love beauty or if we worshiped a God who did not love beauty, we would be other and less than human.