by Archbishop Joseph Tawil
Eparch Emeritus of Newton


"The pure Temple had been destroyed; then, rising, He raised with Him the fallen tabernacle. For the second Adam who dwelt in the highest, had descended unto the first Adam in the uttermost chambers of Hades..."

"After three days in the tomb, You raised the Temple of Your Body with Adam, O Christ our God, and with him, You resurrected all his descendants" (Typikon and Beatitudes).






Chapter 1: The Liturgical Act

Chapter 2: The Church, The Christian Liturgical Assembly

Chapter 3: The Church, The Body of Christ According to the Apostolic Fathers

Chapter 4: The Church, The Body of Christ According to the Alexandrian Fathers

Chapter 5: The Church, The Body of Christ According to the Cappadocian Fathers

Chapter 6: The Church, The Body of Christ According to the Antiochian Fathers

Chapter 7: Liturgy, The Act of the Church

Chapter 8: Liturgy, The Mystery of Worship







Although this booklet is addressed to future deacons and aims at nurturing their spiritual life, any baptized Christian may find in it spiritual nourishment.

In addition to Holy Scripture, we have quoted extensively from the Fathers of the Church - our Fathers - and from liturgical texts, to show how seriously Christians of the early centuries understood their baptismal vows and lived their faith, even to the point of martyrdom. Although immersed in pagan culture, they succeeded in extracting the best from it and in creating a Christian culture, placed at the service of the Gospel. Has not every period of renewal in the Church coincided with a greater knowledge of the Fathers? In our advanced technology and secularized society, we can find no better masters to inspire us to make use of the scientific discoveries of our age for the benefit of the message of salvation. For them, being a Christian was not an abstract idea but meant being fully alive, since there is no life outside of God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The Holy Scriptures are not like ordinary books which soon decay, since in the Scriptures we find "the words of eternal life" and we must adjust our entire lives and conduct to their teachings. Theology, liturgy and spirituality are not to be disassociated from one another; they are different expressions of the same mystery of faith and "His Economia" (salvific plan), whereby we are trying to understand His marvelous designs, knowing in advance that whatever we know is according to our human measure and not God's, and to realize that we must bow before the mystery in the silence of adoration. This is precisely what we do in the Liturgy, praising God and glorifying His abundant mercy. Finally, we treasure all these wonders in our hearts and, like the Mother of God, we draw from them our spiritual nourishment. To do otherwise, i.e., to disassociate theology from the life of prayer, would be to remove the mystery of faith from our lives and deprive ourselves of its benefits, like going to the river and returning thirsty or attending a magnificent banquet and coming back hungry. We cannot deal with the miribilia Dei and not fall in love with Him and render to Him praise, adoration and thanksgiving. The cultivation of the sense of piety in ourselves and others, without which the sense of religion will disappear, is our primary aim. If we have attained it, then we can be assured that this work is worthwhile.




Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Such is the teaching of Scripture, abundantly commented upon by the Fathers of the Church. Adam, by his disobedience, ruptured the union with God and provoked a lack of balance in his faculties. This internal wrenching also was a social wrenching, in the very makeup of individuals as much as in centers naturally hostile to one another (DeLubac: Catholicism, p. 12). "The Devil," says St. Maximos, "man's seducer from the beginning, had divided him in his will with God; he had divided men one from another" (ibid). This was the disappearance of the likeness with God, not of His image, since the image of God is indestructible, however soiled the soul may be by sin. "Satan has scattered us," says St. Cyril of Alexandria. St. Maximos the Confessor says on his part, "And now we are ripping one another to pieces like wild beasts."

The work of of the redemption consisted in the re-establishment of this unity, first of all with God, with ourselves and then with our fellow-men, and thereby to re-establish the image of perfect man. It was Christ, perfect God and perfect Man, who restored humanity to its original unity. The mention of this new man about whom St. Paul speaks, is connected at the same time in the Epistle to the Colossians (3:10) to that of the unique image, "Image of Him who created him" and that of "Christ all in all." The new Man in the Epistle to the Ephesians (2:15) is explicitly assimilated to that unique Body to which the two enemy peoples must be united and reconciled, in order thereby to have access to the Father (Ibid.). "Putting on the totally new man," says St. Cyril of Alexandria, "is putting on him who is created in the image of God." "Divine mercy," says St. Augustine, "has gathered together the fragments from everywhere, has immersed them in the fire of its charity and reconstituted their sundered unity. Thus it is that God remakes that which He has made and reforms that which He has formed." In other words, sin was a dispersion, a rupture; redemption was a restoration, a recapitulation. Such is the mystery of which St. Paul speaks: "That God might make known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He has purposed in Him. In the dispensation of the fullness of times to re-establish all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:9-10).

