Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Mt. LeConte

This evening I finally secured a place on the Internet to store photographs. I recieved a nice digital camera as a birthday combination Christmas present last year, and have managed to take a few pictures (well, maybe more than a few...). I thought I'd share a couple photos as way of "trying out" the hoster service.

The pictures below were taken in March on Mt. LeConte, a magnificent mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A friend and I backpacked up the Alum Cave Trail and spent the night in the shelter atop the mountain- a very nice location, with incredible overlooks nearby facing into the west and the east, so that one can watch the sun set and rise over the mountains.

Duck Hawk Ridge: one of the "knife-edge" ridges that plunge down from the flanks of the mountain.

Cliff Top: the west end of LeConte.

Sunrise From Myrtle Point: we really didn't make sunrise proper, but stumbled out onto the rocks a little later. Still breathtaking.


Eucharist as Anaphora

"Let us lift up our hearts," says the celebrant, and the people answer: "We have lifted them up to the Lord." The Eucharist is the anaphora, the "lifting up" of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven. "But what do I care about heaven," says St. John Chrysostom, "when I myself have become heaven...?" The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what "happens" to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what "happens" to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, happened to the Church. It is because we have "constituted" the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to the bread and wine.

"Let us lift up our hearts," says the celebrant.

"We lift them up unto the Lord," answers the congregation.

"Let us give thanks unto the Lord" (Eucharistisomen) says the celebrant.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World


St. Irenaeus on the Eucharist

The Pontificator has produced an excellent series of posts on the Eucharist lately, which has inspired me to do some blogging of my own on the subject. I am no Pontificator, alas, so I would instead like to offer a few quotations from the Fathers along with my brief scholia. The first is from St. Irenaeus:

2. But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins." And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

3. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?-even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,-that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a corn of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful; but learning by experience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature, we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives, and thus never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man. And might it not be the case, perhaps, as I have already observed, that for this purpose God permitted our resolution into the common dust of mortality, that we, being instructed by every mode, may be accurate in all things for the future, being ignorant neither of God nor of ourselves?

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies

There is no ambiguity with St. Irenaeus. The Eucharist is really and truly Christ's body and blood, for our bodies and souls. This is indeed St. Irenaeus's great thrust, that Christ has really become flesh-and-blood man for us, so that the whole person can be saved in Him. Creation is brought into salvation, all of creation, visible and spiritual. We are grafted entirely into Christ, in all our being: and in so doing, we are wholly dependent on God for our life, in every respect.

St. Irenaeus speaks of the bread and wine in immediate conjunction with their being body and wine, which is, I think, significant. The Eucharist is bread and wine, but it is also body and blood. When the elements 'recieve' the Word of God, they truly become the Eucharist. The transformation of the created elements is compared to the transformation which we undergo in recieving the Eucharist and being nourished and transformed by God's power. Are the 'natures' of the bread and wine absolutely negated? I would offer that, in St. Irenaeus's understanding, this is not the case. Rather, the elements are changed, because they- a part of creation- recieve the Word of God and become Eucharist. I think that it is not amiss to see a sort of Chalcedonian form here: the elements become Eucharist through a perfect hypostatic union.

"He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies." Christ takes part of the creation and gives it new reality, which He establishes as His own body and blood. Thus we see an important truth: the creation is good, and through it- the bread and wine- we are made partakers of Christ, unto eternal salvation in Him! And this partaking invovles His body and blood for our bodies, which we receive in the Eucharist, which comes from the created things.

Later this week, I intend to approach Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and John of Damascus. The later in particular has some interesting comments that seem to fit into my 'Chalcedonian' attempt at understanding the Eucharist. I had begun including both in this post, but realized that St. Gregory is just too darn difficult to understand for me to go after at the moment (the fact that I am using the old NPNF translation doesn't help!).


