Partakers of the Divine Nature : An Orthodox Christian Theological Consideration of Holy Communion, Parts 1 & 2

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Partakers of the Divine Nature :
An Orthodox Christian Theological Consideration
of Holy Communion
Part 1
16-17 February, 1995 (edited and revised 2015)
[Lecture given at Saint Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan]

I am beginning this Orthodox theological consideration of Holy Communion with theological considerations. This background is necessary in order that we may hope to understand how Orthodox Christians behave (a mystery in itself), and how the Orthodox properly approach Holy Communion. In the course of my reflections, I am going to refer to some of the sayings of the Fathers of the Church. These Fathers are persons whose sayings, whose sermons, whose answers to questions, whose treatises help to frame our understanding of Holy Communion and all other aspects of our Orthodox life. Some of the Fathers are early, the ones we generally recognise as the greater authorities such as Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint John of Damascus. Other early ones are desert types ; others are more recent. Here I will add that although we may almost automatically assume that the term “Fathers” applies to the period of the Cappadocians, for instance, and that it is limited to persons of that historical period, in fact the term applies to significant persons in all ages, even the present. In the same way that the age of miracles is not past, so the time of the Fathers not past. Just to keep us on our toes, amongst the Orthodox, the term “Fathers of the Church” includes Mothers as well.

Another important basic fact to note is that when one is looking in indices of patristic writings for references on Holy Communion or the Eucharist, one finds that they are surprisingly limited. This is for a good reason. Never in the history of the Orthodox Church has this matter been considered in isolation from the totality of Orthodox Christian life in experience. Holy Communion is part of a completely interdependent and interrelated whole, which is not able to be precipitated out of context for independent study and isolated analysis. A concrete example of what I mean can be found in the introduction to a book which I have read, Holy Women of Russia by Brenda Meehan, published in 1993 by Harper, San Francisco. She says :

I have had great difficulty in writing this book. I am convinced now that it is because the women I am writing about – vibrant, spiritually intense women – didn’t like the way I was originally telling their story, making it part of a dry, scholarly analysis of the rise of women’s religious communities in nineteenth-century Russia. It had been my intention to analyze in tidy chapters various aspects of these communities, including their origins, statistical profiles of their founders, the economic resources and institutional structures of the communities, the socioeconomic characteristics of the members, and their cultural significance in pre-revolutionary Russia. But these women jumped up from the pages, refusing to be neatly contained within my chapters and within a framework that stressed the sociohistorical at the expense of the spiritual.

In this context, I would hasten to add to her words “and at the expense of the personal”. The word “spiritual” can be taken nowadays in a distanced, isolated and even detached way. However, the word “personal” both demands and implies relationship. Relationship on the level of being itself is what is involved in our perception of the meaning of Holy Communion.

When I was thinking about how to speak about Holy Communion, I found myself in the same position as Brenda Meehan. As a last introductory comment, I will reminisce a little, as is commensurate with my advancing age. It was about thirty years ago that I first came to Saskatoon on a mid-winter trip with the University of Alberta mixed chorus. I must say that that visit was a truly chilling experience (it was in February). However, it was compensated for by Saskatoon hospitality. In those days, following the ordinary course of student life, in between the lengthy reflections on the meaning of life in various coffee shops, I was taking some courses in philosophy, and studying (amongst other things) metaphysics. We followed the course of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and we reviewed the proofs for the existence of God. Although the whole experience was very taxing, I have been happy for the experience. These arguments have proved to be quite helpful in many discussions with searching hearts since then. However, there is the catch that Saint Thomas himself understood, and that was pointed out by a very patient professor : the leap of faith. Through the blessing of Irish humour, we were taught that although one may rationally achieve a logical acceptance of the existence of God, that in itself is not enough. This leap of faith has to occur before what is called “belief” can be achieved. Belief is illustrated as being something like “confidence” or “trust”, such as that confidence or trust in a chair or table to hold up one’s weight when sitting upon it. However, we had better not let ourselves get caught sitting on a table in Orthodox circles (because there is a special respect for tables). It is the leap of faith that enables the confidence or the trust in God’s existence, and beyond that there is relationship.

Philosophy is a useful tool but it is not theology, and I am supposed to be speaking about a theological understanding of Holy Communion. However, I do not think I can do that quite yet. If we are treating the word “theology” as if it were some sort of philosophy, then there will be trouble in understanding the Orthodox perspective. It is necessary to take another moment to recall what theology is. The word “theology” means words about God, speaking about God. However, it does not mean that we simply take any set of propositions about God and then begin to debate them, or even to adjust them according to our personal liking. True theology is the result of the experience of God. It is not only the result of my experience of God ; it is also the result of our experience of God. It is not only the result of the experience of God here and now of this small group here in Saskatoon, but it is also the common experience of those who have encountered God, who have experienced God, and most pointedly who have experienced God as Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years and more. A theologian is not someone who knows a considerable amount about God, about history, councils, debates, arguments, ecclesiology, soteriology, Biblical tradition, translations, hermeneutics and so forth. A theologian is not a person who has written papers and theses, attended many a lecture, and received a Ph.D. in theology. Most of all, a theologian is not someone who is original. A theologian is a person who has had experience of God and who, following the exhortation of 1 Peter 3:15, is prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls him or her to account for the hope that is in him or her. The theologian attempts to find words that are adequate not only to convey the experience of God, but also words that are the most adequate to speak about what is ineffable. Indeed, as we say in the prayer for blessing water at Theophany, there are no words sufficient to describe God’s wonders. The authentication of this experience and this defence is found in its conformity to the common experience of Orthodox Christians at all times, in all places, and by all. In his The Commonitorium (4:3), Saint Vincent of Lérins elaborates on this. The Apostle helps us to comprehend this in his words : “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Even this understanding of the stability of the Godhead is not something new, since we see it as God reveals Himself to Moses at Mount Sinai in 2 Moses [Exodus] 3:6 : “‘I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’”. This self-revelation is at the foundation of God’s promised salvation. One of the most striking differences between East and West in Christian experience can be seen in the fact that while the Orthodox in the so-called East have always given Holy Communion to infants (in fact, from the moment of baptism), in the West for many hundreds of years this has been withdrawn until the variously-timed “age of discretion”. The long-held requirement in the West is that the person must know and understand what is being received. On the other hand, for the Orthodox, there has never been such a requirement. There is no judgement made amongst us about the ability to reason, to perceive just what is happening ; for we have, we do, and we will give Holy Communion not only to infants, but also to those older persons who are incapable for various reasons of having any intellectual ability to comprehend anything : to those who are in comas, and similar conditions. On the other hand, amongst these very Orthodox, there are still many who do not and have not frequently received Holy Communion. This non-reception came into being mainly because of the very acute awareness of the poisonous effects of sin in our lives. It is very important, however, to look first at the foundation of our Orthodox perception before paying too close attention to the results of sin, and to the mysterious, negative effects that sin has on people’s lives.

