Category Archives: Bishop Kallistos Ware

by Kallistos Ware

Glorify God with your Body

Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

At the end of Bright Week in 1999, Bishop Kallistos led a retreat on “Sacraments of Healing” for members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our host was the Orthodox parish in the village of Vezelay, France. This is a shortened version of the opening lecture.

First let me apologize for arriving late. I missed my train at the Gare de Lyon, and then I got on the wrong train, one that wasn’t going to stop at La Roch-Migennes but was going to Dijon. They stopped in La Roch-Migennes especially for me. That’s the first time I’ve had that experience. I am thinking in very high terms of the French railway. I can’t imagine the British railways making an unscheduled stop.

Let us consider the word sacrament and what it signifies. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says, “It is the sacraments that constitute our life in Christ.” Let us this weekend root our thinking in the sacraments. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas also called the sacraments “windows into this dark world.”

Yes, it is a dark world. Our celebration of Pascha has been overshadowed by the immense human tragedy in Kosovo. I recall how the bombing commenced on the feast on the Annunciation, according to the new calendar. It continued throughout the Holy Week and Pascha and there is no sign of it ending. We think of all the refugees. How many people’s lives have been utterly wrecked?

But though we live in a dark world, there are windows into it. Let us remember the Greek term for sacrament — mysterion, mystery. This has a whole range of associations that the Latin word sacramentum doesn’t have. A mystery, in the true religious sense, is not simply an enigma, an unexplained problem. A mystery is something which is revealed for our understanding, yet never totally revealed because it reaches into the infinity of God. The mystery of all mysteries is the incarnation of Christ; therefore all other sacraments of the church are founded upon that.

The second word in my title is healing — Sacraments of Healing. Healing means wholeness. I am broken and fragmented. Healing means a recovery of unity. Let us each think that I cannot bring peace and unity to the world unless I am at peace and unity with myself. “Acquire the spirit of peace,” says Saint Seraphim of Sarov, “and thousands around you will find salvation.” If I don’t have the spirit of peace within myself, if I am inwardly divided, I shall spread that division around me to others. Great divisions in the world between nations and states spring from many divisions within the human heart of each one of us.

Let us start with the human person. How I am to understand my unity as a person? What models do I have when I think of the healing of my total self?

I would like to share with you a patristic model, a recurrent model in the Fathers that can be summed up in the words microcosm and mediate. Human beings are a complex unity. My personhood is a single whole, but a whole that embraces many aspects. As humans we stand at the center and crossroads of the creation. Saint John Chrysostom thinks of the human person as bridge and bond. In a Sufi phrase quoted by Pico della Mirandola, the human person is “the marriage song of the world.” Each of us then, is a little universe, a microcosm, each of us is imago mundi — an icon of the world. Each reflects within herself or himself the manifold diversity of the created order. This was a recurrent theme in various pagan authors and was taken over by the early Fathers.

“Understand,” says Origen, “that you have within yourself on a small scale a second universe. Within you there is a sun, there is a moon, there are also stars.” This theme is developed in a celebrated passage by Saint Gregory Nazianzen, the Theologian. In his 38th Oration, he distinguishes the two main levels of the created order. On one hand, there is the spiritual or invisible order, on the other there is the material or physical order. Angels belong only to the first order. They are bodiless, spiritual beings. In Saint Gregory’s view, animals belong to the second order — the material and physical. You, uniquely in God’s creation, exist on both levels at once. Anthropos, man, the human person alone, has a twofold nature, both material and spiritual. Saint Gregory goes on to speak of ourselves as earthly yet heavenly, temporal yet immortal, visible yet intelligible, midway between majesty and lowliness, one selfsame being yet both spirit and flesh. Wishing to form a single creature from two levels of creation from both visible and invisible nature, says Gregory, the Creator Logos fashioned the human person. Taking a body from matter that He has previously created and placing in it the breath of life that comes from himself, which scripture terms the intelligent soul and the image of God, He formed anthropos, the human person, as a second universe — a great universe in a little one.

