Baptism, Barlaamism, Catechism, Divine Liturgy, Empirical Dogmatics, FAQs, Genuine Orthodoxy, illumination, Liturgics, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, seminarian, seminary, Spiritual Priesthood and the Remission of Sins, St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Spiritual Perfecting of Christians, Theoria
The Divine Liturgy is at the centre of ecclesiastical life. The incarnation of the Son and Word of God came about in order that human nature might be glorified and Christ might be offered to humankind, so that they could take communion of His Body and Blood. This is the ultimate aim of the Mysteries (Sacraments). The purpose of all the Mysteries is participation in Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). We are baptised and chrismated in order that we may take Holy Communion as members of the Church and members of the Body of Christ.
“It is clear from the basic principles of the baptismal services, the prayers in the Liturgy and the Canons of the Church, that being a member of the Body of Christ means not only sharing in the common prayers of the Church, but also taking Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. Any sort of distinction between prayer and Holy Communion is inconceivable, because the whole body of the local Church prays ‘with one mouth and one heart’, the whole Church says ‘Amen’ at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, and the whole body of the Church is called by Christ to Holy Communion.”
Once a baby has been born and left its mother’s womb, it must be fed in order to live, because otherwise it will die. As soon as a Christian leaves the spiritual womb of the Church, which is the sacred font, and it has been confirmed through Chrismation that he is a member of the Body of Christ and of the Church, he ought to take Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.
“Man does not have his own life. He can only have life if he dies with regard to the elements of this world and lives the life of love in the Eucharistic life of the community. His salvation cannot come from a moralising, individualistic piety. It is accomplished only through grace, according to how much he struggles against the devil and empties himself in the life of Christ, Whose Body is made up of real human beings, the Church.”
Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ, however, is not without preconditions. Clear preconditions must be met in order for Holy Communion to act unto life and not death.
As human beings have a rational faculty and a noetic faculty, there is rational worship and noetic worship. Rational worship takes place using words, whereas noetic worship is performed inwardly through prayer in the heart. The Divine Liturgy is rational worship, but within it noetic worship is also offered by the one who has developed his noetic faculty. For that reason, someone who also offers noetic worship participates in the Divine Liturgy in the best possible way.
“That is why we say in the Liturgy, ‘Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable worship’. We offer rational worship to God and God gives us noetic worship. This is a gift of God to man. When we have this visitation of the Holy Spirit, it is proof that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Those who take part in the Divine Liturgy benefit according to their spiritual state.
“The Divine Liturgy is rational worship. But rational worship is of no benefit to someone who does not have noetic worship as well. Human beings are not only rational; they also have noetic energy. They ought not to pray only with the rational faculty; they should also have the prayer of the Holy Spirit within their heart, which is prayer without ceasing. According to the Fathers of the Church, those who are in this state are members of the Church.”
We know that God’s uncreated energy is “indivisibly divided among divided beings, and multiplied among many without becoming many”.
After the incarnation of Christ, in which the divine nature was united inseparably, immutably, indivisibly and unconfusedly with the human nature, Christ’s human nature too became a source of God’s uncreated energy.
“The way in which God appears and reveals Himself to man is also through the human nature of Christ, which is now itself divided indivisibly among divided beings and multiplied among many without becoming many.”
This is what the Priest says when he cuts up the Holy Bread into many particles: “Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God, being broken yet not divided, being ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake.”
“When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ we do not receive only a fragment of Christ within us, but everyone who takes Holy Communion receives the whole Christ within him. However, this does not mean that there are many Christs. Christ is one, and this Christ, Who is one, is wholly present in every believer who has partaken of the Most Pure Mysteries. On the holy Paten where the Lamb is cut into pieces by the Priest, Christ is not fragmented, but multiplied into many without becoming many. The whole Christ is in every particle of the Holy Bread. This is the Mystery of God’s presence in man.”
Earlier we mentioned that there are appropriate preconditions for participation in Holy Communion. This is a very important subject. The Apostle Paul, speaking about the Mystery of Holy Communion, lays down the essential preconditions for approaching it.
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
This examination is not a moral test. The Christian examines whether he is a real member of the Church, to what extent he is a temple of the Holy Spirit or, at very least, if he is in the state of purification and in that perspective. Because Christ is the purification of those being purified, the illumination of those being illumined and the glorification of those being glorified. Thus Christ also becomes the Hell of the impure, as He will be at the Second Coming. Then the same Christ will be Light for the righteous and fire for the unrepentant, as we shall see in the next chapter.