Every day, near the beginning of Matins, we sing the refrain : “The Lord is God and has revealed Himself to us ; blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” (see Psalm 117:26, 27). In this phrase is found the foundation of the Orthodox theological approach, and the fundamentals of our understanding of Holy Communion. While we are at this place, I might as well say that it is here that we find our true roots in our Semitic, Judaic, Middle-Eastern foundation interpreted through Hellenism. From the very beginning, the Creator reveals Himself to the created. We see this at the beginning of 1 Moses [Genesis]. However we may choose to interpret the details of 1 Moses, the foundation of all 1 Moses can be found in God’s revealing Himself to mankind, His creation. He walks and talks with mankind before the Fall (and even after the Fall). However, there is an interesting detail for us to notice in the Creation-narrative, a detail that is not there for nothing. In chapter 1:26 we read : “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’”. This is repeated again in chapter 11:7 as God interrupts the handiwork of our pride, Babel : “‘Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language’”. A little farther along in chapter 18 we have the well-known appearance of God at the Oak of Mamre. Here we have the Lord repeatedly speaking in the singular but visibly represented in the form of three men or angels during the encounter with Abraham (and then in the form of two angels in the encounter with Lot in chapter 19). God reveals Himself to us as Community-of-Being : not only in language, but also in visible form, both in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament. In the New Testament, this is most particularly so at the moment of the Baptism of our Lord :

And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:10, 11).

More than this, God reveals Himself not as a mere abstract community of being, but as the Community-of-Persons amongst whom there is an active interaction and an inter-relationship rooted in Love. Thus, when we are speaking about the Holy Trinity, we must always try hard to avoid using the word “it”.

This interaction and inter-relationship (which all the Holy Fathers admit is founded in love) is not self-enclosed. It reaches out ; it creates life and invites a relationship with what is created. The life of the Holy Trinity begets life in love, then maintains a similarly loving and personal relationship with the created. The Lord God reveals Himself to us. The Lord intends that this revelation, this reaching out to us, should bring about a living relationship between us and Him, and that this relationship is, in fact, communion with Him. This communion is the communion of love. It is the communion of love, because, as we well know, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). This fact is evident also from the time of the Creation. It is a communion of the life-giving love which invites imitation. Human beings will imitate the selfless, life-giving love of God in obedience motivated by this very love.

It is for that reason that we rehearse the great elements of this revelation at important liturgical moments. In the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, we participate in this repetition of the historical revelation, and also in the Mystery of Baptism, and in the Great Blessing of Waters at Theophany. God is revealing Himself to us : in the Creation ; at Mamre ; at the Red Sea ; at Sinai ; in the Judges and Prophets, in holy persons of all ages ; and then in culmination, in the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word of God who takes flesh, and in the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in celebrating the Divine Liturgy, we bring into the present moment all the past saving acts of the Holy Trinity (and even the future ones). We even commemorate the Second Coming. We are celebrating all these past, present and future events because we participate in them and we have a personal relationship with them.

This personal relationship with the Holy Trinity is not concerned with something extra to what we do. It is not merely a part of or a mere facet of who and what we are. It is not a mere factor in our existence, nor is it anything extra. This personal relationship constitutes our very existence and purpose. This relationship unites us with all the saving acts of history. This personal relationship is enacted on the level of our very being. It is the substance, the foundation of who we are. Who we really are as persons can only be discovered in the perfection of the relationship with God who created us. The more deeply we are identified with God, with the living out of His love and the imitation of Him, the more we truly are ourselves. This is so, because then we are more approximately what God created us to be in the first place. The more we insist on a life of our own choosing, and neglecting our communion with God in living our life, the more we become instead a parody of ourselves (or even a distortion of ourselves).

While we are reflecting upon these matters, it must also be said that if one is going to try to understand the Orthodox theology of Holy Communion, one must take continually into consideration the mystery of the Body of Christ as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, and to some extent in the following chapter. At the same time, the very nature and purpose of the Eucharistic Assembly must be recalled, as Father Alexander Schmemann strongly points out at the beginning of his book, The Eucharist (published in 1987 by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press) :

‘When you assemble as a church …’ writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 11:18]. For him, as for all of early Christianity, these words refer not to a temple, but to the nature and purpose of the gathering. As is well known, the very word “church" means “a gathering” or “an assembly,” and to ‘assemble as a church’ meant, in the minds of the early Christians, to constitute a gathering whose purpose is to reveal, to realize the Church.

This gathering is eucharistic—its end and fulfilment lies in its being the setting wherein the “Lord’s Supper” is accomplished, wherein the eucharistic “breaking of bread” takes place. […] Thus, from the very beginning we can see an obvious, undoubted triunity of the assembly, the eucharist, and the Church, to which the whole early tradition of the Church, following St Paul, unanimously testifies.