"There were all kinds of miracles on Calvary," says St. Gregory of Nyssa, "God on a cross, the sun deadened, the veil of the temple rent in twain, blood and water flowing from His side, the earth trembling, stones breaking apart, the dead coming forth... Who shall worthily celebrate such wonders? But none is comparable to the miracle of my salvation: tiny drops of Blood renewing the entire world, and doing for all mankind such as what the sap of the fig tree does in making milk curdle - reuniting all men and binding us together as one."

Such is the Mystery-Church which, at the same time, is both visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, divine and human. "It is visibility outstretched and tangible, it is a Christophany, the visible Body of Christ, His pneuma" (Congar, Esquisse du Mystere de l"Eglise, p. 23).

"Christ," says Origen, "has such power that, invisible by His Divinity, He is present to all men and extends Himself to all the universe." Throughout all our lifetime, we shall have to copy and perfect in us the image of Christ and become like it, becoming in a certain way transparent to His presence and action in us. This will be the work of His grace and our lives in faith and charity which will accomplish this work of sanctification. This is what the Fathers of the Church call synergy, which means the cooperation of man with the grace of God.





"Even if the Divinity, which is above everything, is celebrated as Trinity or Unity, It is, however, neither three nor one, such as we know it among us as numbers" (St. Maximos the Confessor).

"There is only one single Church above and below, from which God has come to us, has been seen among us, has fulfilled that which was for us. The Liturgy, communion and contemplation of the Lord are but one single act, and it is fulfilled from above to here below" (Pseudo Sophronius).

Liturgy, (etymologically, Greek, ergon tou laou: Action of the people) is the act of worship of an organized community which leads to communion with the divinity and with its members. The liturgical act is common to all the religions of antiquity and has a certain number of characteristics we shall review.



"They were assiduous in prayer and in the breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:42). The Liturgy is the work of the people assembled together and acting, allowing them to be fulfilled in their deepest reality. Hence, the importance of celebrations and of feasts, in order to more surely attain the essence of a human community. It is also one of the rare ways by which a community can reach communion and closeness of personal interchange with the Godhead and among its members. The Christian Liturgy, by re-enacting the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, connects us with the Savior's passion, death and resurrection - He who is really present under the appearances of the sanctified bread and wine. The miracle of the Real Presence of the Lord causes our union with Him to be not magical, but sacramental, that is to say, effective and bilateral: Christ acting in and through the sacraments. "The totality of the mystagogy is like the representation of a body which is unique, to know the economy of the Savior's life, placing before our eyes, from beginning to end, all the members of this body in their mutual dependence and harmony" (Nicholas Cabasilas: A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, London, 1966). The faithful are at the same time the witnesses and the participants of this liturgical drama. The liturgy does not permit of any passive spectators, since it is by its very nature a "common action." "It is not the priest alone who gives thanks, but the entire people," says St. John Chrysostom, who also adds, "I have said all this, so that all may know that we are all one single body and that we do not distinguish one from another, save as one member from another, in order that we may not entrust everything to the priests alone, but so that we may be solicitous for the whole Church as for a body which we all share" (Commentary on Corinthians). "The offering pertains to everyone," says Theodore of Mopsuestia, "and it is shown to everyone, so that all may be able to share equally therein." "WE offer You your own from what is Your own, in all and for the sake of all," are the words of offering; and in the Epiclesis: "WE ask and pray and entreat: send down Your Holy Spirit upon US and upon these gifts here offered..." And so, from start to finish, the Liturgy is the dialogue of a community through the mouth of its president, with God, "who presides over the choir of those who are united by the bonds of love and offer thanks" (St. Justin Naplousa). In this community of life we always find: 1) a communitarian testimony concerning the redemptive incarnation; 2) everything done in common - a life of mutual assistance and edification; 3) the sharing in the sacraments and, especially after baptism, in the Eucharist, around which the entire Liturgy is built.



