From Shadow to Reality - Ancient Christian Worship
March 24, 2012 Length: 94:16Fr. Tom Hopko was the guest lecturer at Wheaton College's Center for Early Christian Studies on March 22, 2012. He spoke on the roots of Christian worship from an Orthodox perspective.
Fr. Thomas Hopko: Thank you very much, Professor George. Thank all of you for coming tonight. I’m honored, really, to be here. I’ve heard of this center since it was started, and I’m very happy to come and to participate to the measure that I can and to meet the people who are involved. Of course, Frank and Julie I’ve known for a few years now, and consider them great inspiration and encouragement in my own life and work.
There was a Russian Orthodox bishop in Western Europe who was once given a doctorate by St. Sergius Theological Academy, and when he received it, he said, “I believe that you are giving me this honorary degree not honoris causa, but amoris causa,” which means in Latin, not as honor, but as an act of love, charity, and kindness, and that’s how I understand my being invited here today, much more as an act of charity to an old man. [laughter] If there’s any honor, it’s to be honored to be part of this. God bless you, keep you for many years, and I just hope that all of this can continue very well.
My modest presentation tonight will be about early Christian worship and Orthodox Church worship actually to the present day, because the Orthodox Church worship to the present day was pretty much—how can you say?—its foundations were completed very early in Christian history. I asked George about what do you mean by “early Christian”? and we decided that for tonight it would be through the Seventh Council, through about the eighth century. This is the time when the foundations of Christian worship were established.
Here I would dare to say that the early Church’s foundation of worship [is] based on the Bible. That’s what I want to try to show today, how it’s rooted in the holy Scripture and particularly the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of the Old Testament, christened, you know, Messianized, eschatologized. This is, I think, very important for us to understand and to realize. So I’m going to try to just share with you the conviction that early Christian worship and Orthodox Church worship in its origins is the worship of God that God commands in the law of Moses and in the Psalms and in the Prophets, which, according to the Scripture, was to be kept until the end of the age, was to be kept forever.
The worship conditions of the Torah, what you find in the Psalter, and how the prophets of Israel are relating to worship relative to the keeping of the Law and believing in the one, true God—Yahweh, the Lord, Elohim—and how what happened since the Christ has come and since the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets have been fulfilled in him, what happens, then, to worship, and what happens to worship in the communities—the qahal Israel, the assembly of Israel, that is, the assembly in the Messiah, the Church of Christ—how does this relate to what went before, and how has it developed within the Christian history in the earliest time.
Here, for the sake of full disclosure, this expression “from shadow to reality,” it’s a title of a book by a Jesuit scholar named Jean Danielou, where he shows that the prefigurations, the types, the shadows that were in the Law as the pedagagos to Christ, are completely and totally fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ, then, you move from the shadows, the prefigurations, the paravoloi, the parables, that the Old Testament has, and it finally, all of this, comes to its fulfillment in Christ, which means that every single word of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets is about Christ.
It’s all about Christ. The Psalms are all about Christ. The worship of the Torah with all that it prescribes, as I’ll try to show very simply and superficially, is ultimately fulfilled, and it’s about Christ; and that the Christian Church understands itself to be the Israel of God. It’s interesting that in Scripture you have the new covenant (kainē diathēkē, new covenant. You have the new heaven, you have the new earth. You have the kainē ktisis, the new creation. You have the new human. You have the new song. But there’s no new Israel. There’s one Israel of God, and Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, who exists for the sake of the salvation of the whole creation.
In the Bible, because that’s what I want to keep focusing on tonight, you have in the end of St. Luke’s gospel the meeting at Emmaus with Jesus with Luke and, traditionally, Cleopas, the two, and at the breaking of the bread he opened their minds to the understanding of the Scripture. Then he explained to them how the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets speak about him, how it’s all about him. Therefore, if that’s true, then the worship of the Law, Psalms, and Prophets, are also ultimately all about him and are fulfilled in him, and that’s how the Christians worship.
I already used that expression that the Christian faith worship, the Israel of God in the Messiah, in Christ, the perfection that comes to it is that of Messianization, christening, so to speak, and, as we’ll see, what we can call in fancy language, eschatolization. It projects it to the future coming kingdom of God. So I’m going to just try to show by examples, very simple examples, how this worked, how it worked itself out.
Here I would also refer in the New Testament Scripture to the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel according to St. John. One of the types in the Old Testament is the man meets his bride at a well. The Lord Isaac goes to get the wife for him and meets her coming to a well, and they talk about drinking the water. Jacob and Rachel is the same; Moses and Zipporah is the same. So there’s a sense in which—and this would be a kind of example of how this reading is done—that Jesus, as the divine Bridegroom, is actually meeting his bride at that well in Samaria, because who is his bride? His bride is the sinful, fallen, corrupted world. That’s who his bride is, and you can’t get more than that if you’ve got a Samaritan woman on her fifth man, and she’s a heretic and a dog as far as the Jews are concerned.
It’s interesting that when they meet they have a coversation, and she asks him, “Where should we worship: on Mount Gerazim here in Samaria, or you Jews say in Jerusalem?” And we all know what Jesus said to her. He said, “The hour is coming, it is, when neither on Gerazim nor in Jerusalem will the worship be, but it will be the worship in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.” God is Spirit—and he doesn’t say a spirit, by the way; “spirit” means it’s not connected to a place—and that is all fulfilled now in the Messiah, and therefore we could say, and I would definitely say—I have a series of podcasts on the radio about this—that we would believe that Christian worship, as the fulfillment of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, is, in fact, the worship in spirit and in truth that God the Father desires from his people, and that his people do on behalf of the whole of humanity and the whole of creation. That’s their task: to intercede, to glorify, to thank, to praise, to witness on behalf of all and for all, as the line we say in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
Also, I would just mention by way of introduction here, the first sermon ever preached in Christian history. On the day of Pentecost, Peter gets out on the street. It’s in the Book of Acts. And he says that this Jesus who was crucified, God has made both Christ and Lord, and he is raised and glorified. He’s seated at the right hand of the Father. By the way, if you like trivial kind of things, the most repeated text of the Old Testament in the New is the first line of Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put all the enemies under your feet.’ ” Of course, the Gospel, the glad tidings of God, God’s Gospel in Jesus, is the Gospel of the victory of God over all his enemies, put under the feet of Jesus, his Son, and those feet are nailed to the cross. Very often the Cross itself is called the footstool that the enemies are going to be put under.
So Peter says that this has come to pass. It’s now here. Then a voice from the crowd says to him, cries out and says, “What, then, should we do?” What, then, should we do, if this Jesus who was crucified according to the Scriptures and had to be crucified…. By the way, that would be a conviction of the early Church and Eastern Orthodox tradition; there was no other way for God to redeem, save, sanctify, and glorify and deify the world except by the Incarnation of the davar Yahweh, the word of God in human flesh, to die the most vile death on the cross that any human, especially a Jew, could possibly die. In other words, the Cross is the center; the Cross is essential. Here I would say in ancient Christianity and in Orthodox traditions, all theologia is ultimately stavrologia. Every word of God is a word of the Cross. It’s the word of the Cross. So the Cross and the crucified Christ, raised and glorified, that is the center of Christian worship until the Lord returns again in glory.
[A voice] says, “What then should we do?” and Peter answers, “Believe, repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and you will receive the Spirit of God.” Here that means that the kingship of God will be here. So you change your whole way of looking at reality; you trust in the Gospel of God. “Be baptized” doesn’t mean be swished through water; it means to die with him, to be co-crucified with him, and to be raised and to live by the Spirit of God who, according to Paul, is the arravōn, the foretaste of the coming kingdom, and as some early Church Fathers like Athanasius in his letters to Serapion, Basil in his Treatise on the Holy Spirit would say that the King of the kingdom is Christ, as we know on the Wheaton campus, but the kingship is the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the kingship. Christ is the anointed, and the Spirit is the chrism. The one, true God’s truth is Christ. The living God’s life is Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and it’s the life-creating Spirit.
