November 24, 2015

Preconditions for Participation in the Divine Eucharist (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

(As excerpted and transcribed from the video lecture below.)

We live in a time when there has developed a whole theology around ecclesiology, and at the basis of ecclesiology is eucharistology. Great value and importance is placed today on the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. And no one is opposed to this. The Divine Eucharist is the center of ecclesiastical life. All the Mysteries of the Church lead to the Divine Eucharist. After Baptism and Chrismation we receive the Divine Eucharist. There is the view that Christ was incarnated in order to establish the Divine Eucharist, by which we are deified and sanctified. For one to be united with God, it is not through the intellect, morals or contemplation, but it is a reality that takes place in the Church, by partaking of the divinized Body and Blood of Christ.

What is the Divine Eucharist? According to the Fathers, as expressed by St. John of Damascus, the Divine Eucharist is the Secret Supper, the prayer of Christ in Gethsemene for the world, the Resurrection of Christ and our participation in it, and it is the journey along the road to Emmaus. When Christ met the Apostles Luke and Cleopas along the road to Emmaus after His Resurrection, where they did not recognize Him at first, they came to recognize Him when He broke bread with them.

What exactly happened along the road to Emmaus? The Apostles were sad, bitter and in despair over the events that took place two days prior with the death of Christ. Suddenly Christ approaches them as a stranger. After the stranger asked them why they were sad, they explained to the stranger how they had hoped Christ was the promised Messiah to liberate Israel, but now He was dead after being crucified in Jerusalem. The stranger then explained how all these things had to take place as they were foretold in the Old Testament. He therefore explained to them the prophecies, especially from Isaiah, which had to be fulfilled in order for death to be conquered. Later these Apostles revealed to each other how their hearts burned within them as the stranger explained the prophecies of the Old Testament. It was not an intellectual stimulation, but stimulation of the heart, since the intellect is one thing and the nous in the heart is another. And as they were going along the road and the stranger was about to go His own way, the Apostles asked Him to stay with them for the night. Then with the breaking of bread, which symbolizes the Divine Eucharist, their eyes were opened and they recognized the stranger to be the Risen Lord.

This incident shows exactly what is the Divine Eucharist and what are the preconditions by which we can participate in the Divine Eucharist. Nothing takes place without preconditions and preparations. In science, for example, a student must find a teacher to learn, and to learn he must devote time to study and labor with sweat and tears in order to become a scientist. He must show that he has a desire and love for knowledge. If he doesn't have love for knowledge, how can he acquire human knowledge? Then slowly with time and in stages he acquires the knowledge he desires. The same takes place with divine knowledge. The Divine Liturgy also requires preconditions, and we can't participate in the Divine Liturgy without preconditions.

What does this mean? Consider the example of the journey towards Emmaus. We must listen to the words of God, reading Holy Scripture and the texts of the Fathers. We must pray. The heart must burn with desire for the love of God, with eros. The more our hearts burn with divine eros, the more we can approach properly the Divine Eucharist. Only in this way can we know God.

We cannot separate the Divine Eucharist from Holy Scripture or prayer, especially prayer of the heart. What is Holy Scripture? It is the commandments of Christ. When we read Holy Scripture, we must ask: "What does God want from me? What do the friends of God seek? Who are the friends of God?" Of course, the friends of God are the Prophets and Apostles. By doing this we learn to practice the commandments of Christ. An example can be found in the Beatitudes of Christ which He preached during the Sermon on the Mount, which are sequential steps to living according to the commandments of Christ. When we begin to live according to the commandments of Christ, our hearts begin to pray and to burn with divine eros. This is our personal Emmaus that leads to the Divine Eucharist. Only then and in this manner can we encounter God and come to know God.

If one does not follow these preconditions for participating in the Divine Eucharist, then instead of experiencing God as light, they will experience Him as fire. This is very important and it is something all the Fathers of the Church talk about, especially St. Gregory Palamas. All will see God, but some will see Him as light, and others as fire. Just as light has two properties, to illumine and to burn, so also does the experience of God both in this life with the Divine Eucharist and in the next on Judgment Day. St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains this as well.

Therefore, participation in the Divine Eucharist cannot take place without preconditions. And the journey along the road to Emmaus teaches us that these preconditions are the keeping of Christ's commandments and prayer of the heart, by which we acquire the knowledge of God. Then the Divine Eucharist becomes for us illumination and deification and will not be unto judgment.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.