The Wilderness and the Monastery

Last Monday I set off, with my fifteen year-old brother Josh in tow, to go backpack for a few days in North Alabama. We drove up to the trailhead in the Sipsey Wilderness Area of William Bankhead National Forest at 7:00 or so, and hiked down into a fine little valley about an hour from the trailhead, with a stream and small waterfall nearby, and set up camp. We passed the night without incident, although my poor brother didn't sleep much. You see, he slept in a hammock- which was fine, except that he didn't bring a sleeping bag. With only a sheet and light blanket, he got cold in the damp, cool night-time air, and thus laid awake all night while I was comfortably enveloped by my fancy backpacking bag- on the ground, but actually quite comfortable (the trick to sleeping on the ground is to fitting oneself into the countours of the soil- works most of the time). We got up about 8:00 or so, after waiting out a light drizzle (fortunately Josh did have a tarp strung over his hammock).

After breaking camp, we hiked downstream. My plan was to follow a lovely, waterfall-flecked canyon north, camp Tuesday night, then hike back via a ridge-top trail to the east (note that we were at the present hiking off-trail, following streams- my favorite mode of hiking when I can). However, my plan for the week fizzled almost as soon as we got off walking. Josh began complaining of his stomach hurting. Now, that's a nasty thing anyway, but it's a really nasty thing when you are off in the wilds with a twenty pound pack to carry. I asked him if he wanted to go back, and he said no. In retrospect, I should have compelled a retreat then, but I didn't. We hiked a mile or so, and he seemed to be doing well enough. The stream we were following dropped deeper into the folds of the land, until it opened onto a larger creek, which shortly dropped over a lovely waterfall into the main canyon. This was where Josh's condition worsened. We lingered about the falls for a while (long enough for Josh to fall in), then began walking down canyon. We didn't get very far. Still within sight of the falls, Josh dropped against a tree and began throwing up.

To condense this unhappy drama, we traveled a little further down canyon, until coming to a tributary stream that offered a climb up out of the canyon and back to the trail. We were only an hour's walk from the trailhead, but it took much longer. We at last made it back to the car. I had to return down the trail to recover my unfortuante brother's backpack, which we had cached upon reaching the ridge trail. After that, we drove back to Haleyville (the nearest town, and birthplace of 9-1-1 of all things) where I got Josh some anti-nausea medicine at Wal-Mart. I then deliberated my next course of action. Josh did not wish to make the long drive back home, and to be honest, I didn't either. However, I did not want to stay in a hotel all day and night, and I did not feel that Josh should be back out in the woods. Then I recalled that there was a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, an hour or so drive east of where we were. I remembered reading online that they took guests, and had been meaning to visit up their way for a while anyway. However, I couldn't remember where exactly it was, and my Delorme Atlas didn't help me. So we made a trip to the local library. It was a but difficult to find, as it fronts Main Street- but Haleyville has no Main Street right now as it's been ripped up for some reason. We did locate the library eventually, and were given directions to St. Bernard's Abbey.

After an hour of driving horridly windy roads, and my brother groaning pitifully, we arrived at the Abbey. I went in to the gift shop (adjacent to the famed- in North Alabama at least- Ave Maria Grotto), and asked the lady at the counter about getting a room at the Abbey. A little while later I met with the assistant guestmaster and explained my situation. I was a bit nervous, as I was certain of the irregularity of just 'showing up'- not to mention the fact I had a sick brother tagging along, am not Roman Catholic, and was dressed like- well, like someone who just crawled out of the woods. At any rate, since there were only a handful of guests, the monastery had rooms open, and we were each given a room. It was certainly gracious of the Abbey- the normal procedure is to reserve at least a couple weeks in advance. But I was in a fix (albiet not an impossible one) and the Brothers were very gracious.