Once again, I am trying to cram everything into too small a box. For those who have the background to understand it, I want to recommend reading the book by Metropolitan John of Pergamos (whose family name is Zizioulas), Being as Communion (published by Saint Vladimir’s Press in 1985). This book was written before he became a bishop. As a related resource, the book by Aristides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, was also published by Saint Vladimir’s Press in 1994.

We believe that for the sake of love, for the sake of enabling us to be restored to the personal communion with God (which we, ourselves, have rejected and broken), the Word of God took flesh, lived, died at our hands, rose again, destroying the power of Hades, and ascended into Heaven. He left us the Divine Liturgy of His Body and Blood in order to feed us, to maintain and increase the unity and identity between ourselves and Himself. In the light of this and all that has been said above, here is what is said by some Fathers :

[…] O blessed Paul […] do you give the title “cup of blessing” to that fearful and most tremendous cup? ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘and the expression is no mean title. For when I call it “blessing”, I mean thanksgiving, and when I call it thanksgiving, I unfurl all the treasures of God’s goodness, and call to mind those mighty gifts’. […] We are giving Him thanks that He has delivered the whole race of mankind from error ; that being far off, He made them near ; that when they had no hope, and were without God in the world, He constituted them His own brethren and fellow-heirs. For these and all such things, giving thanks, thus we approach, giving thanks for these and all such things. […] We communicate not only by participating and partaking, but also by being united […].

[I will add here parenthetically that Saint John, when he uses the word “blending” is not suggesting a sort of wadding together of us in indistinction nor a blending of us into some sort of indistinct life. He is saying that while being united to the Source of life that is God, we are remaining still the unique creation that we are as particular persons.]

Look, I entreat [you] : a royal table is set before you ; angels are ministering at the table ; the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping ? Are your garments defiled, and yet you make no account of it ? or are they clean ? Then fall down and partake. […] You have sung the Hymn with the rest ; you have declared yourself to be of the number of those who are worthy by not departing with those who are unworthy. Why stay and yet not partake of the table ? ‘I am unworthy,’ you will say. Then are you also unworthy of that communion you have had in prayers ? For it is not by means of the offering only, but also by means of those canticles, that the Spirit descends all around. […] So that I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching. […] What then is our hope of salvation ? We cannot lay the blame on our weakness ; we cannot lay it on our nature. It is indolence and nothing else that renders us unworthy (Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 3 on Ephesians 1”).

[Saint John Chrysostom was dealing with people not significantly different from ourselves.]

We are the temple of Christ ; we kiss the porch and entrance of the temple when we kiss each other. […] And through these gates and doors Christ has both entered into us and does enter, whensoever we communicate. You who partake of the mysteries, understand what I say : for it is in no common manner that our lips are honoured when they receive the Lord’s Body. It is chiefly for this reason that we, here, kiss (Saint John Chrysostom in “Homily 30 on 2 Corinthians 13”).

[Now you know why we Orthodox kiss each other very often.]

‘Give us this day our daily bread’. These words may be taken either spiritually or literally, because in the divine plan, both readings are helpful for your salvation. The bread of life is Christ ; now this is not everyone’s bread, but it is ours. […] We call this ‘our bread’ because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body. We ask that this bread be given to us daily, lest we, who are in Christ and receive the Eucharist every day as the food of salvation, be separated from His Body by some grave sin that keeps us from communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, "Treatise 4 on the Lord’s Prayer").

[…] With fullest assurance, let us partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, for in the figure of the Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of wine His Blood, that you, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, might be made of the same body and blood with Him. For thus we become Christ-bearers. […] Thus it is, according to blessed Peter, that we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).

Christ, on a certain occasion, conversing with the Jews said : ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’ (John 6:53). […] Contemplate therefore, the bread and the wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. […] Let faith establish you (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catechetical Lectures" : 'On the Mysteries, 4').

Whenever we unworthy ones are thought to be worthy to be admitted, with fear and dread, to the Divine and undefiled Mysteries of Christ, our God and King, then let us all the more show forth sobriety, watchfulness of mind and strict attention, so that our sins and our small and great uncleanness may be destroyed by the Divine Fire, that is, by the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For when it enters into us, it straightaway drives from our hearts the spirits of wickedness, and it does away with our sins of the past, and the mind is left empty of the restless importunities of evil thoughts. If, after this we guard our mind strictly, and stand in the gate of our heart, then each time we are again counted worthy, the holy, sacred Divine Body will more and more brighten the mind and make it shine like a star […] (Saint Hesychius of Jerusalem, "Sobriety and Prayer").

Just as Eve was taken from the flesh and bones of Adam so the two formed one flesh, so Christ, in giving Himself to us in communion, gives us His own flesh and bones. This is indeed what He gives us to eat. Through Communion, He makes us one with Himself.

All those who believe in Christ become akin to Him in the Spirit of God, and form a single body. […] United to Him spiritually in this manner, each of us will form a single spirit with Him, and likewise one body, since we corporally eat His Body and drink His Blood ; […] one, I say, not according to the person, but [according] to the nature of the Deity and the Humanity : according to the divine nature, since we become god through adoption […].

Before all the ages, [God] has predetermined that those who believe in Him and are baptised in His Name (the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), and eat the sinless flesh of His Son, and drink His precious Blood, would be justified by this, that is, glorified, and would become partakers of life eternal […].

If you want to know whether I am speaking the truth, become a saint by practicing the commandments of God, and then partake of the Holy Mysteries. Then you will understand the full import of this statement (Saint Symeon the New Theologian, "Ethical Chapters")

But when Christ dwells in us, what else is needed, or what benefit escapes us? When we dwell in Christ, what else will we desire? […] What good thing is lacking for those who are in such a state? What have they to do with wickedness who have entered such brightness? What evil can withstand so great an abundance of good? What evil thing can continue to be present or enter from without when Christ is so evidently with us, and completely penetrates and surrounds us?

