1981-12-08-1-E-E-C-EW98-002

Bishop Anthony

Sacraments

I

 

These talks on the sacraments could be considered as a complement to the series I gave on the Creed. First, a few basic things:

The word `sacrament’ in the Greek and Slavonic languages is expressed by the word for mystery: ‘mysterion’ in Greek and ‘taenstvo’ in Slavonic. And the meaning of the word is derived from a Greek word which means to be spell-bound , speechless. This is because the sacraments are acts of God happening within a context of the continual relationship which can be experienced but cannot be expressed adequately or conveyed adequately in words. It is not only the sacraments of the Church which could be called by such a name. There are human experiences which cannot be conveyed to those who have no inkling about them: the sense of beauty, love, to take only two examples. So the fact that the Church is in possession of a word and of acts of relationship which are beyond verbal expesssions is only a part of a total human experience that there are things which can only be known by participation, known by communion, known because something happened to us. Of course, once the experience is there, it can to a certain degree, greater, lesser, be put into words. But the words cannot meet the experience, they can only allow a person who has already been given a sense of what will happen to understand by analogy what is being spoken of.

It is important for us to realise this because all the sacramental acts in the Church are quite naturally connected with words, with actions, with gestures, with people, and there is a natural temptation and always a risk that we confuse the form with the content. No form can be without content, but the form can vary without the content varying at all. I’ll give you an example, which in a way is purely formal, but which may convey my meaning. In the early centuries the gift of the Holy Spirit which followed baptism was conveyed by the laying on of hands of the bishop, accompanied by a prayer. Now in the Orthodox Chuch the gift of the Holy Spirit is conveyed by anointing with holy chrism.. There was an intermediary period when both acts were performed on that occasion. And yet it is not in the laying on of hands, and it is not in the anointing with chrism that the mystery resides. It is beyond them. And that it is beyond them will be seen from a prayer that the bishop reads over the ordinand who is to become a deacon. In one of the prayers the bishop says: `Lord, it is not in the laying on of my hands but in thine own grace descending from above that this man is become a deacon`. And yet this man could not become a deacon unless there was an act performed within the Church by someone who is appointed to peform it. So we must realise that there is a link between the action , the substance, the person, and the event. And yet there is a wholeness in which divine Grace acts , through which God acts by the priest, but it is always an act divine, and this is what is so wonderful in the sacramental gifts which it gives.

Now, I have said that a sacrament can occur only within an abiding, continual, unbroken relationship to God. And this is why I recall, and many other theologians have said – proclaimed, indeed – that the basic mystery is the Church herself. It is true that all other sacraments express and convey within the Church particular gifts to those who are in need of them. But the Chuch is the Great Mystery. This should be explained, because we have come to think of the Church as an institution, almost a secular organisation ,with religious purposes. But the real nature of the Church, what it is truly - once you have freed it from, or forgotten, all the things which are secular, or are additional, or are fetters in it – is, first of all, to be the place where God and man can meet, where they meet once and for all, once and for ever. It is a way between God and his creation. But it is not only this. In this relationship which is established – and I use the word `wedding’ advisedly – the Church becomes more than a human society related to God by faith, by obedience in the sacraments. The Church, because of the act of this union between God and man, becomes embodied, is simultaneously and equally human and divine - human in us, but also human in the Lord Jesus Christ, divine in the Holy Trinity, and visibly, concretely embodied in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Church, wherever there is a relation of a man, a sinner - but a sinner who is purged - Godwards, who has found his God, who adores him, worships him, and aims with all his energies to unite himelf to him, the Church is related to God also by the presence, the indwelling, sanctifying, transfiguring presence of the Holy Spirit.

So the Church again is a body, an organism which is simultaneously and equally human and divine. But this is not yet fulfilled, for as long as sinners are sinners, as long as all things have not come to their plenitude, there is an unfulfilment. From that angle the Church is the place where this mysterious transformation of man takes place. It is also the way in which it occurs. The Church is the very mystery of this gradual growth into the Divine. This is why Khomiakov and others could say that the only sacrament, the only true mystery in the world is the Church. And all those things which we call sacraments, mysteries, are only a part of it, either an expression of it or a way in which it happens. We are united to Christ by baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit in chrismation. We are united to Christ in a new way in the Eucharist.

There are several things to be considered here. First of all, we are accustomed to the fact that we always speak of seven sacraments. These seven sacraments have become, in the course of the Church's history, a balanced number of divine acts which meet practically every human situation. But if the definition which I gave in the beginning, that a sacrament is an act of God that transforms and transfigures us is true, then it is difficult to define the number of sacraments. If we look into the history of our Church, we will discover that according to the epoch, according to the writer, the number of sacraments has been assessed in a very variable way. Some spoke of two sacraments: Baptism, including the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist. Others spoke of the seven sacraments to which we are accustomed. But there was a moment when the list extended as far as 22 sacraments, simply because it was considered that every act of divine grace, every direct act of God which transformed the substance of this world, and us through it and with it, could be called a sacrament. I remember one of the finest, most perceptive, though strange, theologians of the Russian Church in the last century , Vladimir Ilyin, saying one day in a lecture that one could consider every miracle as an irregular sacrament, that is, an act of God which transforms a situation by meeting a need, meeting a person - doing about and for the person what no one and nothing can do - but which cannot be put into an organized list because it remains completely within the divine initiative.

At this point perhaps it is worth saying that whether we have a comprehensive or a limited list of sacraments, whether our definition comprises all the possibilities or only part of them, it is part of Orthodox theology to say that although God has promised to attach his grace, his power, his action to the sacraments that exist in the Church, he remains free to act apart from any sacraments, independently of any action of the Church , to meet a human need within the world which he has created, which is his world. This is important when we think of bodies which are 'non-sacramental' Christian or non-Christian communities, bodies of people who either have lost the notion of the practice of sacraments or never possessed them. They are not outside the same power of God, the same gifts of God, the same way in which God can transform us. One of the metropolitans of Moscow, one of its great theologians, Platon Levshin said it is contempt of the sacraments which leads to condemnation, but not the fact that we are not given them.

There is a tendency, or rather there was a tendency over a whole period - and it has not yet died out completely - to equate the Church with the Eucharist. And this I would like to deny. The Church is greater even than sacramental communion. It includes and contains more than this. If you have ever had the piety, the devotion or the curiosity to read the secret prayers which the priest uses in the Liturgy, you may have noticed that after Communion the priest says in his thanksgiving: 'And grant us, O Lord, to commune with thee more truly in thy Kingdom which is to come' - because all things which take place on earth have their limitations. They are limitations not on the part of God, but on our part. God gives without measure, yet we receive with measure, within the limitations of our capability, not all that is given, but what we are capable of receiving. To this we will come eventually when we speak of Eucharistic communion, but I wanted to show these sides of the problem to you at once.

Now there are other sides. God acts within the Church, this mysterious body. Within the Church we are at the receiving end of his actions, but we are never passive recipients of what God does or what God gives. A human being is never passive, and his attitude, his condition, the orientation of his will, conditions his ability to receive what is given. In Orthodox teaching about sacraments there is a very definite point in which we are told that although the sacramental action is always objectively real and full - this does not depend upon the minister or the recipient - yet it is received according to the disposition of the one who is the recipient of the gift. So our own attitude conditions, in a way as powerfully as God's, what happens to us.

In ancient times one of the writers of Christendom said that history is conditioned by three wills: the will of God - all-powerful, all-wise, perfectly loving - the will of Satan, perverse, hateful; and the will of man, which, like scales, stands between the two, beguiled by the one, called by the other, and endowed with the tragic power to say no to God as he is endowed with the wonderful power to say no to Satan. And in this, whether we hear the word of God calling us, whether our conscience speaks within us, whether the gifts of God reach us through the sacraments, we remain free to receive or to reject. Also at times it is not the immediate attitude which we have, but the condition in which we are, which may set a barrier to our reception. You remember the tragic, frightening words of St. Paul, who warns us not to commune with God unworthily. In a sense we are always unworthy of whatever God may give us, but repentance, humility, longing, a sense of worship and of awe can make us capable of receiving what we have no right to, and no way of receiving by right. So this is a very important thing. God does not act on us as though we were passive things, objects. We are co-workers in our own salvation. We work with him, we act together with him or against him.

On the other hand, sacraments always involve the matter of this world. That is, baptism involves water; anointment of the sick involves oil; chrismation involves holy chrism. What happens then? Is it that God takes inert, dead matter and overpowers it to make it a means of sanctification for us? That would be magic. And this is one of the problems which some denominations have had in the course of practically half of Christian history, confusing sacraments and magic. The difference - if I may put it, of course, in a very short manner - is this: An act of magic is an act of power, an act by which one endowed with knowledge can overpower, subjugate, enslave and use to his purposes either matter or persons. Sacraments are divine acts that liberate, set free. And this I think requires some explanation.

In Orthodox theology the matter of this world is not dead, inert matter. God has created nothing which is incapable, in a way unfathomable to us, of communing with him, of relating to him, of rejoicing in him, of being fulfilled in him. I do believe that the words of St. Paul that the day will come when God shall be All in all involve the whole of creation, all things created, and that on that day nothing that was created by him of which we do not perceive the life and relation to God will be revealed in glory. This, I think, could be supported by two lines of thought. The one, and the essential one, is the Incarnation. God became man, yes, but the Word became flesh. The body of the incarnate Christ was united to his divinity as perfectly, as completely, as truly as his human soul was united with the divine. In him we can see already now as an event of our human history a human body which has been united to the divinity, and we can see with wonder, with awe, that man is so great, not only in his soul but even in his body, that he can unite with God, become one with God without ceasing to be perfectly man. The image which I have quoted so often to you comes true here, that of St. Maxim, who says that in Christ the divinity and the humanity are united in the way that fire and iron can be united in a sword plunged into a burning furnace and which emerges out of it glowing with fire, so that one can cut with fire and burn with iron. But what was true once in history, in the body of Christ, in that body which remained uncorrupted in the grave because He was at one with God even when the human soul and the human body were parted through death, what happened once is a demonstration to us of the capabilities of that matter which God has created and which is the matter of this world. The Incarnation in that sense is a fulfillment which is a cosmic event. It reveals to us the capability of all matter, from the smallest atom to the greatest and most immeasurable galaxy, to unite with God, to be filled with His presence, to be revealed in glory. And this is a liberation from the limitations of a fallen world, from the limitations of a world yet unfulfilled. And in the sacraments the ways in which God unites Himself, in ways that vary, to the waters and to the bread and to the wine and to the oil, are eschatological events, events in which, because we have entered eternity for one moment, we see matter as it is called to be vocationally when all things are fulfilled. One may say that in historical time, within secular time, if such a thing did exist, bread and wine could not become the body and blood of Christ, could not be filled with divinity, could not convey to us what belongs to God alone and to eternity. But whenever a sacramental act is performed, whenever God acts within that community of people which willingly, longingly has become the divine realm, the kyriakon, the Church, the kirk, which is the divine realm, we are, for a moment at least, in eternity and we can see things happen or things being what they are called to be when all things shall be fulfilled.

And it is not only matter that can be used by God in this manner. In a sacrament like marriage no physical substance is used. There is an offering brought by the groom and the bride, an offering which is their mutual love, their souls and bodies, their agreement to become one in God in an eschatological manner, in a manner which is not a human contract but a revelation of oneness which God alone can give. And the instrument of this event is the word spoken. The word that conveys blessing is endowed with power to effect what God has willed. And in a way perhaps very wonderful, very moving, we find the same thought expressed in an act which is not a sacrament but which, being a blessing from God, coming within the Church, has perhaps got the same quality which I have tried to define: the blessing of a church bell. There is a most beautiful prayer which is read by the priest in which, among other things, he asks God to grant that this bell, whenever it is sounded, by its sound should awaken the sleeping soul, regenerate those who hear the peeling of the bell. I think that if we remember the way in which the Orthodox Church has conceived of its sacramental substance, of the way in which God acts within it, the way in which matter is used, being made free of its limitations, capable of sharing the divine council, free to rejoice in its participation in God's life and acts, we can imagine the richness and beauty of this prayer.

I have mentioned one of the two elements of this relation of matter and divinity. The Old and New Testaments are rich in examples of what one can call material miracles, nature miracles. If it were untrue that all things created were made in such a way that they can respond to God, hear and respond, hear and rejoice, participate, grow into a mysterious relation to God, then the material miracles of the Old and New Testaments would either be impossible or would be acts of a god overpowering an inert and powerless creation, acts of magic. This is very important in our vision of the way in which sacraments are freedom to all the elements involved , the human soul and the human body and the substance used and the priest celebrating, because ultimately it is an act of God, which establishes now a situation of eternity by an eschatologicaI dramatic irruption of the divine, of the holy, of the eternal into our time.

Just one word more. When we speak of the sacraments and of the matter that is involved in them, we cannot help discovering at once that there must be differences, not in holiness, not in degree perhaps, but somehow differences between the ways in which God relates to matter in them. We believe, we know from experience, we proclaim that in the Eucharist the bread becomes the body of Christ, the wine becomes the blood of Christ. But what happens to the waters of baptism? In what way do they relate to God? Not substantially: they do not become Christ; they do not become the Holy Spirit. In what way does God, the Divinity, the substantial Divinity, relate to the chrism? In what way does God relate to all the substances which are involved in sacramental actions?

At this point perhaps it is important to remember and realize the Orthodox teaching on grace, which is different from at least some of the Western teachings on it. Many theologians in the West have conceived and declared grace to be a created something which God grants unto salvation to those who need it. In Orthodox theology grace is God himself

pouring himself out upon, towards, into his creation.. Grace divine is God in his energies, and the distinction between substance, nature, essence and energies consists in saying that God cannot be limited to anything whatever, and that he exists in what we can perceive as him., but he exists also beyond anything we can conceive as him. Lossky said once that the energies can be seen as though God was an overflowing cup. He is all the cup and yet he is overflowing in all creation and he fills all things with his presence. Others, more ancient theological writers, have spoken of the image of the sun, which is the sun in himself and yet reaches out to us by his light and his warmth. And wen we perceive the warmth of the sun we participate in the very substance and nature of the sun. It is his warmth which is within us, pervades, unfreezes, fills and transforms us. Obviously these images are not satisfying. But we must accept from experience, not otherwise, that God does relate in a mysterious way, in a variety of ways which I will try to define perhaps a little more when we speak of individual sacraments, but in ways different on every occasion, and yet is all completely there, acting, transforming, transfiguring and saving us - `saving’ meaning making us already now participants of what is our vocation in the Age to Come. This is the end of my talk today.

 

 

II

15 December 1981

 

In our reflections on the sacraments I want to touch upon two things today. First of all, who are the ministers of the sacraments? And secondly, what happens? In what way does God relate to the matter which we use in our sacramental ministrations? Last time I defined the sacraments as acts of God that take place within the realm of God, which is the Church. I have also insisted, and I think it is very important for us to remember, that when we speak of the Church as being the realm of God, we d o not mean simply a place he dwells in, or a space or a congregation which are his own,

subjected to him. The relationship between God and his creation is, as I put it, following better sources than my own judgement, a wedding. God is wedded to his creation. His creation and he enter into a relationship which makes the one inseparable from the other, through faith, through love, through adoration, through an act of abandoning ourselves to God, putting ourselves into his hands, on our part. And on God’s part it is through an act which is at the very root of our relationship with him and is set up in the act of creation, by giving himself unreservedly to us. And so, although God is supremely active in the sacraments, although there can be no notion of a sacramental reality apart from the divine action, neither we human beings nor the matter which is used in the sacraments are simply passive agents, dead matter. To say this means that in any sacramental action the whole cosmos is involved. For when a sacramental action takes place, human beings are, as it were, translated, transferred onto a plane which is that of eternity, the eschatological plane when all things will be fulfilled and the matter which is used will be revealed to us in all its glory, in all its potentiality. So when a sacramental action is performed or takes place, indeed it is God who acts, but he does not act upon a world he has created, upon people, upon things, but together with them in an eschatological harmony and fulfillment. This is brought out – one side of it is brought out very clearly - in the beginning of the liturgy. At the moment when the service is about to start, when the ministers are already ready to celebrate the service, when the bread and wine have already been prepared, the deacon addresses himself to the priest and says: `And now it is for God to act’. The priest may naively imagine that his time has come, that he will now open the Holy Doors, that he will now pronounce words that are decisive, and indeed he will. But what we expect to happen can happen only by a divine act and not by any kind of human agency separated or divorced from God. Nothing, no power given to a human being, no right or privilege, no function, can give him the power to pronounce this bread to be the body of Christ, this cup to become the blood of Christ with such power that the miracle should be effected. And this is why, after the words of institution, the words which Christ himself spoke at the Last Supper, we turn ourselves towards God and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon us and upon these gifts set forth - both us and the gifts. For if we are not the place where the Holy Spirit is abroad, if we are not the people who are, singly and in their totality as the Church, the place where God, the Spirit lives, there is no point in these Holy Gifts becoming what we cannot face, endure or receive. And indeed if we are not the Church, the event cannot take place. On the other hand, it is only the Holy Spirit of God that can effect what we expect. This does not mean that the ministers do not have their place and their function. This does not mean either that the lay people are only present at a celebration. Indeed if what I said before makes any sense, it is the whole Church which is involved in a variety of ways in the sacramental, miraculous event. I am not going to elaborate on the role of the various members of this situation, because I will have to return to it a propos of one sacrament or another. We will have to speak of the Eucharist. We will have to speak of the priesthood. But I want to draw your attention to what appears to us to be the substance, the almost inert substance that is acted upon in the sacraments, that is: the waters of baptism, the oil of anointment, the chrism of chrismation, the bread, and the wine. In what way does the matter of this world relate to God in the sacraments?

When we think of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in a sense things are simple because there is a proclamation that 'this is my Body' 'this is my Blood' and we can take it in faith, in reverence. And although we may not understand how that can be, the words seem to protect us against the problem. But in what way do the waters of baptism relate to Christ so that we can say: ‘We who have been merged into Christ have put on Christ, we who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ?’ In what way do these waters so relate to Christ that being merged, plunged into them, we are merged, plunged into the mystery of Christ? These waters do not become Christ in the sense in which the body and blood are Christ. Again, when we are confronted with the holy chrism contained in a receptacle, in a vessel which is to convey to us the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot think or imagine that it is the Holy Spirit, unsearchable, intangible, that is contained together with the holy chrism in the given vessel. And again when certain sacraments - marriage, ordination - are acted through words and not through consistent, concrete matter, in what way does the power of God flow within and through the words, effecting something and not being simply a declaration which is not directly related to the word or the action?

I think that in order to understand or to grope towards an understanding in Orthodox theology, we must think of the distinction which is made by the theologians between the essence of God, the very being of God, and what Orthodox theology has called, since St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century, the energies. When I say that Orthodox theology has called by a given name the given reality since Gregory Palamas, I do not mean to say that either the experience or a groping approach to a formulation had not been there centuries before that. But Gregory Palamas has the glory of having coined words, expressed things in a new way or in an intelligible way.

You remember that there is a passage in the Gospel in which we are told that to know God is life eternal. What does it mean? What kind of knowledge is implied in this? It is not information about God. It is not borrowed knowledge. Neither is it an elaborate philosophical knowledge that does away, as it were, with the mystery of God. One knows God within a relationship. One knows God by communing with something which is him and which discloses to us inwardly who and what he is. In other words, the knowledge of God is entered into by a union with him, and this union leads us from cleansing, reconciliation, purification, in the end to what the Fathers of the East called theosis, deification. It is what St. Peter defines in his epistle when he says that we are called to become partakers of the divine nature, gods by participation. But at the same time, when we speak of God, when indeed we have any experience of God, we recognize Him as being transcendent, unknowable, incommunicable. He is himself in himself in a way which is beyond not only our understanding but also beyond our capability to share with him what he is.

There is the same antinomy, the same tension between our saying that God is ultimately unknowable in himself, that it is impossible for us to know him as he knows himself, and our certainty that we know him not as a notion but as an experience within ourselves, - there is the same antinomy, paradox, tension when we say that God is One in the Trinity. Intellectually oneness and the distinction of persons is almost untenable. We can touch the hem of the notion by analogies, by comparisons, but that is all we can do. The Orthodox theology concerning the distinction in God of essence and energies was not originated in an attempt at understanding what God is, but at understanding what happens, how it is possible that we commune with God truly, that saints are pervaded with the divine presence, are filled with it, that they are not simply given gifts which are a perfection on the level of humanity, that they are given to partake in something which is of God himself. Thought was given to the theoretical possibility or the impossibility for a created human being to partake in the very substance of God, in the essence of God. Could God in his total mystery, not only indwell. but be identified with his creatures? And the thought was rejected because - if I may speak in images, which are always miserably poor - this would imply that God identifies with each of us in such a way that he ceases to be One in the Trinity but becomes a God of thousands and millions of persons. There would no longer be God and His creation. God would be identified with his creation and, in a way, disappear in his creation, be swallowed up in his creation. And yet we know from experience - that is, even we, sinful creatures that we are, know from experience - not only the closeness of God but the way in which God and we are united so deeply that Nicolas Cabasilas could say that God becomes closer to us than life itself. And this is why St. Gregory Palamas suggested, and Orthodox theology has accepted, that to speak of God as though he was, as it were, a prisoner of his own nature, a prisoner of his own essence, was a way of limiting God, and that God, illimitable, unsearchable, a God that has no dimensions, because he is beyond the very notion of dimension, temporal or spatial, lives, is, both in the mystery of a nature unattainable for us, and also in the mystery of his being as it were an outpouring of his being that reaches us and makes us partakers of what he is, yet not God in the sense in which he is God.

This is what St. Gregory Palamas and others have called the energies. These are forces proper to God, inseparable from God's essence. And yet it is a way - again it is in images and words that try to convey something - God goes forth from himself, manifests himself, gives himself, communicates himself, deifies us without ceasing to remain the ultimate mystery which we cannot plumb and cannot understand, in which we cannot partake, in the sense in which he is this mystery.

Some of the Fathers have said that these energies are the force, the power, the operation, the rush, the outpouring of God. Now, you can find something of the same type in Holy Scripture. You remember in Ephesians I:17 God is spoken of as the Father of glory. In Hebrews I:5 the Son is spoken of as the resplendence of God’s glory. In I Peter 4:14 the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of glory. This notion of glory - in modern language you know what glory means, but in the ancient languages the word which we translate as glory means resplendence, brightness. God is brightness and light. Christ is the revelation of this glory. The Spirit conveys it to us. But these energies of God are both him and accessible to us, and it is not impious to think that the way in which God or one or another person of the Holy Trinity relates to the substance, the material support of the sacraments is this very power, this very outpouring, this very rush of God into the creation.

When we think of baptism, what happens? If you take the liturgical texts, which are not simple poetry, as some might see them, but express the inner experience of the Church put in images and form - we find, time and again, in the service of the Baptism of Christ, images and words to the effect that with Christ, God Incarnate, merged, plunged his body into the waters of Jordan. He communicated to these waters something of himself that made them cleansing, healing. And when in the service of Baptism we pray to the Holy Spirit to come upon these waters and sanctify them, we pray to God that these waters which we have here in front of us, accessible to us, may be filled with the divine energies which are Christ. For these waters, filled with these energies which are Christ become such that being merged into these waters, we are merged into Christ. Again, images and comparisons are very poor things, but when the ancient writers spoke of the sun, its rays and its light, its warmth, to convey the notion of the energies as contrasted with essence, they were much more adequate perhaps than a modern mind is prepared to accept. One cannot participate in the being of the sun. One cannot participate unharmed in the burning of a furnace, but one can participate in the warmth which it brings. And it is truly a participation in the burning of the furnace to be warmed by its warmth. In that sense, - to be, perhaps even more trivial, to the minds of those of you who are too sophisticated for this kind of images, - if somebody who is cold puts his hands or his body into hot water, he participates in the warmth of this water, and the warmth which is within him will be the warmth of the water. It is a way in which these waters communicate to him a warmth which they hold, which they possess. In the same sense the blessing of the waters of baptism make them partakers of the energies of Christ, which are communicated to us in the same sense - perhaps in the same way, if you want this word - in the same way in which the warmth would pervade us from waters heated for us. And the same would be true when we speak of the chrism, which will be filled, - in response to the prayer of the Church, called out by the will of God - which will be filled with the energies of the Holy Spirit, not with his Person, as it were imprisoned in it, but his energies flowing freely, filling and making this chrism into a substance capable of making us to partake of what has filled them.

The question may be asked: But what is it, why is it that oil, chrism, bread, wine, water, words can be so filled with divine energies, and why is it not that we can be filled directly without any intermediary? I already quoted last time, I think, the words of St. Paul that the whole creation is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God, groaning because it has become subjected to sin, subjected to limitation, made a prisoner of death, corruption and destruction by men. Things created have not sinned, except for man, who has chosen against God or wavered between the call of God and the beguilement offered him by the powers of darkness and death. The whole created world indeed is subjected to the misery of sin, but in itself it is not sinful. God can use it, can commune with his created world freely, apart from sin, apart from the separation which we have created and create all the time. Not only do the heavens declare the glory of God, but the whole creation was obedient to the words of Christ in the days of his flesh. And so God uses the sinless matter of this cosmos to convey to us, who are in the twilight between the first and the second coming, who are already partakers of something which is the eschatological fulfillment, and yet take part in it only in a limited way because of our sinfulness - convey to us what we cannot find in ourselves or receive directly. I will end at this point this talk of mine. I wonder now whether I ever should have given it, whether I have not made more confused things that might have been perhaps clearer from within your experience rather than from what I said. But I think that if you give thought to what I have tried to express, if you try to put it into your own words, to understand the substance of it, you will see that it is very important for us to have, if not a rational, at least a reasonable understanding of what happens. For otherwise the danger in which we are and against which I warned us last time is to confuse a sacramental act of God, which is a liberation of the substance of this world from the sin to which we have enslaved it, so that it can come back to us filled with the grace and the power of God unto salvation - an act of God which is freedom for every thing he touches, while an act of magic is an enslavement and a subjection to a power and not a liberation from all power into the eschatological fulfillment that is already there. And this fulfillment is already there. God is the Lord of all things created, and all things created live and rejoice in him already now, although they groan under the weight of our presence and our sinfulness. And in the sacraments we are faced with moments - wonderful, extraordinary moments - when what is to be, what is to be the glory of eternity, makes a momentary irruption into time. We enter into an external moment, and this is why this becomes possible. St. Paul says somewhere that when we are in Christ we are free of sin. And it may be construed very naively that it is enough to call oneself a Christian or to be baptized or to have the kind of half-dead faith which we all indulge in, to be in Christ. It is not what he means. St. Symeon the New Theologian has got very impressive passages, in which he says we waver all the time between being true to Christ and moments when we fall away. And the moments when we are true to Christ we are already – for a moment perhaps - already in that eternity which knows no sin. We commune with God, we pray with an open heart. His grace pours into us. And then we fall away and we are no longer in Christ. And then we become again the slaves of sin. And in connection with the sacraments we must be aware of this tension, this contrast, this succession of moments, and yet of this irruption of this presence, of this wonder of eternity already disclosed, not to our eyes but to an inner experience.

And that, I think, is the end of my talk.

Questions.

If you want to read something intelligent and intelligible about essence and energies you could read the chapter with that title in Lossky's book Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. There you will find a great deal more material but expressed very beautifully, which I was unable to do.

 

III

BAPTISM

5 January 1982

My previous talks were an introduction to the sacraments, and I am coming now to baptism. I will begin by giving an outline of the service as it is taken, and then we will, either today or in the following couple of talks, try to disengage a certain number of meanings which are connected with it: first of all, the relation there is between our baptism and the baptism of Christ, and then a certain number of other things: the way in which we relate to Christ through baptism, because, as I tried to point out in the introduction, it is easy to cover up in pious words things which are much less easy to understand than they appear. and saying to me, 'Oh no, not upon him!' So it is therefore addressed to Satan. And then only comes the question: ‘Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ?' 'I do.' 'Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?' 'I have.' 'Dost thou believe in Him?' 'I believe in Him as King and as God.' These words 'as King and as God' map out all the life of devotion and all the behaviour which is to be that of the Christian, to have no other god than Him, to worship Him and to serve Him unreservedly, and also as a King to obey Him, to be His liege, to be in his service, whatever the cost may be. The belief is expressed afterwards in the words of the Creed. The recognition of the kingship will be a matter of one's whole life.

When the Creed is recited the catechumen is again asked: 'Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?' and on his answering 'I have', 'Bow down before Him.' 'I bow down before the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in Essence and undivided.' Then the priest, speaking for himself and for all the congregation, exclaims in gratitude and in joy: 'Blessed is God, who willeth that all men should be saved, and should come to the knowledge of the truth', and a prayer is offered, a prayer that baptism should truly be given and received, and that this person who has come to baptism should be no more a child of the flesh but a child of the Kingdom. This is the preparatory part of the service of Ba

Baptism is not the beginning of things. Baptism must be preceded, at least in the case of an adult, by a long preparation, preparation which begins, for the heathen, with the discovery of God, of Christ as the Son of God Incarnate, God with us, Emmanuel, the Saviour of the World, Jesus. It is not an intellectual faith which is expected, although of course our intellect must be completely involved and immersed in what we discover and believe, but a faith which is experiential, a knowledge of God on the level of faith, a knowledge of God and His ways; To this we may come in another context, in the context particularly of the Epistle. But when it comes to baptism, the following actions take place: The catechumen is brought into the congregation. A baptism is never a private event. It is the congregation which receives the catechumen. Also the catechumen is presented to the congregation by at least one sponsor, who must be an Orthodox, who must be a recognized member of the congregation, whose word, with the congregation, will have absolute weight, some one who can speak to the Church of God and say: 'I know this man, this woman, and I declare that they are true believers ready to be integrated into the mystery of Christ'. This does away with a great deal of what we see nowadays in the haphazard choice of sponsors and the irresponsible manner in which both sponsors, the parents, and the congregation treat a baptism as though it was something happening between the grown-up or the child and God and, as it were, framed by the presence of the believers, while the believers should take responsibility before God and the Church. This catechumen, in early days, came clothed with a white robe and a girdle, and before the baptism was performed the girdle was taken off, and he or she stood with the sponsor in the midst of the congregation ready for the introductory prayers. In these introductory prayers several things happened. The first was an act of God within the Church mediated by the priest, an act of God by which God took, as it were, under His protection, took possession of the person who wished to be baptized. Before that he was a bondsman of the world, he was free of God. Now he came to God and God took him under His mighty and holy protection. Only then was he asked whether he wanted to be a Christian. The early Church had a very strong and realistic sense of the power which the devil and the powers of darkness have upon those who are alien to the Church or estranged from God. One could not expect one who was a bondsman of Satan to declare himself for God, to reject his master, without first coming under the protection of the Lord. So in this first prayer, the priest, putting his hand upon the head of the catechumen, lays his hand upon the servant of God so-and-so in God's name and thanks God that the catechumen has been found worthy to flee unto the holy name of God and to take shelter under the shelter of His wings. AND THEN BEFORE THE CATECHUMEN IS ASKED whether he is prepared, whether indeed he does renounce Satan and all his service, the priest, speaking in God's name, pronounces four exorcisms, addresses himself to Satan, who so far has considered himself to be the master of this person, to be in possession of him, and commands him to leave him. The priest pronounces in God's name a ban upon Satan, orders him to flee from the face of him who is coming to Christ, and only then, when the catechumen is free from the bondage and under the shelter of God, is he asked whether he chooses for Christ or not. In a way the same situation would occur if a person was in prison under the unlimited and cruel power of oppressors and had to choose between freedom and imprisonment. In order to give him the possibility to choose freely, he should first be taken under the protection of one who is stronger than his persecutors. This is what happens. Christ takes under His own protection the catechumen and only then, in the safety of this protection, can the catechumen make a choice. He is still free because Satan keeps us enslaved. God sets us free. Satan would possess us by guile and by force. God will never possess us either by guile or by force. Therefore when we are free from the bondage of Satan we can still stand with all the dignity which God has given us in the act of creation, all the power of self-determination which freedom implies, and either choose for him or choose against him. So after these exorcisms it is not in vain that the question is asked: Dost thou renounce Satan and all his angels and all his works and all his service and all his pride? At that point the catechumen is still free to say 'No, I don't. I prefer the enslavement which was familiar to me to the dread freedom and its consequences which is offered now’. If he answers;. 'I do', he is asked again, 'Hast thou renounced Satan?' - not only in words, but is it a firm, thought-out decision? 'I have'. And then words which are very unfamiliar to our cultural ways, but which mean reject him with contempt, recognize the vainness of his power and reject him.: 'Breathe and spit upon him.' At this point may I draw your attention to the fact which is not always clear to the sponsors, that they are supposed to breathe and spit upon Satan and not upon the child. I remember a very devout lady looking tenderly on the child ptism. After the discovery of God, after the recognition of Christ as one's Lord and God, a person comes to God to

covered, Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile... I have acknowledged my sin unto thee; and mine unrighteousness have I not hid. I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord; and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin... Thou art a place to hide me in; thou shall preserve me from trouble; thou shall compass me about with songs of deliverance'. And then God speaks: 'I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shall go; and I will guide thee with mine eye… Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, mercy embraceth him on every side. Be glad, o ye righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; be joyful, all ye that are true of heart.'

And then a new robe is given to the catechumen who is now a Christian. 'The servant of God is clothed with the robe of righteousness; in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit'.-'Vouchsafe unto me the robe of light, O thou who clothest thyself with light as with a garment, Christ our God, plenteous in mercy.'

Here ends the service of Baptism, which is continued, according to the pattern of the Baptism of Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Wholeness has been restored. Life eternal, the life of the world to come, the eschatological life of eternity which the Spirit of God imparts to us will now be given. We may perhaps think in terms of the prophecy of Ezekiel which we read in Holy Week. The dry bones upon the plain were the prophecy that covers them with flesh and sinews and skin. And now it is time for life to come. You may say that the pagan, the unbeliever, the unbaptized person who is being baptized is really different from the corpses thrown upon the face of the plain which Ezekiel has brought again to the presence of the Lord. But in a way, no, it is not. It is not, because the life which the Spirit imparts is not simply a glorification, a fulfillment, an expansion of the life which nature gives us. It is the life of the Age to Come. It is life eternal. It is participation in God's own life. And the analogy holds because, although we are alive according to nature, the difference between us and what we are called to be, between the life which we possess naturally and the life which the Spirit of God can impart to us is as great. I have already quoted to you the words of C. S. Lewis that the difference between a Christian and an unbeliever is similar to that which exists between a statue and a living person. However beautiful, however perfect a statue, it is stone and lifeless. A human being may be very imperfect in more than one way, lack the beauty of the marble, but it is alive in a way in which no statue can manifest life. And this is the point at which we must be aware of the meaning, the importance of this gift of the Spirit.

A prayer is offered that the Spirit of God be given to the newly baptized person, the seal of the holy, almighty, worshipable Spirit and partaking in the holy Body and the precious Blood of Christ. Keep him or her in thy holiness, make him or her firm in the Orthodox faith, deliver her or him from the evil one and all his wiles, preserve his or her soul in purity and uprightness that he may please thee in every deed and word and may be a child and heir of thy heavenly kingdom.

And then the newly baptized person is anointed with holy chrism. This holy chrism seals him in the way in which one can seal a casket containing things precious to us. In response to the prayer and in the action of the anointment the Holy Spirit comes and rests within, indwells the new Christian. This is the Office of Chrismation.

AFTER THIS WILL COME THE READING OF THE Epistle and the reading of the Gospel and a third act of commitment. Before the reading of the Epistle and the prokeimenon a procession takes place three times round the baptismal font while the choir sings: 'As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia.' The meaning of this having put on we will come to in my next talk.

And then: the Lord is my light and my salvation: whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life: of whom then shall I be afraid? This sends us back to what I said before about the spiritual combat which we will have to face and endure.

Then the Epistle to the Romans and a reading from St. Matthew. On the Epistle to the Romans we will comment in greater detail later, but here it is: 'Know ye not that as many of us as were baptized' - that is merged - 'into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life'- death that makes us alien to everything of the world which could tempt, attract, beguile us, everything which we have renounced and out of which we have moved into the eternal world, and moved into it by an act of God that has brought us into newness of life, a life which is no longer the life of the flesh but the life of the eternal kingdom. 'If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that, Christ being raised from the dead, death no more hath dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord'.

And then a short reading of the Gospel, the end of St. Matthew's Gospel, in which Christ says: ‘All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world'.

And after this a last act. The newly baptized and newly chrismated Christian receives the tonsure: his hair is shorn. This again is an act of commitment. It corresponds to the custom of ancient armies that a conscript was shorn, and once it was done he was irrevocably a soldier of his king. Here again, as it were, a last act of our freedom makes us into the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. We enroll in his army. We become warriors of his army. We become, together with others, what Moffat in his translation of the New Testament called a colony of heaven, in other words, people whose city is in heaven but who are being sent upon earth to conquer it for their Lord. This may well remind us of the anointment with oil, our preparation for the struggle and also that, having become one with Christ, it is his destiny that we are called to share, to share not only his eternal glory, but also to share his historical earthly destiny as we see it in the Gospel.

This is a description of the service with its main turning-points. In my next talk I will speak of the baptism of Christ and the way in which this service of baptism has a foreshadowing but is also made explicit in the history of Exodus.

 

 

IV

THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST

12 January 1982

 

I ended the last talk by saying that the service of Baptism as we have it in the Orthodox Church has two patterns in the past. The one is the story of Exodus and the other one the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are not two patterns which can be superimposed on one another, but they fulfill each other, as I will try to show.

When one looks for patterns in the Old Testament or in the New Testament in the life of Christ for what happens to us, one always runs the risk of seeing the Old Testament only as a parable. In reality, the Old Testament is, on the one hand, the history of a nation which, from its beginning in Abraham, was dedicated to the search, the worship, the knowledge and the service of God and which, being thoroughly human in the best and the worst sense of the word, both struggled hard, continuously to fulfill its vocation and also fell away from this vocation grievously, painfully and, in the end, most dramatically. On the other hand, because it is the history of a people, of real human creatures, of men and women, but described from the point of view of God by men of God, from an angle which is not that of secular history, we can read in the lives of individuals, or in whole epochs, images of what happens to a human soul, and in particular to our human soul. On the other hand, Christ gives us a vision of perfect humanity, true man in the two senses of this word: true in the sense that he was nothing that a man is not, in his humanity, and on the other hand true because he was not the kind of debased human creature which we all are through the fall and through our personal, individual sin. And so by looking at what happened to him we can have a vision of what we are called to and what is open to us by the grace and the power of God.

I may have too much of a systematic mind and you may have to make corrections to what I will say. But I would like to speak of Exodus as the scheme on which the service which I tried to describe last time is based. You remember the different stages of this service. A human being who is in a condition of sin, that is, of separateness from God, at variance with his neighbor and divided within himself, comes to his senses, turns godwards, searches, learns, discovers and runs to him for protection. And in response to this act of faith understood as trusting, as a hopeful expectation that God will respond, God extends his power over the person who comes to him, takes him under his protection and offers him freedom - freedom from the condition of sin, of which he has become aware, freedom from enslavement to Satan and the powers of darkness.

Only then, when God has pronounced, by the voice of the Church, by the voice of God's own ministers in the Church, the words of exorcism that set a human being free from the bondage of the enemy is he asked whether in the new freedom which is granted and offered but not yet received, whether the candidate, the catechumen wishes to renounce Satan, his works and his service and whether he wishes to become the liege of Christ.

It is both under the protection of God and free from the danger of enslavement, unless he chooses for it again, that the catechumen pronounces his declaration, and fulfills it with the proclamation of his faith in the Creed. After this he is warned, forewarned and also given strength for the struggle which is inevitably to come, against those powers of evil which he has renounced, knowing what he was doing, because he had been a bondsman of sin and he knew what he was rejecting and renouncing. He will have to struggle, to fight, but not against flesh and blood, that is, not simply to outgrow the limitations of his human nature impaired by previous sin, but he will have to fight against the powers of darkness, against Satan and his angels, he will have to fight together with God as one of the warriors whom God sends into the world to conquer and set it free.

And only then we come to the mystery of baptism, in which, after the great blessing which opens every service in which God takes over from man - those services which are acts of God in the creation - the waters of baptism are blessed, renewed, sanctified, and the baptism itself takes place. It is followed by the imparting of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, all this part of the service being already now the first fruits of the Age to Come, an eschatological part, that is a moment when things eternal become part and parcel of time and space, moments when history unfolds and where eternity fills and pervades it, when history expands - to use the words of St. Maxim - to the limitless scale of eternity.

Now let us have a look at Exodus. We find in Exodus the Hebrew people in Egypt in bitter bondage. They had come to it as free men and women, as a tribe coming to a land where they hoped for freedom, for peace and for happiness. But in the course of time the land had changed, and what had been first a secure promise had become a snare. This is, according to certain writers of old, an image of what happens to us when, in search of fulfillment, in search of all that our heart longs for - the greatest, the best - we search for it on earth instead of searching for it in God. It is a beguilement. The devil always promises us the fulfilment of all that we long for and it always ends with the discovery that we are ensnared and made prisoners and betrayed.

In the beginning of Genesis the story is presented in the image of the serpent speaking to Eve and telling her that what God has willed for them can be achieved, not in a communion of love with God that will unite her and Adam to their Creator and make them partakers of everything which is God's, but by taking a short cut mechanically without spiritual effort and endeavor. He offers them nothing but what God has promised, but he betrays them by leading them along a path which is a beguilement. So it happens also to the people of Israel, and they found themselves in bondage. And whenever they wanted to lift their heads, whenever they wanted some breathing space, whenever they began to remember their dignity and their calling, new hardships were piled upon them so that they should be unable to achieve what they wanted, to become again free men in spirit.

This is the condition in which we all find ourselves until we have made a decisive step and decisive discoveries. What we find in the beginning of Exodus is a people, who is enslaved - and the symbol of it is the unleavened bread of slavery which they are to eat instead of the full blood which will be offered later. They are in deep despondency, broken and crushed, and their response to bondage, despondency and misery is a sense of rebellion. This leads nowhere. Wherever they rebel against their masters they are crushed again and made more of a slave than they were before.

And then Moses appears. Moses was considered by early Christian writers as one of the prefigurations of Christ, one whose service to his people was already indicating the way in which God would deal with His people finally, ultimately, bringing them out of all bondage into that freedom which the Truth gives, that is, which the Spirit imparts. You know in detail the life of Moses and all these events. So I will just single out a few points which are relevant to our purpose.

Moses identifies with his people although he was treated as one of Pharaoh's children and one of the Egyptian household. He could have been happy, powerful, carefree, but he knows who he is and it is with the enslaved people of Israel that he identifies. When he sees one of them brutally treated by an Egyptian, he fights for him and kills the Egyptian. In a similar way Christ chooses to identify with the bondsman of Satan, to identify with the sinner. Long before the sinner has come to his senses, He comes to seek the sinner, He comes to find the lost sheep, He descends from the throne of heaven into the valley of tears, into the vale of the shadow of death. And he will have to fight him who enslaves, defeat him, kill his power. Moses hears on the next day that the rumor has spread of his fight with the Egyptian, and the Pharaoh has been appraised of the fact that he is the murderer. He flees into the desert, into the place of loneliness where he will depend on nothing but God. To him this flight into the desert means that he has renounced all that his birth and the favor of Pharoah could have given him. He has renounced all that one could now call human rights. His identification with his people has led him to be an outcast more completely than any of them. He is under sentence of death while they are only under sentence of enslavement and hard labor. And in this desert he is confronted for the first time with the divine presence, with the burning bush, a bush aflame, and the voice of God commanding him to take off, his shoes because the very ground on which he stands is holy, a bush that burns and is never consumed.

Father Lev Gillet in one of his retreats, in one of his books points out the marvel of this bush, saying that this is the difference between natural fire and fire divine. Natural fire consumes what it touches. It feeds on what is capable of burning. Fire divine communicates its quality to what it touches, but does not feed upon it and does not consume it. It transforms, it transfigures it. If you remember the image which I have oftentimes given you of the Incarnation, that of the sword glowing with fire, in which fire and iron are perfectly united, in which fire communicates to iron a glory which it would not possess otherwise. You may find here, as again writers of old have found, a first image, a first premonition of the way in which God reaches us, touches us, transforms and transfigures us, unites himself to us, but destroys neither our identity nor our humanity. And we hear the great proclamation of the Old Testament which will be taken over in St. John's Gospel by Christ. When Moses asks the Lord who He is, He says: 'I am He Who is'. There is no other definition. He is.

You probably know that the word which we use in the Bible, Yahweh, Jehovah, is a combination of sounds which were not the words or sounds used or signifying the word. You know that in Hebrew words are written only with consonants, and it is the choice of vowels that allows one both to pronounce a word and to distinguish one word from another. Here we have four consonants, and these four consonants are left without the vowels that would give them sound. It has been suggested that these consonants, which do not combine to form any known Hebrew word, are the consonants of three words joined together: I was. I am, I shall be. And this would meet the words of the Book of Revelation, in which we are told of God that He is the One Who was, is and shall be for ever. In the writings of a Hebrew theologian of Spain in the Middle Ages called Maimonides there is a most beautiful passage in which he says that no one knew how to read this sacred tetragram except the high priest. This knowledge was given him by his predecessor and was kept the sacred secret of worship. And Maimonides said that when the people of Israel were gathered together in worship in the temple, when all the songs of praise and thanksgiving, all the petitions and intercessions were sung by the congregation, then the high priest leant over the banister of his balcony and, inaudibly to the congregation, whispered the sacred Name, and this sacred Name ran like blood through the prayers of the people and lifted them up to the throne of God. These are very beautiful images. And this sacred Name should not be taken in vain.

Having met God and having been commanded by God to go back to join his brothers in captivity and to face Pharaoh, Moses returns. He returns, and God claims from him an act of faith, in which trust, faithfulness, daring blend together. He is to go to Pharaoh and, unprotected, in the frailty of his human presence, a slave now and no longer one of the household, in the Name of the Living God to command Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go free, leave Egypt. And it is only when Pharaoh will reject the plea, that God will intervene and act. God vindicates His promise to Moses by what we know to be the plagues of Egypt. One tragedy follows another until Pharaoh is broken in spirit and gives way.

And yet Moses has, as it were, set a condition to God which is very different from the way in which, at times, we promise obedience to God, but if he gives us some guarantee that obedience will not lead us to defeat and that God will vindicate his promise. The words which Moses uses are: If Thou dost not go with us, lead us not out of the land of bondage. These words are immensely important, because it is not into a no-man's land that Moses wants to take his people. It is not into the freedom of indetermination, a freedom where everything is possible. And yet no concreteness is given to their freedom. It is into a freedom which is obedience to God, which is a life under the divine leadership and not only under divine protection. It is not the freedom of atheism, a freedom which would allow us to live without God according to our lights. It is not the freedom not to know and not to wish to know, which agnosticism claims. It is not the freedom of skepticism. It is something which is different. One could translate - and we may come back to this some time in questions - the words 'Learn the truth and the truth will set you free', one can translate them as: 'Learn reality and reality will make you into the children of God.'

This is the freedom to which we are called. When we cast a glance on all this period which I have described: Israel in Egypt, the years of bondage, we can recognize ourselves so well and our condition so well. We are born into the land of bondage. We inherit a situation which we do not create but to which we add our own contribution of separateness, separateness, as I said before, from God, separateness from our neighbor, separateness from our deepest and truest self, dividedness altogether. We come into the world and we are born into sin and in sin, not in the sense that we are born actively sinful, but we are born sick in all our faculties, in all our relationships, in every respect, and we are born into a world which is as sick as we are. This is being born into sin or being born in sin. This is the land of Egypt, the land of bondage into which we are born.

At times we find this condition livable, but at times, to a greater or lesser degree, we perceive our enslavement, we perceive our lack of freedom, We are aware that we do not act but are acted upon. We are acted upon by impulses within us which we are unable, incapable of controlling. We are acted upon by what we call circumstances, by influences of people. We are acted upon by everything which is this world of ours, including its material set-up. We become aware of the fact that we are trapped, that we are prisoners and that we cannot flee anywhere. We cannot escape the fact that we were born. We cannot escape the fact that we shall die and answer for our life. We cannot escape the fact that our life is so tightly and painfully conditioned. And we respond to it, more often than not, by despondency and by rebellion. And there is no way for us, either in rebellion or in despondency. We are like an ant made a prisoner in a glass. It cannot bore through the bottom and it cannot break through the sides.

There is only one way out. It is the flight into the desert, a desert which is an inner desert, to go inward and see that within ourselves there is a wasteland, that there is nothing to feed on, and to ask ourselves ultimate questions. The image which comes to mind immediately is the story of the prodigal son. You know it and I am not going to enlarge on it. But when everything has proved a betrayal of life to him and an enslavement to hunger, to misery, to loneliness and to a hard and harsh taskmaster, he comes to his senses. He goes inwards and remembers that there is a fatherland, an other dimension, another place, and another relationship. The first thing that he remembers is that there is, there was for him a home and that at the core of his home there was a father.

At that moment we can be confronted in the desert with a memory, a vision, a premonition of what so clearly, powerfully and decisively met the eye and the soul of Moses: the burning bush, the presence, One who is the Lord and One who is loving, Lord, no taskmaster. And then we can turn godwards. But turning godwards means turning, together with God, to face our life of bondage. Our bondage, of course, is not that of the Egyptian slave; it is a bondage to all sorts of things within us, and it is this world within us that we must face and challenge, challenge it as directly as Moses faced and challenged Pharaoh: 'You shall let me go free; I am not a slave, but I am a free man by birthright; I shall go, whatever your resistance, and also whatever the cost.'