So you have a worship that’s actually taking place, so to speak, very clearly within the Holy Trinity, within the Godhead. Those who believe in Christ are baptized in him and are in this worship in spirit and truth, are actually worshiping within the very Deity itself, which is the only God that there really is. The one God and the true God is the Father, but Jesus himself is God from God. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, rests in the Son, so you have the mystery of the Holy Trinity as the very matrix and foundation of how the Christian worship goes on, the worship in spirit and in truth.
One last remark here is that when Peter says this, he adds, a couple verses later—it’s the second chapter in the book of Acts—he adds: “And those who believed and were baptized,” it said, “they continued steadfastly in,” and he names four things: that they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles hē didachē tōn apostolōn. They continued steadfastly in the communion: koinōnia. They continued steadfastly in the klaseis tou artou, the breaking of the bread. And they continued steadfastly in the prayers.
Notice there are definite articles in every one of them. It didn’t say, “fellowship, praying.” It said, “the teaching of the apostles”: definite teaching. The communion—and the Church is the communion within the communion of the Trinity itself, that we are taken into in the raised and glorified Christ, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us [as] the guarantee and the foretaste. It says, “the breaking of the bread,” and here it means the Eucharist itself, although in modern Orthodoxy there’s another service called the breaking of the bread; that’s not it. This means they continued in it on every Lord’s day, and in the prayers, which means this pre-existed the people’s coming, and that’s a very important principle of early Christianity, I believe, and certainly Eastern Orthodoxy, and that is this: we do not create worship. It’s given to us by God. It’s divine. It’s revealed. It’s shown forth for what it is, and it’s there waiting for us to enter, and we enter into it and make it our own.
Therefore the Liturgy of the Church—and the word “leitourgia” means a common act, a common act of all the believers together—it’s an act of the Church itself, the qahal Israel itself. In the Old Testament, the qahal was not the assembly of God unless the Lord himself was there, present and governing and presiding over the assembly. That’s why in the tradition of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it begins by the deacon saying to the bishop, “It is time for the Lord to act. Bless, Master.” It’s the Lord who is acting there, and we enter into that action.
That’s such a common teaching. For example, a great Western Orthodox teacher of worship, Benedict of Nursia, he said, “When you worship as the Church, you don’t put your mouth where your mind is. You put your mind where your mouth is, and the words are given to you to say. They’re given by God.” St. Anthony the Great says, “We worship God in words that the Word himself provides,” that God himself provides for us. This is an element of the final covenanted community of the worship in spirit and in truth.
So this is what we see here in the New Testament: Jesus is known in the breaking of the bread; he shows how the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets are all about him; that this is the worship in spirit and in truth that the world has been waiting for in the Messiah when the end of the ages has come upon us, which it has, since Jesus is crucified and the Spirit is poured out, and which is also witnessed to in the first sermon ever preached in Christian history, by the Apostle Peter on the streets of Jerusalem on the date of Pentecost.
This is it, and here I would say—just one more little introductory remark; you can see how disjointed this is—the two New Testamental books, writings, which are the most pertinent and important for the subject that we have tonight—they are all important, obviously, and everything is there—but I think that we cannot really appreciate what we’re going to try to do tonight without a very thorough understanding of the Letter to the Hebrews, which in Eastern Orthodox tradition is read at every single liturgical service at the Great Lenten season leading up to Easter, leading up to Pascha: the Letter to the Hebrews, because it has to do with Christ as God’s Son, the final Prophet, the great High priest, the only priest who offers himself as the Victim to the Father in the Jerusalem not made by hands, above the heaven, behind the veil, offering his own Self in body as a sacrifice to God, and that we do that together with him. What is said in that book will become very practically important in what happens when Christians are formulating their worship in the earliest Church.
The other main liturgical book in New Testament Scripture—and it is certainly a liturgical book, in my opinion—is the Apocalypse of John. The Apocalypse of John [is] where you have the image of the celestial Liturgy, the presbyters, he who sits upon the throne, the Lamb who was slain, Jesus as Logos, Word, Jesus as Amnos, Lamb, 38 times. Sitting before the throne of the Father with all the angels and all the saints and those in their white garments and singing, “Holy, holy, holy!” and so on, that is a kind of the ultimate, apocalyptic, eschatological vision of what you find already prefigured in Isaiah, for example. Daniel 7: the boys in the furnace, and so on.
It all comes together. So what I’d like to do is just to make some comments, like I said, simple, simplistic comments on: how does this work? I just have a few headings, and I’ll make a few comments under the headings, and then we can talk about what you would like to talk about.
First of all, you ask this question: the place of worship. Here you have in the Old Covenant the shrines. You have the agricultural deities with the sacrifices that pre-dated the feasts of Yahweh. Then you have the Yahweh feasts which were first agricultural and cosmic. Then they’re connected with the activities of God in history, particularly with the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses—all through the Old Testament. Then you have the building; you have the tabernacles in the wilderness, and how that tabernacle was built, how the sacrifices should be done, what the priests should wear, who the priests would be, the Levitical priesthood, Aaron, all this kind of thing. It’s all biblical, and for those who are supposedly biblical, this is crucially important to understand Christian liturgy. You can’t understand it without it, because all this was fulfilled. It wasn’t done away with; it was fulfilled.
You have the place, and then, of course, you have the Jerusalem temple. Then it becomes crucial that this temple is destroyed, after Christ is raised and glorified, not to be rebuilt again. Here in this tradition, Jerusalem, according to the Apocalypse, is the place where Jesus was crucified, and it’s equal to Sodom and Egypt. How about that one? And the Jerusalem of the Christian is nowhere on earth; it’s the Jerusalem which is above which is our mother, the Jerusalem that’s coming as a bride at the end, and that Jerusalem is everywhere where the people are gathered together in Christ by the Spirit, baptized, under the leadership of an apostle or one who has received the laying-on of hands from the apostle as the heads of the community.
We have that already witnessed in the New Testament: the episcopoi, the bishops, presbyteroi, the elders, the diakonoi, the men and women servants, the widows, the virgins. There’s a community, a qahal, an assembly that is governed and led by the Lord himself from heaven, seated on the throne, which is given to us, and it is not connected with any particular place. In fact, we were talking at the table today and talking with the students, and Gregory of Nyssa’s name came up a lot. Gregory of Nyssa has one of the most fantastic harangues against pilgrimages you ever want to read. He said for Christians there’s no holy place that’s on this earth.
This is the place where Christ was crucified, and therefore he’s spirit and he’s worshiped everywhere, but the Christian worship takes place where the Christians are. So the place of Christian worship is the Christian community; it’s the Church. That’s what it is. The Church is the living temple, each individual member and the Church as a whole, built on the apostles and the prophets, Christ the cornerstone. So the temple where this takes place is the community of believers. It’s the koinōnia agapēs kai pisteōs, as Ignatius would say; it’s the union, the henosis of faith and truth and love of those who have died to this world, are alive to God, are already belonging to the coming kingdom to come, and they gather together, and where they gather together and formally gather together, under their leadership that comes from the apostles—that’s where worship, liturgical worship, takes place.
People can pray everywhere, they worship everywhere, and so on, but tonight we’re talking about liturgical worship, the worship of the community as such, the Christian Church as such. I’m going to make a remark later on about how what happens when Christians start building buildings, but one thing I want to say right now, because it’s just burning in my heart here: I think it’s totally wrong when Orthodox Christians call their church buildings “temples.” That’s become kind of commonplace now: “We’re building a new temple.” There is no Christian temple. There can be a house where the Church gathers, and they developed and they also became part of the witness about Christian worship. We’ll get to that later, but here we want to see that the place is the Christian community, and it could be anywhere. It could be in a catacomb. It could be in the house-churches described in the New Testament and so on. Then it could be in some magnificent cathedral built by Constantine or whatever—but it’s where the Christians are.
I will mention later how, in the Byzantine tradition, for a consecration of a building for worship, the consecration patterns a baptism and a chrismation of a Christian person. You treat the building like a person. You baptize it, you dedicate it to God, you anoint it with chrism, and then it becomes a manifestation and a witness as the place which is set aside for the people to gather and where the bishop’s chair would be. Already in the beginning of the second century, before the year 110, St. Ignatius of Antioch said, “There where the bishop is, there let the people gather, just as where Christ is, there is the katholikē ekklesia, the catholic Church.”