There can be no true liturgical action unless it brings into play the intelligence and free will of the one who make it. In other words, worship must be internal and be a response to the true feelings of the heart, lest it deserve the reproach of the prophet, repeated by Christ. "These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Vain is the worship they offer Me" (Isaias 29:13). The public and community character of the Liturgy is also at the same time personal, emanating from our love for God and for our Lord Jesus Christ. This worship must transform our life and make it conform to the teachings of the Gospel. Purely external worship is the opposite of the Gospel and is hypocritical. Salvation has individual and social dimensions that must not be separated, involving as it does, relationship to God and fellow man, and transforming in Christ both society and each person who is part of that society, which shapes him in turn.



Man being a spirit within a body, all liturgy must demand a certain ritual and gestures which have significance only in human relationships, such as bows, kisses, kneelings, blessings, invoking the Spirit, signs of the cross, breathing (insufflation) attitude of prayer, standing with outstretched hands, prayer facing East, offering the gifts, kissing the hand, etc. Because of the Incarnation, the Church rejects both Manichean and extreme spirituality. All these acts become vehicles of grace of the divine life, which expresses with respect to an inaccessible world what can be grasped by the senses. The Liturgy refines these gestures and purifies them so that they may become the visible signs of spiritual realities (cf. Dalmais, Initiation a la liturgie, pp. 14-18).

Vatican II considers the Liturgy "as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the Liturgy the sanctification of man is manifested by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which is proper to each of these signs; in the Liturgy full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is by the Head and His members." (Constitution on the Liturgy, par. 7).

The liturgy also entails a certain sacramentalism or a sacred use of elements and of things, since nature has a sacred meaning for men: light, colors, sounds, smells, which have become an integrating part of the liturgical action. The most universally recognized of all sacred uses of things is the community meal which places man in communion with his peers and with the Godhead. Fr. Dalmais warns, however, that a liturgy may become "humanized, place itself in particular circumstances, and run the risk of becoming atrophied whenever these gestures are no longer bearers of any meaning ... but become themselves the reason for their own existence (ibid., p. 18).



Liturgy as a community action draws attention to the symbolic value of its manners, gestures and words. A symbol is a bearer of meaning; it is in the relationship of belonging to that which surpasses reality or, more exactly, it is presented as being, in a certain manner, something else and more than it appears. "There is no liturgy which does not have, more or less explicitly the pretension of operating what it signifies; and it is this pretension which distinguishes the liturgical action from any other manner of representation. Thereby, also, the liturgy runs the risk of being reduced to magic, if it loses its reference to a transcendental reality on which the human action is based" (Dalmais, op. cit., p. 20).

Symbol: from the Greek symballein, to place together. A symbol refers to one thing, usually material, recalling something complementary that is more noble or spiritual.

Religious symbol refers to a spiritual reality. According to Origen "a symbol is a sign, a visible thing that evokes the idea of another invisible thing." The Greek Fathers' interpretation of the symbols is rooted in the Holy Scriptures. They love the typological symbols, particularly ones like Jonas who is associated by our Lord himself to His resurrection; Adam and paradise; Noah and the flood, signifying salvation by baptism; Moses and the Exodus or the liberation of man from the tyranny of sin; Joshua crossing into the Promised Land, pointing out the Divine life obtained through Jesus Christ; the manna anticipating the Eucharist; the Three Young Men in the furnace symbolizing the mystery of the Incarnation or the virginal womb carrying the fire of divinity without being burnt.

The sensible realities themselves manifest the invisible ones as expressed in the service of Theophany: "Christ brings sanctification to the water and it became a cleansing for our souls. That which is outward and visible is earthly, that which is inwardly understood is higher than heaven: salvation comes through washing and the Spirit through water; by descending into water we ascend to God."

The symbols of religion are of great importance. The symbol refers to its archetype which is spiritual. To destroy the symbol or to minimize its effects is to run the risk of destroying religion. On the other hand, to cut off the symbol from its spiritual meaning runs the risk of making of the symbol a magic thing. "Any spirituality that tries to eliminate symbolism in its cult tends to diminish man himself, since it is an attempt to reduce the human spirit to a naked intelligence... and since symbolism provokes an immediate ascent or movement of transcendence in its beholder, it offers one of the simplest and most powerful vehicles for expressing man's spontaneous attitudes and affections in the secular as well as in his religious life (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, p. 861).