This is the first dramatic decision which we must take. It is a decision that sets us face to face with all the world of evil or of incompleteness which there is in us, with the fact that we are unworthy of ourselves unworthy of God, unworthy of our neighbor because we have allowed ourselves to accept allegiance to an alien power. And at that moment all we can do is to flee, to flee to the God who has power to extend His protection over us and offer us the freedom of a definitive choice.

This is the point at which we come, we receive blessing, and God puts his hand upon our head and takes possession of us. But the condition of it, as I have said before, are the words which Moses spoke to the Lord: 'If Thou dost not go with us, lead us not out of the land of bondage.' It is into a freedom, constructive, intense that we must go.

Well, this is the point at which I can end this particular talk. Next time I would like to speak of the next stages in Exodus and the way in which they relate to the events which are preparing us for baptism. I will speak of the crossing of the Red Sea and of the meeting with God in the law on Sinai and also of the forty years in the desert. And at that point we will move on to the second pattern which I have mentioned, that of the baptism of Christ and how he comes to his baptism, how he continues in his humanity and what way, what furrow it cuts also for us.

 

 

V

9 March 1982

Last time I tried to draw a parallel between what happened to the Hebrews in captivity in Egypt and Exodus with the service of Baptism. You may remember that the Hebrews came freely to the land of Egypt. They came there because it was a land of plenty, because they were received with honor, because they saw a future on earth. They felt that they could set roots, that they could start a life and live there forever. And for a while, so it was until, as the Bible says, a time came when a pharaoh succeeded that one who had known Joseph, a pharaoh who did not know Joseph and therefore felt in no wise in any obligation to the people whom Joseph had brought. He saw them as strangers. And seeing them as strangers, he gradually made them into slaves. And these people, who had come freely to the land of Egypt for plenty on earth, found themselves slaves of their owners.

This is very much the condition of mankind, and this is also the condition of each of us; born in innocence, open to the grace and the action of God, we gradually and not only by our own fault but also because we are so educated and prepared and misled by all those who surround us, including our parents, try to set roots into the earth, forgetting that we are strangers and pilgrims, that we are - to use the words of a translation by Moffat of a passage in the Bible - a colony of heaven, that the land to which we belong is heaven and that on earth we are rootless, passing through it in order to reach the promised land.

Slaves they were, and slaves we are, dependent upon everything that will sway our hearts, enslave our minds, beguile us. The Hebrews in Israel found themselves in the same position as the Prodigal Son was. He had come rich to a land of plenty, and when his own richness had come to an end, he became a slave of hunger, a slave of the necessities of life, and he was hungry- hungry not only physically but hungry for love, hungry for friendship, hungry for a home.

The Hebrews in Egypt grumbled and rebelled and then felt broken in spirit and turned to God with a cry, a cry more of despair than of hope, a cry of misery more than a cry for immediate help. And the Lord responded. It began at the moment when they discovered, perceived their misery and also at the moment when they turned to God in the awareness that they had their own country, they had their own Lord, they had their own city, although they were still in the land of bondage. This was the turning point. And so is it also when we turn to God, having become aware of the fact that however easy or cruel life is, it is a life too small for us, that we are not only called to greater things, that we are too great for the earth, that nothing which is earthly is great enough to fill a human heart, to fulfill a human being, that there is in man a vastness, a depth which no one and nothing can fill except God Himself.

But before we can renounce our condition, our enslavement, we must come under the protection of God. And this is why, when the catechumen comes in order to be baptized, before he is asked whether he wishes to join Christ, whether he wants to renounce evil, God takes him under His protection. God makes him free from evil, from the dominion of it so that he can freely either return to evil or turn to Him, to his Saviour. This is the meaning of the four exorcisms which are read after the introductory prayer over the catechumen. God sets him free. God commands the devil to step away. God commands the devil, whom He has conquered, to leave this creature of His free to make a choice. I will read one or two of the exorcisms for you to see what it is about:

O Lord God of Sabaoth, God of Israel, who healest every sickness and every infirmity, look upon thy servant, prove him, search him, root out of him every operation of the devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them and make pure the work of thy hands; and exerting Thy trenchant might, speedily crush down Satan under his feet and give him victory over him and over his foul spirits, that he may obtain mercy from thee and be made worthy to partake of thy heavenly mysteries.

And then the last exorcism:

O thou who art, O Lord, The Master, who hast created man in thine own likeness and hast bestowed upon him the grace of life eternal, who despisest not those who have fallen away through sin, but hast provided salvation for the world through the incarnation of thy Christ, do thou, Lord, deliver also this thy creature from the bondage of the enemy, receive him into thy Heavenly Kingdom. Open the eyes of his understanding, that the light of thy Gospel may shine brightly in him. Yoke unto his life a radiant angel of light, who shall deliver him from every snare of the adversary, from encounter with evil, from the demon of the noonday, from evil visions. Expel from him every evil and impure spirit which hideth and maketh its lair in his heart. The spirit of error, the spirit of guile, the spirit of idolatry and every covetousness, the spirit of deceit and of every uncleanness and make him a sheep of the holy flock of thy Christ, an honorable member of thy Church, a sacred vessel, a child of light, an heir of thy Kingdom; that having lived in accordance with thy commandments, preserved inviolate the seal and kept his garment undefiled, he may receive the blessedness of the saints in thy Kingdom.

 

And-before these prayers, which are addressed to God for protection and help of the catechumen, two exorcisms are pronounced against the devil, addressed to him:

The Lord layeth thee under ban, O devil: He who came to the world and made his abode among men, that he might overthrow thy tyranny and deliver men; who triumphed on the tree over thy adverse powers.

 

And once a creature of God is taken under his protection, then is this creature given freedom to decide on his own destiny. Freedom does not mean compulsion; freedom means that God now once more sets us at the very beginning of our spiritual road and says: 'You have experienced enslavement; you have experienced the tyranny of the devil; you know what it means to be without God and submitted to all the powers of the earth and of darkness. What I offer is my Gospel, a Gospel which is stern, exacting, uncompromising, because what I am offering is a way that leads to eternal life, to sharing, to partaking in life divine itself. And this cannot be lived within a compromise. This cannot be lived at the same time as the way of death is trod, freely. And so, make a choice between the lying promises of Satan, of the adversary, and the stern promise of a way which is the way of the cross but which leads through death to the resurrection.'

The promise of Christ is a promise to share with us all He is and all He has, but also a call for us to share on earth all His own destiny. As He said to John and James, 'Are you prepared to drink my cup? Are you prepared to be merged into the ordeal that shall be mine?' It is a promise, not a threat, not a warning. 'Be faithful to the end and you shall receive the crown of glory.'

And so we stand , free to choose between God and the adversary, between the way of life and the way of death. And only then are we asked 'Dost thou renounce Satan, all his angels, all his works, all his service, all his pride?' And when we have answered, 'Yes, I do', ‘Hast thou renounced Satan?' 'I have.' And again, 'Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ?' 'I do'. ‘Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?' 'I have.' 'Dost thou believe in Him?' 'I believe in Him as my king and my God.'

These questions, according to the ritual, are asked three times. Three times we are free to say yes or no. We are not bound by the immediacy of our first answer. We must reflect between each of these questionings and give an answer with an ever-increasing clarity of mind and determination to be faithful to our word. And only when we have answered these questions are we asked again, 'Dost thou believe in Him?' And to believe means, first of all, to put one's trust in Him. It means secondly to pledge oneself to be faithful to him. And thirdly, it means to receive and to keep in our heart every crumb of knowledge, every spark of understanding and experience of God which will be given us, to keep them faithfully as the holiest treasure which we possess.

When this undertaking has been made, then we are allowed to proclaim our faith by reading the symbol of faith, the Creed. The Creed speaks of several things. It begins with the words 'I believe'. It is a personal undertaking. I am speaking in my own name, sharing with others the same faith but declaring it personally. We believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We believe in a God who is oneness, the Holy One of Israel, and who is love. And we will not be able to proclaim this symbol of faith, this creed unless in the course of all our life we build our thoughts, our feelings, the movements of our will and our actions on the law of love. We proclaim the God of love. And we can betray our faith not only by wrong thinking but also by wrong living. We recognize him as our Creator, as our Lord, as the light of our life, as our Saviour. We proclaim the incarnation, that God became man, truly God and truly man, that he lived and taught, suffered and died, that he gave us the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father in the unity, in unity with him. We believe, in that mysterious Body which is the Church, the place, the mystery of the union between God and man, the mysterious way in which it happens. And we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, the resurrection of the dead, the Life of the world to come.

And again when we have pronounced this creed we are asked: 'Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?' How earnestly, how realistically, does the Church, God in the Church, Christ in his Church, treat us! He does not catch us on the words spoken. At every step he proclaims our freedom. He does not want to have bondsmen but co-workers of salvation, brothers and sisters, children, no slaves. 'Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?’-'I have.'

And now a final act. 'Bow down also before him'. And the catechumen, bowing down to the earth, says: 'I bow down before the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.' And after this in the name of the whole Church, in the name of all those who have found life and salvation and Joy and newness and the resurrection and the cross in the Church, the priest says: 'Blessed is God, who willeth that all men should be saved and should come to the knowledge of the truth'. And then, turning to the Lord, the priest prays that baptism should be granted to him or her, who has now with earnestness made a decision and taken a step: 'O Master, Lord our God, call thy servant to holy illumination that the light of the Gospel' - no, more than this, that the light which is God himself should be poured upon and into him or her – 'And grant him that grace, so great, of thy holy baptism. Put off him the old man; renew him unto life eternal; fill him with the might of thy Holy Spirit in the unity of thy Christ; that he may be no longer a child of the flesh but a child of thy Kingdom. Through the grace of thine only-begotten Son, with whom thou art is blessed, together with thy most Holy, and Good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and world without end'.

This is the reception of a catechumen. In olden times this rite was performed separately from baptism. It was even performed in steps, and a time was left for the catechumen to grow into the awareness of what happened to him, to her, his discovery that he was a slave, - his horror, his cry for deliverance. And then the coming of the Lord who puts His hand on him and says 'I take thee under my own protection. Now speak freely. What dost thou choose?' And the fact that, having chosen, he was now, on the one hand, open to life eternal as life eternal was open to him, but also, as we will see a little later, in a new situation, shall I say, in mortal danger from the hatred of him whom he had renounced and solemnly rejected. He was about to become a warrior, and a warrior must be prepared for wounds and eventually for temporary death.

In a separate part of the service we come to the Office of Baptism. If we go back to the imagery of Exodus we can say that what I have described today is similar to the passing through the Red Sea under the guidance of Moses. The people who had been slaves decided to flee, but it was not a secret escape. God called a man called Moses to stand before Pharaoh and defy his power, to stand before Pharaoh and command him to let the children of Israel go freely, In that sense the writers of old have found an analogy between the person of Moses as the Saviour, the Deliverer, and Christ. Christ also faced Satan, faced the enemy after His own baptism in the wilderness, and He defeated him. And now He stands with us. And because we are with Him we can turn away from slavery. Moses defied Pharaoh and took his people with him, but that meant on the part of the people readiness to renounce all they have lived for, to renounce their homes and their fields and their chattels, to renounce everything which they could not take upon their shoulders and carry with them. They could not escape the land of bondage taking their acres and their harvest and their riches with them. It is poor that they had to go. It is as pilgrims, devoid of everything that they had acquired through slavery and in slavery that they had to leave the land. But it is not only with Moses that they left it. In his prayer Moses said to the Lord: 'Lord, if Thou dost not come with us, we will not leave this land'. It is with God that they came out, and the decisive moment, the passing of the frontier was this crossing of the Red Sea. Once they had left the land of Egypt there was no return.

But where did they find themselves? They found themselves in the scorching wilderness, where they tramped, lived , and died , in the course of forty years. For forty years they were submitted to the trial of faithfulness, of determination. And this trial was not accepted equally at every moment. We are told in the Book of Exodus that many craved for the food of slavery which they were now deprived of, hungry, derelict, lost. A whole generation died in these forty years, those who had known nothing but slavery. And a whole generation was born in the wilderness who knew nothing but the hardships of this pilgrimage, who had not, as it were behind them , the memories of the security of the slaves but only the promise beyond the hardships of the wilderness, of the desert, of the waste, the promise of the Land towards which the Lord was taking them. A generation had to die. A generation was to be born. For forty years they sought a way to the Promised Land that could be reached in a few hours.

The same applies to us. When we have turned away from evil there is a great deal which we will have to reject, to let go of, to abandon if not in the land of bondage, at least on the way, on the road. And all there will be with us is the promise.

At a certain moment the Jews came to a point, two points. One was the bitter waters of Marah. Athirst, they came to a place where there were waters, and these waters were bitter. And Moses was commanded to put a rod of wood into these waters to make them sweet. Again, the writers of old have pointed out that the waters in which the sins of men were washed in the Jordan became pure when Christ descended into them. To this we shall return. Also, in another place, athirst again, they were faced with a rock, and Moses was commanded to strike this rock with his rod. And floods of water ran. And St Paul points out in one of his epistles that these waters running from the rock were an image of life gushing out of that Rock which we call Christ.

And then another event, a decisive turn. This people, worn, tired, was confronted with the meeting with God on Sinai. The past was now worn, had fallen into dust, but before they could enter into the Promised Land they had to learn a way, the way that leads into life eternal. And on Sinai commandments were given them. These commandments speak of God and speak of one's neighbor. But at the same time they speak of us. God must be adored. God must be revered, God must be served, but I must adore, revere and serve God. My neighbor must not be harmed and slighted. He must be respected and loved, but I must do these things or not do them. These commandments were at first indications of power, that ill will, the self will, the anarchy of passions and self-determination can be channeled so that sin be overcome.

We tend to think and speak of sin in moral terms of good and evil in terms of words and actions, thoughts and feelings, but sin is something more basic, something more essential. Sin is a rejection of the way of life, it consists in choosing the way of death. Sin consists in living in a way that one ends in death, corruption and dust. It is a choice between life and death, eternal life and ephemeral life that we make - an ephemeral life that ends in death or an eternal life that, like the phoenix, rises again from the ashes of earthly life because it is God's life in us.

Then we can understand why the Apostle says that if we have broken one commandment we have broken all the law, because it is indifferent whether we pass a river over one bridge or another. What matters is that we are no longer on one side but on the other side of it. It does not mean that we are morally responsible for the commandments which we have not broken, but it simply means that we have crossed the bridge and we are now in the land of death. This also explains why the Apostle says that sin is enmity against God. It is a choice in favor of darkness against light, choice of death against life, choice for the adversary against Christ. And this is why the commandments are so important, because they reach us, perhaps on a level that seems to us nothing but action, behaviour, but in reality they are a school. They are a way in which we are remolded, a second nature is given us, we are gradually made different, we acquire, as Paul says, the mind of Christ by understanding the ways of life and the ways of death.

And in this period of time which in the past divided the making of a catechumen from the baptism proper the catechumen has to reflect deeply on these two ways, to reflect deeply on these simple and yet radical commandments and to discover the commandments of the Gospel. The commandments of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament are not identical in the sense that we know from the Old Testament, from its texts, from its formal declarations.... the abyss that exists.....simple righteousness. In the New Testament we are taught by Christ that when we have fulfilled all these commandments we must recognize that we are unworthy servants and yet.... taught that these commandments can give us life, because what we are called to is not to be simply doers of what God has commanded us to do, but by doing His good, acceptable will, as the Scriptures put it, become new creatures, become such creatures for whom to think, to feel, to will, to act according to the commandments has become no longer a second nature but the only nature which they possess, and through this to have become the likes of Christ in His humanity and capable of union with God, as Christ was God and Man. I will end my talk here and next time begin with the office of Baptism.

 

VI

Baptism

16 March 1982

Last time we saw the office of the reception of the catechumens, and we are now about to go into the office of holy baptism. The first exclamation in this service is the great exclamation which we find at the beginning of those sacraments which indicate that the Lord is taking all things into His own hands, and that what is going to happen cannot happen otherwise than within His kingdom already come with power. In other words, it could happen before the Incarnation of the Son of God, before the moment when God Himself, become man, has taken into His hands all the destiny of the world, before the moment when God Himself has become - if I may use such a phrase - inherent and not only present to the world, the moment when time and eternity have merged in such a way that time has opened up and become as immeasurable, immense as the eternity of God, and eternity has filled the time to the brim - a sort of Chalcedonian mystery embracing time and space and the incarnation and history and all things. The words that are at the outset of the Office of Baptism are `Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. It is only within this kingdom come with power, it is only within a situation which is already the Age to Come that those things which we expect may happen now, that these waters of baptism can be hallowed, become in a sense the waters of Jordan, become in a sense the waters which once Christ promised to the Samaritan woman. We are in eschatological space.

The word `eschatology’ is a word that indicates that something absolutely final has already taken place, and yet that this event, final in the history of mankind, is in progress, conquering, one after the other every situation, every person, all time, all space. It is within this mystery of the Age to Come, which is already come, that the waters which we offer to the Lord can be made into the waters of salvation.

Before we say anything about the litany during which the waters are blessed, I would like to say a word about the waters, the notion of the waters and the way in which they were seen in the Old and the New Testament. The waters - and I will not give you references; you will find them easily in the Bible - are both the origin and the very strength, force of life. We find in the Psalms, we find in innumerable places, this imagery that without the waters there is nothing but waste, scorched and parched earth, the death of all that could live or lives. So in that sense the waters in the very beginning were seen as an image of the life power of God poured upon, poured into His creation, the power to live granted by God, who remains the origin of this power. But we also find also in the Old Testament the notion of the waters of death. These same waters can tragically be refused, in retribution for evil. These same waters may bring terror in flood, in storm, in cyclone and hurricane, destruction and death. But at the same time - and what is directly relevant to the service of baptism -the waters were also the waters of the sea, were also seen in the Old Testament as an image of the disquiet, the agitation, the lack of harmony and peace which belongs to the demons. Their bitterness was the bitterness of death, and the desolation which they bring, and the desolation of this vast expanse of water, was seen as that which symbolizes death and also the desolation of the Sheol, the place where no life can exist, a brutal tragedy. And yet not a tragedy which is poured blindly upon mankind, because whether the Old Testament speaks of the waters as the origin and the very power of life or whether the Old Testament speaks of them as being waters of death, waters of retribution, waters of terror, images of the demonic powers and the bitterness and desolation of death, the Lord is recognized as the Master of these waters as he is the Master of life and of death, the Master of harmony and of the storm.

And then there is another image of another way in which the waters are perceived in the Old Testament - the waters of purification, the cleansing waters, the waters used ritually and in a secular way for ablution and cleanliness - cleanliness of the body, but also an image and at times a real act of cleansing the soul and spirit when connected with repentance and a return to God as we find them used by St. John the Baptist, but also by Naaman the leper and also on other occasions. And lastly, something which we find only in the New Testament, the vision of eschatological waters, the waters which are no longer simply a power of nature which God uses both as a symbol and as an instrument, but also waters that are effectual in the salvation of mankind, the waters which Christ promised to the Samaritan woman, the waters of which Christ says that they will gush out of the inmost parts of those who believe, the waters of which we hear in the Book of Revelation, symbols of eternal life, symbol of divine life poured upon the creatures of God, and God remaining as the only God, the fountainhead, the well, the source of these waters.

But we find also - and this I mentioned in the last talks - an image in the Old Testament in the 17th chapter of the Book of Exodus taken up again by St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians in the 10th chapter - Christ the Rock who is at the same time the Well of Life, the well from which the waters gushed and fed the dying Jews in the wilderness, Christ as the Rock, Christ as the unshakable Word of God, the Word on whom all things are founded, the Word which is the power of God, creative, sustaining; but also in Hebrews 4 the Rock, the column, being symbols and indeed prefigurations of what the truth is. While in Greek the word aletheia indicates that the truth is something which cannot be dissolved, washed away by oblivion, the image given in the Hebrew is that of a rock that stands, of a column that cannot be shaken. As already in Exodus we find this first image which later will be used by Christ and of Christ; for instance in the 19th chapter of St. John's Gospel Christ is the Rock. And in the story of Exodus which I have mentioned the Jews are dying of thirst, and Moses strikes the rock, and floods of water gush forth, filling the valleys and feeding, saving the lives of the Jews.

So there is a rich imagery, but something more than in an imagery: an insight, an understanding of what these waters stand for: source and power of life and yet waters of death, and yet again waters that cleanse both body and soul, and then again those waters which are the very image of the outpouring of the Spirit and grace of God, life eternal and no longer temporary life.

In the baptismal use of waters, in the symbols attached to it, we find two lines, the lines which I have just mentioned, the baptismal waters being waters of purification, waters that renew in us life, which are to us a source of life, but also two images which St. Paul adds to those of the Old Testament: that of the death and the resurrection. The waters for a human being merged into them are easily seen as a symbol of death, and the return, the re-emergence out of the waters is easily seen as a symbol of life. And both are, in the teaching of St. Paul, particularly in the 6th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, which is read on the occasion of the baptism of adults and children equally, it is into the depths of Christ and it is together into the resurrection of Christ that we are brought by baptism.

Now Baptism and the waters of baptism can be understood in the context which I have just given but also in the context of the baptism of Christ. I am not touching on the whole subject of the mystery of the Epiphany, but let me only say this, that those who came to John the Baptist heavy-laden with sin, impure, polluted, under the curse, in the power of eternal death impending upon them, washed themselves in the streams of Jordan. And these streams of Jordan, according to an image given already early in the Church, became heavy with the sins of men, became heavy with the power of death that was being washed away from the people who truly repented and merged themselves into the waters. They came out of these waters cleansed – cleansed obviously not only in body but also in their souls, renewed by the power of life.

When Christ came to the banks of Jordan and received baptism, He merged Himself into these waters heavy with the spiritual, eternal death of the sinners, merged Himself into these waters heavy and dark with the sins of men, and impurity by pollution. And a writer of our time says that He entered these waters as white wool is merged into a dye and came out of them as wool which has been dyed with the dark colors which these waters contained. At that moment the man Jesus Christ took upon Himself, by merging Himself into the sin of man that was alien to Him, all the death of the created world fallen away from God. And these waters, by touching the sinless body filled with the divine presence, were cleansed and made pure and became an image, a symbol of those eschatological waters which Christ promised to the Samaritan woman, which the Revelation proclaimed and which are an image of the outpouring of life divine upon His creatures.

It is in this context that we can understand why it is only in the eschatological perspective of the Kingdom of God already come with power, that we can call upon the Lord to send down His holy, creative, life-giving Spirit upon these waters, that they may become, within eschatological time, within this time filled with eternity, waters of redemption, waters of life, capable of undoing the death which is within us.

The litany in which we pray for the coming of the Spirit upon these waters, as all similar litanies, is directed in two ways: on the one hand, towards the material support of the sacrament - here the waters, in another context, the bread and the wine, and on the other hand, towards him or her who here will be baptized and there will receive Communion. It is a call addressed to God to bless simultaneously that power which will give life and the person who will receive it, that the person may become capable of receiving something which already belongs to the world to come, into which this person has not yet actually entered. It is a litany of peace. In peace let us pray to the Lord - at peace with our conscience, in peace with one another, in the peace of God let us pray to the Lord. For peace from on high, For the Salvation of our souls, for the peace that is first of all the reconciliation and then the peace with God of the whole world. And then that this water may be sanctified by the power, the effectual operation, the actual, real action and descent of the Holy Spirit. That there may be given to this water the grace of redemption, that blessing which Jordan received when the holy body of Christ entered into it. That these waters may be made pure by the action of the Holy Trinity, that it may prove effectual to avert all snares of the enemy. That this water may regenerate, that is, give a second, a new birth and remission of sins and vest the person who is to be baptized in it in incorruption. And also prayers concerning the person who is to be baptized, that this person may be illumined with light, the light of understanding, the light of worship and piety, at the descent upon him or her of the Holy Spirit, that this person may be worthy of a kingdom which knows no death, no corruption, that this person may prove a child of light, an heir of things eternal, that this person may become a member of Christ, a living limb of Christ by partaking in His death and in His resurrection that this person may preserve this garment of baptism and the earnest of the Spirit pure and undefiled until the day of Christ. And concluding these prayers, after we have prayed to the Mother of God, Great art Thou, o Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and there is no word which sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders, because what we are witnessing, what we are actually seeing and experiencing is that these waters are no longer the waters that we drew from the well, but these waters are transfigured, that these waters are filled with the power and the grace of the Spirit of God, that they belong to the world to come and can, like the bread and the wine of Communion, make us partake of something which is not imprisoned in time, conditioned by time and space, but that belongs to eternity.

Then come a number of prayers, of which I will read a few passages.

O Master, Thou couldest not endure to behold mankind oppressed by the devil but Thou didst come Thyself and didst save us. We confess Thy grace. Thou hast delivered our mortal nature by Thy birth Thou didst sanctify a Virgin’s womb. All creation magnifyeth Thee, Who hast manifested Thyself. For Thou our God, hast revealed Thyself upon earth, and hast dwelt among men. Thou didst hallow the streams of Jordan, sending down upon them Thy Holy Spirit. Come Thou now and sanctify this water, by the indwelling of Thy Holy Spirit. And grant it the power to redeem, the blessing of Jordan. Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the sign of the image of Thy Cross. Manifest Thyself in this water, and grant that he [or she] who will be baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from him the old man, which is corrupt, that he may be clothed with the new man, made new after the pattern of Thy death, in baptism, he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Thy Resurrection; that he may preserve the gift of the Holy Spirit, increase the measure of grace committed upon him and receive the prize of his high calling.

And after this a prayer to fulfill - as we have already said - the blessing of oil that will again be poured into the baptismal font and be also used upon the person to be baptized, oil which signifies healing, but also oil that signifies the vigour, the strength of health. It is poured into the waters of baptism while the priest and the people sing Alleluia. And then before he anoints the catechumen who is about to be baptized, the priest pauses a minute and says: Blessed is God who sheds His light and hallows every man that comes into the world. And then the person to be baptized is presented and is anointed. He is anointed because, as I have said once already, having become a living member of the Body of Christ, having become a soldier of Christ, a citizen of heaven, a child no longer of the flesh but of the spirit and of the kingdom, the Christian must be prepared to enter into that great fight not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness.

And this oil reminds us of the oil which was used in ancient times to anoint the wrestlers, to give their bodies new strength, new vigour, to make them supple and strong, ready for the fight, a symbol, but also an act of God. The servant of God - and here the name is spoken – is anointed with the oil of gladness in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The gladness of new life, the gladness to be in a position to live, to fight, to conquer or to die for the Lord, for a God who has so loved him or her that He has given all His life, poured out all His life and given all His death for his or her salvation.

And then anointment of the breast and shoulders unto the healing of soul and body. The chest being a symbol of the place where life is - lungs, heart - and the shoulders, a symbol of strength and frailty. Then the ears unto the hearing of faith. The hands: Thy hands made me and fashioned me. The feet: That he m ay walk in the way of Thy commandments.

And then the catechumen is merged into the font with the words the servant of God so-and-so, is baptized (merged) in the name of the Father, Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit. It is merging in waters of life, but it is also a symbol that, merging in these waters of life, we accept the ultimate death of the old Adam, of all that within us is contrary to the law of life, all that is in us must be compatible with our relationship with God, in love, in worship, in faithfulness. It is the death of the old Adam by being merged in the waters of life, as Christ accepted to die our death by being merged in the waters of death in the Jordan. But it is also the rising again of him who now is no longer a child of the flesh but a child of the spirit. It is no longer the old Adam but is now grafted upon the New Adam, and however frail yet, feels that it is the life power of the New Adam, Christ, the only true man, that is coursing in his veins, that is running through his body, is giving him life.

And Psalm 52 is read, of which a few lines are as follows:

Blessed is he, whose unrighteousness is forgiven, whose sin is covered, blessed is the man upon whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile. Thou, O Lord, art a place to hide me in; Thou shalt preserve me; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. I will shape Thee, says the Lord, I will teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go. I will guide thee Myself. Who so putteth his trust in the Lord mercy embraces him on every side. Be glad and rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice all ye that are pure of heart.

And to symbolize this event in which we are cleansed by these waters in which both soul and body, spirit and flesh are renewed, the newly baptized Christian puts on a white robe at the words: The servant of God is clothed with the robe of righteousness in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And a song: Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light,O Thou who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment, Christ our God, so rich in mercy.

At this point the baptism is complete. But as Christ came out of the waters of Jordan and the Spirit of God came and rested on Him, rested in the Son of Man who had how taken upon Himself all the weight of mankind, the next step is the reception by the catechumen, the newly baptized person, of the Holy Spirit. A prayer is read by the priest in which he says: Blessed art Thou, o Lord God Almighty, fountain of all good things, who sheddest forth upon them that were in darkness the light of salvation, do Thou, compassionate King of Kings, grant unto him or her the seal of the gift of Thy Holy, Almighty, adorable Spirit, and participation in the holy body and the precious blood of Thy Christ. Keep him in Thy holiness; make him firm in the Orthodox faith; deliver him from the evil one and all his wiles. Preserve his soul in purity and uprightness, through the saving fear of Thee, that he may please Thee in every deed and work and be a child and heir of Thy Heavenly Kingdom.

There is a more detailed form of chrismation in which perhaps what we hope for, what we desire for him or her who receives chrismation is spelt out more completely. It is the litany of chrismation in the office of the reception of converts. We pray that divine power may be vouchsafed unto this servant of God, unto the overcoming and the treading down of all adverse wiles of the devil and of the assaults which come through the flesh and the world; that he may be a valiant and victorious soldier of Christ our God; that he may remain steadfast, strong, unshakable in the Orthodox faith and in love and in hope that with boldness, without fear, without shame he may confess the name of Christ our God before all men and ever be ready for His sake lovingly to suffer and to die; that he may increase in all virtues, prosper in the commands of Christ our God, that he may preserve his soul in purity and truth; that he may ripen unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. These are the things which are implied in this moment of chrismation. We ask the Holy Spirit to come upon this newly baptized person and indwell him as he indwelt the man Jesus Christ on the banks of Jordan, as He indwelt the apostles on the day of Pentecost, because this holy chrismation is an extension, a continuation, a reality of Pentecost reaching us throughout the ages.

And then the newly baptized person is anointed on the brow, on the eyes, the nostrils, the lips, the ears, the breast, the hands, the feet with holy chrism with the words: THE SEAL OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST. It is a sealing. The Spirit comes freely, sovereign and free. The seal is put by us.

And then in the same way in which at a wedding the bridal pair are taken round the central desk three times in a procession, showing, as it were symbolically all the way of life, but also that this way is an image of eternity and that in this way we follow Christ: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia. After this will follow the reading of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans and of the Gospel and a last action, which indicates our enrollment into that army which is the army of the witnesses of Christ on earth, the army of the martyrs, if necessary. But this will come in my next talk, in which I want also to try and understand what we mean by being baptized into Christ, what kind of relationship this represents, what these words mean apart from the jargon of the Church. What reality is it that corresponds to that?

 

VII

4 May 1982

 

A few days ago I was asked by someone whether we would ever have finished with my talks on baptism, and I must say for the consolation of those who do not see the end of them that today will be the last talk on this particular subject. But there are one or two things which I want still to add to the description and to the explanations which I gave of the service of baptism. The first concerns an expression which we find in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans which is read at the service, an expression to which we are used, but which perhaps does not always seem to us very clear. It comes at the various points where we are told that we are in Christ, that we are buried with him by baptism into death: all these expressions which imply that somehow our connectedness with Christ is not simply an exterior connection, that we are not related to him simply by faith, but that there is a substantial, an essential relatedness - that by baptism through faith, by an act of God performed sacramentally within the Church, we and Christ become one not only in a metaphorical, allegorical manner, but in true reality.

This thought was expressed with peculiar intensity by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in a quotation which many of you have already heard, when he says that if we are at one with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will become one day - and he speaks of the whole of mankind - the only-begotten son of God in the Only-begotten Son of God, that we will relate to God in the way in which Christ relates to him, and that the fact that we are children by adoption while he is the Only-begotten Son speaks of nothing else and of nothing more than the fact that through adoption we become the sons and daughters of the Most High, but that once we have become the sons and daughters of God, no distinction is made between the Only-begotten and us who are received by adoption. This is something so momentous, so deeply moving and so much beyond imagining, that we can only accept in awe, in adoration this act of God which identifies us with the Only-begotten Son who gave his life for us. And the centre of attention is perhaps this very act of God by which the Only-begotten Son first identifies himself with us in an act of love, gives his life for us - no, even more than this - dies our death, so that we can, that we may live his own life, and again not metaphorically but really, substantially.

When I say that Christ identifies himself with us, I say more than as though I was asserting the central doctrine of Christianity, that God became man, that the Son of God became the Son of Man. There is more to it, because he did not simply become man, endure all the vicissitudes of a human life, accept all the limitations of a world not only created but fallen, distorted, evil in more than one way, in agony in more than one way, longing desperately for a wholeness that had been lost. The Lord Jesus Christ identifies with us, with each of us and with the whole of mankind in the most terrifying experience, that of the loss of communion with God. Indeed he had hungered, he was athirst, he was tired, he was sad, he wept over Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, he flared in indignation, but there is that more to it.

The separation that exists between God and man, through the fall, through sin, through our ignoring God, through our turning away from him, through our rejecting him of our own free will is death. And there is no other way of dying than losing communion with God. And to be at one with us, to be able to save us, the Lord Jesus Christ, accepted in the horror of his death on the cross on Calvary to plumb, to measure, indeed to experience to the last limit the horror of this godlessness, of this loss of God that kills, that is death itself, separation. And the words of Christ spoken from the cross: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’' mark the moment when the love of God in Christ, the love of Christ the Son of God for us, reaches its ultimate limit, cannot go further than accept to identify with us in that predicament which is our death through the loss of God. He dies our death, not his, because, as he said himself at the Last Supper, 'The prince of this world is coming nigh, but there is nothing in Me that belongs to him' - no sin, no separateness from God, no darkness, no shadow, only the purity of eternal life and of light. He dies our death. And because He has died our death he can claim each us into eternal life. But the fact that he can claim us does not mean that we are mechanically forced into this life of eternity.

In the beginning of these talks, describing the making of a catechumen, I insisted on the fact that, having taken us under his mighty, almighty protection, having cast away the devil, the Lord still asks us whether we wish, of our own will, having become now free from enslavement and coercion, to renounce Satan, his works, his service, and whether, having renounced him, we wish to join Christ. And here again we are called, in our way of salvation, to become co-workers with Christ, not to be saved passively, but actively. He offers himself to us. He offers all things to us, but it is for us to choose, and not to choose simply once, but to choose day after day, hour after hour, whether we wish to be his or not.

The way in which we are related to Christ in baptism, as it were in a parable, in an image, is shown us by St. Paul when he speaks of our being grafted on him. We are cut off our earthly roots that can give us, provide us with nothing but an ephemeral life at the end of which dust will return to dust, and we are grafted on the body of the life-giving tree which is the Lord , wound to wound, bleeding wounds to bleeding wounds, our ephemeral life running out and his blood being shed. And it is because we are so united to him, because it is the life-giving blood, the life-giving sap of the tree of life that will run along the vessels of this small twig which we are, that we will be able both to be possessed of the life of God that runs in our veins, and also to become truly ourselves. For the ephemeral pittance which we receive from the earth cannot allow us to grow to the full stature which God has intended for us and which is dormant in us - our true nature, hemmed in otherwise by sin, godlessness, impoverishment. But a small twig grafted on the life-giving tree partakes mechanically, naturally of this flow of life. We are not passive, as I have already said, in our relationship with Christ. At every moment we must be in him and he in us in the way in which this little twig relates to the life-giving tree and the tree to the twig. At every moment watchfully, actively , we must remain in him and he in us.

This is why St. Symeon the New Theologian, speaking of our being in Christ or in sin, says that we are in succession in him and outside, without him. When we live by Christ we partake, in the very way in which St. Symeon expresses it, in the saintliness and sinlessness of Christ himself. But when we fall away from him, then we become again the sinner who needs redemption and salvation. We waver between these two extremes: in him or outside of him.

When Paul says that we are, in Christ, a new creation, that sin affects us no more, this is, according to St. Symeon, what he means. And our life must be hid with Christ in God - words of St. Paul again. And at the same time it is from within this communion with Christ, this oneness with him, that we must live. In all modern translations we have only one word to express this 'in' Christ. In Greek two words were used, the one meaning within him, in the safety of our communion, in the terms which I have already quoted: 'My own life is hid with Christ in God'. Then there is another word which indicates that it is from within Christ that we must act, as though Christ was the root and Christ was the stem and we could live like flowers or fruits that exist, develop and mature only by the impulse and power which is given us.

The baptism of every Christian and the baptism of Christ relate to one another inseparably. Christ, pure of stain, free of sin in the perfect holiness and wholeness of his mature humanity, comes to John the Baptist. He merges in the waters of Jordan, waters heavy with the sins of man which they have mystically washed away, having become deadly with the sins of men. And I have already quoted to you the words of a Protestant pastor in France who said that Christ enters into these waters as one would plunge into a dye as white wool, and he comes out of it dyed crimson unto death with the sin of men. He becomes, sinless though he is, what we are. The sin of the world is upon him. But when the victory is won, when he appears to his disciples, who are already prospectively, tentatively his body because of the faith they have in him and the love they have for him, he gives them the Spirit of Life. It is because they are already at one with him that they can collectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church, receive the Spirit.

When we are baptized, in the words of St. Paul, we are baptized with Christ into his death. For him the waters of Jordan were like a baptistry of death. For us the baptistry in which we are baptized is Christ himself, as it were, because these waters are not heavy with the sins of men but filled with the divine energies and make us partakers of Christ. I have once tried very clumsily to explain what the Orthodox theologians mean by the divine energies. I will put it briefly now again.

God in himself is incommunicable. He is beyond our understanding. And yet we know from experience that he communicates himself to us, unites us to himself. And the image given by ancient writers is that of the sun, a vast, unfathomable mass of fire in the sky, of which no one will ever have a direct experience and notion, because the sun alone can know itself. But we commune to this fire divine as we commune, in a way, to the warmth and light of the sun. When its warmth reaches us it not only bathes our bodies; it pervades us to the very core of our being. We become warm with the warmth, the fire of the sun. And so God pours his grace, pours his energies into the sacramental elements, be they the waters of baptism, the bread and the wine of communion, the chrism of anointment, etc. and we become partakers truly of Christ, of these energies that make us at one with him and at one with the Holy Spirit of God whom he gives us. In that sense, how awesome this mystery! St. Paul says to us that we must give glory to God, reveal, as it were, his resplendence not only in our souls but also in our bodies, which are God's - God's not in the sense that he alone possesses them, that he has all power over them, that by right we are his, but because these energies of Christ and of the Spirit have united us substantially, really to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the Spirit of God and that the words spoken once by Patriarch Alexis are true: "The Church is the body of Christ broken unto the salvation of the world." These words echo, re-echo St. Paul's words: "I fulfill in my body what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ." They echo also his warning that we should treat our bodies as the temples of the Spirit and that he who profanes the temple will be judged for it; that we should keep our bodies from impurity because they are the limbs of Christ.

This is the way in which we relate to Christ through faith, through our response to him, through our determination to be his. This is, however, as I have already said, something which is begun in baptism and is to be fulfilled by the whole of our life. Day in and day out, every hour, at every moment we must be co-workers in Christ and allow this fire which the Lord has brought upon the earth to set everything afire, everything aglow in us. A seed of life eternal is planted. It is for us to watch it, protect it, water it, make it grow into the full stature to which it is called. And we are called to become, each of us, all of us, the burning bush which Moses saw in the desert, a bush that was aflame with the fire of God, a fire which, in the words of Father Lev Gillet, burns without consuming, cleanses but does not feed on what he sets on fire.

 

This is the last of what I wanted to say about baptism. It is the beginning, and yet it is already a union with Christ so deep, so complete, so perfect. We are the living presence, the living and bodily presence of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth. We are the place where the Holy Spirit dwells. We must learn not to quench the Spirit and not to defile the temple. We must learn so to live in communion with him whose limbs we are as to be his presence on earth.

Questions and answers follow.

 

VIII

11 May 1982

 

In the long series of talks which I have been giving on baptism we have been speaking of a mystery of reconciliation and of a mystery of healing, the re-establishment of a relationship between God and man, and more than a relationship. For in a relationship the two parties remain separate and relate, as it were, from the outside, remaining outsiders to one another, while if the image which I glean from Holy Scripture is true, the relationship which is established between Christ and us, and us and God in Christ, is infinitely more intimate than an intellectual or emotional relationship between people. It is as deep and as pervading as the heat that can pervade an object. It is as deep and as pervading as the sap that runs into a grafted little twig from the tree. It is not only reconciliation which is effected in the beginning of the rite of baptism by God's offer of his friendship, his gift of self, and by man's proclamation that he chooses for God against all and everything.

Now there are other situations which require reconciliation. Having established this essential relationship with God we are not yet completely and perfectly united with him as long as we have not attained to saintliness. And even in saintliness there remains a struggle, and a struggle that will follow us, or follow the saint throughout his life and almost beyond his death, to the moment when he will have entered completely and perfectly into union with God. Baptism, as I have said, repeating the words of Father George Florovsky, is like planting a seed of eternity in us. The seed must die in order to bear fruit. It will shoot a blade. This blade will become a plant. But all this process is not a mechanical one, because our freedom remains unimpaired throughout our life. There is no moment when we cannot turn to God and say: 'I renounce You. I go back into slavery,' because slavery is lighter than your light burden and the burden of freedom and the burden of love. There is no moment when we cannot, even against our will, fall away from the greatness and the dignity of our vocation.

St. Paul, one of the greatest men of Christendom, says twice in his epistles that he sees within him two laws at work and in conflict, two motions, the one to God and the other one towards corruption, death, inertia. The law of God, the law of life calls a man to struggle incessantly to outgrow himself, to live in a way and a measure which is greater than himself in the image of God. And there is in us an inertia that says `Why? Why make all these efforts? Why struggle against myself? Isn't it simpler to drift along even if the end of it is corruption, death, naught?’

St Paul felt that. He was aware of the conflict. And yet he more than any one of us probably had had this experience of one who was as though he was a dead man and had come to life. In a passage from his epistle he says that a Christian is like one alive among the dead - alive with life eternal, alive with God's own triumphant life, among people possessed of nothing but the natural life of the earth - ephemeral, transitory, sufficient and yet ending in ultimate and utter defeat of life in death. He also speaks of his inner condition in terms of the old and the new Adam - the old Adam, the old man, the man who had turned away from God, who wants to live and let live, even at the cost of earthly suffering, of misery, of dissatisfaction - and then the new Adam, the new man born in him by a vision, by the vision of what man can be, by the vision of Christ, who reveals to us all the greatness of man, and reveals to us this greatness not as a full stature of the natural man but shows us that to be truly human we must unite with God truly, that it is only when we are afire with God like the burning bush, if we are pervaded with divine fire, like a sword in a furnace, that we can claim to be truly human, because to be truly human is to be at one with the living God. And St. Paul feels that there is within him a struggle, a conflict between these two extremes in him: inertia and the torrent of life. And it is for us, by an act of will, by an act of choice, by a sustained and active determination, to be the one or to be the other. It is only by making a choice and abiding by it that we will either be the old Adam and end in death or commune with the New Adam and grow into eternal life.

So our participation is active. So our responsibility is complete. Even after baptism we remain free to let the seed die, refuse the sap, to return to the condition of death.

But this is not something that happens once; it happens all the time. All the time we are in this condition of tension between these two extremes, light and darkness, life and death, God and the Adversary, being or not being. All the time we must sustain the effort, and this is why St. Seraphim could say that the difference between a perishing sinner and a Christian who achieves saintliness resides in nothing but determination, determination to be faithful to what is the greatest and holiest in us, the refusal to be less than what we can be and therefore must be, lest we accept to be less than we are.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, putting things in very extreme terms, as he so often does, says that there are moments when we are in Christ and then we are sinless. There are moments when we fall out of our communion with Christ, and then we are sinners. In quick succession or in long process it is true. But neither of the two situations is either definitive or stable. There is no moment when we can say ' I am saved, because I am in Christ' or 'I am lost, because I have fallen out of this saving, transfiguring communion'. The seed remains in us, the wind tosses it, the rain beats upon it, the cold and excessive heat endanger it. It is for us to make sure that this seed develops and that gradually it becomes a tree. But all this means that in the course of all our life, having been given this intimacy with God, offered his whole love, his whole life, knowing the cost to God of our salvation, all the life, all the agony, all the death of Christ, the descent into hell and the lying in the tomb, we must struggle.

But this struggle does not undo what once happened, not any more than friendship in human terms is destroyed by every quarrel or every act of disloyalty, unfaithfulness. Lasting disloyalty, definitive unfaithfulness indeed can undo what otherwise could not be undone. Undo it on one side and leave the other heart-broken, abandoned. But a return is always possible. And this is what happens and what is described and effected in several of the actions of the Church, either as sacraments or related to sacraments: the sacrament of reconciliation through confession, the reconciliation of one who has fallen away or has not belonged to the Church in a return or in coming to it, the healing of the sick conditioned by a previous act of repentance and of reconciliation with God and with one's neighbor.

These are the acts of God in the Church and indeed the acts of men in the Church which I would like to consider now with you. As I have said, it is on another level, not on the essential level of a relationship established once and for all that these forms of reconciliation take place. God remains faithful, immovable, waiting. In the words of Hosea the prophet, like the faithful husband of an erring wife. He is there always ready to receive us.

Now this unfaithfulness of ours may take a variety of forms. It is sin in all its forms. And sin can be defined in more than one way. Basically sin is an act of indifference to the hopes and to the expectation and to the love and to the faith which God has vested in us. Whenever we sin it is as though we are shrugging our shoulders and saying 'Whether it hurts him or not, in whatever way it affects him I care not: I'll go my way.' Indeed it is breaking the law, but not a formal law – it is the law of life, the law of love. To sin means to say to God: 'I know your will; I know how hurt you have been, how pained, how broken-hearted you have been, but I care not.' One of the Epistles tells us that one who has sinned against one commandment has sinned against all of them. Obviously it does not mean to say that if I steal I have by the same token committed adultery and murder, but it does mean that I have rejected love. It is the totality of love that I have turned away from. What does it matter if I cross a river at one point or another I shall all the same be on the other bank. Whether I infringe the law of life and the law of love in one way or another, I am in the other camp, I am on the other bank. This is what makes sin grave, grievous, important, painful. It is as though we were saying 'I choose my illness, but I choose to be sick; I reject health. I choose to die in this particular way rather than in the other, but it is death I choose. I have a friend and I can reject him in so many ways and hurt him in so many ways. I choose this one which is more alluring for me, more attractive.'

The commandments which we find in the Gospel or in the Old Testament are indeed road signs which indicate to us a frontier. If you cross this frontier you will be in the realm of diminished life, you will become subhuman, you will enter into the realm of death; from light you will have moved into darkness, or at least into the twilight, you will have turned away from those who love you, and moved into the realm of those who wish your destruction. This is not commandments in the sense in which one gives orders to a soldier to drill him into discipline. It is not arbitrary commandments and orders, which might or might not have been given. It is the rules of life in the strong sense of the word life, with insistence on the word “life” and not on the word “rule”. If you want to live, if you want to be human, if you want to blossom out and develop to the full stature which is offered you, this is what you should be and this is what you should do or not do.

There is no difference in that sense between the commandments of the Old and New Testaments except in the way in which they were understood. In the Old Testament a more primitive nation, the people of God still in infancy or adolescence were told that there are some things that should not be done and others must be done. By doing the ones one became righteous, by doing the others one stood condemned. To be righteous meant that one had been faithful to rules that one did not yet understand, that one had behaved in a way that would lead to maturity although the ones who did it could not see how, very much in the way in which a child is taught many things which seem to be absurd, unnecessary. It is similar with a grown-up in a trade, in a skill. It is only later when mastery has been acquired, maturity attained, that the child or the adult will discover that it had a point, there was a point, that some one knew better and it was only by experience that one could discover that it was indeed right. Do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery, have no other god but the real God, don't create images, false gods who will be easier to worship but who will lead you nowhere.

And in the New Testament we also have commandments, but with a new understanding. It is not submission; it is understanding. It is adherence of soul and mind, of heart and will which is offered us, 'I no longer call you servants', - says the Lord 'I call you friends, because a servant does not know the will of his master, and I, I have taught you everything.' Taught, rather demonstrated. he had shown in himself what it was to be truly a man, to be truly what a human being can be. And the commandments he gave were in a way a description, not of a way of behaving, but of a way of being. When you will have done all these things, recognize that you are only unworthy servants. Again the word `servants’, because if there is nothing but the doing, we are servants, we are slaves, we are under a drill and a rule. But we are friends. These commandments tell us:` Learn to be such that what I command you, that what I advise you, that what I beg you to do should be what you are, that it should flow from within you and not be imposed upon you.’

St. Mark the Ascetic daringly said: `Even if God tells you something, don't do it unless your heart can say Amen, because it is not simply the doing, it is the complete adherence, the oneness with the will and the wisdom and the heart of Him who calls us to do and to be, that we must identify.’

And so when we think of reconciliation with God, the first step we can take is to look at the image of the perfect man or simply of the man in progress towards his full humanity that He gives us. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, so many wise, wonderful rules which we find in Leviticus, the various commandments of the Gospel, the Beatitudes - we can measure ourselves up to them, and if we are alien to them, estranged from them, if they mean nothing to us, if they repel us, if we break them because there are other values dearer to us, we can say with certainty that we have transgressed. And transgress means cross, pass over from one side to the other, cross from one bank of the river to the other. We are no longer in the realm of life.