It’s the first use of the term “catholic,” which, by the way, is qualitative, not quantitative. It’s not spread out; it means nothing missing: full, complete, total, perfect as it can be in this age before the parousia, before the coming of Christ. That’s what catholic means; it means whole. That’s where you get the expression “okay,” for example: ola kala, everything’s right. Katholon means according to the whole.
Wholeness, fullness, and newness are words which are repeated again and again about the Christian Church, the Christian faith, the Christian teaching in the pages of the New Testament, all fulfilling what is the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, and not disconnected from them and not understandable without them. This is what we want to say about that, but I’ll speak a little bit later about the building.
What about the time? Of course, worship in the heart and so on, you have ceaseless prayer. Praying is worshiping, petitioning, giving glory to God, and Christians personally, individually, do that. But what about the gathering of the Church? What about the qahal, the assembly? When does it gather? When does it have its official, so to speak, prayer as Church? Here in the earliest Church, the consecration of time, and here we want to see very definitely that in the development of worship in the Bible you go from cosmic to historical to eschatological. It begins in places, agricultural gods, agricultural feasts. Then they are given economic meaning of the actions of Yahweh within his people. And then they are ultimately fulfilled in Christ, and then they are ultimately an icon of the coming kingdom.
Here an early Christian Father, Maximus the Confessor, seventh century—very interesting man, by the way—he was not ordained; he was a layman; he was a monk. He took on the whole episcopate and the whole Christian Church by saying that what they taught was wrong. [He] said they’re not preaching the Gospel, they’re not preaching the Gospel. They cut his tongue off so he couldn’t speak; they cut his arm off so he couldn’t write. They threw him in prison where he died. That’s what usually happened to the Church Fathers, by the way; they always die in exile. Chrysostom died in exile; the Studite died in exile; Maximus died in prison. That’s part of the story, folks. That’s how it works.
In any case, before they cut his tongue off and cut his arm off, he said and wrote that the Old Covenant is as prefiguration or type or parable to the New. But then he said the worship and the life and the teaching of the New Covenant is not a type or prefiguration or shadow of what is coming. He used the term eikona; it’s an icon of the future, which means that it’s already fully present there in the sacramental mysteries that you can experience while still in this world by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Church of Christ which is the catholic Church, the fullness of him who fills all in all: the best definition of the Church you find in Scripture is the last line of the first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, which is the most ecclesiological book in the New Testament.
So the Church is here, so what does the Church do? Well, very quickly: how does it sanctify the time of this world until the Lord comes in glory at the end? How does it do that as the Church of Christ? Well, what developed—and it’s taken right from the Old Testament—is that you have the hours of the day. The first unit of time is the day: evening and morning, one day. And it begins in the evening. That’s Genesis, right? Evening and morning, one day. Evening and morning, the second day, and so on. So this day, yom, is not a chronological thing; even in Genesis it is not. It means a completed act.
So you have the day, but you have the 24-hour day, and here what developed following the Old Covenant, for example, in Psalm 119:164, you have the line, “Seven times a day will I praise thee for thy righteous judgments.” Seven times. Seven is a symbolic number for fullness, so each day you have seven liturgical offices, and they’re generally called the services of the hours. They begin in the evening: the first is vespers, then the after-dinner service, called in English for some reason “compline.” I never could figure that out. In Greek it’s apodeipnon, which means after the meal. Then you have the vigil through the night that ends in the morning, with lauds; that’s the evening vigil which is normally called matins, ending in the morning, beginning in the dark. Then you have the first hour, the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, which are early morning: six, nine o’clock in the morning, noon, and three in the afternoon. Then the cycle begins again the next day.
In the liturgical offices of the earliest Church and in the churches that still keep these things, you have the Church celebrating these offices every single day. It should be done by everybody, even if you’re not going to the church. Here you would have the Lord’s prayer replacing the Shema Yisrael that had to be repeated: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord; he is one. Adonai Eloheinu—the Lord is God. Adonai Ehad—the Lord is one.” By the way, that doesn’t mean numerical one. It’s the same word that’s used in Genesis for “The two will become one.” It’s very important.
Then you will worship him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. There’s no “mind” in Deuteronomy 6, by the way. There is in the New Testament because it’s for Greeks. It’s added, but the heart in the Scripture meant the mind, the will, and everything. It wasn’t an effective organ; it was the center of the person’s being. Soul, nefesh, meant your behavior, your life. Strength did not mean going to the gym; strength meant your money, your possessions, your power, and everything that you have; you love God with that.
When the Christians come, they preserve that. That’s the greatest commandment in the Law. However, even there you have a fulfillment, because the new commandment is not simply that you love God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength, you love your neighbor as yourself, but the new commandment of the Messiah is: You shall love the Lord your God as I have loved you, which is the love of God himself who is love, through the Son of his love, by the Holy Spirit who pours forth his love into our hearts. That’s divine perfection, and that’s deification. That’s theosis. That’s what it is. It’s not about lights or visions or something. It’s about loving with the love that God himself is that’s given to us in Christ and the Spirit which is human perfection.
So you could say here, when you just look at the prayers of the hours, that you have two realities, two aspects, which are repeated over and over again in this worship tradition. One is the psalms. All of these services, the main words are the psalms, the psalter. The psalter is providing 75% of the words at ancient Christian liturgy and in Eastern Orthodox liturgy to this day. Later you have these hymns being written and so on, and they didn’t come in all that easily, by the way. The monks opposed these kontakia, troparia, and so on. They said, “There’s no more penance left. There’s no more repentance. There’s no more tears. There’s just songs by men.”
Still, the psalms are basic, but then these psalms are chosen for particular purposes of those times of the day: evening psalms, morning psalms, psalms of the early hour. The [third]-hour psalm has to do with the pouring of the Holy Spirit. The sixth hour with the betrayal of the Christ, the ninth hour with his crucifixion. That’s how you pattern it, and in this tradition of worship, when you are reading the psalms, they are all about Christ crucified. That’s what they’re about. Every time it’s about the Lord, the king, and so on, that’s Christ, but every time it’s about the lowly, the meek, the poor, the rejected—that’s also Christ. That’s also Christ. It’s all about Christ.
The psalter is the Bible in miniature in a doxological worship setting. We have to learn the psalms. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, that last, Seventh Ecumenical Council, Canon Two says:
No man can be consecrated a bishop in the Church who cannot recite the psalter by heart.
So I used to have fun with the bishops, because they would say, “We must keep the canons.” I’d say, “Okay, let’s hear it: Blessed is the man who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, who sits not in the seat of the scoffer… Let me hear the 150 psalms, then say we’ll keep the canons, okay?”
But the other is the Lord’s prayer. The teaching always was: that’s what everybody can use, and every believer, baptized, should have the Lord’s prayer seven times a day according to these hours that you have the liturgical office. When monks were illiterate or they couldn’t read or so on, the Lord’s prayer and the Kyrie, eleison replaced it, so that’s like the foundational prayer worship of the community and the individual member.
Here I just want to say a word about the Lord’s prayer. I think it’s just absolutely tragic the way the Lord’s prayer has been translated into English. What the Lord’s prayer is is a total eschatological cry for the coming of the end of the ages by those who already have been crucified with Christ and belong to the age to come. What the Lord’s prayer says is: Abba, Father, who art in the heavens—over everything. May your kingdom come, may your name be sanctified, may your kingdom come, may your will be done, and then it’s hōs en ouranō: as in heaven in the risen and glorified Christ, so also in us, his members on earth. That’s what “[on] earth as in heaven” means. I’m absolutely convinced of that myself.
Then the next line is very very important for our topic. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s not “daily.” It’s epiousios: Ton arton ēmōn ton epiousion dos ēmin sēmeron, both in the Luke version and in the Matthew version. Only this place in the whole Bible. Nobody knows what it means, but somehow along the way it came to mean “what you really need to live,” and so on. That’s not what it means. It means, literally, the supersubstantial bread of the age to come, who is Christ himself. Here, read Isaac of Syria; read John Cassian. That’s what they say. Chrysostom already calls it bread. Someone just wrote me from Ancient Faith Radio and said, “Fr. Thomas, Chrysostom said it’s bread.” I wrote back, “Chrysostom’s wrong on that one.”
