by Bishop Ilias (Miniatis) –
Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord. (John 12:13)
The Destroyer of hell, conqueror of death, Author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead. When on the next day He entered into Jerusalem, the entire city was shaken by the news of such a great miracle and the arrival of such a Miracle-Worker. “Who is this?” they asked each other. The entire multitude had gathered for the Passover, as if drawn by a divine wave of hand, and now receives Him with great solemnity as the King of Israel.
Some go before Him, others behind; some cut branches, others throw them on the ground; others spread their garments on the path, and all with one voice—even the little children—exclaim, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord! I will mark three circumstances in this light-bearing solemnity: first, the garments that were spread on the ground; second, the palm branches, the signs of victory; and third, the joyful exclamation of: Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes.
There are [several] necessary conditions that we as Christians must fulfill when we receive our Lord Jesus Christ in the Communion of His Holy Mysteries. First of all, with true repentance we must cast off our garments of sin, which we have worn for so long; we must abandon our former bad habits, put off the old man with his deeds (Col. 3:9). Second, after making this conversion we must raise our victorious branches, having trampled down our three great enemies—the flesh, the world, and the devil; and then, with spiritual joy and the gladness of a contrite heart approach the holy table of the Bread of Life with the words, Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
Therefore I will now talk about Holy Communion, assuming that a word about this is needful for those preparing themselves in these holy days to receive Communion of the most pure Body and Blood of our Lord. First of all, I want to show you that this great mystery is one of the greatest works of divine power, wisdom, and goodness. Second, I will talk about what preparation is needed for those who desire to receive Communion, so that this Communion would be to them not unto judgment or condemnation, but unto the remission of sins and salvation. I will tell you all of this briefly in light of today’s solemn feast.
God, by His nature and essence ineffable and invisible, is to some extent comprehended and beheld in three of His qualities, which for that reason theologians call external: in power, wisdom, and goodness. The work of power is miracles, the work of wisdom is mystery, and the work of goodness is the bestowing of gifts. I confirm that the Divine Eucharist is the greatest miracle that God’s power has devised, the highest mystery that God’s wisdom has devised, and the most precious gift that God’s goodness has sent down to us.
Let us turn our attention to testimony of this, beginning with the first. True, all miracles, in as much as they are miracles, are equal—for all equally surpass the laws of nature. But some of them surpass a larger number of laws, others less; therefore one miracle is called greater and another lesser. Amongst all miracles of the power of God, only this miracle of the Divine Eucharist surpasses all the laws of nature. The whole Body of Christ is in the whole holy bread, and the whole Body is also in every particle of the holy bread—just as the whole sun is visible in the whole mirror, but if we were to break the mirror into many pieces, the sun would still be seen in each one of the pieces. We see the color of bread and wine, but we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ.
The sacrament of Divine Eucharist acts materially, but also works miracles spiritually
The sacrament of Divine Eucharist acts materially, but also works miracles spiritually; it is eaten by the mouth, but nourishes the soul; it touches the senses, but illumines also the spirit. The divine bread is broken into pieces but it is not divided; it is consumed but not depleted; it communes each and all, but never runs out. The same Jesus Christ is on earth and in Heaven, He is the same at the holy supper and at the right hand of God the Father; He is the same in this holy altar and in all Orthodox altars. The same incorruptible and immortal Body and the same Blood are the source of eternal life, but they abide as forms only temporarily. This is the true Body and Blood of Christ. But they have the form of bread and wine as if outer clothing. Thus, if the divine Eucharist surpasses all laws of nature, all forms of the existence of natural things, it is thus the greatest of all miracles of divine power.
Higher than all laws of natural reason, it is the supreme mystery, exquisite in its divine wisdom. It’s true—all else that the God-man and Word created in His incarnation, He created in wisdom, and all of it is mysterious. But in all of this He is on the one hand incomprehensible as God, and on the other hand, absolutely accessible as man. Thus, the mind in part does not understand, and in part understands. Therefore All of His works are mysteries, but are not hidden in all respects. We do not understand how, in His temporal birth from the Virgin, from a woman also in time is born the Everlasting God; but we nevertheless understand how in His voluntary passion and death the passionless and immortal God suffers and dies. But we understand that He suffers and dies, for we see Him as a man like us, clothed in the infirmity of our nature. In part… we understand, as the apostle says (cf. 1 Cor. 13:9).
In the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, in the appearance of bread and wine, the God-man and Word hides His divinity for He does not appear as God, and hides His humanity for he does not appear as man. He appears only as bread and wine. Therefore the mind cannot comprehend the single nature of the God-man-Word—neither the divine, nor the human. This is a mystery hidden in all respects.