So the commandments from which our notion of sin comes are not simply moral rules to be applied, not standards to be achieved. They are, as it were, an outer description of what we should be, of our second nature acquired in Christ, or if you prefer, of our true nature, to which we have so little access because we are separated from it by a film or by a wall of partition.

This brings me to another aspect of this notion of sin. At the very core of our being we can find our true nature. But on the superficial levels we are like a troubled sea. There is no stillness, no transparency, no peace. And very often we do not fulfill our human vocation. We remain below the mark because we are content to live on the surface of life - of our own life and of life altogether. The first sin, perhaps, which we commit consists in accepting to be severed from our own depths, to live on the surface of our own life. We are afraid of going inward and of reaching that core which is our true self. And yet it is only at this point that we can truly meet God - not see him as a drowning person sees the light in the sky and a boat and a hand stretched to save him through the waves, the opacity of the water - but see him face to face in the stillness of the deep. It is also the reason why we find it so difficult to relate to one another. We collide, we glide, we do not commune, because to commune means to accept a meeting of two depths and not of two surfaces. And this is something of which we must think, because it is so easy to live superficially and it is so frightening at times to break through in to our inner self. And yet by not doing this we miss the mark, and this is the meaning of sin. By doing this we remain separated from our own self, from our neighbor, from our God. And this is also the meaning of sin: separateness, whether willful, intentional, cruel, or born of passivity, of indifference, of lack of sensitivity.

And all this calls for reconciliation. All this calls for an act on our part that will re-establish all the broken relationships, re-establish wholeness of relationship, wholeness within ourselves, wholeness of soul and body, wholeness in society, small and big - the small society which is the family, the wider society of friends, the more wide society of those with whom we live and work, and ultimately the vast society of mankind - reconciliation, re-establishment of harmony, of relationship. And this is something that we must do all the time. Against the background of the once established, final friendship with God, we pledge ourselves to friendship, to loyalty, to faithfulness, we pledge ourselves, when we are baptized, to be for people around us what Christ would have been, to be his real, incarnate, perceptive, active presence. All these acts of healing of a rift can be achieved in the sacrament of penance, confession in a variety of ways, in the reconciliation of those who are outside of the Church, with the Church, the healing of body, which is the reconciliation, the re-establishment of harmony within us, and all that, triumphantly and ultimately, but ultimately for a moment, and again as an ultimate task in the mystery of Communion.

In my next few talks I want to speak of the personal reconciliation which we must effect with God, with ourselves, with our closest neighbor, with the total Church and beyond it with humanity in the sacrament of penance through confession. I will have to repeat things which many of you not only know but have heard me say, but try to put them into newer and newer contexts. Try to put them into the context of your experience, and you will see that they are as new to you as they are to me when I speak of them.

 

 

 

IX

 

 

8 June, 1982

 

In my last talk on the mystery of reconciliation I spoke of reconciliation and of sin from the point of view of an individual, as though each of us stood singly before the face of God, before the face of our neighbor, and had to reconcile himself in a personal and direct manner. But this is not all there is to reconciliation. Neither is it all there is to sin. And I would like now to say something about sin no longer from a personal, individual point of view, but as far as the consequences go. And I think the best way I can do it is to take from modern literature two examples which to me in their own times proved very interesting and illuminating.

The first is taken from the French writer Henri Bosco (?). Whatever the general theme of the book is, there is a central part in it that tells us about a man called M. Ciprien, who had spent many a year in the islands of the Pacific, had learnt there to love nature, the earth, and life, with passion, to love with tenderness all that lived and could live. And having come back to his native province, he bought a small piece of land which nobody had ever thought of buying because it was made of nothing but barren ground and stones. And there, using his love and using the incantations, the magic spells he had learnt on the islands, he began to call to life the earth he had bought. And calling it to life, he made it capable of bearing fruit. And quite soon this waste of land became a sort of garden of paradise. He sang to it. He nurtured it with tenderness and love, and plants grew and flowers blossomed. And he called into this miraculously born, magically born paradise all the animals that surrounded him. They all came and, upheld by his love, made friends with one another. By his tenderness and understanding they all lived together in peace, the predatory ones side by side with their victims, their potential victims. Only one animal refused to respond to his call. It was the fox. However much M. Ciprien tried to beguile him, to call him, to sing the secret magic melodies for him, the fox remained insensitive to them and refused to become part of this earthly paradise.

To begin with, M. Ciprien was sad, deeply sad for this fox who did not understand that happiness was open to him. Then he became irritated against him, because as long as there was one animal outside of his paradise, paradise was incomplete. And so he had to bring the fox in. And then, as the fox remained insensitive to more and more allurements, more and more spells, he began to hate this fox. Because of him paradise would never be achieved. Then a thought occurred to him, a thought that has occurred since to all those who wanted to force their own paradise upon the freedom of men: the thought that if there was no fox, paradise would be complete. And he decided to kill the fox. He went out of his territory onto the territory where the fox hunted. He hid himself and began to play on his flute melodies that gradually attracted the fox to him, and he killed him. He thought that thereby he had cleansed the world of the only being that refused the harmony of his paradise, and he returned home. When he arrived he saw in horror that all the plants had withered, all the animals had fled, and the place was again the same waste which it was when he bought it.

This first image conveyed to me the thought that the sin of one man can destroy the harmony of the whole kingdom of God, that the moment hatred is nurtured in one person's heart it will in the end be destructive for many lives. Incidentally, it also conveys the thought that paradise, the freedom of God, a kingdom indeed which is built by love, and lives by love, can be real only if it operates in and through perfect freedom, that a love that coerces, a love that enslaves, is incompatible with God's kingdom. And this is why God gives us this wonderful and tragic kingdom, the freedom to accept or to reject - the freedom that can destroy but which alone can build the kingdom that God has dreamt for us.

This was a first image of the idea that no one sins for himself individually, without his actions affecting others. And when I say others, one cannot measure how many, count numbers, imagine how far the destructive power and the destructive energies of people can reach.

The other example which I wish to bring forth to you is taken from a novel by a Rumanian novelist called Virgil

Georghiu, who lives in France, who is a refugee. He tells us, in one of his books, of a murder. An unknown man passes through a village. He is murdered. His body is found. The investigator is surprised at discovering how deeply affected the local policeman is by what has happened. What does it matter? No one in the village knew the murdered young man. Had he not been murdered, he would have passed through the village unbeknownst. His life before he died was non-existent to the villagers. What was there that affected so tragically this policeman, who should have been hardened even more than any villager and therefore been professionally indifferent? Then the policeman explains to him what he feels about it. The murder was committed during the night in the winter. The whole earth was covered in snow. He showed to the investigator the blood on the snow, and he said to this professional, 'Do you see this blood? It is red now. Within a few hours, more snow will have fallen. The redness will pale gradually and soon it will be impossible to discern the spot on which this blood was shed and it will be forgotten. But it still will be there. And when the thaw comes the snow will melt and the rivulets of water will run down the slopes into our brooks, into our rivers. We will water our gardens with it, and all that grows in these gardens will be watered with a drop of human blood shed by a murderer. We will water our fields and the blood of the murdered man will become part and parcel of every acorn, of every plant. We will water our cattle, and the cattle, not knowing of it, will drink something of the blood of the murdered man. And when a boy collects flowers on this meadow and brings them to his girl friend there will be the blood of the murdered man in every flower and every leaf, as it will be in every fruit and every vegetable. And when the passer-by carries away the dust of our village far into the country, he will carry with it something of the blood of the murdered man, and the whole world will be soiled. Each of us will be soiled by this murder.

This, I think, is a powerful image. One can find simpler, more direct images of how sin overflows beyond the limits of an individual life. One is drunk driving, and another is killed. Someone foolishly crosses a road, and a pile-up kills many. One could multiply examples, but I think these will be sufficient to convey the thought that we can never say: 'My sin is mine and it matters to no one whether I sin or not’, for we are all one world; we are all one human race, one immensely numerous body, or rather one immeasurable body made of innumerable human persons, like cells in a body. St. Paul says that when one limb suffers, the whole body suffers. We are like stars in heaven. If one star is quenched, dies, the whole firmament is the poorer. If life goes out of one person, humanity is the poorer. If evil invades one person, the whole of humanity is ill, afflicted with more evil than possessed it before.

One young man, a boy of sixteen, after a tragedy that killed a friend of his, said to me, 'His death has made me think, and I have now understood that by not striving for wholeness and sanctity I am robbing God of His glory and depriving my neighbor of what he should possess by right'. No one of us has the right to put out the light which is in him, because he increases the darkness in the life of another person, indeed of all those who surround him and thereby casts darkness into the history of mankind. It is very important for us to realize that there is no such thing as an evil that does not reflect and corrupt, reflect upon or corrupt the whole world. Any sin is an act by which we destroy the kingdom of God within us and beyond us - within us, because the kingdom of God, as the Lord has said, begins within. It begins at the moment when God is enthroned in our lives, when he becomes the King, worshipped, loved and served, and it is only from within that condition, that it can extend to others beyond us, as the light of a candle can shine from the flame further and further in space. And so there is in sin a social, a collective dimension, social in the way in which I have tried to express it, collective because, like an infection, it attaches to everyone who is frail enough to fall a prey to it. And it becomes the illness of many. We have had more examples than we need in the spread of drug addiction in this country and elsewhere.

So in the sacrament of reconciliation there is a purely personal element. Each of us must be reconciled, cleansed, healed, made new for his or her own sake and for the sake of the whole body. And collectively in groups that may be small or vast, there must be acts of reconciliation, in families and workshops, in offices and parishes, between churches and political parties, between nations. There is such a thing as collective sin, when a whole group of people sins by lack of love, sins by rejection of truth, sins by timidity or cowardice, sins by prejudice and in so many other ways.

So when we think of the sacrament of reconciliation in the form of confession and absolution, we must be aware that it is never an act that affects no one but the person who performs it. It is an act by which a candle that had gone out is lit again, a person who was infectious is healed; and this affects everyone.

This is why in the early Church, although of course repentance - a change of conduct, a renewed faithfulness to one's human dignity and the dignity involved in being a Christian, being Christ's own - was done by each sinner personally, confession was a public event. The early Church knew nothing of the private way in which a confession is whispered to a priest. A person who had sinned gravely and thereby could no longer claim the name of a Christian was to be reintegrated to God and to the body of the Church. And this was to be done openly, because the words of St. Paul: 'Carry one another's burdens' were felt to be real. And the burden of sin was perceived as the heaviest burden, as a mortal wound.

A writer at the turn of the first and second centuries wrote to a friend of his who had committed a sin that cut him off from the Christian community: 'Don't you realize that by your refusal to repent and be reintegrated, you are inflicting a wound on the body of Christ which you alone can heal?' Now there were in those early days three sins which carried the obligation to make a public statement, a public confession to the community. These were three sins against the only law of the kingdom, the law of total, faithful love. The first one was apostasy, the denial of Christ, the rejection of Christ, the renunciation of God, being an act that proved that love had failed, that God, who should have been the beloved One whom one was prepared to stand by in life and death, was not loved and could be rejected. The second sin was murder, the radical denial of one's brother, the radical act of unlove. And the third was adultery, the cruel and wanton destruction of a frail but living, existing love. Obviously, on occasions some other sins were brought into the picture, anything that made a man or a woman feel that they no longer had the right to be called brother or sister by the other members of the community, because, speaking metaphorically, they had become that brother who should be called Cain and were no longer Abel.

But what was the attitude of the community? How was it possible to have this kind of public declaration of sin? The community was aware of the apostolic command to carry one another's burdens. The community was aware of the closeness of all its members. We must remember that in those early days the Christian community was outlawed and persecuted. To be a Christian spelt death or hard labor or torture. Everyone who belonged to a Christian community knew that the one that stood at his or her elbow had chosen death rather than to renounce Christ or turn away from Him. Every one who was a member of this community was aware that any member of this community was closer to him or to her than his or her parents, relatives or pagan friends, because parents and friends and relatives delivered unto torture and death their Christian relatives, children and friends.

And the closeness was made perhaps even more perceptible, even deeper by the fact that these people socially, politically had nothing in common. They belonged to a variety of nations. They spoke different languages. They belonged to social groups that would not have mixed outside of their Church. Slaves and owners were people before God and brothers in Christ. They had nothing in common except their God, their faith, and this is why they felt so profoundly, totally one. And so when one of these brothers and sisters was wounded by death, by eternal death, it was a tragedy for the whole community. And the community was prepared to carry the burden of the sinner. When it was known that someone would come and speak, the community would prepare itself by fasting and praying. The members of it prepared themselves by searching their own souls, checking their own lives, asking themselves whether they could be worthy of being called Christ's own people, Christians, brothers and sisters of the incarnate Son of God.

And when the day came for this public declaration of unworthiness, it was not judges that stood listening, it was people who, broken-hearted, full of compassion, were ready to hear, to take on the burden of re-integration so that the body would be made whole and the limb that had withered would be given fullness of life. This has become impossible long, long since, when the Church was no longer persecuted. And later when it became the Church of the emperors in the first quarter of the fourth century, it was flooded by people who would never have dared to join it when it was a matter of life and death, and to make a public confession to this motley crowd, in which some stood who had been martyrs bearing on their bodies the wounds of the torture chambers, the initiation of labor camps, but some stood who had never attempted to lift or to carry their own cross, not to speak of the cross of Christ.

And we are in the same condition. It is very seldom that one can find a small community of people so deeply, so completely knit together, so devoted to each other that they are capable of carrying one another's burdens of shame, of ugliness, the distasteful sins that have no grandeur, that reveal our meanness and our small stature. And this has resulted in the practice which we all know now of confession made to a priest. But the social dimension of confession has not thereby been wiped out. The priest who listens to a confession stands for the whole congregation. The trust of the whole congregation is vested in him. He stands before God proclaiming that he has come with this penitent in the name of all those who are his brothers and sisters in the faith, that he has come to bring witness that this whole body of Christians recognizes in the sinner a brother, a sister for whom they are prepared to lay down their lives, whose sins, whose weakness and frailty they are prepared to carry with him so that he can be redeemed, reintegrated, reconciled and renewed.

And it is, in the person of the priest, to the whole Church of God that the confession is made. In the West confession is often begun by words to the effect that it is to Christ and in the presence of the Mother of God and the angels and the saints that this confession is made. And this seems to be easy. How much easier than if you had to stand up and speak to the people with whom you are personally acquainted in the Church, friends, foes, people who respect you because they don't know you, people who trust you. How difficult that would be! And yet it is because of the frailty of our Christian congregations that this has become impossible. And it is also because of this frailty that so often a confession is considered to be, as it were, a secret between the priest and the penitent. Indeed it is a secret. Indeed it should not be revealed, but it is such because we can no longer carry one another's burdens. We are ashamed of each other. We are afraid of each other. And yet at times it is only exposure that could save us.

I remember visiting a man in one of the London prisons, and hearing him say how wonderful it was to be found out. I was surprised. And he explained to me that he had been a professional thief and then had come to his senses. And he began to try and change his life. But the moment he began to change, people began to be suspicious of him. If he changes, what was wrong with him before? And so he had no courage to change. And one day he was arrested. And he said to me. 'Now that I have been exposed, today I am free. I can come back to my family and start a new life. I have nothing to hide. Everything has been shown to everyone.'

I also remember how I was told that in the early days of our life in emigration, at one of the early conferences of the Russian Student Movement, a man came to confession to one of our priests. He told him of all his sins but also stated that although he understood how evil they were, he felt no repentance, no regret. His heart was of stone. And this priest commanded him, when everyone would be gathered for the liturgy, to come out onto the ambon, and to make his confession publicly to all the assembled conference. He accepted the ordeal. He came out. He explained what he was about to do, and he read on the faces of all the young people who were there such compassion, such horror for his ordeal and such readiness to stand by him, that before he had said anything his heart broke, and he dissolved into tears and he started with a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone. I believe it requires a very deep preparation, a very attentive search of one's heart, an acute awareness of the tragedy, and of the murderous power of sin, to be able to experience in a private confession what this man experienced.

I will end this talk now and next time I will end my talks on the sacrament of reconciliation, of the mystery of reconciliation, and at the same time this year's series of talks. They will be resumed in the autumn.

 

 

X

CONFESSION

15 June 1982

 

In my last talk I said that today we will consider four or five points which I may not be able to join together logically, but which I want to take anyhow in parts. The first one is the role of the congregation, the people, in the confession of every one of its members. In fact, as things are, no one would have the slightest idea that the whole congregation, the whole parish, the whole Church is involved in everyone's confession. If what I said last time is true and makes sense, that confession, the sacrament of penance, of reconciliation, is an event that affects the whole Church of God, in reality it should not be as it is. The fact that we do not make a public confession but that people come privately does not mean that the whole congregation remains free from responsibility. As I will try to explain in a moment, the priest standing together with the penitent represents the whole Church, and the whole Church is involved through him. . So when we see someone come to confession we should be in exactly the same mood, have the same attitude of mind as the members of a family have when, sitting in a waiting room, they know that one member of their family is undergoing an operation in the theater. You know what people feel: anxiety, hope, fear. You know how people are silent, tense and prayerful, how they have no other thought at that moment than what is happening to the person whose life and death are at stake at that particular moment. This is the way in which we should be aware of every confession of every member of our community. And this is something which we must not know and appreciate only as a curio, as a thought that never occurred and can be stored, but as something which we must learn to do.

When several people are waiting for confession, apart from recollecting as deeply as they can, making themselves ready to stand before God as though it was the hour of their own death or the Last Judgment, they should every one pray for the person who is making his or her confession and for the priest who receives it. It is immensely important for us to recapture this sense which I tried to describe last time of the communal dimension of the sacraments of penitence and reconciliation. It is not only with God that we become reconciled, it is with the Church of God, because it is very seldom that we sin against God directly by blasphemy, by apostasy, but most of the time we wound Him who has given His life for each of us, by sinning either against ourselves, and thereby depriving the Church of a worthy member, or against other members of the Body of Christ. It happens unfortunately that people not only prepare themselves badly by sitting and talking softly, simply waiting for their turn, but also get gradually angry if some one detains them longer than their patience would permit. This we would not do if our sister, our mother, our friend was in the operating theater and we realized that an operation which we thought would be short lasts much longer. Our worry, our anguish would increase with time. It is not irritation against the surgeon and the patient that we would feel, but an ever deepening concern .This should be our attitude.

I remember more than 50 years ago a gentleman came to confession to me and said before he uttered a word concerning his confession directly: 'Father Anthony, I must tell you that I am boiling with rage. The woman who was here before me kept us all 10 minutes.' I looked at my watch and said nothing. I asked him to calm down, but I put my own watch on the desk, and at the end of his confession I said, 'And now would you kindly go and apologize to everyone in the queue because you have kept everyone 15 minutes. I think this is an example of a monstrous attitude to what happens to another person. No one knows what is happening at this moment between God and a living soul, what the confrontation with God can do to a person, and no one should treat another person's confession otherwise than with reverence and with prayer.

I have said in the course of these remarks of mine that we sin more against our neighbor than directly against God. I have mentioned blasphemy or apostasy. But there is a way in which we do sin against God and of which we are not aware. So often we make excuses when we make a confession, using as such the circumstances of our life. How can I be patient? What of the years of the Russian revolution, the years of misery abroad, my rheumatism, my son-in-law; how can you expect me to be patient with that? And I have said more than once to people who covered their sin with this kind of explanations, that before they could receive absolution, that is, hear the priest declare that they are forgiven by God, that God is offering them His peace and reconciliation, that they should first forgive God. For whenever we look for excuses, in one way or another we are saying: It is not my fault; it is God's fault; He has not protected me as He should have done against the circumstances of my life, against illness, companionship, historical tragedy. And if we give more thought to this, we will realize that it happens more often than we imagine. We accuse our neighbor and we accuse God, and before we can receive absolution we must take steps on our own side to make our peace, to forgive God for His sins of omission and of commission - or else, which would be more reasonable, to take all the circumstances of our life as God-given occasions to be truly worthy of the name of a Christian, truly to be in this world as a vanguard or as a member of the vanguard which God has sent into a fallen world to make it into the Kingdom of God. That much about the situation of the congregation. And it does not, as I have already said, apply only to the few who wait for their turn to make their confession, but also it applies to the many who are in the church and should be aware that a decisive event is taking place. And this event is very often decisive, because every confession should be approached and made as though it was the last confession we will ever be able to make before we die. We never know when the hour of death will come, and when we come to confession we should come to cleanse ourselves of all evil, to redress all wrongs, to renew our relationship not only with God but with every single person and with our own past and with our own present, so that if the hour of death came, we could walk into eternity and look God straight in the eyes and rejoice in this encounter instead of dreading it.

If we come to confession - if I may put it this way - for a wash and brush, it is that we have not measured the gravity, the seriousness of sin, because ultimately, as I tried to explain in the course of my first two talks, sin is always a mark that we do not love - love God, love our neighbor, love ourselves. And every small infringement on the mystery of love is something that is profoundly destructive. Think of the ripples that result from throwing a small stone into the still waters of a pond. The stone need not be a boulder, the stone can be quite small, and yet for a long time there will be no reflection of the sky otherwise than distorted in the water. So is every single sin, however small, and particularly if it is committed wittingly, wantonly, carelessly. In the end every sin marks a lack of love, a lack of loyalty to one's love, and it has all the gravity of deep unfaithfulness.

Now the penitent comes to make his confession to a priest and no longer to a whole congregation. What is the situation of this priest? In the admonition which the priest may pronounce before the confession he says, 'Lo, Christ Himself stands before thee. I am but a witness.' What is the meaning of these words? What kind of witness is he? There are several kinds of witness in human experience. There is the chance passer-by who witnesses an accident or a brawl, and who, being asked questions by a policeman, will describe what he has seen with total indifference to the parties involved. He describes mere facts. What consequences these facts may have for one party or another are none of his business. In a trial, on the other hand, there are witnesses from the crown and witnesses for the accused person. They testify under oath to what they have seen as they have seen it. They may be mistaken in their understanding. They may be mistaken in their appreciation of facts. They state what they think to be true as truly as they can; but they have taken sides, they have made a choice, they stand for or against something. And then there are the witnesses which people invite to be present at the great occasions of their life: the witnesses that are present at a wedding. Those are chosen by the bride or bridegroom, because they are the closest, because they are so close to them that they wish them to partake as completely as possible in the joy which is theirs. In the Gospel St. John the Baptist is called the friend of the Bridegroom, one who can rejoice in the meeting of the bride and bridegroom, one who loves them with an equal love, one who is prepared to protect their mutual love against all intrusion. The priest is one that stands in more than one capacity. He is not, cannot be one who stands indifferently, simply taking in whatever he may hear. He stands there, strangely enough, simultaneously as a witness for the crown and a witness for the culprit. Before God he stands, proclaims that the penitent is bone of the bones, flesh of the flesh of the congregation which he, the priest, represents, that anything that may happen to this particular limb of the Body of Christ will reflect painfully or wonderfully on the total body. He is there to tell the Lord: 'Heal him, reintegrate him', because in him all the body is wounded, but also all the body recognizes this member, this limb, as a living, precious, beloved part of the total body. But he also stands for God, and in two different ways. He stands there to proclaim God's own truth, to declare what is right and what is wrong, to confront the person who has come to confession not with human judgement, but with God's own judgment: 'Thus saith the Lord'; so Christ has spoken; this is the way of life and this is the path of death, this is truth and this is the devil's beguilement. And his duty is to proclaim it in all truth, because it is only God's own truth that can save. At the same time he is standing there with all his own human compassion, because he also is a member of this body, he also is a sinner, he also stands in judgment not only before the word of God but before the words he is now saying to himself, perhaps unto his own judgment and condemnation if he knows and does not live up to what he says. But he is also there - apart from his compassion and broken-heartedness and prayer and entreaty and intercession - to proclaim to the penitent God's own forgiveness. And I have used the word penitent, not just any person who has come, who cold-bloodedly, indifferently has poured out a list of sins, but a person who has come with a broken and contrite heart, with shame, with fear and with hope.

There are conditions for absolution. There must be repentance, there must be a sincere recognition that sin is evil, that it is enmity against God, that it is enmity, non-love of men, that it is a destruction of self. Only then can the penitent be told that forgiveness is offered. But forgiveness is different from forgetfulness. And forgiveness is a beginning and not an end. Forgiveness re-establishes peace, love, relationship between God and us. It is reconciliation, but the sins which have been proclaimed, although they are no longer a gulf or a wall of partition between us and God, remain for us a task. They were our goal, they were our masters, they were our delight; they have now become our enemies and our adversaries. And instead of standing with Satan on the side of sin, we now take our stand with Christ on the side of holiness. And that means that we will have to fight and to overcome, to struggle and perhaps to be wounded, but certainly to become the object of Satan's onslaught, because we have betrayed him to God; we have turned away from slavery to him and to the service of God. It is moment which is decisive. But what does God's forgiveness mean? It means first of all that God recognizes, accepts the fact that we renounce Satan, all his works, all his wiles once more and that we choose him, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Master, that we enthrone him in our hearts, in our minds, in our whole life, that we choose his will against ours and that we will stand by him whatever happens. This must be our intention. And in response to this, the Lord accepts us, makes the sin that was enslaving us and which has now become our task a common task with us. The sin that was a. gulf or a wall of partition between him and us becomes then a meeting-point, the place where he and we meet in the same struggle to eradicate evil from our hearts, from all our being, and through this from the world of which we are part and parcel. It means also that God accepts us as we are at this moment, because we have accepted his friendship, and that He is prepared to carry us as the good shepherd carries the lost sheep or, if necessary, as Christ himself has carried his cross unto death, only that we may be saved. And when we accept divine forgiveness we must be aware that this forgiveness can be given us because he lived, he suffered and he died for us.

Saint Seraphim, speaking of this, says that God will forgive us always when we return to him but that we must not forget at what cost he forgives us. Passion week and Calvary are the cost he paid to have power to forgive. We are free because he died for us. And we must be aware of this and measure the gravity of anything by its consequences in the life, suffering and death of the Only-begotten Son of God become the Son of Man, of the Lamb of God slain before all ages in the sacrificial love of God and actually slain and murdered on earth within our human history.

And now a last point: Where does this mystery of reconciliation, this act of repentance and reunion, this act of penance begin? Father Alexander Elchaninov said: 'The mystery of reconciliation begins at the moment when we have received absolution, because we are forgiven. But it is for us to show our gratitude, our loyalty, our love, our determination to remain faithful and loyal to him who has accepted us without waiting for us to change, simply because we gave our word that we are repentant and that we will be faithful as much as in us lies.

So at the moment we leave the place of forgiveness we must set out to struggle against every one of the sins which we have confessed. What was confession a moment ago has become now a program of spiritual struggles and endeavors. Reconciliation becomes a process by which we remain faithful to him who has accepted us. It goes throughout the time which separates us from our next confession. There will be moments when we will have sinned inadvertently or want only and other moments when we will have become suddenly aware of sin, of our unfaithfulness, of evil in us. At that moment we will be scorched by the horror of it. We must not let go of those moments without turning to God immediately wherever we are, in whatever circumstance, and saying from the bottom of our heart with the totality of our will: 'Forgive, have mercy' and then we must seek for the first possible occasion to bring forth our confession and receive forgiveness. We can say 'Lord, forgive', but we must feel the Lord say 'Thou art forgiven. Go in peace. Sin no more.' No one can forgive himself. To forgive ourselves something which we have done against God and against our neighbor is tantamount to shrugging our shoulders and saying, 'Aren't you tired of sulking about a thing which I have forgiven long since, which I don't care about any more?' We must care. We cannot forgive ourselves, but we must have the faith and the humility to accept forgiveness. We must not in our pride and our stupidity say: 'I can't be forgiven; I am too evil.'

Place your sin on one scale and the life, passion and death of Christ, His Resurrection and His Ascension and His glory on the other, and you will see that you can, but only if you are prepared to pay the cost of faithfulness, the cost of discipleship, the cost of true friendship in reconciliation. There is a pain in the actual confession of sins. It is easier, as I said last time, to confess our sins to God. It is difficult to unveil them, to disclose them to a fellow being, and not to an anonymous one but to someone who can look us in the face and into whose face we will have to look all the days of our life, the priest of our parish, someone who is not only a priest of God but perhaps a friend. Yes, there is horror, there is scorching pain in it, but this must make us aware of what sin is. It is not the scorching pain, it is not the shame, it is not the fear, it is not the disgust, the horror, the desire to hide, that will be our forgiveness, but our determination to lay ourselves bare before the gaze of a brother in Christ, trusting in his compassion, hoping for mercy, for solidarity, for faithfulness. And if we do not feel any shame or any pain, if we throw off lightly the burden of sin, we must ask ourselves whether we do repent or whether we have not yet understood the murderous, lethal power of sin.

Imagine yourself before the living Christ, not God in heaven, but Christ standing before you with his hands and feet pierced, with his side pierced, with his shoulder bruised, wounded on the forehead, and saying: 'Every sin does that to me'. But on the other hand - I repeat now something which I have said lately in a sermon - a confession is like the descent of Christ into hell, the hell of darkness which each of us may have within himself, the place where Lazarus is buried and his body has already experienced corruption, the place of death, the recesses of ugliness, impurity, the realm where Satan has power, Satan the murderer from the beginning, the liar, the beguiler who has brought us to this condition.

And Christ comes into this hell. This is the icon which we know as the Harrowing of Hell. He comes into it and darkness is dispelled because He is light. He comes into it and death is no more, because He is life. He comes into it and corruption is no more. There is nothing left of the realm of sin within us if we only allow the Lord to come.

And as to the priest, it is not only compassion, it is not only broken-heartedness that he brings to a confession he hears. It is wonder, wonder and marvel that a person can have such high regard for God's truth, for God's purity and holiness, for what is right, for what is beautiful, that he can bare himself in the presence of another person who, like him or her, is a sinner. It takes a saint to have truly the human ability to forgive. It is only by the power of God and this sense of wonder at the beauty or a wounded soul that seeks for healing, that a priest can stand and pray and thank God for every word he hears, however ugly, however sinister, however corrupt the picture, because every word declares to him that the penitent has chosen for God and that life is streaming in, that a new life can begin for this person.

 

 

XI

HEALING

19 October 1982

In this series of talks which I began last year, we considered those sacraments which make a person a Christian: Baptism and Holy Chrismation. There is one more sacrament of initiation, Holy Communion, of which I shall speak separately later.

Tonight I would like to speak to you, following the same theme of the sacraments of initiation and those of reintegration when we fall away from the fullness of our vocation. We have already spoken of confession. I would like to speak of the healing of the sick, because this is also one of the aspects of our reintegration to wholeness, to the fullness of life. But before we go into examining the service itself I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in the Christian approach to sickness, as in the Christian approach to death, there is, if not an ambiguity, then a complexity much greater than that which so many see when sickness appears to them as an undiluted evil that must, at all costs, be set aside.

On the one hand, we have plenty of evidence from Holy Scripture, but also from our own experience, that sickness - sickness of soul, sickness of heart, sickness of will, and also sickness of the body - is connected with sins but not always and not necessarily to our own immediate personal sinful condition. We belong to a distorted world, to a world in which sin is rife. Evil is abroad, and we are not only the doers of sin, bringing upon ourselves illness and death, but we are also the victims of this complex and tragic situation which is born of the loss of God by our first parents. So, on the one hand, sin is there, at the very center of our notion of sickness, just as death is there as the wages of sin, as the result of it. But on the other hand, in the Christian Gospel, in the experience of the Church, suffering, the cross, is absolutely central. And sin, or rather the consequence of sin, suffering, which must remind us of our sinful condition, of our enslavement to evil, or of the fact that we are to a very great extent in the grip of evil , has a redemptive power as well. Borne with patience, with humility, in a redemptive spirit, it works for our salvation, and moreover, when it is carried with patience and humility, in the Name of God, it makes us participate in the tragedy of the cross, in the mystery of Christ.

Christ was subjected to suffering and to death, although he was sinless, because he chose, in an act of love, to be one with us and to share with us all the predicament of the human condition. We are not sinless. But if we unite our wills, ourselves, as perfectly, wholeheartedly as we can, with Christ, then another dimension appears in the mystery of suffering, of illness, of pain and of tragedy, the mystery of substitutive love, vicarious suffering. And we can share this mystery with Christ.

Also we find in the writings of so many of the Fathers, of the ascetics, remarks to the effect that God does not free us of either our frailty or the consequences of it, until pride, vanity have died within us, because - and St. Paul speaks of it first, and after that all the writers of the Church - we would be too easily beguiled into imagining, if we were made free of all the limitations and of all the evils that result from sin, that we are free from it.

So we can see three sorts of dimensions in sickness of which we are going to speak. And when I speak of sickness I do not speak only of sickness of the body, but of the total sickness of man: soul, body and spirit. The one is directly related to the sin of the fallen world and to our own active participation in the sin of this world, to the fact that we are actively sinful. A second one, which is the other extreme, as it were, of our own life, to the extent to which we partake in the mystery of Christ - suffering, illness, death - is part of the redemptive mystery, of the mystery of substitutive love, of vicarious death.

And lastly, on an ascetic level, on the level of God working salvation within us, we may well be left a prey to suffering and to illness, to prevent us from imagining that we are strong in the Lord and that we need no help from him. You may remember that twice Paul begged the Lord to set him free from sickness, from his frailty which he mentions without describing it. And the Lord answered him by saying: My grace sufficeth unto thee; my power is made manifest,. deploys itself, triumphs, in weakness, in thy frailty. And St. Paul, reflecting on this, exclaims: If that is the case I shall rejoice in nothing but my weakness so that everything may be of the power of Christ!

There is a similar problem which we must face when we turn, in sickness of soul, spirit or body, to the healing ministrations of the Church. It is not an ambiguity, but a tension, bipolarity. And the tension at times is extreme. The Church is simultaneously a sick and a healing organism. It is a sick organism, a body sick with the sickness of its members. The historical body of the Church throughout the history of the Church shows how frail it is, how easily swayed, how much it needs the power of God to survive in its wholeness and integrity.

I have mentioned more than once when we kept the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy that it is not the triumph of Orthodoxy, that it is not the triumph of the Orthodox over others that we remember, but that we rejoice in the triumph of truth over error and ultimately we rejoice in the triumph of God within us and over us.

And yet the Church is a healing body, because the Church is not only the historical collection of people who for twenty centuries have struggled for their souls, for their integrity, who make an act of faith and have got to fight hard to remain faithful and to trust the Lord truly. The Church is also something else. The Church is an organism, a body which is simultaneously and equally human and divine. It is human in us and sinful in us. The only difference between the Church in its sinfulness and the godless world lies in the fact that the Church, although it is not an assembly of saints, is perhaps a mob, but a mob of repentant sinners, of sinners aware of their sinfulness, of sinners who have turned to God and who broken-heartedly, humbly try to follow his saving precepts, his counsels, and respond to his call.

But the Church is human also in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the first-born of the dead: the Lord Jesus Christ who is true man in two different senses. On the one hand, he is man possessed of all that is true, genuine humanity, our humanity. On the other hand, he is true man and the only true man, because he alone can reveal in his Person what a true human being is, in his oneness with the Father. For a human being is full and complete, perfected, only when he is at one with God, when he has reached that measure which St. Peter defines when he says that we are called to become partakers of the divine nature, to share with God his own nature, to become by participation, by adoption, what the Lord Jesus Christ is by nature in his divinity - he, God, who participates in our humanity; we, human beings, called to participate in his divinity, so that a day is to come when, in the only-begotten Son we, all of us, humanity, shall become the only-begotten Son. These words belong to St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

But the presence of God is not manifested only in the divinity of Christ. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church. He is abroad, active, fighting, struggling in unutterable groanings and in the clear call upon God as our Father. He fashions within us the knowledge of God. He transforms us from earthly and earthen beings into beings which are of the Spirit. It is thanks to Him that the process takes place which C. S. Lewis describes when he says: 'The message of Christianity is: "Lo, statues are coming to life; dead creatures, dead beings are suddenly becoming life itself."’

And in the Spirit, and in Christ, we become partakers incipiently, gradually, progressively and painfully, in a struggle. We become partakers of the divine nature and the sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. So the Church is a body equally, simultaneously human and divine, in which the fullness of God resides, in which the fullness and the perfection of man is made manifest, and in which we are in the process of becoming what we are called to be: truly human in the image of Christ. It is because the Church is this that by becoming living members of this Church we can be healed in spirit, in soul and in body. Yes, but we can be healed on condition that we enter into this process of reintegration, of recapturing, or rather conquering an integrity which is beyond all creaturely measure, which is an integrity whose measure is God himself.

And this is why, in Orthodox theology, when we speak of sacraments we look at them from two angles: their objective reality, which is an act of God, and also their effectiveness on us, which depends not only on the gift but on the recipient. We can receive or reject; we can accept for a moment, and let go of a grace, and our responsibility in that respect is great.

So when we consider this service of reintegration, this service of healing, we must realize that two persons are face to face with the same power: God and man - God, who with his love saves us by giving us all he has and all he is, whose will is always good and is always our salvation, who is all-powerful and yet who has endowed us with freedom and therefore does not force us into a relationship, but calls us, invites us into it - and man, frail, weak, but who has got, thanks to the freedom once allotted to him, the frightening, awesome power to say `no’ even to God.

And so whenever we are confronted with the healing of our soul or of our body, we must realize that there are conditions which each of us must fulfill in order to become capable of receiving what God gives and will give generously, but which we must receive with the same generosity, with all our mind, all our heart, all our will, all our soul. We must meet God with faith and repentance. We must meet him with the certainty that He is there and will help, with deep humility because we are unworthy of his coming near us. Remember Peter saying: `Leave my boat, O Lord. I am a sinful man.’ We must approach God with openness and expectation, but also with the determination to be faithful, not only to believe that he can and will save, but with determination, when we will have received his grace and his help, to be faithful, not to squander His gift.

And so we are told by the Orthodox Church that when sickness eats into our soul, our spirit, our body, we can turn to God, we must turn to God, in the context of the Church and of the sacramental help which can be received in it. But we are told that before we ask for healing we must take stock of all the evil there is in us, recognize not only the general sinfulness which is ours, but the concreteness of our sins, examine our soul earnestly, sternly, with integrity and honesty and bring the pure confession to God of all that is incompatible with the loyalty he has shown to us and the loyalty he can expect from us. And only then can we approach the sacrament of healing, an act of God which will go beyond our capabilities of redress, beyond our capabilities to change ourselves but which will be dependent upon, conditioned by our readiness, as one of the Fathers has said, to shed our blood in order to receive the Spirit.

The service of Anointment of the Sick is performed usually when a person is sick in soul and body or in extreme spiritual distress. We celebrate this service here once a year, calling everyone who has prepared himself by repentance, by confession in the course of the previous weeks, to receive sacramental healing. This is something which is done in the Russian Church since the nineteenth century. It was done occasionally for special reasons in periods of plague, of epidemics, but it came to the awareness of the Russian people in the Crimean War, when Sebastopol was besieged, when death was hanging over every person, when illness, epidemic, death by hunger could become the destiny of everyone who was within the blockade. And then the Bishop of Sebastopol invited all the inhabitants to make an act of repentance - to cleanse their souls and bodies by confession and then to approach this sacrament. Later it extended more and more in the Russian Church. It has become the habitual, normal practice since the Revolution, when, in the course of the war and the civil war, death, illness, agony of mind and indeed desperate sin had taken over our country.

Now let us have a quick look at the service. We begin this service by blessing the Lord. We are not always aware of the earnestness of these words of blessing which we proclaim at the beginning of each service. We seem to take them for granted very often. The claim they lay on us became intensely clear to me one day when I had to take a funeral service, and having pronounced these words I realized how much I expected from the bereaved family. Face to face with the death of a beloved person, of a person who perhaps meant more to some of them than their own life, I expected them to join with me in these words: ‘Blessed is our God'. May he be blessed in the situation in which we are; may he be blessed in what has happened and for what has happened. May he be blessed despite my distress and. my agony. These words are great words, and whenever we pronounce them we should be aware of their impact upon us, of their meaning in the absolute.

And sick in soul and body, the first words which we say are 'Blessed is our God' unconditionally, not after the event, not because we were healed and therefore can rejoice. But whatever happens, his Name will be blessed. 'God has given. God has taken. May the Name of the Lord be blessed for evermore', said Job.

And then, after the usual introductory prayers a psalm is read, a psalm which expresses both our sense of repentance and our hope, and whatever faithfulness there is in us. Here are the words of the psalm (143):

‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, and consider my desire; hearken unto me for thy truth and righteousness’ sake. Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be just. For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath laid me in the darkness, as the men that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit vexed within me; and my heart within me is desolate. Yet do I remember the time past; I reflect upon all thy works; yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands. I stretch forth my hands unto thee; my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land. Hear me, O Lord, and that soon; for my spirit waxeth faint: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. O let me hear thy loving-kindness betimes in the morning; for in thee is my trust; show thou me the way that I should walk in; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies; for I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee; for thou art my God; let thy loving Spirit lead me, forth into the land of righteousness. Quicken me, O Lord, for thy own Name's sake; and for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy goodness slay mine enemies, and destroy all them that vex my soul; for I am thy servant.’

Here is recognition of one's own distress, hope, hope beyond hope, repentance and certainty that God is our help and our salvation.

And then comes a service that can be divided into several single parts. First of all a number of prayers which will culminate in the blessing of the holy oil - but a blessing of the oil which is aimed at the salvation and the healing of the sick, and therefore these prayers, directed towards the blessing of God’s creature of oil are also simultaneously concerned with the person who is sick.

And then a series of seven readings and prayers. Each reading, each one of these sections, comprises a

prokeimenon - two verses from the Old Testament which are a cry of repentance or a cry of hope - followed by a reading from the Epistle. And then another verse following Alleluia, which is a cry of gratitude, of the certainty that God has heard, that God is close, that healing is within his power. Then the reading of the Gospel, and then a prayer by one of the celebrating clergy. The readings, although they are not so easily organized as one wishes for the sake of presentation, confront us with two themes: the compassion of God, who responds to our cry and who is prepared to help, to heal in the right time, in the right way, to the extent to which it is good for us, and also, as I have said, to the extent to which we are prepared to accept this healing. And also passages of the Gospel which draw our attention to the responsibility we have when we call upon God for help, for mercy, and for healing.

There is a phrase of St. Seraphim of Sarov which he spoke to one of his visitors. He said to him: ‘God can always fulfill a legitimate prayer. But remember at what cost to Himself: the life, the agony, the death, the descent into hell of the only-begotten Son.' And we must remember this, that when we ask, either in private prayer or in the great prayers of the Church, sacramental or not, or whatever is our need, we must remember the cost to God, and not ask light-mindedly, but with the readiness to respond to the cross and to the resurrection.

The prayers which follow the readings of the Gospel are all centered on the healing of soul and body, but they all insist on the fact that the first thing which must occur is our return to God, our reconciliation with Him not in words only, but in life. And then only can we receive what God is ready to give.

I will end at this point today's talk. Next time I will go into greater detail about the service proper and into its various elements. And now if there are questions which concern the subject of this talk I will be very glad to try and answer them. Shall we be quiet for a few moments...

---

When I think of perfection, I think of it not in earthly terms, but of the moment when, all things being fulfilled, the communion which the creation will have with God will be such that what is his will be ours.

Indeed the sacrament of anointment would be and is given to a person who is unconscious, and what is assumed is that this person who has lost touch with the visible world is not out of touch with the invisible world. The same principle applies in the baptism of babies. The assumption is that in order to commune you must be a living soul capable of communing with the Living God. When an unconscious person is to be anointed, the Church takes this person, holds him before God, saying this person is bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. We accept responsibility for this person as we have all our lives, and all of us pray for his healing. It is a matter of communion of saints and fellowship of sinners. We share good and evil much more deeply than we imagine.

I have a reticence to accept that anyone should be healed, because we have in the lives of saints so many examples of people who were sick not only to their own salvation but as a revelation to others of fortitude, facing Christ, etc.

Answers to questions after Sacraments No. XI

19 October 1982

I don't believe that we were born to perfection. I don't believe that fascination with perfection could be called holiness. I think that we Christians are in an imperfect state and that we approach God in our imperfect state, and it is only through love that we perceive His perfection, but I don't believe it is our will.

I think that Anna is right when she says, if I understand rightly, that our aim is not to achieve perfection, if we think of perfection as something distinct from a relationship of love with God and with people. Perfection that would be creaturely perfection would be totally useless, would be completely dead. It would be like the attempt of a living creature to become a most beautiful statue.

I was referring to your comparing the sick state to perfection.

As far as we are struggling on earth, all we can aim at is a relationship with God in which we learn to know Him, to trust him, to be faithful, to be loyal. And within this relationship he discloses himself to us, but we also discover what we are and what measure is offered us - not creaturely perfection, but communion with God. And when I think of perfection, I do not think of it in earthly terms, but of the moment when, all things being fulfilled, the communion which the creation will have with God will be such that what is his will be ours.

Q ?

I was really thinking when I spoke, of what happens more often than not with people who are conscious....(see previous page)

We have the tendency to think that my sins are mine, and we have the folly to think that my virtues are mine. That is even more controvertible, of course. But as far as 'sins are mine' is concerned I don't think it is true, if truly we are one living body of people then we share...

There is a story in the life of a Western saint, Jean Batiste Vierne. Someone came very sick to him and asked for healing and J-B V went to pray and he came back and said 'I can heal you, but illness is so aptly placed in you, you should rather endure in God's name.’ Here he expected from him acceptance of the illness rather than healing, but he gave him freedom to choose, and I am not sure that this is not the attitude we should have.

St. Paul was told by the Lord: No, I am not going to heal you. I think things are less simple, although I do not believe that we can say they are less simple and therefore we do not take upon ourselves with the certainty of faith to act for the healing of a person.

Yes, I am quite certain that the Church had this gift of healing and I quite agree with what you said. The only thing is that we should not find an alibi to our lack of faith in the fact that perhaps God will choose to act differently from our expectation.

I think that we can always behave to God with all simplicity and sincerity. Whatever you believe, you can say to God from your heart with integrity, you can... but whatever prayer we offer, we must know that whenever we ask something concrete, it really can be summed up by saying 'Lord, I am asking for this person the best thing I can imagine, but I don't know whether it is really the best thing - and leave no loophole to God, not give Him the benefit of the doubt, but trust Him, and if our prayer remains unfulfilled in the form in which we have presented it, say: now the Lord has chosen differently, so I must take the situation which before was to me a natural situation, I must take it as God-given and treat it as such.

 

XII

UNCTION, continued

9 November 1982

There is a Latin saying that to err is human but to persevere in one's errors is of the devil. So I have given some thought to our last discussion and particularly to a remark which was made by Bill Barlow and supported by one voice at least, concerning my approach to suffering, to illness, to death, and I found that I was not quite right, either in what I said in the first place in my talk, or in what I answered in defense of the stand I had taken. So I would like to go back to a few basic points. What I have found, what has struck me, is something which you can read in the Gospel but also read quite easily in the prayers of this particular service of unction of the sick. Nowhere are we told in the Gospel that Christ chose, in order to heal them, people who were capable afterwards of a deep spiritual conversion or that He set as a condition for his healing ministry that a person should undertake to change his or her life. On rereading the Gospel, on rereading the prayers which are part and parcel of this service, I was struck by the fact that the word that comes time and again in the Gospel is that Christ felt compassion and He acted almost unconditionally, simply because he could not endure to see people afflicted with pain, with mental agony, with misery of any kind, not any more than He could endure to see people enslaved to the devil, people who were victims of sin and could not break free. So this is a very important point which I had not looked at sufficiently.

We find something even more striking perhaps, in the book of Acts, in a passage in which we are told that when Peter and Paul passed along the roads, people brought their sick out and placed them along their route, so, the Scriptures tell us, that at least the shadow of the Apostles should fall upon them. And they were healed by this overshadowing by St Paul and Peter's presence. This again indicates that there was no previous consideration on the part of the Apostles either of the spiritual readiness to change or of their maturity for it. It was an act of divine compassion. And perhaps it is worth saying that in this particular example we come very near to what we do when we celebrate a service, the heart of which is not our human initiative but our response to a need, and when this response is met - not by our skill or our knowledge or our wisdom or even, when it applies, by the sanctity, the holiness of the person who acts, as it was in the case of the Apostles, but by an act of God which is mediated through us but in which to a very great extent we are only channels and not the active person. In other words, the projection of the Apostles' shadow upon the sick and the effect it had upon the healing of the sick cannot help reminding me at least of the way in which it is not the power of our prayers but the sacramental power of the unction.

And a sacrament is an act of God which takes place in the midst of his people which may well be mediated by people in word, in action. A prayer is said, oil is used, there is a material support which is of the created, as it were, inanimate world, but which is still, from end to end, an act of God which we could not perform of our own volition. It is God who acts. So in that respect I see myself at fault in what I said last time. On the other hand, I may not have expressed with sufficient clarity something which I believe is very important for us.

The will of God is our wholeness. But our wholeness implies not only our physical health and not only our psychological, mental balance, but also our spiritual health. The three are inseparable from one another. One cannot conceive of a human being who would be completely harmonious in body while there would be disharmony in his mind and heart and will, in all the complex which we call the psyche or the mental side of a person, and even less a person that would be conceived as being completely whole, if the spiritual life of this person was faded or non-existent. In other words, we cannot conceive of wholeness unless a person relates harmoniously to God, is harmoniously structured within, and is physically in complete harmony.