The Eucharist, alone of the sacred rites, supplies perfection to the other Mysteries. […] So perfect is this Mystery, so far does it excel every other sacred rite, that it leads to the very summit of good things. Here also is the final goal of every human endeavour. For in it we obtain God Himself, and God is united with us in the most perfect union; for what attachment can be more complete than to become one spirit with God? (Saint Nicholas (Cabasilas), "The Life in Christ".)

[My soul], repent of your yearnings for this world and all that is in this world. For the world is the graveyard of your ancestors, which is gaping and waiting for you. Just a little longer, and you will be ancestors, and will yearn to hear the word “repentance,” but will not hear it (Saint Nikolai (Velimirovic), "Prayers by the Lake").

In the Gospel the Lord says : ‘I AM the Truth’ (see John 14:6). He said not ‘I am the custom’. Therefore, the truth being manifest, let custom yield to truth (Bishop Lavosas of Vaga, at the Council of Carthage in 256).

When Pontius Pilate asked our Lord, “‘What is truth ?’” (John 18:38), he asked the wrong question ; for truth is not a “what” but a “Who”, as we have just heard. Very often, in trying to understand the mysteries of God, we get caught in the same sort of bind by asking the wrong question. If we ever dare to think that we can fully understand the mysteries of God (and most particularly the mystery of the Eucharist), we will do nothing but ask the wrong questions. To ask anything at all is difficult because in the Orthodox understanding, in approaching the mystery of Holy Communion, we see that everything is inter-related. Everything and everyone is connected to, and influencing, and influenced by everyone and everything else. So much is this so, that if we are asked how many sacraments there are, our answer will be : “God knows”. It is in fact, one, or numberless. The total of what we commonly distinguish as separate sacraments are, in fact, all linked tightly together, all knit together so as to be almost inseparable, albeit that they are distinct acts. Every time God confers Grace upon us, we perceive this event to be a “sacrament”, including the holy kissing that we heard Saint John Chrysostom describe. The sacraments are multitudinous. They are all a reflection of the life of the Holy Trinity.

It is the bishop who is the chief celebrant of every Eucharistic Liturgy in his diocese. In his person he focusses the perpetuation of the Tradition of Christ, of the true belief in the Holy Trinity. At his ordination to the Holy Episcopate, he is asked by the presiding bishop : “How do you believe ?” The bishop-to-be answers with the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed which we daily re-affirm and which we confess from our baptism :

I believe in one God, the Father almighty :
Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible ;
and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten,
begotten of the Father before all ages :
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made ;
of one essence with the Father ;
through whom all things were made ;
who for us Men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became Man ;
and He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried ;
and the third day, He rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures ;
and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father ;
and He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead ;
whose Kingdom shall have no end ;
and in the Holy Spirit : the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father ;
who, with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified ;
who spoke by the prophets ;
in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church ;
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins ;
I wait for the resurrection of the dead ;
and the life of the age to come. Amen.

The presiding bishop blesses him, and invokes the Grace of the Holy Trinity ; and then, to clarify, the bishop-to-be is asked to speak in greater detail about his Trinitarian and Christological Faith. Thus, he responds with a second Confession of Faith :

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible : who is without beginning, unbegotten, and without cause, but is Himself the natural beginning and cause of the Son, and of the Spirit.

I believe in His only-begotten Son : without change, and without time, begotten of the Father, being of one essence with Him ; through whom all things were made.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the same Father : who with Him is glorified as co-eternal, and co-enthroned, being of one essence with Him, of equal glory, and the Author of creation.

I believe that the only-begotten Word, one of that same super-essential, and life-giving Trinity, came down from Heaven for us Men, and for our salvation. He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became Man ; that is, He became perfect Man, yet remained God. In no manner was His divine essence changed by His participation in the flesh, nor was He transmuted into anything else. Without change, He assumed Man’s nature, in which He suffered, and died, although in His divine nature He was free from all suffering. On the third day, He rose from the dead ; He ascended into Heaven, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father. Furthermore, I confess the one Person, the Word made flesh. I believe and proclaim that Christ is one and the same in two natures after His incarnation, preserving those things which were in them, and from them. Therefore, I also adore two wills, in that each nature retains its own will, and its own action.

I believe those traditions and teachings of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which have been received from God, and from men-of-God.

I reverence, but not in the way of worship, the icons of Christ Himself, and of the all-pure Birthgiver-of-God, and of all the saints, holy, and worthy of reverence. The honour that I address to them, I direct to their originals. I reject and deny those who think and teach otherwise, as persons ill-advised.

I confess truly and sincerely our Lady, Mary, the Birth-giver-of-God, as having given birth in the flesh to one of the Trinity — Christ our God.

May the same Birth-giver-of-God be my helper, protector, and defender, all the days of my life. Amen.

This is the foundation of what all Orthodox Christians at all times and in all places believe. Further, it is this foundation that supports the whole of our life. It undergirds our appearing as the Body of Christ, our assembling as the Church. Our Confession of Faith penetrates our thanksgiving, and our offering of ourselves and the whole of our being. It mingles with our commemoration of the living, the dead, the saints, the saving acts of God, our participation in Holy Communion. It profoundly affects every aspect of our life as we step out to meet people and events that will put our relationship with Christ to the test. Our Confession of Faith is all concerned with our relationship with Christ, being in love with Christ, being one with Christ, being found in Christ, being alive in Christ. It is as these great phrases from the Divine Liturgy indicate : “Your own of Your own, we offer to You on behalf of all and for all”. This “for all” does not mean merely those of us who are standing here, but for all : everyone and everything. When, in the Anaphora, we come to the end of our commemoration of the departed and the living, we remember our bishop, asking that the Lord will protect him in all things and enable him rightly to divide the word of truth. The faithful respond, “And everyone and everything”. This reveals the interdependent unity of the faithful and the bishop, the assembly and all creation.

