A Secular Eucharist

Thinking about God and communion with God are not the same thing.

The modern world is a difficult place for those who believe in God. The reigning culture has relentlessly moved God out of the day-to-day world and relegated Him to various “religious spheres” of existence. And so it is that we live in what I describe as a “two-storey” universe. We dwell in a world defined by nature and its laws, a world of cause and effect, a world in which the presence of God in almost any form presents problems.

Perhaps the one place relatively safe from such exile is the realm of human thought. Modern believers cling to a God whose existence is a matter of intellectual or emotional acceptance – but to bring God into the public realm risks the ire of political opposition, charges of superstition, or simple discomfort.

Without belaboring the history of secularism – at a certain point modern culture began to confuse “thought” with “spiritual,” while anything physical was deemed “of the world” or, in some cases, “empty ritual.” Of course anyone who spends any time with their thoughts quickly discovers that thoughts are very fleeting things. Our minds wander. Our thoughts frequently torment us. Concentration is sporadic, at best.

And so it is that modern man is not a spiritual being – he can barely think about God without blinking.

Of course the modern confusion of thought with spirit is simply nonsense – a theological error born of an over-reaction to Catholic theology during the Reformation and post-Reformation.

We think, but we are not thoughts.

The gospels are decidedly physical in their presentation of God. It is the Word who has become flesh that causes wonder in the writing of St. John. “We handled Him,” he says in his first epistle. The Cross is a story told with virtually no theory: it is blood and nails and a pierced side.

It strikes me as strange, therefore, that modern Christianity has often sought to make of the sacraments, those physical materials and actions given us by Christ, a matter of thought – within much of contemporary Christianity the truth of the sacraments is not to found in their action and substance but in the minds of those who participate. Baptism is a choice; the Eucharist, a remembrance. As such, they become sacraments of the secular world. God is believed in, but not present. Water becomes mere symbol, grape juice and crackers serving first as reminders of wine and bread and secondarily as a remembrance of the absent Lord. “This is not my body…this is not my blood.”

I had an opportunity several years ago to lecture at an evangelical college. In the course of the lecture I quoted from the sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel, without question the most complete commentary on the meaning of the Eucharist to be found in the Scriptures. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you,” Christ says.

After the lecture I was accosted by a freshman who with great passion argued with me. He was certain that the passages had a “spiritual” meaning. Christ could not possibly mean that we should eat His flesh and drink His blood. Sometimes literalism makes for a very inconvenient truth.

We live in a very material world – which is entirely a matter of design. We are not thoughts trapped within bodies. Nor should we imagine the Christian faith as an idea divorced from the material world. It is, perhaps, the most material religion possible. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

That same Word gave us bread and wine with the words, “This is my body. This is my blood…” The remembrance of which is not an act of recollection, but an act in which Christ makes Himself truly present.

Christianity is losing the battle of ideas – if only because Christianity is not an idea. The faith once and for all delivered to the saints is a way of life – a true communion in the life of God. It is God who makes Himself present to us in our world and not just in our heads. It is true that if we allow ourselves to have true communion with Him, He will heal our thoughts as well – given time.

Communion with the secular world is a communion of emptiness. Its ideas are false and its promises are not true. At the end of the secular world lies only death – from which no idea will save us.

But we are not without hope. The God who so loved us as to become flesh and dwell among us is the same God who so loves us that our own flesh can become His abode.

Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





57 responses to “A Secular Eucharist”

  1. Nathan Avatar

    hoc est corpus meum
    τοῦτό μού ἐστι τὸ σῶμα

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yes, we are loosing the battle of ideas because Christianity is not an idea, but communion with a person.

    After a realtively brief victory over dualism by the early Chruch, the two story universe was re-created in response to the bifurcation of man that occured during the Cartesian period: “I think, therefore I am” became the blasphemous mantra relegating the human soul to a shadowland of subjective and increasingly irrelevant feelings.

    The Nietzchean elevation of the human will to the supreme value followed, as did the devaluation of the body in Darwinism, the totalitarian state and the psycologizing of man full of drives, phobias and instincts that rule him.

    With such dualism there are only two avenues open: despise the body (the material) and try to escape it, or revel in the body and the material for all the pleasure and utilitarian advantage it can give.

