On the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion.

Chapter Eighteen.

By Gerontas Ephraim the Arizonite

What grandeur the Divine Liturgy has! When God looks upon His humble priest, how strongly he feels the majesty of the Liturgy! How much benefit the commemorated receive! How much God honors man by descending with the angelic orders during every Liturgy and nourishing man with His all-holy Body and Blood! Everything has been given to us.

What thing, bodily or spiritual, corruptible or incorruptible, do we lack? Nothing. If He gives His deified, holy Body and Blood us every day, what is higher than this? Nothing, of course. In what mysteries God counts man worthy to serve, though he is made of earth! Oh, heavenly, inestimable love! One drop of divine love surpasses all the physical, worldly love under the sun.

2. In the Skete of St. Anne lived a certain hieromonk* Savvas, the famous “Papa-Savvas” as he was called. Fr. Joachim Spetsieris had him as his spiritual father. The Empress of Russia, Catherine, also had him as her spiritual father. He served the Liturgy every day; he was a God-bearing, clairvoyant teacher of noetic prayer. Once some people asked him, “What motivates you to commemorate so many names in the proskomidi**? He answered, “When I was younger, we called the bishop to consecrate the church above the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysios” (It was there that he first practiced hesychasm, with his elder, Papa-Hilarion, another famous spiritual father. ) “After the consecration, the bishop said to my Elder, ‘ May I give Papa-Savvas some names to commemorate for forty days, since he serves Liturgy every day?’ My Elder told him, ‘Give him as many as you want’. So he gave me sixty-two names. When I had completed thirty-nine Liturgies and was about to serve the fortieth, I leaned against the chanter’s stand and waited for my Elder to come, so that I could say the entrance prayers to serve Liturgy. I fell asleep and saw in my sleep that I was wearing priestly vestments and was standing before the Holy Table. On the Holy Table was the holy diskos (The “diskos” is a small plate with a large base used in the Divine Liturgy to carry the bread of the Eucharist. In the Western Christianity it is called the paten. ), for the Liturgy, and the holy chalice full of the holy Blood of Christ. Then I saw Papa-Stephen come and take the communion spoon and the paper from the proskomidi, approach the Holy Table, and put the paper on it beside the holy diskos. Then he dipped the spoon into the holy Blood of Christ and a name was erased. He dipped it again, and another one was erased, and so forth until all were done and the paper was clean. “Then I awoke, and in a little while my Elder came. Immediately I told him what I saw. The Elder said to me, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to believe in dreams?’ After the Liturgy he added, ‘You are not worthy for their sins to be forgiven; through the power of the Blood of Christ their sins were forgiven’. So this is the reason why I commemorate the names of everyone”.

*Hieromonk (ιερομόναχος )
Hieromonk is a monk who has been ordained to the priesthood.

**Proskomidi (προσκομιδή )
The Proskomidi is the service of preparation for the Divine Liturgy in which the portion to be used for the Eucharist is cut out of the prosphora, and during which the living and the dead are commemorated.

3. Immense is the benefit of the Divine Liturgy, of commemorations for the departed, etc.—of course, they are only full of benefit for those who repented, who had some signs of virtues, but did not have time to knead the bread of virtues due to negligence, indolence, and procrastination. For those people, the prayers of the Church and personal prayers, alms, philanthropic deeds, etc., fill up their deficiencies, through the abundance of God’s mercy! St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that in every Liturgy, all who are commemorated, for whom intercession is being made, receive immense benefit. The new Saint Photini the Nun of Asia Minor, in one of her many ecstasies of soul, saw a man who looked like a priest who said to her, “My daughter, give your names to the priest; give him also money for his toil to commemorate them, for the souls of those who have died receive great benefit! See to it that you do not forget to give the names to the priest!” The greatest charity, the greatest good, which more than anything else relieves a soul that finds itself in the other world, is the sacrifice of the divine Lamb upon the holy altar in the holy Liturgy. The benefit is immense because the innocent Lamb of God is sacrificed in order to purify men from their sins and to free them from the various bonds of captivity to the passions.

4. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn. 3:14 ). And just as all who were bitten by the serpents and looked upon the suspended brass serpent were healed, likewise every Christian who believes in our Christ and hastens to His life-bearing wounds (by eating His Flesh and drinking His all-holy Blood ), is cured from the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin. By this most holy nourishment, he is given life unto renewal in a new creation, that is, a new life in conformity with His life-giving commandments. Oh, how essential it is for us in every way to approach this heavenly banquet, which this supernatural mystery of the Holy Table provides for us! The angels stand by invisibly. With utmost reverence the priests, who at this moment of the mystery are more honored than the angels, sacrifice the blameless Lamb. The angels minister and the faithful approach to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ: “Partake of the Body of Christ; taste of the fountain of immortality” to live in Christ and not die in sin. Therefore, “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup”, according to the divine Apostle, because “he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment to himself. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-32 ). When someone wants to present himself to the king, he prepares himself for days—that is, with an overall preparation in cleanliness, speech, approach, manners, and so on—to attract the king’s sympathy and thus obtain the desired request. Corresponding to the incomparable difference between the two kings, every Christian ought to prepare for holy communion in order to obtain mercy and forgiveness. Cunning, flattery, affectation, and lies often adorn someone who approaches an earthly king so that he may obtain what he wants. Whereas holiness, a humble spirit, and simplicity of soul—which is more precious than perishable gold—must adorn the faithful Christian approaching the King of kings, Who looks upon the inner man. Let us also prepare ourselves with purified intellects, and, aspiring to the mortification of our senses from the passions, let us enter together with the holy Apostles into the Mystical Supper in purity, and let us partake of our sweet Jesus, so that He may abide with us unto the endless ages of ages. Amen; so be it!

5. With fear and reverence you should stand in church, for our Christ is invisibly present with the holy angels. He fills the attentive and reverent with grace and blessings, whereas He censures the inattentive as unworthy. Try to receive Communion as often as possible—you have my permission to do so freely—for Holy Communion is an excellent aid for those who struggle against sin.

6. You should approach the divine Mystery with much compunction, contrition, and awareness of your sins. Great is the mercy of God, Who condescends to enter within you without abhorring the multitude of your sins. Instead, out of boundless love and affection He comes to sanctify you and count you worthy to become a child of His and a co-heir of His kingdom.

7. Unworthily I serve the Liturgy to my God. The office is holy and awesome. Every day I offer the Lamb of God as a sacrifice pleasing to God, the Blameless One to the blameless Father and God, in order that He be merciful to us for everything through which we grieve Him, the most good God, Who sacrificed His Son for us. Oh, my God, Your beloved Son for us! Who are we to deserve such a supreme sacrifice? “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10 ). The image of the prodigal son, who squandered the property of his father, shows us very clearly the reason why Christ died. The sin of Adam and Eve was the beginning and root of all grievous events that occurred until today and will occur until the end of the ages. That one disobedience, like a seed in the womb of Eve, gave birth to and transmitted a physical and spiritual death to the human race that proceeded from her. And how could poor Eve have imagined that a small taste of the fruit would create so much destruction and punishment that the Holy Trinity would be compelled to send one Person of the life-originating Trinity into the world to suffer from the work of His hands—from man—slaps, blows, scourging, spitting, and all kinds of cursing, and to be hanged on the Cross as a curse: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (cf. Deut. 21:23, Gal. 3:13 ). The Passion on the Cross and the life-bearing Resurrection of our Jesus—our sweet deliverance and the light of our darkened souls—which expiate every sinful soul, are reenacted in every Divine Liturgy. And if in the old law, in the shadow of things to come, the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer cleansed those who partook, how much more the all-holy Blood of Christ, which is partaken of in the holy altars of the holy Orthodox churches of God, will cleanse us from every sin and warm our souls with the divine eros of our sweetest Jesus! (cf. Heb. 9:13-14 ). Love is born of understanding. For if we do not comprehend and feel what God has given us and in particular to each one of us, and if we do not realize who we were because of our sins when God did this great deed of mercy—in short, if we do not come to know Him and ourselves—we will not bind our souls to the fear of Him, and we will not rejoice in the beauty of His eros. The Apostle Paul said to the Christians in order to arouse in them greater love and thanksgiving to God: “What fruit did you have then (in idolatry ) in the things of which you are now ashamed… for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:21,23 ). If God had not called us to follow His holy way of self-knowledge and to be aware of our previous sinful life, and if divine illumination were absent, we never would have seen the way of light and of truth. He has called us all—some from childhood, others in middle age, others in old age. Being good, He took all of us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, in order to make us participants in His divine kingdom. He loathed nothing—neither sore nor wound or sickness or the deformity of our souls’ spiritual features. But as a father He received us, as a mother He suckled us, and as an unmercenary physician He healed and clothed us in the first garment of sonship, of grace, overlooking the great debt of the sins of each one of us. Therefore, we owe Him infinite love and adoration. May love abide in the heart, as a living fountain gushing forth torrents of water, streams of divine eros. Not as the Israel of old—only honoring with their lips, while their heart was far from Christ—but as living fire saying, “Come to the Father”. Just as the athlete is tested in the arena and in the field of action, likewise the Christian is tested in the arena of struggles as to whether he truly loves God. Patience in the struggle against the various sins and courage at their onset to apply the divine commandments characterize the fervent worshipper of Jesus. Let us not grieve with transgressions, grumbling, disobedience, and various forms of sin, Him Who showed us boundless love and affection, but as grateful servants, let us strive to give rest to His compassionate heart, so that He may be comforted as the psalmist said: “He shall be comforted because of His servants” (Ps. 134:14 ).

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