Come, you wise of this world, who with your penetrating minds have discovered the secrets of nature; come, you theologians of the Church, who guided by the Holy Spirit have researched the depths of the Divine Scriptures; come especially you heavenly cherubim, the numerous knowers of Divine Mysteries, come here to this holy supper of the unspeakable Mystery. What you see is bread and wine, but in them is present the whole God-man, Jesus. There are no signs of divinity in them that would bring you to conclude that He is God.
But is there a human sign that would make you think that He is man? No, he is hidden as God, hidden also as man—wholly hidden! In His birth he truly humbled Himself, but only according to His divinity—for as God He became the image of a slave and obedient to death. Then the man was seen, although God was hidden.
Now, in the Divine Eucharist, He humbles Himself with a perfect humility, manifesting Himself here neither as God nor as man; therefore this is the mystery of mysteries, mainly a mystery that is the most hidden in all respects, surpassing all the laws of natural reason. Therefore the Eucharist is the supreme design of divine wisdom.
Moreover it is the most precious gift of divine goodness, for it is a special sign of divine love. St. John testifies to this: Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end (Jn. 13:1); that is, according to the explanation of [Blessed] Theophylact [of Bulgaria], “He manifested perfect love to them”, all the love that God could have for man. Great love was manifest in His incarnation as well as in His sufferings, but this was not all the love. These things happened once, while in the Liturgy He sacramentally acts every day; every day He offers Himself as a sacrifice.
Moreover, in the holy bread He endures such suffering as He did not even experience on the Cross, as Chrysostom notes. On the Cross, His members were not broken: They brake not his legs (Jn. 19:33); according to the prophecy, A bone of him shall not be broken (Ex. 12:46). But in the holy bread He is present in many particles, that He might fill many with Himself. “What He did not endure on the Cross, He endures in the offering and the breaking, in order to fill all.” He is all love, Who loved us to the end.
Once the ungrateful people of Israel could rightfully boast of the great benefactions shown them by God, and say, He hath not dealt so with every nation (Ps. 147:9) when God parted the Red Sea in order to lead them to the promised land; when He fed them with manna in the wilderness; and when He gave them to drink water miraculously sprung from a rock. But none of this can compare with the extreme benefaction that God has shown us in this Divine Mystery.
What is the Red Sea before the life-pouring Blood, for the sake of which we pass over to the promise of new grace? What is manna, which they ate and died, before this Divine Bread come down from heaven, of which whoever partakes shall live forever? What is that rock from which water sprung before this mysterious Rock, the inexhaustible source of living water, that “flows unto life eternal?” We should say, and we do say this very rightfully: He hath not dealt so with every nation. And what more proof of His love could the Savior of the world give to us if not this—the transmutation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood; and He gives them to us that we would eat and drink of it when we want, so that it might be with us inseparably to the end of the ages?
This is a love that we cannot explain for it is incomprehensible, nor can we measure for it is immeasurable. It is divine love, perfect love, all love—the entire treasury of divine goodness. In this God in His power showed the supreme reign of His omnipotence; as supremely wise, He performed the sacrament of sacraments, and as good, He sent down the supreme gift.
How then should we prepare ourselves if we wish to partake of this fearful and great mystery?
How then should we prepare ourselves if we wish to partake of this fearful and great mystery? But let a man examine himself, says the blessed Paul, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup (1 Cor. 11:28). Let each one first test himself well, let him search his conscience—if there be some hindrance let him remove it, and if there are some bonds let him loose them.
Moses herded the flock of his father-in-law, the Madiam priest Jethro, at the foothills of the mountains of Horeb. Suddenly he sees a wondrous vision—this was a bush that burned but was not consumed by the fire. He saw a bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed (Ex. 3:2). He went closer to it, but he heard a voice calling to him and he stopped. The fire in which Moses saw the flame was God, and the voice he heard was the voice of God, Who said to him, Moses, Moses… Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground (Ex. 3:4–5).
O Christian, do you want to receive Communion? Do you see this holy bread and chalice on the holy table? This the Body and Blood of Christ, God Himself in the flesh; there is the fire of the Divinity, enlightening and purifying the worthy, and scorching the unworthy! Do not touch it, do not approach it—first remove the shoes from your feet, loose by true confession the bonds of your sins that have entangled your soul.
Have you fought with anyone? First loose the bonds of enmity and make peace with your neighbor. Have you offended anyone? Have you stolen, robbed, or kept someone else’s things? Loose the bonds of offense and justly return what you have taken. Have you given yourself to a harlot or adulterer, and how long have you lived in sin to everyone’s scandal? Loose the bonds of the flesh; free your enslaved soul from the devil’s hands.