    Romans, especially Romans 1 describes the process and the result quite well.

    As David Hart Bentley wrote the way is clear–Christ or nothing.

  3. easton Avatar

    i know several people personally who take the crackers and grapejuice who are the closest thing to SAINTS i have witnessed on this earth….they truly live it daily–very little talk, but true hearts and lives– something they are doing must be truth. makes one ponder…

  4. Lank Avatar

    I find the headline insulting and even if your article argues for the holiness of the Eucharist, I don’t believe that “catchy headlines” are for degrading the host, even if the intention is the opposite of the headline. Please use more reverence in the future.

  5. Tim H Avatar

    Modern pop-theologie’s denial of the sacramental system is more often than not, quite hypocritical.

    The same people who claim the impossiblity of healing, forgiveness and grace through the sacraments are often quite able to believe in personal miracles like being cured from heart disease and the builder upgrading them to stainless steel appliances and granite countertops at no extra cost. We hear all about personal miracles but the miracle of how the bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ or how God’s action in the confessional can heal addictions is flatly denied as hocus-pocus, an invention of a bunch of bishops in the middle ages.

    The same Christianty which denies the validity and efficacy of the sacraments and yet believes in personal miracles has redefined grace as when things are going good in your personal life and the Holy Spirit as an intense emotional feeling.

    When I’m told that the Eucharist isn’t real, my response is, “So what are you doing Sunday? Ever been to Catholic Mass? Wanna go?”

    Nice post. A little long but very good.


  6. Margaret Avatar

    I so needed to read this, Fr. Stephen, thank you!

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry that my headline offended your sensibilities. If you read the fathers you will find such rhetorical devices quite common.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    My father-in-law, a life-long Baptist (may his memory be eternal) was certainly among the finest Christians I have ever known, and probably held to a form of memorialism with regard to communion. He was a great Christian because of his faithfulness and mercy and great kindness. His virtues are far beyond anything I’ll likely ever know – but his virtues do not make his eucharistic theology a virtue. Grace abounds because God is a good God. But the secularization of many aspects of the Church (even though grace may abound) is not a virtue nor something to be taken likely. That God’s grace abounds is wondrous and a matter always to give thanks for. There are many who profess a eucharistic faith that is “faultless” and yet fail to demonstrate that in any way in their life. Grace is given, but must be received.

    But secularism, I believe, is a danger to us all – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant – all of us.

  9. Ronald Drummond Avatar
    Ronald Drummond

    Secularism is indeed a danger to us all. I have tended away from viewing my pastoral ministry as trying to “get God into people’s lives (a subtly secular view of ministry)” and see it more as working to get people aware and connected to the eternal life of the God who was,is,and always will be. To help them shed the old life and receive new life…His life. He is always working in love for our salvation because he always “is”. Christ in us is indeed the hope of glory, but we cannot truly grasp Christ in us without also understanding that our lives are hid with Christ in God. Understanding this grace-enabled mutual exchange is nigh impossible in a “two story” universe. What I love about the sacraments is that they are not simply “delivery vehicles” for grace but they convey the very life of God himself to us while at the same time drawing us into the Trinitarian communion of love. In revealing and manifesting creation as it was always intended to be, the sacraments call us heavenward and yet bring it to us at the same time. My head spins and my heart fails at my ignorance and indifference to our holy God’s precious gifts.

  10. Tim Cronin Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    I totally agree with your article. Faith is often looked as a list of doctrines to agree with rather then entering into communion with a Communion of Persons. There is not such thing as an individual and individualism is a sin. Cartesian philosophy was based on the I and I think that is how it got caught up with thought. Possibly the wrong turn was made way back when Boethius said we are “individual substances of a rational nature”.

    Thanks for the post.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Well said. I think preaching the gospel (the whole gospel) in the modern world, inherently brings us into conflict with secularism (as broadly defined). It permeates most of modern Christianity, and nibbles away or engulfs the hearts of almost all. The whole world is a sacrament, when rightly seen – we live sheerly by the grace of God. Communion with God is the only true life – our heart’s only home.