Presently the Abbey has 28 monks in residence, though several are confined to the Infirmary. For many years St. Bernard's was almost exclusively German (the town of Cullman was settled by German immigrants- which is quite unusual for the Deep South) but is now comprised of men from all over the US. The Abbey was established in Cullman in 1891, and the old monastery building, which I did not get to visit, dates from that era. The current building is a more modern construct, from the 50's I suppose. The Abbey Church is also a fairly recent structure, from the 50's or 60's. As far as modern churches go, it's not too bad. The exterior is very sparse, too sparse for my tastes, but the interior is considerably better. The acoustics were beautiful; Vespers was especially lovely.

Our stay there was very nice- Josh slept through most of it, while I talked with our guestmaster and attended Evening Mass and Vespers (did't make it to Compline; got caught talking with another guest). The food was really good- dinner was Chinese, with honey chicken (which just happens to be one of my favorites), eggrolls, and rice. Josh was still feeling bad, so he missed out. In the morning I went to Matins and breakfast- Josh was feeling better, but didn't feel quite up to breakfast. We left out shortly after breakfast, after expressing our gratitude again. Our guestmaster supplied us with bananas and cookies, and a towel for Josh just in case- which we did not, fortunately, need. Josh was feeling fine when we left, and the drive home was uneventful.

"Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, 'I came as a guest, and you received Me'(Matt. 25:35). And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims."

Rule of St. Benedict


A Failure To Hypostatize

The Lord told us to love our neighbor. My problem is, I can’t stop losing my neighbor in the crowd long enough to love him.

I work in a catfish house: one of the centers of South Mississippi dining. The masses congregate there, every day we’re open- Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 to 9:00 (9:30 on weekends)- streaming through the fairly-new vestibule (do catfish houses have vestibules?) and out into the concrete-block dining rooms. There, under the crooked pine panel roof and the continual rotation of ceiling-fan blades, they gather: black and white, rich and poor, young and old, healthy and infirm. And they eat- after waiting (a lot of waiting on most nights) while eating coleslaw and sipping our inordinately-sweet tea. Some come with their families, friend, co-workers. Some sit by the window, at the two-seat tables, by themselves. They eat, ask about the wait, drink more sweet tea, ask about the temperature, pay, leave.

I work as a busboy. It’s entirely unglamourous labour, no hope of promotion, except maybe to one day man the cash register (but I doubt it). I don’t really care; it’s only part-time, fits in well enough with my studies, and puts gas in the car and feeds my book habit. I intend to wrap my tenure up there in another year or so, once I finish at my current school- a junior college (or community college as they call them these days in most places). I clean up the tables, cart boxes, dry dishes, refill ketchup bottles, clean the bathrooms. And sometimes, when I remember it, the place becomes a school of theosis and the manifestation of God’s love.

The Desert Fathers advised manual labour as an excellent spiritual tool. I had this in mind when I started working there. That and the Apostle’s advice to ‘pray without ceasing,’ hopefully for all the people I would see. I had this idea that Charlie’s- that’s the name of the place, Charlie’s Catfish- would be the perfect place to start- again- learning how to love my neighbor- because I see so many of them there. But there’s my problem. The neighbor, the image of God whose table I clean and whose drinks I fill, keeps on fading out of my focus. I end up just seeing a crowd, a mass of men, without names, with faces maybe, but I don’t look at them much. And when nine o’clock rolls around, I’m wishing that all these neighbors would just go home and leave my co-workers and me alone.

I think my dilemma is a failure to hypostatize: that is, my failure to view this mass of men as persons: unique, unrepeatable persons with a face, made in the image of God, and redeemed by the God Who hung on a tree for them. They are neighbors, like that man that got beat up on the road to Jericho. They are persons, objects of love and concern. But I have a tendency to shuttle that aspect away and retreat to the safety of the crowd. The crowd is a sort of nameless substance, the drifting essence of humanity. I can, in fact, love the crowd well enough- we all can. We call it humanity and say we love humanity. We say this when we’re safely away from them. I pray for ‘all men in all places’- and I pray it when I’m at home and they’re all somewhere else. And I act as a self-existing individual, as someone who is quite content with hiding in himself. Maybe Sartre was right about the other- so I think sometimes. But even when I don’t, I hardly notice them. But mere neutrality just doesn’t cut it, existentially speaking.