While the Copts and East Syrians stress the transcendence of God, the Byzantine Syrians of the West stress more the presence of the divine in the world as it appears in some ceremonies: such as the prothesis and the cherubikon. Both Syrian families stress in their symbols the eschatological aspect of the glorious return of the Lord. "Except for some unusual cases, the Eastern Churches succeeded in employing these symbols to bring into prominence the eschatological aspects of the Christian liturgy without falling into a factitious and arbitrary form of allegory, as did the medieval Germanic and Celtic Churches" (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, p. 914).



We say that a person or thing (place, time, action) is sacred. The Sacred is a religious dimension, a relationship with that which is divine. The sacred in itself is not religion, but the sign of it. It signifies that the world does not have its explanation in itself, that it is dominated by forces which transcend the field of the senses and of experience and which man seeks to reconcile. It is the ontological sacred of the world of beings.

The sacred can also have another meaning, in the sense of setting apart. To the eyes of the unbeliever all spaces are homogeneous. It is not the same for the believer who perceives in the sacred an irruption of the Divine, something like an epiphany. These two senses are found in the Scriptures: the ontological sacred and the sacred which has been set apart. "The heavens are My throne and the earth My footstool! What house can you build for Me? Where is the place of My repose? My hand has formed all of that" (Iasias 66:1-2). Here is the ontological sacred. "Take off thy shoes from thy feet," said the Lord to Moses, "for thou standest upon holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). This is the sacred which has been set apart. It was the same with regard to the Temple and all the ordinances which governed it: That no one could serve in it except the House of Aaron and the Tribe of Levi. They alone could touch the Ark of the Covenant. In the Temple itself the Holy of Holies enjoyed a very exceptional setting-apart because the high priest alone could enter it and only once a year.



The sacred refers to transcendence, to the absolute measure of all things and which nothing can measure, which explains all things and which nothing can explain. This is the ontological sacred of the beings which came forth from the hand of God and which God found to be good.

"In Him we live and move and have our being," to repeat the words of pagan philosophers, consecrated by St. Paul (Acts 17:28). "All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life..." (John 1:3-4). Seen in this way, the sacred makes us perceive in all things the mystery of presence. From this, all Manichean visions of the world must be removed, since God is also the Savior of matter "which was made subject to vanity... in hope, because creation itself also will be liberated from its slavery to corruption into the liberty of the glory of God" (Romans 8:20-21). There is not God on the one hand as the principle of good, and matter on the other hand as the product of a god of evil. The unity of the world and its ontological goodness derive directly from the fact of its creation. The world exists because it was created, and Providence is continually remaking it. St. Basil tells us that "all things turn towards Him, looking at the creator and distributor of life with an irrestible desire and ineffable ardor."

The diminution of the sense of the sacred or its suppression in a secularized society fatally brings on the diminution or suppression of the relationship with that which is divine. The sense of the sacred, which is disappearing, is the mystery itself, which is vanishing, and, consequently, religion itself. Religion certainly presupposes intellectuality and morality, juridical and social, but it is not reduced to any of these subjects. Religion is "religious": it belongs to the realm of the mystery which is adored or rejected. Finally, the whole question is to know if the world first gets its existence from itself or from another - such as that which is sacred. Religion cannot be secularized; it is or it isn't. To desirre a Church emptied of its treasure (it is the bearer of Christ)... is to dechristianize the Church itself, to deny the redemption, to continue the work of modern laicization" (Cardinal Cerejevia, in 1938, Doc. Cath, vol. 39, p. 1503).

The same thing must be said concerning the primacy of that which is temporal. If by this is meant that that which is temporal has its own laws to govern itself without thereby denying any reference to that which is absolute, it is legitimate. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," Christ said. If one thereby wishes to mean that it is man and man alone who is the absolute master of his destiny, rejecting all reference to that which is absolute, then one falls prey to atheistic materialism and all the "isms" which block one's path. God is the measure of man and not the contrary.