Then it says: Forgive us what we ought to do and what we owe as we have already forgiven those who owe us and do not behave toward us as they ought. That’s what it says. And then it says: “Lead us not into temptation” is an idiom which means: Do not let us falter or fall during the final temptation, trial, and test of the final tribulation that we are now in on earth since Christ was crucified and glorified. That’s what the Apocalypse is all about: not falling, not yielding. That’s what that petition in the prayer is. It says: But, on the other hand, deliver us from the evil one: every son of perdition, every man of lawlessness, every antichrist—and there are many antichrists—every demon, and Satan himself.
There’s not one word for a happy, healthy life on earth in the Lord’s prayer. Not a word. By the way, there’s not a word about that in the entire Gospel. No “name it and claim it” there. The only thing you can name is to co-suffer with him. One of the early Christian hymns says:
If we have suffered with him, we will reign with him. If we have died with him, we will live with him. If we deny him, he’ll deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful, because he cannot deny himself.
So this is what we have, and this is done these seven times a day. In the Church’s liturgical worship, you have the assigned psalms and prayers for these seven times a day, and that’s done just to the present day, and it’s certainly done in monasteries. One of the things I do criticize for the monks and nuns, and I’m a priest for nuns right now, is they’re not very attentive to the times of day that they ought to be. If monks and nuns can’t keep these hours at the proper time, who can?
Then you have the week. Now, in the law of Moses, you had the Sabbath, the seventh day, the day when the Lord rested from all his work. In the Christian Church, this is fulfilled. It’s gone beyond. The Saturday before the Resurrection festival is the day when the Lord rests from all his work. When Christ lies dead in the tomb, that’s the blessed Sabbath. In this tradition, that day is kept holy all the time. It’s a Eucharistic day; it’s a liturgical day. There was a big controversy between East and West on this issue, and so on, but it was kept. The Sabbath still has to be holy forever.
Nevertheless, in Christ, the day is the Lord’s day: Nia ton Savvaton, one after the Sabbath, which is called in tradition from the Jews, not only the first day, but the eighth day, the seven-plus-one, the day of the coming age, and that’s why the Christians gathered on the Lord’s day to rehearse and to teach the Gospel, of the teaching of the apostles and to have the breaking of the bread and the communion and to do the prayers.
So the day of worship for the Christians, and when you had things like “keep the Sabbath holy.” That’s not Sunday at all; that’s Saturday. Sunday is the day of the coming kingdom, and that is the day when the Christians gather to hear the Gospel, sing the psalms, make the prayers, preach the Gospel, revivify their faith, and then celebrate the holy Eucharist, which is the sacrifice of their own self and their own bodies, together with the broken Body and spilled Blood of Christ, to God the Father, invoking the Holy Spirit, so that God would then be glorified and that there would be this possibility for communion with God himself through the crucified and raised Messiah, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people.
All of these things were controverted in history for various reasons, various times, various explanations, but this is what we would say right now: that you have the week, and then there developed even particular themes for the days. Monday for the angels, Tuesday for John the Baptist, Wednesday for the Passion, Thursday for the apostles, Friday for the Crucifixion, Saturday for the Sabbath rest when death is being destroyed when the Messiah dies, and then Sunday for the Resurrection, the foretaste of the coming kingdom.
This is how the Christians did it. Then you have the year, when you speak about time. You have the day, you have the week, you have the year. The center of the year is Pascha; it’s the Passover. Of course, in the Old Covenant, it was done in the remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt through the desert in to the promised land, and then the giving of the land by the Lord God, according to the promise made to Abraham, to his people. I already mentioned that these Paschal… It was a spring agricultural feast; the Pentecost was; there were others, but it was connected with the cosmos.
Then it got connected with the mighty acts of God, the magnalia dei, how God acts. So then this Passover, which is the spring equinox, it becomes when you celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. It goes for a 50-day period and ends on the fiftieth day, called Pentecost, which is seven-times-seven-plus-one: fifty. It means it’s also eschatological; it’s also pointing to the future. It’s a foretaste of the coming age with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those who belong to Christ who is risen from the dead. But Pentecost was a Mosaic feast.
Then you had Tabernacles, which was Booths. For the Christians, that became [the] Transfiguration of Christ, because he was transfigured according to the synoptics at the Feast of Tabernacles. By that time, the Feast of Tabernacles among the Jews was not simply an agricultural feast; it was already a time when it was looking forward to the time when the Messiah would reign and everything would be given free, and you would have bread and drink and water and celebrate with God without price and so on.
That’s what the Feast of Tabernacles was, and that’s why Christ is transfigured on the mount, the Transfiguration on the mountain, revealing himself to Peter, James, and John, speaking with Moses and Elijah, who stand for the Law and the Prophets, for heaven and earth. Elijah’s in heaven and Moses is buried. Stands for the living and the dead: Elijah’s alive, who’s supposed to proceed the Messiah from heaven, which he will at the end, according to the Fathers. John the Baptist does it for the Passion; he’s the New Elijah. The living and the dead, heaven and earth, the Law and the Prophets—so everything is brought together there, and chiastically that’s the center of the synoptic gospels. Then it goes through to the end until you have the Passion, the Resurrection, and then the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, risen from the dead, the Lord come in power, which the apostles themselves witnessed before they actually biologically died.
Then you had the winter festival, the festival of lights, the rekindling of the lamps. That was done in the wintertime at the solstice, the darkest day of the year, and then the Christians used that for the celebration of the Incarnation and the revelation of the Messiah on earth. Originally it was one festival including Christmas, Circumcision, Temple dedication, and Baptism in the Jordan, and the revelation of God in the flesh in this earth in the darkness of winter, and then that light shines in the darkness, the epiphania, the shining forth of God. Then they all became separate feasts as Christianity developed, and then Christmas was moved to the 25th of December because that was the dies natalis solis invictus, the sun under the pagans.
All of this was a consecration of the time of this world by the acts of God, Yahweh, in the Old Testament, and then their fulfillment in the Person of Christ. All this is kept in this Church tradition until the present day. So you have the day, the week, and the year celebrated by the assembly of God’s people in the Church as Church at these particular times. Then with them there developed fasting seasons to prepare; there were post-seasons of celebration, like Pascha was on for 50 days, there are octaves; and it’s sanctifying the life of this world in the light of the victorious Christ who is coming. Of course, the main Christian prayer was: Come, Lord Jesus! It’s what’s going to happen, not only what happened.
If we take a look at the celebration of the Lord’s day beginning with the Pascha Sunday… We already mentioned that this is where Christ as the Prophet and Teacher as well as the Word and the Disciple, Christ as the one great High Priest and as the Bread and the Lamb who is sacrificed and offered, Christ as the Priest according to the order of Melchizedek—because I mentioned that the most repeated psalm in the New Testament is 110, beginning with, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’ ” That’s the psalm where you have the line, “Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Melchizedek was the king of peace, the king of Salem, came to Abraham, and everything is in that story. He sacrifices bread and wine, the kings have been defeated on the earth, he eats together with Abraham in this hospitality, then the three men come there in the Genesis story. All of this is fulfilled in the Christian Church, in the Eucharistic gathering and the Eucharistic supper with Christ. It’s a command of God that this be done every Lord’s day. It’s not if you want to have a communion service; it’s not a devotion. It’s an actualization of Church as Church in space and time until the Lord comes again in glory. It’s not negotiable, and it’s certainly not a devotion and it’s certainly not a prayer service, but this is the way the earliest Christians worshiped. This is how they did it, and that’s how it developed through history.
Here again I would just mention again, reading this Letter to the Hebrews. Read the Letter to the Hebrews, about the old Aaronic and Levitical priesthood, about the priesthood according to Christ, about the entrance into the Holy of Holies not made by hands, eating and drinking in the kingdom of God. And the Eucharistic supper is not simply a memorial of what happened in the past; it’s a memorial of what is happening now in the risen Christ and will come at the end of the ages! And Jesus himself, before the Passion, he said, “I will not eat and drink with you again until we eat and drink in the kingdom of God. Then how blessed are they who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” And that bread will be Christ himself, the bread of life who comes down from heaven.