God loves mankind. But His love of mankind isn’t like mine. He loves men as persons, in fact calling them into real being in Himself. His way of saving them is to bring them into communion in love with Himself, to let them share the love that He has in Himself- because God is One, and yet He is also Trinity. He is love, and His love is the sort of the Father to the Son- not a vague sense of benevolence, should someone else ever show up on the cosmic scene, or should the cosmic scene ever begin. His love is person-to-person, love that gives itself to the Other. God’s love is Trinitarian, and that makes all the difference in the world. It is not simple neutrality- He didn’t just decide to not destroy us- His love is the deepest, truest sort: Cruciform.

So where does this leave me as I’m cleaning a table off during another Friday night? How am I supposed to manifest this love, how am I to start viewing and treating this crowd as a group of persons, and not merely a mass of substance that leaves wreck and ruin when they leave? How am I to act as a person with love for neighbor? For the real problem is my failure to hypostatize: I draw back into myself and forget everyone outside, which is a negation of personhood understood in relation to God. The answer, of course, lies in God. Christ is the only man Who has ever truly and utterly loved as a person, truly loving the other. In Christ I have this hope of ‘breaking out’ and entering into hypostastizing love, in the freedom of the Spirit of love. This is the hypostasis that Zizioulas called the eclessial: one that transcends the self and is realizes in love, in Christ. The only hope of attaining it is through the One Who has attained it for me, the One Who has ‘broken out’ of the limits of individualism, of selfishness, of the ‘biological necessity’ of fallen humanity. He is love, and He sees the person in the crowd. He doesn’t lose the neighbor in the mass. His love doesn’t retreat from the Other; in fact He binds Himself to the other in love. He gives Himself up entirely for the Other. And now His hypostasis of love is extended to me, to make me a person in His own image and likeness: the remaking of man in love.

And now I’m called to work this out among the tables in the midst of the crowd. I am in Christ, a new creature, one freed from the bonds of selfishness, of death, of the incline down from being, from personhood. I have the grace to stop seeing only a crowd and start seeing neighbors, persons with faces, to be drawn into this Trinitarian love with me. How does one go about it here- where there are so many people, whose lives will probably never again intersect mine, whose names I don’t know- and it's the same way in most places. I’m not entirely certain how to live love out here: I wish I could just ‘radiate’ a sort of holy, healing aura like the Lord did in His incarnation, and like it is said some of His saints have done.

I will describe two elements of praxis that I have found helpful towards attaining to love- and don’t look for anything new here. One is prayer for myself: when the customers are upset over the thermostat, the waitresses snap at me, and I’m tired- ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!’ I’m slowly learning that when the passions assault, the only sure refuge is prayer. That should be obvious enough, but it’s remarkable at how slow of a learner I am. But such prayer- more or less variations of the ‘Jesus Prayer’ of Orthodox spirituality- is often the only recourse I have. I can’t control the passions on my own: the only recourse is a call for mercy. And how often I call out!

The other element is quite like the first: prayer, this time, of course, prayer for those around me- again with the same sort of prayer as above, one of ‘Lord have mercy.’ It should be easy: I have plenty of time to pray for all these people, as cleaning off tables does not involve rigorous thinking or anything. But, believe it or not, I pray far, far less than I could. It’s that same cold selfish apathy- I do not yet have that compassion that the Gospels say stirred in Christ when He saw the crowds- the compassion that stirred God when He beheld the crowd of humanity. But I have found that praying helps to stir up love. When I do pray, I begin to regard the person prayed for- even if I do not know so much as their name- as a person, as someone to be loved. I suppose this is one reason God has given us the ability and privilege of prayer: as a means to love. And I hope that, in God’s grace, my brief, intermittent prayers have some affect.

