A Conversation with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the Sacramental Life

I long for the day when all Christians can receive Communion together. It causes me deep sorrow that I cannot offer the Holy Communion to non-Orthodox. At the same time I believe that the Orthodox discipline here rests on important theological principles. When we come to Holy Communion, this is not simply an isolated act – me personally coming to my Saviour – I come to Communion as a member of the Church – as a member of the family of believers, not alone but with others.
admin | 29 August 2008

Source: http://victorycross.wordpress.com



Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, the sacrament of the Eucharist – the Divine Liturgy – is the heart and core of our worship as Orthodox Christians. What are some of the differences in our understanding of the Eucharist as Orthodox Christians from the many other Christian confessions that exist, and why are Christians of other confessions not able to receive Communion when they attend the celebration of the Eucharist in our church, the Orthodox church?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

There are two questions there –

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Yes, I yes –

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

So let’s take the first of them. In the Orthodox Church, we believe that the bread and wine, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become the true body and blood of Christ. So we believe that the Eucharist is not simply a commemorative meal in which we recall the Last Supper. We believe Christ is objectively and immediately present in the consecrated elements. So here there is a clear difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, not just a recollection. In the Divine Liturgy, recollection becomes reality. So, we receive the true body and blood of Christ.

But this is mystery. We do not understand how, but we do regard the reception of the consecrated elements as the supreme moment of our personal encounter with the Saviour. Now many Anglicans [and] Episcopalians, though not all, would likewise say that the Sacrament is the true body and blood of Christ. So on this point some Anglicans differ from us but others agree with us. The Romans Catholics firmly believe that the Sacrament is Christ’s body and blood. They use to describe the change in the elements the word “trans-substantiation.” In the past from the 17th century onwards Orthodox often used that same word. I prefer to avoid because it is not a word used by the early fathers; it is a word bound up with a particular philosophical system – Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy – which we Orthodox on the whole do not employ.

But I do not see a difference here fundamentally between ourselves and the Roman Catholics. We both believe in the real presence. We Orthodox perhaps put greater emphasis on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the consecration, but in the last 30 years, Roman Catholics have also begun to stress much more the work of the Spirit in effecting the consecration. So I would not think that is a primary difference here between us and the Roman Catholics.

If the Roman Catholics share with us essentially the same faith in the Eucharist, and if many Anglicans do as well, why can we not have Communion together? That is your second question.

I long for the day when all Christians can receive Communion together. It causes me deep sorrow that I cannot offer the Holy Communion to non-Orthodox. At the same time I believe that the Orthodox discipline here rests on important theological principles. When we come to Holy Communion, this is not simply an isolated act – me personally coming to my Saviour – I come to Communion as a member of the Church – as a member of the family of believers, not alone but with others. And when I come to Communion, I am summing up and expressing the totality of my whole Christian faith, of my entire church membership.

It is a painful reality but nonetheless a fact, that at this moment Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Protestants, we are divided; we belong to separated ecclesial bodies. We are seeking unity but we still have a long way to go. So long as we are separated as ecclesial communities, it is not realistic for us to have Communion together. Communion expresses our total unity in faith, our solidarity as members of one ecclesial family. If our faith is different and if we belong to separated ecclesial families, it is somehow untruthful for us to have Communion together. The reception of Communion should not be seen as a means towards an end, not as a means towards greater unity. It should be seen as the expression of the unity that we possess. It is a gift from God, and until that unity is fully expressed, we have to accept that we cannot receive Communion together. It would not be truthful. It would not be realistic to the facts of our separated church membership.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, we believe of course that the Eucharist is objectively as you said the presence of Christ. Can the Eucharist work effectively within the soul of a person who is not also as Saint Paul says, “working out his salvation with fear and trembling?” What’s the connection between the grace given to us in the Sacraments and our personal effort or synergia in practicing the faith?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

You have rightly said that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an objective presence. It does not depend on the faith of the priest, the faith of the people, or the faith of the individual communicant. Christ is present even if our faith is weak. If someone receives Communion without sincerity, not believing that it is the body and blood of Christ, nevertheless they do indeed receive the body and blood of Christ. But, if they lack faith they will not receive the grace of Communion, the effects of it, the fruits of the Sacrament. They will receive the body and blood of Christ but if they lack faith they will receive the Sacrament not for the healing of soul and body, not for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life; they will receive the Sacrament to their own condemnation. And this is what Saint Paul says very clearly that if you come to the Sacrament not discerning the Lord’s body, you will receive it to your own damnation. Those are his words, not mine. But, I accept what he says. So if we come unbelieving, we do indeed receive the Sacrament but without faith the fruits of the Sacrament will not be shown and will not be apparent in our life.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, you have written a great deal about Saint Symeon the New Theologian, about personal experience of the Holy Spirit, and of course that was one of Saint Simeon’s emphases. Can you talk a little bit more about the sacramental life and our experience of Christ – our experience of the Holy Spirit in the sacramental life?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

Yes. Saint Symeon the New Theologian, like earlier fathers such as Saint Mark the Monk, places a great deal of emphasis upon the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, we receive into the innermost chamber of our heart Christ and the Holy Spirit. What greater gift could there be than that? To be Christ-bearers, Spirit Bearers? So fathers like Saint Symeon the New Theologian would say we cannot possibly add to the grace of baptism. In baptism, the fullness of Divine life is given to us. But, what we have to do is to discover that grace. It is hidden within us when we are baptized in infancy, hidden within us in an unconscious way through the fulfillment of the commandments, through living the Christian life, through receiving the Eucharist with faith, we are gradually to discover the meaning of the grace of baptism and to experience this indwelling presence of Christ and the Spirit in a conscious and perceptible way. So the Christian life is a journey if you like from baptismal grace, present within us unconsciously – secretly, mystikos – mystically – is the word that the fathers use. A journey from unconscious grace to the experience of grace consciously, actively, with full perception and assurance. So, all of us are called actively to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit within us that was given to us in baptism. The Christian life can be summed up in the phrase, “Become what you are.”