This Eucharistic celebration, it is Christ as the Teacher, Christ as the perfect Disciple of the Father, Christ as the High Priest, Christ as the Lamb of God who is slain, Christ as the King who is victorious, Christ as the suffering Servant who is the subject of God, and it all comes together in him, and this is what is experienced in the worship of the Church which provides the context for exegeting Scripture. It’s the canon of faith by which you exegete Scripture.
There’s no canon of Scripture in this tradition. There’s a canon of truth, a canon of faith that precedes even the approbation of certain books and the rejections of others, and the books that have been sealed by this Church tradition are those that are centered on the Passion of Christ where the Cross of Christ is the main revelation of God’s glory on this earth and his love, and they are the affirmation of the Old Covenant Scriptures, and that’s what the pseudo-epigrapha is not. And there’s no magic in the New Testament. There’s no boyhood stories. There’s none of that stuff. It’s all soteriological. It’s all for our salvation, whatever the Discovery Channels and the History Channels and Elaine Pagels and the others, Bart Ehrman, whoever. That’s not what it is. That’s simply not what it is.
You have this affirmation of these Scriptures because they are fulfilling the Old Testament: how Paul who had a vision never speaks from the vision. He proves kata tas graphas, according to the Scripture that Jesus is the Lord risen from the dead, because that’s what is foretold in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. That’s how it works. Then you don’t boast in your visions; you boast in your suffering, if you’re a Christian. And he boasts for two pages long in the second Corinthian letter, right?
This is how it’s understood, and I think— I was reading your first book that you published and so on, and from our perspective, my perspective, that would be one of the most great difficulties, because you ask the question: What is the living context in which you’re reading and exegeting Scripture? Is it the library? Is it the latest scholar? Is it some holy man? Who is it? Well, it’s nobody. It’s the body of the Church itself. It’s the ongoing tradition of worship from the beginning where the first early Christians christened, Messianized, and eschatologizeed the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, and all of the worship prescriptions of the law of Moses. That’s what it is.
Now a very important thing here to insist on is the Old Testament, Levitical sacrificial system. You had thank-offerings, praise-offerings, peace-offerings, forgiveness-offerings, purification-offerings, atonement-offerings, mercy-offerings, reconciliation-offerings. Christians believe all these are filled in the one offering, Christ hapax, once for all on the tree of the Cross, and that’s what the Eucharistic supper is: it’s a sacrificial meal. You’re entering into the sacrificial death where he offers his Body.
And that Body has at least four meanings all at once. It’s the Body of Jesus Christ himself, personally, that’s broken and the Blood is shed. It’s the Body of the believers who are having their bodies offered, broken, and shed with him. It’s the Body of the Church which is the Body of Christ. And it is also the Bread and the Wine that is offered where all of this is brought together, which is Christ, the Church, the Offerer, and as the prayer of the liturgical office says, “For you, O Christ, are the One who offers, the One who is offered, the One who receives the offering, and the very Offering which is distributed to us.”
If you go to the Holy Eucharist, not discerning the Lord’s Body and not discerning that you are to be members of Christ, and therefore constitute his Body in this world, which means you sacrifice your own body together with him in the love for God and neighbor, then your communion is unto condemnation and judgment. It is simply not a Christian worship service.
Here one interesting point on this—at least to me—once I heard a person speaking, and he said, “It’s very interesting, very interesting, very evident.” Some guy raised his hand and said, “Interesting and evident to whom?” Well, it’s obviously interesting and evident to me—but St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, he says,:
I beseech you and beg you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your logokoi latreia, which is your spiritual, reasonable, human worship.
So the worship, the sacrificial worship, is our offering our bodies our whole life, with all we are, with Christ to God by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we are ourselves would become the Body of Christ in this world.
Now, sometimes, for example, in the myths of the sacramental theology, people will say, “Well, the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, but the bread and the wine, when it’s consecrated, that’s the real Body of Christ.” And, boy, [were] there controversies about that, right? But I would say in the earliest Church and among the Church Fathers, just the opposite was what was taught, that the Eucharistic bread and wine is the mystical Body of Christ; the real Body of Christ are the baptized Christians who are sealed with the Spirit and who are dying with him every day and gather every Lord’s day to renew their baptism and to offer themselves again to the Lord.
And that’s why there’s no particular renewal of baptismal service in the Tradition, because it’s done at every Eucharistic service. And that’s why the Creed is sung, because you’re affirming your baptism, and that’s why it’s sung in the singular, not in the plural: because each person has to reaffirm it for themselves. And if you can’t do that, you can’t participate in the Supper—or if you do, it’s unto your condemnation; you’re just messing around with the holy things.
Here this logikoi latreia, that expression is used in the earliest Christian prayers all the time for Christian worship. It’s the human worship in spirit and truth that those who are together with Christ are offering to God in and through and with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. So this is what we have there.
One last thing here is about this house of the Church. I said already that the temple is the people; it’s not a building. I think it’s very wrong to call a building a temple. Even Jews now call their synagogues “temple.” There was only one temple, and it’s gone. You know how in the gospels, without getting into it, Jesus speaking about destroying the temple and raising it again at the Passion, the false witnesses, had at all to do at that point about the temple.
However, in the earliest Church, when Christianity was illegal, there were meetings at graves of martyrs, those who had really died with Christ and proved that they belonged to him. So they would celebrate this Eucharistic meal over their bones, and in our Church to this day we take the bone of a saint and put it on the altar table, to keep that in mind. It’s the blood of the martyrs, and the great Martyr, the faithful Martyr, according to the Apocalypse, is Jesus himself. That’s where the Jehovah’s Witnesses get the name of their church or their movement. The Jehovah’s Witnesses: that Witness is Jesus, and he is the Martyr.
And then you had it in the homes, the Church in the home of —. And then the communities developed, leadership developed. By the time you get toward the end of the first century, you have pretty much the structures that persisted, at least in the Church in the catholic tradition, down to the present day: the bishop in each community, the chief presbyter, with the presbyterium, with the deacons, both men and women, and with the widows, the virgins, the faithful, each with his or her own vocation, gathered together in one body, and no one part of the body can lord it over any other part of the body, according to St. Paul.
But then buildings started to be built, and you mentioned the anniversary of Constantine, and he starts building these buildings all over the place, and church buildings are built. Here I would just like to say that I believe that the way that the early Christians—and that’s already not so early, because it’s only at the time when they could build buildings—they consciously followed the tabernacle and the temple of the Old Testament as it’s eschatologized in the Apocalypse and as it’s described in the Letter to the Hebrews.
If you go to a traditional Orthodox church building, it’s a witness, and the Seventh Council will say this particularly: it is a testimony, a martyria, an apologia, a defense of the Christian faith itself in how it’s formed, how it’s shaped, and what is there. Let me just say a little bit about that. The building has to be a building that is conducive for Christian worship, so it has to show a forward movement, an expectation, a high place, a sanctuary in the heavens, coming at the end of the age as you would see described in the Old Testament prefiguration and in the Letter to the Hebrews and in the Apocalypse. In that particular building… In other words, you cannot have a round Orthodox church building, I don’t think, because that would not bear witness to Christian conviction. We’re not in round, cyclical things happening again and again and so on.
History is there. We’re looking forward. Come, Lord Jesus! We’re looking all together the same direction, and the celebrant should be looking the same direction, too, [except] when he’s blessing the people or distributing Communion or preaching the Word and so on. When he preaches, he preaches from a high place, because it’s the Word of God; it’s not him. He’s not sharing his thought, food for thought, whatever, walking around pretending he’s Jesus on the streets of Capernaum or something. No! Jesus is speaking from heaven now! Read the Letter to the Hebrews, twelfth chapter. So it’s from on high. Very often in the earliest Church the bishop preached sitting on a cathedra, and the people stood and listened to him, and it was a high place behind the table of the altar.
