St. Justin Popovich proclaims that through the whole incarnate action of Christ the Lord, He “has sentenced mankind to immortality.” Truly, it is for immortality that we were made.
St. Gregory Palamas teaches, in light of Christ Jesus’ Ascension, “He ascended in glory (cf. Acts 1:9), entered the Holy of Holies not made by hands and sat down on the right hand of the heavenly majesty, making our human substance share His own throne and divinity.”
The ultimate meaning of all things is found in this mystery. And although the world still lies in corruption, the Lord has, through His mystical Body, “bowed the heavens.” So much so, that when, in true faith, we enter into the energizing work of the Body of Christ, we enter into heaven.
“The disciples worshiped the most-high Lord Who had come down from above the heavens, made the earth into heaven and gone up again whence He came, having united things below with things above and formed one Church, at the same time heavenly and earthly, to the glory of His love for mankind,” exclaims St. Gregory Palamas.
One of the most profound manifestations of this reality is shown forth in the “medicine of immortality,” the Holy Eucharist.
It is proper for us to reflect upon the potent reality which we confess to be present in this most sublime mystery of the Faith. May we “examine ourselves” accordingly “to see if we be in the faith” (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5). To this end, I turn to one of the three Theologians of the Church, St. Symeon. Let us reflect, most of all given the current turmoil which is tossing the world here and there, upon the vision which the saints give. Let us not forget the heavenly work which we are called to perform, and let us guard its truth with all steadfastness.
In the course of discoursing upon the mystery spoken of by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 2:7ff and the “inexpressible words” that he heard (cf. 2 Cor. 12:4), St. Symeon teaches this profound meaning, “I say that the ineffable speech which Paul heard spoken in Paradise were the eternal good things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived. These things, which God has prepared for those who love Him, are not protected by heights, nor enclosed in some secret place, nor hidden in the depths, nor kept at the ends of the earth or sea. They are right in front of you, before your eyes. So what are they? Together with the good things stored up in heaven, these are the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which we see every day, and eat, and drink. These, we avow, are those good things.”
Ruminate upon what the saint is saying. The Holy Eucharist is revelation of the heavenlies, in it, those who have eyes to see will behold the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ Himself.
St. Symeon goes on, “If you do want to know the truth of my words, become holy by practicing God’s commandments and then partake of the holy things, and you will know precisely the force of what I am telling you.”
He goes on to quote Jn. 6:32-35, 41-42. He warns Christians, yes Christians, not to be like the unbelieving Jews in the Lord’s time who murmured against Him as the “bread from heaven.” They murmured because they were blinded by unbelief. They did not believe the mystery revealed in Christ. Some Christians may doubt that the “bread on the diskos” and the “wine in the chalice, which we see every day” are indeed the “good things” of which eye has not seen (that is the eye still blinded by mortality).
Remember he is speaking to Orthodox Christians here. He is speaking to us. He goes on, “He [the Lord] says, as it were: ‘Why do you disbelieve and doubt this? No one can know My divinity – for this is the same as to come to Me – unless the Father draws him.’ In speaking of attraction, He makes clear that there is no compulsion, but rather that He has invited through revelation those who He foreknew and predestined, it being evident that He attracts them by virtue of their love for the One Who is thus revealed to them.”
The Lord does not force anyone, but calls to everyone, that in their freedom they may freely come to Him. He invites all to faith and love. We manifest ourselves as children of God when we freely believe in the profound mystery of our Lord and His love for mankind. We manifest our faith when we look to the heavenlies for truth and not to this passing world.
Now hear well these further words from this prophetic voice, “’He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me’ (jn. 6:54-55).” – pay attention, hear well these words! – “DO you see what He is saying? The Son of God cries out plainly that our union with Him through communion is such as the unity and life which He has with the Father. Thus, just as He is united by nature to His own Father and God, so are we united by grace to Him, and live in Him, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Pause. Reread those words. Do you see and hear what mystery and power are contained in the Holy Eucharist? Contemplate upon it, turn it over in your heart. Do we understand what we are participating in, truly, in Church? Do we believe it?
On the saint goes, “And, in order that we not think that everything is reduced to the visible bread, He says several times on this account, ‘I am the bread which comes down from heaven.’ Now He did not say ‘Who came down’, because this would indicate that the ‘coming down’ was a one-time event. What then? He says, ‘Who comes down,’ clearly because He is always and forever descending on those who are worthy, and this occurs both now and every hour.”
Thus, in a potent manner at the Div. Liturgy and in the Holy Eucharist Christ is ever “Incarnate” in the world. It is the teaching that He is completely present in the mystery of the Holy Gifts. He is, to our day and until the end of time, continually uniting earth with heaven in His Divine Person which is made manifest in the mystery of the Church, most potently in the Holy Eucharist. Earth has become heaven, heaven has been bowed and kissed the earth. The foretaste of the coming kingdom is revealed to those who have eyes and ears to hear. Indeed it is not so much coming, but is now being made manifest, and shall be revealed in its fullness on that last and final day when time ceases and all becomes eternity.
Let us hold fast to this teaching not only in word but in deed also. May we draw near to Christ the Lord full of faith that He will give to us only that which is for “life and immortality.” May we, as the saint counsels us, guard our hearts from murmuring and unbelief. The mystery being accomplished in the Church is full of complete divine power and energy, we are, in all truth, doing nothing “of this world” in Church. And so, “in the fear of God, with faith and love draw near.!” Amen.
(All quotes from St. Symeon are from, On the Mystical Life, Vol. 1. The Church and the Last Things, pp. 130-133.)