A liturgy without transcendence ceases to be a liturgy and rather becomes something purely human and earthly. The whole question is, in fact, to know if it is man who fulfills his own destiny by his own means or if it is another who makes him fulfill it. The lack of discovering God and of rendering Him a communitarian worship, can cause one to fall prey to purely human liturgies, such as those of city or social groups with the appearance of communities, or of various agrarian cults of antiquity, such as the Saturnalia, the Bacchanalia and the Dionysiac, the cult of the civitas and the emperor among the ancient Greeks and Romans and the contemporary cult of totalitarian governments (Fascism, Nazism, Marxism, whose godless liturgy-like celebrations are familiar to us, e.g., Hitler's mass rallies at Nuremberg; May Day in Peking and Moscow, etc., with which we might contrast gatherings of faithful Christians to pray together in Poland, Hungary and Shanghai).

A ritual without God or without reference to that which is transcendental, is the very definition of magic. "All sacramental reality," Bouyer writes, "being only the reality of efficacious signs given by the Savior Himself so that the capital event of His death and resurrection might become the chief event of the lives of all of us,and which have no other means except to make possible an inseparably ontological, psychological and even directly physical transformation of our entire being, 'of our whole life in conformity with Christ,' like the principle and soul of an authentically Christian spiritual life" (Liturgie et Vie Spirituelle, p. 10).

If the Semitic genius which shines forth in the Bible stresses to the extreme the sense of the sacred and divine transcendence, it belonged to Christian Hellenism - "that eternal category of Christian existence" (Florovsky) - to harmonize the philosophical concept with the basic principles of the faith. This was the task of the Fathers of the Church who soon made use of Aristotle as well as Plato, not without making corrections and Christianizing them in order to announce the mystery of salvation in intellectual categories accessible to the mentality of the epoch.

Nothing better demonstrates this alliance of the divine and the human than the prayer of the Church itself, in which absolute transcendence is revealed which however, becomes also immanence, thanks to the mystery of the incarnation. This central event of the faith, celebrated in Aristotelian concepts, illustrates the fundamental goodness of the creation redeemed by Christ after the sin of man. One can fruitfully read the prayer for the Great Blessing of Water on the feast of the Theophany, the invocation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, or the anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil, just to give a few examples.



The liturgical action is sacred only insofar as it establishes a relationship of communion between us and that which is transcendent. "Sacred," "religious" and "holy" are words with similar meanings, but yet which are different. Sacred implies the feeling of both fear and attraction which takes hold of the person confronted by a world which transcends him. That which is religious is the recognition of man's dependence on the forces which transcend him. That which is holy is the objective transcendence of an absolute moral perfection. Consequently, when holiness disappears, the sense of the sacred falls away and the religious and the transcendental with it. Holiness is the exclusive adjunct of revelation.

Moses' vision of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) almost caused his death due to the sentiment which it inspired, but founded at the same time the community of a "holy people," causing the overstepping of material boundaries, but with the feeling of the accomplishment of the most authentically human powers. It was in this framework that God allowed Moses and the people to engage in conversation with Him.

Isaias' inaugural vision (Isaias 6:1-9) was one in which the true nature of holiness was manifested, together with the purification of the sense of the sacred. By reliving the theophany of the dedication, the prophet reveals its true meaning: the God to Whom all the temple liturgy is directed and who must be the principal animator of the life of the holy people, is not only an omnipotence. He is the perfection of a purity without stain, and demands a total gift - the liturgy must gush forth from purified hearts which are totally given over to almighty God. The requirements of holiness come to light in Christ Jesus who by the incarnation inaugurates true and spiritual worship in the oblation of His own Body and Blood - the new and final temple in which the plenitude of the omnipotent Godhead resides. He seemingly abolished that which is sacred by bursting the bonds of transcendence with reference to the creature; in reality He liberated mankind from its limitations by calling it to holiness: "You therefore are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Thereby in Christianity the sacred indicates an interdiction. (Eucharistic loaves vs. the Loaves of Proposition). Through Christ, the sacred has become a principle of life and not a lifeless object. And, since Christ lives in every Christian, the human person is endowed with a dignity which is that of child of God, and concerning which the people of the Old Dispensation had no knowledge.



Since the Church is the great universal community of a glorified world, it takes place within the heart of man. It is there that it appeared as a "mystery" in the intellectual and cultic sense - intellectual, because it is accessible to faith alone and cultic, because the Church by its sacramental celebrations is the fulfillment of God's plan which was conceived from all eternity and the actualization of the work of salvation which has for its end the trinitarily ordered community, a new heaven and a new earth, "the domination and the transfiguration of all reality by the Spirit of God taking possession of the spirit of man" (La Maison Dieu I, p.12.)