Put off the shoes from your feet, for the place whereon you stand and commune is the Holy of Holies. Here the holy angels invisibly stand and cover their faces in fear, trembling, and awe. Here stood St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom—men who had completely renounced all earthly bonds; saints experienced in abstinence, earthly angels in the purity of their souls. And nevertheless, one confessed his unworthiness—he said, I know O Lord that I am unworthy to receive Communion, and the other said, O Lord, my God, I know that I am unworthy.
And you who have defiled your soul with thousands of sins and have not prayed even an hour for those many years of sin—do not approach! Put off first the shoes from your feet. Loose first all the bonds, remove all the hindrances, free yourself, confess, correct yourself, and repent. In this way, absolved, forgiven, and enlightened come, approach! But again, with reverence and attention! In order to come close to the place where God was in the burning bush, Moses cast off his shoes. With what fear and trembling he must have stepped where there were briars and fire!
You also should experience the same fear and trembling when you stretch out your hands and open your lips to receive Holy Communion. “I believe, O Lord,” you should say, “that Thou are God; I confess that I am a sinner; I believe that Thou art a consuming fire; I confess that I am withered grass. I, a sinner, am not worthy to approach God without being punished; I, the grass to the fire, without being burned. But as Thou dost call me and invite me, I the impure come to Thee as to the source of illumination, in order to be purified; I come as the sick man to Thee, the Doctor of souls, in order to be healed; I the dead man come to Thee, the Bread of Life, in order to be resurrected. I come to be enlightened and sanctified precisely because I am a sinner and unworthy. I come that I might not depart far from Thee, so that the enemy might not take possession of my soul. I again confess that I am unworthy, for I am sinful. But Thou didst come to save sinners. O save me! Hosanna: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!
A great error reigns among Christians who think that having confessed and received Communion during these holy days, they have fulfilled their duty once and for all and that they are now free to do what they did before, and even worse. This happens because they do not know what Communion means and what happens to the soul after Communion. This is a perilous error, because after confession and Communion we should live with great reverence and carefulness.
Moses came down from the mountain of Sinai holding in his hands the two tablets upon which were written the commandments. His face shone with such light that his brother Aaron and all the rest of the Israelites were stunned by the powerful radiance and could not look at him. Therefore he placed a veil over his face, so that they could come closer to him: And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him… And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face (Ex. 34:30–34).
The soul shines after it has partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Most Holy Mysteries
Where did such a powerful light come from on Moses’s face that it blinded those who looked at him? Moses remained for many days on Mt. Sinai in conversation with God face to face, and from this long conversation he took on a divine radiance, which made his face so glorious. There is a great difference between conversing with God in image and mystery as did Moses, and truly and materially receiving God Himself in one’s own lips, taking Him into oneself as does every communicant. Moses only conversed with God and his face so shone. How much then should the soul shine that has partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Most Holy Mysteries?!
Divine Scripture says that the Jews were not able to look upon Moses’s face, shining like the sun; and the divine Chrysostom says that the demons can not see the face of a communicant, they tremble and run from him, for divine fire comes from his mouth—a spectacle that is wondrous for angels and terrible for the devil.” No star in heaven shines so brightly as the soul of a communicant shines with divine grace during Communion. This is because divine Communion, in the words of St. Simeon of Thessalonica, is none other than “our deification and communication with God.”
When we receive Communion, says St. Gregory the Theologian, we receive participation in the grace possessed by Christ, as God and as man. “Through the bloodless sacrifice we partake of Christ and are made participants in His suffering and Divinity.” And with this grace we ascend to such heights of sanctity that if we were to die at that moment, our souls would find themselves in a place among the ranks of martyrs, virgins, and ascetics; in one moment we would achieve what they were vouchsafed after so much time and with such struggles. My God, my Deliverer! Let me die when it be Thy holy will—in a desert place, in the forest, or on a mountain—for me it makes no difference, if only I might be vouchsafed before death to receive Thy most pure Body and Blood. If I might be in that moment with Thee, I am not afraid to perish. I am sure that with such a Companion I will reach the harbor of Thy heavenly Kingdom.
Thus, O Christian, when you have received Communion, take care that you do not lose what you have gained. Hold it well, lest this precious pearl drop from your hands. Beware everywhere, that the evil one might not steal it from your soul. Have you been illumined by the Holy Gifts? Live like a saint.
Have you emerged clean from the bath of divine grace? Do not fall again into the mud of your former sins. Has your soul been healed? Do not get infected again with your former sickness. Have you united with Christ? Abide with Christ and say, Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. To Him be glory unto the ages. Amen.
HT: OrthodoxChristianity.com. Translation from the Russian version by Nun Cornelia (Rees), Pravoslavie.ru. (Minor formatting and stylistic edits made for greater readability.)