In the early Church, ascertaining whether it was possible for a Christian to take Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ was not a matter of ascertaining whether his life was moral, but whether he was in the state of illumination.
“This was always the case with us. According to the Fathers, the one who takes Holy Communion is in the state of illumination. When it was ascertained that he was not in the state of illumination, he did not take Holy Communion. This was the criterion. In the phrase ‘those who communicate worthily’, they did not mean by ‘worthily’ those who avoided sin and were morally correct, but those who were in the state of illumination and so took Holy Communion. Of course this had moral foundations, but it was not identified with morals.”
Someone takes Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ when he belongs to the Church, which is the Body of Christ. He communicates as a member of the Church, as a member of the Body of Christ. But the Christian must be clearly aware of being a member of the Body of Christ.
“It is the Body of Christ that comes into being through the descent of the Holy Spirit. The experience of theoria is also an experience of the human nature of Christ within man. For that reason the Fathers emphasise that anyone who does not sense Christ within him, does not have Christ within him. It is not a matter merely of saying that we are the Body of Christ. One must be aware of being a member of the Body of Christ. Someone who senses that he lacks this awareness, does not have it. The one who senses that he has this awareness within him, has the proof within him.
One of the greatest difficulties that exist in Orthodoxy today is the movement of Makrakis and the members of Zoe. They have destroyed this concept. According to the Fathers of the Church, in the early Church they took Holy Communion every Sunday. And the Canons of the Church presuppose that Christians will naturally take Holy Communion every Sunday. Yes, but only until it was proved that someone had lapsed from the state of illumination. After falling from illumination, he was excluded from Holy Communion, because Holy Communion is for the illuminated. He lapses from illumination and no longer takes Holy Communion.
This was the reason why the Fathers constructed the Sanctuary with curtains and so on. The majority of the faithful were no longer in the state of illumination, as were most monks and some pious people in the villages, so that the ceremonies could take place as they do in monasteries today. That is why even monks sometimes abstain from taking Holy Communion and communicate at intervals, according to their spiritual state.
To be sure, if one is in the state of illumination and theoria, one can take Holy Communion every week. Someone who is not in this state does not communicate. However, the spiritual father knew if his spiritual child was in the state of illumination.
Then the clever people of today came along. They read the Canons of the Church and said that we ought to take Holy Communion every Sunday. The Canons do not say that we should communicate every Sunday. They mean that the illuminated should communicate every Sunday. And now Holy Communion has been reduced to a sort of magic, particularly among the pious. We go there and take Holy Communion…
The very ones who did this and talked about frequent Holy Communion, went and abolished monasticism for us. They told the children, ‘Don’t go to monasteries.’ They made out that all monks were illiterate. Only now, in the last few years, have they begun to wake up a bit.”
In any case, Holy Communion acts in accordance with the spiritual state of the communicant. It purifies those being purified, illumines those being illuminated and glorifies those being glorified, just as it burns up those not undergoing purification.
“In Holy Communion we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Provided we are in the state of illumination, this is beneficial to us. If we are not in the state of illumination this Holy Communion does not help us. This is what we mean by ‘worthily’. Someone who approaches worthily derives benefit. When someone approaches unworthily, he derives no benefit, but rather sleeps, because he remains dead and not alive in Christ. This Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ in experience is not just a reality, but even becomes visible. This is the purpose of the Divine Eucharist: the glorification of the faithful. Read the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion and you will clearly see the aim of the Divine Eucharist.
Recently a bishop asserted, somewhere where I was present, that we are all glorified, as we read in the prayer of preparation for Holy Communion that it ‘glorifies and nourishes me’. Well, this is a prayer by Symeon the New Theologian and refers to his personal experience, not to the experience of every Orthodox Christian who takes Holy Communion today. This is Symeon the New Theologian’s prayer. Consequently, when we pray in this way, we say it ‘glorifies and nourishes me’, but this does not mean that it ‘glorifies and nourishes me’, because only those who communicate worthily are glorified and nourished in the manner of Symeon the New Theologian.”
Unfortunately the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist has become secularised. Christians take Holy Communion unconditionally, or at best they prepare with fasting and a formal confession.
“Today things have reached such a state that not even the priest ought to take Holy Communion. If you read what St Basil the Great says about the preparation of the clergy for the Liturgy, it is clear that St Basil lays down that at least the clergy ought to be in the state of illumination in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.”