There is hope, real, incarnate hope, in Christ that I will begin to find my neighbor long enough to love him. It’s piously cliche to say it, I know, but I haven’t arrived at such a point. I pray that I would begin to love, begin to see the other as God sees Him, and not from barricade of self. Even in a catfish house while cleaning tables and dirty ketchup bottles- and everywhere else, for that matter.


St. Ephrem the Syrian

Let us see those things that He does for us every day!
How many tastes for the mouth! How many beauties for the eye!
How many melodies for the ear! How many scents of the nostrils!
Who is sufficient in comparison to the goodness of these little things?
Who is able to make thousands of remunerations in a day?
Even if there dwell in him a great spring of words,
He will be unable by words and melodies to make
The great remuneration of every hour,
O Gracious Cheated One, Who, although cheated daily,
Does not cease to do good (Hymns on Nativity, 31).

Today we commemorate (in the West anyway) St. Ephrem the Syrian, one of the most prolific hymn writers the Church has ever possessed. His were among the first Patristic works I aquired, in the form of Sebastian Brock's translation of Hymns on Paradise. His though is sometimes rather different from that of other Fathers, as St. Ephrem lived in the medium of a culture rather different from that of the Greek or Latin Fathers: but subsisting in an orthodox faith flowing from the Scriptures.

(The above lines are taken from this article, which I found a while back on Break Point.)


From On the Apostolic Preaching

37. Thus then He gloriously achieved our redemption, and fulfilled the promise of the fathers, and abolished the old disobedience. The Son of God became Son of David and Son of Abraham ; perfecting and summing up this in Himself, that He might make us to possess life. The Word of God was made flesh by the dispensation of the Virgin, to abolish death and make man live. For we were imprisoned by sin, being born in sinfulness and living under death.

38. But God the Father was very merciful: He sent His creative Word, who in coming to deliver us came to the very place and spot in which we had lost life, and brake the bonds of our fetters. And His light appeared and made the darkness of the prison disappear, and hallowed our birth and destroyed death, loosing those same fetters in which we were enchained. And He manifested the resurrection, Himself becoming the first­begotten of the dead, and in Himself raising up man that was fallen, lifting him up far above the heaven to the right hand of the glory of the Father: even as God promised by the prophet, saying: "And I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen;" that is, the flesh that was from David. And this our Lord Jesus Christ truly fulfilled, when He gloriously achieved our redemption, that He might truly raise us up, setting us free unto the Father.

St. Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching


The One and the Many: An Excursus on I Corinthians 12

“Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Church’s principle of unity is incorporation into Christ through the Spirit unto the Father. Christ is the center, the Head, and we make up His body, drawing our formation and existence from Him, the Spirit grafting individuals into the body, thus making them ‘members’. God composes His body from persons, from ‘members’: He takes individuals, formerly existing in the world as ‘autonomous’ individuals, in darkness and death, because of their severance from the life of God. But in the Spirit they are baptized into a body: and a body is composed of members- not individuals subsisting in independence from each other and from God, but persons, members subsisting in an organic unity, like the organs of a biological body. This is key to understanding what is meant by Church, for without the proper understanding of the ‘one of the many’ we will denigrate either into an assemblage of autonomous individuals or failure to recognize all members in their vitalness and significance.

Existence in Christ is the ultimate expression of personhood and of community, because both must exist for the body to exist. St. Paul expresses this truth in various ways in this passage. He begins by presenting the idea of the one and the many: the body is one. The Church is community, a body, and she is one, not to be severed into portions- for a severed body is a dying one. But she is composed of many members. These members are taken from the world, with its particulars and divisions- the division of man into races, social status, age, ranks, and so on- but out of these divisions the Spirit creates members, persons, who drink of Him, and are thus grafted into a body. This is done without a loss of the individual member’s unique personality, but rather realizes each member’s personality in the community of the body of Christ.

