January 6, 2015

Elder Sophrony: "Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany"

By Elder Sophrony of Essex

For us Christians the central point of the universe and the highest meaning of the history of the world is the coming of Jesus Christ, Who will not deny the archetypes of the Old Testament, but He will verify them, revealing to us their true grandeur and will give new dimensions to all things, eternal and endless. The new Covenant of Christ announces the beginning of a new period in the history of mankind. Now the divine sphere radiates into the uncharted greatness of the love and humility of our God and Father, and the coming of Christ will change everything, will bring the new revelation that will affect the fate of the whole creation, the whole world.

And so He appeared. He to whom the world owed its creation, except with rare exceptions, "the world did not recognize Him" (Jn. 1:10). The event was immeasurably above the perception of an ordinary man. The first who recognized Him was John the Baptist, which is why He said of him: "Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater that John the Baptist" and that he is the end of the law and the prophets (Matt. 11:9-13).

He came "to save the world" (Jn. 12:47), to reveal to us the one true God. He revealed to us the Father's name. He gave to us the words He received from the Father. He revealed to us God as Light that dispels all darkness (1 Jn. 1:5). He acquainted us with the rarest mystery of all, that God is a hypostatic existence, though not one person but three in one: The Trinity. He gave to us the baptism "in the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt. 3:11). In light of this knowledge we can now see the path to eternal perfection (Matt. 5:48). We feel His divine presence within us, outside of us, at the highest grandeur of the universe, in the face of man and in the radiant intellect. And in the hours that the unwaning light illuminates our hearts we realize that we will not die. We know this with knowledge that cannot be proved by the usual means, but which for us does not need proof, as long as the Spirit itself bears witness within us.

We Orthodox live Christ in the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the duration of the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is the work of God. We say: "It is time for the Lord to act." Among other things, this means that now is the time for the Lord to act. Christ liturgizes, and we live with Christ.

The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us.

Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into eternity. His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great Thursday in the Mystical Supper.

The 14th through the 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John is one Divine Liturgy. So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture.

The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy.

In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word.

As Christ cleansed His Disciples with his word and said to them: "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3) and He washed the feet of His Disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His Table of love. The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us.

The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us. In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humble God.

Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany. The Body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church is an icon of the Kingdom of God.

After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments. The glory of Christ is for Him to bear His fruit in every member. This explains His words: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8).

The Divine Liturgy took place once and forever. It has eternality. Every time the Divine Liturgy is performed, we ascend to its height. If we experience some aspects of the Divine Liturgy, then we will understand its grandeur, as happened with Saint Seraphim of Sarov who saw angels entering the church during the Small Entrance.

We follow the Divine Liturgy because we do not experience it, or until we do experience it.

When one observes the commandments of Christ, they are not just doing obedience, but they become united with Christ and acquire the mind of Christ.

Source: I Knew A Man In Christ: The Life and Times of Elder Sophrony, the Hesychast and Theologian (Οίδα άνθρωπον εν Χριστώ: Βίος και πολιτεία του Γέροντος Σωφρονίου του ησυχαστού και θεολόγου) by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.