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott Morizot, Scott Morizot and Scott Morizot, Veronica du Bruyn. Veronica du Bruyn said: A Secular Eucharist – Thinking about God and communion with God are not the same thing. The modern world is a diffi… http://ow.ly/17Cqad […]

  13. Seraphim Avatar

    The Eucharist can only really be understood of in terms of what it is: a Theophany.

    Fr. Stephen’s memorable statement on the Eucharist bears repeating. The Eucharist, Fr. says, is not something that the Church does but something that the Church is. It must therefore be beyond all systems of knowledge known to man, even the holy canons.

    These is a matter that pertains to the eternal realm and is unspeakable in terms of the Grace that it imparts. Or rather, only God understands the language of response to the unspeakable grace. It remains largely hidden from the world (for good reason, too).

    I should add that the Eucharist is the ultimate demonstration of Divine Love: both in the loving act of The Eternal Father revealing Himself as the incarnate God; and in the Son’s loving response to offer Himself to the Father in our stead.

    It is complete and perfect. All we need do is open the door when we hear the knock.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee…”

    We come broken, sinful, unworthy that is all we have to offer. He is sinless, fully God and fully man who allows Himself to be broken and offered not only in our stead as a substituion, but as us (corporately and personally) transformed and transfigured so that we become both a worthy offering and worthy to receive what is offered.

    Am I wrong?

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    This is right, it seems to me.

  16. Seraphim Avatar

    You are so right Michael.

  17. MaryAnn Avatar

    I think that for a long time we were losing the battle, but we are being renewed as we speak. Our priests and bishops are speaking up, explaining and defending our faith. The Orders that do not follow the faith are dying, while those that do are admitting more and more young men and women. The youth of our society are more pro-life than they have been in generations as can be seen by the number of kids at pro-life rallies and in polls. The future of our faith and our church is in our youth, as it has always been. And it is looking good.
    Don’t be such gloomy gusses. Jesus will not allow his Church to lose.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    If we fight only on the level of ideas, we will loose because Chrisitanity as an ‘idea’ is wholly illogical and irrational. Only as an experiential, ontological reality can it move people.

  19. Seraphim Avatar

    We may approach our day with considerable confidence; not in ourselves as fallen individuals but as a communion of believers raised together in the One Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, where the Eucharist is the visible manifestation of the eternal glory:

    I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be One as We are One: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

    John 17:22-23

  20. John Byde Avatar
    John Byde

    I spent this morning in a Catholic Church packed to the rafters with kids and their parents taking their First Communion. And all this in a small village in rural Switzerland. To say Christianity is losing is somewhat premature – even here in sad old Europe!

  21. […] Thinking about God and communion with God are not the same thing. The modern world is a difficult place for those who believe in God. The reigning culture has relentlessly moved God out of the day-to-day world and relegated Him to various "religious spheres" of existence. And so it is that we live in what I describe as a "two-storey" universe. We dwell in a world defined by nature and its laws, a world of cause and effect, a world in which the pr … Read More […]

  22. evener Avatar

    Growing up in the 50s thru 60s a catholic, little by little God and religion became compartmentalized & I found Him on Sunday at Holy Mass but not in the remaining 6 days and 23 hours of the week, unless I needed a big miracle or my conscience bothered me.
    So late, I’m trying to walk with Him all the time, and it’s difficult. Truly, ” Too late I love Him. “

  23. John Avatar

    Hi Stephen

    We are studying John 6 where I preach. I don’t believe Jesus is here talking about the Lord’s Supper, or as you would say, the Eucharist. I understand this text to be broader than that. I would say He is talking about taking Him into our lives, letting Him control our lives, through His teaching. The people in the context were following Him not because of who He was and what He taught, but because He had just physically fed them (the 5000). They needed to give Him their lives, by living as He indicated.

    It is an active thing on my part, not passive as my understanding of your view of the Eucharist. Some background might be Jeremiah’s reference to taking God’s word into his life by “eating” it in Jeremiah 15.16. How would you treat the pluck out your eye and cut off your hand texts in the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think anyone would interpret those in a strict literal sense. To do so would be to read the words while missing the point.

    I told the class this morning that John 6 is one of the richest passages in the NT. My understanding of it does not limit it to one part of Christianity but applies Jesus’ words here to the whole of the Christian life.

    With humble sincerity


  24. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Pastor John,

    I think your approach tends to intelectualize and rationalize a spiritual truth of the real presence taught by St. Ignatius in the early 2nd century. As a convert and one who accepts this miraculous Eucharist every Sunday (or at least when I have made proper prepartion to enter this holy moment) I will tell you it is the zenith of experiencing true communion with the Triune God. In my protestant world days it was an evaluation of one man’s discourse offering his opinions as they struck him that day.

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    Pastor John,
    I understand your approach to Scripture (I think). But that chapter has been read by the fathers of the early Church as always being about the Eucharist, despite the fact that it is given a different setting. John is a most peculiar gospel – doing far more theologically than the others. Indeed, after the Prologue, the gospel has a number of stories connected with water – all of which illustrate an aspect of Baptism. Then there is the feeding and the great commentary on the Eucharist. In the early Church, the Bishops used the book of John to teach the newly Baptized the meaning of the “mysteries”, Baptism and Eucharist. It was called the “Mystagogical Catechesis.” We have examples of such lectures that have survived into the present. To this day, the Orthodox Church reads the Gospel of John on the Sundays following Pascha – that it may be used as it always has been in the life of the Church.

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    John Byde,
    Glad to hear of our small victories!

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Lank, I deleted your post (though I responded to it), because I found it disrespectful (your statement was in the form of a rebuke which I thought was impolite) – though I’m sure you meant well. I am an Archpriest of the Orthodox Church, I take reverence for Christ’s Body and Blood quite seriously, to say the least. Nevertheless, I did not consider my title on the article to be disrespectful – simply descriptive of the misunderstanding rampant in a modern Christianity that is rapidly being secularized. I have restored your deleted post (though I deleted your comments on censorship, since they no longer apply.)

    BTW. There are rules on the blog. Though they are not prominently displayed:

    I took the liberty of removing a couple of comments today, including one of my own [this was at a time in the past], and am taking this opportunity to state what I will maintain as some groundrules for this site.

    First, this is my site, not the public’s, so that freedom of speech is not the rule. Comments are welcome but only if they are kind to others and show mercy. God, Scripture tells us, is kind “to the unthankful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). And we are commanded to be like Him in these very things. The internet is full of judgment and unkindness (so is the world around us). If people have a need for that sort of thing, they do not lack opportunities – but they will not have the opportunity for it on this site.I believe that we are able to say, with St. John Chrysostom, “Glory to God for All Things,” because God is good and His will for us is good. If something troubles you, there are kind ways to address it and merciful ways to treat any subject. Such comments, even if they are disagreements with postings, are welcome. I do reserve the right to remove comments that seem to cross bounds or give offense to God or the faith.I hope in my postings to be edifiying and thought-provoking, in the best sense, and at least worth reading. If that is so, then this blog will be worth taking time to create and to read.
    If these groundrules are observed (kindness and mercy), we will all have avoided some sin and temptation and that itself is a good thing.

    I would add that I do not post assertions of heresy against Orthodox clergy. That is a formal charge, and there are ways and places to make such charges. But to publish such things on my blog is slanderous and a sin. I cannot do so.

    May God bless you as you visit, and forgive me if I give offense at any point.

  28. Valentina Lootens Avatar
    Valentina Lootens

    Amen, Fr. Stephen!

    I pray every Sunday for that very long line of people in our church, aspiring to take the Communion, so that they will take the living God and not “just a remembrance” or “something that we do on Sunday.”

  29. Kate Avatar

    Michael Bauman says of this part of the Liturgy, “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee, on behalf of all, and for all”

    “We come broken, sinful, unworthy that is all we have to offer. He is sinless, fully God and fully man who allows Himself to be broken and offered not only in our stead as a substituion, but as us (corporately and personally) transformed and transfigured so that we become both a worthy offering and worthy to receive what is offered.”

    Is this what “Thine of own of thine own” means? Does it mean those (Orthodox) Christians who have prepared themselves for the Eucharist? I’ve never really thought a lot about that phrase before. But now that I am, I find that I don’t know who and what it is talking about.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    Primarily the phrase refers to Christ – whom we offer “on behalf of all and for all.” By extension, because we are His Body, we are offered as well (those prepared and those not prepared). The mystery of God’s love is overwhelming.

  31. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    Father bless.

    I just keep thinking about how deeply thankful I am now that I don’t just have thoughts about God anymore, but am truly really starting to get to know him through His Body, the Church, and its sacraments. Thank you, Father Stephen, for your shared thoughts here.

  32. katia Avatar

    “Glad to hear of our small victories!”

    Fr Stephen, what do you mean by our?
    Catholic = Orthodox???

  33. […] by Father Stephen Freeman […]

  34. Karen Avatar

    John said:

    “I don’t believe Jesus is here talking about the Lord’s Supper, or as you would say, the Eucharist. I understand this text to be broader than that. I would say He is talking about taking Him into our lives, letting Him control our lives, through His teaching.”

    It seems to me (as a convert to Orthodoxy from conservative protestantism) that every time an Orthodox approaches the Eucharist, he/she not only accepts this broader point, but actually experiences it, and potentially understands it, in a much deeper way than John’s protestant exegesis would provide for. The Orthodox understanding of the nature and meaning of the Eucharist encompasses what John proclaims here as Jesus’ point, but comprehends it in a much deeper way.

    Also, my participation in the Eucharist is not a passive thing (though there are analogous limitations in my participation–no “obedience” of mine could obligate Christ unless He willed it to enter and thus change the blessed bread and wine and, in turn, me, by His Holy Spirit or to grant me His Life by which I truly live and which actually in turn empowers my own obedience, but neither does Christ force my will to obey–I have to be willing to approach the Chalice). The Eucharist becomes what it is precisely because the Church as the Body of Christ obeys and believes what Jesus taught in John 6 and elsewhere in the Gospels in celebrating it. Each Orthodox Christian is required to prepare for partaking of the Eucharist to the extent that he/she is able by examination of conscience, prayer and fasting (and in some cases formal confession) because we understand that in approaching to partake of Communion, we are actually daring to approach and partake of the Living God. Participating in Communion with a clear conscience assumes living in active obedience to the commands of Christ insofar as God’s grace empowers one. This is not a passive thing.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am not an ecumenist – but the rise of secularism anywhere is a defeat for all Christians. Thus “our (Christian) victories.” I meant to imply nothing more. For instance, the extremes that some groups have gone to in overthrowing traditional Christian moral teaching corrupt the culture as a whole – even if we disagree and have no communion with such groups, we should never feel anything but sadness at their progressive downfall. The weakness of the Church in Western Europe, though not Orthodox, is still a regrettable thing. It does not mean fewer “non-Orthodox” but more of something that could be far more problematic.

    Were I an Orthodox Christian living in a village in Europe (as in the example cited) I would rather live in a devout Catholic village than in a secularized village. I would rather my children be with children who believe in God and have a moral life than with non-believers, etc.

    Ecumenism is all too often a virtual secular enterprise (as St. Justin Popovich pointed out) and of thus of no interest to me. But I pray only good things for Christians anywhere.

  36. Seraphim Avatar

    Primarily the phrase refers to Christ – whom we offer “on behalf of all and for all.” By extension, because we are His Body, we are offered as well (those prepared and those not prepared). The mystery of God’s love is overwhelming. — Fr. Stephen

    Father, I think this sums up The Faith nicely.

  37. Christian Avatar

    In my corner of SC, I believe we’re winning this battle of body and soul. Yesterday at Mass I met another Southern Baptist family, headed by a former pastor, who are coming into the church. The Eucharist is a big part of what’s drawing converts down here.

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am a skeptic about winning – mostly based on the fathers and the general tenor of Scripture (which looks for an apocalyptic deliverance rather than a progressive model). I rejoice everytime I have the joy of receiving someone into the Orthodox faith. But I count them one at a time – and have no confidence in “movements” or “revivals” which are largely American mythological creatures. I pray and work, but most days winning the battle means continuing the struggle – which is promised to us “until our dying breath.”

  39. kkollwitz Avatar

    I’m not that comfortable with the verb ‘winning’ either, but used it as a counterpoint to ‘losing’ below:

    “Christianity is losing the battle of ideas – if only because Christianity is not an idea.”

    It’s the non-ideaness, the physicality, of the Eucharist which draws in so many of the Evangelical converts I run into.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, I think there definitely is a pattern of hunger for something other than the “Euclidean rationality” (to use a phrase from Dostoevsky) or pop Christianity and a number of other false starts that are out there. The slow transformation of Orthodox Christianity is, I believe, the only secure path out of the cultural morass – but it is a difficult path.

  41. Brendan Avatar

    On the literalism issue raised by Pastor John, I go right back to Justin Martyr, who was martyred ~165, on the view of the early Church:

    “At the end of the prayers we embrace each other with a kiss. Then bread is brought to the president of the brethren, and a cup of water and wine: this he takes, and offers praise and glory to the Father of all, through the name of His Son and of the Holy Spirit; and he gives thanks at length for our being granted these gifts at his hand. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving [Gk: “Eucharist”] all the people present give their assent with Amen, a Hebrew word signifying ‘So be it’. When the president has given thanks and all the people have assented, those whom we call ‘deacons’ give a portion of the bread over which thanksgiving has been offered, and of the wine and water, to each of those present; and they carry them away to those who are absent.

    This food is called Eucharist with us, and only those are allowed to partake who believe in the truth of our teaching and have received the washing for the remission of sins and for regeneration; and who live in accordance with the directions of Christ. We do not receive these gifts as ordinary food or ordinary drink. But as Jesus Christ our Saviour was made flesh through the word of God, and took flesh and blood for our salvation; in the same way the food over which thanksgiving has been offered through the word of prayer which we have from Him — the food by which our blood and flesh are nourished through its transformation — is, we are taught, the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh.” — Apologia I, 64-66, translation by Henry Bettonson, “The Early Christian Fathers” (1956).

    To Protestant eyes, that may seem to be a “tradition of men”, but it’s an awfully early one. Earlier fathers also refer to the Eucharist, but in less systematic terms than does Justin, probably due to his philosophical bent. But nevertheless, the ideas of the 16th Century about what the Gospels mean (including John 6 and other passages in John) about the Eucharist are plainly contradicted by the witness of the mid-2nd Century.

  42. greg Avatar

    Brendan – aside from the Biblical texts and the Ebionite critics of Pauline churches, St. Ignatius, a disciple of St. John the Theologian, describes the Eucharist as the Body of Christ explicitly. He is reacting to docetism that denied the Incarnation. Similarly, in the Johannine line, St. Irenaeus is extremely explicit about the Eucharist being quite physically the Body and Blood.

    To be perfectly frank, I am not aware of *any* Christian writer or writing that denies the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ at any point in the first 600 years of Christianity or so. It is certainly possible there is something I am not aware of, but it is one of the most basic Biblical and historically grounded teachings of Christianity. How anyone can accept the doctrine of the Trinity but deny the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ is a great mystery to me.

  43. Seraphim Avatar

    Well put Brendan!

  44. Seraphim Avatar

    St. Irenaeus is extremely explicit about the Eucharist being quite physically the Body and Blood.

    Good point Greg.

    Could it be, that whilst being thoroughly explicit in the above, St. Iraneus was not denying the means (spiritual) by which the Eucharistic symbols are turned into the actual Body and Blood of Christ?

    In much the same way, the Russian Church celebrates Penetcost as the Feast of the Trinity i.e. where the three hypostases are not an arithmetic number but the divine expression of the pre-eternal Unity (cf. Gen. 1:26)

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    The precision of language in the first few centuries is occasionally problematic. What is clear is their unanimous voice of belief in the utter reality of Christ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.

  46. Seraphim Avatar

    Amen from the uttermost heart, dear Fr. Stephen!

  47. Christopher Kou Avatar

    Excellent, excellent writeup. This from a Reformed Protestant. It is God, the Incarnate one who saves us. The Word made flesh. To return to the realm of mere idea as salvation would reverse that shocking revelation given to us in the first chapter of John’s gospel.

  48. John Avatar

    I believe in the Incarnation. But, you have developed that into icons and transubstantiation. I believe John 6 is Jesus telling us to make His teaching our very life,as it were, to make every cell and cell part like Him. As He is an icon of the Father, what God would look like if He were human, we are to be an icon of Him – by embedding His teaching into every molecule of our existence. I’m still working on that and have a long way to go.

    Perhaps the Patristics were responding to the Gnostics.