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Partakers of the Divine Nature :
Holy Communion through the Centuries
amongst Orthodox Christians
Part 2
16-17 February, 1995 (edited and revised 2017)
[Lecture given at Saint Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan]

As I speak about Holy Communion through the centuries in the Orthodox Tradition, I hope that you will not expect my presentation to be any more systematic than in the talk last night. I learnt to be systematic a long time ago, but somehow, every time I try to present what we believe in a systematic way – mishmash is the result. I leave it to you to sort it all out yourselves.

The Canons of the Holy Apostles may not be precisely that, but it can be accepted that they derive from the experience of the Early Church in the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic times. Their influence on our Church’s interior life remains to this very day.

These are quotes from Canons 8 and 9 of the Holy Apostles that refer to Holy Communion.

If any bishop, presbyter or deacon, or anyone on the sacerdotal list, when the Offering [that means the Divine Liturgy] is made, does not partake of it, let him declare the cause ; and if it be a reasonable one, let him be excused ; but if he does not declare it, let him be excommunicated as being a cause of offence to the people, and occasioning a suspicion against the offerer, as if he had not made the offering properly (Canon 8).

All the faithful who come in and hear the Scriptures, but do not stay for the prayers and the Holy Communion, are to be excommunicated, as causing disorder in the Church (Canon 9).

These sentiments are re-iterated in Canon 2 of the Synod at Antioch in Syria in 341. At this point, of course, it is necessary to say that excommunication as mentioned here does not in any way imply a permanent condition. When anyone says that magic word “excommunication”, all sorts of assumptions leap into the mind : utter separation, outer darkness, and so forth. That is not what excommunication means at all. It means for us now precisely what it meant for the Early Church.

If anyone is excommunicated for whatever reason, it is in fact usually the person who does it to him/herself. There is no episcopal decree coming down that so and so is “out”. The person by improper behaviour takes him/herself out of communion with the Church. This fact of alienation is recognised by the rest of the believers, and it is understood that a time of repentance is necessary to restore that communion. The person has to be prepared to admit that the behaviour was divisive, even perhaps deliberately so, and that this behaviour has to be corrected. The rest of the community should be convinced that the person is sincerely repentant, and then communion is restored. If the person is cut from communion, this is understood as being medicinal, not punitive. If there is anything that people have to understand about how we Orthodox approach interior Church discipline, it is that it is not punitive. It is always medicinal.

What the citing of these canons reveals is not that we like to excommunicate people, but rather the importance the Church has placed on the total participation in the Eucharistic Offering, particularly on the Lord’s Day. We have evidence that in apostolic times people might receive Holy Communion every day. Last night we heard Saint Basil speaking about that very practice even in the fourth century. There was a strong sense of need to receive Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ every Sunday. It is well known that, in those days, if anyone would be absent from the Divine Liturgy without good excuse for three consecutive Sundays, that person would be excommunicated for treating the sacrament lightly until there would be repentance demonstrated.

Eucharistic participation did not and does not carry the sense of simply receiving Holy Communion, and especially not “my” Communion. Reception as such is part of the whole and cannot be understood without the whole. In the Early Church times, even receiving Holy Communion as a sick person was taken seriously as doing so as a part of, and along with the whole. It was customary for a presbyter (or more often a deacon) to take Holy Communion to the sick immediately after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. In fact, to this day this is standard practice amongst the Egyptians, who, for the sake of safety, do not keep the Holy Mysteries in reserve. Let us remember the country they live in, and how many martyrs are produced in the Egyptian Church every year just by their environment.

It might now be asked : “Part of the whole what ?” The first answer is : “Part of the whole Divine Liturgy”. However, this cannot be the complete answer, because the Divine Liturgy is not an end in itself nor isolated in any way. The Divine Liturgy is the greatest example of inclusiveness. It makes present all the saving acts of God. It makes us partakers of the Divine Nature. It includes and affects all the faithful : past, present and future. It realises the Body of Christ in the fullest sense of that term. It encompasses and enables the renewal of all creation. It puts us in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Paradise of God. It makes visible what is expressed by the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 11) : the coming together of believers in unity, in order and in love for the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner.

All this may sound fine in theory, one might say, but for the Orthodox Christian there is no sense of abstraction or disconnection with so-called practical reality in all this. It must be understood that there is no division between what we believe and what we do. There is an expression in vogue these days : Orthodoxy is inseparable from Orthopraxy.

Therefore, the whole life of an Orthodox Christian is expected to be focussed on the Eucharist, both preparing for it and working from it. As Saint John of Kronstadt, an early twentieth-century saint, says in his work, My Life in Christ :

Both public and private prayer are necessary in order that we may lead a truly Christ-like life, and that the life of the Spirit should not become extinct in us. It is indispensible that we should attend divine services in church with faith, zeal and understanding just as it is indispensible to provide a lamp with fuel or power if it is to burn and not go out.

What does the Holy Church instill in us by putting into our mouths during prayer, both at home and in church, prayer addressed not by a single person, but by all, together ? She instills in us constant mutual love, in order that we should always love one another as our own selves – in order that, imitating God in Three Persons, constituting the highest unity, we should ourselves be one formed of many : ‘that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us’ (John 17:21).

Common prayer on the part of all teaches us also to share the things of the earth with others, to share our needs, so that in this life also we may have all things in common and as one – that is, that mutual love should be evident in everything, and that each one of us should use his ability for the good of others, not hiding his talent in the ground, that he should not be selfish and idle [...].

By means of its divine services, the Orthodox Church educates us for heavenly citizenship […] by giving to us ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3). Therefore it is urgently necessary for us intelligently, reverently and willingly to assist at the divine services of the Church, particularly on festivals, and to make use of the sacraments of Penitence and Holy Communion. But those who withdraw themselves from the services of the Church become victims of their vices, and are lost.

