I must say, this was simple, but impressive in its scope and treatment. Enjoy!
I must say, this was simple, but impressive in its scope and treatment. Enjoy!
“And there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Since ancient Apostolic times the Liturgy was served with one Bread (and one Chalice) following Christ’s example. This tradition remained in the West. In the East, according to Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern),
“The Byzantine Empire weaved a lot of theological and mystical patterns in the liturgical cloth”.
In particular, the best bread was chosen as the lamb, while small particles were taken out from all the other breads and placed on the diskos near the lamb in memory of those who had brought those breads (such liturgical tradition exists since 11th century; before that time all the other breads were just raised with pronunciation of the names of people who brought them).
These small particles symbolize our gifts and sacrifices to God, and first of all the sacrifices of the holy martyrs, who fully sacrificed themselves to Christ. These particles are next to the most perfect Sacrifice and thus they become blessed, just like the sacrifices of saints are blessed by Christ, although they do not become the Body of Christ. The thing is, the saints’ sacrifices are not equal to the Sacrifice of Christ and are imperfect in comparison with His Sacrifice. Even the service of the Most Holy Theotokos, Who is more honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, cannot be compared with the sacrifice of Christ. Only Christ died willingly (and this is why His death is redemptive for us), while the Mother of God and the saints and martyrs died because of their nature. And the saints are glorified not because of their essence, but due to God’s grace. In fact, Christ is the only One, Who is God by His essence. This is why it is forbidden to partake of the Holy Communion with the particles taken out in honor of saints, because they are not equal to the Body of Christ. The rite reflects dogmatics and it has always been this way.
An opposite statement saying that these particles turn into the Body of Christ is officially confessed by the uniates since 1720. However, it is nothing more than the reflection of the catholic dogmatics, which denies the uncreated nature of the Divine energies, in accordance with Barlaam of Seminara, a scholar and academic. According to the catholic teachings, the saints united with God through the flesh, which means that no direct union with God occurs. Consequently, no salvation occurs as well. Otherwise, it is necessary to accept that the saints unite with God by their nature, which is an example of pagan polytheism. Paradoxically, however, the impossibility of direct union with God and the union with God by nature are the same things from the philosophical viewpoint.
In fact, platonism, with its radical division between material and spirit (dualism) and their eternity, and neoplatonism combined with aristotelianism and its emanation of deity, are equal and accept the same substance of being. This substance is deity-cosmos-body, beginning with the thin heavenly level and ending with heavy terrestrial level (this leads to dissolving the border between the Creator and the creation, to depersonalization of God and to denying the fact of creation out of nothing).
Thus, there is only one choice: either to accept that these particles do not receive any blessing at all (why are they needed then? – actually, there are none in the Latin rite), or to accept that all these particles turn into the Body of Christ. Ancient pagan platonism – that is what is behind the unjust belief in transubstantiation of the proskomedia particles.
We partake of the Holy Communion from the single Sacrifice of Christ, not from the sacrifices of saints. We become of one blood and body with Christ and then we become one body – the Church of Christ, which is built on the blood of the holy martyrs, which emulates the Golgotha Sacrifice. Nevertheless, there is only one foundation, which is Jesus Christ Himself (Ref. 1 Corinthians 3:11). We cannot partake of the Holy Communion from the blood of saints. We can only ask them to pray for us before God. This is what the dogmatic teaching of the Church says about the communion with saints. The particles become blessed but they do not transubstantiate into the Body of Christ. It symbolizes that the sheep partake of the Holy Communion from the One Shepherd, but not from each other.
“For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
To provide an example we can mention the raising of prosphora blessed in the name of the Mother of God during the rite of Panhagia. The prosphora is blessed, but it does not transubstantiate neither into the Body of Christ, nor into the body of the Mother of God. Those who partake of it receive blessing by the prayers of the Mother of God, but of course this is not considered to be the Holy Communion.
So, the particles taken out during the proskomedia for all the members of the Church are placed on the diskos and are blessed during the Liturgy. Because of the power of the foretype, this blessing spreads on us all too, because the diskos and the particles on it are nothing else but the image of the whole Church.