Then you had a sanctuary area, which the traditional Christian church has, East and West, but I’ll stick now to the Eastern development. The sanctuary area had a kind of a clear separation from the nave, and it was showing forth, as Maximus would say, the coming kingdom, what we are expecting, what is going [on] already now in the celestial liturgy and which we expect to enter into fully at the end of the age, in which we enter into mystically and sacramentally in the sacramental, mystical life of the Church. So in that area, when they began to build, they would sometimes have a veil across, because it was veiled, and you took the veil away when you actually celebrated, so you had access “through the veil,” as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews.
Then you had an altar table. Originally and certainly in the Russian Church to this day, it’s got to be a cube, because in the temple, in the tabernacle, it was a cube. It was cubic. In the Old Covenant, you had on that table the tablets of the Law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the manna that they ate in the wilderness. In the New Covenanted Church, you have on that table, besides the bone in the table of the martyr, you have the four gospels—not the entire Bible, not even the entire New Testament: you have the four gospels, because Christ is the Word of God. The Word of God for Christians is a Person, not a book, and we don’t read the Bible like the Quran. It didn’t fall from heaven intact and so on. It witnesses to Jesus as the living Word of God. So in place of the tablets of the Law, you have the four gospels: a gospel book, usually decorated, that you can kiss it, venerate it, because it’s the Word of God.
Then you have on the altar, in place of Aaron’s rod that budded, you have a cross that the celebrant blesses the people with at various times, because that’s the real weapon of God’s victory of the Gospel, the Cross of Christ. Then in a tabernacle-type of vessel, you don’t have the manna, the remnant of the manna; you have the Eucharistic Gifts. You have the consecrated Bread and Wine from the Eucharist that are kept there for communing the faithful if they’re sick or they’re suffering or so on, or in special times, but that’s what’s on the table. This patterns completely the Old Covenant. Then you have a seven-branched candlestick, and according to the Orthodox rubrics, it should be a seven-branched candlestick, like in the Old Testament tabernacle.
One really interesting thing—at least I think it’s a very interesting thing—is that as this iconography developed, in the old temple, behind the altar you had a place called the hilastērion in Greek. It’s translated into English: the mercy seat. That was an empty space, and it was prescribed in the Torah to have two cherubs, two cherubim, a cherub on each side. But it was empty, because God was invisible. God could not be seen. But that’s where Moses spoke with God, and that’s where God taught him, and only he could go there—sometimes Joshua, but this face-to-face meeting where Moses heard in the tabernacle God speaking as on the mountaintop: that was where the encounter with God took place in the temple.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, as you may know, that over the altar in the classical iconography, there’s usually a huge fresco of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, either in the Isaiah form, with her hands up and Christ in her, or seated on a throne with Christ on her lap, as the seat of Wisdom. That’s the Christian mercy-seat. That’s not the Theotokos. It’s not a fresco of Mary. It’s a witness to the conviction that the Word has become flesh and we have seen him, we have heard him, we have touched him, he is speaking to us, and it’s not empty any more, because God has become a man and he’s been glorified and he’s born of the Theotokos and lived on the earth to teach us, and he teaches us what he heard from the Father from before the foundation of the world.
So when people come in and they say… I’ve had people say, “Don’t bring your Evangelical friends to our churches. They’ll come in and see that big thing of Mary and they’ll say we’re Mary-oloters,” and all that stuff. It ain’t Mary! And in the service-books, she’s called “the mercy-seat of the world.” She’s called the warm mercy-seat, the living mercy-seat, the alive mercy-seat, the one where this redemptive activity, hilastērion, takes place in the Person of her Son who has become visible. You can see him, you can touch him, you can taste him, you can hear him. And that was how the iconography developed.
Then there developed in front of the altar what were called the local icons. Again, people will say, “Well, they’ve got Mary and Jesus on the same level in those Orthodox churches. What’s wrong with them?” Got news for you again. It ain’t Mary and Jesus! They’re icons of the first coming and the second coming: the first, with the Mother with the Child, who looks like an older person. That’s an icon of the Incarnation. The other one is Christ alone in glory; that’s the icon of the second coming. Everything takes place in the Christian church between the two comings, and it’s always a remembrance and an expectation. That’s what all worship is: remembering what God has done and expecting what he will do, and waiting for it and praying for it and calling for it to come.
Then you had other things develop. You had the four Evangelists put on the doors. You had the Annunciation put there because the center is the Incarnation of the Word, the center of Christianity. Then you had the apostles put there, the prophets put there. And then you had this explosion of the icons. That was not a total, universal practice in the Christian early centuries for many, many reasons—because of paganism, because of all kinds of things—but by the time you get to the fifth, sixth century, it becomes a witness to the faith, because Jesus is not only the Word of God, he’s the Icon of God. When you see him, you see God. Philip says to him, “Show us the Father. We’ll be satisfied.” He says, “Philip, I’ve been with you so long, and you still don’t understand? He who sees me sees the Father. How can you say: Show us the Father?”
And then St. Paul will say that the same way that the kabod Yahweh, the glory shone from Moses and Elijah and they saw this, now it shines apo tou prosopou tou Kyriou, from the face of the Lord, hos estin eikon tou Theou, who is the icon of God. So Jesus is the Icon of God, and that is the theological foundation, it’s the evangelical foundation for the veneration of icons, for the propriety of painting the paintings of Christ, Mary, the sacred events, the saving events, the prophets, the apostles—because this is a revelation of God. John of Damascus will say if you deny it, you deny the Christian faith itself. You deny the Christian faith itself. So there was a century under Islamic influence and so on, 120 years of iconoclasm. More martyrs died for the icons than in the early Christian era. Terrible persecution. Horrid. But they refused to simply step on an icon and say it’s a piece of board. No. Would you step on the Bible?
This conviction of the necessity for proclaiming, as the Seventh Council will say, the faith in words and images, that becomes an integral part of the Christian worship tradition. You have the hymns that are sung are what is depicted in the icon, so if you’re looking at an icon of Christmas, you’re singing the songs of Christmas, you’re hearing the pericopes from Luke and Matthew, you see it in front of you also, because it’s historical, it happened, it’s here, it’s with us. Here it would not be negotiable in that sense. It would be true that it’s not negotiable. People may not like it, but they can’t be against it, because if you’re against it the claim would be you’re against the Gospel.
And if it’s there and if it’s holy, you venerate it; you love it; you kiss it; you [cense] it—but more important than that, you use it as the canon of your own life. You live by it. You’re judged by it. If you kiss it, you’ve got to follow it. If you kiss the Cross, you’ve got to take it up, and if you don’t, you’re in big trouble. But that the cross, the frescoes, the handiwork—all of that would become part of the whole worship tradition which you had in the Old Covenant in great detail. Read how God prescribes the priest to be vested, how he’s supposed to put [it] on, what he’s supposed to wear, who he’s supposed to be, what pieces of linen and blue colors and all that are supposed to be used.
We would say, the ancient Christians would say, that is not all undone by Jesus. It is not fulfilled to be rejected. It is fulfilled to be fulfilled and christened and used as a witness to the Gospel until the Lord returns again in glory. So this house of the Church, when they began to be built, were built in accordance with the convictions of what Christian worship is all about.
Then, of course, in that community of the faith, that’s where the baptisms are done, the chrismations, the Eucharist is celebrated, the weddings, the healing, the interment of the dead. In the Eastern tradition and in the early Church tradition, a sacrament was not defined as an external act giving internal grace instituted by Jesus and found on the pages of the Scripture. Then you discuss how many there were: seven or two or two-and-a-half or how many? The Eastern and the early Church never did that. They didn’t think that Jesus came to the earth to institute sacraments. He came to bring the kingdom of God, and in the kingdom of God every aspect from before birth to after death is sanctified in the Church of Christ by liturgical worship and veneration and reading the Word of God and saying the proper prayers.
So in our tradition, besides baptism and chrism and Eucharist and marriage and healing and reconciliation and penance and the order of the Church—the bishops, the priests, the deacons—you have monastic consecrations, you have sanctifications and consecrations of everything that possibly exists. If it exists, you can bless it! And there’s a prayer for it in the priest’s prayer book. Of all kinds, because the whole sanctification and deification of life is already seen for what it will be at the end and experienced that way in the victory of Christ. So there’s no counting of sacraments. People think Orthodox are retarded, because they don’t know how many sacraments there are.