As things have changed and the true Orthodox preconditions have been altered, the Church has set some limits. It laid down holy Canons that define how one should partake of Holy Communion, it prescribed the Mystery of Holy Confession, which determines the basic degree of repentance, and it made some adjustments to the church building and to the way the prayers were read. In the early Church the whole church building was one unit and the prayers were read out loud. Because, however, the classifications of catechumens, those being baptised, the faithful and the glorified were abolished, certain outward divisions were put in place.
“That is why the iconostasis developed. Originally there was no iconostasis, because the nave of the church was only for the illuminated. The icon screen was the entrance to the nave. It was not a wooden screen as it is today. For that reason, in monasteries on the Holy Mountain, in Kalambaka and Meteora, the entrance to the nave is an iconostasis painted with icons. The iconostasis was on the walls at the entrance to the nave, and the Sanctuary was an open area. At most it had railings on which they put an icon of Christ and one of the Holy Virgin.
Originally this was the iconostasis. Afterwards the other iconostasis was made higher and the Liturgy was arranged in such a way that, because the unilluminated were allowed to attend the Liturgy, they limited when they could receive Holy Communion. Those who were not illuminated communicated during particular fasts in the course of the year. It was assumed that at Baptism they had received illumination through Chrismation, but due to the life they were leading they did not possess an illuminated nous, so they did not take Holy Communion.
The clergy celebrated the Liturgy behind the curtain, hidden now from the people, because those who were not in the state of illumination ought not to see the Mysteries. For the same reason they did not take part in the prayers, and the prayers began to be said secretly. Because these prayers are for the illuminated; they are not for everybody.”
One of the basic tasks of bishops and priests is to train Christians to pass from purification to illumination and glorification, so that they can partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, and Holy Communion may act as purification, illumination and glorification. The faithful ought to live noetic worship so that they also take part worthily in rational worship. This is the work of spiritual fathers.
“I do not mean the spiritual fathers in modern parishes, to whom people go to receive social and family advice, and at the end the spiritual father reads them a prayer of forgiveness and they go away content that they have been forgiven, and can go and take Holy Communion, without either the priest or the penitent having the slightest idea about noetic prayer. In the early Church it was perceptible that someone was in a state of illumination and someone else was not. One took Holy Communion and the other did not. It was perceptible in the early Church. Now these things are imperceptible. Everyone feels a certain comfort from confession and Holy Communion, nothing more.”
In the past in the Church it was the bishop who was the spiritual father par excellence and prepared the faithful for Holy Communion. He also trained the priests to become good spiritual fathers. The same happened as with human knowledge.
“The professor of astronomy teaches the doctoral candidates to become as good as he is. Why? So that he can leave successors and the tradition of astronomy will continue. Because if this teaching and preparation of doctoral candidates and prospective professors to succeed today’s astronomers ceases, astronomy will disappear as a science.”
This used to happen in the Church as well, with regard to the therapeutic method for preparing Christians for Holy Communion. Thus in the teaching of St Symeon the New Theologian teaching and catechism are very closely linked with confession and repentance, which was the work of the bishop, in accordance with the example of the astronomer that we have referred to.
“Exactly the same used to take place in the Church. The bishop is the university professor who teaches doctoral candidates. Who are these candidates? They are the monks, who will succeed the bishop. Why will they succeed the bishop? Not because they are monks in the modern sense of the word, but because they are the ones who learn how to remember God at all times, how the nous is purified, how to reach illumination, and how to reach glorification. For that reason the bishop is the teacher of monks.
Later on we arrived at the era described by Symeon the New Theologian, who was in conflict and in dispute with many people in his time because monks were becoming teachers. Whereas before only the bishop taught, now monks also began to teach. So what argument did the bishops use? That only bishops should teach and monks are not teachers.
Note this point very carefully. The bishop is the teacher, the monk is the pupil. Monks cannot act as teachers. What is the issue? If you look carefully, the dispute is about the Mystery of Confession, the Sacrament of Repentance: whether monks are permitted to hear confessions. In the early Church the bishop was the one who heard confessions. Later, however, it became customary for the bishop to give priests permission to hear confessions. But here we also haw monks who hear confessions. The dispute alternates: sometimes it refers to confession, sometimes to teaching.
If you read carefully, Symeon the New Theologian identifies teaching with confession, with the Mystery of Repentance. Why does he regard these two things as the same? Because in the earh Church the bishop’s task was to teach people how to pass through the stage of purification and reach illumination. Priests who were spiritual fathers did this in the parishes under the bishop’s supervision. In those days there were not just a handful of catechumens: there were hundreds of them. There was a complete education system within the Church. There were hundreds of catechumens every year and usually they baptised them on Holy Saturday.