Now because we stand in this way on the crossroads of creation, because each of us, in the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor, is a laboratory or workshop that contains everything in a most comprehensive fashion, we have a special vocation, and that is to mediate and to unify. Standing at the crossroads, earthly yet heavenly, body yet soul, our human vocation is to reconcile and harmonize the differing levels of reality in which we participate. Our vocation is to spiritualize the material, without thereby dematerializing it. That is why reconciliation and peace are such a fundamental aspect of our personhood.

But having said that humans are a microcosmic image of the world, we have not yet said the most important thing. The most important thing about our personhood it is not that we are an image of the world but it is that we are created in the image of God. We are a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. Indeed Saint Gregory of Nyssa even cast scorn on the idea of a human being as the image of the world, as a microcosm. This, he says, is to glorify humans with the characteristics of the gnat and the flea. No, he says, our true glory is that we are in God’s image, that we reflect the divine. Saint Maximus the Confessor develops this by saying that we are called not only to unify the different levels of the created order, but we are also called to join earth and heaven and to unite the created and the uncreated.

So, made in the divine image each of us is not only microcosmos, but microtheos, a phrase used by Nicholas Berdyaev. We are not only imago mundi but also imago dei — image of God. These are our two vocations — not just to unify the creation, but to offer creation back to God. As king and priest of creation formed to the image of God, the human person offers the world back to God and so transfigures it.

You may have noticed that when I quoted Gregory Nazianzen, I said God formed the human person as a second universe, a great universe in a little one. But perhaps you thought, “He’s got it the wrong way around, this person who persuaded the French railways to make an unscheduled stop. This triumph over the railway has gone to his head!”

Saint Gregory said that the great universe is not the world around us, not the galaxy light years away from us. The great universe is the inner space of the heart. This is what Gregory said. We are not so much microcosmos as megalocosmos. Incomparably greater than the outside universe is the depth within each human heart.

Our vocation is not just to unify but also as microtheos, as image of God, it’s our task to render the world transparent — diaphanic, or rather theophanic — to make God’s presence shine through it.

Now if we have that kind of ideal of human personhood, what practical consequences does this have? The inner logic of the model we have been exploring surely requires a holistic view of the human person. We cannot fulfill our vocation as bridge builders, as unifiers, as cosmic priests, unless we see our own selves as a single undivided whole. More specifically, we can act as bond and mediator within the creation, rendering the material spiritual only if we see our body as an essential part of our selves, only if we view our personhood as an integral unity of body and soul. Severing our links with the material environment, we cease to mediate.

Here at once we see the very grave spiritual implications of the present pollution of the environment, what we humans are doing toward the cosmic temple which God has given us to dwell in. The fact that we are degrading the world around us in a very alarming manner shows a terrifying failure to realize our vocation as mediators. So we need, if we are to be truly human, to come to terms with our own body — with its rhythm, its mysteries, its dreams — and through our body then to come to terms with the material world.

Think about the way in which we can and should be using our body. Think about how we use our bodies in worship. Christianity is a liturgical religion. Worship comes first, doctrine and moral rules come afterwards. Surely it is one of the strengths of our Orthodox Church that we still attach immense importance to symbolical action involving our body and material things. All too often in the western world people have lost the power of symbolical thinking — not entirely, but quite frequently. It is surely a deep impoverishment.

I would plead that as Orthodox Christians we shouldn’t allow ourselves to diminish the value of symbols or lose the participation of our bodies in worship. Sadly, one finds examples of such a loss. I was in US last month and enjoyed that visit very much, but was saddened to see that many Orthodox churches have been taken over by pews. Have you reflected on the horrid effect that pews have on worship? People in pews can no longer make prostrations or even make deep bows. They just stand or sit and thus become an audience instead of active participants. In a pew it is not easy to make a proper sign of the cross with a deep bow. Now you might say that this is not so important and that pews are there for convenience and that people today just can’t stand up for very long. But traditionally the Church has provided stalls and benches on the sides or a few chairs here and there. Those who need to sit can then come forward to make prostrations. But our tradition is not one of neat rows.

