An Introduction to Orthodox Christian Spirituality (Part III)

Righteous Martha the sister of Lazarus

Righteous Martha the sister of Lazarus

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

By George C. Papademetriou

The Eucharist as Expression of Spirituality

The question is asked: is it possible without the Holy Eucharist to reach the spiritual state of perfection? The answer is no, because Christ says: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you." Frequent participation in the Most Blessed Sacrament/Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is the preeminent means for our salvation and spiritual perfection. Jesus said: "for My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." Thus, Christ's statement makes clear that the "body and blood" of our Lord is necessary for our spiritual perfection. The Holy Eucharist, therefore, is not received merely as an act of obedience to the command of God or of the Church; it is especially an antidote to sin and death. It is a necessary prerequisite for our perfection in our life in Christ. An important interpretation by Saint John Chrysostom makes this clear.

Saint Paul does not say participation, but communion, because he wishes to express a closer union. For, in receiving Holy Communion, we not only participate in Christ, we unite with Christ. But why do I speak of Communion? Saint Paul says that we are identical with this body. For what is this bread? That is, the Body of Christ. And what do we become by receiving this bread? The body of Christ: not many bodies, but only one.

The Holy Eucharist serves as the bond of unity in love. The Holy Eucharist unites us to Christ and to one another. This is the makeup of the Mystical Body of Christ: the Church. This concept of the Church as the mystical body of Christ is very dear to our Orthodox Tradition because it expresses the reality of Christ in the world and the unity of the Church, which is real only when Christ is the central figure. The Orthodox Church rejects the misconception, of sectarian origin, that Christianity is only a system of morals. It strongly emphasizes the fact that the mystical union with Christ is a reality in His Church. The whole life of Saint Paul was "a perpetual system of morals in action." Only because of his personal commitment to Christ and his mystical encounter with the Divine Lord, did Saint Paul attain spiritual perfection.

Saint John of Cronstadt on Teaching Young People the Spiritual Way

In this brief exposition of the vast topic of Orthodox Christian spirituality an introduction was provided only as a beginning to your own investigation of the great Truths of our faith. For some this may be regarded as a spiritual discourse not profitable to the ordinary layman. I am convinced, however, that all Orthodox Christians must acquire knowledge of the Orthodox tradition of spirituality, especially those who teach young people as well as the parents. Saint John of Cronstadt addresses the teaching priests, the Christian teachers, and leaders in the following penetrating words:

"Do not neglect to uproot from the hearts of children the tares of sins, impure, evil and blasphemous thoughts, sinful habits, inclinations and passions: the enemy and sinful flesh do not spare even children; the seeds of all sins are to be found in the children, too; show them all the danger of sin on the path of life; do not hide sin from them lest through ignorance and want of comprehension, they should be confirmed in sinful habits and attachments, which grow stronger and stronger and bring forth corresponding fruits when children grow up."

These words set forth the mission and goal of the Christian priest, teacher and leader.



In concluding this presentation, the following suggestions can be made to those responsible for the development of spirituality in the Church:

  1. In order to transmit Orthodox Christian spirituality to young people, the teacher first must learn it through personal experience and through study of the spiritual writings of Orthodox authors (Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church).
  2. Each Christian must acquire Orthodox spirituality in his or her own life by living the Sacramental life (Mysteriaki zoe) and by participating frequently in Holy Confession and Holy Communion.
  3. Responsible Christians ought to communicate to young people the great spiritual riches of Christianity and the importance of adhering to the Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition and spirituality.

All of us, priests, Church teachers, leaders, faithful Christian - young and old, and especially parents, have a responsibility to emphasize to young people the importance of their personal commitment to Christ and of their sacramental communion with Him. You need to continue your spiritual reading for your spiritual growth.


Orthodox Mysticism: Teachings of the Desert Fathers:
The writings of Saint John of the Ladder (also known as St. John Climacus)

"The method by which he also wishes it may raise himself from off the earth and rise to heaven is as follows: first, he must wrestle with his mind and tame his passions; second, he must practice psalmody, that is, pray with the lips, for when passions are subdued, prayer naturally brings sweetness and enjoyment even to the tongue and is accepted by God as pleasing to Him; third, he must pray mentally; fourth, he must rise to contemplation."

"He who entirely renounces self-will has already attained everything he deems to be good, spiritual, and pleasing to God, even before he has entered a life of spiritual struggle, for obedience means not believing that anything good comes from oneself, even to the end of life...Obedience gives birth to humility, humility to the gift of good judgment; good judgment to discernment; discernment to pre-vision, which is the work of God alone and a precious supernatural gift, which He bestows only on those whom He deifies..."

"A small hair worries the eye and a small care destroys silence, for silence means the laying of all thoughts not bearing on the work of salvation, and renunciation of all cares, even for matters of good report. Nor will a man who has attained true silence worry about his body for He Who promised to care for it is not false..."

Then Saint Nilus of Sinai, like the other earliest Christian mystics, mentions the importance of the Church's sacraments: "It is impossible for a believer to be saved, or to receive remission of sins and be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven, unless in fear, faith, and love he receives communion of the pure mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ."

These Desert Fathers were not anti-intellectual, but they constantly warned that the mystical experience primarily beyond the grasp of reason. Saint Macarius the Great expressed the teachings of all the early mystics on this point when he said:

"Spiritual subjects cannot be grasped by those who have not experienced them. But a saintly and faithful soul is helped in its undertaking by the participation of the Holy Spirit.

The heavenly treasures of the Spirit become clear only to a man who experiences them, but a man not initiated into them is wholly unable to even think of them. Thus hear of them with reverence until, for the sake of your faith, you are granted the same. Then you will know, from the experience of the eyes of the soul, in what blessings and mysteries the souls of Christians can participate in this life."

Saint Maximus the Confessor tried to define his terms as he went along: "On purity of mind; That soul is pure which, freed from ignorance, is illumined by Divine Light...On purity of soul; that soul is pure which, freed from passions, is ceaselessly made glad by Divine Love...On purity of heart: That heart is pure which, always presenting to God a formless and imageless memory, is ready to receive nothing but impression which come from Him, and by which he is disposed to desire to become manifest to it...passionlessness is a peaceful disposition of the soul, through which it is not easily moved to evil..."




With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George