Now this is the image which we find, or the type which we find, fulfilled only in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; at one with the Father, in complete harmony of body and soul, he is to us a vision of what a human being, perfect, should be. When, however, we return to the world in which we live, we realize that we live in a world of disharmony. Disharmony is there within us, between us and around us. No one of us can claim that there is no tension within him or her, between mind and heart, between the will and the desire. St Paul described it so clearly when he spoke of two laws at war within himself and also within every person - a war between what he calls the law of the spirit and the law of corruption, the law of the spirit which is in harmony with God and therefore strives and tends to create, develop and deepen a perfect harmony, and the law of corruption which is the result of our fallen state and which results again in disharmony on all levels.

I have mentioned the various powers of the soul but we know also how much the condition of our body affects and afflicts our psyche and also how much our mental condition affects also our body. So we live in a world in which we are in disharmony. Consequently we are also in disharmony between ourselves. There are tensions, there is grief, there is fear, there is hatred, there is envy, and one could go on giving a long list of those things which, in terms of our relatedness to one another, show that the disharmony within breeds a disharmony between us.

And we also are in a world which is full of disharmony. And so the whole situation in which we are is one in which harmony indeed should be restored, and restored on each level, but in which no restoration of harmony on one level can be considered as being satisfying, as being a true fulfillment. If we could be at peace with ourselves and yet in separation from God, if we could be in a relative harmony within ourselves and yet unable to create a harmonious society on two levels, secular and ecclesial, we still could not speak of a fulfillment truly achieved. That means that the service with which we are concerned addresses itself to all the aspects of the human being. There is a centredness of this service upon the physical need of the person - illness in all its forms. But it originates, it is rooted in a sense of compassion. Whether a person is good or bad, whether or not this person will, as a result of being made whole in body, or perhaps even in soul, turn to God and fulfill his or her vocation, is, as it were, irrelevant to the mercy of God and to the compassion that should be ours.

When in the Gospel the Lord says to one of the sick whom he healed: 'Dost thou wish to be healed?’ we tend to shrug our shoulders and say: 'What a question; of course he does.' But there is something beyond this question. Of course each of us wishes to be healed, but the question which is at the root or at the heart of this question is this: Once you are healed, what are you going to do with the health which is restored - the original health which was yours, the one with which you were born and which you possibly squandered or which was taken away from you by the world in which we live, in any one of its manifestations? This health is no longer there. The health which you will receive now is a new gift of health. It is, as it were, new life given by God. It is not something which we could restore, recapture, fulfill; it was no longer there. What is offered is newness. What are you going to do with this newness? Are you going to realize that this newness implies that you have discovered a Giver who, in an act of compassion, out of pure charity - and charity, understood rightly not as almsgiving but as cherishing - has given you what you had lost? And are you going to base your life in relation to the Giver on an act of gratitude and make of this new life which you received something which is worthy of its newness, worthy of the charity, of the compassion, of the love, of the miracle that has reached you?

If that is the question which is at the heart of these very simple words of Christ ‘Dost thou wish to be healed?’, then it means that to be healed in body, in mind, in spirit means that we must take a new attitude and also shoulder a new responsibility. We must respond to the act of God by a life which is determined by what we have discovered. It is not simply that we are restored to health and therefore can start our life again. We are restored to health in a new relationship to God, to ourselves, to our understanding of things.

This, I believe, is of great importance, because again, in the readings of the Gospel and of the Epistle which are part of the service, in the prayers this is implied all the time. The compassion of God is there for you to take, the mercy of God is there for you to feel, the love of God is there for you to be saved. But are you going to receive this gift? Are you going to integrate it to you and not allow it to flow through you and be squandered again? Are you going to be made whole in the way in which a broken vessel can be made whole and therefore hold the precious liquid or the precious gift which will be deposited or poured into it? Or are you again to crack on all sides and is this gift going to be poured out? This is why in my last talk I said, overlooking again one aspect of the question: the fact that this sacrament is applied to people who are unconscious or to children who are too small to be aware of all these things, - this is why I said that there is at the root of this sacrament an act of repentance.

Now repentance is a word which in Greek covers a wider ground and perhaps a more precise one. The word means an about-turn, a U turn. It means that a person who was straying in all sorts of directions like the sheep grazing from one tuft of grass to another, having become aware that there is a focal point in life, a central point to life, will now turn and direct himself or herself in that particular direction, to this focal point, to this goal, to this aim, to this end. This is the meaning of repentance. And this is why, when we come to a service of anointment as adults in a mental condition that allows us to hear, to see, to understand, to perceive, to respond, the first question which is to be asked by ourselves to ourselves, but also by the service: Are you redirecting your life godwards? Are you going to receive his gift facing him with a broken and contrite heart, with humility, with gratitude, with exultation and joy, and having seen what it will be given you to see? Are you going to stay with him and move in his direction without straying willfully, intentionally, wantonly, carelessly in all sorts of ways? Of course it does not imply that a person who takes such a decision will not fail to fulfill his or her promise. It does not mean that a person will, simply, because the decision was taken, never stray and never fail, but the intention must be there. Then evil, sin, temptation will no longer be the rule of life but painful accidents, things which are rejected inwardly the moment they have occurred and which will perhaps, if the pain is sufficient, if the shame is deep enough, if the awareness of the harm they do to us by breaking our wholeness, separating us from God and from one another, is sufficient, will throw us back godwards towards wholeness.

Now I have said that the service is a service of sacramental significance. This implies two things. It implies that the Lord God will act with sovereign power and authority and that the Church, the minister of the sacrament and the person who receives the sacrament will all have, as it were, a subsidiary role. In the ordination of a man to the diaconate there is a very significant and important statement. In one of the three prayers the bishop, holding his hands upon the head of the ordinand, says: 'Lord, it is not in the laying-on of my hands but in the outpouring of thine own grace from above that this man is made a deacon.’ At that moment it is perfectly clear that, on the one hand, nothing would happen if there was no minister of the sacrament. Indeed nothing would happen if there was no recipient of the sacrament, but if there was nothing but a minister and a recipient without God’s sovereign, all-powerful and all-merciful action, nothing indeed could happen. Apostolic succession or the power invested in a minister of the Church is not something possessed by him personally once he has received it. It is possessed by the totality of the Church indeed, but also he becomes a witness of an act of God and not the one who instead of God can perform acts, however holy and precious.

But, this being said, there is another element. There are, in many places of the Gospel ,phrases to the effect 'Canst thou believe?' The answer of the father of this sick boy is 'I believe. Lord, help thou my unbelief.' There are phrases in which Christ, addressing himself to a sick person or to a person in need of spiritual help says: 'Dost thou believe?' or 'Thy faith hath saved thee.’ So it is not only a matter for God to act irrespective of any response that will be given.

I would like to underline two sides to it. The one I pointed to last time when I said that the Church is a strange body which is simultaneously a sick body in us, in spirit, in mind and heart and will and in our bodies, and at the same time the Church is a healing body, a body into which one can be merged and made new. Because the Church is something greater than a human congregation, it is not only a human congregation gathered in one place, but all the believers throughout the ages and throughout space. The Church is a body which is simultaneously and equally human and divine. Man is represented in his perfection by Christ. But God is also represented by Christ. And the Holy Spirit lives in the Church. And the Church relates in the Spirit and in the Son to the Father in terms of a sonship which could not be achieved outside this oneness with Christ and fulfillment by the Holy Spirit. And even in us, we are not only sinners; we are sinners who have turned godwards, who are in the process of salvation because we are moving godwards, however unequal and irregular, jerky and hesitant our motion may be.

And in that sense we are possessed of something wonderful: we are possessed of faith. That is, we have learned from one another, beginning with the Apostles up to our day, and beginning with our families or our surroundings, our friends or our occasional meetings, the books which they have written in the course of the centuries, we have learned to trust God. We have learned to believe in God's love, in God's compassion, in God's power and readiness to save, to heal, to protect, to make us new. And what we can mediate is something beyond us, because this act of faith of ours can create for a person in need the very situation in which an act of God is possible.

Those of you who are familiar with what I repeat from year to year will forgive me if I remind you of the story of Cana in Galilee. When you read the story, its beginning, it seems to be a chain of non sequitur remarks, of remarks which really are irrelevant to each other. Christ his apostles, his mother, are invited to a poor village wedding feast. The hearts of the guests, of the bride and bridegroom are still full of hunger for a continued joy, for the life, for the peace, for the togetherness, for the sense of a miracle that has occurred and which is alive in this feast. And yet the Mother of God notices that there is no wine left. Probably also the candles begin to run out. The feast will die while there is still a sense of wonder and joy and miracle in the spirits, in the souls.

But on another level it will be killed. And from this killing at the simple earthly roots sadness will come. People will part saying 'It was lovely’, and think: `Had it only continued one more moment for our hearts to be full!’ And the Mother of God, turning to the Lord says, 'They have no wine' and the Lord, turning to her, makes no comment on the wine. He says, 'What have we got in common, you and I? Why is it that you turn to me - not the bridegroom, not the bride, not my disciples - you.? Is it that you feel that, being my mother, you have special rights, my mother according to the flesh? In that case, mine hour is not yet come. It is a relationship which is totally earthly; there is nothing that will open up the heavens and allow grace to come. This is the way St John Chrysostom comments on it. So it is not a simply monstrous picture. He says: you can see that even the Mother of God shared the failings of all mothers. Having held Jesus in her arms when he was small and educated him when he was a child, she feels she can command him when he is an adult. So even a saint can see things like this. And so who am I, a sinner, to see differently? But I do. And what I see is this. The question which the Lord asked is this:`Is it because you are my mother according to the flesh that you feel it is your function to draw my attention to the need? In that case my hour hasn't come. And he leaves the question at that. And the answer of the Mother of God, I think, supports my view more than it supports the comments of St. John Chrysostom, because the Mother of God does not say to him: 'Haven’t I been your mother since your earliest days? Haven't you always come to me for advice when there was a need? Have I become superfluous now? Do you think that, being a grown-up boy, you need a mother no more?’ She turns to the servants and she says to them: ‘Whatever he tells you, if he chooses to, do.' And by doing this, she presents the Lord Jesus Christ with an act of faith: it is not because I am your mother according to the flesh. I believe. And then, as it were, contradicting himself, - the Lord has just said: My hour has not come - the Lord works a miracle. And I believe this is the situation in which the Church at large, of which the Mother of God is the perfect expression, in faith, in purity, in truth, in her relation to God - and any geographical, local part of the Church, however imperfect it is in our persons, that this is our function. We are the people who can say, at worst: 'I believe. Lord: help our unbelief’ or at best, I have so much in my experience that I can say: 'Yes, I believe; I believe with all my heart; I believe with all the knowledge I have of you, my Lord and my God, even if at other moments my faith wavers, even if my faith is trust and yet not faithfulness and yet not true knowledge, but at this moment, yes, I believe in your love, in your compassion, in your readiness to save. The Gospel is full of it. I can believe that.'

And this is our role, the role of the Church which I have already described as sick and healing - sick, yes, but at that moment it is a body that believes and knows in its totality, in its entirety, that we can, we have a right to say to this sick person: 'Trust, believe. You may be hesitating in your faith. We will complement your faith by holding you, as it were, in our hands before God.'

You remember the story in the Gospel of the man sick with the palsy that was brought by four of his friends. They could not push through the crowd, so they undid the roof and lowered the bed on which the sick man lay to the feet of Christ. And what does the Gospel say? It says, 'Seeing their faith he turned to the sick man and said, 'Get up and walk.’ So we have in the Gospel a testimony that if there is in us as a collective group this faith, we can bring the sick person to Christ even if the sick person is unconscious, even if the sick person is a baby or a small child, or even if the sick person says: 'I can't believe it is possible but I will try to trust your word. To me it will be totally tentative. I will just say in all honesty to God: ‘I really don't believe it can happen, and yet according to thy word or to the word of these people, I'll do it. It may not work. It may, and I leave the question open.'

So that is an element which is very important. We can do it, but in doing this we must strive, not at that particular moment, but in our general attitude, to be the Church or to live for one another. We must strive to be, more than just for a short while, because of a momentary need, a sort of coalition. We club together, gather together, put together whatever little faith we have so that the sum total should support this person.

In the Gospel there is a passage in which we are told that if two or three agree among themselves on everything, their petitions will be received. And in a prayer which we find in the Liturgy, as the prayer of the priest in the third antiphon and also in the end of the prayer book but in a slightly different version, we find the same thought. The thought expressed in the Liturgy is very clear: if we agree, as it were, to agree on everything, not to create momentary coalitions, but if we strive to have one mind and one heart, as the early community had, then God will be in our midst, then the kingdom of God will have come, then all things will be possible.

But can we? Do we? This is where the Church - and I am speaking not of the Church in mystical terms but of concrete parishes or groups of people, of Christians, faiths. We gather together for a purpose, but we do not aim at being one heart, one mind almost one physical body, and this is where, not only individually but also collectively we are sick, we are divided and therefore we are a sick body. And this is why, when a service is taken as it is foreseen by the rules, seven priests are called together to celebrate it according to the number of the Gospel readings - seven priests who by their unanimity, their simultaneous presence, the fact that they act as one person, because ultimately the 7 represent the only High Priest of creation, the Lord Jesus Christ, that they manifest the oneness of mind, the oneness of will, the oneness of heart, the already realized oneness of the kingdom already come with power yet unfortunately so constantly unfulfilled or imperfectly expressed.

There is a writer, a Father of the Church whose name I can't recapture, who said that if one could wish to fulfill a miracle of healing, the person who longs for it should have achieved wholeness in himself. And he goes on to say that purity of the flesh, purity of the mind, purity of the heart, oneness of our will with the will of God, would be the ideal image. Of course no ascetic, no Father of the Church has ever imagined that this could be achieved by any single person or any single congregation. But what he signified was that the Church could be a healing power, a real power station, a focus of divine power, healing all the ills of the world if we only could achieve that. But also he indicates that this is what we should aim at, strive for, direct all our efforts to, that oneness between ourselves, that wholeness within ourselves, and that unity with God.

When we look at the list of saints who are invoked we will see that they all are the saints who are images of wholeness, of purity, of total surrender to God, martyrs, or like St Panteleimon, men who are an image or a vessel of love divine like St. John the Divine, etc. They are those to whom we pray particularly and also those to whom the Lord gave, in the course of the ages past, the power to heal, those whom we call the unmercenary doctors, those who gave without counting the cost either to themselves or to anyone else, who gave generously, who gave without expecting retribution even in terms of gratitude. They simply gave as God gives, freely. I will end here.


XIII

23 November 1982

Before I come to the description of the service I would like again to make a few remarks, partly born of my own reflections on my last talk and partly born of the few questions which were sent to me in the last fortnight.

First of all, there is one point which I did not make and which I believe is of immense importance. When God gives his grace, however frightening it is to say this, he gives it into our hands and we have power to use, to reject or to misuse it. An act of God, an act of compassion and of love on the part of God does not bind our freedom. He gives in faith and we receive in freedom. That means that we can find in the lives of saints or in the experience which we have of our own life, a tragic, a searingly painful fact that, having received from God a gift, be it our health, be it peace, be it any form of salvation or liberation, we may turn away from it again.

You remember Christ's parable of the seed and the sower. The sower, God, the Son of God become the Son of Man, sowing the seed, a good, wholesome seed generously with an open hand. And this seed falls on a variety of ground. It may be stony ground. It may be by the side of the road in the nettles and the weeds; it may be on good ground. And according to the way in which the ground will have received the seed, the seed will spring forth and then wither because there was no depth. And the seed once received with enthusiasm, with joy, remains unfed, unprotected, and dies. It may fall into the weeds, and the weeds will grow and choke it, and it will not bear fruit. It may also fall on the good ground that will receive it lovingly, lend it all the richness it can lend, and the seed, fed by this ground, will grow and bring forth a rich harvest. In the lives of saints, perhaps also in the Gospel, although we do not know what happened to the people whom Christ healed, a similar thing may have happened. We see the glorious moment when in his infinite compassion, in his tender-heartedness, God gives. We see the moment when the gift is received with warmth, with gratitude, with wonder. We don't know what happened next. Perhaps we have a slight indication of what may happen in the story of the ten lepers that were healed by the Lord. One came back, giving glory to God. Nine, having discovered that they were healed, did not come back. They went about their own life, their own business. They may have gone and done well, done the right things, but they may not. How is it, says the Lord, that ten were healed but only one returned to give thanks to God? The confrontation with God, meeting Christ face to face, receiving from him a word of life or being at the receiving end of a life-giving action, leaves us free.

Remember the story of the rich young man who came to the Lord asking what he should do in order to be perfect, and when he had heard it he turned away in sadness. He did not feel he had within himself the strength, the faith, the readiness to go that far. To keep the law, yes. To enter into the realm of grace, which implies total abandon, total surrender, he could not. And there is no word of condemnation. There is only sadness in the words of Christ. He did not condemn the nine lepers. He was sad that they had not found it in themselves to come back and to give glory to God, but moved on. There was only sadness in the words spoken about the young man: ‘How difficult it is for one who is rich to enter into the kingdom of God!’

And this kingdom is a kingdom of love - that is, of ultimate, total dependence upon the love of God, his compassion, and the love and compassion of men. And to enter into that kingdom is hard. This is the first thing I wanted to point out.

Another thing came my way from someone who came to see me, and who remarked that when we receive Communion we commune to the wholeness of Christ, who is whole in all respects - whole in His sinlessness, whole in His oneness with the Father and the Spirit - and who is whole in body and in mind, perfectly whole. And so in the sacrament of Communion we unite ourselves to Him who is whole and who is wholeness itself. And this wholeness is given unreservedly by God, but also it is received by us to the extent to which we are capable of receiving and of holding within ourselves the gift offered. St Paul in one of his epistles (1 Cor..11,27) says that if we fail it is because we commune unworthily - whatever this word means. There are so many in our midst who are sick and who die prematurely. I cannot comment on these words of St. Paul. I do not know what they mean. There is in them only, as far as I am concerned, an invitation, that the way in which we commune results in a greater or lesser health of spirit, soul and body - not that we are punished, but that we cannot hold what is given, and therefore frailty, weakness, illness, death remain in power. All illness ultimately is connected with our sinful condition, with the fact that we are born from the first in a world disrupted by sin. Adam and Eve lost their oneness with God, and in losing that oneness they lost their wholeness and they lost their mutual purity. Illness is always connected in one way or another with the sinful world in which we live. But things are not just as simple as this.

I do not know whether you ever noticed that of all the prayers which are quoted or described or mentioned in the New Testament, only one remained unanswered. And this was the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ who said in the Garden of the Mount of Olives: 'Father, let this cup pass me by'. When you read the story of this night you can see that this was the cry of the man Jesus Christ face to face with death - death that had no root in Him, death that had no power over Him, because death and sin are co-extensive, but a death which He had to endure because He had chosen to be at one with us, including death, including the only condition for death, the loss of God. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?' - Faced with this death, totally alien to Him, abhorrent to Him, not only in his divinity but in his sinless and holy humanity aglow with life, Christ prayed. And he was met not even by a refusal. He was met by silence. He had chosen , as God, to be the Lamb slain before all worlds. He had chosen, as man, on the day of His baptism, to merge Himself in the sin of man, to identify with man. And now he had to take His own decision, fight and struggle and conquer. He looked for help, for a voice, for a hand, for a gaze, but the apostles were asleep. And He fought so that the sweat on His brow was blood. And he emerged out of this first struggle saying: 'If it cannot pass me by, let me drink this cup,' And again the agony filled his mind, and anguish of soul, and fear - horror rather than fear- filled His very flesh. And He went again to his disciples, but they still slept. And He fought again, and in the end His last word was: 'Thy will be done.'

This is what happened to Christ. Isn't it something of which we must be aware when we are confronted with illness, with agony of mind, with the loss of our manifold wholeness? Isn't it something we must remember? For we come to God claiming His gifts, His grace, and we do not realize that we have a long way to go before the words 'Thy will be done' become an act of total and heroic surrender. We must struggle, and this is why the service which we are thinking about is all made of images from the Gospel and teachings from the Gospel and the Epistles and of prayers in which faith - our own wavering, frail, hesitant and yet desperate to receive what it very often cannot hold. And the faith of those who are the Church: Christ, the Mother of God, the angels and the saints and those who surround us - unite in the same cry.

Then we are confronted with the fact which so many saints have brought out, that there are times when we must be left to fight, oh, in the image, a very poor and frail image, of what happened on the Mount of Olives, and that in the context of sin if we truly, truly are at one with Christ, if we reach that point when we can say - and who can ?- say with Paul: ‘It is not I, it is Christ who lives in me.' If we become His limbs, if we become His mind and His heart and His presence, then perhaps we are to fulfill a function which is crucifixion. It is perhaps the way in which we may understand St. Paul’s testimony - speaking of his condition and saying: ‘I fulfill in my body what was lacking in the suffering of Christ’ - not that there was something that was lacking in the suffering of Christ and made it incomplete, not sufficient for our salvation, but the in the midst of a godless and orphaned, a desperate world, a witness through suffering, not only through inflicted suffering, a suffering inflicted in the form of martyrdom by others, but in the infinite patience with which we can carry in our flesh the passion of Christ together with the horror of being dispossessed of God, incompletely united in that struggle between life and death of which I spoke last time, quoting St Paul and the two laws within us. There are saints who were a revelation of wholeness. There are saints who were a revelation of the infinite patience which, in Christ, they possessed. Their wholeness never was that of Christ, but it was their wholeness. It is always incomplete if we compare it with Christ’s. It is a revelation of wholeness when we compare it with ourselves.

Already long ago writers were saying that the saints are like the many colours of the rainbow. We are incapable of seeing the light, but when it is broken up into its many components we can perceive it. In the saints we discover the wholeness of each colour; in Christ we discover the ultimate wholeness of total holiness and oneness with God. For us who are sinful, for us who are still on the way, struggling, trying to move ahead, pain, agony, even fear may be a way of salvation. Some have spoken even more positively of it by saying that untimely health would have blinded them to other dimensions of life. St Basil the Great thanked God for his bad health. St Hildegard spoke in the same terms.

So we must realize when we come to this sacrament of anointment that great compassion will meet us, but that we must become capable of receiving as much as we can, and struggle to become capable of retaining more than we were able to retain before. It may be a gradual progressive motion. It may be a sudden miraculous occurrence, but whether we are given it or not; whether we see the act of God within us or not, we can continue in faith, simple as we are, frail and incomplete as we are. We watch ourselves, trying to see what happens when the mercy of God reaches out to us. The saints had eyes only for God. And seeing his glorious splendour they could see nothing in themselves. They knelt in awe and adoration. They bowed before him. All they could perceive, because they saw His holiness so clearly, was their own darkness. They saw themselves small because they saw God so great. This is something which we must learn.

Now to come back to the service, after the many promises I have given, the first movement of the prayer is, as I have already said, quoting Psalm 145 which is read at the beginning, an act by which we recognize our sinfulness and at the same time we place all our trust in God. This is the first moment in this situation. And at the end of the Psalm, after a short litany, when we have sung ‘Alleluia, Glory to God', a prokeimenon comes: ‘O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger, neither chasten me in thy sore displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.'

And then again, prayers in which we implore the mercy of God, those prayers which we read at the end of our talks asking for mercy: ‘Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we sinners, devoid of all defense do offer to thee as our Master this only petition: Have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us and deliver us in thy tender compassion, for thou art our God. We are thy people. We are the works of thine own hands. We call upon thy Name.’

And then a prayer to the Mother of God. And again Psalm 51, in which are united so beautifully hope and broken-heartedness. And then a canon is read. It is a long canon, the substance of which is the same as the substance of the service: repentance, faith, hope, trust, surrender, joy in God, sadness about our having fallen away from him. And when we have prepared ourselves in broken-heartedness and hope, in surrender and joy, in the certainty of faith and in the awareness of our need, only then do we turn to the blessing of the oil. Because for what will this oil be blessed if there is no one to receive it in the right spirit? This is something parallel to what happens in the Liturgy when, before the priest blesses the Holy Bread and the Holy Cup, he lifts his hands up to the Lord and says: ‘O gracious Lord, take not away from us Thy most Holy Spirit Whom, at the third hour thou didst send down upon Thine apostles, but renew us who pray unto Thee.' Because why will this bread be made into the Body of Christ? Why will this wine become the Blood of Christ if the people of God are not renewed, if the people of God are not made capable of receiving the gifts that will be offered in the words: 'The Holy Things unto them that are holy’. The holy things, the Body and Blood unto those who have dedicated themselves, rededicated, surrendered, given ourselves to God and are, by the power and mercy of God, cleansed and become capable of receiving fire without being burned.

The prayer of the oil is a short litany , first of all, that God will bless the oil by his power, by the action, by the descent upon it of the Holy Spirit. And immediately afterwards for the servant or the servants of God, that God may visit him or her and that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon him or her unto the healing of soul and body. And then: 'O Lord, with Thy mercy, in Thy bounty healest the disorders of our souls and bodies, do Thou, the same Master, sanctify this oil that it may be effectual for those who shall be anointed therewith unto healing, unto relief from every passion, every sickness of flesh and spirit, of all evil, and that therein may be glorified Thy most holy Name, of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost for ever and ever’.

And then we turn to those who in the past before us, by an act of perfect faith, by a surrender that opened them to the acts of God, have become God's own people; we address ourselves to Christ, we address ourselves to the Mother of God, we address ourselves to St. James, whose epistle will be read later commanding us when we are sick in spirit or in body to turn to one another because the prayers of the righteous avail greatly for the healing of the sinner.

We pray also to St Nicholas of Myra, in whose life we see infinite compassion and a real, tender, concrete concern for the details of human life, not only for heaven but also for the simple things of the earth. We pray to St Demetrius and to St. Panteleimon, who are saints who devoted their lives, the one after his martyrdom, to healing, and the other was a physician in his time, a witness in blood and death and a healer of sins and soul. And then other saints, whom we call the unmercenaries, wonder workers, those who never ask for a reward in order to heal; who never claim anything for themselves but give in compassion and in mercy, as Christ gives in mercy and compassion. And also St John the Divine, who is called the pure one.

There is a passage in one of the fathers that says: 'If any one of us was truly pure in soul and body, he could restore the wholeness which others have lost. And in that context we remember St John the Divine in his purity and wholeness and ask for his intercession. And then again we turn to the Mother of God, the all-pure, the holy one, asking her to intercede for us. And having done this, it is with hope that we turn to God. In the first prokeimenon we were saying: 'Rebuke me not in Thy anger. Chasten me not in Thy sore displeasure.' Here we say, 'Let Thy mercy be upon us, O Lord, even as we have put our trust in Thee. And the verse: 'Rejoice in the Lord; praise becometh the righteous.'

And then a passage is read from the epistle general of St James in which we are called, to learn from the prophets of old who have spoken in the Name of the Lord and have been an example of how one suffers affliction and how one bears in pain. Job is mentioned by name. And then 'If any man among you be afflicted, let him pray. Is any sick among you? Let him call the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord.’ And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven. Confess your faults one to another. Pray one for another that he may be healed.’ So this is St. James’ word to us. And this is, as it were, the basis of what will follow. What follows is a cry of gratitude: Alleluia, I will sing unto thee of mercy and of justice, O Lord’.

And then the reading of the Gospel of St Luke, the story of the Good Samaritan. In what has happened before we might have felt that we are absolutely central, and here we are reminded that it is our neighbor who is central. He is the one for whom we must have concern, aid that if we receive healing, if we receive mercy, it is because our neighbor, the Lord God turns towards us in mercy and compassion and because we are surrounded by people who in their mercy intercede for us as St James advised us and commanded us to do.

I will end this talk at this point. I think that in the process of this talk I have answered the questions which were asked of me. I will try to amplify some of their elements when we come to various passages of the service, and I will continue this description of the service next time, hoping to come to an end of it.

 

 

XIV

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOLLOWING SACRAMENTS XIV

21 December 1982

Question concerning the practice of the anointment of the sick with oil. When does it happen, and what is required from it.

It is a very severe and earnest service, full of hope, of faith, but which cannot be treated lightly. Obviously it is not a service to be used on any occasion when we catch the flu or a light illness, but when we feel that the illness which has hit us has got an earnestness about it, when our life, our bodily integrity are endangered, and also when we are aware that, apart from the illness which struck, there may be within us in our body and soul some power of destruction which works together with the physical reasons for the illness. I will give you one example which some of you know. It is that of one of our parishioners who in his time was a churchwarden of ours, Artemy Rayevsky. He was loved by us, respected, and one day he was taken to a hospital with jaundice and within hours it was clear that he was afflicted with a generalized cancer. His sister was told. So was I. But nothing was said to him. When I went to see him in his cubicle, he said to me, 'How irritating; I have so much to do still, and yet I am laid down unable to do anything and no one seems to be able to tell me how long my illness will last.’ So I reminded him of the fact that he had told me time and again that he longed for a moment in his life when he could simply stop time, and instead of doing, simply be - be before his own conscience within himself, be before the face of God. And I added that as he had never done it himself, God had been good enough to do it for him. And he, who had imagined that the moment time would stop he would find it quite natural and easy to deal with this `now` that never came to an end, was dismayed, as we all are - we all long for a moment when we can be, instead of acting, but when it comes we do not know what to do, because we are too accustomed to doing, to being involved in things. And so I suggested several things. The first one was that I told him that he was helpless to do anything about his body, and that he could leave it to the doctors and the nurses, but that there was another aspect to illness. Apart from physical illness, there were in us - there are in us - destructive powers that sap, that undermine our energy: resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, hatred, destructive memories, so many other things. And I suggested to him that he should make an attempt at cleansing himself, freeing himself from all the intrinsic powers of destruction. And in the course of the weeks that came, together we examined all his life, all his relationships, beginning with the present condition: his relationships with the people who were alive around him, then with his acquaintances. Then we went back farther and farther and farther into the past, so that at a certain moment he had faced all his life and not only come to terms with his life, but made his peace with his life and with all the people whom he had ever met. This is the process which led him to an inner freedom. And I remember that some time before he died he said to me when he was already so frail that he could hardly hold his food and feed himself, he said to me: 'How extraordinary! Physically I am nearly dead, and yet I have never felt so intensely alive as I feel now.'

Well, this is one example. Of course one does not often come face to face with that kind of completed process, but this is what should happen to us, in a smaller degree perhaps, when we feel that we are face to face with death, with eternity, with the inner hell which is within us, with the powers of destruction which are within us, and when we try to free ourselves. Then the sacrament of Anointment in a way acquires a slightly different quality. It is not essentially a call to God for a physical healing. It is a call, a cry to God for reinstatement of a wholeness, of a complete wholeness of soul, of a wholeness between soul, spirit and body, complete harmony between them. And from what I have seen I can say that at times, however desperate the condition of the physical sufferer is, healing comes. But I have also seen something that impressed me very deeply: the fact that when wholeness is re-acquired, the person may say what St Paul says: ‘Whether I live, whether I die, it is Christ' and be prepared indifferently, that is, without making a choice, with a complete readiness and openness to accept one or the other.

I am thinking at present about some one whom some of you may have known in years past, the wife of Father Alexander Turentsev. She was a great deal younger than he when they married. They were happily married, had two children, who then were quite small, when it was discovered that she had a quickly developing, disastrously quickly developing cancer. Within a few months, from a healthy, vigourous young woman, she had become a dying person. And there were several periods in her illness. To begin with, she knew that she would die, because no one could do anything about her illness. And she accepted it as an act of God, an act that to her was not comprehensible because she felt that her husband and the two little children needed her, and yet which she could accept from the hand of God with the same faith as she had accepted the happiness of meeting her husband, of having his children and of their family life. The second thing is that she was a woman of incredible simplicity . She was intelligent but uncomplicated. And when her illness became more and more painful she refused every tranquillizer and every drug, saying that if God had sent her pain, he would also send her fortitude and patience to bear it. And her pain was extreme. Then she prayed a great deal. She prayed in simplicity, but she prayed. At a certain moment she became too weak to pray herself, so Father Alexander prayed aloud the morning and evening prayers and various services. Then one day came when she said: 'You know. God is taking away from me even the capacity to hear the prayers. My mind wanders. I cannot concentrate. I cannot hear the words of prayer. I will have to die prayerless. They parted very sadly, and the next morning when Father Alexander came to her room, he found her shining with joy and saying: 'How foolish I was yesterday. During the night it became clear to me that the whole of the Christian faith can be expressed in these words: Christ is risen; and the whole of our Christian prayers falls into the words: Lord have mercy. And nothing can take that away from me. And so she prayed and so she believed and so she waited for her death. And again one morning when he came, she said to him: 'During the night Christ visited me, and now I am at peace. I can indifferently live or die, because both mean the same thing; they are Christ's.

So you can see here heroic and beautiful approaches to life, to suffering and to death - people for whom being ill was not a defeat but a challenge, for whom dying was not a defeat but was a door opening on to eternal life, to the greatest encounter one can imagine. And in both cases, both Tanya Turentseva and Artemy Rayevsky, were anointed unto the final, total healing which meant a wholeness such that the sufferer, the sick person, could in total freedom say: 'Whichever be given me, I accept it equally, with equal openness, with equal faith and with equal joy.

Now these are great and heroic examples. There are also other circumstances in which we turn to God with the frailty of our faith and ask, as the prayer of Manasseh teaches us which we read in Great Compline: 'Give me time, O Lord, give me time; prolong my life that I may turn from all evil towards thee.’ But this again is the attitude which we must have when we come and ask for healing. It is a wholeness that first of all must create, restore or create altogether, our harmony between us and God. And then the rest. The rest may come, not come; it can be accepted as an act of wisdom which is beyond us.

We celebrate this service here and offer it to everyone in Holy Week. In Holy Week we celebrate it on two levels, as it were. This custom came into practice during the siege of Sebastopol by the British army at a moment when epidemic was rife in the besieged city, when people died of hunger, died of wounds, died of illness, and when everyone was confronted with death and with their faith in eternal life. And then this custom was established for the first time, which remained a privilege of Sebastopol up to the revolution, once a year for all the people of the city to face death, to face divine judgment, to face their own disharmony and inadequacy and to turn to God not so much, although partly, also for the healing of their bodies, as for the healing of their souls and the beginning, at a very great depth, of their life in God. During the revolution when the same circumstances of hunger, of sickness, of danger of death spread over the whole country it became a custom in many places, and has remained so - and this is where we have begun. What we turn to God for is exactly what the people in Sebastopol did. But it requires from us a readjustment which they did not need. They were faced with death. They were faced with illness, with hunger. They were faced with judgment. All these were concretely present, intense, inescapable, while we who live in circumstances that are far too easy to remember the great things of life must make a readjustment and a preparation.

And this is why the Church has wisely appointed this service to be taken in Holy Week, when we have gone through all the weeks of preparation, that is, of self-examination, all the weeks during which we are confronted with the mighty acts of God and, in the last resort, with the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are asked to answer this question, all of us:` In the face of all this, am I not going to become different from what I was? In the face of a love so great, God's love for us, what is my response?’ It requires not an examination of self in small detail, but an examination of one's whole attitude to God, to oneself, to one's neighbor, to life and to death. And then we can come and receive this sacrament. This is my answer to the question that was sent to me, and I suppose that you may have used this time to think about your own questions.

Question on the baptism of children.

The baptism of children I think is based on a very simple thing, perhaps too simple. Baptism is the confrontation of a living soul with the living God. The real confrontation, the real meeting between God and a human being takes place far deeper than the intellect and the emotions. When we think of what a sacrament is, that is, an act of God in which God acts with sovereignty and in a miraculous way, to do what is impossible, humanly speaking, then I think it is clear that no amount of intellectual maturity, of learning, can help us in that respect. I have not met one adult who understands a sacrament, me included, any better than a child, because what is the essence of it escapes all understanding and all description. And so what we do when we baptize a small child who cannot be instructed is to bring this child to the Lord and say: 'You have called this child into being; you have loved this child into being, we bring him or her to you. Receive him. Meet him on that level, at that depth which is accessible to any spirit and any soul. And then make life eternal be possessed by this child within the saving action of Christ.' And this is why we also anoint the child, why we give Communion to the child. But this is not the end, because this child is made holy, is consecrated to God, is united to Christ in an act of consecration. But then in the years that follow, this child will develop feelings, emotions, mature intellectually, his will will also develop. And it is the function of the parents, of the god-parents and the whole community, whenever a new power is born or blossoms out in the Church, to introduce this new power into the realm of God. That is, whenever a child acquires more understanding, an ever-increasing understanding of the mystery of God should be conveyed. Whenever a child is capable of a response of the heart, emotional response, it should be so directed and so educated that the child should be able to learn an ever deeper attitude of worship and knowledge of God through his heart. Whenever, as he matures and can begin to discern between what is right and wrong, his will must be educated so that he can overcome what is wrong or evil and choose for what is right and follow it, which will certainly require a struggle. But the heart of the matter lies in the fact that it is a living soul meeting the living God. If we do not accept the possibility of this meeting, then we must ask ourselves: `What happens if a child dies? Does it mean that because he has not matured intellectually, emotionally and otherwise, that this child will not be able to commune with God?’ When we answer questions in terms of death, no one answers, of course, that the child will be cut off from eternity. And this is really the same principle which is there for the baptism of children.

Question about child choosing the good.

You know, on the Eve of Christmas we read a passage from Isaiah which in the Septuagint version used by the Orthodox Church reads: ‘Before this child will be able to discern between good and evil, he will have chosen the good’. Our ability, if this word can be applied, to waver between good and evil is the result of our corruption. Normality is sanctity, or sanctity is normality, and what is offered here is wholeness, to the child, who will be able to live in God. And if his training, his education, the way he is brought up in God and not outside of God is adequate, the child will remain whole to a great extent. One cannot protect a growing child against the influences of evil, of course, but it is wholeness which is given first. And this question of choosing between good and evil is already the mark of our sickness. We would not choose for evil if we were not already sick.

Question about child choosing faith.

If you define the faith in doctrinal terms, in tenets of faith, the newborn child is unable to do it, of course. But if faith is based, as it is, in an experiential relationship with God, if the root of faith is that you know God and therefore you can trust him, and therefore you can learn from him, and therefore you know him and can speak of him, then the root, being the experiential communion with God, can be legitimately offered a child (the child, of course, will not make a choice at that moment) if he will just be allowed to commune in the same way as a child is allowed to commune through tenderness with his mother, through communing to her body in the womb and later being fed and handled by the mother. One does not say: ‘This child should first choose whether he wishes to love his mother or whether this is the mother he chooses.’ It is something which is given at the root. And this is the same that we do here.

Surely the younger the better?

Well, on the one hand, a child is not yet contaminated in the way in which he will be inevitably in the course of his life. We must remember, however, that a child is born not as a new creation. He is not called into existence out of naught. He is a link in a long chain, and every one of us being born inherits, let us say in terms of heredity, all that has passed in the line of generations from the first man to him, through all the generations that follow. So the child is not born as a sheet of white paper. He is born with a wealth of problems. He is born with a chaos which he will have to sort out. And it is into this chaos, as it were, that the power and the grace of God descends, harmonizing, enlightening and calling into being all that can live in eternity.

Question - ?

I do not think that I can answer your question with certainty. I can only say what I grope towards. I think that every creature is related to God in Christ, whatever he thinks or knows about it. Every one is created by God in an act of love whether a person knows it or not, he is loved, and there is a relationship, God relates to him whatever he does. I remember a conversation many years ago which I overheard, of a very intellectual and educated man explaining to a rather simple priest that he couldn't possibly believe. He was far too educated and far too learned, and so on. And the priest said to him a thing that has stayed with me: ‘Does it really matter so much that you don't believe in God? What really matters is that He believes in you.' And I believe that would apply to every single person, whether he knows God, whether he knows Christ, however he relates to him, he is someone who was called into being by an act of divine love, in whom God has put his trust, in whom God believes, from whom God hopes all things, and we don't know how it all happens. But we certainly can pray for a believing or an unbelieving person, not on the ground of this person's faith, but on the ground of God's love and the way in which God relates.

There is a further thing which I mentioned last time and which was a problem to someone. I said that through the Incarnation the whole cosmos somehow had come into a new relationship with Christ and with God in Christ. What I meant to say is this: If in the Incarnation God united himself to a real, human body, a material and real body, then it means first of all, that the matter of this world is capable, not only of being spirit-bearing but also of being God-bearing. That is, the fullness of the Godhead has abided on earth physically, and this body of Incarnation was not destroyed, was not made into what the human body is not. It was transfigured.

The image which I have already quoted that belongs to Maxim the Confessor is the analogy between a sword of iron plunged into a furnace, which emerges out of it glowing with fire. And you can no longer recognize this sword. It is so different, and yet it is itself. It has acquired a quality which it did not possess. So, to use the phrase of Maxim, you can burn with iron and cut with fire. This is the way in which divinity and the body of Christ united. Well, if that is true, then in an exemplary way the body of Christ, stands for all the material world. That is, through this matter of the physical body of Christ, all the things created, all the matter of this world, can see itself already integrated into the mystery of eternal life, already pervaded with the divine presence, already fulfilled in its vocation. And in that sense when we turn in prayer to God praying for someone who consciously is alien to Christ, we turn to one who is related to Christ in an unaccountable way, in a way in which neither he nor we can understand, through the coming of the Lord, and the fact that he has become the total man and has united himself with all that is spiritual, all that is material.

Question about praying for non-practicing Christians.

I can say nothing about . . . . . ., but while you were speaking I thought of two quotations, one of Father Alexander Elchaninov, who says that not one soul, not one person, whatever his or her convictions or experience on earth was, will appear before the face of God and not bow down, saying 'O, it is you who I have been longing for in the course of all my earthly life.' And there is a similar passage in St. Isaac of Syria in which he says something of the same kind. I don't want to misquote him because I don't remember his words; but I could find the passage - in which he also says; 'But when we will appear before the face of God, all the good there is in us will surge up, and if we are mature, as it were, it will transfigure us. If we are still immature for it - he uses an image which is curious in its own way - he says that the person will be like a pregnant woman who cannot yet give birth to a child. That is a very masculine way of giving an image of things incomprehensible to a man, but the idea is that all the good, all that is capable of eternity, will long to find expression and may not immediately find it but will mature, and one day perhaps come to fruition. And that is the point at which prayers for the departed, to us mean a great deal, not in the sense, as some imagine, that praying for the departed means taking one's stand before God and saying, 'Lord, aren't we friends? Well, be kind to so-and-so. He was a bad man, but he was my friend also, and so can you just let him off the hook?' That would be a completely absurd imagery. But if we stand before God praying for someone, we are testifying to the fact that this person has not lived in vain, that this person has sown love into our hearts, a love so solid and vigorous that after perhaps years or decades we still remember this person with gratitude or with admiration or, perhaps, with compassion or with fear for his destiny, but all that born of a real, deep feeling. And we can say when we come to pray for the departed: Lord, if (here the recording breaks off) (Notes by Brigitte mention Krylov's fable, and 'we are all part and parcel of the epoch in which we live and to a greater or lesser extent we participate in all that is happening. Even a saint grows out of his normal, human surrounding. This saintliness is a victory over the…

… Refusing to be part and parcel is not a solution, we cannot be encapsulated - if we could it would mean we renounce compassion...

… It is not achievement that matters, but communion...

 

XIV

HOLY UNCTION

7 December, 1982

I hope we will finish today the description of the Office of the Holy Unction. You remember that after a long introduction we have gone through the first of the readings both of the Epistle and of the Gospel. We come now to the second reading. It begins with a prokeimenon, a prokeimenon which is no longer one of broken-heartedness, as was the first one, but a prokeimenon of hope and of joy and of certainty: 'The Lord is my stronghold and my song. He is my salvation. In chastening hast thou chastened me, O Lord; yet hast not given me over unto death.' And then comes a reading from the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, in which I want to single out just a couple of phrases: 'Brethren, we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.' Here is a call both to the person who is ill to be aware of himself as a member of a Church, the strength of which is the Lore Jesus Christ, a strength so great that the gates of hell will never prevail upon it. And also a call to all of those who surround the sick person to be prepared to bear his weakness, to bear his infirmity - ultimately to be prepaid to carry this person in all his misery, in all his frailty, both of soul, of spirit, and of body. In a way it is a promise that however long the illness may last, we who are strong will stand by however difficult the illness may be, that this person will not be abandoned, but that the whole community will stand by, and in that sense be prepared to carry not only the weakness, the infirmity, but also, as it says here about the Lord Jesus Christ, the reproach, even the sins that may have brought to this point a community which is not a community of judges but a community of people prepared to recognize in the frailty, in the sin of any neighbor the common frailty and the common sin.

And this must be done in the way that is described here. 'Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another according to Jesus Christ: that ye may with one mind and one mouth give glory to God’.

There is a passage in the Gospel which says that if we could agree on all things together, that is, become a body of people who has one mind, one heart, one will, who are in complete harmony within ourselves and with one another and with God, then all things would be possible. And this is the basis of our prayer for the sick. And in the conclusion, speaking in the name of the sick person, the Church sings 'I will sing of thy mercy, O Lord, for ever.'

Then comes the reading of the Gospel according to St Luke, the 19th chapter, the first 11 verses, the story of Zacchaeus, the substance of which is: the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. But before this there is all the story of Zacchaeus, of a man who so earnestly wanted, needed to come face to face with Christ that he accepted mockery, he accepted to be made ridiculous in the eyes of others because no humiliation was too great for him in order to meet the Lord. And that applies of course both to the congregation and particularly to the person who seeks healing. No humiliation, no degree of confession, no measure of openness is too great for him or her in order to be healed. And we must be prepared to come to the sacrament of healing to open up ourselves, be seen as we are, however great the shame, however great the fear, because what matters is not human reactions to us, is not the opinion of anyone. What must matter is to meet God in all truth, in the truth, in the reality of what we are.

And then again comes a prayer, a long prayer in which we say: ‘Give O Lord. Thou art easy to be entreated, Thou alone art merciful and lovest mankind. Thou art heart-broken about our evil deeds; Thou knowest how the mind of man is turned unto wickedness, even from his youth up. Thou desirest not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn against the sin and live; thou for the salvation of sinners didst become incarnate, yet still remain in God, Thou didst not come to call the righteous but sinners unto repentance.' And then we pray again and again that the Lord will forgive every sin, everything we have done amiss, by word, by deed, in thought, and heal and save. And then again the 4th prokeimenon: 'The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?' Not only hope: certainty.

And the lesson again, from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, that passage in I Cor 12 and 15 which is the hymn of love: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.' This is a call addressed again both to the congregation and to the person who is the object of this sacramental action. It is the description of true wholeness, of a wholeness which has become love - not love understood as a feeling, an emotion, but as a plenitude, which is such an intensity of life that it can give itself for the other, give itself, whatever the cost, to the point of dying, and receive the other, whatever the danger, whatever the fear. ‘Charity never faileth.'

And the answer from the sick person: 'O Lord, in thee I have trusted, never let me be confounded.' Yes, one can trust in a God who is so described, who is such as this passage tells us.

The reading of the Gospel which follows is from St. Matthew 10, 1,5-9. It is the story of the call of the twelve disciples, to whom Christ gives power over the unclean spirits to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and of disease: 'Go ye, preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely ye have received, freely give.' Perhaps it is important to draw attention to the words 'Freely ye have received, freely give.' It is a call for us to have a generous heart. All that we are, all that we have, all we can do, is a gift of God. All things are contained in it. And when anyone is in need, we must, from the openness of our heart, give. Because it is only if there is this openness of heart in the gift, and a similar openness of heart in receiving with gratitude, with joy, with a sense of wonder, that the kingdom of heaven comes near us, for the Kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of love in which everything is shared, the kingdom in which on earth we carry one another's burdens and we rejoice together.

Then follows the prayer for the healing of the sick person. Then again another prokeimenon, another gradual: 'Hear me speedily, O Lord, in that day when I shall call upon Thee. O Lord, hear my prayer, hear the voice of my cry.' Agony of mind, physical pain, illness. So far there was repentance, there was hope, there was certainty, there was rejoicing, there was a sense of divine victory. And now we come back to the frailty of the sick person. All that is true and yet the person is still waiting and hoping for healing: 'Hear me, O Lord. Hear my prayer, hear the voice of my cry.'

And then perhaps with a certain sternness: St Paul's Epistle in 2 Cor. 6 and 7. It addresses itself to both the sick person and to us - reminding us of what and whose we are: 'Brethren, ye are the temple of the living God. As God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.'

We hear these words of St. Paul following the cry of the sick person 'Hear me speedily O Lord, hear my prayer. Hear the voice of my crying' is a sound severe. What you want is wholeness, not simply healing of a painful disease. But wholeness means to be the temple of God. Wholeness means to be in such a relationship with God that all impurity of flesh and spirit is to be rejected so that we can, incipiently at least, become the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. It is a call to fulfill our vocation almost as a condition of our healing, not the achieving but the intention must be there, the strength will be of the Lord, the inspiration will be of the Holy Spirit of God, but the acquiescence must be ours. We must say yes to the Lord. It is only in this relationship that we can become a dwelling-place of God. Of course we will carry these holy things in earthen vessels, but these vessels need not be of gold and silver. They may be of clay and yet be dedicated to God, cleansed, pure, offered to the exclusive service of the Lord. 'I waited for the Lord and he has heard me.’

Then the Gospel of the healing of Peters wife's mother. And immediately all the sick are brought to the door: 'And when even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses... And a certain scribe come and said unto him, 'Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever thou goest.’ And Jesus saith unto him: ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.'