The Church is the Mystery of divine philanthropy (cf. the cherubic secret prayer: "No one given to carnal lusts and pleasures...").

The Church transcends time because it is the fulfillment of God's plan conceived from all eternity. That is why it is said to have been created before the sun and the stars; the world itself was created for it. In fact, the Church celebrated its birth in time at the Theophany of the Word who unites within it all the nations and peoples to make the Holy People the children of God.

The Church is the Eucharistic community; for by His Incarnation the Word who is the Archetype draws to Himself the fullness of all that is human.

At the prothesis, the assembly of all the saints, both living and dead.

At the Little Entrance the angels, saints and faithful are present.

The Great Entrance is the entrance into the choir of the cherubim.

Thus on the diskos the perfect figure of the Church is reconstituted in its universal dimensions which includes heaven and earth and which reaches out to both those who are absent and those who are dead.

The Church is the Lamb who recapitulates in Himself all the living. It is the image of the Body of Christ: total communion in the total Christ (cf. Troparion of the Great and Holy Saturday: "Being God, You were present in the tomb of your body, and yet in Hades by your soul, in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne, O Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, filling all things but encompassed by none." He is the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:8, I Peter 1:19), who had been chosen before the foundation of the world. The beginning and the end come together. From eternity the Word descends into time, appearing in Bethlehem. "The heavenly King, the Comforter (Paraclete) the Spirit of truth, everywhere present and filling all things..." This the Epiclesis on the threshold of mystery.

"In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste," says the Second Vatican Council, "we share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle: we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our Life, shall appear and we, too, will appear with Him in glory" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy#8).




"Again, we shall know paradise; again, we shall know the tree of life; again, the beauty of the image and our first dignity. I do not hear spoken of here any of those good things of which God made needful in the life of men, but of the hope of another kingdom, a description of which is impossible" (Rev. Denis Guillaume quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa, Fleurs de Paradis, p. 146).

We find the Church portrayed repeatedly in parables and images, as the Sheepfold of which Christ is the door; the vineyard, the edifice of God; the temple.




The temple for Israel was the sign of the presence of God among His people. The Sinai covenant constitutes the Holy People of the Covenant. God told Moses, "You shall be for Me a holy nation, a priestly people" (Exodus 19:6). Later, the Lord said to Solomon, "I confer my name upon it (the temple) forever and my eyes and my heart shall be there always" (1 Kings 9:3). This covenant prefigured a combat for the people of Israel on the way to the Promised Land and even after they settled, since fidelity presupposes combat. "O Christ, You have shown to Moses on Sinai, who beheld God, the Tabernacle not made with hands, which is Your Church" (5th Ode, Office of the Consecration of a Church).

The prophets were warning Israel of a form of worship devoid of meaning. "What care I for the number of your sacrifices, says the Lord ... In the blood of calves, lambs and goats, I find no pleasure" (Isaias 1:11).

After the exile to Babylon, there emerged among the prophets the spiritual temple. Ezechiel had his first vision "by the river Chabar" (1:1). God is present everywhere: "thus says the Lord: 'Though I removed them far among the nations and scattered them over foreign countries and was for a while their only sanctuary in the countries to which they had gone, I will gather you from the nations and assemble you from the countries over which you have been scattered and I will restore to you the land of Israel" (Ezechiel 11:16-17).

"O Christ, You renewed to us through the Curtain of Your Body the entrance to the Church of the First-born written in heaven. O Compassionate Christ, look upon us unworthy ones who celebrate the renewal of this tabernacle, the symbol of our body which you have been pleased, through Paul, your apostle worthy of all praise, to call Your Body and the members of Your Body" (Euchologion, Ritual for the Consecration of a Church).



Jesus manifested to the temple respect and love and submitted Himself to the Mosaic prescriptions and attended the Jewish ceremonies. He was zealous for His Father's house and expelled the money changers and sellers from it.

He announced the Spiritual Temple to the Samaritan woman: "Yea, an hour is coming and is already here, when authentic worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Indeed, it is just such worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23).

When asked by the Jews to give a sign of His mission, Jesus said to them, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2:19). And John added, "Actually, He was talking about the Temple of His Body. Only after Jesus had been raised from the dead, did His disciples recall that he had said this and come to believe the Scriptures and the words He had spoken" (John 2:21-22).