If the Lord give Himself in His Divine Mysteries every day, ought we not absolutely to give freely, for nothing, perishable goods such as money, food, drink, clothes to those who ask them of us ? And how can we be angered with those who eat our bread for nothing, when we ourselves partake freely of the priceless and immortal Food of the Body and Blood of the Lord ?

The utter centrality in and necessity to the life of the Orthodox Christian of the Divine Liturgy and ipso facto the receiving of Holy Communion, is thoroughly underlined in what Saint John has said. Not only does it unite us to Christ and to each other, but it also enables the Christ-like, selfless, loving life that is the expression of this union, which we hear described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in chapter 2.

Full participation in the Divine Liturgy also reveals and makes present the fact, as the Apostle says in the same letter (Philippians 3:20), that our citizenship is in Heaven. Of course, this is not to say that every Orthodox Christian is always aware or conscious of all this all the time. Far from it. However, the Orthodox Christian, aware of his or her sins, will nevertheless sense much of this almost by instinct.

Saint Augustine of Hippo says in his commentary on the Psalms :

Many, it is true, approach the Altar you see here, unworthily, and God permits His sacraments to be profaned for a time. Nevertheless, my brethren, will the heavenly Jerusalem resemble these visible walls ? By no means. You may enter with the wicked into the walls of this church ; but you will not enter with the wicked into Abraham’s bosom. Have no fear therefore : wash your hands clean.

Not only is Holy Communion the object of our life in Christ and the end of our life, it is also the means to that end. It is that spiritual food by which we are enabled to hope to come into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Once again, Saint Basil the Great sets before us the proper standard, and at the same time reveals the practice of the fourth-century Church (quoted from Letter No. 93) :

Daily Communion and participation in the Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a good and helpful practice. He [that is, the Lord] clearly says : ‘Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life’ (John 6:54). Who doubts that to partake of life continually is really to have a life of abundance ? For myself, I communicate four times a week : on the Lord’s Day, on Wednesday, on Friday and Saturday, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of a martyr. If in times of persecution, individuals under this compulsion give themselves Holy Communion with their own hands, without the presence of priest or minister, this raises no difficulty. In fact, there is no need to point this out, since long-established custom has sanctioned the practice under pressure of circumstances.

All the hermits in the desert, when there is no priest, keep the Holy Mysteries at home and give it to themselves. In Alexandria and Egypt, it is the general rule for each member of the laity to keep the Holy Mysteries at his own house.

Once the priest has completed the sacrifice, and has given the Holy Communion, he who has received it as one whole portion is bound to believe, as he participates day by day, that he rightly partakes of it and receives it from Him who gave it. Even in the church, the priest gives a portion and the recipient retains it, with complete power to do what he will, and brings it to his mouth with his own hands.

This is another quote from Saint Cyprian of Carthage :

As the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose, that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is needful that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord’s abundance. For how do we teach or inspire them to shed their blood in confession of His Name, if we deny to those who are about to enter into warfare, the Blood of Christ ? Or how do we make them firm for the cup of martyrdom if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord in Holy Communion ?

We see here first in Saint Basil, the very strong sense of the utter importance and centrality of receiving Holy Communion very often, even every day. We see, too, that in some places, the laity could have the Holy Mysteries at home for daily reception. At the same time, we see that Saint Cyprian has precisely the same attitude towards its value : the utter necessity for the Holy Mysteries in the life of the Christian, whether it be in a time of persecution or not. However, Saint Cyprian gives hints (just as did Saint John Chrysostom in a previous quotation) that not every one of the Faithful was so prepared to receive. There have always been those who have fallen prey to sin and are tempted to take the receiving of Holy Communion, and by extension, their participation in the community of the Faithful, lightly.

We see the Apostle Paul rebuking those in Corinth who abused the sacramental feast by turning it into a picnic. We see Saint John Chrysostom complaining that some are participating of the Holy Mysteries without proper reverence or regard. And we have yet another quotation. This one is from a Syriac Father of the early seventh century, Saint Martyrius, from his Book of Perfection :

I shudder to mention something else that is the most dreadful thing of all done by people who show contempt at the dread moment which makes even the rebel demons shake : I mean at the awesome point when the Divine Mysteries are consummated. When angels and archangels hover around the Altar in fear and trembling, as Christ is sacrificed and the Holy Spirit hovers, many of these people will, on occasion wander about outside, or […] will come in according to their whim and stand there showing their contempt by yawning as at their excessive burden, being tired of standing up.

At that moment when the priest is making this great supplication on their behalf, deep sleep gets the better of them, so slack are they. At this moment which causes even the dead to awaken, here are these people, fully alive and supposedly running after perfection, nevertheless sunk in sleep or wandering about expectantly for when they can quickly leave their place of confinement ; for the Jerusalem of light and life is like a prison to these people – the place where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell, where spiritual beings and the bands of saints together give praise and glory before God in holy fashion (see Hebrews 12:28).

Again we see the awe with which the sacrament of Holy Communion was and is held, and the sinful response of some. There has been a tendency to find blame for this attitude in the fact that pagans had been admitted to the Church in large numbers in the fourth century. There is blame also laid at their feet in the decreasing numbers frequently receiving Holy Communion, particularly from about the seventh and eighth centuries.

There are some who like to suggest, as I have sometimes done myself, that the allegorical interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, as being in its action a re-enactment of the life of Christ by the priest, betrays an influence of pagan mystery religions ; that the movement into allegory has also served to distance the celebration of the Eucharist from the people.