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence, there are many Pentecostals around the world who would say that speaking in tongues is an extremely important phenomenon and of course Saint Paul speaks of this phenomenon in his letters to the Corinthians, but how do we see speaking in tongues? How do we see that gift of the Holy Spirit?

Once when I was doing a church tour in Seattle a gentleman stood up and said to me that unless you speak in tongues you are not saved and cannot be saved. How would we respond to that?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

I would respond by saying clearly to that gentleman you are wrong, and you have no sound foundation for that assertion in Holy Scripture. Saint Paul speaks of the gift of tongues but he never says that it is essential. He never says you cannot be saved without speaking in tongues. That is not in Holy Scripture. It is the opinion of individual humans who in my view have misunderstood the meaning of Scripture – human error, not the word of God.

Paul speaks of the gift of speaking with tongues but he doesn’t regard it as the most important of the different gifts of the Spirit. He seems to place it on a rather low level. He says if you speak with tongues and there’s no one there to interpret, you benefit and edify yourself but the community is not edified, so you need someone to interpret the tongues. So he saw speaking with tongues as important but not all-important – not the greatest of spiritual gifts and not essential to salvation.

Since Saint Paul’s time, the gift of speaking in tongues has become very rare. It disappeared fairly soon from the church by the end of the first century. And I do not think that is simply because the church fell away from its early fervor. God, it seems, gave this gift in the first days of Christianity but it was not His will that it should continue in a prominent way in the church in later times. Though through church history there are certainly cases of speaking in tongues and we might even find such cases in the lives of our Orthodox saints. So the fact that some Orthodox in the last two generations have undergone this experience with speaking with tongues does not disturb me; it is perfectly possible that it is a genuine gift of grace in these cases. We Orthodox do not say it is impossible that anyone should speak with tongues in our own day; we only say it is very rare.

We also say, as Saint John tells us in his epistles, test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Speaking with tongues in my belief can be a genuine gift of the Spirit, but sometimes there are cases where people seem to be speaking with tongues and it is in fact demonic. They are inspired by an evil spirit, not the Spirit of God. So we must test the spirits.

Fr. Steve Tsichlis:

Your Eminence you’ve spoken and written extensively about the Jesus prayer. How does a spiritual discipline of practice like the Jesus prayer relate to the idea of experiencing the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in a very conscious and perceptible way?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

The Jesus prayer can be used in two main ways. It can be used as part of our daily special prayer time when we are seeking to pray and not to do anything else. I might call that the “fixed” use. And then the Jesus prayer can be used during the day as we go about our characteristic activities in all the passing moments that might otherwise be wasted. As we are doing familiar tasks, as we are walking from place to place, as we are waiting for the bus, or if we drive a car which I don’t, when we’re stuck in a traffic jam. The first thing when we wake up in the morning, the last thing before we go to sleep, if we can’t sleep at night, we can say the Jesus prayer in a “free” way.

Now the fixed use of the Jesus prayer helps to produce within us a contemplative attitude. It helps to create silence within us. The Jesus prayer is a prayer in words, but because the words are very simple and constantly repeated, in and through the words of the Jesus prayer we reach out into the living silence of God. Sometimes yes, in our prayer, we can simply wait on God and not say anything. Those are very precious moments, but if we try to do this regularly we may find that in practice we are simply subject to endless wandering thoughts. We can’t by a simple act of will turn off the internal television set. So the Jesus prayer gives us in our prayer time a specific way of praying, a practical method which can help to gather us in prayer, can help us to overcome wandering thoughts, can help us to attain through words an attitude of silence, of waiting on God, of listening to Him. So that would be the way I understand the place of the Jesus prayer in our set prayer times, the “fixed” use.

But I at once would add: the Jesus prayer is not compulsory. We are not to say it is the only way of praying; we are not to say even it is the best way of praying. All I wish to say for the Jesus prayer is it has helped very many people. It has helped me. It may help you too; but it is not compulsory.

As to the “free” use, it would seem that its aim to help us to find Christ everywhere. Father Alexander Schmemann says in his excellent book For the Life of the World the Christian is the one who wherever he looks sees everywhere Christ and rejoices in Him. So the free use of the Jesus prayer helps us to see Christ everywhere. It helps us to bring Christ into the different moments of our daily life so that our awareness of God’s presence with us is not just limited to our set prayer time, but flows over into the day so that as we go about our familiar tasks while performing those tasks with full attentiveness we can also become aware that Christ is with us wherever we are and whatever we do. So the Jesus prayer bridges the gap between prayer time and work time. It helps us to turn our work into prayer. Paul says “pray without ceasing” not just morning and evening, not just seven times a day, but without ceasing, continually. How are we to do that? Perhaps the first step is to use very frequent prayers, to have throughout the day moments of prayer. The prayer may not be continuous but it will become more and more frequent, and that is the first step to fulfilling Saint Paul’s injunction. So the Jesus prayer helps to make the whole world a sacrament of God’s presence. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we feel that Christ is with us. And many people feel called to use the Jesus prayer in this free way, even though that perhaps they may not use the Jesus prayer in their set prayer times in the fixed way. That’s perfectly alright. Each should follow the path of prayer to which each feels personally called, with the guidance of course of their spiritual father or spiritual mother.

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