When Christ died, the rending of the veil of the Holy of Holies showed that the ancient cult had lost its sacred character and it was no longer the sign of the presence of God among His people.

Christ is the new and definitive temple which is not built with hands of men, in which the Word of God establishes His dwelling place among men (John 1:14). "Let us say, using in part the indication of Paul, that Moses received as a type the mystery of the tabernacle which contains all things: it is Christ, the Power and the Wisdom of God, who in His proper nature was not created, but who received a created existence so that the tabernacle might be built in us. Thus, the same tabernacle is in some fashion both created and uncreated; uncreated according to its pre-existence, created when it receives a material formation... It is the only-begotton God, who contains everything in Himself, who has constituted His own tabernacle among us... Indeed, the power which contains all things, 'in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,' the common tabernacle of all, is entitled to be called the tabernacle (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, II:174-177). "In truth, the Word dwells in us in the only temple He has taken for us, and forms us in order that we may have everything in Him 'Who reconciles all of us into a single body, with God His Father,' as St. Paul says in Ephessians 2:15-18" (St. Cyril of Alexandria).



The Apostles continued to frequent the Temple after Pentecost. "So long as Judaism in its leaders and in its body did not definitively reject the Gospel, the ancient place of worship did not lose all conneection with the new worship inaugurated by Jesus; in this perspective it could acquire a renewed significance, just as the Jewish people by being converted could play a role in the conversion of the entire world. Signs of rupture, however, are visible. Stephen, in his apology for spiritual worship, anticipated the downfall of the temple made by the hand of man" (Acts 7:48 ff.). (Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 524).

The Church is the spiritual temple built on Christ, "The Cornerstone." No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ. "Are you not aware that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The ancient temple is brought to its fulfillment and is now called the Church. "When the fullness of time came, God sent His only begotten Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the Law, to give us the adoption of sons" (Galattians 4:4-5). The fullness of time "means that the election of Israel had only one purpose: to prepare the way for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. This mission having been accomplished, Israel had fulfilled its role, and it is now the time of the Church until His coming in glory. The two testaments have not the same age, but have for their object the same newness" (Origen). "O You who are the Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, Christ our God, who fulfilled the Economy of the Father, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, now and always..." (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, silent prayer before the final blessing).

The spiritual Israel will have its birth in the fusion of the old ethnic Israel with the first fruits of the nations, the name of Israel signifying the fact of the election by God.

St. Peter applies to the nascent Church the same words which God addressed to Israel of old: "But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people" (1 Peter 2:9). "The true spiritual Israelite race, the Christians will tranquilly affirm are we" (St. Justin of Naplousa).

"We who are of the Catholic Church do not scorn the Law of Moses; we receive it. However, it is Jesus who reads it to us. In this condition we have the right intelligence... By the wood of the Cross, the bitterness of the Law was changed into the sweetness of the spiritual intelligence, and the people could slake their thirst. A mystery also teaches us, by an analogous symbolism, as in the miracle of Cana. For in truth the Scriptures were from the water; but since Jesus, they have become wine for us" (Origen).

"O Virgin, the shadow of the law passed away with the realization of grace, for as the bush had burned without being consumed, so you gave birth while a virgin and you remained a virgin. Instead of the pillar of fire, there rose the Sun of Justice; instead of Moses, Christ God came forth, the Savior of our souls" (Octoechos, Vespers, tone 2).


The Church, the spiritual temple, brought the temple of Israel to its fulfillment, and so the heavenly Jerusalem will bring the earthly Church to its fulfillment. The Lamb of God is enthroned. The temple will be God the Lamb, and each one of the elect shall have his place according to the dignity he acquired during his life.

The Jerusalem on high is manifested as a woman clothed with the sun, who descends to her spouse, in contrast with the woman of Genesis who was the cause of the fall of all mankind. "From the threshold of Scripture to the frontispiece of history, it is already the mystery which appeared to them in the accounts of Adam and Eve, and it is the same mystery which, in its extremity, the Scripture offers them again in the Woman clothed with the sun of the Apocalypse" (Hippolytus).



Christian existence presupposes and implies an incorporation into a people. No one becomes Christian by himself as an isolated individual, but joined to his brothers. Here, as in the Old Testament, salvation is a community affair. Now in the church, it is Baptism which incorporates us into both Christ and the body of the Church. "I am the Good Shepherd , and I know mine, and mine know me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for my sheep" (John 10:14-15).