The Church is not a ‘boiling pot’, a place in which personal existence must subside into an impersonal whole. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (v. 14) In fact, the body’s existence is conditioned by its being made up of the ‘many’: the community must be formed of persons: unique, unrepeatable beings. And the members of the body are true persons, possessing distinction from each other- though not division or severance. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” Each possesses importance within the body, each being necessary to the body’s proper functioning, with this importance lying in the member’s distinction from each other: but not division. “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (v.’s 24-25) “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (v. 19) There is no body without members; likewise, the members find their being in the body, not apart from it or each other.

The members’s identity should not be understood only in terms of their ‘natural’ distinctiveness: as St. Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and so on. This is not to say, of course, that these elements of personal identity are consumed completely in Christ; rather, they are transformed, and the division they have caused is removed. Rather than points of division, these elements of identity help to form the body, and in the Spirit are elements of communion between persons. But these ‘natural’ distinctions are not the most important ones. Rather, the Spirit creates uniqueness within the body especially through the manifestation of His gifts (I Cor. 12:4-11). As John Zizilioulas points out in Being as Communion, the Spirit creates orders within the Church, and in so doing, creates the condition for communion among unique persons, their uniqueness and ‘function’ formed by the Spirit. All Christians participate in an ‘order’, and all Christians participate in gifts of the Spirit: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (v. 7) The hierarchy of the Church is to be thought of with all the members in mind. The bishop must be with the laity, and the laity with the bishop: neither can exist on its own, for its own sake, but they must form an organic whole, with all orders existing together in communion. All are necessary for all: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (v. 21) Christ brings all the members into His body, and gives each meaning and purpose in Himself.

And most importantly, the Spirit creates personhood and communion through love. I Corinthians 12 flows directly into chapter 13, the famous chapter on love. For the love that St. Paul describes is realized in the body, through the manifestation of the Spirit, and realizes the body. Love in Christ is the ‘movement’ of the body, and the binding power: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14) The ‘growth from God’ advances in love, building the body up in unity and communion. Love is the relation between persons, between members, that makes the body to subsist. And it is the Spirit Who ‘sheds abroad’ the love of God in us, bringing individual members into unity through love for each other through love for and in God. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (v. 26)

Christ is the true realization of personhood and community both, because in Him human beings are brought into the life of the Triune God. The relation of the members in the body reflects the relation that God has within Himself: as the Lord prayed in the garden, “Let them be one as we are one.” The Church must always hold in constant attention the truth of the Trinity, because it is in the Trinity that she finds her life. Christ, in His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, has made the way for men to enter into the Triune life in Himself. He has partaken of our fallen realities so that we might, in Him, be freed from that falleness, and enter into His body, the Church, in which our existence is given true being and life in God. In Him we are no longer discordant and divided, from each other and from God, but instead we have a single direction: in the Son, through the Spirit crying “Abba, Father,” we live unto the Father. God is our life, the other is our life. Whereas before we found the other to be ‘original sin’ as Sartre said, now we find life in the Other, and embrace the other in love.

And it is only in the Church, the very body of Christ, that personhood and community can be realized. In the experience of the world, we see attempts at both. Individualism, particularly as manifested in humanistic liberalism, seeks to locate the person and free him from the crippling and consuming forces that bear against him. However, in so doing, the individual must be ‘protected’ from the other, from the community, which causes severance. On the other hand, socialism and various other philosophies seek to form community, but they do so at the expense of the person. The person is not indispensable in a communist society; he can be freely sacrificed for the ‘good’ of the community. All the systems of the world seek to fill the existential longing of man, but all fail ultimately, because in rejecting the Triune God revealed in the Incarnation, they reject the only possible hope of man, who is made for communion in personhood.