Let us also take care not to diminish our Orthodox tradition of fasting. Fasting is one way in which the body participates in prayer. Fasting is not simply the observation of certain rigid rules and dietary restrictions. The real purpose of fasting is the renewal of prayer and of our personal relationship with God and our fellow humans. To fast and simply become ill-humored defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. “What is the purpose of not eating meat,” asks Saint Basil, “if instead you devour your brother or sister?” Through fasting, through learning to do without certain foods you take for granted, through eating more simply, we renew the participation of our bodies. The body is the messenger of the soul. The purpose of fasting is to give us freedom for prayer. Lent is a school of freedom, a season freeing us from dependence on physical power. Indeed through fasting we are able to see the beauty and wonder of the food that we eat. Fasting helps us not to take food for granted.

Consider too the physical aspect of baptism, the act of immersion in water. Let us not diminish the materiality of this sacramental sign. Baptism should involve the whole body. It should represent drowning — a “joyous, devout drenching,” in Philip Larkin’s phrase.

And let us not diminish the fact that we use bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Let us renew for ourselves an understanding of the sacramental value of oil in relation to healing. This may be difficult for those coming from cultures in which olive oil is not part of daily life, as opposed to those who live in the Mediterranean. When I travel down to France and see the first olive tree, my spirit rises! I like the use of oil in our vigil service on Saturday evenings. No pilgrimage is complete unless you are anointed with oil from the lamps at the shrine. We should anoint the sick with oil more than once a year, during Holy Week.

I greatly value the gesture of the laying on of hands. We see this in ordination but also in our Orthodox practice of confession. The priest confers forgiveness not from a distance but by placing his stole over the penitent and then lays his hands on the penitent’s head. This is an ancient gesture associated with healing found frequently in the New Testament.

In the early period, the seventh and eighth centuries, we have evidence that this gesture took a reverse form. At the moment of absolution, the person making confession put his hands on the neck of the priest, symbolizing that the burden was being taken away, now being carried on the shoulders of another. The priest took it on himself. It’s a very serious thing to hear people’s confessions!

Another way in which the body has been diminished in western Orthodox practice in some places can be seen in modern funeral customs. When I am to preside at a funeral, I am sometimes asked not to have an open coffin. There is to be no last kiss. They prefer to see the body at the funeral parlor — not a very liturgical place! I’ve been told, “We couldn’t do that, it would be too frightening for the children.” Something has gone terribly wrong in our understanding of death if we find the body of a person whom we have loved to be somehow repellant and frightening. Surely the dead body of someone whom we love is not to be hidden away in those final hours before burial as something causing distress and disgust. Surely we should surround the dead body with love. I’m sure that children will not be frightened if our Orthodox funeral customs are properly explained. The practice of kissing the dead body is extremely ancient. We find it mentioned at least as early as the year 500 in the writings of the Dionysios the Aerogopite, and perhaps the custom is far more ancient than that.

So in all these ways and many others, let us give full value to our material bodies and their part in worship. “The body is divinized along with the soul,” says Saint Maximus the Confessor. “The flesh also is transformed,” says Saint Gregory Palamas. “It is raised on high together with the soul and together with the soul it enjoys communion with God becoming his domain and dwelling place.” “In the age to come,” adds Palamas, “the body will share with the soul ineffable blessings.”

The body must share in these blessings, as far as possible, here and now.

Of the great neo-Platonist philosopher, Plotinus, it is said by his biographer Porphyry that he “was ashamed of being in the body and did not want anybody to celebrate his birthday.” The occasion of his being born into this world in a body was, for him, a cause of lamentation rather than joy. He wouldn’t let anyone paint his portrait. “My appearance,” he said, “is not important.”

But this is not the Christian attitude. I am my body and my body is me. The body is to be transfigured along with the soul. Divine grace is to be shown in and through our bodies.

In the University of London there used to be a professor of the philosophy of religion, H.G. Lewis (not to be confused with C.S. Lewis), who was inclined, in a Platonist manner, to emphasize the contrast between body and soul. His students used to say of him that “he didn’t go for a walk but rather that he took his body for a walk.”

