Continuing the presentation of the gifts brought by our Savior, the spiritual evening of the month of March brought before us the Holy Eucharist. This Gift is so very precious as the Lord Himself said, “I am the bread of life. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6.48-51).
Of course, this gift was arguably the most scandalous for His contemporaries (John 6.60-66). But, in reality, it is the only way to attain eternal life: “you have no life in you” (John 6.53), “the Father has life in Himself” (John 5.26), and the Son has life in Himself. Therefore, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6.54), and “he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6.57). Partaking of this Mystery is the only way for us to be truly alive. There is no other!
The Holy Eucharist was inaugurated during the Last Supper, when “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Matthew 26.26-28). In the Church, in the Christian way of life, partaking of the Blood and Body of Christ has been central, extremely important, from the beginning of Christianity to this very day. Christians have treated the Mystery of Communion as their main aid in gaining strength for the journey to salvation. Besides being the essence of the Christian way of life, or indeed for this very reason, the Holy Eucharist is a symbol of communion between the Churches: In the early Church, the bishops would send the Holy Eucharist to each other, through deacons, as a sign of fellowship and unity.
Because the Holy Eucharist is so important in our life as Christians, we must find a way to commune with worthiness. “It is not frequent or seldom communion that helps us, but communing with worthiness” (Archim. Zacharias Zacharou).
We saw that the Holy Eucharist is life, and if we do not partake of the Blood and Body of Christ, we die. On the other hand, we are unworthy of approaching the Holy of Holies, for we have many sins, shortcomings, and infirmities (cf. 1 Corinthians 11.26-31). Each time we approach the Holy Mysteries, we are faced with this seemingly impossible situation: How can I draw near unto Life, being so unworthy? On the other hand, I cannot stay away or else I will die! Trying to resolve this impossibility, our heart must find each time a “new song” to sing to the Lord (Psalm 95.1) and, being contrite and humble, it must wait to be received into Communion with Him.
Solving the dilemma of “communing worthily despite my unworthiness” can be approached in many ways (but always with a heart full of humility, contrition, and tears). The biggest help in this is, of course, the Mother of God. As we pray at the end of the Annunciation Akathist: “You, O Lady, are the glory of those in heaven and the helper of those on earth; you are the hope and succor of those who flee unto you and ask for your holy assistance; you are the fervent intercessor before your Son and our God, for the prayers of a Mother do much to soften the heart of the Master. And, by your intercession, we dare to draw nigh unto the holy altar, unto the grace of the most-holy and life-creating Mysteries, although we are unworthy.”
In the Holy Eucharist, our Savior becomes known to us just as He is par excellence: loving, gentle, humble, understanding, close to the soul that repents of its sins. Yet it is only “if we partake in the bread of life that comes down from heaven (cf. John 6.33) with a contrite and pained heart, that we will be truly consoled” (Archim. Zacharias), for only such a heart is capable of feeling these divine qualities.
If we understand and learn to live the Divine Liturgy as we should, it becomes a fountain of life, resurrection, renewal, and inspiration on our narrow path to salvation. Father Zacharias teaches us: “In the Liturgy, we bring before God the Holy Gifts, a small piece of bread and a small amount of wine in a chalice, offerings that are seemingly insignificant. They become very precious because in them we all gather all of our gifts, all of our prayers, all of our hopes, all of the divine states of our hearts, our entire life. And we say to the Lord, through the priest but also through the voice of our heart, ‘Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, in all and for all.’ And God does the same. As an answer to our offerings, He fills them with His life, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and tells us, again through the mouth of the priest, who represents us: ‘The Holy Things are for the Holy!’ (The Holy Gifts are given to the saints).” Father Zacharias continues: “Then the Liturgy will become the place in which there is an exchange of lives: we will offer our small and finite life to Christ and we will receive in return His immeasurable and everlasting life. And from our lips will resound the victorious hymn that we sing at the end of the Liturgy: We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith.”
This is the Divine Liturgy: Life! If, however, we do not prepare ourselves as is meet for these gifts, if we are not actively participating, with all our pains and longings, our going to church, says Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, is nothing more than “dust thrown into God’s eyes, to make Him believe that we love Him, while in reality we have no relationship with Him. So much so that one day He will tell us: ‘I do not know you.’”
Our presence at the Divine Liturgy is of great importance and full of responsibility, for the state of our forefathers also depends on us. Elder Aimilianos tells us: “Our ancestors come closer to holiness and become filled with light together with us, to the extent that we become holy. When I eat, my whole body is nourished. When we partake of Christ, they also partake of Christ. They grow in perfection together with us. Our deification is their rejoicing in heaven.”
Summarizing the above, is a beautiful poem entitled, “Heaven Descended on Earth” by the poet Daniel Turcea. He writes: “Won’t we be worthy of hell,/ as His blood was shed for us,/ again and again He crucified Himself,/ in all the Liturgies of the year…/ and we did not want Him/ and we did not believe Him/ and we did not follow Him/ and we did not want to be/ without death?/ The heavens open before us/ and the flood of rays comes/ and God comes/ like dew/ in the chalice!”