On Church, Orthodoxy and the Eucharist

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios

Of course, no one would want to deny the great value of the Divine Eucharist, at which we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and to which all the sacraments and the life of the Church are directed, but it is not possible for the Divine Eucharist to be made independent of the Church and the whole of ecclesiastical life.

…[T]here is a close connection between Church, Orthodoxy and Eucharist, as we see in Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. There is no Church without Orthodoxy and the Eucharist; nor is there Orthodoxy without the Church and the Eucharist; just as there is no Eucharist outside the Church and Orthodoxy. Then, the Divine Eucharist cannot be considered Orthodox outside the canonical structure of the Church and the necessary requirements for participation in it. The Fathers of the Church and the Canons of the Local and Ecumenical Synods record the requirements for people wishing to participate in the Divine Eucharist and Holy Communion, which are the ascetic life and the hesychast mode of life. The Divine Eucharist cannot replace purification, enlightenment and deification nor, of course, can the opposite obtain. Here, too, there is balanced reciprocity.

Besides, apart from the Divine Eucharist, basic centers for the life of the Church are Scripture, dogma and prayer, which the Divine Eucharist presupposes. There is a very profound association between the lex credendi and the lex orandi. The Bishop is the President of the Eucharistic Synaxis but at the same time [should be] a prophet who proclaims prophetic words to the congregation who desire to progress from the image to the likeness. Of course, within the Church and at the Divine Eucharist there are different spiritual ages, and the Holy Spirit ministers appropriately to each. And then, the grace of God in the Sacraments acts independently of the condition of the canonical clergy and laity, but not all those who partake of the holy Sacraments benefit, unless they take part in the purifying, enlightening and glorifying energy of God.

… All of this made Fr. John Romanides say that it is not the Eucharist that makes the Church the real Church, but the Church which makes the Eucharist the real Eucharist. In other words, the horse (dogma/canons) comes before the cart, not vice versa. In any case, as we know, outside the Orthodox Church, with its dogmas and sacred canons, there is no Eucharist in the Orthodox meaning of the word. So we can talk about ecclesiastical Eucharist, but not about Eucharistic ecclesiology. (Post-Patristic Theology from a Church Perspective)

Comments

  1. St. Justin Popovich echoes the teaching of Met. Hierotheos Vlachos:

    …[I]ndeed a sacred fact of Orthodox faith, is the following: In Orthodox teaching about the Church and the Sacraments, the single most unique mystery is the Church itself, the Body of the God-man Christ, so that she is the only source and the content of all divine Sacraments. Outside of this theanthropic and inclusive Mystery of the Church, the Pan-Mystery itself, there are no and cannot be any “mysteries”; therefore, there can be no inter-communion of Mysteries. Consequently we can only speak about Mysteries within the Context of this unique Pan-Mystery which is the Church. This is because the Orthodox Church, as the Body Christ, is the source and the foundation of the Sacraments and not the other way around. The Mysteries, Sacraments, cannot be elevated above the church, or examined outside the Body of the Church.

    Because of this, in accordance with the mind of the Catholic Church of Christ, and in accordance with the whole of Orthodox Tradition, the Orthodox Church does not recognize the existence of other mysteries or sacraments outside of itself, neither does it recognize them as being mysteries, and one cannot receive the sacraments until one comes away from the heretical “Churches,” that is to say the pseudo-Churches, through repentance to the Orthodox Church of Christ. (Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, pp. 172-174)

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