Here we are confronted with a question addressed to us. In the face of all these testimonies of the divine victory, of the divine compassion, we are often carried away by an upsurge of faith, an upsurge of dedication, of possible dedication, and often we will say 'I will follow thee withersoever thou goest.' But then we discover that the foxes have holes, the birds have nests but not so the Son of man. He has nowhere to live. What are we going to do with this when we receive wholeness that will make us to partake in something that is Christ's himself? Are we going to take this community of life which unites us to the Lord to bring it back into the world as a new strength, a new vigor, a new power or are we going to follow - to follow at all risk, to take upon ourselves a dread responsibility to be God's, whatever the risk, no holes, no nests, nowhere to lay our head if such is the place to which the Lord leads us?

And again 'Suffer me first to go and bury my father.' Suffer me first to finish all I have to do on earth - suffer me first to fulfill all my obligations and then I may follow. But give me now healing, I will keep the healing and I will busy myself with other things and when I have time I will follow.

And here there is another prayer: 'O Lord who lovest mankind, compassionate, exceedingly merciful, plentiful in mercy, and generous... do thou make this oil capable of healing those who shall be anointed therewith. Master, Lord our God we beseech thee Almighty One, save us all. O only physician of souls and bodies, sanctify us all. Cast out every illness and weakness, that being raised up by Thy almighty hand he/she may serve Thee with all thanksgiving; and that we also, who now do share Thine inexpressible love towards mankind, may sing praises and glorify Thee who performest deeds great and marvellous, both glorious and transcendent.’

And then again a cry: 'Thou, O Lord, shall keep us and protect us, from this generation, forevermore. Save me, O Lord, for the righteous are become few.’ There is hope, and there is a sad realism in these words. On the one hand, Peter's mother-in-law is healed. The many who are brought to Christ were healed, and yet two men came and went. They had seen it all but the claim of Christ was too great and so all the hope there is, is that God will keep us and protect us. Yes 'Save me O Lord, for the righteous are become few.’ When I look around at the people who surround me, those very people who are praying for my healing, are they the righteous who are described in the Epistle before those who are the temple of God, those in whom God dwells, those who are already become the sons and daughters of the Most High? Indeed the righteous are become few and perhaps our only hope is in the divine compassion mediated by the frail, yet real faith not of the righteous but of our brothers and sisters in sin - all of us surrounding our sick brother and sister, aware of our own sinfulness but believing in divine compassion, believing in the love of God, believing that Christ indeed truly has taken upon himself our infirmities and borne our sicknesses. Frail, yes ‘I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.’ And yet I believe and all things are possible whenever we believe, however little, if only we stretch our hands to the Lord.

And then an encouragement from St. Paul again from 2 Cor. l: 'We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf’.

The righteous have become few but the Lord has remained strong. It is not the righteousness of sins that we look at, first and foremost, but the need, the cry, the faith. And if that is true, then there is hope.

And the verse which proclaims it: ‘I will sing praises unto thy mercy, O Lord, forever.'

And the reading of the Gospel comes again. The parable of the Kingdom of God likened unto the ten virgins. The key word for it - because it is part of a long series of parables which are all centered on this word is ‘watch'. Watch, do not slumber, do not become light-minded. Do not become forgetful. Do not say there is still time before us, the Master will not yet come. Watch. Be vigilant. Be alive. Make haste to live in a way worthy of the wholeness which we expect from God and which He gives us.

And a prayer again for our healing.

But this is possible - this watchfulness, this vigilance, this attentiveness - only if our heart is turned godwards, if it is open to God. So the cry which concludes this prayer is: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy great mercy.’ 'Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ And as it were, answering this 'cry to renew the right spirit’ St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians speaks of the fruits of the Spirit, Yes we want the true Spirit, the Spirit of life. How can we recognize it. ‘Brethren, the fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’

And the answer: ‘Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord. In his commandments he rejoiceth exceedingly’.

We ask for the Spirit to be renewed. Here are the signs. Can one see in us the fruits of the Spirit? If yes, then the tree, the word is truly planted in our hearts. If not, if one can see in us vain glory, provocation, envy and so forth, then we are not yet ready. We cannot force ourselves to joy, to love, to peace, to faith and meekness. But we can live accordingly, preparing, as it were ploughing deep into our heart and mind and life so that the seeds could fall and bring forth fruit of love and joy and peace and so forth. 'Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord. In his commandments he rejoiceth exceedingly.'

Then the story of the Canaanite woman, the woman whose daughter was vexed with a devil and who begged Christ to heal her. She did not ask him to come, just a word: 'O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.' And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. ‘We beseech thee, and entreat thee, in thy goodness loose, remit, forgive, O God, the errors of thy servant… and his/her iniquities, whether voluntary or involuntary...' 'If we also have sinned in like manner, forgive’. For we are standing before God interceding for others and yet we are also unworthy of standing before Him are unworthy to be the intercessors, mediators of His grace. We stand all in need of mercy and forgiveness and healing! 'Lord, Master, hearken unto me, a sinner, on behalf of thy servant', says the priest.

And. then the last reading... In this last prayer we were confronted with the cry for mercy of the sick person and at the same time we remember we are as Isaiah 'I am a man of unclean lips.' So together with the sick person we turn to the Lord with a cry 'O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy sore displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak’.

And then the first epistle to the Thessalonians: 'Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the spirit. Despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.'

‘The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the Name of the God of Jacob defend thee.’

And then a wonderfully encouraging passage from the Gospel: the calling of the tax gatherer Matthew, the untouchable, to become also one of the Apostles: 'And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meal in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, He said unto them, they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' This concluding Gospel presents us with a sinner who became an apostle because he believed and followed, because he believed in the testimony..?

And now the concluding great sacramental prayer. Here again we are confronted with what I tried to show in my introduction, that the sacrament is an act of God. It is God who is the great High Priest, that it is him and not us who has. . . . . ? . . . .. of salvation. Yet not without us nor without this congregation, this people of God.

O holy King, compassionate and all-merciful Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Word of the Living God, who desirest not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and life: I lay not my sinful hand upon the head of him/her who is come unto Thee in iniquities, and asketh of Thee, through us, the pardon of his/her sins, but Thy strong and mighty hand, which is in this, thy Holy Gospels, that is now held by my fellow-ministers, upon the head of thy servant... And with them I, also, beseech and entreat they merciful compassion and love of mankind, which cherisheth no remembrance of evil, O God our Saviour, who by the hand of thy prophet Nathan didst give remission of his sins unto penitent David, and didst accept Manasseh' prayer of contrition: Do thou the same Lord, receive also with thy wonted tender love towards mankind, this thy servant... who repenteth him/her of his/her sore transgressions, regarding not all his/her trespasses. For thou art our God who hast commanded that we forgive, even unto seventy times seven, those who fall into sin. For as is Thy majesty, so also is Thy mercy: and unto Thee are due all glory, honour and worship....

Here I have of course, as I always do, forgotten something. Two things in fact. Before this prayer is read all those who are to be anointed come and are anointed with the holy oil. The words used are: 'The servant of God so and so is anointed with the oil of gladness, unto the healing of his soul and body unto the in the name of the Father...'

And this anointment is made on the forehead, the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the lips, the chest and the hands and feet.

When the service is taken in full it is taken by seven priests according to the number of readings, the sick person is anointed by one of the priests at the end of each one of the readings, then the service is taken as we do here in Holy Week everyone is anointed only once. But whether it is done once or seven times, the idea is that it is the pleroma, the fullness, the totality, the wholeness of the Church - God and man, one body - one act of compassion and love that act together, the power is of God; the cry is of man; the faith is of all of us. And wholeness is received according to our ability to receive the grace of God. According also to our physical . . .

Here we come to the end of the talks on the Anointing of the Sick.

XV

13 January, 1983

In the series of talks on the sacraments three sacraments have not been spoken of: the ordinations to the ministry in the Church, the Eucharist and marriage. I will now turn to the ordinations to the ministry in the Church. But in order to understand the sacred ministries of deacon, priest and bishop, we must first look at another thing. St Paul and others of the Apostles speak of the universal priesthood of all believers. And it is in the context of this universal priesthood that a ministerial service of priests has got its place and acquires its peculiar and unique significance. In the Book of Exodus, in a prophetic manner, the ancient writer says to the Jews who are a prophetic vision of the Kingdom: 'You are a kingdom of priests' - a kingdom, a nation which is ruled by a king. And this king is such that through him, in him and for him all the nations become a nation of priests, and in the words spoken later by St Peter, ‘a nation of kings and priests'.

Now we must realise what the priesthood signifies in the general context of the word. The function of the priest is to sanctify, to make sacred, to make holy what was desecrated by human sin and, however, in spite of it, is potentially God's own and sacred. The sin of man has delivered all creation unto corruption. What was God's own has been stolen by man, who took possession of it and delivered it unto sin. And it is for men to restore the ancient relationship between God and the created world.

The priesthood is a function in the world which consists in taking what was God's and was removed from him, what was holy and pure and was desecrated by human sin, and brings it back to God. There is a first step in this action which affects the person himself or herself who is called to perform the sanctification, this hallowing of all things. The first person to be touched by the priestly action is the priest himself. The priesthood is defined by this hallowing and by this sacrifice, a sacrifice being something which is brought to God to be made holy but at the same time is taken out of the context of a fallen world and that at times, most of the time, in a spiritual endeavour that entails pain and what we call colloquially sacrifice, renunciation, turning away, losing.

If we speak of the universal priesthood of all believers, each one of us, without any distinction, has got this priestly function that consists in taking possession of his own self, soul and body, renouncing this possession, renouncing the right to possess it uncontrolled, and bring it as a living sacrifice to God - a sacrifice in the two senses of the word which I have already indicated - on the one hand, bring it to God because by bringing it to him we make things that had waxed old pure and new, but also holy. In order to do this we must dispossess ourselves of it. The first word which Christ speaks to us is: Renounce yourself, deny yourself, turn away from yourself. Renounce the right to be master of soul and body, of life and destiny. They belong to God.

So the priesthood of all believers begins at the moment when we recognize the absolute, unreserved right of God upon us, when we recognize him as our king, as our Lord, and refuse to possess anything otherwise than by royal gift, so that our souls, our bodies, our lives, our minds and hearts, our wills and destinies are his, whatever the cost to us, to ourselves, to our fears, to our greed, to our hopes. And this is where the life of every Christian is a priestly life Take out of the context of a fallen world, take away from fallenness, from corruption all that is me in an act that is painful and tragic and bring it to God for him to possess and to make it a partaker of his own holiness, ultimately, in the words of St. Peter, a partaker of the divine nature. And in doing this we perform a kingly act and a priestly act. St. John Chrysostom - and I have already quoted his words - has said: 'Anyone can rule. Only a king can die for his subjects.' It is the readiness to die for the sake of hallowing that makes a king. And when we choose to deny ourselves, our desires and our hopes in that which in them is corrupt, which is alien to God or contrary to him, then we act in a kingly manner. Individually we become kings. In our togetherness we become a kingdom, God's kingdom, on God's terms, on the terms of the Son of God who obtained the kingly crown over all creation not only by right, by birthright as the son of God, but also because from the very beginning he was the Lamb of God slain for the salvation of the world, the king who dies that others may live.

At the moment when we choose to deny ourselves for God’s glory, even to the words which a young man spoke once: ‘May I perish for ever if that means Thy victory, O Lord,' we act as kings and are worthy of our kingly calling. But at the moment when, having denied ourselves, having brought ourselves as a blood offering to God, we leave this self in his hands, we become truly priests, because what was desecrated and alienated, estranged from God has become in a new way sacred and holy.

But our priesthood goes beyond this. Our priesthood goes beyond this because it is impossible for a light not to shine. It is impossible for holiness not to spread, and indeed it is our function, - beyond our own sanctification in the two senses of the word, of sacrifice and hallowing, - to take out of the context of this fallen world, out of the context of corruption, of time and of death and of sin all things that belong to God. Ultimately the summit of such actions are the sacraments, which introduce the very substance, the substance of this world, us ourselves and whatever is hallowed, blessed and sanctified by the power of God into the dimension of eternity and at the same time through them, through these material supports, human or material, make eternity and a vision of the ultimate things present in our world.

So there is there a vast process in which all of us, men, women and children have got a truly priestly function and a truly kingly function, and the words we speak in God’s own Name, the gestures which we perform in God’s own Name is an act or a word of prophecy and makes us in our own way in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, the king who gives his life and thereby saves, the high priest who sanctifies the prophet, whose every word and his very person is an act and a word of the Living God. When we speak of Christ as King and Priest and Prophet, we can see how it reflects on the words which I have quoted from the 19th chapter of Exodus 'a kingdom of priests’. And we can see also why in his Epistle to the Hebrews, which is so central to all understanding of the priesthood, both that of all believers and the ministerial priesthood, the author, be it St Paul or not, relates Christ to Melchizedek, of whom it is said that he has no end and no beginning and no name and no generation, in the sense that in the Holy Bible it is impossible to trace his ancestry. He stands out alone. There is no genealogy for him written down in the book. He seems to be timeless. He stands there alone. But his very name Melchizedek in Hebrew indicates that he is priest and king after a fashion - literally 'the king who is righteous’.

Now if we think of ourselves and of Christ we can see that the universal priesthood of all believers begins in Him. He became man. Within him the Godhead and humanity confronted one another. We stand face to face with God. Within us there is a wall between what is divine and what is dark, between light and darkness, truth and the lie, life and death. Within him all humanity and all divinity were confronted. And within him the final victory of man over self, and the total gift of self to God was achieved in a way total, in a way perfect - two natures within him, the conflict resolved, human nature thereby ultimately and perfectly sanctified while brought a blood offering and slain - slain first in a total and perfect renunciation, to self, which finds, a culminating point in the tragic night in the garden of the Mount of Olives. ‘May this cup pass me by' is the last cry of nature. 'If this cup cannot pass me by, let me drink it’ is the second cry of the human nature conquering itself, taking possession of itself in order to give itself in because one can give only what one possesses, and ultimately ‘Thy will be done.’ He is both, as God, the High Priest who brings forth all of his humanity unto death that he may save us. As a prayer from the canon of the Liturgy puts it, 'Thou art both he who offers and he who is offered': priest and victim. The Son of God is also the Lamb slain before all ages. He is also on earth the Man of sorrows. But in his victory, in his priesthood there is something more than in our universal priesthood. He is the Living God become the living Man. There is what one calls an eschatological dimension and significance in him. 'Eschatological' is a word that has become a common word, which derives from the Greek, which means something which is both decisive and final: decisive because a victory won by Christ upon himself, in Christ for us, is absolutely decisive for our salvation. In him humanity is restored. It is redeemed. It is renewed. It is sanctified. It is united with God. If is at one with the Godhead. The victory is decisive. But the last fruits of it will be won only at the end of time when all of us, having fought the good fight, done within our human limits, with our human spirit what Christ did with his divine Spirit, with our human faith what he did with his divine knowledge and human surrender. Then shall all be achieved, and what is final shall be revealed. We will be revealed as the sons of God in the Only-begotten Son. We will know as we are known, to use the words of St. Paul's Epistle, he enters the mystery of the Trinity through his ascension with our flesh. With him humanity has become intrinsic to the Trinitarian divinity. And he brings us others together with him into this divine depth. When we ask ourselves what is man, it is at the throne of God that we must go, because it is only there that we can see the man Jesus Christ sitting in the glory of God. Nothing less is a man truly fulfilled. His priesthood is not only earthly, as ours is in the universal priesthood of all believers, however deeply we reach into the realm divine. It is heavenly because he is the man who came from heaven, the God who came from heaven.

And in that sense his priesthood possessed exclusive claims. He is the only priest of all creation, because he is the Son of God, because he is the Lamb slain before all ages, because he is the Man of sorrows, who has won the final and total victory and through whom God has entered both into the world of men and into the vastness of the cosmos: Victim and High Priest.

I said in the beginning that the priesthood is defined by the sacrifice, what is brought as a sacrifice. And here through Christ we can see the difference between the universal priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood in the image of Christ, because what is brought as a sacrifice, what is brought to God in the Holy Liturgy is not our sinful self: it is the testimony of Christ. It is the Incarnation unto death. It is the life that will give us life. It is the ultimate sacrifice of the Cross. It is the Resurrection and the Ascension that are enacted in the Holy Liturgy. - And I must stop one minute on the word 'enacted'. They are not enacted as though we were copying, imitating an event to which the action of the Liturgy cannot r elate. What happens is that the Liturgy draws open, as it were, a curtain, and what happened once and can never be repeated becomes actual for us because we enter into the timelessness of Melchizedek’s priesthood. We enter into the eternal now of God. We lose our existence in time for the time we are within the Liturgy and we enter into eternity. We become partakers. We become contemporaries of all the events which are signified by the Liturgy. They are not imitated for us. They are presented for us in a way visible, tangible, perceptible so that we take part, as the Magi and the shepherds, as the Mother of God, as Joseph, as the disciples, as the crowds, as every one who ever came into contact with the mystery of Christ. But while they were still ignorant, we know. While they were blind, our eyes are open. And what we are doing is to bring forth a sacrifice, bloodless, that is the event which we call Christ in his totality. This bread, this wine, these priests, these songs, these actions no longer belong only to the earth. They are on earth: a real presence of eternity and of things that, being eternal and timeless, belong simultaneously to the past and to the final, the ultimate achievement, and to our time. They are contemporary with every moment up to the moment when all will be wrapped in contemplative silence, in exaltation, when there will be no need to sanctify anything, to bring forth anything because all will be already in God and in the city of the Lord there will be no altar and no temple because he, all-embracing, all-pervading, will be its temple and its altar and the life of all those who dwell therein.

And what characterizes the ministerial priesthood as distinct from the universal priesthood of all believers is that in a way which is so terrifying, so dread, so awesome, we take the material of this world and we bring it into God renouncing to use it ever, either in a secular way, in any way which is man-centered, and bring it to God and it enters eternity and it acquires the quality which all creation will have at the end of time when God shall be all in all. They are suffused, they are pervaded , they are filled with divinity and we receive them - us, we sinners, still imperfect, as one can receive fire, to hallow us, to cleanse us, to renew and purify us. And the priest or the deacon who celebrates the Liturgy stands - as I have said more than once - where no one can stand, and indeed where no one does stand except the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the only High Priest, because he alone could take his own self and bring it as an offering to God and Father - the Son of God carrying all our humanity, re-conquered by him and offered and accepted as a blood offering.

So there is a deep, tragic difference between our ability, our right, our duty indeed, to be the priests of our own destiny, to take our soul an body and self and bring them to God, having renounced possession, and the dread function of the priest who brings forth to the Lord God God's own sacrifice, who brings forth to the Lord God the life and death of the Only-begotten Son unto salvation, the salvation of those for whom Christ has lived and died. Indeed this is his solidarity with us. The Living God has come and has become one of us, a brother to us, accepting frailty, weakness, brokenness, suffering and death while renouncing sin that is separateness both from God and from man, an unreserved solidarity with God that earned him the death of the cross, an unreserved solidarity with man which resulted in this appalling cry 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And after this indeed all symbolic sacrifices of the Old Testament or of the pagan world have become superfluous, meaningless. They were images, foreshadowings, intuitions, premonitions, a groping towards a meaning, hut now the very event has taken place. The very reality has occurred. All sacrifices are abolished. His life and death, his resurrection and ascension is our redemption, is our salvation, is forgiveness, is purification, is sanctification, is perfecting of the human nature. All these words are taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is the word of Scripture that defined the high-priestly sacrifice of the Lord, and indeed brought forward a new cult, a new kingdom of priests and kings and prophets, a kingdom in which those who worship the Father must do it in spirit and in truth - in which all that is action, is his action, not ours.

An ancient writer of the 15th century, a Hebrew scholar called Maimonides, describing the ceremonies of the temple of Jerusalem, speaks of the High Priest. He says that while the priests were offering incense, the choirs were singing, the people fell prostrate before God, the high priest leaned over the banister of his gallery and whispered inaudibly for the people the Name of God which he alone knew how to pronounce: the four mysterious letters which we read Jehovah, Yahweh, but of which no one knows the true pronunciation. And he says, this Name of God ran into the prayers of the people like blood runs through a body and gave them life and took them to the throne of God. The Name of God.

And this is perhaps what we mean when in Western churches one ends a prayer saying 'in Jesus Christ our Lord' or 'for Jesus Christ our Lord'. We know not this ancient name that has fallen into oblivion. But God has a name on earth, Jesus, and this name stands for our salvation. This name is both the name of the victim and of the high priest, of him to whom the sacrifice is offered, and he by whom it is offered, and the very sacrifice itself. And indeed it is a dread and awesome thing to be the priest who brings forth to God what only God incarnate could offer to God and bequeath to man as the ultimate gift of love.

At this point I will end this introduction, and in our subsequent talks my intention is to begin not the ordination of the priest or the deacon, but earlier, by those preparatory ordinations of readers, and servers, and sub-deacons which are functions within the universal priesthood of all believers - and then move on to the other ordinations, to the deaconate, to the priesthood and to the episcopacy.

There will be no talk on the 10th of February, when I will be in Russia.

(Announcement about delegation from Russia)

XVI

ORDINATION OF LOWER ORDERS

27 January, l983

I was asked in a note after my last talk why I could say that a deacon is a layman who is being sent by the royal priesthood of the laity into the Sanctuary - why the deacon is, as it were, lumped together with priests and bishops instead of belonging to the servers, readers or sub-deacons. The distinction between what one calls the lower orders of clergy and the higher orders resides only in their relation, in the position which they occupy with regard to the celebration of the Holy Liturgy. While readers, servers, sub-deacons fulfill peripheral functions, however essential for the good conduct of the service, the deacon, the priest and the bishop are at the very heart of the sacramental event. They take part in it. They are those who are the ministers of this sacramental mystery and this sacramental miracle. And this is why they constitute one group of clergy while the others - readers, servers and sub-deacons - are considered as peripheral. In a sense one may say that the celebration of the Liturgy should always involve the bishop, priests and a deacon and, in a sense, one may say that the absence of the deacon is a lack in our celebration, because, if what I said last time, that the deacon is a layman sent by the royal priesthood to represent them in the Sanctuary, the place of the Living God, then he should be there. There is, I think, a wrong idea that a deacon in this sense is only ornamental and therefore superfluous. Liturgically it is not so, although in practice in parishes like ours we do not always have a deacon. One of the reasons for it is that most of our deacons become priests at the end of one or a few years, because we are in great need of priests who could do essential sacramental, pastoral work.

Now I am going to speak of the ordinations or of the laying-on of hands that are aimed at establishing a person as a server, a reader, as the text of the service puts it, as a candle-bearer, or a sub-deacon. There is a first problem which arises. It is the fact that at the end of both the ordination of the reader and server, on the one hand, and the sub-deacon, there is a phrase or a short statement which the bishop makes to the effect that the present ordination is a first step towards an ordination to the priesthood. This is an unfortunate phrase in the sense that, although it applies quite naturally when young men are ordained at the end of their training in a seminary which they have joined in order to become priests eventually, it does not apply to parish life. And this is why, in spite of the fact that it is written in the book, I omit it whenever I know that a given person is not going to become a priest, at least in any foreseeable future.

The second difficulty lies in the fact that we use words which at times do not correspond to what will actually happen. The ordination to be a reader and a server is one unique ordination, one act. And yet most of our servers never read; they serve. On the other hand, we have in our choir people who do read and who are not ordained to that function. This, I would say, could be corrected if the choir master suggested that a given person who is a permanent reader in good standing, both of sound faith and of impeccable life, should be ordained to that function, not only read because he is literate or because, being literate, he has also a clear diction and a good voice but because it should become the substance of his function in the Church.

On the other hand, the servers in the beginning of this service of ordination are called candle-bearers. Their function does not end, obviously, in bearing the candle. But this is the prominent part of their activity in the Sanctuary. Anyone with a certain skill can make the censer work, although I dare say a number of the servers would be much better in that respect had they been boy scouts and learned how to make fires in difficult circumstances. Very few, as far as I can observe, know that in order to have a burning censer, one must have charcoal that burns, and not only ashes, that one cannot make a censer produce both smoke and scent by drowning the charcoal under great quantities of incense, because it melts and kills it. And very few, even fewer, after years, in spite of my efforts at teaching them that kind of mysteries, have realised that neither charcoal nor incense burn unless there is air to help them burn. So there is certainly a purely technical side to it, and I regret that scouts have faded into the past. In my generation we found it a great deal easier to become servers in that respect.

But the essence of the server's function is to be a candle bearer. What does it mean? The server will go out of the sanctuary, whether it is Vespers or Matins or the Liturgy, bearing a candle in front of either the Book of the Gospel or the Holy Gifts while they are being transferred from the Table of Preparation to the Table of Sacrifice, that is, on to the Altar. In this there are several elements. Although it is done differently in different places, there is one conception which has won my understanding at least, or my approval. It is this. The candle which moves in front of the Gospel or of the Holy Gifts that represent the Lamb of God slain and going to fulfil His sacrifice on earth must teach us something about the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is why I ask my servers to come out at the right moment and to light the candle from the lampada, the light, which is in front of the icon of the Mother of God, because it is from the Virgin that the light that lightens every man who comes into the world shines. She is the one through whom this light has come. And then he moves across and puts the candle down in front of the icon of Christ. And by this, silently, but in a way which many people manage to understand, he proclaims the birth of Christ, the Light come into the world from the Virgin. And if we ask ourselves ‘Who is he who is who is the light of the world, who is he whom we proclaim?' he gives an answer by placing the candle before the icon of the Lord.

This is a first group of concepts. The other one refers to St John the Baptist. St John the Baptist is the Forerunner. He is the one who comes before Christ to proclaim him who is to come, to announce the coming of the Lord, to make his path straight, to make the hearts of men and the minds of men ready to recognise the Lord who has come. And in that sense the server who proceeds with the candle is an image of St. John the Baptist. And this he must understand. It is not enough for him to play the role of St. John the Baptist. If he wishes truly to be a candle bearer before the Holy Things of God, he must make of all his person and all his life something which can be an image, a symbol or an icon. This is a very exacting calling. He must learn that his role is to diminish so that Christ should grow. And in fulfilling his function he must fulfil it in such a way that people should notice the light of the candle and the coming of the Lord in the Gospel or in the Holy Gifts. He must learn to be as inconspicuous as possible, unnoticeable. He is a proclamation. But as it is said of St John the Baptist: ‘St. John the Baptist is a voice shouting in the desert’. He has become so identified, so completely at one with the message, that it is only the message which is heard, while he can fade. The message is all.

Again, St John the Baptist was called the friend of the Bridegroom The friend is someone whose love for his friend is such that his only concern is the friend, not himself. In the imagery of the Gospel, he is the one who brings together the Bridegroom and the Bride, who brings them to the wedding chamber, who closes the door behind them and stands a watch that no one and nothing could disturb the mystery of their encounter and of their union. And in that sense the candle bearer’s life or function must go far beyond the physical limits of the Sanctuary or of the church building. Outside of it he must be the friend of the Bridegroom, the voice that speaks of the coming Lord. He must be the one who brings together living souls and the Bridegroom, and the one whose joy it is to be superseded, forgotten when the meeting has taken place.

So the ordination of a candle bearer, the ordination of a server, is not simply an appointment to fulfil a function, however important. It is a call, a call that takes hold of the whole person, claims him totally, because it is by being the friend of the Bridegroom outside of the church, in his family, at work, in the circle of his friends, in all the circumstances of life, that he prepares himself, and makes himself, us, worthy - to the extent to which it is possible - of appearing for one moment as the Forerunner holding the candle, proclaiming the Incarnation and declaring him who is the Light of the world.

Now the ordination of the reader always takes place at the same time, but they could be separated. One could conceivably and quite sensibly not mention the reader's function or the candle bearer's function in a given ordination. The function of the reader is as responsible. The reader is the one who proclaims the prayer and at times the mind of the Church during the service. It is he who reads the lessons from the Old Testament. It is he who, like a messenger sent by an apostle to read aloud to a congregation an apostolic letter, proclaims it in the middle of the church. It is he also who reads psalmody. He also is the one who, when there is a need, plays the role of the cantor, the canonarch, who reads versicles from a stanza, a stichera that will be sung afterwards by the choir. He is the one who, in the hearing of the congregation, proclaims all the prayer and all the history of the past and its fulfilment as declared in the words of the Epistle. But this proclamation, this reading can be effectual only if the message is first of all received by the reader. To read with art is blasphemy. To read with truth is the only thing we have a right to do; it is the limit of our right when it comes to reading God’s words or the words of the seers of the Old and the New Testaments.

So the advice which is given him is that he should peruse the Holy Scriptures daily, be steeped in them - not intellectually only, although an intellectual, sober and precise knowledge is his duty, but, steeped in their spirit, he must learn to receive the message which he will deliver. He may, if he is worthy of his calling, have to read and reread a given lesson or a given psalm day after day in the course of the week in order to have received the message and be able to read the psalm or the prayer or the stichera or a passage from the epistles as though it was gushing out of his own soul. It is only in that case that the holy words will reach the heart, will reach the human soul for whom they are destined, be truly the sowing of the sower who knows what he is doing.

There is a passage in the writings of St John of the Ladder, St John Climax, in which he says: An arrow, however straight, however well pointed, will remain idle, dormant, useless unless there is a bow and a string and an arm and an eye to fly the shot. The word of God, he says is like a pointed arrow. It is the one who proclaims it, who aims it, who flies it at the target, which is a human mind and a human heart and a human will and a human life, that will be responsible for its effect. And that every reader should realise. It is not enough to be literate. It is not enough to be able to read with sobriety, objectiveness, clarity. A word that will not hit his own heart may well pass by another heart which needs this word. Of course God does not leave us at one another's mercy. Of course the holy words spoken carelessly or irresponsibly by a reader - and that would apply to the deacon or to the priest, or to the bishop or toany one, the preacher. It is not because these words are not read as they should be that they will not find their way into human hearts. 'My word,' says the Lord, 'does not come back to me without having fulfilled its purpose.' But it is the responsibility of the reader before God and before every single person who will hear him or her to prepare himself or herself to be vulnerable to God's word or to the prayers of our spiritual ancestors.

So these ordinations are not simply appointments to fulfil a function. It is a call to be something in the hierarchy, in the structure, in that great harmony which the Church is.

Now the structure of the services in a way are of lesser importance than what I have said. I have underlined already that the reader and the candle bearer, the server, represent the mind, the understanding of the Church. In that sense the whole Church, the parish, the diocese, the Church universal must be attentive to such ordinations, because it will be their collective voice that will resound. It is their cry to God that will be proclaimed, and mount to the throne of God. And this is why I am speaking here of ordinations which obviously will not occur in the life of the majority. But we are one body, and not only metaphorically but in a very deep and real sense, and what happens to one person in our midst is something that is happening to the whole body. That means, on the one hand, that no one can remain indifferent to the event. It also means that everyone must take into account the frailty which is ours and give each other all the support which sympathy, compassion, truth, rigour, love can give.

Now I will turn briefly to the service of ordination itself. As in every one of the sacramental services, of the services which are linked with Sacraments - I have described this in connection with Baptism particularly - the first act of the Church is to take the candidate into God's help and protection. Before any move is made, the Lord stretches out his hand and says 'My protection and blessing will rest on this person.’ 'O Lord, who enlightens all created beings with the light of Thy marvels, and knowest the intent of every man before it is formed, and strengthenest those who are desirous of serving Thee: Do Thou, the same Lord, array in Thy fair and spotless vesture this thy servant who desireth to become a Taper-bearer before thy Holy Mysteries; that he may be illumined; that attaining unto the world to come he may receive the incorruptible crown of life, and rejoice with Thine elect in bliss everlasting.’

And then after this prayer begins the service proper. 'Blessed is our God’ - a word which comes time and again, which may be in the context of exulting joy or of searing pain, at the beginning of the Betrothal service as well as at the beginning of a Funeral Service. Then the habitual prayers, the ones which we read here before the talksare read, and then prayers are offered to three saints: - the holy apostles first - then St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Dialogos, the three saints whose liturgies are celebrated habitually in the Orthodox Church. And it culminates in a prayer to the Mother of God.

And then the bishop shears the head of the candidate in the form of a cross, that is, in four places marking a cross by a gesture of his hand, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In ancient times, as I said when we spoke of Baptism, conscripts were sheared, and once it was done they were enlisted soldiers of the Emperor. And this image has subsisted in these rites. The shearing represents a gift of self, a conscription. ‘O Lord God Almighty, elect this Thy servant and sanctify him; and grant him with all wisdom and understanding to exercise himself in the study and the reading of thy divine words and preserve him in a blameless life.'

And then a short chasuble is put on him which in ancient times readers wore normally, which now one can find on the shoulders of a certain type of high church Anglican clergy. And he is given the Book of the Epistles, and turning away from the bishop towards the Sanctuary, he opens it at random and reads what God will send him, after which a last prayer and he is divested of the small chasuble and vested in the alb which he will wear as a server. The same applies to the reader. When there is an ordination to sub-deacon in it, the reader or server is brought in the same way and one prayer only is read over him: 'O Lord our God, who, through one and the same Holy Spirit distributing gifts of grace to each one of those whom thou hast chosen, thou hast given to thy Church divers Orders; who, through thine inscrutable providence hast appointed degrees of ministry therein, for the service of thy holy, spotless Mysteries; and who, through thine ineffable foreknowledge, hast ordained this thy servant to serve in thy Holy Church: Do thou, the same Lord, preserve him uncondemned in all things. Grant that he may love the beauty of thy house, stand before the doors of thy holy Temple, and kindle the lamps in the tabernacle of thy glory. Plant him in thy holy Church like a fruitful olive tree, which bringeth forth the fruits of righteousness. And make him thy perfect servant that, in the time of thine advent, he may receive the reward of those who are well-pleasing in thy sight.'

After this a stole is given him which is bound in a crosswise way, indicating that a cross is put upon him. So far he wore, he carried the cross of every Christian. Now a new cross is given him in a closer service of the Altar, of a greater closeness to the Holy Mysteries. A greater claim is laid upon him, not a greater honour. He who wishes to be first, let him be last. He who wishes to be greater, let him be lower than all others. This is the kind of call which is represented by this crosswise putting on of the stole. In addition to what I have said I would like to mention one thing.

I have already indicated in the beginning that we can use words like reader, taper-bearer, server, according to the occasion and to the vocabulary we use. A thing that was used at a certain epoch in the beginning of the revolution, certainly by patriarch Tikhon and which was used to my great joy when I was made a reader, is that of - I haven’t got the right word: the Russian word is blagovestnik, one who proclaims the good news. I suppose in antiquated English it would be called a ‘gospeller'. It was a blessing given to the reader and the server to go beyond this and to preach, to preach outside of the church or inside its walls. This is not something which we do habitually, but if we develop one day what I long to happen, what someone called in our priestly meeting a bank of speakers as one speaks of a bank of blood for transfusions, then we should use it as a special blessing to send out people to preach outside of the church or inside the church. I must say that one must reckon also with the ability of the person, because I was made a ‘gospeller' of that kind when I was 17, and my first sermon was really not worthy of the grace that had descended upon, me.

Now this is what I wanted to say about the ordination of sub-deacons and of readers, servers and gospellers, for lack of a better word. Next time I will come to the ordination to the diaconate. I would like you - both those who were ordained and those who are the royal priesthood, to realise the importance, the depth, the significance of these actions. In theological vocabulary one uses two words which are different from one another, in order to indicate the difference there is between the ordination of the major orders: deacon, priest and bishop, and the ordination of those whom we have mentioned today: cheirothesia and cheirotonia. It indicates that in an ordination of the lower orders there is no this Laying-on of hands, but a blessing him, which is a gradual ascent, a preparation. But at no point - and this is important to realise - becoming one thing at no point indicates either an obligation or a calling or indeed a promise that the person will become something else. Someone may find, find for years and for life total fulfilment in the privilege of being a reader, of reading God’s word, of reading the prayers which were coined in the Church of the Old and the New Testaments by the saints of God, by the single saintliness of some or the communal saintliness of a praying body. Some may find a total fulfilment in learning throughout a long life to be an image, however dim, but true, of St John the Baptist. And some may find that being a sub-deacon with the greater closeness and responsibility of this cross- bearing can fill all their life unto death. So let us all take these actions very earnestly, very seriously. They are much greater, much more responsible from all sides for the congregation, the royal priesthood, the candidate and for the ordaining minister than we usually imagine.

I am aware that I have not completely answered the question that was sent to me, but I will answer the second half of it more completely in my next talk.

XVII

ORDINATION TO THE DIACONATE

24 February , 1983

In our consideration of the services of ordination we have come now to the diaconate. The diaconate is understandable only against the background of what I have said in the past concerning the royal priesthood of all believers, and also against the Church's faith that everything that happens within the Church, the growth from sin to righteousness and to sanctity, the sacraments, the reconciliation of sinners between themselves and with God - all those things that make people God's own people, are events which take place within the Church but also are made by the whole Church, that is, equally, although. differently, by celebrating ministers, by the lay people, by old and young, by the oldest. and by the babes who, in the purity of their heart, stand before God.

Deacon is a very great name, a great term. In one passage of the Gospel, namely, just before his Passion, when Christ washes the feet of his disciples, he says to them: ‘I am your Master, and yet I am in your midst as one who serves’. And the word which the Greek text uses is the verb that corresponds to the word ‘deacon’. Christ in the midst of his disciples was the servant, the servant par excellence, in the sense that he gave not only of himself but the whole of himself unreservedly, perfectly, with complete joy, to the service of others, even to the point of losing his life, to the point of crucifixion and of death. And so, to say that one is called to become a deacon means that he is called to become, within the Body of Christ, within this congregation, this community, an image of what the Lord Jesus Christ chose to be: the perfect servant, and that this service is really a service unto life and unto death.

This is made manifest in the ordination itself - and I will come back to it - at the moment when the candidate crosses that invisible line of the Holy Doors, the line that separates the nave, which is this world into which the Lord has come as a Saviour from God's own realm - into which normally we enter only through death, our physical death - the narrow gates that provide a way from a world that is still held by sin, a prisoner of mortality, enslaved to evil to a very great extent - into the freedom of eternal life. This is one of the ways in which this service of the deacon is underlined and connected with the total sacrifice, that is, with the gift of self unreservedly, willingly, as perfectly as a human will can achieve.

And the other sign of this radical gift of self is expressed in two of the prayers in which we entreat the Lord to grant to this particular man the grace to be like St Stephen, the first deacon but also the first martyr, the first one who, following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, gave his life, and gave his life with the very words of Christ, asking God to forgive those who were about to stone him.

This comes, as I tried to express it in one of the previous talks, in the context of the royal priesthood of all Christians. It is truly royal if we remember the words of St John Chrysostom that anyone can rule, but only a king can give his life for his people. Only one who participates in Christ’s kingship can lay down his life for the people, with the people.

The deacon is a layman, as is every other minister of the Church, because by becoming a priest or a bishop or a patriarch we do not lose the great and wonderful quality which the lay state is, to be a citizen of God’s kingdom sent to earth as a messenger. We do not cease to be lay people in this great and holy manner. But in a more particular way the deacon remains a layman. And this is eventually made clear, if not to him, to others, by the fact that the burial of the deacon is not a priestly burial but the same burial as the lay person’s. The deacon is particularly, in an underlined manner, a layman because he represents the whole laity in the realm of God. I have already tried to explain that we are, as far as our salvation, the salvation of the world, the final destiny of the world is concerned, that we are both already at home with God and on our way godwards. We are at home in God because God has come to us, because he has become one of us, true but also perfect man, that he is in our midst wherever two or three are gathered in his name. But we also are still on our way because we live in a world of struggle and of becoming in the twilight of history. We are called to be the light of it, and yet we are ourselves a twilight, because we are divided within ourselves between life and death, between God and his Adversary. And we are on our way towards that condition which will make us free from everything which is not our chosen, our willed and yet not always achieved ,allegiance to the Living God. The Sanctuary represents that place towards which we are all in motion - that place which is God's own realm, beyond time, beyond struggles.

And so the deacon is one whom the Christian community chooses to represent it in the Age to Come, which is itself represented by the Sanctuary, by this sacred, this holy, this awesome realm. He goes into the Sanctuary in the name of all the people whose heart is bent towards it, who are in progress, in motion, in pilgrimage towards it. And in that sense he brings the whole laity into the Sanctuary in his own person. And this is why he is the one who sings the litanies, who calls the people, of whom he is one, to pray to the Lord God in the right words, in the right manner, collecting together all the faith, all the hope and love and all the needs of mankind and bringing them to God. He comes out of the Sanctuary with the wisdom of the Age to Come, possessed already, expressed already by the saints in their prayers. And he leads us who are still in this twilight, in this struggle, he leads us into a prayer which at times is beyond us, using words, using attitudes of heart and mind which are greater than each of us and which are the expression of the Church's knowledge and worship of God.

His ordination takes place after the consecration of the Holy Gifts, underlining thereby that he is not the minister of this particular sacrifice. You may remember that I said a few weeks ago that each of us as a lay person is a priest because the priesthood is defined by what we bring to God, surrendering it to him, and thereby making it into a holy object. And each person is called to bring his whole self to God, and surrender it into his hand so that it may become sacred and holy.

You remember the passage in the Gospel in which Christ says 'Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God.' The coin which was shown to him was marked with the effigy of Caesar. It belonged to him. Each of us is marked by another effigy. We are in the image of God, and it is to him that we belong.

When we speak of the priesthood I will try again to show, perhaps with more relief than I have done in the past, the difference between this ministerial sacrifice, in which the priest brings forth Christ's own life and death and resurrection as a holy offering, and this offering of the laity. But this is the background, the reason why the ordination takes place after the consecration of the Gifts. It takes place actually after the words of the Liturgy: 'And may the mercy of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ be with you all.'

Before these words, while a prayer is offered for the patriarch and the bishops, the candidate is brought to the middle of the church by two sub-deacons who hold his right and left hand with their hand and put the other hand on his neck and bring him forth. The deacon exclaims from the Sanctuary three times: 'Command.' The first time, this call is addressed to the people. And taking part in an ordination in Russia lately, I noticed that both in the ordination of a deacon and in that of a priest, his first words are actually addressed to the people present, because the candidate and the two sub-deacons turn to the people, and the deacon from the Sanctuary says 'Command' addressing himself to the people. Then they move forward and bend again towards the Sanctuary, and the same word is proclaimed: ‘Command'. This is addressed to the clergy, who are to integrate this candidate into their midst. And then, by the Holy Doors, 'Command' is spoken again, and it is for the bishop to give his assent.

These are the three steps of recognition which are essential in every ordination, whether it be the ordination of a reader or a sub-deacon, a deacon, a priest, a bishop. There are first of all two inner, invisible events. God speaks and says: 'Are you prepared to follow me whithersoever I shall lead you? Are you prepared to drink my cup? Are you prepared to be merged in the ordeal that will be mine? Are you prepared to be like a sheep among the wolves?' And if the candidate answers 'Yes', it still remains for this call and this response to be recognised by the people. And this recognition by the people is so important in the case of the deacon, because it is the people who are going to be represented by him in the holy place. Then there is a recognition of the calling and of the response by the brotherhood of deacons and priests, and then final recognition by the bishop.

And then the candidate comes to that threshold, invisible and yet so dramatically real, of the Holy Doors. There is no line to indicate its limit. You are on one side or you are on the other. On the one side there is history. On the other side there is eternity. On the one side there is the realm of salvation; on the other side there are all things fulfilled already now -eschatologically, that is, by a decisive act of God which will become final reality for the created world.

I always ask the candidate to stop for a moment before he crosses this threshold. I always speak to him at that moment briefly, to make him realise that he cannot enter into this realm in any way different from that of Christ. In the Great Entrance, which symbolises both the way of the cross and the burial of Christ, he is brought and enters into this realm, and the holy bread and wine prepared are placed on the holy table which is the table of sacrifice, an image of the altar built by Abraham for the sacrifice of Isaac. At the same time it is the throne of God, the Lamb of God slain before all worlds. The incarnate Son of God, who is a king, has given his life, is now enthroned in glory. It is under the cross that surmounts the Holy Doors that we receive Communion to Christ crucified and to Christ risen. And it is within the mystery of the Resurrection and of the cross that we can enter through the Holy Doors into the Sanctuary.

And when the candidate has come to this threshold, he prostrates himself before the Throne, ready to become in his own turn, in his own time, and in God’s terms, a living sacrifice, soul and body, life and death. Then he bows to the bishop, who gives him a blessing, and he is taken round the Holy Table by two deacons, kissing the four corners of the Table, while first of all the clergy inside and the choir outside in turns sing the same songs as one sings at a wedding, and yet in another order. At a wedding the first words that are sung are sung of joy and of victory: 'Rejoice, O Isaiah! A Virgin has been with child and gave birth to a Son Emmanuel, both God and man. The Dawn of Day is his name, whom magnifying, we call the Virgin blessed.' But this time against the background which I have tried to underline, that of the surrender, the sacrifice, the hallowing, the first words that are sung are: 'O holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat ye the Lord that our souls may be saved.' He enters into the part of the martyrs, that is, of the witnesses of Love Divine, the heralds of divine love, and this witness must be brought both in life and in death. Then he kisses the hand and the knee of the bishop, and the second time he is taken round the Holy Table while the clergy and then the choir sing 'Glory to Thee, O Christ our God, the Apostles’ glory, the Martyrs' joy, whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity’, the Trinity who stands for love, and love stands for the total gift of self.

And lastly this glorious wedding song 'Rejoice, O Isaiah.' A Virgin has been with child, gave birth to a Son, Emmanuel, both God and man; the Dawn of Day is his name; whom magnifying we call the Virgin blessed.'

And then the bishop, who was seated before on the left side of the Holy Table, stands up and the candidate kneels down at the right side of the Holy Table on one knee with his hands crosswise on the Table - crosswise reminding him of the way of the cross - and puts his head upon his hands. And the bishop reads a short prayer: ‘Grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm, and fulfilleth that which is wanting, elevateth, through the laying-on of hands, such-and-such person the most devout sub-deacon, to be a deacon. Let us pray for him, that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him.' Then the choir sings 'Lord, have mercy’, and two prayers and a litany are read.

The litany and the prayers are usually read simultaneously. We never do this, because I have always felt, since my own ordination, that to hear the deacon sing a litany, the choir sing ‘Lord have mercy’ and the bishop read two prayers deprives the ordinand of the possibility to pray in the words which are offered him. So these prayers we always read aloud. The first prayer is this: 'O Lord our God, who by Thy foreknowledge dost send down the fullness of thy Holy Spirit upon those who are ordained or chosen by thine inscrutable power to be thy servitors, and to administer thy immaculate sacraments, do thou the same sovereign Master, preserve also this man, whom thou hast been pleased to ordain, through me, by the laying-on of hands, to the service of the diaconate, preserve him in all soberness of life, that he may hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Vouchsafe unto him the grace which thou didst grant unto Stephen, thy first Martyr, whom also thou didst call to be the first in the work of this ministry; and make him worthy to administer after thy pleasure the degree which it has seemed good to thee to confer upon him. And manifest him wholly thy servant.’

The second prayer: 'O God our Saviour, whose word of truth did appoint unto thine Apostles the law of the diaconate and didst proclaim Stephen to be the first who should exercise this office, as it is written in thy Holy Gospel: Whosoever desireth to be first among you, let him be your servant: Do thou, O Master of all men, fill also this thy servant, to whom thou hast graciously granted to enter upon the ministry of a deacon, with all faith, with love and with power and holiness, through the inspiration of thy holy and life-giving Spirit; for not through the laying-on of my hands, but through the visitation of thy rich bounties is grace bestowed upon the worthy one: That he be pure and may stand blamelessly before thee in the dread day of thy judgment and receive the unfailing reward of thy promise.'

Here again St Stephen is mentioned. The greatness of being a servant is underlined. And another thing is underlined which I believe is so important in all the sacraments, that whatever the minister of the sacrament does, it is God who, in his freedom and supreme sovereign power, accomplishes the action: ‘Not through the Laying-on of my hands, but through the visitation of Thy rich bounties'.

The litany which is sung is a prayer that what is being done by the bishop should be an act of God and that blessing should be given to the candidate - after which he stands up and his sub-deacon's stole which is crosswise upon him, is undone and shown to the people with the word 'Axios' (He is worthy) and then is put on him, on his shoulder the way in which a deacon wears it. Then cuffs are shown to the people: 'Axios' and are put on the deacon. And then the service book which he will use is also given him with the same words. And then he is given a fan and stands by the side of the Holy Table, fanning over the Holy Gifts already consecrated, until the moment when the Holy Boors will be closed and the celebrant, the bishop, will proclaim 'The Holy Things unto them that are holy', which one of the Western theologians has translated very beautifully, as it seems to me, by 'the things of God for the people of God'.

This is all that there is to be said, at least all that I can say, about the ordination of a deacon. We must take it to heart that the deacon stands there to be the presence of the people of God in the Sanctuary. He is, in a way, in himself an eschatological vision. In him we can see ourselves where we are called to be. But eschatological means decisive and yet not accomplished, because neither he nor we, nor indeed the church building is what we expect in the world to come, when there will be no temple, because God will be the temple.

In the early Church the first deacons were ordained to manifest the love, the compassion, the concern of the congregation for those in need. Their service was the service of the tables, the feeding of those in need, the visiting of those who could not come to church. It was charity in all the senses of the word: loving, cherishing, but also actively meeting the needs of people.