  49. greg Avatar

    John – agree with everything in your last comment (aside from the anachronistic use of the term transubstantation). Just don’t see the mutual exclusion you are pushing…

  50. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother


    Have you thought about attending a Divine Liturgy following a visit with a priest to get an understanding of the flow of the liturgy? I think you would find it edifying to your search.

  51. Darlene Avatar

    Recently Father Stephen gave a name to a heresy that forbade taking or using alcohol for any purpose whatsoever. Does anyone know what the name of that heresy is called? I ask because in my Protestant days I knew many Christians who explicitly taught that drinking wine (or any other alcoholic beverage) for any purpose at all was sinful. Many of these Christians would go to the extreme of saying that our Lord did not drink wine, but grape juice. Thus, they would only serve grape juice on Communion Sunday, never wine, for that would be unbiblical in their thinking.

  52. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    I can’t name that heresy but I know the Puritans did quite a number on the American scene in many ways. Also, you might find interesting the history of the process that led to Welch’s Grape Juice. The founder created a process to halt fermentation which to me means the anomaly is unfermented grape juice, not wine “that gladdens the heart of man.”

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    The heretical group were called Encratites. They forbad wine, sex, etc. They were extremists as far as asceticism goes. They may have been the group St. Paul had in mind when he condemned those who “forbade marriage” etc. They rejected St. Paul’s letters. One small group of them even refused to use wine in communion, using only water instead. All of these practices of theirs were considered heretical by the Church. There were many among the desert fathers who chose not to drink wine as a fasting measure (we still abstain from wine when we fast) but they never would have refused it in the Eucharist. Drunkenness is a sin – but not drinking alcohol. The temperance movement in the U.S. was religiously and politically extreme, part of the “Social Gospel” or “Whig” wing of the political spectrum, all of whom believed that a better world could be achieved through legislation. Of course the few short years of prohibition in America did not succeed in removing alcohol. It succeeded primarily in creating a vast fortune financing organized crime in a manner it had never enjoyed, nor has ever ceased to enjoy.

  54. Karen Avatar

    John said: “As He is an icon of the Father, what God would look like if He were human, we are to be an icon of Him – by embedding His teaching into every molecule of our existence.”

    I ditto the not seeing a reason for mutual exclusion. But I also want to ask John, what do you mean by “would look like?” Do you not believe Jesus was God? According to Jesus, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father. . . . I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” I would say Jesus is what the Father, what God, DOES look like when He becomes human.

    I would also like to ask, how do I embed the teaching of Christ into my very being apart from Christ Himself being embedded into my very being, apart from His Holy Spirit doing that supernaturally for me with my consent? I can seek to conform my life to His teaching, but without the illumination and activity of the Holy Spirit empowering my obedience and aiding my understanding, my efforts will be vain. The Orthodox teach that every human being is an icon of God. We bear His image, as a result not of our own action, but by virtue of His creation of us in the Divine image. I increasingly resemble His likeness (grow in virtue) by cooperation with His Holy Spirit through the ascetic struggle. But this likeness is not mere similarity–it is “Christ within me, the hope of glory.” It is also “no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.” We only bear Christ’s likeness to the extent we allow Him to dwell in His fullness within us. We do not bear this fruit apart from His indwelling us (John 15). This Communion is the meaning of the Eucharist and as Fr. Stephen says in his newest post:

    “The offering of bread and wine in which we receive in return the Body and Blood of Christ is not a moment which exists parenthetically within creation: it is also revelatory about the very character of our relationship with creation itself. What we do with bread and wine is also what we must do with everything around us: ‘Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!’. . .

    “If the Eucharist is not a transformation of the world, then Christ’s death and resurrection are stripped of their power and significance.”

  55. tiffaniv Avatar

    Father Bless,

    This is beautiful.

    Thank you,


  56. Carl Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,

    I see i am 9 years late in replying here, but as I trawl through past entries, I was very intrigued by one or two of your comments. Here, for example, you mention revivals/movements as an American invention. Coming from a protestant mission organization where there was a big emphasis on seeing “movements” and, furthermore, “church-planting movements” , and being very hesitant about such a concept, I’d very much appreciate your guidance. Can you refer me to any further reading, preferably internet sources, on that – particularly about movements.
    Your prayers.

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