This is not the Christian view. We are not a ghost in a machine but, on the contrary, we are called to glorify God with our body. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” writes Saint Paul (1 Cor 6:19-20). In Romans 12 he says, “Offer your body as a living sacrifice to God.” In the words of the great prophet William Blake, “Man has no body distinct from his soul, for that called ‘body’ is the portion of the soul discerned by the five senses.”

Let me add one more comment. Our human personhood is a mystery. We do not fully understand our own selves. Sophocles observed in Antigone, “There are many strange things and none stranger than the human person.” We need an apophatic dimension not just in our theology. We need it also in our anthropology.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa gives a specific reason for the fact that we do not understand ourselves. He connects it with the truth that the human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and the image, he says, is only truly such insofar as it expresses the attributes of the archetype. One of the characteristics of the Godhead is to be in its essence beyond our understanding. The human person is a created icon of the uncreated God, and since God is incomprehensible, so is the human person.

I ask you to renew in your hearts your sense of wonder before the mystery of your own personhood. As it says in Psalm 138: “I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. Our thanks to Christine Nelson for transcribing this tape.

Sacraments of Healing

OPF Retreat in Vézelay, France

 Here are transcriptions of Bishop Kallistos’ six lectures given in April 1999 at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay. Please note that these are not to be published elsewhere without the permission of Bishop Kallistos and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

A Healing Retreat

a report by James Chater

VEZELAY-20050896 An Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat took place in Vézelay, France, from 16-19 April, 1999, the weekend following Pascha. Vézelay rests on the edge of a hill situated on the edge of a national park in the heart of Burgundy, about 120 miles south-east of Paris. It is small, untouched by 20th-century development and off the beaten track, but as a religious center it has considerable importance: since the Middle Ages it has been a stop-over point for pilgrims on the way from northern or eastern Europe on the way to Compostela, and it was the launching-pad for the First and Third Crusades (even if, in this time of war, it is unpleasant to be reminded of this).

The Romanesque basilica is a haven of tranquillity and harmony (the choir sing rather well, and I was agreeably surprised that they incorporate Russian Orthodox texts and melodies in their liturgy). It is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, preserving a relic of this saint, who according to one legend spent her last years in the nearby Rhone valley, and has exceptionally fine the carvings. Like the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, where St Columba settled as penance for having been in military service, Vézelay makes a special impression on many pilgrims for its sense of ‘thinness’, through which God’s light passes into this world. Light, music and prayer seem to envelop the place: a more suitable venue for an OPF meeting would be hard to imagine.

The retreat was led by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, well-known to many as the writer Timothy Ware, who lectures on Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and is assistant bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Great Britain.

The theme was ‘The Sacrament of Healing’, explored in a series of six talks titled ‘Glorify God with your body: the healing of the whole person’; ‘The passions: enemy or friend?’; ‘Approaching Christ the Physician: the true meaning of confession and anointing’; ‘In peace let us pray to the Lord: peace and healing in the Divine Liturgy’; ‘Let us go forth in peace: healing in the parish and in the world’; and ‘A peaceful end to our life: bodily death as an experience of healing’.

The bishop’s profound insights, leavened with a warm sense of humor and a vast (so far as I could judge) knowledge of both Patristic texts and more recent literature, left me feeling uplifted and greatly heartened, and I felt sure the other participants were similarly affected. His sense of awe and wonder, of sacramental living, was vividly communicated to us. By the time Sunday came round, and we all crammed into the tiny Orthodox parish church to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, there was a renewed, more palpable sense of ‘Christ in our midst’.

At one point the participants divided into two groups, one to discuss the issues of healing raised in the bishop’s talks, the other to discuss how we might respond to the war in Yugoslavia, whose outbreak occurred long after the topic of the retreat had been chosen. A paper outlining the issues raised by the war was prepared by Father Stephen Headley and Jim Forest.