In an ancient document it says that the deacon must be the eyes and the ears of the bishop, report to him every need, every agony of mind, every situation in which the Church should intervene. He has got a real pastoral function, and it is important to remember this. And in the Sanctuary his role is also - apart from what I have said before - a role of charity and of concern. He stands by the bishop or the priest and helps him, helps him to be able to pray in an undistracted way. You may remember that when the first deacons were chosen and ordained, the Apostle said, ‘It is not proper for us to concern ourselves with material needs instead of prayer.’ Well, this is what the deacon is called to do in the Sanctuary itself. He is called to know the service, to be aware of every need, so that the priest or the bishop may pray undistractedly, and at times also when the bishop or the priest has grown old and perhaps - shall we say a little soft in the head - prompt him in case of necessity. I have seen an old priest turn five pages of the service book by mistake and be landed from before the Consecration to after the Consecration, and it was a very great advantage to him that there was there a younger person who turned the pages back and made sure that the Holy Gifts were consecrated in the end.

Well, this is all, I think, I can say about the diaconate. We will turn to the ordination to the priesthood in our next talk, and then go on to the consecration of a bishop. There was a moment when someone said to me, 'Why should we concern ourselves with things that happen to the few and not to all of us, but I hope that by now, with my insistence so heavily on the fact that it is an event within the Church, that all these things happen to the total Church and not to an individual, because there is no such thing as an individual in the Church - that you will have realised that it has importance for each of us.

XVIII

THE ORDINATION OF THE PRIESTHOOD

10 March, 1983

We have reached now the ordination to the priesthood. It is understandable again, like that of the diaconate, only if we remember that it takes place within the mystery of the Church and within the universal royal priesthood of all believers - within the mystery of the Church in the sense that, as the Russian theologian Khomiakov has put it, the Church is the only sacrament from which all sacramental reality is derived. It is all the Church, in which certain ministries and functions are singled out. And they are sacramental and not secular. They are not only functions, but callings, vocations because the Church is a mystery, because the Church is the kingdom of God already come with power, and because what happens within the Church is a revelation, a vision, a perception, an experience of the world to come revealed with power, the power to transform, the power to transfigure, to change - and at the same time incomplete, because in all its glory the age to come will be revealed after the Last Judgement. And also the ministerial priesthood has a meaning only if we relate it to the universal royal priesthood of all believers. Without it, it has no use, without it it could not exist. It is from within this ministry that it grows and flourishes like a tree deeply rooted in the soil.

In all ministries, in all sacraments, as we have seen before, the true and only minister is the Lord Jesus Christ. The only effectual power is the Holy Spirit. This is the essential meaning of the invocation of the Holy Spirit which has a place in each of the sacramental actions, more or less explicit, more or less singled out, but always present. In all sacramental ministrations it is the Body of Christ, ultimately Christ himself, who is the celebrant, and the Holy Spirit, who comes and gives that dimension of eschatological eternity which makes sacramental reality possible within historical time. The Body of Christ and Christ, one and distinct, all of us in our togetherness with the apostles, with the saints, with all the believers throughout the centuries, at one with Christ, grafted upon him, alive by the life of Christ, the life of Christ crucified and risen and ascended, he in the glory of his victory, we in the struggle of our becoming and also struggling to be, throughout history, the Body of Christ broken, slain, crucified for the salvation of the world.

A priest - and this is more than a light manner of putting it - a priest is a layman in sacred ministry. He remains a layman in the sense in which a layman is a member of the Body of Christ. He is not outside of it, above it, he is within it. He may be the voice and the hands of this body, and he is at the same time the voice and the hands of the saving Lord. There are moments when the priest stands before God in the name of the whole congregation that includes him, and prays and worships and expects salvation ,and prays for the salvation of all. There are other moments when, in the power of the Spirit, in the power of Christ, the priest turns to the people of God and bestows God's own blessing, speaks God's own word in the Gospel and communicates to the assembled people of God what only God can give, but which the priest can transmit and love. There is a way in which the priest is a sheep of God's flock. There is another way in which the priest is the shepherd. And unless he remembers that he is a sheep, that he is a sinner, that he is in process of salvation, that he struggles, together with everyone else, for the salvation of his own soul and also for the salvation of all, he forgets the path of salvation. At the same time he must be prepared to sacrifice his own life, following the example of Christ, for the salvation of others. The ultimate expression of this givenness of the priest to the people and for the people, indeed in the image of Christ, are the words spoken in the 9th chapter of St Paul to the Romans when he says that he is prepared to be rejected by Christ in all eternity if only that would ensure the salvation of his people.

On the one hand, he is possessed of the same frailty as everyone else. He needs the support, the compassion and indeed at times, the rebuke of those who are God's own people in their own right, and at times he must be prepared to speak: in God's own name. He must be prepared, in other words, at times to be of the flock and at times to be on earth the presence of the High Priest of all creation, whose power is vested in him for sacramental ministrations within the Body of Christ. He must be prepared to be king in the terms which we defined when we spoke of the royal priesthood of all believers. I quoted then to you the words of St John Chrysostom that any one can rule, but only a king can lay down his life for his people. And he must fulfil the function of the prophet when he speaks for God, proclaims God’s own word.

I spent my childhood in the Orient, and one of my early memories is that of a vast, unending plain and of a sky that has no limits. And somewhere in the middle of this plain, between the vastness of the earth and the immensity of the sky, a few sheep and a shepherd leaning on his staff, between heaven and earth, so small, so frail, so defenceless on equal terms before the face of danger, the ones and the others, the sheep and the shepherd. And yet a difference between them, the shepherd standing a watch over the flock, standing a watch to protect the flock, endowed with the experience of ages past and of many years of reflection and of observation, ready to defend his flock against any aggression and to pay, if necessary, with wounds and with his life, for the privilege of defending the frailty of his sheep, equally frail, and yet with one difference, that the one was prepared to live and to die that others may live and be saved, find a green pasture, feed along the brook and come back, in safety to the fold, while he perhaps will go out into the night in search of one lost sheep. This is the kingship of Christ. This is the shepherd whom he describes in the Gospel according to St John, the Good Shepherd that knows every sheep by their name, who calls them all, who walks in front of them, cutting a path for them, making sure that where they will pass there is no danger awaiting them.

Christ is more than this. He is the Shepherd, but He is also the road, the way, He is the Door into the eternal fold, He is the Lord of creation. And every person who enters into the path of the priesthood must be prepared to follow the way of Christ, to live and to act on Christ's terms and not on any other terms. At times someone asks me how one can discern in oneself a calling to be a priest. There are many ways in which God prepares us, inspires us with the love of the Church, teaches us reverence and awe, reveals to us depth of understanding, calls us to be a shepherd, to proclaim his words, to celebrate his sacraments, but there is one question which the Lord asks of every one who wishes to serve him in the ministerial priesthood. This question is this. It is the question which he asked of John and James on the way of Caesarea Philippi. He had just been speaking of his passion: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will condemn him; they will buffet him, they will spit on him and they will murder him, crucify him, and the third day he will rise again. And John and James seem to have heard only the promise of his victory. This is what struck them, the coming in glory. Somehow they pass by the ordeal which would lead to the victory, the death of their Master under such tragic circumstances. And they come up to Him, and they beg him to allow them, when he comes back in glory, to sit on the right and the left side of His throne. And Christ ask a question which is being asked of every priest: 'Art thou prepared, can you, drink my cup and be baptised with my baptism? Are you prepared to share to the dregs my tragic destiny? Are you prepared to be merged into the horror into which I will be merged? He does not promise them anything more. What is implied is that if you, my disciples prove capable of being faithful to the end, doubt not that I can and will be faithful to you. My victory will be yours. But what he calls us to, not by words of warning but as a promise, is to share the tragic side of his destiny. It is a promise and not a warning, because what can be more wonderful for us, if we love the Lord, than to share all his destiny and not only to reap the fruits of his tragic Passion and his death?

So this is, in the context of the royal priesthood of all believers, a question that comes, of course, to each of us, but comes as an absolute claim, as a line, a divide that must be faced by a possible candidate for the priesthood. And then he must give thought to the question. God does not expect us to make rash, romantic decisions. Has he not taught us himself that before we undertake anything, we must sit down and ask ourselves whether we feel we can fulfil the task? We cannot fulfil the task with our own strength. Without Christ we can do nothing. Only in the power of his Spirit is anything possible. But the same St Paul to whom Christ had said 'My Grace suffices unto thee; my strength is made manifest in weakness, and who rejoices in his weakness, because then everything is the grace of God. The same St Paul says to us in another passage 'All things are possible in the power of Christ who sustaineth me.’

But we must give an answer to the question, having taken stock of our weakness, of our frailty, of our fears, of all the inertia which is ours, all the worldliness which is ours, we must also take stock of our readiness, if not our ability, to surrender - I was about to say 'in desperation’ - to God - in desperation in the sense that when we have measured the scope of our own frailty and weakness, there is no hope left except that God can do in and through us what we are not capable of doing in any manner. And here you remember the words of the first prayer in the ordination of the deacon, which is repeated also at the beginning of the priest's ordination: 'Grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm, and fulfilleth that which is wanting'. These words come gloriously true. But the decision remains ours. To say ‘yes’ means to say: From now on I renounce myself; I renounce in a way, to be myself. I want to be ultimately nothing else but Christ’s presence. I am prepared, I undertake to take up my cross, which ultimately is Christ's and to follow in the footsteps of the Lord wherever he may lead me, wherever he himself may go.

The link that exists between the Lord Christ in the sacramental reality of the Church and the celebrating priest is brought out so intensely, although unnoticeably to many, in the service of the Proskomidia, the service of preparation of the Holy Bread and the Holy Wine for the celebration of the Liturgy. There is a moment when the priest holds that particle of bread which represents Christ and cuts it crosswise deeply, saying that the Lamb of God is being sacrificed. If we truly believe that this particle of bread is, as it were, an icon, that it is already, incipiently, not only an empty image, but a focus of reality, that this particle of bread, once it is cut and ready, is united to the mystery of Christ in a way that can never separate it from him, then to cut it and make of it a sacrifice, an offering to God, can be done only if at the same time we renew the offering of our souls and bodies, and, beyond this universal offering which is the Christian condition - beyond it we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of the cross. We choose to be one with Christ crucified so that his crucifixion be ours, his death ours, his life ours. We can either fulfil this action in the unity of Christ, at one with him, or else, if we refuse, if we remain outsiders to the mystery of the cross, to the mystery of Christ crucified, there is no other place for us to see ourselves except to be one of those who crucified the Lord. We are either one with the Victim or one of the murderers. There is no other place for us. And every priest who celebrates, every person who thinks of becoming a priest, must realise that this is and shall be, time and again, and between times all the time, his situation with regard to Christ, because as I said earlier when we spoke of the universal royal priesthood of all believers, we are to be the Lamb. And the priest who accepts this ministerial function is to bring not only the sacrifice of his body and soul, of his total self, thought and heart, will and body, activities and destiny, but he is to bring forth to God, to reveal again and again to men, to mankind, Christ's own sacrifice. His link with the mystery of the Garden of the Mount of Olives and with the crucifixion is characteristic of the priesthood. It is Christ's death that he brings forth to God in a plea for salvation. But he cannot do this unless he unites himself to this sacrifice in a way in which only grace divine can allow to happen.

I hoped that I would finish with this ordination to the priesthood tonight, but there is more I wish to say, and too much for me to say it in a few minutes, so I would like to end this talk now.

Next time I will finish the ordination of the priesthood by going through the service and showing that, apart from this basic relatedness to Christ’s own sacrifice, the priest has got definite functions, and which they are.

XIX

ORDINATION OF THE PRIESTHOOD cont.

31 March, 1983

. . . . .?

who is to be ordained, the fact that he accepts to be a shepherd, to be the repository, the heir of the wisdom, the knowledge of the Christian community, but also that he accepts, in order to be under the one shepherd also a good shepherd, the good shepherd, to pay the cost of his care. In that sense the shepherd participates in the kingship of Christ if kingship is to be understood not as the overpowering of subjects - and Christ makes it so clear when he says that the kings and the rulers of the secular world dominate, rule over their subjects, but that in the Kingdom he who wishes to be first should be last, and he who wishes to be a guide, a ruler, a shepherd must accept to be a servant. And ultimately the words which I have quoted more than once of St John Chrysostom: Anyone can rule; the king alone can give his life for his people. This is a first and basic situation.

And I have mentioned to you a number of passages of the Scriptures which underline this particular function and also this particular undertaking, readiness to lay down his life for his sheep, for his people. I have also, in connection with this function, tried to indicate the particular link there is between the sacrifice of Christ, offering himself as a blood offering for the salvation of mankind, and the self-offering of the priest who, in the holy Liturgy at every moment, but perhaps more particularly in the Service of Preparation, when, holding the spear, he cuts crosswise into the Lamb, saying that the Lamb of God is sacrificed, that at that moment unless he unites his whole self, soul and body, earthly destiny and life, to the life and the death of Christ, he will be accounted among those who crucified Christ, remaining alien to the sacrifice, yet being the instruments of this mystical murder that brought salvation to the world. So in that particular sense the priest partakes of the priestly function of Christ, beyond the universal royal priesthood of all the people of God, a member of which he is, by a dread election;. according to the word of Christ, it is not you who have chosen me; it is I who have chosen you and I am sending you like sheep among the wolves.

There is in the Lord Christ a third function, that of the supreme prophet. And I have already mentioned on other occasions, that although we always think of a prophet as of one who foretells the future, who proclaims in advance the ways of God, the real, essential function of the prophet is to be one who speaks for God in his own name and speaks out God’s words and proclaims his ways. I think it is the prophet Hosea who says that a prophet is one with whom God shares his thoughts. He is one who speaks God’s thoughts aloud, who declares God's will, who indicates God’s ways. If it happens that these ways, his thoughts and words, apply not only to the present, but to the future, however close or distant, in essence it is secondary. What is essential is that the prophet speaks for God.

The greatest of all prophets, in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, is St John the Baptist, the Forerunner. And to him are applied words spoken by Isaiah, who says 'A voice resounding in the wilderness.' That is how St.John the Baptist, the greatest of those born of women, is described and defined by the Scriptures. He is no longer a man speaking to a crowd, he is a voice. He is a voice that speaks God’s own words, and what matters to him is that very thing, that his personality, his voice, his offering of self culminates in the fact that he disappears, as it were, behind and beyond the message. He is a message, he is a voice. And he himself describes himself as the friend of the Bridegroom, he who makes the rough ways smooth, he who makes the crooked paths straight, he whose privilege indeed it is to diminish that the Lord may grow to his full stature before the eyes and in the experience of those who hear him.

Some ancient writer has said that in every parish the priest is a fifth evangelist. He proclaims God's own word in the terms of the Gospel but also from within his experience of it. Under the guidance of God he is to elucidate the Gospel, to bring it to the senses, to the heart and to the mind of people, to stir up their wills, to be what the apostles were: one who unveils the Gospel, the Good News, makes them accessible to all people, awakens love for the ways of God.

In the third prayer of ordination we have a few points made that remind the newly ordained, or the ordinand of what his function will be: that he may, says the prayer, be worthy to stand in innocence before God's altar. That means that all his life must be a life dedicated to God, that his ways must be the ways of the Gospel, that his thoughts must be made pure, so that God's words. God's thoughts should not be stained or deformed in him. He must struggle to have a clean heart because his very function is to see God and to speak of him as of one known personally to him. And it is only then that the priest can stand worthily before the altar of God, the altar which is, as I have already pointed out, the Throne of God and the Table of Sacrifice, the Throne on which the Lord sits in glory, and the Table of Sacrifice on which he is brought as a blood offering or sacramentally as a bloodless sacrifice, but, also on the basis of his death upon the cross. And he reigns because he has conquered, he reigns because through his life and death he has assumed his kingship, to which there will be no end. And to stand before him in intercession for the people and in broken-heartedness for his own self, to turn around and face the people of God and pour upon the congregation assembled divine grace, speak God's blessing, read the words which the Living God has spoken in the days of his flesh, he must make all of his life a spiritual endeavour.

It is a dread thing to stand before the Lord. And a priest, one of the greatest priests of the West, Jean Batiste Viane, the Cure d'Ars, said once, speaking I believe, for all priests: `Had I known what the priesthood is and entails, I would have run away rather than accepted it.’ `That he may be worthy to stand in innocence before the altar of God, to proclaim the Gospel of thy kingdom, to minister the word of thy truth; to offer unto thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew thy people through the laver of regeneration' - These are the terms of his commission, not only to read the Gospel as it is given to the deacon, but to expound on it, to proclaim it, to make it accessible to the mind, to set on fire the hearts of the listeners, to kindle in them a holy enthusiasm, to stir up their will, to speak words of truth, God's truth, the truth which is an absolute, the truth which is a scandal at times, because, as the Lord says, his thoughts are not our thoughts, not any more than his ways are our ways, but as his thoughts are above our thoughts, so are his ways above ours. The priest is to speak in the terms of the kingdom, on the scale of God, even if the result of it is that he explodes the categories of thought, the attitudes of mind, the desires of those who listen, even if this proclamation of God's truth goes against the grain and leads him, if necessary, to suffering.

Also he is called to offer unto God spiritual gifts and sacrifices, the offering of his own life unreservedly. One French writer has said that a priest is a man devoured. And in the 58th chapter of Isaiah's prophecy we read a passage in which it says 'Feed the soul of the hungry.' How can one feed a soul otherwise than by giving, by sharing one's own soul? How can one try and convey salvation and life otherwise than at the cost of one's own life. And St Paul knew it well. When reaching the extreme, the summit of his vision of sacrifice, he says that if it is necessary that he should be separated from God for ever for the salvation of his people he would accept it - he, the same Paul who in another passage says to us that his life, all his life, is Christ himself, that for him death is a gain, because as long as he lives in the flesh he is separated from Christ. And the same man is prepared to be separated, not only in time and on earth, but for ever, if that can be the ransom he can offer for the salvation of others.

And then he is called to renew the people, renew them by baptism, renew them by the gift of the Spirit, renew them by Communion to the holy Body and blood of Christ, renew them by the fire of the word, renew them in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and make new relationships which otherwise could be human, secular, earthly in marriage and in all human situations - giving to these situations a new dimension, making things earthly into things divine. And he has got a special responsibility to the holy sacrament of the Altar. When later in the course of the Liturgy the Holy Gifts will be consecrated, the bishop breaks off that particle of the Lamb which is marked with the Name of Jesus, and giving it into the hand of the priest, says to him: ‘Receive this pledge and preserve it whole and unharmed until thy last breath, for thou shalt be held to an accounting in the second and terrible coming of our great Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

And in a passage of the Book of Needs, preceding the rite of Confession, in which the spiritual father is advised how he should deal with things holy, we are taught in the words of St Basil the Great that the priest is not only one who is there to distribute the Holy Gifts, to make others partakers of them, but one who is to watch over them and not to allow anyone to receive these Holy Gifts in a sacrilegious manner or in an unworthy manner, thereby protecting what is the holiest Holy in the Church from sacrilege, but also protecting the recipient against committing a sacrilege by receiving the Holy Gifts unworthily. And it goes on to say that the priest must not be afraid of anyone in power, must not allow himself to be frightened by any threat or menace in this function that consists of being a guardian, over that which is holy and which must be treated with the utmost veneration.

Before we end this particular ordination, I would like to remind you of the manner in which it is performed. After the Cherubic Hymn he who is to be ordained a priest is led to the middle of the church by an archdeacon or a deacon and is brought in three stages to the Holy Doors. In the first place from the middle of the church he bows towards the Sanctuary and also towards the people, and the senior deacon says the word 'Command', and it is the moment when the assembled congregation has a right to say yes or no to the ordination. Then he is turned towards the Sanctuary and brought half way and again bows and again the senior deacon says the same word 'Command', and the presbyterate, the clergy must give its assent. And lastly, when he is brought to the Holy Doors a third time, the senior deacon uses the same word 'Command’. And the bishop commands that the ordinand be brought in. He has again to pass this threshold of the Holy Doors. But ‘again' does not mean 'in the same way’. Every ordination in the experience of the ordinand has got a new quality. It is marked by a new depth. In the first place he came as a deacon sent by the people to be the people's presence in the Holy of Holies in the divine realm. He entered it with fear, with awe, with adoration, bringing into it the universal royal priesthood of all laity to be vested in a new way in the glory of this royal priesthood, a revelation to those who are in the nave, of their own glory when all things being fulfilled, we shall all enter into that sacred realm.

But this time the ordinand enters into this sacred realm to unite himself in dread, in sacred horror, to the priesthood of Christ in the way in which I have tried to indicate, to unite himself to the crucifixion, to unite himself to all that is described to us in the events of Passion Week. It is a new moment, a new step. In a sense it is not only liturgical poetry that makes certain writers say that in the Liturgy the priest is a living icon of Christ, because he has undertaken so to unite himself to the passion and to the death of Christ that truly, however incipiently, indeed however unworthily, he is an icon, an icon perhaps damaged, profaned at times, soiled, and yet an icon.

I remember an old deacon who was being criticised for not being as holy as his function, and saying to the person who was very harshly criticising him, 'Yes, I have failed to be what I should have been, but there was a moment in my life when I so loved the Lord that I renounced all things for him. I have struggled and failed, but my heart has not wavered. You have never made this choice. And this is something which every one of us priests could say: ‘Yes, we all fail, and at the last day of our life all we will be able to say is: "Forgive me, my children, my brothers, my sisters, fathers and mothers; forgive me because I have not been what I was called to be. And yet there was a moment - oh, not one - so many moments when I renewed this total dedication and this readiness to bear in my own flesh, in my body and soul the deadness of Christ, that the life of Christ may be in you."'

And so the candidate walks into the Sanctuary, bows down before the Holy Table, receives a blessing from the bishop, and is taken round three times by two priests while the choir sings the same hymn, the same troparia which are sung for the ordination of the deacon, indeed those of marriage, of the greatest feast that represents in the Old and New Testaments the fulfilment of all, things on the Eighth Day, the kingdom of God come in glory. But here it is not with the glory that we begin but with the call to renounce himself, to take up his cross to follow Christ. ‘O holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat ye the Lord that our souls may be saved. Glory to thee, O Christ our God, the Apostles’ glory, the Martyrs' joy, whose preaching way the consubstantial Trinity', the God of sacrificial love. 'Rejoice, O Isaiah, ' a Virgin has been with child, and has borne a Son, Emmanuel, both God and man. Daybreak, the Dawn is his name; whom magnifying we call the Virgin blessed.'

And then the priest kneels at the right corner of the Holy Table as he had done when ordained a deacon, but this time on both knees, placing his left hand on the Table and his right above it and his forehead upon his hands placed crosswise. And again, as in the ordination of the deacon, the bishop reads the prayer: ‘Grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm, and fulfilleth that which is wanting, elevateth through the laying-on of hands so-and-so, the most devout deacon, to be a priest. Let us pray for him that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon him.'

And here again, as in the ordination of the deacon, this prayer has the quality of the epiclesis, of the calling upon the free act of God. We have brought a testimony before God by the words of command, by the beginning of this prayer, by the laying-on of the hands of the bishop, that the people, the clergy, the bishop, the Church on earth has recognised the call, has recognised the response, has recognised God’s mark upon this man.

But it is not in the laying-on of hands, as the prayer of ordination of the deacon puts it, but in grace that comes from above that the ordination truly takes place. And we say 'Let us pray for him that that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him.' The choir sings 'Lord have mercy’ and the bishop continues, blessing him three times. 'O God, who hast no beginning and no end; who art the Ancient of Days, older than every created being, who crownest with the name of the presbyter those whom thou deemest worthy to serve the word of thy truth in the divine ministry, do thou, the same Lord of all men, deign to preserve in purity of life and unswerving faith this man also, upon whom, through. me, thou hast graciously been pleased to lay thy hands. Be favourably pleased to grant unto him the great grace of thy Holy Spirit; make him wholly thy servant, in all things acceptable unto thee, and worthily exercising the great honour of the priesthood which thou hast conferred upon him by thy foreknowledge and power. '

And then after the deacon has said a short litany, in which the whole church prays that what the bishop is doing should be God's will and God’s action, a last prayer, of which I have read part to you: ‘O God great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvellous in counsel above the sons of men: Do thou fill with the gift of thy Holy Spirit this man whom it hath pleased thee to advance to the degree of a Priest; that he may be worthy to stand in innocency before thine Altar; to proclaim the Gospel of thy kingdom; to minister the word of thy truth; to offer unto thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew thy people through the laver of regeneration. That when he shall go to meet thee at the Second Coming of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Thine Only-begotten Son, he may receive the reward of a good steward through the plenitude of thy goodness.’

And after this, as in all ordinations, the candidate is vested and every part of his vestment is shown to the people, ' kissed by the ordinand and put upon him: the priest's stole, the girdle, the cuffs, the chasuble are put upon him and a service book is given to him that he may celebrate with safety.

I will come back to the meaning which we attach to these various vestments when in our next talk I come to the first part of the consecration of a bishop. Each one of these vestments must remind the priest of something, must confront him with his responsibility and also with the grace of God given him that he may serve the people, worship his Lord, work his salvation together with those committed to his charge, and know God, because the knowledge of God shared and communicated is eternal life. At this point I have finished what I intended to say about the priesthood.

 

XX

CONSECRATION OF A BISHOP, PART I

14 April, 1983

In the course of these talks we have now come to the election and the consecration of a bishop. I said when we spoke of the priesthood that, apart from a call and a response given by a person, a call of God claiming a person in his service, asking him whether he is prepared to drink his cup, to carry his cross like Simon of Cyrene, to be a shepherd in the terms of Christ himself - apart from this call and a thoughtful, responsible answer to it, there must be a recognition by the people, by the clergy, by the bishop, of the fact that this person is ready, mature. In the case of the bishop the same call is offered to be a shepherd in the terms of Christ: a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But there is also a recognition, a reading of the sign, by the brother bishops. One may volunteer to be a priest. One does not volunteer to become a bishop. One can offer one's life in the priesthood. It is a decision of the Church that brings one to the episcopate. And the election, as an act of the total Church, expressed by a concrete group of people about the bishops is essential, because it is the Church that calls a man and integrates him into what one calls in Orthodoxy the Apostolic Circle, an ever-widening circle possessed of a gift which belongs to the total episcopate together with Christ, and to none in separatedness.

To understand this we must remember the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles as described in the 20th chapter of St John's Gospel. After his resurrection the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the eleven. Judas had died. His first words were 'Peace be unto you’. And we can understand the purpose of these words. The Apostles have fled. They were in hiding in the house of John Mark. They were in fear of the Jews. They felt that their lives were endangered. There was a storm within them and terror around. There was a storm not only about their own lives and safety but about the meaning of all that had happened in the course of the years when they had been with the Lord Jesus Christ. They had seen in him their Teacher, their Master, their Guide, an absolute example, the revelation of a true and perfect man, and they had come, after the proclamation of Peter on the way to Caesarea Philippi, to know that he was the Son of the Living God Incarnate come into the world to save it. And now everything seemed to have come to an end. They could not understand what had happened. Good Friday was a dark night. It was a total defeat of him who they always thought was invincible. It was, at it seemed to them, evidence that everything they had believed about him, about themselves, about God indeed, about man, about the destiny of the world was wrong. Indeed there was a storm within them. And Christ gives words to them which he had spoken in the storm on the lake: 'Peace be with you'.

And then he breathed upon them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit’. Now, I was mistaken when in the beginning I said that he came to the eleven disciples. There were only ten of them on that evening. One of them was absent - it was Thomas. When a week later Christ appeared again to his disciples and was recognised by Thomas as his Lord and his God, he needed not a special gift of the Spirit, because the gift had been given to none of the disciples singly, but to this apostolic circle who, through faith, through the sacrament of Communion, through the gift of the Spirit, was what we call the Body of Christ, was at one with Christ in such a way that what was true of Christ was, within human limits, becoming true of them.

And in the same way in which the Holy Spirit had come down upon Jesus of Nazareth on the banks of Jordan and filled the man Jesus, as Paul calls him, so were the disciples as one body possessed of the Holy Spirit, or rather perhaps I should say that the Holy Spirit took possession of them. And it is because they were in their togetherness the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, because, like Christ in his humanity, they had received the Spirit because the Spirit had indwelt this budding Church, that they could fifty days later be filled personally with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And throughout the ages when an event is integrated to this ever-widening apostolic circle, the person receives not the gift of Pentecost, which is given to every believer in the sacrament of Chrismation, which is the sacrament of the laity or, if you prefer, of the royal, universal priesthood of all believers, but he receives the grace to be integrated to this body and share what the apostles were given. And this is the root of what we call the Apostolic Succession. It is not a gift which is new and which is bestowed upon each man, as it were, singly, in separateness. It is his merging into that sea of grace which is possessed by the total ministry of the Church.

One could draw an analogy here and say that every Liturgy, every Eucharistic celebration, makes present within a moment of time, throughout all the earthly space and all historical time, the event which took place in the Upper Room and is in eternity. It is an irruption of eternity into time. It is a moment when things decisive and things final enter into the relativity of time and space. So is also this grace given to the apostles in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of the whole ministry.

And this is why also in the Orthodox Church we do not believe that by seceding from the Church one can take away the grace that belongs to the togetherness. Schism, heresy makes us unable to represent the Apostolic Circle, which is one in the purity of the faith, in the knowledge of God, in the life of the sacraments, in the Spirit and in Christ. And this does not apply only to schism or to heresy. It works also within Orthodoxy itself. There is a rule in the Church that if a retired bishop, or another bishop, performs within the diocese any act, such as the ordination of a deacon or a priest without the agreement or assent of the ruling bishop, the Church may not recognise his action, although he was neither under an interdiction nor excommunicated, but his action would be considered as the action of an individual and not as an act of the Church, and it would be considered as null and void.

This is important for us to understand if we want to understand the importance, the significance of this election, when a see is vacant or when a see is to be created. The bishops who surrounded this see, who belonged to that particular small region of the earth, who will become the brothers and co-workers of the new bishop, assemble, pray, think and choose one whom they believe to be capable of entering into this Apostolic Circle, because he holds the Orthodox faith in its purity and integrity, because he is truly a worshipper of God, because he can be a shepherd. And we will see later the firmness of his commission.

This election is already a decisive step. When the decision is taken, the man chosen is now a bishop-elect. He is no longer what he was before, even before the moment when he will be consecrated. The election is an act of the total Church expressed concretely by a group of bishops who take responsibility, before God and before the Church universal, for this choice. The bishop therefore will be related simultaneously to a local situation and to the universal situation of the Church. Locally he is the priest of his diocese. One speaks in terms of a wedding between him and his diocese as one speaks in terms of a wedding between a priest and his parish. A priest should be appointed for life to a given parish. A bishop should be appointed for life to his diocese.

And he will be for the whole diocese the man who presides in the Eucharistic celebration and who is the fountainhead of all sacramental action. The priests whom he will ordain will be bearers of his priesthood. They will not only be representatives of their bishop in the various parts of the diocese. It is his priesthood that will live in them. And this is why it is so important that between the bishop and the prints there should be that deep relationship, that they should know one another, truly love one another, respect each other, and that what the 34th apostolic canon commands us to realise in a local parish church should be realised in the diocese , that no one who is a junior should act beyond his concrete commission without the blessing of his bishop - and it is a blessing; not a permission. It is not a simple secular agreement of his bishop. But neither should the bishop act otherwise than in unanimity with his priests. And the formula used in the canon, not with regard to the diocese, but to the local church; is that ‘thus shall God, One in the Holy Trinity, be glorified', thus shall we reveal the splendour of God. And this splendour is made manifest both in the cross and in the resurrection, in the perfect love of God.

Now on the other hand, the bishop, elected by his brothers, enters into this Apostolic Circle, and he is the link between the Church universal and all the believers of his diocese. Through him the diocese is grafted on the Church universal. It is important to realise this because, again, in this balance between what is local and what is universal, the ancient Church recognised to a diocese the right to choose candidates for the episcopate when the previous bishop had died. But it was an election which was not final. The diocese could not take a decisive step, because of its local character, and it was to be recognised by the bishops who surrounded the diocese, into whose circle the new bishop would be integrated. So that from the very depth of a local situation the Church opened itself up, blossomed out into universality.

In a sense the Eucharist has this universality, but it is centred and directed towards the local situation.

When the election takes place, the candidate is warned of it and brought to the Synod of the bishops who had a right and a duty to choose him. He is brought in and the Chancellor, or one of the bishops, says 'Honoured Father, the Most Holy Synod has commanded you that you shall be bishop of the God-protected cities of ‘ this and that. It is a moment when an assent must be given. And the answer is: 'Seeing that the Holy Synod has judged me worthy of this ministry, I offer thanks, I accept, I gainsay in no way thereto’. And then the presiding bishop says a blessing: 'Blessed is our God', and after the usual introductory prayers, two hymns are sung, the troparion and the kondakion: 'Blessed art thou, O Christ our God, who has shown fishermen to be wise, sending down upon them thy Holy Spirit and thereby catching the universe as in a net. Glory to thee, O thou who lovest. mankind'. And after that: 'When the Most High descended, confounding the languages, he dispersed abroad the nations, and when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all men unto unity. Wherefore with one accord we give glory to the Holy Spirit.'

And then comes a short litany, and the bishop-elect is expected to speak, to make his first episcopal discourse. Of course these discourses vary greatly according to the gifts of the man. More often than not he expresses his thanks to God, recognises his unworthiness, prays for the help and support, both in prayer and in advice, of the other bishops. And then speaks of his life, of the way in which he was brought to that situation. Certain of these discourses or addresses are of a much higher quality, and to give you an idea of the vision of a man and also of what the episcopate can be, when understood by a man of a deep and great heart, wisdom and intelligence. I would like to read to you the episcopal discourse or address which one who later became Patriarch Sergei made in 1901 when he was made suffragan bishop of Iamburg. This discourse is particularly impressive because it was made in 1901, sixteen years before the revolution, and yet it shows us in a nutshell all that Patriarch Sergei was or was to become when the revolution came and when, after the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925, he became, for the next 20 years the head of the Russian Church. Here is a translation made by Father Serge Hackel. Remember, 1901.

‘Your Holiness, In your choice of myself for the episcopate I perceive the fiat of the Holy Spirit, and I therefore cannot refuse these summons even if I wished to do so. I can only pray that my Lord and my Judge, who knows my unworthiness, my weaknesses and my sins, will himself, by his ever active grace, restore all that is broken and feeble, that he may grant me purity of heart with which to receive the talent entrusted to me, and that I may preserve and multiply it with all integrity.

‘The outer circumstances of the Episcopal ministry may be extremely varied. Bishops may be held in esteem and richly endowed. They may enjoy a wide range of civic rights and privileges. But they may equally be deprived of all rights, they may be subjected to poverty or even persecution. All this will depend on causes which were incidental and external, on the position occupied by Christianity in the state, on national and social customs and the like.

‘As these external causes change, so may the outer circumstances. Yet the Episcopal ministry in its essentials, in the disposition required of a bishop, always and everywhere remains one and the same apostolic ministry, whether it be performed in imperial Constantinople or in obscure Sasima. It is a "ministry of reconciliation", a pastoral ministry.

‘To be a pastor means to lead a life which is not one's own, but the flock's. It means to suffer the flock's ailments, to shoulder its weaknesses - and all with the single aim of ministering to its salvation, of dying so that it may live. The true shepherd in his everyday work constantly "lays down his life for the sheep”. He denies himself, his habits, his comforts and his self-love. He is prepared to sacrifice his very life and even his soul for the sake of Christ's Church, for the spiritual well-being of his rational flock. "We are ambassadors of Christ", so the Apostle described his ministry, "God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). Seemingly, it is God and the apostles who require this reconciliation, rather than the sinners who perish. Furthermore, so as to persuade people to be reconciled to God, and "so that no fault may be found in our ministry" (2 Cor 6:3), the apostles - "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb.ll:38) - became "like men sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world, the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor. 4:9,13).

‘The supreme example of pastoral dedication is the Lord Jesus Christ. "Unable to tolerate the sight of mankind tortured by the devil", he set aside his divine glory, he set aside the heavens and the triumph of the angels: he came in the humble "form of a servant" and thus served us and saved us. In its essence, spirit and disposition, such is that "ministry of reconciliation", the plenipotentiary powers of which are today entrusted to me.

‘To the "old man", this self-denial, this crucifixion of one's self-love for the benefit of others seems strange, even mad. But it is in such humiliation and powerlessness as are directed by God's grace that the incomparable majesty of the pastoral ministry is to be discerned. For someone to make himself "of no reputation" is to ensure "the victory that overcomes the world" (I Jn.5:4). As the Apostle says, "we are treated as poor, yet making others rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Cor.6:10).

‘In the course of church history we can indeed see how weak and humble bishops, who had devoted themselves entirely to the Church, determined the flow of events, led whole nations, sheltered and undergirded empires and the Church alike. The stormy waves of heresy broke helplessly on the faith of such bishops, whose immutable firmness could not be shaken by any of the wiles or threats which issued from the world, from evil. Rather did the mighty and the powerful of this world humbly submit to their authoritative word. Thus the cross of Christ leads to glory and to resurrection. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit."

‘May the Lord grant that I may always retain these thoughts and this understanding in respect of the great mystery of Episcopal service; and may he grant that I be numbered among his faithful servants in the day of his just and awesome judgement. Amen.’

I will end my talk on this very moving and significant text. And if we remember that patriarch Sergei was the head of the Russian Church during all the period of Stalin’s rule, that four times he spent long months in captivity in prison and that he took truly upon himself all the weight that could have crushed the believers and the Church in Russia, when we think that these words were spoken by him in 1901, years and years before the event of the revolution, we can bow respectfully before his memory, who saw, who accepted, and who lived through every word of this Episcopal address of his.

Next time we will come to the consecration proper and see in the words of the service what the Church claims from the bishop and what it hopes from him.

And now, as usual, let us have a period of quiet and silence. Then we will pray together and go in peace.

 

XXI

CONSECRATION OF A BISHOP, PART 2

28 April, 1983.

Before continuing on the subject of the consecration of the bishop, may I remind, you first of what we have spoken of last time. The first move in the consecration of a bishop, and a move which is not administrative but belongs to the very essence of the event, is his election, an act by which the total Church recognises a man as one who can be the voice of the Church universal in one given place, to be the celebrant of the Holy Mysteries, which are not only universal but which are beyond time - events of eschatology, of the Age to Come - and proclaim God's abiding, eternal, unchanging truth among his flock.

This election makes the man enter into the Apostolic Circle. And in that sense the episcopate is universal. One is a bishop of the total Church, although, for reasons which are, again, not only practical but also spiritual, one's jurisdiction is limited to one place, one region, and this not only to avoid confusion, as indeed it does, but also to make it possible for the totality of an episcopate to act with unanimity as one body and yet with a deep sense of responsibility each for a flock committed to his charge. One alone is the universal Shepherd, the great Shepherd of the flock. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, no one else, and under him the multiplicity of human persons called by him, who have responded to his awe-inspiring call and been recognised by the brotherhood of Christ but perform this function. So the bishop is ingrained in the local Church, fountainhead of all its sacramental action, the gateway, as it were, of things eternal and eschatological, the one whose priesthood will be multiplied through the ordination by him of all the clergy of his diocese. He is the head of his Eucharistic community, of the Body of Christ as incarnate and revealed in a particular region. And at the same time he is the link between this concrete congregation which is the Church of God, and all other units of this Church.

His acceptance is essential. He must respond to the call of God, drink his cup, be baptised with the baptism which was Christ’s, accept to go all the way of Christ, identify with him and, following the way of the incarnation and the way of the cross, identify, as Christ did, with the frailty and the needs and the pain and the agonies of his flock, carrying this flock through prayer, and giving his life day after day until he has fought the good fight, won the race and can enter into the peace of his Lord. And this acceptance proclaimed by him, claimed by the Episcopal Council that has elected him, receives blessing from God, and he is asked to speak of himself to the assembled people. This may happen in the limited number of people who are the Episcopal Synod. It may happen in the midst of the congregation who will now be his responsibility before God.

And at every step the grace of the Holy Spirit is invoked. God, the Holy Spirit is called to help, to guide and indeed fulfil. In a certain sense there is no greater aloneness and at the same time no greater unity between living beings than that of the bishop. He stands in the midst of his brothers and he is one with them. One speaks in Orthodox terms of the one episcopate which is made concrete in the multiplicity of persons. One could dare say that this vision of the one episcopate in a multiplicity of persons is an image, or must or should be an image of the one God in Three Persons. And this is what is made clear by the rule which I quoted last time, the 34th apostolic canon, that commands unanimity and forbearance, so that God one in the Trinity may be glorified in the Episcopal circle.

There is also another solidarity, another oneness, which is no less important than that which exists between the bishops of a given region or a given local Church. It is the oneness of faith, the oneness of spiritual experience, oneness of love that goes throughout the ages of this long chain of ordinations back to the Apostles and to the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostolic succession, of which we speak so much and so often, is not a mechanical way of transmitting some unaccountable gift. It is the unity, deep, real, concrete, that ensures the immutability of the faith, the stability of the proclaimed truth, the oneness in following one way from earth to heaven. And the laying-on of hands, as I mentioned already when we spoke of the ordination of the priest, the oneness of the laying-on of hands, effective as it is, is a testimony of an act of God that integrates a man into this mysterious chain of life. I have already mentioned in the past the words of the prayer which the bishop pronounces in the ordination of the deacon which, although not repeated, remains true. ‘It is not in the laying-on of my hands but in the outpouring of thy grace from above that this man is ordained.’ It is always an act of God happening within that body which is God's kingdom, the realm of God, where he is free to act because the wills of men have surrendered to his will.

The actual consecration may follow immediately what I described last time or else come on the next day, depending on whether the election, the acceptance, the proclamation by the newly elected bishop happens on the eve or on the very morning of his consecration.

The consecration includes two parts. The first one is a proclamation by the bishop-elect of his faith, because the first thing which the Church can claim from him is that he should proclaim the Gospel and the teaching of Orthodoxy in its integrity, purity and completeness. And so he is examined on his faith, brought from the Sanctuary in full priestly vestments, always white, because it is a feast similar to the Easter night Day of the Resurrection. He is brought to the centre of the church and faces the bishops who are to consecrate him and the people who have assembled. And the proclamation of his election being made, the senior bishop asks him: ‘Wherefore art thou come, and what dost thou ask of our lowliness, of us unworthy ones?’ And the answer is ‘The laying-on of hands unto the grace of the bishop’s office.' This question and answer is important in that once more, but this time before all the people, before the whole congregation, the bishop proclaims his readiness to take upon himself the yoke which will be laid upon him.

I have already quoted the words which Christ spoke as an awesome promise to James and John on the way to Caesarea Philippi. But if you think of the yoke, let us read a passage from St Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians in the 4th chapter: 'God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed: Always bearing about in the body the deadness of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For while we live we are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So death worketh in us, but life in you.'

There are other passages in St. Paul and indeed in so many lives of the saints that show what the destiny of whoever chooses to follow, to proclaim, to serve Christ may be. 'And how believest thou?' says the presiding bishop, and the candidate reads the Creed, that very Creed which we proclaim every time we celebrate the Liturgy, the Creed of the Church universal, a creed which speaks in concrete theological and historical terms of our God, but of a God who is love. And therefore to proclaim this Creed is tantamount to pledging oneself to be a herald of love, not only in words but in one's whole way of life, in one's whole way of dying. And this is why in the Liturgy, where this Creed will be proclaimed, and of which the bishop will always be the celebrant, whether in his own person or in the person of the priests ordained by him, the Creed is preceded by the words 'Let us have love one to another, that so we may proclaim the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' And after the reading of the Greed, grace is called upon this man: 'The grace of God the Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit be with thee'. And then again : 'Declare unto us more particularly how thou believest concerning the properties of the three persons of the ineffable Godhead and concerning the incarnation of the person of the Son and Word of God.

And here follows a long profession of faith which you have in Hapgood in an abridged form, which is often used in this form, in which the bishop proclaims his attitude to all the problems that have arisen in the early centuries of the Church, rejecting by implication heresies and false doctrines and proclaiming what is and was and shall be the teaching of Orthodoxy: our faith --in one God the Father Almighty, who is without beginning, unbegotten, and without cause, but is himself the natural beginning and cause of the Son, and of the Spirit -- in his Only-begotten Son, without mutation and without time begotten of him, who is of one Essence with Him, by whom all things were made-- in the Holy Spirit, who proceedeth from the Father alone.' Here the Episcopal Creed is much clearer and sharper than the Nicaean, Constantinopolitan Creed which we recite. It declares the procession from the Father alone according to the words of Christ himself, in the Gospel.

Then the incarnation by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the fact that Christ was made true and perfect man, 'remaining God, in nowise changing his divine essence, did participate in the flesh’ and remain truly God while he became truly man, who endured death and suffering in his humanity, while his divine nature remained free from the suffering and the death inflicted on his human body; --about his resurrection, his ascension, his sitting on the right hand of his Father. The bishop proclaims that he does believe the traditions of the one Church as they were received from God and the man of God, that he recognises one baptism for the remission of sins, looks for the resurrection or the dead and the life of the world to come.

And then turning to the person of Christ: 'I confess the one person, the Word made flesh; and I believe and proclaim that Christ is one and the same in two natures after his incarnation, preserving those things (characteristics) which were in them and from them, in other words, that Christ is not a sort of hybrid between divinity and humanity, that the divinity did not swallow the humanity so that Christ's humanity became an illusion, and did not lose its reality, that the humanity of Christ did not, as it were, swallow his divinity so that he was man and not God. In words which I have already quoted to you more than on one occasion which belong to St Maxim the Confessor: 'The humanity and divinity of Christ are united perfectly and totally without any of them being changed by communion to the other, as heat pervades a sword of iron: the sword remains itself, the iron is unchanged, the heat remains itself, and yet it transfigures the iron and brings it to become a vision of what it could be in glory’. The two are one, and yet the two preserve their natural identity. And to use again the words of St. Maxim: 'so that one can cut with fire and burn with iron.' And this is what we mean, we believe in the union of two natures in the Lord Jesus Christ. And also we believe and proclaim that we recognise in him two wills, that the will of God did not annihilate the will of man, did not break it, did not enslave it, that in Christ the man his human will was free, as the divine will in the Son of God incarnate remained free. And I have insisted so often, speaking of the incarnation of the Son of God and of his baptism, that in his incarnation the Son of God took flesh and delivered himself in and through the flesh of the newborn baby of Bethlehem to the world he wanted to save, being an image of love, divine or human indifferently, helpless, vulnerable, perfectly surrendered, defenceless, given, but that on the day when Christ came to the banks of Jordan, he whom St Paul calls the man Jesus, with his free will, in the sovereign freedom of his humanity, chose to follow to the last the path which God had chosen.

So we proclaim his two wills, which in a way is the glory of our humanity, the certainty that the will of man can identify perfectly and creatively with the will of God.

Then a word about icons, that ‘I reverence, not in order to worship but to venerate them, the images of Christ, of the Mother of God, of the Saints, addressing worship or veneration to the persons represented by them, and yet paying them honour because they are images of those whom we love and adore.'

And a last thing concerning the Mother of God, that we confess and truly hold that our sovereign Lady, Mary, the Mother of God, bore in the flesh one of the Trinity, Christ our God, that she was truly the Mother of God in the sense that she gave birth into history, gave the flesh of the incarnation to him who was and is for ever the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity.

After this the bishop again receives a blessing: 'The grace of the Holy Spirit be with thee, enlightening, strengthening, endowing thee with wisdom all the days of thy life’.

And then a last part of this profession, which concerns no longer the faith mainly but concerns the way in which the bishop will discharge his commission. 'Declare unto us what thou thinkest concerning the Canons of the holy Apostles and the holy Fathers, and the traditions and rules of the Church.

I will read it, commenting where necessary, on the translation which we have here, which is not always as perfect as one can wish. 'In this my confession of the holy faith, I promise to observe the Canons of the holy Apostles, of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, of the pious provincial Councils, the traditions of the Church, the decrees, orders and rules of the Holy Fathers. And all things whatsoever they have accepted I also accept; and whatsoever things they have rejected those will I also reject.'

This proclamation covers the whole of what one may call the Church's tradition, that which is being handed from the Lord Jesus Christ himself through his Apostles through his saints, through the body, the total body of the Church, which is the earthen vessels of this tradition. And this tradition is not made of words or of rules; the essence of it is the transmission of life eternal as revealed and as given by Christ and the Holy Spirit. And all these rules of which one speaks, whether theological, dogmatic statements, whether disciplinary, whether they concern the ways of life, all of them are meant to be like the banks of a river that prevent the river from stagnation from a bog and allow it to run, powerfully towards its aim.

Among these regulations some are properly ways in which the nature of the Church, the relation of God and his Church, the relation of the various constitutive parts of the Church work together. Those are unshakable. Some have been introduced as protection against experienced evils. These at times become obsolete. At other times they may become important again. Some represent passing moments in the history of the Church and probably become obsolete in a definitive way, but what remains of them is a lesson for us on the way in which men of saintliness, men of wisdom and of spiritual height have met the problems of their time and solved them. And in that sense they are models, examples, and they are kept in the treasury of the Church in order for us to learn how one solves problems, how one faces the complex situation of the Church in the world and also of the world invading the Church through human sin, if not through other forms of intrusion.

Then comes the next one: 'I promise also to preserve the peace of the Church and firmly to hold and zealously to teach the people entrusted to me, and not to devise anything whatsoever which is contrary to the Orthodox Christian faith, all the days of my life; and that I will, in all things, follow the Most Blessed Patriarchs and be of one mind with my brethren and, conjointly with them, obey the divine will and the sacred rules and that I will with all sincerity cherish towards them spiritual affection and regard them as my brethren.’

