April 16, 2014

"The Body of God Both Nourishes and Sanctifies Me"

By Elder Gerasimos Menagias

Knowing that the hour of His sacrifice had arrived, our Savior Jesus Christ wanted to leave us before His Passion a greater proof of His love. Therefore He established the great mystery of the Divine Eucharist.

The revelation of this love, which was made during the last moments before His death, makes a deep impression in the hearts of men, and is reckoned exceedingly precious. For the same reason, men also usually bequeath gifts to the persons dearest to them in their wills in memory of the love they had for them.

"But Thou, O my Jesus, when Thou didst leave this world, what didst Thou leave us in remembrance of Thy love? Thou didst give us Thy whole self. Thou didst leave us Thy body, Thy blood, Thy soul, Thy Divinity - in a word, Thy whole self, holding nothing back."

And as a guarantee in case we should doubt His love, we find in this mystery an obvious proof of it, as if when He established it the Redeemer was saying: "Souls of Christians, attend to this mystery, because by it I give you My whole self. Having such a proof in your hands, therefore, you are allowed no doubt that I love you greatly."

One saint named this mystery "love above all other love", because this gift has within it all the other gifts of the Lord - namely, the gifts of creation, deliverance, and eternal glory. For Holy Communion is not only a proof of Christ's love, it is also a guarantee of the enjoyment of the Kingdom of Heaven, which, as our Church emphasizes, He desires to give us.

The Prophet Isaiah wanted to make known to the whole world the thoughts full of love which God showed in order to draw the love of men to Himself.... "How," says the sacred Augustine, "does it not appear as madness for one to say, 'Eat My flesh, drink My blood?'"

When Christ first spoke to His disciples about this mystery, certain of them could not believe it, and withdrew from Him., saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"

In this which the men could neither think about nor believe, the exceptional love of Christ was realized. "Take, eat," He said to His disciples, and through them to us all.

He exhorted us to do this, even promising us entrance to His Kingdom: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life eternal."

Finally, He even used the threat of hell against one who does not wish to partake of this mystery.

All these exhortations, promises, and threats come only from the fervent desire He has to give Himself to us through Holy Communion.

But why does Christ so greatly desire us to receive Him by Holy Communion?

Because love desires and has as its goal our union with His Divinity.

By Holy Communion Christ is united with the soul, and the soul herself is united with Christ. This union is completely real. Christ gives nothing with so much love as He gives this mystery, giving Himself as food in order to unite Himself with the hearts of the faithful. With this fervent love has Christ desired to be united with us, that we might make up one being with Him.

"O divine Bridegroom of our souls, through the mystery of love Thou hast willed that Thy heart and our own become one single heart, inseparably united!"

As Christ seeks the union of us with Himself, so also we for this love must frequently partake of Divine Communion, according, however, to the judgement of our spiritual father, to whom we must confess. In any case, absolutely no obstacle can exist to continual Holy Communion, which again the spiritual father will regulate.

Nothing in this world is so beneficial as Holy Communion. The eternal Father established Christ as the keeper of this matter, and gave all the divine treasures to His disposal. Consequently, when Christ comes to the soul through Holy Communion, He brings with Him infinite treasures of Grace, and after Holy Communion everyone can say that "all good things came to me together with this mystery."

St. Dionysios teaches that the mystery of the Divine Eucharist is the most effective means of the soul's sanctification.

Through Holy Communion we are freed from our forgivable sins and preserved from deadly ones.

This mystery kindles in our souls divine love. God is love. He is fire which drives from our hearts every earthly inclination; and this fire of divine love which our Christ brought upon the earth seeks nothing else than to see our hearts flaming with divine love.

Holy Communion draws us so much to love, that when we retire after partaking of it we become terrible to the demons.

Some say that they receive Communion infrequently because they feel but little love for God within themselves. "Why, therefore, since you are cold, do you distance yourself from this divine fire? On the contrary, since you are cold you should approach this mystery very often, if indeed you desire to love Christ."

When one is sick, one needs doctors so much the more. So also here: for our soul's healing we must approach its doctor very often.

It is said somewhere that there are two kinds of men who should receive Communion frequently: the perfect, that they may preserve perfection; and the imperfect, that they may reach perfection.

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos, Vol. 2, pp. 691-694.