Mark Pearson suggested that OPF members should collaborate in round-the-clock prayer until the war was over. Various ways in which we might pray were considered, and participants were invited to commit themselves to a certain number of half-hour prayer sessions each week. The notion of a ‘just war’ was discussed: it was pointed out that most of the Anglican bishops believed the war to be just (Tony Blair has also stated several times that he believes the bombing to be ‘justified’). The idea of the ‘just war’ was originally developed from Roman Catholic theology; even so, the Pope has called for an end to the bombing. Bishop Kallistos expressed his doubts that the Yugoslavian war met the criteria of a ‘just war’ as defined by Roman Catholic theology.

Our warm thanks to Bishop Kallistos for his leadership, to Jim Forest for his indefatigable organization, to the Franciscan Center Ste. Marie Madeleine and the Jerusalem Community for housing us, to our hosts, the Orthodox parish of St. Germain d’Auxerre and St. Etienne, and especially to their priest Father Stephen Headley and his wife Anne, for their unstinting hospitality, and for keeping us as well-fed physically as we were spiritually.

PS: For those unfamiliar with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, the transformation of NATO from a defensive alliance into “world policeman” or machine of death and destruction (depending on your point of view) is a defining moment in the history of East-West relations. This might be the right time to consider supporting the work of an organization like the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, which advocates nonviolent ways of resolving conflicts and reconciliation by bearing witness to Christ’s offering of Himself in the Eucharist. Members receive the quarterly newsletter, In Communion.

A few more photos from the retreat…

Please help the Vezelay parish…

In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord

Peace & Healing in the Divine Liturgy

Orthodox Peace Fellowship retreat in Vézelay, April 1999 / fourth lecture by Bishop Kallistos

This afternoon I spoke about the sacrament of Confession. Tonight, I would like to say something about the Holy Eucharist.

Let me begin with two words. The first is from 19th century Russia, St. John of Kronstadt: “The Eucharist is a continual miracle.” And my second word is from 14th century Byzantium, from St. Nicolas Cabasilas: “This is the final mystery. Beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it.” So, let us reflect together this evening on this “continual miracle,” this “final mystery,” which holds the church in unity, makes the church to be itself, and which is the heart of our life as Christians.

I would like to look at two things: first, what is the meaning of the word “liturgy”?; and secondly, how do we speak about “peace” during the course of the liturgy?

First of all, what is the meaning of the word “liturgy,” the word which Orthodox use above all when referring to the service of Holy Communion. The Greek term “liturgia” is sometimes explained as meaning the “work of the people.” That, I am told, is bad etymology, but it is, in fact, quite good theology, because liturgy indeed means precisely a shared corporate action. Liturgy is something done by many persons in common, something that none of us can do alone. So, if the Eucharist is termed liturgy, that means that, at the service, there are only active participants; there are no passive spectators.

Let us think together about the way in which the corporate, shared nature of the Divine Liturgy is expressed. Throughout the service, except on rare occasions, all the prayers use the plural, not the singular. We say throughout the Liturgy “we,” not “I.” Exceptions are only apparent exceptions. At the beginning of the Creed, it is true, it starts “I believe.” That is because the Creed was originally used in the service of Baptism, and so, the person being baptized as an adult used the singular when making their profession of faith. When the Creed was introduced from the Baptismal Service into the Divine Liturgy, the singular was preserved. If you look at the prayer said before the Great Entrance by the priest during the Hymn of the Cherubim, again you will see that he uses the word “I,” but that is a prayer said secretly by the priest. It was never said aloud. It was introduced into the liturgy at a time after the prayers had come to be said in a low voice so that they couldn’t be heard by the people. As it is a priest’s prayer, it naturally fits to say “I.” Equally, in the Russian use, before communion we use the prayer “I believe, Lord, and I confess,” but that really belongs to the Prayers of Preparation, not to the Liturgy itself, and so, naturally, when a person is saying the Prayers of Preparation alone in their own room, it is appropriate for them to say “I believe and I confess.”