This in a way is a concrete, perhaps not particularly well expressed counterpart to the basic idea that the Church is - to use an expression of the 19th century theological writer Samarin - an organism of love, a body in which love is experienced and in which love is lived. 'I promise to all the flock committed unto me in the fear of God, that I wll in a real sense be answerable not only for my teaching and my ways, but for the destiny of every one committed unto me, and I will do this with 'devoutness of life: with all diligent need to guard this flock against all heresies of doctrine.'

'I also confess that neither by promise nor by gift am I come to this ministry, but I have received it by the election of the Most Holy Synod.' That is a very important point in the sense that the Church has always felt that no coercion, no greed, no fear should compel one to accede to things holy, that it is a sacrilege.

And here the proclamation is made that it is by the will of the Body of Christ that this ordination will take place, and not otherwise. 'I promise to do nothing through constraint, whether coerced by a powerful person or the multitude of the people, even though they should command me under pain of death, to do anything contrary to the divine and holy law - not to celebrate the divine Liturgy in another diocese than my own, not to exercise any other priestly function without the permission of the bishop of that diocese, and that I will not ordain either priest or deacon or any ecclesiastic in another's diocese, nor receive such into my diocese without letters of dismissal from their own bishops.’

This is a long discourse, out it is important, in that because in the mind of the Orthodox Church a bishop is wedded to his diocese for life and that the relationship between the diocese and him is as total, as complete and definitive as a marriage. We speak, when a bishop dies, of a widowed Episcopal see. And so it is only the bishop of a given diocese who has authority to act in it, exactly as only the father of a family can share totally and perfectly the life of his family. There is a rule in the Orthodox Church that an infringement of these principles may lead the Church to declare that an act, a liturgical act, a sacramental act or a disciplinary act performed illegitimately by a strange bishop outside of his diocese may not be recognised as having happened, that one ordained illegitimately may be declared to be a layman and the bishop who would have done this could be unfrocked, because it is considered an infringement as great as adultery. It is breaking into the relationship between the diocese and the bishop.

‘I will deal with the opponents of the Holy Church, with reasonableness, uprightness and gentleness, according to the Apostle Paul, who says 'the servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves; if God, peradventure, will give them repentance to acknowledge the truth.

‘I promise to visit and watch over the flock now confided to me, after the manner of the Apostles, whether they remain true to the faith and exercise themselves in good works, and more especially the priests; and to inspect with diligence, and to exhort and inhibit that there may be no schisms, superstitions or impious veneration, and that no customs contrary to Christian piety and good morals may injure the Christian conduct.

‘And all those things, my bounden duty, which I have this day promised in word, I also promise to perform in deed unto my uttermost breath, for the sake of the promised good things to come. And may God, who seeth my heart, be the witness to my promise. And may our Saviour himself be my helper, in my sincere and zealous government and my performance thereof; and unto him, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory and dominion, honour and worship, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.'

And the presiding bishop, blessing him, says 'The grace of the Holy Spirit, through me, exalteth thee, to be the bishop-elect of the God-protected cities of...’

And the last blessing: ‘The grace of the Most Holy Spirit be with thee.’

I will stop at this point and I will continue next time; and end the description of the service, but also, for those who have patience enough to come again, say something more about the episcopacy and about a certain number of ritual things attached to the vesting and the celebration of the bishop.


XXII

CONSECRATION AND ROLE OF A BISHOP

19 May, 1983

 

In the last three talks we have been examining the election and the consecration of a bishop. Now I should like to say something about the actual act of consecration, something about the role and the place of the bishop in the church, basing my remarks on what we have already seen last time, and also give a few indications concerning the meaning of the vesting of the bishop and of the omophorion, because this brings out the meaning of his role and his place in the service.

The actual consecration of the bishop takes place after the singing of the Thrice-holy Hymn, that is, before the reading of the Epistle and before the reading of the Gospel, over which he will preside, sitting on his throne during the reading of the Epistle, because he represents at that moment the collegiality of all the episcopate, headed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and over the reading of the Gospel because he stands there crowned with his mitre, which, as we will see a little later, is no ornament but a glorious vision of the crown of thorns.

He is brought to the sanctuary by two sponsoring priests, usually his spiritual father and someone who is either a senior priest or someone particularly close to him, to bring him to the Holy Doors, as I have already remarked on the occasion of the ordination of a deacon and of a priest, to pass once more through that threshold, be brought into the realm of God, into which one can enter only by laying down one's life.

And it is made so abundantly clear in the Gospel that the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, calls every shepherd to lay down his life for his flock, not to die once physically, but to renounce himself, his interests, everything that he is, his personal life, everything without exception, day in and day out, in order not to rule but to serve, to be, as one of the hymns of the Orthodox Church says, like a slave sold to his masters. This is said about the Lord Jesus Christ in one of the songs of Holy Week, but it applies to all of the episcopate, singly and collectively. He is not taken round the Holy Table as the deacon or the priest is. He has twice accepted the betrothal and the crowning ceremony in the ordination to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and now he comes bringing himself, soul and body, as a living sacrifice after mature reflection, having been tested, having been chosen and elected, and having answered Christ's question to James and John: ‘Are you prepared to drink the cup which I am to drink, to be merged into the ordeal which shall be mine?’, he kneels before the Holy Table. The senior consecrator puts upon his head the book of the Gospel and his stole, and all the bishops present lay their hands upon his head.

If you remember what I said in the past, this laying-on of hands has, as it were, a double significance. According to Hebrew tradition and the Old Testament, to lay one's hand upon a person’s head is to bring forth a solemn testimony. In cases of accusation, the accuser was to lay his hand upon the head of the accused and proclaim his guilt. If the man or woman was found guilty, punishment was given, but if they were found free of guilt, innocent, then the person who had dared lay his hand upon the accused had to undertake the punishment which the accused would have had to suffer had he been found guilty. So in that sense the laying-on of hands of the bishops, as in previous ordinations, is the way in which a solemn testimony is brought in the name of the whole Church represented by them, that this man was found fit to fulfil the dread and lofty function of a bishop.

You remember what I quoted to you more than once from the ordination of the deacon, that prayer in which the bishop says: ‘It is not in the laying-on of my hands, sinner that I am, but in grace that comes from above that this man is ordained to the diaconate. So in that sense the laying-on of hands is a testimony before God and before men, and a testimony in which those who lay hands take responsibility on their eternal salvation for their act, for introducing one more person into the apostolic circle, making him a partaker of the collective grace of the Spirit who lives in the Church and granting the fullness of grace which is necessary for him to fulfil his episcopal function.

On the other hand, as in all the sacraments, the material support, as it were, of the sacramental event is this laying on of hands and the words of prayer. And as in all sacraments, while a material support is offered to God - bread, wine, oil, hands, water - the laying-on on the day of ordination is accompanied by a prayer to God the Holy Spirit, because what is to be effected cannot be effected by any human agency. A testimony is brought forth, but God must respond. It is his grace that fulfils and responds to the prayer of the Church.

And so while, with his head covered with the omophorion of the senior bishop, the book of the Gospel representing the Lord Jesus Christ Himself upon his head - and you may remember the words which are read in the service of anointment of the sick at the end, when absolution is given, it says: ‘I lay not my sinful hand upon the head of him (or her) who has come unto thee in sin and asketh of thee through us the pardon of his (or her) sins, but thy hand strong and mighty which is in this thy Holy Gospels that is now held by my fellow- ministers upon the head of thy servant,’ this is what happens also. The Gospel represents not only the words spoken by Christ, but Christ, God's own Word, God's own power, God's own person.

And then the presiding bishop says that the election and approbation of the God-loving bishops and of the sacred council, grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm, and fulfilleth that which is wanting, through the laying-on of hands elevateth thee, the most loving ... duly elected, to be the bishop of the God-guarded cities of ... Let us pray for this, that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him.' Then: Lord have mercy is sung and the presiding bishop reads a prayer:

O Master, Lord our God, who through Thine all laudable Apostle Paul hast established for us degrees and ranks, unto the service and Thine divine celebration of Thine august and spotless Mysteries upon thy holy Altar; first, Apostles, second, Prophets, thirdly, teachers: Do thou, the same Lord of all, who also hast graciously granted to this chosen person to come under the yoke of the Gospel and receive the dignity of a bishop through the laying-on of hands of us, his fellow bishops here present, strengthen him by the inspiration and power and grace of thy Holy Spirit, as thou didst strengthen thy holy Apostles and Prophets; as thou didst anoint Kings; as thou hast consecrated bishops: And make his bishopric to be blameless; adorn him with all dignity, present thou him holy, that he may be worthy to ask those things which are for the salvation of the people, and that thou mayest give ear unto him. For blessed is thy Name, and glorified thy Kingdom.

And then, after a short litany, which was read for previous consecrations and ordinations:

O Lord our God, who, forasmuch as it is impossible for the nature of man to endure the Essence of the Godhead, in thy providence hast instituted for us teachers of like nature with ourselves, to maintain thy Altar, that they may offer unto thee sacrifice and oblation for all thy people; Do thou, the same Lord, make this man also, who hath been proclaimed a steward of the episcopal grace, to be a follower of thee, the true Shepherd, who didst. lay down thy life for thy sheep; to be a leader of the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a reprover of the unwise, a teacher of the young, a lamp to the world: that, having perfected the souls entrusted unto him in this present life, he may stand unashamed before thy throne, and receive the great reward which thou hast prepared for those who have contended valiantly for the preaching of thy Gospel.

And after this the bishop is vested in his episcopal vestments. The celebration continues, and at the end of the service he is brought forth for two things. The first one is to receive his episcopal staff. This staff is an image of the shepherd's staff, but it is also, as we can see in the history of the apostles, the staff of a pilgrim, the staff of one who has no home on earth, whose home is in God’s kingdom, who has chosen to be in the world by the command of God but not of the world, who is a stranger, and at the same time a stranger who brings good tidings, the good news of the Gospel, who prepares the way of the Lord, who is a voice shouting in the desert, commanding, praying or begging, in the name of God Almighty, that those who hear should make the rough ways smooth and the crooked ways plain for the Lord of glory to come and take a hold, be enthroned in their lives, in mind, in heart and soul, in every thing which is theirs.

Now I would like, from what we have seen in the past and today to draw a few conclusions, first of all concerning the function of the bishop. I asked once in Russia in one of the churches the people who were there milling around me what they expected of their bishop, whether it was to be a good administrator, an outstanding preacher, a learned theologian, and the answer was: no, all this is a blessing for us, but what we expect him to be is the man who will pray constantly for all of us. And this role of an intercessor is an essential element of the episcopal function. And when I speak of intercession I do not mean simply the reading of intercessory prayers in the various services or in private, but what intercession truly and essentially means.

The word `intercession’ comes from a Latin word that means taking a step that brings you to the heart of the situation, to the heart, in this case, of a conflict - one who will stand between God and man praying to God for mercy and for help to those who have sinned, fallen away, renounced or betrayed. And at the same time standing before men in God's own Name, praying, begging them not to forfeit their vocation, and to be ready to hear God's word spoken to them.

And in this intercessory action he must be prepared to carry the weight of man's rejection by sharing all their misery and to share the rejection by men which may come upon anyone who speaks for God. Christ is the Intercessor, not because he lifted pure, spotless hands towards the Father, asking for mercy upon the people, but because he took this tragic step of the Incarnation, because he became man while being God, because within himself he brought face to face the nature of man and the divine nature. He made intrinsical to himself the conflict between God and man, and as a man, true and perfect, conquered, resolved the conflict and could then turn both to God and to man in the wholeness and integrity of this victory. This is what a bishop is called to do with his own life. This is his function.

And at the same time this intercessory function in the history of Orthodoxy has also had another aspect. This intercessory action was called in mediaeval Russia . . . . . . It was the role and function of the bishop, or of the patriarch, to stand before civil power, the tsars, the conquerors, any tormentor, in defence of those who were the victims. And this has cost the life of many and many of those who have attempted to fulfil fearlessly and perfectly this episcopal function.

So the intercessory function of the bishop or of the patriarch is directed in two ways: on the one hand, reconciliation of man and God, and on the other hand, the defence and protection of man against man, if necessary at the cost of freedom and of life.

The second essential function of the bishop is to be one who proclaims the Gospel in all its integrity and purity. And integrity and purity of the Gospel - to use a phrase which I heard once - is like a diamond. It is perfectly pure, but it is also hard to the extreme. There is no compromise, because it is the law of life, as contrasted with the law of death. The Gospel is not a command; the Gospel is a revelation, an unveiling of the way in which humans who are in the valley of the shadow of death, in the twilight of earthly life, can see a light and follow a light that will bring them to being like Christ, true and perfect humans. And this is why in the previous section of the bishop's consecration he had to proclaim his faith, in the words of the Creed and then in more detail, and again speak of the implications of his faith in the way in which the Church is structured, built and lives. His function is doctrinal. He is a teacher. It was said that in each diocese the bishop is a fifth evangelist, one who proclaims the Good News, following the four Evangelists, in words always new, in terms always adapted to the language, the time, the understanding of the people, and yet the same Gospel, unadulterated in its entirety and ruthless love.

And then also - and this I have mentioned - the bishop is the link between the Church universal and a local diocese or congregation. A bishop is ordained a bishop of the Church of God for the whole world, but he functions in a definite place and in a definite surrounding. But he belongs to this ever-widening apostolic circle that is rooted in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he is at one with him and with all the generations that have preceded him.

On the other hand, his function is local. His whole life is given to a particular flock which he unites with the Church universal but for which he has unique responsibility to the exclusion of everyone else. No patriarch can celebrate a service on the territory of the youngest, the most insignificant bishop without his permission and agreement, because the diocese and the bishop are one. And this is a very great thing if it is perceived and understood. If every priest of the diocese is aware of the fact that, having been ordained by this particular bishop or one of his predecessors, it is their priesthood which acts and lives in them. And it is a wonderful thing if the bishop is, as he should be, the liturgical centre, the charismatic, the sacramental centre of the diocese’s life. He is called to be a follower of Christ as a true shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep, to be a leader of the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, to reprove the unwise and - as we have seen last time - with charity and gentleness and also reasonably and with uprightness, to be the teacher of the young, a light shining in the world.

Now if we think of an episcopal celebration, very often we see in it only pomp. Instead of the habitual simplicity of the Liturgy or an evening service, there are elements that come in which seem to us superfluous. In a sense one may say that whatever service is taken by a bishop, this service is a pontifical service, because it is not the form, but the essence of it which gives it its quality. However simple, unassuming the service may be, it is an apostolic celebration. But on the other hand, in practice, there are elements in an episcopal service which we do not observe otherwise.

And I would like to single out two of them. The one is very important in the context of what I said about the situation of the bishop, who is both part of his flock and stands before God with his flock carrying upon him all the weight of sin, of folly, of doubt, of groping that is his people. In the Middle Ages when some one came to confession, at the end of it, when absolution had been given by the priest, the priest said to the penitent, 'Put your hand upon my neck’ and he bends his head and curves his neck and says: 'You are free now of all the sins which you have truly confessed. They are now on me.’ And this remains true. It remains true between the priest and the penitent, between the bishop and his total flock, and in the end between all mankind and the Lord Jesus Christ, upon whom rests in a crushing way the sin of the world that brought about his Crucifixion.

Now the first thing that I want to single out is the use of the omophorion, this cloth which is put at certain moments on the shoulders of the bishop. In early days it was made of white wool, because it was meant to represent the lost sheep which the good shepherd goes out to search for, to find, to tame, to bring back to the fold. On the other hand, this imagery goes farther than this. There are moments when the bishop wears his omophorion. There are moments when the omophorion is taken away from his shoulders. And, to put it in short without trying to take up every one of the occasions, he wears the omophorion whenever he stands before the Church in the Person of Christ. And it is taken off his shoulders whenever he stands before God as a member of the lost sheep whom the Lord has come to seek out and to save. He stands and listens to the Gospel without his omophorion, because the Lord is speaking. He receives communion without his omophorion because it is from the hand of the Lord that he receives Communion as a sheep of the fold. But he gives Communion with the omophorion on his shoulders to underline the fact that it is not from his hand but from the hand of the Good Shepherd who had truly and actually given his life for his sheep that everyone receives Communion. These are just a couple of examples. But whenever you notice the fact, do realize that it is not a moment when the bishop is glorified but a moment when the Church’s wisdom underlines the fact that it is Christ who acts and that the bishop is only a hand or a voice, nothing else.

The second thing I want to mention is the vesting of the bishop in the middle of the church. The vesting of the bishop should be seen against the background of the Lord’s Passion. The bishop comes dressed in his episcopal dress. A mantia, a cope is put upon him, and this mantia has two characters. It is his monastic mantia. He remains, bishop or not, one who has chosen to renounce everything except the things of God. Whether he is successful or not, whether he be worthy or not, this was his determination and his choice. On the other hand, his mantia is no longer the black mantia of one who has died to the world and wears the colour of the funeral service, or rather of bereavement, of death. It is one which is either purple, or blue for metropolitans only in the Russian Church, but of a lighter colour, because through death, life and victory are shining. In a way this change of colour speaks of the death of Christ and of the dawn of the coming resurrection for us. And the lines, white and red, which are called streams, represent, remind us against this background, of the water and blood that ran out of the pierced heart of our Saviour on the cross. So death is no longer in power. Victory is already won. We can already see the dawn of it and the streams of living water and of life-giving blood running to us. Then he is brought to the Holy Doors and prays. He prays that God would grant him to celebrate the Holy Mysteries without condemnation..

And then, brought to the middle of the church, he is stripped of all that is both symbolic and earthly glory. His episcopal headgear is taken away. His mantia is taken away. His cross and panagia are taken away. His upper vestment is taken away. What is left in the middle of the church is a man wearing the clothes of a novice in a monastery, stripped of everything but these clothes. And then he is gradually vested - vested with vestments which all are a symbol of his becoming, for the time of this celebration, an icon, an icon that conveys to us meaning, yes, but that has no power in itself, like any icon. An icon, as we are taught, makes us look at itself and turn with heart and mind to the person represented, and if this icon becomes miraculous it is only because through. it the power and grace of God flows towards the earth and the believer, in the way in which the light of the sun flows through the clear panes of a window. In that sense a bishop is truly an icon, but only to the extent to which he is transparent and to which, seeing the symbol, we turn ourselves to the reality which is beyond it.

The first thing which he receives is an alb, which reminds him and us of the fact that a similar alb was given to each of us on the day of our baptism. 'A robe of brightness crown unto me, O Lord' - a sign that God has cleansed us and is cleansing us from our sins, is making us new, that he can wash our sins even if they were like purple and make us as white as snow, as white as wool. Then he is given the epitrakilion, the stole, which, according to the prayer that accompanies the vesting, is an image of the grace of God, running like blessed oil upon on the head of Aaron when he was made a priest, running down on his vestments to the very fringes of it. Then a belt representing God’s strength given to a frail man, the power of God that is made manifest in weakness, the fact that all things become possible to us in the power of Christ, who sustains us. Then the upper vestment - the priest will be clad in righteousness. And in the end, the omophorion, of which I have spoken.

And then the cross with the words: The Lord said: 'Whoever wishes to follow me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me. And then the panagia, usually the image of the Mother of God. The panagia is the specific mark of the bishop in Orthodoxy, the Church as the bride of Christ, she who is prepared to turn away from all things in order to follow the beloved One, the Bridegroom, whithersoever he goeth. It has become the mark of the bishop, because in the early days the bishop travelled throughout his diocese visiting those places where there was an individual Christian, a small cluster of believers, no priest, and bringing them Communion from the Holy Gifts consecrated in his church, in his cathedral. These Holy Gifts he carried in a small box on his chest. Very soon this box became adorned with an image of the Mother of God, the human pyx, the holy dwelling place of the real presence of the incarnate Son of God.

And then when churches multiplied, when it became unnecessary for the bishop to travel around bringing the Holy Gifts with him, what was left was this image of the Mother of God, representing this mystery of Communion, the mystery of the Incarnation. And when a bishop is censed, whatever he in his divinity may think, he is censed as one censes an icon - it is the cross, it is the panagia, it is the image of Christ which is recognised and proclaimed.

I have now finished this series of talks on the ordinations and consecrations, and there are two more subjects for what is left of our 'school year’: marriage and the Eucharist. And I will come to one or the other of the two subjects in my next talk. We will now as usual keep quiet for a few minutes, then pray and go in peace.

 

 

XXIII

Marriage and the Eucharist

9 June, 1983

 

We are coming gradually to the end of these talks on the sacraments, and what is left for us to do is to say something about the sacraments of marriage and the Eucharist. The two are connected with one another very closely. Both are sacraments, not only of unity but of oneness. Both are images, premonitions of the things to come, when dividedness, separation will have been overcome. Both have already on earth a completeness that already belongs to the eschatological realm. And yet both lack something, because it is only when all things will be fulfilled that the oneness, however great our union with God or our union with one another is, will reach its plenitude.

Speaking of the Eucharist, the Communion between man and God, a prayer of the Liturgy says: 'And grant us, O Lord, to commune more perfectly, more fully with thee in the Age to Come’. So that even these sacraments, which are such an incredible, unthinkable, unfathomable union between God and man, are incomplete and only a foretaste of things to come. All the more, the sacrament of marriage.

Of this sacrament, or rather of the mystery of marriage, there is a passage in one of the manuscripts of the Gospel that says: 'The Lord was asked "When shall the Kingdom of God come?" and he replied: "The Kingdom of God has already come when two are no longer two, but one". And yet again we know that the Kingdom, as we experience it now in our historical flow of time, is only in becoming, that the Kingdom is like the light that shines in the darkness which the darkness is incapable of quenching and which yet it does not receive. And the link between these two sacraments goes very deep, because it is not only the spiritual unity or the psychological harmony between man and woman, but even their physical harmony and oneness which is seen by certain of the spiritual writers of old as parallel to the mystery of God's union with his creatures in the sacrament of Communion. One of the writers of old could say that the physical love of husband and wife could be an image and simile to the way in which Christ unites himself with his creatures.

So the two sacraments are closely linked with each other and can be understood only if we see the one reflected in the other and if we remember this balance - or is it an unbalance - which makes one eschatological event into an event in which the things of the age to come are already disclosed to us and also experienced by us, but with all the limitations of a world which still lies in sin, of a world which has not yet opened itself up to the plenitude of communion with God.

And when we speak of the sacrament of marriage, there is another context in which we must set it. It is the context of monasticism or, if you prefer, - to cover a wider and more complex ground - of dedicated, consecrated celibacy. When you think of the monastic profession and of the relationship that exists between husband and wife, you may well not be struck by the analogy. And yet fundamentally there are parallels as well as a sharp divide. And let me say a word first about the sharp divide.

The sharp divide does not consist in the fact that consecrated celibacy, the monastic profession, places a woman or man in total aloneness face to face with God. For this aloneness on a human level is fulfilled, acquires a total meaning in the oneness which the person experiences with God and - and this is very important – in God with all the created beings. So the monastic profession is not a situation is which, having renounced to be enslaved to earthly things, a human being is made alien to the world, but a situation in which, having refused enslavement, entanglement, a human being roots himself in God, and in God finds again the whole creation which he seemingly had forsaken.

I want to dwell on this point because it has direct relevance to the subject of marriage, for us to understand the context. The word 'monk' comes from a Greek word which means aloneness. But it also means not only aloneness but wholeness. It is a unified person who stands in this unified condition before the Holy One who is oneness itself and communes with him within this oneness, possessed to perfection, fully, by the living God, One in Three Persons, and shared with a human being whose powers are all made one in a harmony, the key of which is communion with God. But on the other hand, a communion with the God of love, the God who has given his only-begotten Son so that a world that has betrayed him may be saved, cannot alienate the person to that world which God not only willed but loved into existence and for which he gave his life.

There is an illustration which I think is worth mentioning, of this balance between what Theophan the Recluse says of the monk: 'a living soul and her God, that that is all there is to the monk or the nun' and what I said. In Father Sophrony's book The Undistorted Image, or in one of the two halves published separately afterwards, there is a story concerning Silouan.

Silouan was in charge of a workshop. To the surprise of other supervisors, those committed to his charge worked hard, honestly, without trying to skip their work, while in other workshops, in spite of severe supervision, the work was not done as conscientiously, as lovingly and responsibly. And once again, sitting at table at a meal they asked Silouan how he managed. And Silouan answered and said something to this effect, that long before the young men, who had come from all the corners of Russia, assembled for the work, he was up, and having prayed the usual prayers, he turned to praying for each of them and all of them. And then when the time had come, he went into the workshop and looked at them with his heart full of compassion and love for them and deep concern for them, because these were young Russian peasants, come from all corners of the vast Russian empire, who had left behind their families, their villages, because they were too poor to subsist and to keep their own loved ones. They had come there to work for a year, two years, three years perhaps, in order to collect a little money and be able to return to support their families better than they could before. And so he looked at them with concern, because they were lonely, they were in a strange land, they were afraid for their families, and being illiterate as well as this, they could not even correspond with them.

And so, said Silouan, he distributed to each of them some of the work, trying to apportion it according to their gifts, to their strength, to what he saw of their eagerness or their sadness. And then, having done this, he went to his cell, and all the hours during which they would work he prayed for them.

And he describes the way he did it. He took his stand before God and said to him: Lord, remember Nikita, Michael, or whoever, remember his family, he has left behind a young wife, a newborn child. How sad his heart must be. How worried he is for them. How desperate must have been their poverty, for him to abandon them to their destiny and to the charity of others and to the mercy of God. And he said he prayed and prayed for this man, for that woman, for that child, for their village, and as he prayed more and more deeply with an ever-increasing compassion and love, the presence of God, the sense of God became increasingly overwhelming for him, and at a certain moment the sense of God prevailed over everything and he forgot the young workman and his family and his village and was carried as though it was on a tumultuous stream, as he puts it, into the depth of God. And there, at the heart of divine love, he found the young workman, his young wife, their child, their village, held, loved by God. And as it were on a returning tide he came back to earth full of compassion, of love, of concern and of prayer, but it was now God’s own love and compassion and concern and intercession which he offered him. And so he went on.

This, I think, is a very important thing to remember, that consecrated celibacy is not alienation from the world but another way of approaching it, from within God together with him in another relationship.

And I remember also my spiritual father telling me of a novice from the monastery of Valaam whom he had met when he himself was undecided whether he would become a monk or return to preach the Gospel in the world. He met this man on one of the islands in a small hermitage. He had been a novice for fifty years and never accepted to be professed a monk. He had worked hard, lost an arm, lost a leg because a tree had fallen on him when he was lumbering for the monastery. And he said to him: ‘But why, why after all these years have you not become a monk?’ And the answer came from this simple novice Nicholas: ‘A monk is one who cries in compassion for the whole world. I have not yet learned compassion.’

These things I mention to you because it is important for us to realise that however different the ways are, the outer conditions in which Christians of different vocations live, basically they must fulfil the two commandments which the Lord Jesus Christ has given , to love one’s God with all one’s heart, all one’s mind , all one’s soul and all one’s strength, and one’s neighbour as oneself . Those two commandments are equal to each other although the one would crumble to dust if the other one was not fulfilled. There could be no true love for one’s neighbour on the scale to which we are called if it was not God’s love and if this love were not on God’s scale.

And yet there are two streams of life: the celibate and the married one. Nothing in the Church can exist which does not express the very being, the substance, the life of the Church. And when I speak of the Church, I do not mean our earthly community with its imperfections, but the Church in which we believe, which is the substance and the life power of the Church in which we live. And if one can say - and this is the imagery which we found throughout the Old and the New Testaments, in all the patristic writings and the liturgical sequences - if one can say that marriage is an image, an icon, however imperfect because it is earthly, of the banquet of the Lamb, of the Kingdom fulfilled, of all things being one with God and in God, one can also say that the monastic renunciation, the readiness in a world where connectedness, solidarity, unity and oneness are so essential for survival both spiritual and physical - that this renunciation is an image of the loneliness of Christ, the loneliness of God become man, and is an image also of the way, the ascent to the cross, the bride, of which St Peter speaks in one of his epistles, the bride of the Lamb, the sacrificial lamb, the Lamb who is offered and slain for the sins of the world, beloved, recognised and followed by his creatures, as the Scripture puts it, whithersoever he goes, following him from the humiliation of the incarnation into the defenceless, the vulnerable condition which he has chosen, accepting never to be understood, accepting always to be a stranger, accepting always somehow to be not only a challenge but an offence, accepting rejection ultimately.

But again, one must be careful not to draw contrasts which are unreal in the twilight of history, in the twilight of the human situation, because in the loneliness and the way of the cross which dedicated celibacy implies, there is also a mystery of union with God which is already that fulfilment which each of us longs for at the end of time. And if we cast a look at the married condition again, it is not yet that fulfilment which we expect at the end of time. Like the Eucharist, there are still greater things to be revealed and experienced. There is an ascetic element, a severe element in the mystery of marriage as there is a glorious moment in the mystery of the dedicated celibacy, because on earth since the incarnation, the resurrection and the glorious ascension of our Lord, our Saviour, our God Jesus Christ, the cross and the resurrection can never be separated from one another. The cross shines with the light of the resurrection and the resurrection, we know, has followed the darkness of Calvary. The two are intertwined. And here again we find the same image, the image of the light that shines in darkness which the darkness cannot comprehend but which the darkness cannot quench either.

And the parallel now can be pursued, because if both the consecrated celibacy in its extreme historical form, the monastic profession, and the married estate are the two sides of the same coin, a vision from two different angles of the mystery of the Church and ultimately of the mystery of Christ in history and in eternity simultaneously, then perhaps we can learn something about the married estate from the monastic vows. In Orthodoxy someone who becomes a monk or a nun professes, strictly speaking, only one vow, that of stability. The other undertakings of poverty, chastity, obedience are ways in which this stability is realised. The stability which one professes does imply historically the undertaking not to leave one’s own community or one’s own monastery otherwise than by command. But more basically, more essentially, this vow of stability is a declaration that my heart is bent on finding God, that if it were to cost me my life, I will not move from this place until the Lord give me his blessing.

In a way the image which comes to my mind is the fight of Jacob with the angel in the darkness of night, a fight in the darkness, when Jacob does not know whom he is fighting, and when the light dawns he recognises the angel of God and asks him to bless him. Stability is that attitude, that will take hold of God and fight in the darkness, that will stand before the door and knock, that will wait at whatever cost and be prepared to pay the cost because it is worth losing all one’s possessions to acquire the one precious pearl, to use the Gospel’s idiom. But this stability is a faithfulness. It is rooted in trust that however long the expectation, however arduous the struggle, God, who is faithful, will respond, and faithfulness to one’s purpose is a response to God’s own faithfulness.

But isn’t the very root of any human relationship, but supremely of a marriage relationship, the faithfulness of the two to one another, the readiness at all costs to remain at one, to struggle through all barriers, to overcome all separations, to stand and knock until the door opens - a stability of purpose, a determination that nothing will shake? And so there is this first analogy of the two roads, of the two forms of life. And if you remember what I said about the way in which a balance is held between the first and the second commandment, this balance is held here and there in the same manner.

And then poverty, the poverty of the first Beatitude: I am nothing. I possess nothing. I mean nothing except what I mean to God and to human love, except what I am given by divine love and by human love, except what I am through love divine and human - this miracle that one is nothing, one has nothing and yet that one possesses all things because one is loved. We are saved because we are loved. Our value is not intrinsic. Our value is measured by the love which is attached to us. Our value is infinite, because divine love, infinite, is given us and because finite, human love, but a love that expands through Communion with God to infinity, is also given us.

And perhaps we will come back to this when we speak of the service of marriage. It is important to realise that the balance between giving and receiving is immensely important. God does not treat us only as receptacles of his love. He calls us to be companions, friends, co-workers. And this applies supremely perhaps, to the relationship between husband and wife in themselves and in God.

And then chastity. We tend to think of chastity only in physical terms and we miss the point so completely. When we pray in the service of marriage that the relationship between husband and wife may remain chaste, we think of something which is far greater than the quality, the sobriety, the purity of the way in which they treat one another’s bodies. What we pray for, what chastity is, begins at the moment when a person can see another person simultaneously in his or her ultimate, perfect and glorious otherness, and worshipfully, reverently, dedicate himself or herself to the care of this person to a caring, understanding, reverent love. When we discover that our neighbour, each neighbour- not only those whom we love in a unique or in a more particular way - that every one was created by God and has got an eternal destiny and is connected to God in a way unique, unrepeatable, that God has for him a name which expresses him or her totally, and that this name is the mark of a unique relationship, of a unique communion. And at the same time, having discovered the greatness, the holiness, virtual, potential, of the other person, that we undertake to serve this person in God, to become, yes, in relationship to both, the friend of the bridegroom, the one that cares for the fulfilment of love between the two. Chastity begins at that moment when a person ceases to be a prey, ceases to be an object, ceases to be part of our environment and acquires an ultimate independence from us, and when the relationship that can exist between two persons is the relationship of true freedom.

And then obedience. Obedience is so different from military drill, from subservience, from subjection. The word obedience comes from a Latin word that means to listen, to lend an ear. And whether we relate to God or to one, another person, obedience is at the very heart of every relationship, of all encounter - to listen, to be open, to attempt with all one’s energies, to understand. This is what one pursues in all one’s spiritual life. The way in which, when we read the spiritual writers of old and of modern times we are told that we must break our own will, cut it off, become free of all forms of self will, is only a school; it is a way of being in harmony and open to a greater will than ours, but not in subjection, not in fear and submission but in the freedom of a gift of self in the mystery of a love relationship which is the fulfilment of both, because, as St Maxim the Confessor says, God can do everything save one: he can force no one to love, because love is a perfect freedom.

And so we see that whether we choose dedicated, consecrated celibacy or the married life, we are expressing in our lives the mystery of the Church in relation to God and to all those who are in God. And although the two ways imply obviously what one would call in modern terms a different style of life, it remains that the essence of things is one and the same.

I have dwelt on these various elements at length today because it is important for us to understand how they relate, and how the Church, the life of God in our midst, finds expression in the two alternatives. I will only add one word, that of the two, the Church considers marriage as a sacrament and has never defined the monastic profession as one. I think that the reason for it is that marriage is an image not of the tragic destiny of Christ on earth, but is an image, an icon of the kingdom which is to come. It has an eschatological dimension. It is a promise and it is a vision. And this is why it was singled out in the line of the Eucharist to belong together with it. And there was a time when the Orthodox Church had no independent service of marriage, but marriage was formalized by a public declaration and made into a sacramental event through bride and bridegroom receiving Communion together. In Greece an attempt has been made recently to celebrate the marriage service as part of the Eucharist, of the Divine Liturgy, and to that I will come next time when I speak more particularly of the service of marriage. From what I have just said you will deduce cleverly that I will have no time to speak of the Eucharist in this series, as our next talk will be our last in this season. So we will begin next year with a talk or a series of talks perhaps on the Eucharist, and then we will see where we go.

 

XXIV

HOLY MATRIMONY

25 June, 1984

Today we continue our talks on the sacraments. We have come to describing the rite of Holy Matrimony, of Marriage. I will try tonight to present you with the service as it stands in the Orthodox Church, and we will have to continue on this subject in the next season in the autumn, because there are many questions that should be touched upon and if possible resolved concerning marriage and human relationships within it.

You possibly remember that I said last time that in contrast with the monastic profession, dedicated, consecrated celibacy, which is not considered as a sacrament, marriage from the very beginning was defined as such by the Church. And the reason I gave for it was that the monastic profession of dedicated celibacy is, by an act of the will, of determination, a personal and free choice, the undertaking to follow the road of the cross, to follow Christ to his passion, to the garden on the Mount of Olives and the agony, and to the cross. I have also underlined the fact that although the monastic road is exemplified by the way of the cross, it would be an illusion to imagine that it has all the stern, stark darkness and tragic quality of Christ's ascent to the cross, because since the Resurrection, the cross of Christ stands against the background of the eternal, uncreated light of victory. And so the way which the consecrated celibacy represents is a way which is following Christ through all his tragic destiny, but at the same time filled, protected, surrounded by the eternal light and victory which Christ has won.

On the other hand, marriage is a sacrament because it is an image, an icon - and more than an icon - a realisation, however incomplete, as all things are on earth, of the mystery of the kingdom, the banquet of the Lamb, the unity of two in God through him between themselves. But if you remember what Christ said of the kingdom, that the kingdom is to be conquered by force, and only those who are prepared to do violence to themselves are fit to enter into it, if you remember that the way into the kingdom which is offered to every Christian without exception, is defined in the clear, simple words of Christ: “Deny thyself, turn away from thyself, take up thy cross and follow me"- then a sort of balance is restored between these two ways. This experience of the kingdom already come with power is marked also by the sign of the cross.

Now in early days in Constantinople up to the ninth century there was no separate rite of marriage. There was a public declaration which was a civil, social, public act of it and there was the taking part of bride and bridegroom in Holy Communion together. Later a service of marriage was gradually devised because probably two things were felt, that Holy Communion, the mystery of the Eucharist, was more universal, vaster, greater than the event that took place in the lives of two persons and the community involved in it, and also that there was a great deal that should be conveyed to those who were to be married through the liturgical form of the marriage, which could not possibly be done adequately within the Liturgy.

So we will go into the service of marriage as it stands now. And first of all, a thing which is important for us to remember is that the service of marriage as we take it in all Orthodox churches nowadays is practically always made of two services which were meant to take place separately: first a betrothal service which was to be taken when two persons were engaged to one another - and this engagement usually lasted for a long time - but the engagement was already binding. It was not simply a tentative agreement; it was an act, conscious, thought out, for two persons to enter into a new relationship. This service of the betrothal took place months - at times more than months - before the marriage service itself. And it was not simply a social event. It was an event whereby God in the Church established a new relationship between two persons that had to be experienced, thought out, lived and mature to the point when the service of the crowning, the fulfilment of the marriage would be accomplished.

There is also a last feature which we never observe nowadays. At the end of the service, after the crowning, the crowns are removed and put aside with special prayers. In the early Church this removal of the crowns took place a whole week after the service - not to say that bride and bridegroom spent eight days wearing their crowns day and night - but that this crowning having taken place, there was a period of eight days when bride and bridegroom continued to live as married people in virginity, and it is at the fulfilment of these eight days that these crowns were removed, and, as one of the prayers says, stored, as it were, in heaven for them to receive them when they had fought the good fight and earned them with a life that was worthy of the kingdom, the icon of which they had become.

I remind you of a phrase which I quoted to you last time of an old manuscript of the Gospel in which the Lord was asked 'When shall the kingdom of God come?’ and his answer was ‘The kingdom has already come when two are no longer two but one.' Let us go through the service so that you will have a scheme of it and a few indications of what it is meant to convey, and then in the next season we will go deeper into the meaning of things.

First of all we will take it as it is practised nowadays, the betrothal service simply preceding the marriage service proper, the crowning. Bride and Bridegroom, according to Orthodox custom are supposed not to meet on that day but prepare themselves by praying and by thinking of the event which is to take place. The bridegroom comes first to the church and is met by the choir which sings an appropriate troparion, either the troparion of the feast or of the day or any of the greeting troparia which we possess. And then the bride comes, brought either by her father or someone who takes his place and stands next to the bridegroom. They stand exactly in the same way in which the icons are placed before them on the holy screen. In other words, the bridegroom stands on this side facing the icon of Christ and the bride stands on that side facing the Mother of God.

The priest comes up to them and blesses them with the sign of the cross and gives them lighted topers, lighted candles. As we take this service as a whole, we always transfer two questions which are asked at the marriage service to the beginning of the betrothal. These questions are: 'Hast thou a good, free and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take unto thyself to wife this woman whom thou seest before thee? Thou hast not promised thyself to any other bride?' And the same question is asked of the bride. This was, in a way, a declaration of the freedom of the kingdom. One does not enter into the mystery of God, into the kingdom of love which is perfect freedom, otherwise than with unconstrained, free and good will. But also it was a moment when a bride compelled to marry a man against her will, could, in the last resort, say no, with whatever consequences might happen afterwards when she went home.

And than a second element in it is a firm intention, This firm intention refers to what I mentioned before. This kingdom is taken by force. It is not a smooth and simple way. It is a good fight to be fought in a relationship both to God and to the bridegroom.

And then usually, instead of giving the candles to the bride and bridegroom without a word, simply blessing them with them, the priest says, `May your light so shine before all men that, seeing your good works, they give glory to your Father who is in heaven.' And turning towards the sanctuary, he gives a first blessing: 'Blessed is our Lord.’ And a litany follows in which we pray for the servant of God and the handmaid of God who now plight each other their troth and for their salvation, that God will send down upon them perfect and peaceful love and his help, that he will preserve them in oneness of mind and in steadfast faith, bless them with blameless life and honourable marriage, pure and undefiled. Deliver them from all tribulation, wrath, necessity or violence, and that they may be granted children and the fulfilment of all their petitions which are for their good unto salvation.

The first words are important: 'They now plight each other their troth.' They promise each other their mutual faithfulness. They promise one another stability in their intent and determination to achieve what is a way of the cross in its own manner, and we pray for them that God would give them perfect, peaceful love and his help, without which love can never achieve perfection, can never be perfect peace and harmony; that God will preserve them in oneness of. mind and in steadfast faith. And this faith, I believe, is not only faith in God, which is the foundation and the stronghold of their relationship, but faith in one another, faith understood in all that it means: trust, and a trust so strong, so perfect that it can stand the test of all the problems of life; faith as faithfulness to one another, to one's own self, to one's work, to one's God, out of which alone can come the blameless life, the honourable marriage, pure and undefiled.

And this litany is concluded by a prayer from the priest who says: 'O eternal God, who hast brought into unity those who were sundered, and hast ordained for them an indissoluble bond of love, who didst bless Isaac and Rebecca, and didst make them heirs of thy promise: Bless also these thy servants, guiding them unto every good work.' The bond of love, indissoluble: this is what we pray for first of all for bride and bridegroom. And then mention is made here especially of Isaac and Rebecca. You remember probably that in the Old Testament Abraham sent his servant into Mesopotamia, his land of origin, to find a bride for his son Isaac. And God revealed to his servant whom he should betroth for Isaac by the sign of the pitcher. Rebecca was the God-chosen and the God-given bride of Isaac. And we pray that this bride and bridegroom should be for one another the God-chosen and the God-given, not people chosen for earthly, secular reasons, but people to whom love, and a love steady and eternal, would have revealed that this was the only person in the world that would be their wife.

And then a second prayer: 'O Lord our God who hast espoused the Church as a pure Virgin from among the Gentiles: Bless this Betrothal, unite and maintain these thy servants in peace and oneness of mind.' And here again there is a feature which I believe is important: God who has espoused the Church as a pure Virgin. It is because God loves mankind, because God has given his heart to his creation, that this creation of his can stand before him purified by this love, because neither any of us nor all the creation of God can claim to be virgin and pure, capable of entering into this love relationship with God whom our Liturgy spoke of as the Lover of Mankind. And so also it reminds us that in a marriage it is the mutual love of bride and bridegroom, of husband and wife, that will make the other worthy, and not the other way around.

And then comes the exchange of rings. The priest takes the two rings which were prepared and had been lying on the Holy Table during the preceding. Liturgy, blessed for them, and blessing in turns the man and the woman, the priest says; '`The servant of God is betrothed to the handmaid of God in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.' And the same is said the other way round.

Now I would like to draw your attention to the words 'in the Name.’ We use them lightly. We use them as a liturgical phrase. But the Name in Hebrew tradition meant the essential reality of a person or of a created being. `In the Name of God’ means that this act is done from within the depth of the divine wisdom. It is not to be understood in the same sense in which we say that some person is acting in another person's name, that is, as a locum, as someone else who only represents it. It means that the act is performed from the depth of the divine essence and power.

And then again a prayer in which we remember Isaac and Rebecca again, the way in which God gave them to each other, asking God to make firm the word, the promise, or rather the word of love which they nave pronounced, that he would establish them in a holy union which is from him and that he should, in this exchange of rings, fulfil in them and for them what was fulfilled of old for others. By a ring was power given to Joseph in Egypt. He was a refugee. He was a man who had come as a stranger, and God gave him power in the land. And it was the ring which was given him by the Pharaoh that established him over all the country. 'By a ring was Daniel glorified in the land of Babylon; by a ring was the uprightness of Tamar revealed; by a ring did our heavenly Father show forth his bounty upon his Son' and 'by the word of thy truth were the heavens established, and the foundations of the earth were made firm; bless the hands of thy servants by thy mighty blessing and make them strong by thine upraised hand. Bless this putting-on of rings with Thy heavenly blessing: and let Thine Angel go before them all the days of their life. ' And this is the end of the betrothal.

After this in the past or on occasions where the two services are taken separately, bride and bridegroom leave the place and go back to their respective houses in a new relationship to ponder over what was offered them by the prayers of the Church - all that I underlined a moment ago.

More often than not this betrothal service is followed by the crowning. The priest, who has taken the service at the rear of the church, comes now, together with the bride and bridegroom, to the centre. In the centre of the church stands a desk with a Book of the Gospel and a crucifix: The Book of the Gospel, which is God's Word arid also the living icon of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the crucifix, which is his act of sacrificial love unto our salvation.

While they move towards the centre of the Church, the priest proclaims 'Glory to thee, O God, glory to thee.' And then verses from a psalm are read: ‘Blessed are they that fear the Lord., all they who walk in his paths...O blessed art thou, and happy shalt thou be. Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine upon the walls of thine house, thy children like a newly-planted olive-orchard round about thy table. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.'

And then the priest proclaims a blessing which is characteristic of all the events in the Church which are already entering into the Kingdom in anticipation of the glorious end. `Blessed is the Kingdom.' And a short litany again 'for the servants of God who are now being united to each other in the community of marriage... that he will bless this marriage, as he blessed that in Cana of Galilee, that he will grant unto them chastity' and children, 'that he will make them glad with the sight of sons and daughters', that he will fulfil all their petitions which are for their good.

And then a series of prayers in which images of the Old Testament are presented to us: the story of those who, up to the birth of Christ, could be to us images of mutual love, of faithfulness and of true worship of God in their unity. ` O God most pure, the Creator of every living thing' is the beginning. Then towards the middle of this prayer: thou 'who from the root of Jesse according to the flesh, didst bud forth the ever-Virgin One, and wast incarnate of her; and wast born for the redemption of the human race; who, through thine unutterable gift of mercy and goodness didst come to Cana of Galilee, and didst bless the marriage there, that thou mightest make manifest that it is thy will that there should be lawful marriage and the begetting of children: Do thou, the same all-holy Master accept our prayers. As thou wast present there, so likewise be thou present here, with thine invisible protection. Bless this marriage, and vouchsafe unto these thy servants a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, integrity, mutual love in the bond of peace, long-lived seed, gratitude from their posterity, a crown of glory which fadeth not away. Graciously grant that they may behold their children's children. Preserve their marriage unassailed. Give them of the dew of heaven from on high and the fatness of the earth. Fill their houses with wheat, and wine, and oil, and with every good thing, that they may also bestow in turn upon those who are in need; granting also unto those who are here present with them all their petitions which are for their salvation.'

And a second prayer: 'O Lord our God, the priest of the mystical and pure marriage, the Ordainer of the law of the marriage of the body, the Preserver of immortality, the Provider of all good things...' And in this prayer we ask God to bless this bride and bridegroom as he blessed Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and all the patriarchs, Joseph and Asenath, Moses and Sepphora, Joachim and Anna, Zacharias and Elizabeth, and preserve them against all evil. Remember them as he did remember the holy ones of old, and remember also the parents who have brought them up; for the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses. Grant them comfort of soul and body. Give them all the things of the earth and grant them that one day ‘obtaining favour in thy sight, they may shine like the stars of heaven, in thee, Our God.' This is probably a reminder of the words of St Paul that our life is hid with Christ in God. We are already there because Christ is already there, and if our unity with each other is in him, so is already our eternity there.

And then the crowning comes. It is either crowns of flowers, or, in the Russian Church, metal crowns - gold crowns they are supposed to be - and the words are: 'The servant of God, or the handmaid of God, is crowned unto the handmaid or the servant of God in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' This crowning has three parallel meanings. On the one hand, in olden times when people met together for a feast they came crowned with flowers. It meant festivity. It meant joy. It meant a respite in the dreariness or the fearfulness of life. It was an island of peace. On the other hand, in the ancient Church bride and bridegroom were called king and queen. And this explains itself in the following way. In ancient society, both Roman and Greek, as long as a man or a woman were not married, they were a part of the family into which they had been born. They were under the complete authority of the father of the family. When they got married they became, as it were, in their own right a sovereign state. You may remember also that in ancient times a city was a confederation of sovereign families. What came first was the family and its union with other families, not a city as an entity in itself. And so the marriage was, from the point of view of the city, the establishment of a new unit which would have sovereign rights. And bride and bridegroom were now the sovereigns - and all there was at that moment of the new sovereign state.

And lastly, these crowns, as one can see from the rest of the service, represent the crowns which will be given to the bride and bridegroom if they are worthy of the love which they have proclaimed, declared to one another in faithfulness, in purity, and, having fought the good fight, they will receive them in the Kingdom of God.

And then there are two readings preceded by a prophetic gradual. Before that the priest blesses bride and bridegroom with the words 'O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour.’ And then the Gradual: 'Thou has set upon their heads crowns of precious stones; they asked life of thee, and thou gavest it them. '

Bride and bridegroom have now entered into a new dimension of life. It is no longer their individual lives. It is a life which is suprapersonal, where it is the life of two persons in one personality, as it were. The words are not mine, however awkward they sound; they belong to Schopenhauer, who says that in marriage one personality in two persons is established.