We would say: That ain’t what sacraments are, and they’re not there to be counted, but that every aspect of the human life has its consecration through Christ and the Spirit to God, which is already an icon of the coming age that is the truth. So the celibacy of the monk or nun, the faithful, radical monogamy of the married couple, they are all witnesses to the kingdom of God, and they are all used in Scripture for that particular purpose.
It is a very concrete, very material body that’s there. Sometimes some of the translators couldn’t handle that. I noticed a long time ago that in the Corinthian letter where St. Paul speaks about your body being a temple of the Holy Spirit that you have from God, and so he ends up: “Therefore, glorify God in your body,” and the King James Version added, “and the spirit,” because they just couldn’t leave that “body” alone, you know, because it’s your soul only that goes to heaven. No, the resurrection of the dead [is in] the body. Someone once said, “You can’t leave Orthodox Church worship, and certainly not the worship of the earliest Church, without singing, dripping, crumbing, chewing, and aching,” because your whole person is involved in this activity in every way that it is possibly done.
So: space, the time, the week, every aspect of human life, the very particular character of the Eucharist on the Lord’s day, it’s connected with all the festivals of the Church that come from the face of Yahweh and the Mosaic law—all of this is what constitutes Christian worship. And it’s the worship of the Church as Church, and it exists before we enter it. And it’s there before we enter it, and then we enter into it, and we make it our own. Thank you very much.
Professor George Kalantzis: Thank you so much, Father. Thank you for reminding us at the end that everything is consecrated to God through Jesus Christ. It is quite often our feeble minds that lead us to think that we create worship of God. Thank you for this. We have a few minutes for questions.
Q1: I would love to follow up on some of the things you said, particularly on martyrs as living sacrifices, not just in imitation of Christ, but participating in the body of Christ.
Fr. Tom: Absolutely.
Q1: And Christ is the first Martyr, and the martyr Icon. Can you tell me… I would really like to follow up with the Fathers on that. Can you… Not to put you on the spot too much, but can you direct me to some people who you think would develop that in a way… I love that idea and would love to follow up on it.
Fr. Tom: Actually, I can’t. I’m an amateur. I go around peddling other people’s blood. I read secondary literature and go and give talks. Then they think you’re smart. But I do think that this issue of martyria, which means bearing witness, that’s central to the whole Christian faith. Jesus is the great Witness of God and the Truth of God and so on. He’s called the faithful Witness twice in the Apocalypse.
But it’s interesting that in the gospels, especially St. John’s, the Father is also the martyria to Jesus. The Father bears witness to him. The Holy Spirit bears witness to him. And it’s pretty nice if, according to Judaic Law, you need two witnesses, it’s really nice to have God the Father and the Holy Spirit as those two witnesses. There is this mutual testimony and witness.
Here I would say that the Scriptures, the services, the sacraments, the saints, the suffering—it’s all martyria. It’s all bearing witness and testimony to what the Gospel is all about, and it’s about dying. It is about dying, which is folly to Greeks and scandal to Jews and Muslims and so on. The Quran says Jesus didn’t even die! The Gnostic literature, the pseudo-epigrapha, does not have a place for the Cross. That’s central for the Christian faith. You cannot enter into God’s kingdom except by dying with the Messiah. There’s no other way, and that’s what love is: complete and total.
Talking about theosis—Orthodox love theosis, deification—what’s theosis? It’s when you’re hanging dead on the cross, abandoned by God, who is your own Father, Abba, with whom all things are possible, and he says, “Die,” and your friends run away and you’re all alone and you say, “Father, forgive them. Into your hands I give my life.” That’s theosis. That’s a divine life on earth. That’s the life of love. What’s interesting here, again, against certain early Christian traditions: any person can enter into that. They don’t have to be learned. It’s not for the erudite. It’s not for the initiate. It’s for lovers. It’s for lovers, and worship is fundamentally about love and keeping the commandments. So this witnessing is there.
If it’s really a witnessing with Christ, it has to be a death, whether or not you are actually killed as an actual martyr, it’s got to be about dying. But it’s got to be about dying in love. The Apostle Paul says, “I can give my body to be burned, and if I have not love, it profits me nothing.” St. Cyprian of Carthage said, “A person could volunteer for martyrdom and die for the name of Jesus, and go to hell, because it was self-will and not to the glory of God and the good of the brother.” One of the most terrifying sentences in the Scripture is:
Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord!” is going to enter the kingdom, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
He says: “On that day”—that yom of the Lord, that yom Yahweh, the Kyriakē hemera—many, hoi polloi—it says it three times—”many will come and say, ‘We cast out demons in your name. We prophesied in your name. We did miracles in your name.’ ”
“ ’...We founded the Center for Early Christian Studies in your name. We gave a talk about all this stuff, pirating all these other people’s material…’ ” And he’ll say, “Depart from me, evil-doer. I don’t know you.” Because the will of the Father in heaven is love, and it’s the testimony to that love.
But what’s very interesting relative to the actual martyrs and the worship issue is that when you have words being put into the mouth of martyrs in hagiographical literature, their prayer’s almost always a Eucharistic prayer. The great example would be Polycarp of Smyrna. It’s one of the first authentic acts of the martyrs that we have. (We have some law courts, Justin the Philosopher, and so on.) They’re going to put him to death, and he says, “First, give me some time.” And they acquiesce, and he prays for every one of his people by name. Then he says, “Okay, I’m ready.” They start to tie him. He says, “You don’t have to tie me.” Then he says a prayer where he’s offering himself to God as a bread to be eaten! Ignatius of Antioch uses the same imagery. “I want to become God’s bread.”
And it’s interesting that in Ignatius, when he’s saying to the Romans, “Don’t spring me; don’t get me out of this,” he says, “because I want to be a…”—he doesn’t say martyr; he doesn’t even say Christian—he says, “I want to be a human being. An anthrōpos. Let me be a human being,” because Christ shows us what a human being is, and you can’t be a human being unless you’re in communion with God. So this martyrdom is there, and the Eucharistic prayers are connected to the actual deaths of saints. Then, as I mentioned, the places where they died became places for Eucharistic prayer. That’s the way they built the shrines and so on. They didn’t build them… The holiness of the place was, and even Jerusalem itself, in that sense, is because of what happens there. However, you can say that it’s the place itself that’s holy; it’s the death and the witness that makes it a particularly charged place of the presence of God.
I think there’s a lot of these things. I think a good source are the legends of the saints. There’s a lot of wild stuff in there, like when Ignatius dies they cut his heart open, and written in gold it says, “Theos,” because he’s a God-bearer, and all that sort of thing. That’s Medieval entertainment. Well, that’s what it is! There wasn’t any TV at that time, no Twitter or whatever; you had to do something. But the martyr: death as a dying in and with Jesus, and in some sense Jesus dying again in and with his people... The mystic saints say he’s dying till the end of the age, in us.
Another incredible sentence in the Scripture is in the Colossian letter, the first chapter, where St. Paul said that he has his ministry from God and that he wants “to complete what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of the Church which is his Body to which I have been called as a minister, as a servant.” I went with that text to my professor of dogmatic theology, Dr. Verhovskoy—and I’ve been teaching his teaching my entire life; my vocation is to be a microphone—and I asked him, “Prof., what is lacking in the suffering of Christ? How can you say ‘to complete what is lacking in the suffering of Christ?” And he said, “My dear, nothing is lacking except its actualization in us.”
So Jesus didn’t die so that we don’t have to suffer or take the cross. He died so we can, and be victorious over the devil, and that’s what a martyr is. A martyr proves that you can trample down death by death by the Lord’s power just like Jesus did! Because he makes that possible, and he also makes possible people like Anthony the Great who could live to 105, has his resurrected body with no wrinkles, all his teeth, and shining with the uncreated light. God has that power, the incarnate Logos.