Elsewhere in the Liturgy, the word used is “we.” And in this way the Liturgy reflects the pattern of prayer given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ: the Lord’s Prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “us” five times, “our” three times, “we” once; but never at all do we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “me”, “mine”, or “I.” So, the liturgical pronoun is “we,” not “I.” And that underlines that the Liturgy is a common, shared act.

I often think of the story retold by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov about an old woman and an onion. You will all know it — how the angel tried to pull her out of the lake of fire, and how the other people in the lake of fire climb on in the hope of being pulled out as well, and how the old woman, alarmed by this, cried out, “Let go. Let go. It is not you who are being pulled out. It’s me. It’s not your onion; it’s mine.” And as we know, when she said “It’s mine,” the onion snapped in two, and she fell back into the lake of fire. And there, so I am told, she still is. If only she said, “It is our onion,” surely the onion would have been strong enough to have pulled them all out together. In saying “It is my onion,” she was being profoundly un-liturgical; indeed, she was denying her human personhood.

As persons made in the image of God, we are made in the image of God the Holy Trinity; and the Holy Trinity signifies mutual love. If we are made in the image of the Trinity, that means we are made to love one another. And if we refuse to love one another, that means we lose our true human personhood. So, there is no true person unless there are at least two persons — better still, three — in dialogue with one another. The doctrine of the Trinity means, in terms of our human personhood, I need you in order to be myself.

So that is the first way in which we see how the Liturgy is always a shared action. Always we say “we.” The Liturgy expresses mutual love. One of the things that I was taught by Nicholas Zernov very early in my acquaintance with the Orthodox Church was how important in the Liturgy is the phrase “Let us love one another, that so we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Without mutual love there is no true confession of the Trinity, and no true Liturgy. I remember when I first became a priest in Oxford, Nicholas say to me, “We must have that portion of the Liturgy in English.” He was very keen on having everything in English, if possible. This was not the view of all the other people in the parish, but evidently he thought the English speakers especially needed to be reminded of mutual love. What a pity, in most of our Orthodox Churches, we do not exchange the kiss of peace among the congregation at that point. I don’t know what you do here in Vézelay. You have the kiss of peace? Well, I would expect nothing less of Father Stephen, but I am afraid that we don’t at Oxford, and that is a sad thing, though the exchange of the kiss of peace among the congregation had already dropped out quite early. By the time of St. Maximus it was only being exchanged among the clergy.

As we continue talking about “we,” let us notice another element in the Liturgy which stresses the importance of mutual love, the importance of communal solidarity at the service. When, as celebrant, I come into the church for the start of the service, before I go into the sanctuary to put on my vestments, I say the Prayers of Preparation in front of the iconostasis. I then venerate the icons. I then turn to the west, away from the sanctuary, and bow. Often nobody else has arrived in the church at that time, so I only bow to the angels, but if there are humans there as well, then they should bow back. A second time, before as celebrant I go to the Holy Table to take the gifts of bread and wine and carry them in the procession of the Great Entrance, once more I bow to the people and they bow back. A third time, before Holy Communion, once more the celebrant turns and bows to the people and they bow back, though in most Orthodox churches at this moment, the doors are closed and the curtain is drawn, so nobody sees that.

What are we doing when we exchange these bows with each other? Is this simply a mutual courtesy? No, it has a far more specific meaning. The priest, as he bows, says aloud, or else in his heart, “Forgive me.” And the people, when they bow back, respond, either aloud or in their heart, in the same way: “Forgive us.” And each may say in their heart, “May God forgive us.” So what we are doing in the exchange of bows is giving and receive pardon — mutual forgiveness. And this, again, shows how in the Eucharist we never come to receive communion alone as isolated individuals. We come as members of a community; and, we come, or we should come, as members of a reconciled community — a community that is at peace with itself. Without the giving and receiving of forgiveness, there is no true celebration in the full sense.