Thoughts on the Eucharist

1.“But our opinion is in accord with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion.” So said St. Irenaeus in his wonderful tome Against Heresies, in response to Gnostic heresy that denied the good of creation, and the true “infleshing” of the Son of God, on the grounds that creation was inherently evil, the ethereal spirit realm being the only residence of truth and life and salvation. Against this St. Irenaeus countered with the Eucharist, using the venerable argument of lex orandi, lex credendi. Later Fathers would make great use of the Baptismal Formula against deniers of the Trinity; St. Irenaeus worked from the Incarnation-affirming doctrine of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, and it comes to us through the physical elements of bread and wine. Thus the affirmation of creation’s goodness and Christ’s true Incarnation is really two-fold in it: not only does Christ’s true body and blood truly nourish us, body and soul, but we receive it through things that come from the earth: bread and wine. The Eucharist is vividly Incarnational: it is received by the whole man through the Spirit, who deigns to dwell in physical man and make use of physical things. Christ uses the common elements of bread and wine, the fruit of the soil, to make manifest to us Himself. The Eucharist is thus a manifestation of the Eschaton, and God’s embrace of all things, the liberation of all creation. We also see, through our reception of Christ’s body and blood, for our own bodies and souls, that God intends for the whole man to be saved, not merely some immortal but disembodied soul. As St. Irenaeus says, why would God give us His body and blood if both things in us were meant to be dissolved and done away with:

“When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which flesh is nourished from the body and the blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?- even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that, ‘we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.’”

2. When we speak of the Eucharist, it is necessary that we affirm the Real Presence in the fullest manner. It is not enough to speak of a Presence in which His body and blood are not presented to the whole man. He offers Himself to us, to all of us. Our body and soul is nourished by Him: not the soul only, but the body also. Thus the phrase ‘spiritual presence’ is potentially dangerous. If by it one denies that Christ’s body and blood are ‘true food and true drink,’ and that we are somehow only recipients of His spiritual presence, divorced of His Incarnation, then it is a fall from right doctrine. In the Eucharist Christ truly presents His flesh and blood for the life of the world, for us, in our whole person. For in receiving the Eucharist of His body and blood, we receive the whole of Him, for the whole of us. The Eucharist really is His body and blood: as St. Irenaeus says, when the elements of bread and wine recieve the Word and Spirit, they are transformed, and truly become the body and blood of Christ for us (I must note, however, that despite this affirmation, I find it highly doubtful that St. Irenaeus would consider 'adoration' of the elements, for the Eucharist is intended for eating and drinking- but this is a topic for another post).

3. But on the other hand, we may freely speak of the spiritual presence, if we capitalize the term: Spiritual Presence, that is, a Eucharist through the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” This is not a denial of the physical, a stripping of body from soul: no, instead, we find in the Holy Spirit the true affirmation of the body, of creation. He is the Spirit Who indwells human beings, body and soul. St. Paul says that our bodies are His temples- He indwells the whole of us. In the Eucharist it is the Spirit Who makes us present to Christ’s body and blood. He does not negate the flesh-and-blood aspect; rather, He consummates it, gives life to the mortal body.

4. The Eucharist is movement and gathering. The Holy Spirit raises us to Christ, gathering us- the many- into One. He is ascended, and we are ascended in Him through the Spirit, in His ascended humanity. Therefore, we can be made present to the One Sacrifice, to His body and blood: our remembrance is one in which we are made present to that which is remembered. Time is ‘opened up,’ and creation is embraced by the movement and action of the Economy of the Incarnation. Christ, in His humanity, gives Himself to the many, in many places and times, thus gathering them together in Himself. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

5. In the Eucharist we are presented with the reality of Christ’s full embrace of our world. We cannot exclude Him from the ‘secular’; we cannot divide the world into ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ and then speak of God only in relation to the ‘spiritual’: for in fact, the spiritual is defined by the Holy Spirit, Who indwells us, making our bodies His temple, and Who transfigures the elements of bread and wine, Who gives us our Lord’s true body and blood for our nourishment and life. The Eucharist confronts us with the reality of the Incarnation.


As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins