My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
HAVING A SACRAMENTAL LIFE IN THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The Life of the Church in the Holy Spirit
The new life
The Church is surrounded by the sinful, unenlightened world; however, it itself is a new creation, and it creates a new life. And every member of it (every Orthodox Christian believer) is called to receive and to create in himself this new life. This new life should be preceded by a break on the part of the future member of the Church with the life of "the world." However, when one speaks of the break with "the world," this does not mean to go away totally from life on earth, from the midst of the rest of mankind, which is often unbelieving and corrupt; "for then," writes the Apostle Paul, "must ye needs go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:10). However, in order to enter the Church one must depart from the power of the devil and become in this sinful world "strangers and pilgrims" (I Peter 2:11). One must place a decisive boundary between oneself and "the world," and for this one must openly and straightforwardly renounce the devil; for one cannot serve two masters. One must cleanse in oneself the old leaven, so as to be a new dough (1 Corinthians 5:7).
During Great and Holy Week many of you will wish to receive the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, however, the question is are you prepared spiritually to receive them? Have you fasted? Have you been to the Mystery of Repentance and Confession? Have you reconciled with your enemies? Do you know what a Mystery (Sacrament) is? A Mystery (Sacrament) or Divine Mystery by its most basic definition is a special occasion of Divine grace.
A Christian's life is an opportunity to participate mystically by grace in the life of Christ. Saint Paul in his letter to the Church in Galatia wrote, "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). We must always participate in the Mysteries (Sacraments) of Our Holy Church by faith trusting God who promised to abide in His Church of which we are each members and does so through these Divine Mysteries (Sacraments). In turn we are communicants in the New and Divine Life of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit changes us.
The Orthodox Christian believer believes that the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church are the Christian life, the spiritual life, because they make it possible to receive Jesus Christ. This means that every day is special for a Christian believer because each day and every hour we are preparing ourselves to receive our Lord and Savior. We do this most often through the receiving of the Holy Communion. In our preparation for Holy Communion we fast, repent, confess, we pray, we commit ourselves to acts of philanthropy and compassion, and most especially we give ourselves to Jesus Christ. We, as Orthodox Christians, come to the Divine Liturgy to receive the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord. We are united with Him and He dwells within us. We, therefore, say, "I no longer live but Christ lives in me." We become Christ bearers and grace filled.
We must understand with regards to the Church's position on Holy Communion is the way in which it is received. No one should ever simply take Holy Communion; Holy Communion is not a right; it is not something we earn or desire. We are not entitled. Holy Communion is a gift, and because of this fact, it is something that is never taken but always received. It is the Church's responsibility to pass that gift along. Yet, in doing so, the Church must exercise restraint and discernment. For just as physical food can actually harm and even kill a starving person, the spiritual food of the Divine Eucharist (Holy Communion) can do the same. Saint Paul warns us of this very phenomenon in his first letter to the Christians of Corinth chapter 11:27-30). Here he cautions the Corinthians how the reception of the Divine Eucharist in an unworthy manner has caused physical death. The Church then has a responsibility to guard against distributing the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ to those it would harm. Notice that even Orthodox Christians are at times excluded from receiving Holy Communion.
No Orthodox Christian should ever approach Holy Communion with defiance, arrogance, anger, hate, unbelief, and a sense of entitlement. No Orthodox Christian should approach the Holy Eucharist knowing in himself or herself that no matter if I believe that the Holy Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of Christ, that no matter what lifestyle I have chosen to live, no matter if I have repented or not, no matter if I follow and abide by the commandments of Christ, I will still receive Holy Communion. A person like this has no fear of God, commits a grave sin, and brings upon himself/herself condemnation.
No person who is married to an Orthodox Christian, but is not Orthodox, may receive any of the Sacraments. I urge that if one who exists outside the Orthodox Church should desire to receive the Holy Eucharist, then only one thing is needed. Let him/her examine the Church's teachings and her witness to Jesus Christ. Let him or her investigate what it is our Holy Church teaches and believes, and if so doing, he or she come to proclaim as we do that the Holy Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of Christ, and that salvation is found through membership in His Church, then let them approach with the fear of God, in faith, and love. This is a great gift, and, at the same time, an awesome treasure; the responsibility of so great a gift falls on each one of us. Thus, with boldness we all must preach the Good News and with steadfastness, we must faithfully adhere to the teaching once and for all delivered to all the Saints (St. Luke 1:3).
May we all have a blessed Great and Holy Week and a glorious Resurrection.
With agape in Christ,