There are also some who like to say that because of pagan penetration (and to protect the Holy Mysteries from profanation) there was discouragement to receive Holy Communion frequently, and thus it became less and less frequent. At the present, I think I see rather the continuous dark thread of sin throughout. I think that, in the light of our Lord’s saying : “’Many are called, but few are chosen’” (Matthew 22:14), there are some throughout all Christian history who deeply love the Lord and want to be pleasing to Him and to be like Him, and to obey Him and therefore to feed on Him. But there are others who, when they are confronted by the brightness of the glory of the love of God in Christ, recoil in pain and rebellion. Thus they shy away from receiving the Divine Food necessary for the life in Christ.

Let us examine the quotation from Saint Martyrius just cited. What characterises many of our modern Orthodox Christians ? For what do they even gain the admiration of some ? For precisely this inattentive wandering around and this disrespectful late-arriving and early-departing from the holy place of worship. So much is this so, that we ourselves think that we can allow ourselves to be disrespectfully casual. In our barbaric boorishness, we think it is acceptable to come late to the Lord’s banquet, to wander around, in and out, not to eat anything and to head off early. I can imagine the reaction we would get if we did this at a banquet of the Queen or the Governor-General. Is the Lord less than they ?

When the Orthodox are hearing the readings from the Holy Scriptures – from the Gospels or from the Epistles – and when the Orthodox are celebrating feasts of the Lord, all this is done and is heard as though the hearers were present at the event. What is spoken by any of the apostles or recounted in the Acts is taken to be spoken by us, here and now. The proper response is not : “Oh, those naughty Corinthians”, or “Oh, those Thessalonians”, or whoever. It is, rather, that we hear the Apostle addressing our sin, or exhorting us to zealous, active faithfulness. Besidess the original recipients, these letters are written to us who stand here hearing the words. That is why we call the Epistles and the Acts “The Apostle”.

It is the same with the readings from the Gospels. We who hear the words participate in the events, in the works of our Lord. We hear our Lord Himself speak to us in the here and now. In Holy Week, when we reread all the events of the Passion, we are not only hearing about it and sort of remembering it, we are participating in the very events. We are with our Lord in everything, both acclaiming and betraying Him. Yes, we are betraying Him since we are all sinners, and every sin is a betrayal. We could all be Judas. We are at the Last Supper with Him, and condemning Him, and we are by the Cross, and at the Tomb, and at the Resurrection. Then we are with the apostles during the forty glorious days of Pascha, and at the Ascension, and with the Mother of God and the apostles at the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

We are present at other sorts of events, too. We are at the Nativity ; we are at the Baptism. We are at the Presentation, the Annunciation, the Transfiguration and the Dormition. On the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in Pre-Lent, we identify ourselves with the Prodigal, and we are praying : “I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father […] and now I cry to You as the Prodigal : ‘I have sinned before You, O merciful Father […]’”. On the day of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem, we are saying to Him : “Like the children with the psalms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of Death : ‘Hosanna in the highest’”. On Great and Holy Thursday we pray to the Lord : “Of Your mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant […]”, and we identify with the repentant thief. On the Day of the Resurrection, we do not say that on this day Christ rose, but rather “is risen”, in the present tense. Thus the Resurrection Tropar declares in song : “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”.

Our identification with events continues on past the Paschal cycle. It shows itself in such feast-days as the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple : “Today is the prelude of the goodwill of God […]. The Virgin appears in the Temple of God […]. Let us rejoice and sing to her […]”. On the day of the Lord’s Nativity we sing : “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One […]”. At the Baptism we sing : “Today You have appeared to the universe, and Your light, O Lord, has shone on us […]”. At the Annunciation we sing : “Today is the beginning of our salvation […]”. All this shows concretely how we understand the telescoping, the compression of time, much in the way the Exodus is celebrated at the Passover. It also reveals that in celebrating the Eucharist, we encompass not only God’s saving acts throughout all history, but also every act and event of our daily life. What separates us from this perfection ? Sin and rebellious pride.

In all this I could have gone on at length about the eternal details of how we have adjusted our manner of serving the Divine Liturgy, and how the receiving of Holy Communion has been likewise adjusted to cultures, circumstances, and so forth. However, if we are truly to understand any of the adjustments, which are readily available in all sorts of books in English (and even more in French), it all has to be seen in the context of the French expression : “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. From the Council of Carthage (AD 256), Libosus, Bishop of Vaga (near Carthage in North Africa), said : “In the Gospel the Lord says : ‘I am the Truth’. He did not say : ‘I am the custom’. Therefore, the truth being manifest, let custom yield to truth”.

Regardless of how much we may progress technologically, we human beings are, in fact, no different from our forebears, for good or for ill. In our time, there are zealous Faithful who diligently fulfil the will of God. There are also those are bound in sin, and there are those who betray. Indeed, it can be very ugly. However, bad as things seem to be, it is better that we remember God’s word to the Prophet Elias at Horeb : “’You will leave seven thousand in Israel; all those whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and whose mouth has not kissed him’” (3 Kingdoms 19:18). In the midst of all, it is still through the Divine Liturgy, through the receiving of Holy Communion, that our Lord Jesus Christ unites us to Himself. He who is indeed “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) feeds us, enables us to live in Him, and enables us to serve each other in Him. It is the Lord who brings unity to the whole of our life, and indeed to the whole cosmos.

When the Orthodox do anything, it is understood that God’s blessing and participation must be invited into it. Therefore, we make the Sign of the Cross on bread before cutting it. After all, it is not simply bread from the supermarket that we are eating here. Nevertheless, all bread is in some way an indication of the Bread of Life (see John 6:35). Because of this, some believers do not accept that bread be cut, but rather they let it only be broken by hand. We certainly do not sit on tables. Why ? We do not sit on tables because the home is a small church, and the table in it is like the Holy Table in the Temple. We treat the table with the same respect as we do our eating at it which is related to the Eucharistic Feast in the Temple of the Lord in which the community participates. Saint Martyrius (from the same source) says to us again :

Indeed, anyone who has enjoyed the good things of an ordinary meal ought to render thanks for this enjoyment, otherwise he will be reckoned as animal-like and lacking in discernment. As one of the saints said : ‘A table from which the praise of God does not ascend is no different from an animal sty’. It is not that the table is reckoned to be like a sty, absolutely not, but rather the person eating from it resembles an animal, owing to his lack of thanksgiving. [And the use of the word ‘sty’ refers obliquely to a certain sort of animal.]