Then, thirdly, let us note another thing in the Liturgy. Before the beginning of the Anaphora, the great prayer of offering, there is an opening dialogue. The celebrant or deacon says, “Let us stand aright, let us stand with fear.” Then the people respond, in the correct text, “Mercy. Peace. A sacrifice of praise.” In fact in most churches they say, “a mercy of peace,” but that does not make very good sense. If we consult the older Greek manuscripts we find, “Mercy. Peace. A sacrifice of praise.”

Notice that we begin by speaking of peace before we begin the Great Prayer. Then the celebrant blesses the people, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The people respond: “And with your spirit.” “Let us lift up our hearts.” The people answer, “We lift them to the Lord.” “Let us give thanks to Lord.” The people answer, “It is meet and right.” Incidentally, if we followed the more ancient texts, we shouldn’t go on by singing, “It is meet and right to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence” and so on. The meaning of the people’s response is. “It is meet and right to give thanks,” and so it remains in the Greek tradition, but the Russians added other words in order to fill up space while the priest was saying the prayer silently. If you say the prayers aloud, there is no need to do that. It actually obscures the meaning of the people’s response there. (We need quite a lot of liturgical tidying up in our Orthodox churches, but this is the proper critical text of the Liturgy based on the best manuscripts. Perhaps that is something we might get on with as Orthodox in a constructive way instead of arguing about other matters.)

Now what is the meaning of this opening dialogue? Here is the explanation given by St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “As we begin the actual celebration of the dread mysteries, the priest prays for the people and the people pray for the priest, for the words ‘and with thy spirit’ mean precisely this: Everything in the Eucharistic thanksgiving is shared in common. For the priest does not offer thanksgiving alone, but the whole people give thanks with him. For after he has replied to their greeting, they then give their consent by answering: ‘It is meet and right.’ Only then does he begin the Eucharistic thanksgiving.” So on the understanding of St. John Chrysostom, this opening dialogue exactly expresses our togetherness as we embark upon the central part of the Eucharist. The priest alone says the prayer of the Anaphora, but the people are directly and actively involved in everything that he does. And so, in this dialogue, the unity of priest and people in the shared action of the Liturgy is clearly underlined. The priest greets the people; they respond to his greeting:”The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” — “And with thy spirit.” This is mutual prayer, as St. John Chrysostom explains it. The priest then invites the people to raise their hearts on high; and the people respond by saying, “That is exactly what we’re doing!” And then the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord,” and that could also be translated: “Let us offer the Eucharist to the Lord.” And the people say: “That is an excellent idea.” Only when they have responded in that way does the celebrant continue. The celebrant is, as it were, asking permission from the people to continue with the Eucharistic celebration. He needs their endorsement. He cannot act on his own. The prayer is theirs as well as his. Their active consent is indispensable. So the Eucharistic Anaphora begins with a dialogue because the Eucharist is, par excellance, the human action. We are eucharistic animals as human beings; and also, the human animal is essentially a dialogic animal — an animal that engages in dialogue. So what that dialogue before the Anaphora is expressing is just what I said a few minutes ago: I need you in order to be myself.

All of this then helps us to understand how the Eucharist, if it is to be properly celebrated, needs to be celebrated by a community that is at least at unity within itself. It is offered by nobody singly, but by all of us in loving fellowship with one another. That is the ideal. Let us all try to make it also the reality.

Now I would like to move to my second point which concerns the meaning of the word “peace.” This is a recurrent phrase in the Liturgy: peace. Here I borrow from the excellent little book by the Monk of the Eastern Church, Fr. Lev Gillet, Serve the Lord With Gladness. Fr. Lev has a great gift for expressing deep truths with remarkable conciseness and simplicity.

[Bishop Kallistos made a gesture imitating quotations marks, then explained:] There was a minister in America some years ago who used to begin and end all of his sermons with a gesture like this. People asked him why do you do that. “My sermons,” he replied, “are not my own. They are actually taken from other people, and those are the quotation marks.” So for this little bit, as I am paraphrasing Fr. Lev, I ought to do this as well.

Let’s reflect for a moment on the text of the Great Litany at the beginning of the service, the Litany of Peace. Three times we speak about peace: “In peace let us pray to the Lord”; “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord”; “For the peace of the whole world and the good estate of the holy Churches of God and for the communion of all, let us pray to the Lord.”