And the next verse is: 'Thou wilt give them thy blessing for ever and ever; thou wilt make them to rejoice with gladness through thy presence’. And than a reading from St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, which I will not analyze now, because it would take too long, and a reading from the Gospel, the story of Cana in Galilee. These two texts I would like to analyse when we meet again in the autumn in the whole context of what marriage represents in other ways.

The Lord's Prayer is read after a short litany, and then come two things: the blessing of the common cup and the procession, the threefold procession, round the Book of the Gospel. The cup, in ancient times - indeed I suppose nowadays also - is an image of one's destiny, to drink one's cup to the dregs, to drink one's cup as the Lord Christ said, means to drink deep all that God has prepared for us. And this threefold drinking out of the same cup is, as it were, a declaration, visible, tangible, of the fact that bride and bridegroom are taking into their hands a common destiny and will share it, all of it, every thing in it, but that this is neither water nor bitterness, this is the wine of the kingdom, the wine which Christ made out of water in Cana of Galilee. Yet this is the wine of the kingdom. We receive it in anticipation. It will be drunk only when all things are fulfilled, as Christ said at the Last Supper: 'I shall not drink of this cup again until we drink it new in the kingdom’.

And then the priest joins the hands of bride and bridegroom; he covers them with the stole which, if you remember what I said of the ordination of the priest and bishop, represents the grace of God poured upon the priest, so that this grace reaches the hands and the persons of bride and bridegroom, upholds them, makes them secure, makes them safe, makes them strong. And holding the crucifix in his hand, the priest takes them three times round the desk. On the desk there is only one thing left: the Book of the Gospel, Christ himself, Christ in his spoken word and Christ in his saving, invisible presence. And the meaning of this threefold procession is to call bride and bridegroom to understand that they are now going to tread their way in life. They will walk from that moment until their death through all the complexities of the earthly life and at the same time walk and move towards the fulfilment of their hope, their coming face to face with the Living God, who is Love fulfilled and fulfilling. This road can be trod only if at the centre of their life they set the Lord Jesus Christ, his Word, his Person, his presence, as the book is at the centre of their progression. And they follow, supported by the grace of God, they follow the priest who is holding the crucifix, saying to them: deny yourself. You were given love. Love. Think not of yourself but of the beloved One. Let him be all there is to it. Deny yourself and follow me, having taken up your cross.

But this way is not the way of the cross simply. It is a call to follow Christ indeed, but it is also a reminder that wherever Christ takes us, he has been there before us. He has trodden all the way. He has walked ahead of us. He is not taking us into what is to him the unknown. We can be secure. We can remember in this context Psalm 23: the Lord is my Shepherd.

And three things are sung during this procession: 'Rejoice, O Isaiah A Virgin has been with child and has borne a Son, Emmanuel, who is both God and man; Daybreak, the Dawn is his name; whom magnifying we call the Virgin blessed. 'O Holy Martyrs, who have fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat ye the Lord that he will have mercy on our souls.' And the third time:` Glory to thee, O Christ our God, the Apostles’ boast, the Martyrs' joy, whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity.’

And than the removal of the crowns. A short prayer:` Be thou exalted, O Bridegroom, like unto Abraham; and be thou blessed, like unto Isaac; and do thou multiply like unto Jacob, walking in peace, and keeping the commandments of God in righteousness. And thou, O Bride, Be thou exalted like unto Sarah; exult thou, like unto Rebecca; rejoice in Thy children like unto Rachel: rejoice thou in Thy husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law: for so it is well-pleasing to God.’ Then a last blessing and this is the end of the marriage service.

There are a number of things which should be said in addition to a description of the service. We have prayed for perfect and peaceful love. A Russian writer of the turn of the century has said that the only true pattern of human relationships, of society or a family, is the Holy Trinity. So it is against the vision of what the Holy Trinity means in terms of love relationships that we can understand, as perfectly as it is given us, the meaning of this perfect love. There is also something to be said about steadfast faith. I have already indicated that it applies, as far as I can see, not only to our faith in God but to our faith in one another, to our faithfulness to the discovery and the knowledge of each other. And again there are the two passages from the Ephesians and from Cana of Galilee which require probably more elaboration than a cursory reading. So this is where we will begin in our next season, whenever that happens, and then we will also have to consider practical things. The practical things can be expressed in the words already quoted: 'The kingdom is taken by force' and that only those who are prepared to do violence to themselves can enter into it. There is also the problem of breakdown in marriage and of divorce and there is the problem of those who have not chosen to remain celibate and who are confronted by circumstances that are infinitely, varied, with an estate which is put upon their shoulders, but not of their choice.

So these are the various elements which I would like to touch upon in our next season before we move to the Eucharist, which will come aptly and naturally after what we will have discussed about marriage, because marriage is a particular case, a limited situation of oneness with God which expands in the Eucharist to the dimensions of the Church.

 

XXV

MARRIAGE

 

1 December, 1983

 

You may remember that last season I did not have time to finish what we were saying about marriage, and so I

would like to take up one of two questions which were left over. After this the last sacrament which will be left for us to examine is the Eucharist, and then we will have to think of another series, another subject.

As you remember from the description which I gave you of the rite of Holy Matrimony, it is made up of two parts, and these two parts originally, and indeed still now in a number of churches, are celebrated separately. There is a first one, which is the betrothal service, and the second one which is the marriage service, the crowning of the bride and bridegroom. In Orthodox countries in the past the Betrothal service was taken when an earnest, thought-out decision had been taken by both bride and bridegroom to marry. It was not a tentative decision and the betrothal was as binding in honour and in moral law as marriage itself was binding in civil law and in the sacramental sense. So the celebration of the betrothal had a very earnest, significant meaning.

It usually took place a year before the marriage service itself, and this explains why the question of whether the bride and the bridegroom are determined to marry one another comes at the beginning of the marriage service. This also explains the fact that nowadays, as a Betrothal service is very seldom celebrated before the marriage ceremony, why these questions are transferred to the beginning of the service. So from a descriptive point of view you may well remember that the bride and bridegroom come to the church. They come separately, the bridegroom coming first, and the bride arriving next. The Russian, indeed the Orthodox usage was that bride and bridegroom had not met on that day, having spent the day in spiritual preparation in praying and being ready to enter into sacramental union with one another. They were met by the singing of the Church greeting them and then, in the way in which we proceed now, the questions are asked, and two of them succeed each other: 'Hast thou a good, firm and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take upon thyself as bride (or bridegroom) this man(or woman) whom thou seest here before thee?' And the second question: 'Thou hast not promised thyself to any other man (or woman)?'

And on receiving the appropriate answers, the priest blesses bride and bridegroom with a candle, either silently or, as it is done in several of the churches, parishes or local churches, by words such as ` Let your light so shine before men that, seeing your good deeds they give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ And then a blessing is pronounced: `Blessed is our God.’ ` Blessed is our God’, because all that is being done and all that will result, is the gradual, progressive, and at times painstaking building of a cell of God's own kingdom: bride, bridegroom and God building together the beginning of the city of God in a world that has ceased to be God's dwelling place, God's kingdom in the full sense.

And then a litany. I want to take a few points in this litany, leaving the rest aside, prayers for bride and bridegroom, and then that the Lord will send down upon them perfect love, peace and his help. What I have just said about the building of the Kingdom is sufficient to understand what kind of help is necessary; it is something which is beyond human relationships. It is something which is greater than a pagan family, however happy. What they see called to do is to build God's kingdom in their midst, they, united by love to one another and by love to God.

At this point it may be useful to remark that when the Lord speaks of loving he does not use sentimental terms. When you read in the Gospels 'Whoever shall love me will fulfil my commandments', he Is not speaking of any emotional condition. He is speaking of an earnest, determined faithfulness, a gratitude for what God is, a veneration for him that leads to living according to the standards which are God's standards and which are so alien to the world in which sin and evil have prevailed. Peace is also asked for bride and bridegroom - and again, not the kind of amnesty that exists between all of us until a quarrel flares up or until a difficulty arises, but that peace which only God can give and which nothing can take away, a peace which means that one is at peace with God, at peace with one's own conscience and consequently at peace with events and people. And then this perfect love.

The Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov has said: 'The Holy Trinity is the social programme of Christendom.’ The Holy Trinity is the only image of perfect love, and it is according to the image of the Trinity that this love must be built. It is a love in which everything is given, everything is received, and at the same time, at the heart of which the readiness to bring forth a perfect sacrifice of self is the root of the relationship. In the imagery of the New Testament we are told that the Son of God is at the same time the Lamb of God slain before all worlds. It seems to be very simple to give; it seems to be simple and easy to receive, but it is not always so. St Paul noted already that to give is easier than to receive; to receive with perfect joy, to receive with the exultation of humility requires a complete certainty of being loved. One does not receive with joy with open-heartedness, with gratitude untroubled, anything from someone in whose love one does not believe completely. A gift is acceptable only to the extent to which it expresses the love of the other person. On the other hand, giving is not as simple as we imagine. I remember a couple who asked me to come and solve the problem of their marriage and I discovered that the wife was being completely annihilated, reduced to nothing, by the continuous giving of the husband. To begin with, he gave and she received with joy, because all that he gave expressed his love. Then she tried to give something to him and discovered that he did not want to receive anything; he wanted only to give. And she felt rejected. She felt that she could not respond by acts of love to the acts of love at the receiving end of which she was. And then gradually she felt more and more that there was nothing,, not only in what she could give but even in her, which she could contribute to her husband. She felt, as she put it to me, that she was nothing but an emptiness into which he was pouring his gifts. They were all an expression of love, and yet this love, this refusal to receive, refusal to be open and to be dependent at all on the love of the wife, was destructive of their relationship. She felt that she had no existence, no value any more. She was an emptiness. So it is important to realise that in a relationship the giving must be thoughtful, loving, but that there must also be at the same time an openness that will allow to receive, to receive with the same joy as one gives, to receive with the same joy as one should have when he gives. And then there was another side in their relationship which was destructive. He loved his wife with all his energy, all his mind and heart, all his feeling, and he felt that every relationship, every person, every interest, every object that she had known or possessed before they had .met or which still existed in her life, something which was not exclusively an expression of their relationship, was destructive of this relationship, and he asked her to part with all the friends she had had and which they did not possess in common, because she had existed for them before she existed for him. He asked her to part with all the objects, all the books she had possessed before they met, because it testified to her existence and to a life in which he had had no part. And here again she felt destroyed because her whole past, ail that had made her what she was, was being denied, rejected, was to be completely annihilated, reduced to naught. It is a very important thing. It does not happen often, I nave never actually seen it happen with such ruthless brutality of a benighted love, but with lesser forms it does happen. There are people who always want to be at the giving end. They are people who always wish that life be reduced to their relationship and that nothing should exist either before they met or around their common life. And it is important for both not only to be able to give and to receive, but to accept in humility, more than humility, with wonder and with latitude, the existence or a whole world of experience, of relationships, of things and of persons, in the life of the beloved person, to accept them and love them, to integrate them through love into one's own life, to share them. But that requires also the ability of renouncing: renouncing to be the only one, renouncing to be the absolute and unique centre. It ultimately means acceptance of non-being, of non-existence in the past of the beloved person , or within certain relationships, of family love or of friendships, a sort of self-naughting, an acceptance to step out and not to exist at all so that the person loved should continue to possess his or her own life to the full without part of it being maimed or destroyed by the new life. And that is perhaps the most difficult thing people know in life. And this is one of the things which come under the heading of Christ’s words that no one has greater love than one who is prepared to lay down his life for his neighbour, to give his life, to forego his life, in other words, to accent a momentary situation of death and of non-existence.

In the next petition we ask that the Lord will preserve them in oneness of mind and steadfast faith. And this oneness of mind is possible only if the previous conditions which we have enumerated prevail: perfect love, peace and divine help, because this oneness of mind must include all that was, is and shall be. And also steadfastness of faith. When we read these words we think immediately of a vigorous faith in God, and that goes without saying, because God is the cornerstone of the city, and whether this city is the minute heel which we call the family or whether it is the ultimate city of God, he is the cornerstone. But there is also a necessity, a need for a steadfast faith in one another. Faith means certainty, certainty that things which seem, to be there, visible, tangible, perceptible and which have disappeared from sight are still there. It applies to love, it applies to all the ways in which a relationship lives, exists, wanes and resurrects. There are moments when certain aspects in a relationship simply have gone. It is a moment when we must have a certainty concerning the invisible, not doubt, be certain that it is there. This is expressed also in a further prayer, in which the Prodigal Son is mentioned. And to that we will come in a moment. Also we ask the Lord to bless them with a blameless life and honorable marriage, a marriage undefiled, faithfulness, purity of heart, purity of life, to bless them with children, to bless them with the fulfillment of all they may long for, wish for, ask for, but which are unto salvation, unto their good, and to deliver them from all that is evil or painful. And then come two prayers which are of great importance. In the one we say: 'O God eternal, who hast brought into unity those who were sundered, and hast ordained for them an indissoluble bond of love; who didst bless Isaac and Rebecca and didst make them heirs of thy promise: Bless also these thy servants.’ 'Brought into unity those who were sundered’. We are born sundered from one another since the fall of mankind. The only power that can weld us into oneness is love, but not human love. Human love indeed, but also filled and fulfilled by love divine - a measure of love, a quality of love, a greatness and beauty of love which are beyond the power of man to achieve, a love which is reverence, a love which is faithfulness and purity. Those who were sundered are brought together by this miracle of human love and they turn to God from the first blessing in the hope that divine love will come upon them as a power and as a renewal. The image which comes to my mind is that which St Maxim the Confessor gives concerning the Incarnation, when he says: At the incarnation humanity was filled with divinity in the way in which a sword plunged into a glowing furnace becomes glowing itself so that one can cut with fire and burn with iron. This is also what we pray for that should happen in this union, is this pervasive presence of love divine in human love, so that every thing which is frailty, incompleteness should be destroyed, that all should be fulfilled and that all that is human should expand and reach the stature of things divine. And then Isaac and Rebecca arc mentioned. It is not in vain and not by accident. In the Old Testament the story of Isaac and Rebecca snows us that Rebecca was the chosen bride of Isaac and that the one who chose was the Lord God, who revealed to the servant of Abraham whom he should betroth for his master Isaac. What we pray for is that both bride and bridegroom should have been chosen and ordained by God himself to be the two halves which God had decided to bring together and that they should be God's gift to each other, that it should not be only physical attraction, community of interest, tastes, human love and, least of all, worldly considerations, but that the love which one had for the other what no one else had ever seen in the other person, a vision of the other person in the light of the Transfiguration, a vision of the divine sinning; in the other person, a vision of a person in God. This is perhaps a reason why in older times when people were responsible for their actions, thoughtful in a way in which we are not in our days, there was such space left between the Betrothal and the marriage, so that, having met one another, seen one another in the light of God, undertaken to grow into a relationship that would be an image of Trinitarian love, they should have time gradually to mature and to become fulfilled to the stature when is necessary for a mature and true marriage.

And than a second prayer: 'O Lord our God, who hast espoused the Church as a pure Virgin from among the Gentiles: Bless this Betrothal and unite and maintain these thy servants in peace and oneness of mind.' What strikes me in this passage is the reference of God espousing the Church as a pure virgin from among the Gentiles. When we think of the Old Testament we can see now far from being a pure virgin the chosen people were, and what made them into one whom God could espouse and bring, to the measure of fulfillment which love divine requires was love itself. It is love that makes one worthy. It is not worthiness that deserves love. But this love must be responded to. It is necessary to receive love with Humility, with reverence, as a sacrament in the strongest, the most realistic sense of the word, as something which is holy and belongs to the holiness of God. And only by receiving it in this way can one be restored to the newness, to the virginity of the first creation of God.

And then the Betrothal is fulfilled by the priest. The servant of God is betrothed to the handmaid of God in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ You may remember that the words ‘in the Name’ are not simply a liturgical formula. ‘In the Name’ means ‘within’, and the Name in the Old Testament and old Hebrew tradition was considered to be identical with the person. So, when we say ‘in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’ it means that we are actually naming the three Persons of the Holy Trinity indeed and that by doing this we indicate that it is in Them and within their Persons, within their relationship, within what They are and can do, that this action is fulfilled.

Then a prayer comes in which more insistently than in the first prayer which I quoted we are told about the act of God which gave Rebecca to Isaac: ‘O Lord our God, who didst accompany the servant of the patriarch, Abraham into Mesopotamia, when he was sent to espouse a wife for his lord Isaac; and who by means of drawing of water, didst reveal unto him that he should betroth Rebecca: Do thou, the same Lord, bless also the betrothal of these thy servants, a make firm the word which they have spoken. Establish and make stable their betrothal in faith, oneness of mind, in truth and in love.’

And then there is the putting on and the exchange of rings. ‘By a ring was power given unto Joseph in Egypt; by a ring was Daniel glorified in the land of Babylon; by a ring was the uprightness of Tamar revealed; by a ring did our heavenly Father show forth his compassion upon his Son.' This giving of a ring is a moment when both express their mutual trust in one another, when they give all power upon themselves to the One in whom they have trusted perfectly, as perfectly as they humanly could. You remember that in older days, apart from the rings that were worn to beautify a hand, there was one ring which people wore that was their signet ring. It was a time when people were illiterate, and to put one's seal upon a document gave it absolute authority. To exchange rings meant to entrust to the other all power upon one's goods, one's life and one's honour. This exchange of rings gave power indeed, but a power that was greater than simply authority over objects, goods and possessions. It meant: ‘I trust you to such an extent, with such perfection, that I put into your hands my honour and my life, my name and my all. And this is one of the remarkable things which we find in the story of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son had, humanly speaking, forfeited any right to be trusted by his father, and yet because he had come back, because he had recognized his sin, the father knew that he could trust him unreservingly and gave him power over everything - at a risk, because he could be betrayed - but with faith and certainty.

Here again we come to that passage which I have mentioned concerning steadfast faith. The father had faith in his son. All the material evidence that spoke against him was brushed aside by him because the son come back. And this is an example which is given us in this Betrothal Service which is addressed to the bride and bridegroom. There may be moments when appearances will cast a doubt upon the relationship. There will be moments when even material evidence will be against bride or bridegroom, husband or wife. It is the moment when an act of supreme faith would save everything as the Prodigal Son was saved by the faith of the father. Had the father received him coldly, asked him for an account of his stewardship of money, had claimed from him humiliation, an apology, the son might have gone away, but he was received. And when he said to his father: ‘Make me as one of the hirelings in thy house’, the father did not even allowed him to pronounce these words and commanded his servants to bring the ring and put it on his hand and to bring his first robe, not the best in the house, but the one which he had discarded, the robe of sonship, had let fall off his shoulders to put on the garish robes of a strange country. And so ‘by thy own right hand, o Lord, didst thou arm Moses in the Red Sea; by the word of thy truth were the heavens established, and the foundations of the earth were made firm; and the right hands of thy servants shall be blessed also by thy mighty word, and by thine upraised arm.’ This is the end of the Betrothal Service and these are the points which I wanted to attract your attention to, because they have got both a spiritual meaning and also practical, direct consequences in the way in which relationships can be handled.

In our next talk I will come to the order of marriage, that is to the Crowning and, as I told you, this is the point at which the questions 'Hast thou a good, free and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take unto thyself to wife this woman whom thou seest before thee?' and 'Thou hast not promised thyself to another bride?' - and of course vice versa - are asked when the two services are taken separately . But now we come to a point where it is no longer the choice of man, the good will of man alone which are decisive; it is a moment when all power comes from God, all action comes from God because this human relationship, this human love will be now integrated into the mystery of the Kingdom. The first words of the Crowning service are: 'Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is entering into the kingdom. It is widening the scale, and scope and vision and experience of human love to the immeasurable measurements of the divine love and divine relationships which will be the subject of this sacramental action in which God is the Celebrant, God is the one who, by his presence, as the litany will say: ‘Bless this marriage as thou didst bless that in Cana of Galilee’, will happen. This will be for the next talk, and I hope to be able to finish this part of the service, after which we will have a few more points to consider concerning marriage. The first one is the removal of the crowns, which is something that never happens nowadays and should at least be known and remembered, and also something about the order of second marriage, either after a bereavement or after a divorce And that will lead me to say a few words about the problem the marriage, dissolved or not.

Let us now keep quiet for a few moments and then we will pray and go in peace.

 


XXVI

15 December, 1983

 

In our meditations on the rite of matrimony we have reached that part which is called the crowning. The first words of this service are words which are proclaimed in a few services at the moment when God takes over in a complete and sovereign manner, in which his power is to be manifest, and only he can fulfil what was meant to be. The first words of this service are: Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. They indicate that we have come to a moment in the service which will be at the same time a revelation of the beauty of what the Kingdom is, and indeed at the same time and equally, a challenge offered to those who are a part of it. Either in a shaking manner or inconspicuously the Kingdom comes into the life of people. It came to the life of the Twelve at the moment when the risen Christ appeared to them and gave them his peace, that peace which the world cannot give. It came in an overwhelming manner when St Paul met the Risen Christ face to face and recognised in the man who had been murdered on Calvary his Lord and his God. And in that sense the service of the Crowning is a moment when in the quietness of prayer, in the retiring and inconspicuous way in which the Spirit of God acts, the Kingdom is there, offered, there to be taken.

The reading of the Gospel which will come later in the service makes us understand the conditions under which a human gathering can become the Kingdom. You remember that the reading is taken from the second chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the first twelve verses, and that it is the story of Cana in Galilee, where the Lord was invited and to which the Mother of God and his disciples came also. I have mentioned more than once the conversation that runs between the Mother of God and her divine Son, and I will be brief on that. You remember that when they wanted wine, the Mother of God turned to Jesus and said: They have no wine. And then Jesus asked her a question, a question that was decisive at that moment. He wanted to know whether his power could be made manifest or not, because it is only within the context of the Kingdom that it can be made manifest. Jesus said: `Woman, what I have to do with thee? Mine hour has not yet come. What is it that prompts you to attract my attention to their need? Is it because you are my mother according to the flesh? Then we are still in the secular world.’ Or – he does not indicate any ‘or’. He points out with sharpness in these words ‘Mine hour is not yet come’ the alternative which must be rejected, which must not be there.

And then the Mother of God with her perfect faith in her Son, knowing Who He is, says to the servants: ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.’ And because she has believed - and you remember the words of Elizabeth to her when she came to visit Elizabeth: ‘Blessed is she who has believed; it will be done to her according to the word of God’. With her perfect faith she alone opens the Kingdom of God and makes a miracle possible. And so in that sense the Kingdom of God is there, and yet it is possible because it is a congregation of people who believe, who believe in Christ as their Lord and their God. We will hear in the litany that we ask him to bless this marriage as he blessed that in Cana of Galilee. He is present. But there is also a challenge in this proclamation of the Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God - to use the translation of the Jerusalem Bible in Luke 16:16 - the Kingdom of God is to be taken by storm. One cannot wait for it as one waits for the tide to come and lift a stick. One must take it by storm. Offered and given, it can be possessed only by continuous effort. One does not enter into the Kingdom through a wide gate, but through a narrow gate. And at that moment bride and bridegroom are told by a simple explanation that all is there, all is offered, and yet that they will have to achieve by concerted and united effort, that purity, that oneness, indeed that holiness which the Kingdom expects and requires. So there are the two extremes which are expressed here in only one phrase. And it is important that bride and bridegroom should remember that the sacramental action will not put them into possession of all they long for. The sacramental action will put close to their hands, ready to be taken, all and much more than they can imagine or dream or hope for. But the Kingdom is to be taken by storm. One must storm one’s own self, storm everything which is alien to the Kingdom, conquer and destroy it in the same way in which the walls of Jericho had to fall because the song of God’s victory was sung around them.

After this exclamation, the great litany, the litany of peace, with special petitions: ‘For the servants of God so and so, who are now being united to each other in the community, in the common life of marriage, and for their salvation. That the Lord will bless this marriage as he blessed that in Cana of Galilee. That he will grant them chastity, and children. That he will rejoice them in sons and daughters. That their children be virtuous offspring. That all the petitions which they make for salvation will be granted unto them.’

The word 'chastity ' perhaps requires a word of explanation. Both in Greek and Slavonic the word chastity has a meaning a great deal wider than that which it has acquired in modern Western languages and indeed in modem Russian. It means a wholeness, a wholeness of wisdom, a wholeness that proceeds from sharing in the wisdom and the vision of God. It does not attach to bodily relationships only. It begins at the moment when our eyes are opened to see things and people as God sees them, to see every person as independent from us, as having, before the eyes of God an absolute value and meaning, to see in each person someone who is not simply a reflection of our life or the shadow which is cast by our life, but the person who stands before God in all the mystery of this face to face relationship. And it is only when we can look at a person in this way that reverence, a worshipful attitude can bind two persons and make all relationship in mind, in heart and action, in body and soul, into a liturgical and holy relationship.

And then can come a number of prayers in which names are remembered, again those of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Rachel and others, but also of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of St John the Forerunner, and of the Mother of God, Ever-Virgin Mary. And we pray that as Christ was present in Cana with his invisible protection, he should be here also, giving to the bride and bridegroom peace, life, length of days, integrity, chastity, mutual love in the bond of peace, long-lived seed, gratitude from their posterity, and a crown of glory which fadeth not away – that which is offered and which is to be conquered. And at the moment of the crowning, a little later, it is brought forth very clearly that these crowns are put upon the heads of bride and bridegroom indeed, but it is through a life worthy of the Kingdom which is offered that they will be in the end possessed of this eternal glory and crowned by God. Preserve them unassailed; give them of the dew of heaven from on high and the fatness of the earth. Fill their houses with wheat and wine and oil and with every abundance, that they may bestow in turn upon the needy.

Then a second prayer, in which we ask for God's blessing upon them and for God to remember them, as he remembered the saints of old and the heroes of the spirit throughout the ages.

And then the crowning. I must have mentioned already that this act of the crowning goes back, far back in the thought of Byzantium and ancient Rome. The ancient city was an association of families. Every family had a right to belong to it or to secede, and an absolute right to express itself in the council of the city. In ancient Greece, in Athens, it was an ecclesia, the assembly of lawful citizens, of actions that had all power over its destiny. And as long as a young man or a young woman were not married they were part and parcel of the family in which they had been born. But when they were married they were established as an independent unit. They were, as it were established as a sovereign state. And bride and bridegroom became at that moment king and queen, prince and princess. In old Russia on the day of their wedding they were indeed called by these names. They now had sovereignty and independence. This crowning made them independent to such an extent that in Byzantium if two slaves were married to one another the crowning was left aside by the power of the state because to be crowned meant to become free, no longer slaves but free men and women. So this had a very important social, political significance. But there are also other meanings attached to these crowns. On the one hand, in the ancient world the crown was worn by people at great festivities. And which festivity could be greater for bride and bridegroom than their own wedding? And again - and this I have already mentioned - these crowns remind us that crowns are ready for the believers, are ready for those who will have fought the good fight and who will have conquered, the Kingdom of God taken by storm. Those people who have stormed will be crowned. And this is made very clear also by the troparia which are sung during the procession which follows later after the Gospel, in which in the second of the troparia we sing: ‘O holy martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns, entreat ye the Lord that he will have mercy on our souls.’ And you may remember that the word martyr - which has acquired now a very specialised meaning, to speak of people who have shed their blood in the name of their faith, for God - in Greek means ‘witness’: people who through all their life, and indeed if necessary through their death, have witnessed their faithfulness to God, to the Gospel, to one another, who have fought that good fight through which the Kingdom was stormed and who now will also receive their crowns. ‘The servant of God is crowned unto the handmaid of God in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Crowned for one another, crowned to be for one another king and queen, crowned because the love of the two, fulfilled by the power of the Spirit of God, is the crowning of life, and that is done in the Name of God One in the Holy Trinity. Crowned that they may be one as only within the Kingdom of God people can be one.

‘O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour. Thou hast set upon their heads crowns of precious stones. They asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it them. For Thou wilt give them thy blessing for ever and ever; thou wilt make them to rejoice with gladness through thy presence.’

And then comes a very complex reading, the reading of the Epistle. It is complex because the Apostle moves continuously between his thought about the Church in relation to Christ, Christ in relation to the Church, and the relationship between husband and wife. Basically what it says is that the relationship that exists between Christ and the Church is that which should exist between husband and wife, a love that knows of no separation, a love that is such that both are prepared to leave everything and also to follow, accompany or serve the other. In the case of Christ it is the Lamb of God slain before all ages that becomes the Son of God incarnate, leaving, as it were, the glory of the divine throne in order to take on the condition of a slave. And in the Old Testament we read that the bridegroom should leave father and mother to cling to his wife. But at the same time the bride is one who for the sake of love has proved able, or is prepared, through a struggle that may last throughout their life, to let go of everything, one thing after the other or all things in one, in order to follow him whom she has loved with undivided love.

And we have an example, very curious and interesting, in the lives of two saints who are remembered on the 18th of November. Galactionus and Epistemia, both Christian, both very young: they were married and they both wanted to give all their life to God unreservedly. And on the first evening when they were together they shared their thoughts and they decided that, married as they were, without rejecting this bond of love which had been crowned in marriage, they would both go into separate monasteries to lead a life of asceticism and of prayer. But a few years later a persecution was started and Epistemia went to her abbess and said: ‘I have heard that my husband has been taken and will die a martyr; my place is by him.’ And the abbess recognised this claim, and Epistemia went, and she died with her husband.

This is a very remarkable story because it shows the awareness which the Church has of this unique relationship and this unbreakable bond between husband and wife. You remember this passage in the Book of Revelation: ‘Only one thing I have against thee, that thou hast forgotten thy first love.’ And this is the standard which is offered in marriage to every husband and every wife. And it is the reason why I insisted so heavily on the fact that the Kingdom of God which opens wide before them as a possibility, indeed more than a possibility, as the divine presence in their midst, must be conquered and cannot simply be enjoyed.

And then there is a passage which indicates to the husband his responsibility, that the husband should love his wife as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her. And to make it concrete, real - because imagery is not always convincing - St Paul takes another image: men ought so to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh. We are members of his body, of his flesh, of his bones. And in this passage he makes us perceive concretely the closeness of the relationship. We very often speak lightly of our bodies. We imagine at times that we are spiritual beings encased temporarily in a body, that what matters are our lofty thoughts, our feelings, our decisions, and that our bodies are just instruments that may later be discarded. But when illness and pain, when danger is directed towards our bodies, then we do realise that our bodies are our own selves, that we cannot say ‘My body is sick unto death but I am not’.

And this is the image which St Paul has chosen to indicate how close one wife and husband are. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh’, that is one person. Then he moves on again to the Church: ‘This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.’ And this is why - in this context in which Christ and the Church, husband and wife, their relationships, are so interwoven - one of the spiritual writers has said that the relationship between husband and wife is the image of the relationship between God and man and is also an image of the way in which sacramentally a person is united to Christ in communion and baptism.

So the husband is called to love his wife as Christ loved his Church, that is, give himself for her, in life, in death, in the storming of the Kingdom. ‘And the wife is called to see that she reverence her husband’ in the way in which the Church turns to Christ. But this again is a challenge, perhaps a promise, but certainly not an immediate reality. Reverence is something that must be not only claimed but earned. It is only by giving oneself that one can earn this reverence, born of the sense of the total gift of the other and of the readiness to sacrifice all things for the sake of the beloved.

And here I come to the second part of the reading of the Gospel. The Kingdome of God is established because one person, one woman, Mary, Mother of Jesus, has had and manifested a total and unreserved faith. And this is perhaps one of the callings of the wife in the relationship there is in the family, to be the one who believes, who in the family is in the image, an icon of the Mother of God, the one whose faith can make a secular situation into a sacramental one, one whose faith can recreate the Kingdom when it is darkened or create that relationship which we call the Kingdom. But it is not a faith which should be possessed simply secretly in one’s heart. The Mother says to servants: ‘Whatever he saith, do it.’ It is a faith that must be shared, given. This faith must be a call to believe, a call to heroic belief, to heroic faithfulness to the Kingdom.

And the next thing, the miracle itself. It was commented in this particular context in approximately the following way. Here are six waterpots of stone, and because the Kingdom has come, because the servants have been drawn through obedience into the faith of the Mother of God, this water becomes the wine of the Kingdom. It has been said more than once that when we enter into a relationship of mutual love, we give everything we can to one another: material, intellectual, our heart and mind, everything. But there comes a moment when, humanly speaking, there is nothing new to give. All that was sparkling gift gradually becomes, day by day, water. And this is the moment when we must remember that it is only God that can transform this water into the wine of the Kingdom. The governor of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him: ‘Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine. Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’

A litany follows the Gospel, as it always does, to express the fact that we have received the message. And it is fulfilled in the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has the same characteristics as what I said earlier about the Kingdom. On the one hand, it is the Kingdom already come. On the other hand, it is a challenge. At the beginning are the words of a true son: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ No concern for anything except the Name of God, his Kingdom, his will. And then comes the real, concrete situation of people, us all, who are called to this perfect sonship in which we share with Christ. He is the Head of the Body. The beginning of these prayers are his words, but we are not where he is. We are in the making. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation , but deliver us from the evil one.’ That is our cry, our need. And this prayer is also a programme, a map, a road, because we can ascend to the condition of the Only-begotten Son in whom we become sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, only if, to begin with, from the deep, from the suffering, from the darkness, lost as we are, we can still say: ‘Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory.’ And it is at the moment when we can proclaim in the very darkness of our imprisonment in sin and misery that we recognise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as our King and that to Him we owe total and unique allegiance, that we can go on and say: ‘Deliver us from the evil one, save us from temptations.’ Forgive as we want or do forgive; give us that daily bread which is already the bread of eternal life.

In earlier days the marriage service was combined with the Liturgy, the Communion service, and at this point after the Lord’s prayer, as it happens in the Eucharistic Liturgy, husband and wife receive Communion from the same bread and the same cup. Then the two services become independent from one another, expressing two different, yet similar realities. One sign was left, the common cup, which bride and bridegroom share at this moment. You know the imagery of the Cup, meaning in poetic language or in ancient lore: destiny. Did not Christ say: “Are you prepared to drink the cup which I am to drink?’ And so they are offered a cup of wine, of which each of them drinks three times. And having accepted their oneness in this ultimate act of community, they will be taken in a procession round the central desk, on which there was in the beginning, as I told you, the book of the Gospel, that is Christ, his Word, his presence, and a crucifix. But now the crucifix is taken by the priest. He joins the hands of bride and bridegroom. He holds them under the stole which is an image of the oil of consecration which was poured on the priest in the Old Testament, representing the divine grace which comes down from heaven upon them, and he takes them three times around this desk, a circling journey with the Word and the presence of Christ at its very centre. He takes them round under the grace, and he takes them round with this crucifix, indicating thereby that Christ has trod all the way before them, that they need not be afraid that Christ is not calling them to walk where he has not walked himself. He has gone all the way before them, they can save him, follow him, follow his command, be faithful to the end.

And on the other hand, that everyone who wishes to follow Christ must take up his cross, deny himself and follow. This is the way in which the Kingdom is stormed. But the first thing we rejoice in is the Incarnation: ‘Rejoice, O Isaiah! A Virgin has been with child, and has borne a Son, Emmanuel, both God and man, the Dawn of the Day is his name, and magnifying him, we call the Virgin blessed.’ And then ‘O Holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat ye the Lord that he will have mercy on our souls.’ And again: ‘Glory to thee, O Christ, our God, Martyrs’ joy, whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity.

And after this procession the crowns are removed from bridegroom and bride, a last blessing is given, and the crowning service is over.

Next time I want to speak more specially of the prayer at the removal of the crowns on the eighth day, which you find in Hapgood, and the order of the second marriage with the problems connected with it, and then we will have finished this commentary of mine on the service of marriage.

 

XXVII

MARRIAGE, concluded

29 December, 1983

 

In my previous talks I have tried to show what the Orthodox Church means to convey to the bride and the bridegroom through the service in the context of a sacramental action within a deed of God about marriage. The marriage, which is called to be the beginning of the Kingdom of God when two are no longer two but one - but only a beginning, because, as I mentioned it last time, the Kingdom of God must be taken by storm, and only those who are prepared to storm it can enter it. Storming means conquest. It means conquering one's old self so that nothing of it is left which is alien to God’s purpose, which is not capable of integration into God's eternal Kingdom, of becoming one of the building stones of the New Jerusalem. This is a call to struggle throughout a whole life, with inspiration, with joy, with stern determination, against everything which is self-centredness or which is the natural, aggressive greed of fallen mankind.

I have mentioned that at the root of the prayers which we offer we ask for mutual chastity, for integrity, for love - and all this in a relationship of true freedom and true humility, a humility which consists not in denigrating one's own self but in being open --humbly, reverently, worshipfully -- to the other, ready to receive what will be given, never to grudge what is not offered, never to complain of what the other is not yet capable of giving.

The marriage service, as we know it now, came into being very late in history. To begin with, in the ancient Christian world the civil marriage, the declaration before the assembly of the citizens of the place that two have decided to be one family, to belong together for life and for ever, was considered as sufficient, and it was crowned not in the liturgical manner in which the crowning is done now, but in the spiritual manner by bride and bridegroom receiving communion together at the nearest liturgy. What is left of this, as I have already mentioned, is the drinking of the common cup, a symbol that represents the sacramental communion which is no longer given, since mixed marriages are allowed, which exclude the sacramental participation of one of the spouses in the eucharistic feast.

You remember that in the Epistle which is read, Ephesians 6, the relationship between husband and wife is likened unto that of Christ and the Church, this being the root, and also the completion, of several of the prayers that precede, particularly of the two short prayers which I read in the beginning of the Betrothal Service. This relationship is what defines, what conditions the elements which I marked, singled out a moment ago: chastity, integrity, humility, freedom, love. Again, I have already mentioned to you that chastity cannot be reduced, as it is done in modern languages, to the physical relationship of people, or to the rejection of a greedy approach to the physical being of another person. Chastity begins much deeper within the soul and the love of the person. It begins at the moment when it is understood that each person was created by God to be part of the Kingdom, created by God in his own image, in order to be holy, to be God's own resplendence, God's splendour both in body and soul. It begins at that moment when we can look at another person and experience what one of the Desert Fathers said when he declared: 'He who has seen his neighbour has seen his God’ - a holy icon to be treated with all the veneration, all the reverence and love, in both joy and sadness, which we would offer to an icon. It is an attitude that makes us remember that no one, not even those whom we imagine we love, exists only in function of our own self, that everyone has got his own uniqueness, is unrepeatable, and is related to God by an experience of God, a knowledge of God, and within a love relationship which is unrepeatable, out of comparison - and that our vocation, the vocation of each of us, is to protect this relationship and this virtual prospective perfection and beauty - that we are called to be servants of this beauty and holiness in each other. And this is on the limit, from the verbal point of view and from the point of view of the spiritual experience of the saints, with the meaning of virginity.

Again, we define virginity in a clinical manner, but this is not what it is primarily. Otherwise one of the authors of the Philokalia, Nicetas Stethatos, a disciple of St Symeon the New Theologian, could not have said: 'Tears of true repentance can give us back even our physical virginity when we have lost it.' Virginity is wholeness. It is supreme integrity of a person in whom spirit, soul and body, hierarchically united, are directed towards the Living God, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And this explains why the imagery of Christ and the Church in the marriage service led the early Church, and for centuries running, to allow marriage, as it stands in our present form, only to those who came as virgins to the sacrament -- the virginity of Christ and the virginity of his creation redeemed, renewed in tears of repentance or remained pure and offered as a perfect offering to the Living God.

This explains why, after the service which I described in the last talks, we have this prayer at the removal of the crowns on the eighth day. It is a short prayer that reads: 'O Lord our God, who hast blessed the crown of the year, and permittest these crowns to be laid upon those who are united to one another by the law of marriage, and thus grantest unto them, as it were a reward of chastity; for they are pure who are united in the marriage which thou hast made lawful: Do thou bless also in the removal of these crowns those who have been united to one another, and preserve their union indissoluble; that they may evermore give thanks unto thine all-holy Name.’

These crowns were removed on the eighth day because for all these days bride and bridegroom had no physical relationship with each other but spent their time in spiritual exercise. This is something that has fallen out of practice but which remains for us as a reminder of the ideal, of a sacrament once received and kept through prayer and meditation that excludes every wanton attitude to one another and allows love, unselfish, worshipful, reverent, to grow to full maturity.

I have mentioned earlier that, apart from chastity, that ultimate integrity of the virginal life, there are also humility, freedom and love. Those who are familiar with my talks will remember that humility is not a simple recognition of one's unworthiness. It is not born of a continuous consideration of one's faults, of one's sins. That would lead more often to despair and despondency. Humility is born in two different ways: on the one hand, by the experience of the closeness of God, of a sense of God that makes us see him as the Holy One, in a beauty unsurpassed, a holiness and greatness beyond compare and leads us to bow down before him in adoration. You remember that I mentioned to you several years back that the English word God comes from a Germanic root which means ‘Him before whom one falls and prostrates oneself in adoration'.

It is the vision of the divine beauty and the perception of the divine holiness that awakens in a creature the wonderful sense of humility, the sense which the very word - and this is my second point - conveys, humility being born of the Latin word 'humus' which means the fertile ground, the fertile ground which, silent, unresisting, is there under the sky, receiving the dew of night, the warmth of day, the rain and the snow, receiving with equal silence and acceptance the refuse which man pours upon it and from all of it becoming ever richer, abandoned, given, perfectly offered. And in that sense humility and virginity are very close together, and we could see this closeness in the Magnificat.

And then freedom. We all imagine that we love one another, without realising how much loving in our vocabulary and experience means desire to possess, desire to master. I remind you that in Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis gives us an image of what be calls the devil’s love when he says, in the words of the old demon: ‘I cannot understand what Christ means by saying that he loves you, that he loves his creatures, because when I love, I want to possess, I want to devour, to digest so that nothing is left of him whom I love, outside and apart from me. To a greater or smaller extent there is something of this in all the ways in which we love one another, until we hear the words of Christ: 'Renounce thyself, turn away from thyself, look with new eyes at all the world and at every person, and set this person, this world, free of that slavery which you call love.' Love is perfect freedom, yes, perfect love, true love, because the word `freedom’ does not mean liberty, does not mean independence; it means etymologically a love relationship.

So here again we find in this prayer of the removal of the crowns the fulfilment of this long line of spiritual teaching which the service of matrimony - the betrothal and the crowning - have revealed.

Then there is the order of the second marriage. How can one conceive of this second marriage against the background of words like those of the Book of Revelation: 'Only one thing I have against thee, that thou hast forgotten thy first love.' Indeed the ideal would be one unique marriage - one marriage so deep, so perfect, into the oneness in which the oneness between bride and bridegroom should reach that measure which, in a comparison of one of the Greek Fathers, can be likened only to the union of the faithful with Christ in Communion. Yes, this is the ideal. And yet we live in a world in which all of us are wounded and are incapable of achieving it. But the ideal remains. This ideal is fulfilled by some, and at times by many. This unicity of marriage, this completeness of love is to be found. But as St Paul puts it in one of his epistles, 'Better it is to marry again than to burn.' And to burn does not mean simply to feel physically incapable of a chaste life of continence. It means being aflame in mind and in heart with something which is not divine fire, the fire of God.

And so the Church has accepted a second marriage in a variety of situations. There is a Russian saying - harsh, neat as every popular proverb - that shows the perception which people had of marriage and of its multiplicity when it occurs. The proverb runs like this: The first marriage is of God. The second. marriage is of men. A third marriage is of the demon. It indicates a gradual degradation of the sense of one's own wholeness and of the wholeness there can be within a relationship. But the order of second marriage is applied differently in different circumstances. In principle, it is applied as it stands in the books - and I will come to this in a moment - always, but when one of the two, the bride or the bridegroom, one of the two spouses, enters into this marriage without having contracted another marriage before, the Church, speaking no longer of the Church but the concrete brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women, can show compassion and, instead of casting a shadow on the joy of the bride and bridegroom, will allow them a marriage as though it was a first marriage because it is the first for one of the two persons.

If two persons contract a second marriage, then prayers are read which underline the fact that it is an act of condescension, an act of love, of loving concern on the part of the Church acting for God, but a sad act. Here is the prayer, and the translation is, as usual, poor, but I have no better: one: ‘O Master, Lord our God, who showest mercy upon all men, whose providence is over all thy works, Thou knowest the secrets of man, and thou understandest us all. Purge away our sins. Forgive the transgressions of thy servants, calling them to repentance, granting them remission of all sins, purification of all sins, pardon of their errors, whether voluntary or involuntary. O thou who knowest the frailty of man's nature, in that thou art his Maker and Creator; who didst pardon Rahab the harlot and accept the contrition of the Publican, remember not the sins of our ignorance from our youth up. If thou wilt consider iniquity, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand before thee? Or what flesh shall be justified in thy sight? Thou only art righteous, sinless, holy, plenteous in mercy, of great compassion, and sorrowest over the evils of men. Do thou, O Master, who hast brought together in wedlock these thy servants, unite them to one another in love: vouchsafe unto them the contrition of the Publican, the tears of the Harlot, the confession of the Thief; that, repenting with their whole heart, they may do thy commandments in peace and oneness of mind and may be deemed worthy also of thy heavenly kingdom.' And later: 'O Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who wast lifted up on the precious and life-giving cross, and didst thereby destroy the handwriting against us, and deliver us from the dominion of the Devil: Cleanse thou the sins of thy servants; because they, being unable to bear the heat and burden of the day are now entering into the bond of a second marriage, as thou didst render lawful by thy chosen vessel, Paul thine Apostle, saying, for the sake of us humble sinners, it is better to marry in the Lord than to burn. Wherefore, inasmuch as thou art good and lovest mankind, do thou show mercy and forgive, cleanse, put away, pardon our transgressions. For thou art he who didst take our infirmities on thy shoulders; for there is none sinless, or without uncleanness for so much as a single day of his life, save only thou, who without sin didst endure the flesh, and bestowest on us passionlessness eternal.'

There is a third situation in which the second marriage takes place. It is as a result of a previous divorce. Now, in the context again of what was said before, in the context also of the Gospel itself, a divorce is a breaking of hope, of the hope of building together the kingdom of God. Two persons who divorce renounce to take the kingdom by storm. They accept defeat. But is it true that they only accept defeat, or that they alone are defeated? And this is a very important point in the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards divorce. In the two prayers which I read a moment ago you may have noticed that the priest and therefore through him, in his person, the whole congregation does not say 'Forgive them' but ‘Forgive us', because if it is true that we are all members, true limbs of one living body, then the sins and shortcomings and the failures of the one weigh heavily on the shoulders of all. If from the height of the Liturgy and of theology we come into the valley, to descend from the Mount of Transfiguration into the valley where Christ met human suffering and lack of faith and uncertainty:

'I believe, Lord; forgive my unbelief', then we must realise that most marriages between people are performed under conditions that should not exist. Few are those who wish to go through the rite of matrimony in order to become dramatically, if necessary, tragically if necessary, a dynamic icon of the kingdom. Few enter into marriage paying attention to the call to martyrdom, to be witnesses even unto blood and death, unto the rending of one's soul, unto the acceptance of ultimate pain. And this is not the fault of those who enter into marriage with a sinful love which they have learned from their humanity. It is the result of what our Christian society has become and is. No one is being prepared, no one sees images and examples, and moreover there is not in the law of the Church anything that could allow the priest to refuse nowadays to marry two Orthodox persons or an Orthodox person and a Christian believer of another denomination. And so the Church remembers the words of Christ in which He said that there should be no divorce, but that Moses allowed divorce to the people of Israel because of their hardness of heart. Too often in the churches which do not accept divorce it seems to be assumed that hardness of heart died together with the Old Testament, that there is no such thing among Christians. And alas, there is only too much of it. And in an act of compassion, in an act of total solidarity, of responsible solidarity with the fate of this bride and bridegroom who, unprepared, unenlightened, we have allowed to enter into the dread path of a Christian marriage, the Orthodox Church allows divorce.

It is a fact which we cannot pass by, that apart from divorces of convenience, divorces that take place because it is an easy way out of a tense and difficult psychological relationship, there is such a thing as the death of a human love. I said a human love. A love that would be mature and fulfilled in God would survive, but a human love based on physical attraction, community of taste, joy of togethernss, may not survive the hardships of life.

And here we recognise death as we recognise it in the physical world. But this does not mean that every person who is divorced has a right to be married in church again. First of all, the rule is that a lengthy penance is laid upon both sides – what we would call the guilty and the not guilty side – a lighter penance on the one whose responsibility is greater. And it is not simply an interdiction to marry. A person who is divorced should be put in the charge of a priest to be spiritually retrained, to be taught to be a Christian and eventually, perhaps, to be allowed to marry later. So the present day attitude that any divorced person without further investigation can claim a right to a second marriage is very alien to the mind of the Church. The ideal remains: the vision of a marriage in the image of Christ and the Church, the ideal of building the kingdom of God at the cost of one’s life. The Fathers used to say: Shed thy blood; thou shalt receive the Spirit: the call to storm the kingdom, to conquer one’s whole self unreservedly to the power of God in order to become one of the stones of which the New Jerusalem will be built. (Tape turns over)

They remain the same. But compassion is what we find in Christ, in the Gospel, and the compassion which is directed towards the beauty of a new life through love but also through an earnest call not to fail, to follow God’s own call, to be one as he and the Father are one, and to achieve a unity which is as deep, as pure and as perfect as that which is achieved in sacramental communion of the body and blood of Christ, between Christ and his creature.