To ensure that catechetical instruction was organised correctly, the priest, under the guidance of the bishop, undertook the teaching of the newly-baptised, those preparing for Baptism and certain catechumens, and then the deacons taught the rest of the catechumens. St Dionysios the Areopagite describes this in great detail. If you want to see the practice of the early Church, read The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy by Dionysios the Areopagite. It is all in there.
The bishop was regarded as the teacher of monks. Why? Because in those days someone went through the state of purification, reached illumination and he had a strong character. Then the bishop took on the newly-baptised Christian and taught him last of all. Why? So as to bring him to perfection and make him a ‘doctor of theology’. What does being a ‘doctor of theology’ mean? It mean> constant remembrance of God and noetic prayer, which had for the most part become restricted to monastic circles, as monks were prepared in this way. Subsequently the bishops of the Church were chosen from the order of monks – not always, but we could say in most cases.”
As time passed this tradition was lost, with the result that monks would also teach. They did not perform the Mystery of Confession, but they gave instruction and catechism. In other words, they helped the faithful to free themselves from thoughts, so that the noetic faculty would be separated from the rational faculty and noetic prayer would begin. Thus we understand what teaching and repentance mean, and how they relate to Holy Communion.
“If we take the writings of Symeon the New Theologian, what does he have in mind when he talks about teaching? Who teaches? He explains why monks had also become teachers, whereas in earlier times monks were not permitted to teach. Monks are pupils, say the early Fathers, and bishops are teachers. He explains why monks had become teachers in his day, and what teaching is. He means confessions and remission of sins.
When Symeon the New Theologian speaks about teaching and why monks have the duty to teach, he means the duty to hear confessions. Confession is the Church’s teaching in the highest sense, because teaching about purification and how to reach illumination took place in the Mystery of Confession
Nowadays when we say ‘teacher’ it has nothing at all to do with confession. Nowadays teachers are catechists, university professors, high school teachers and so on, but when they teach they teach man’s rational faculty, they no longer train his nous. So teaching has no connection with spiritual guidance — the connection is only indirect these days. Monks became teachers or spiritual fathers, because in the era of Symeon the New Theologian the bishops did not do their duty in this respect.”
It is from this point of view that we ought to look at the sermon in the Divine Liturgy, which refers to how we can acquire a relationship with God, how we can experience glorification, how we can acquire love. The fact that sermons in Church today make little mention of ‘how’ but speak about ‘what’ shows that they are not in accord with the perspective of the Divine Eucharist. They are neither eucharistic nor ecclesiastical, because they do not presuppose hesychasm.
“This is where the greatest problem of Christianity lies today. We hear fine sermons from the pulpit. All the priests who preach speak about love, about one thing or another.
I have written a whole book called The Ancestral Sin and when I wrote it I had no idea how one attains to this unselfish love. There I described it, so to speak, analytically, but what is the method for achieving it? We sit and talk about unselfish love. But who can become unselfish? And who has reached unselfishness? Who has attained to love? When we sit there and say that we possess love, what are we? Do we really have love or are we pretending that we have it? That is the problem.
The sermons are excellent. They fill the pulpit and are a good thing. Christians sit there listening enthusiastically to these sermons. But although we hear sermons, I for one have not heard ‘how’. I have heard ‘what’ and ‘where’. Usually the ‘how’ is ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do the other. This is a sin, that is a sin. Do this: do good works.’ All very well, but one can do good works and in the end go to Hell instead of going to Paradise.”
In the early Church, instead of giving individual sermons, they read the homilies of the Fathers.
“Among the Fathers of the Church, one only needs to read Chrysostom’s sermons to see how highly developed the sense of social justice was in Chrysostom, who is one of the great Fathers of the Church. His works were read for centuries by all the Orthodox.
In the past the good custom existed that, instead of listening to the priest expounding the Gospel every Sunday in those pietistic sermons, they used to read patristic sermons on each Gospel.”
In the final analysis, the whole Orthodox liturgical tradition and all the other Mysteries and services concern the members of the Church, and their aim is participation in the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, so that Christ may become purification, illumination and glorification.
There is no other purpose. There are no private Mysteries. It is impossible to separate all the other rites of the Church from Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ. And none of these things can be separated from the real mystery, which is purification, illumination and glorification. There is obvious unity between dogma, prayer, the Mysteries, asceticism and the Divine Eucharist. Ecclesiastical life revolves around these axes.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics, Vol. 2