This threefold request for peace is not a superfluous repetition. Each repetition is charged with a distinctive significance.

At the very outset of the public part of the Liturgy, we establish the fact that peace is the spiritual space in which the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated. We start by saying “in peace, let us pray to the Lord.” We cannot enter into the action of the Liturgy or experience the joy of the Kingdom unless we have within our hearts, by God’s mercy, a state of interior peace. So we start by seeing peace as an inner state of our soul. “In peace” — the state of wholeness and of integration. So at the beginning of the Liturgy we are to banish, from within ourselves, feelings of resentment and hostility toward others: bitterness, rancor, inner grumbling, or divisiveness. We are to shed these things; let them go; begin the Liturgy “in peace.” That is Stage I.

Then Stage II: “For the peace from above…” Peace is not just a psychological state produced by my own effort. Peace, true peace, comes from above as a gift from God, a gift of grace. “Without me,” says Christ, “you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In translating the Philokalia, I have been struck by the surprising frequency with which that text is quoted. “Without me you can do nothing.” We see that peace is not a manufactured article, human made. It is a gift, a charisma. We therefore have to open our hearts to receive Christ’s gift of peace: “the peace from above.” As it says in Ephesians 2:14, “He is our peace.” Notice in this second petition how peace is closely joined with salvation. “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls.” Salvation, in the tradition of the Christian East, is not understood primarily in juridical terms, as a release from guilt, although it is that in part. But salvation thought of positively means wholeness, fullness of life. We can’t have that wholeness, that fullness of life without the divine gift of peace.

Then we come to the third petition: “For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy Churches of God, the union of all.” The peace that we seek is not just inward looking, not world denying. It is outward going, active, practical. We seek peace not for myself alone, but for and with others. If I seek peace selfishly, I will not find it. Peace and unity go together.

So then, that is the sequence: “in peace” — “peace from above” — “peace of the whole world.” Peace is not self-centered. It is outward looking, ecstatic (in the literal sense of that word), generous, and practical. In Fr. Lev’s words: “We pray for the peace of the universe. Not only for humans, but for all creatures: for animals, for vegetables, for stars, for the whole of nature.” So we enter into a cosmic piety. We express our sympathy with everything to which God has given being. But though our prayer for peace is not limited to the human race, that is certainly where we begin. And how urgent at all times, but especially now, is the need for the prayer begging Christ to give peace to this suffering world.

Then we have God’s response to that threefold prayer for peace. It comes a little later in the service when the celebrant says to the congregation: “Peace be with all.” In Slav use, that is said soon after the Little Entrance and the Trisagion. In Greek use and, again, in the Slav, it comes before the Gospel, and repeatedly thereafter. “Peace be with all.” That is not just an empty phrase but is a powerful performative utterance — not just a courteous formality, but the transmission of a reality. Now what the priest is transmitting is not his own peace. He is speaking at this moment in Christ’s name. He is transmitting to the people God’s peace: “The peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) We think at this point of Christ’s words at the Last Supper: “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you.” (Jn. 14:27) There is a two-way traffic. Our prayer for peace is the one movement, then the responding movement, God’s gift of peace. The effect of peace is unity with ourselves; unity with God; unity with others round us. Peace and unity in this way are essential marks of the eucharistic celebration.

So then, remembering Plato’s words — “The beginning of truth is to wonder at things” — I ask you tonight to renew your sense of wonder before the final mystery, the great mystery of the Eucharist. I began with the words of St. John of Kronstadt, who was a very profoundly eucharistic priest, so let me end with his words: “In the words ‘take, eat, drink’ there is contained the abyss of God’s love for humankind. O perfect Love! O all-embracing Love! O irresistible Love! What shall we give to God in gratitude for this Love?”

Bishop Kallistos is Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford and leads the Greek parish in the same city. His books include The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way. His lecture may not be reproduced without his permission. The transcription was made by Fred Bittle. Our thanks to him.

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