“But let us see, how can we see Jesus Christ Himself and His Holy Church in this Divine image and the actions of the holy proskomedia. He is in the center under the guise of bread. The Mother of God is at the light hand of Christ under the guise of a particle. The saints and angels are at His left hand. All the pious believers who have faith in Christ are placed below. There is a great mystery: God among people and God among gods, which received their divinity from God, Who incarnated by their nature for their sake. Here we can also see the Kingdom and how eternal life is organized: God is near us and He lets us be a part of Him…”
Not only the particles are blessed, but also the prosphoras from which these particles have been taken out. This is done so that faithful people partake of them and receive blessing as well. In ancient times, antidoron was taken by those people, who did not partake of the Holy Communion during the Divine Liturgy.
The whole Divine Liturgy is full of deep theological symbolism and includes all the mysteries of the Divine economy of our salvation, so that the children of the Church receive the Divine knowledge in following Christ’s commandment to do this in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we celebrate this blessed Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, “in radiant joy with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs together with the angels and the apostles,” we give thanks to God for the revelation of His abundant grace and glorious power through the life and witness of the Virgin Mary. In our commemoration of her and the holiness of her life and service, we are reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, All things are possible to the one who believes. (Mark 9:23).
This assurance of Christ, that through faith the impossible becomes possible, that as people of God we can move beyond limitations to accomplish great and marvelous things in His name, was the focus of the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Congress. In faith and love we gathered together in Boston and affirmed that all things are possible to the one who believes in Christ.
Today we can once again offer a witness of this truth. In our reflection on the life of the Theotokos, we know that she found favor with God, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and she conceived and carried in her womb the Son of God. She asked the angel following the annunciation of the Incarnation of Christ, How shall this be, since I have no husband? (Luke 1:34) How could this be accomplished by this holy and humble handmaiden of God? All things are possible to the one who believes.
On this Feast of the Dormition, we marvel at her repose and the witness that she offered in passing through death unto eternal life. We sing, “She who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than the cherubim, she who is held in greater honor than all creation…today commends her most pure soul into the hands of her Son.” How did this happen? How does she continue to offer intercessions on behalf of us all? How did she receive such an exalted place? All things are possible to the one who believes.
The potential of this promise through the power of faith and through the holy witness of the Theotokos offers us assurance and strength. The disciples of our Lord were encouraged and guided by her and her holiness of life. Her repose became a celebration of the abundant and eternal life that comes through faith in Christ. This Feast is one of hope and assurance, affirming that even through our burdens and challenges, even in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable, even through physical hardships and spiritual struggles, all things are possible to the one who believes in Christ.
The power of faith and the unlimited possibilities before us for ministry and service should also be our focus. At our recent Clergy-Laity Congress, we affirmed our commitment to supporting the work of our parishes and helping faithful throughout our Holy Archdiocese explore the potential of the witness of our Orthodox faith. Together we are committed to ensuring the strength and vitality of our witness. I ask that you continue to focus on this theme as you plan for a new ecclesiastical year and consider the impact and potential of our sacred work.
May the blessings of you the Lord be with you on this Feast of the Dormition, and may we seek the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos as we explore the boundless and unlimited potential of our faith in Christ.
With paternal love in Him,
† D E M E T R I O S
Archbishop of America
Fr. Michael Oleksa is the former Dean of St. Herman Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak, AK.
Fr. Michael’s words echoes what St. Justin Martyr wrote about the ancient Greek philosophers in his First Apology:
“Those who lived in accordance with the Logos are Christians, even though they were called godless, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus and others like them… So also those who lived before Christ and did not live by the Logos were ungracious and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who lived by the Logos. But those who lived by the Logos, and those who so live now, are Christians, fearless and unperturbed.”
Today was the occasion of the first infant baptism at All Saints of North America Orthodox Church. We broke in our new baptismal font, a traditional style Orthodox baptismal font recently received from Greece, and in the gracious chapel of St. Mary the Virgin at All Saints of the Desert Episcopal Church, celebrated the ancient rite of Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, and Holy Communion. The newly illumined warrior of Christ, Olav, was an attentive and well behaved baby, and even clung to the vestments of the priest at several places during the service!
Here is another gallery of photos of the day. Thank you to everyone who contributed to taking such great pictures of our inaugural infant baptism!