I would like to recommend to you Bishop Kallistos’ book, The Orthodox Church, in which he outlines the whole theology of Holy Communion as being based on the understanding and teaching of the sub-apostolic bishop and martyr, Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Even what Saint Ignatius said was not new nor an invention, but is a passing on of what he had already received, just as the Apostle Paul had done, as he tells us (see 1 Corinthians 11:23).

One of the characteristics of Orthodox Christians, one which makes us sometimes appear foolish or naïve, is the readiness to take most particularly the Gospel quite personally and even literally. For example, when someone is struck by Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to pray unceasingly (see Ephesians 6:18), this being struck is taken as a personal admonition by God, a personal call via the Apostle, and the person seeks to do so. Another might be struck by our Lord’s admonition to sell what one has, give it to the poor and follow Him (see Matthew 19:21), and then proceed to do so. Messages of repentance and personal encounters are abundant. The ability to receive them from the Lord is the fruit of participation in the Holy Mysteries. It does not matter if the person is simple and uneducated or a really well-educated scholar. A person such as Saint John Chrysostom knew well about literary criticism of the scriptural texts, for instance. However, that does not in any way conflict with, nor inhibit the Scripture’s ability to convey God’s personal communication with, and call to us, each and all. Saint John Chrysostom was as radically obedient to these messages from Scripture as anyone else.

Our behaviour might be called radical obedience. As the Gospel directs, we tend to put our relationship with Christ into concrete practice. Because of love, we try to serve persons. Hospitality, for which the Orthodox are known, comes from our loving desire to serve Christ, who comes to us in all visitors. Sometimes they are angels, like the guests of Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 18:1-8). Care for neighbours, friends, the poor, the needy, is likewise springing from the love of Christ.

Tender care for and communication with our environment is the ecological expression of this same loving relationship. As God, in His saving love for us, takes flesh for our salvation, so, for the salvation of the world, we reveal, we carry Christ in our flesh. Concretely and materially, we bring this being in love with Christ into every part of our living.

I do not wish to have been perceived as having been speaking merely about history, facts and practical matters. Therefore, I wish to close with the following two citations which point to the reality of humility and love as the foundation of our whole life. The first citation is from The Lives of the Desert Fathers (published by Mowbray in 1975 and introduced by Sister Benedicta Ward) :

When the father saw us, he was filled with joy, and embraced us, and offered a prayer for us. Then, after washing our feet with his own hands, he turned to spiritual teaching, for he was well-versed in the Scriptures, having received this charism from God. He expounded many key passages in the Scriptures for us, and having taught the Orthodox Faith, invited us to participate in the Eucharist. For it is a custom among the great ascetics not to give food for the flesh before providing spiritual nourishment for the soul, that is, the Communion of Christ. When we had communicated and given thanks to God, he invited us to a meal.

The second extract comes from Saint Maximus the Confessor’s Centuries on Love, taken from Drinking from the Hidden Fountain : A Patristic Breviary (Thomas Spidlik, published in 1994 by Cistercian Publications), p. 20 :

Do all you can to love everyone. If you are not yet able to, at the very least don’t hate anyone. Yet you won’t even manage this if you have not reached detachment from the things of the world. You must love everyone with all your soul, hoping, however, only in God, and honouring Him with all your heart. Christ’s friends are not loved by all, but they sincerely love all. The friends of this world are not loved by all, but neither do they love all.

Christ’s friends persevere in their love right to the end. The friends of this world persevere only so long as they do not find themselves in disagreement over worldly matters. A faithful friend is an effective protection. When things are going well, he gives you good advice and shows you his sympathy in practical ways. When things are going badly, he defends you unselfishly and he is a deeply committed ally.

Many people have said many things about love. But if you are looking for it, you will find it only in the followers of Christ. Only they have true love as their teacher is love. This is the love about which it is written : ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge […] but have not love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2). ‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him’ (1 John 4:16).

Despite all this, we have a tendency to think that the Desert Fathers are perhaps a thing of the past. We think that it was nice in those days. Well, I have news. Just two weeks ago, I was speaking with a nun who had spent some time in France. She had some difficulty in her community because the nuns were on the old and cranky side. Nevertheless, this nun said that she was deeply struck because before coming back to Canada, she met a nun who had long ago gone out and had, by herself, dug out a cave in a hillside. Winter and summer, she had to walk up and down a hill for one hour each way to fetch water. She had lived in the cave for twenty years.

It is not as though she had never seen people. God does not let hermits hide from people. People come to get a blessing from them. No-one had managed to stay with her until two years ago when there was an especially heavy winter in Belgium. A woman had come to stay two weeks with the hermitess, and they were snowed in. Neither of them could get out for the rest of the winter. This woman was shown by God that she had to learn from the nun (and she is now herself a nun). The nun herself learned through the experience of that winter that after twenty years, it was time that she go and live in a hut on the edge of an existing community so that she could live out the rest of her life with a little bit of help. The age of miracles is not past. The age of the Fathers is not past. The Lord invites us all today with the same love with which He has always invited us, with the same immediacy and radical demands with which He has always invited us.

We cannot participate in the Holy Mysteries of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ and then go about life as though nothing had happened. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in the world, but not of it. Whether we live as Orthodox Christians in the first, fourth, fifteenth, twentieth or thirtieth century, we must live out in the very practical way that Saint Maximus described, the reality of God’s love for us. We must live out this reality of the redeeming and saving acts of our salvation wrought by the Word of God who took flesh for us, for mankind and for our salvation.