This power is given to us, and that’s why in the legends of the saints, you always have stories where they can’t kill them at first. Some of my favorite—there are some really incredible stories, you know, like Agatha who, they cut off her breast, and she throws it at Quintianus and he goes blind. It’s great literature for fun, but there’s points being made there. But the fundamental point is that, yes, God, Christ there in the garden, could call twelve legions of angels and wipe everybody out. He could. He could heal everybody and so on. But Chrysostom said, if you think you’ve been healed by the power of God, know that it’s only for more crosses, greater witness, greater repentance, and greater service. That’s what it’s for. Nothing else. Greater love until you die, or repentance, or whatever you need.
This martyr, they can’t get [killed], and then finally they die. Here I just have to say something. I used to teach a course in this—as an amateur also. In my day, few were called and all were chosen, so… We were teaching all kinds of stuff we didn’t know anything about, and still don’t. It’s very interesting: the early Christian martyrs, their martyria was their suffering and death, but it also was their forgiveness of the one who was killing them.
By the time you get to the Middle Ages, it’s only their death, and they’re cursing the one who kills them, saying, “You’re going to burn in hell, and worms are going to come out of your feet,” or something. That shows something terrible happened, and then people started going to the shrines of the martyrs to get help to healthy rather than to get power to carry their crosses. H. Richard Neibuhr said in 1934, an Evangelical Protestant theologian—I guess he was Evangelical or neo-Orthodox or whatever they called them in those days—he said, “In our country of America, you’ve got a God without wrath bringing a man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through Christ without a cross.” And you go to church only for therapeutic help. And you make pilgrimages for that purpose, and you go to martyr-shrines for that purpose, and you sprinkle holy water. That’s simply a betrayal of the Gospel. If Evangelicals should know that more than anybody.
But, you see, there is this other aspect as well, that it’s there. The cross has to be borne. The asceticism has to be done. The martyria has to be made. And there’s no way around that or out of that. That’s about the best I could do on that one, but I think there are definitely books about it. With Google, you should be able to say “martyrs” and get it in one afternoon.
But this is really central to the Christian faith. Really central to the Christian faith, and without it, there’s no Christianity; there’s no Christianity.
David: Hi, my name is David, and in regards to the Eucharistic worship, you didn’t really explain much on the Eucharistic bread and wine. Why is it leavened? What is the Eastern tradition? Why is it leavened bread instead of unleavened, which is the Western tradition?
Fr. Tom: Okay, that’s a good question. There was this Azymite controversy. There are various ways that that’s answered. One of them is that simply the New Testament uses the term “artos,” which is regular leavened bread. Then it’s “put in the new leaven, purge out the old leaven,” and all that. Then it’s the fulfillment of the resurrected Christ, so it’s kind of a living: the leaven of the kingdom. You find that.
We also put hot water in a chalice so that the wine tastes warm. It’s like the Theotokos being called the warm mercy-seat. It’s all bearing witness to the victory of Christ and his being alive in the kingdom. Those are ways that that’s done in kind of ritualistic form. But the bread and the wine, that’s essential. In our tradition, that bread and that wine is distributed to all the baptized, chrismated people who accept their baptism and are within the Church, including infants who are baptized.
We bring babies. We baptize infants and we bring them to holy Communion, right after their baptism, because they’re part of the community; they’re part of the Body. Christ says, “Don’t keep the children from coming to me.” We don’t believe in a “believer’s baptism.” Who’s a believer anyway, and when are they one? It’s something you recover every single day. But children can be raised within that, and eat and drink at the kingdom the bread and wine of the offering.
Why the bread and the wine? That’s Melchizedek, right? His offering is bread and wine. It’s because what bread stands for: “I am the bread of life.” Wine is connected with the blood, which is the life in a person. “Drink of it, all of you.” That’s a scandalous sentence, because you weren’t supposed to touch that blood in the Old Covenant. Nobody could touch it, drink it. If you touched it, you became ritualistically unclean and you had to have a sacrifice done for you.
By the way, those ritual sacrifices of the Levitical code, they had nothing to do with morality at all. It wasn’t that you did something bad. Just the opposite: that you were involved in something divine, being a creature and being a sinner, therefore you had to go and wash your hands. There was a dispute among rabbis once, whether Song of Songs was an inspired book and belongs in the canon or not. You know how they answered the question? Does the scribe or the rabbi, after touching the text, have to do a ritual washing? The answer was, oh, yes, they always did. Therefore it’s inspired. So the act, you know. We have to be careful with all that ritual, and Christ fulfills all those kind of things.
I think that there’s reasons for that, but one thing I didn’t say which I should have said was: at the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the Gifts, that’s a particularly early Christian practice, the sending of the Spirit to effect all of the activities, because every action of God is effected by the Holy Spirit. It’s fulfilled by the Spirit’s act. That’s why in the Middle Ages the Eastern Church was against the scholastic teaching that the elements are changed or transsubstantiated by the words of institution. There’s the words, but there’s also the invocation of the Spirit, called epiklēsis, to call the Spirit.
It’s interesting that in the traditional Liturgies, the Spirit is invoked on us and on the bread and wine. I already said: because we are the Body of Christ that’s being transformed at that offering, if we indeed are offering ourselves to God and Christ by the Spirit to have our body broken and our blood shed, to love with the love with which he has loved us. So we say, “Send down your Holy Spirit on us and on these Gifts here offered.”
Here’s a little thing. I’m doing a commentary on the Divine Liturgy for Ancient Faith Radio. I did 32 of them already and I haven’t started the Liturgy yet. I did all the Old Testament lead-ins, you know: Cain and Abel, Noah, all the sacrifices, the system… In some detail. In any case, some of the English translations, they would say, “Send down the Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts, and make this bread the most pure Body of your Christ.” In Basil’s Liturgy it would say, “Show this bread to be”—not “make it,” but “show it to be the most pure Body of your [Christ]. And that which is in this cup, to be the precious Blood of your Christ.”
Then the formula is translated into English: “Changing them by the Holy Spirit.” Well, my teacher, whom I also use all his stuff, Fr. John Meyendorff, he said, “There’s no direct object in that sentence in Greek.” There’s no “them.” It’s: “Making the change by the Holy Spirit,” because it’s not just the bread; it’s us, too! We become the Body of Christ at that point, so to speak, together with Christ to God, and then we have to be the living Bread to other people and give our life and so on the way that Christ did. Otherwise, we participate unto condemnation and judgment.
And we have plenty of prayers in our tradition that you can participate in an unworthy manner. It’s 1 Corinthians 11, because you do not discern that it’s the Lord’s Body that is here. That doesn’t simply mean the elements of bread and wine. It means that the whole thing—I, the bread, Christ, the Church—are all the Body. And Nyssa and Chrysostom, they have actually sentences where they simply say you can identify Christ and Church, and they can be interchangeable. You can speak about the Church; you’re talking about Christ. You speak about Christ; you’re talking about the Church. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
I can’t resist saying, because I like stories and stuff, but we’re at the time of year in our church right now, the second half of Lent, where special prayers are being made for catechumens and people who are going to be baptized, and when I was working at the seminary, I always used to love to observe when a newly ordained presbyter would be heading a Eucharistic celebration, and he’d come to this one prayer where it would say, “Receive this servant. Let their eyes see only what’s good, their ears only hear what’s good; say only what’s good; their hands… Let everything… And then it says: and make them honorable members of thy…” and then almost always the newly ordained would start saying the word “Church.” The prayer doesn’t say “Church.” It says, “And make them honorable members of thy Christ,” because Paul says we are melē Christou; we are members of Christ. That’s what makes us be the Church.
So we’re really his members in this world, and that’s very serious business, but that’s what we’re supposed to be witnessing to, being consecrated for, being empowered to fulfill at the holy Eucharistic service. That’s why we go at least once a week, on the Lord’s day, to reconstitute ourselves, to reinvigorate our baptism, to recover our status, to repent of our sins, and to being again, new, as members of Christ’s Body and of Christ himself in this world until he comes again in glory.
Now, the martyr is the one who does that literally through his actual or her actual death, but everybody’s got to die in their own way, one way or the other, or you do not enter the kingdom of God. Period. The hymn says if we have died with him, we’ll live with him. [If] we haven’t died with him, we won’t live with him.
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