Christ espouses human nature in the mystery of the Incarnation. All the Fathers see in the Good shepherd, who brings the lost sheep back to the fold, Christ and the human nature whose distress moved the Word of God so much that He left, in a certain sense, the immense flock of the angels to help it. This shall be treated broadly when we shall speak about the Body of Christ.


The Covenant takes on a "nuptial character" in Osee who experienced the Beloved and Unfaithful Bride. God's love for His Chosen People is betrayed by the latter. "What Osee did figuratively, Christ fulfilled in reality" (St. Irenaeus as quoted by Delubac, p. 155). But God's love remains faithful. "Thus, says Yahweh, I recall the affection of your youth, the love of your betrothal. You followed Me in the desert" (Jeremias 2:2). But "on every hill and under every green tree you have lain down like a harlot" (Jeremias 2:20). Nevertheless, "with an eternal love have I loved you; thus have I kept my favor for you" (Jeremias 31:3).

In Ezechiel, Jerusalem is represented as a foundling child whom its savior marries after having raised her up and who then prostitutes herself. But, although she has broken the covenant which united her to her bridegroom, he will re-establish it (Ezechiel 16:1-43;59-63).

In Isaias we find the most moving accounts of God's love for Jerusalem: "You will no longer have to blush, for your bridegroom is your creator... Is the woman repudiated from her youth? For a short time, I have abandoned you... but with an eternal love I have pitied you" (Isaias 54:4-8).

The Canticle of Canticles sings of a love as strong as death, whose flame, which cannot be extinguished, is the image of the jealous love of God for His people" (Danielou).

The Epistle to the Hebrews gives to Christ a divine title and will sing of His Divine Filiation. "It was reserved to the genial author of the Canticles of Canticles to sing of the vicissitudes of the expectations, the encounters and disdain that, in order to limn the portraits of the two partners, he conjures up images, which for the husband evoke the Temple and, for the wife, the land of Israel" (Dalmais). Christian tradition sees the wife as the Church which Christ obtained for Himself at the price of His Blood. Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians (5:22-29), develops at length the theme of nuptial love and applies it to the love of Christ for his Church.

In a homily of James of Sarough which seems to be the echo of a common source of the Church of Antioch, we find this incomparable commentary on the words of St. Paul, in which Christian marriage is itself the image, albeit very feeble, of the love of Christ for His Church (cf. Ephesians 5:25-32). "In the mystery of His designs, the Father had granted a source to His only-begotten Son and He presented her to Him in the figure of prophecy and in his love, He built an immense palace for the Spouse of Him who was the Light and who painted on the sides of the dwelling diverse images of the Bridegroom."

The palace signifies the labor of the six days, the entire cosmos created and the images painted on the walls are the figures of Christ and the Church contained in the History of the Patriarchs and the People of God. Moses is the first of the Prophets to whom it was given to limn the prefigurations of the mysteries; Moses appeared and with an expert hand, traced an image of the Bridegroom and the Bride which he immediately covered with a veil. He wrote upon his scroll that the man would leave his mother and father in order to cleave to his wife, in such a way that the two would truly become one. Moses the Prophet thus speaks to us about the Man and The Woman in order thereby to announce Christ and His Church... In various ways he veiled his words from those outside; he decorated the abode of the Royal Bridegroom with an image entitled the Man and the Woman, although he knew that beneath that veil were hidden Christ and the Church..."

The mystery was not revealed until St. Paul, after the accomplishment of the Redemptive Mysteries - which the author calls "The Nuptial Feasts," spoke concerning the "Great Sacrament."

"After the Nuptial Feasts, Paul came; he saw the veil covering their splendor and he raised it. He revealed Christ and His spouse to the whole universe and showed them what they were like whom Moses had described in his prophetic vision. The Apostle cried out in a moment of enthusiasm, This is a great Mystery! He revealed what was represented by this veiled image, called by the Prophet the Bridegroom and the Bride. I know it; it is Christ and His Church who have become one from two."


Because of the importance of this subject, we have reserved for it the following chapter in order to follow the teaching of the Fathers down through the ages. We shall examine:

1. The Apostolic Fathers

2. The Fathers of the School of Alexandria.

3. The Cappadocian Fathers

4. The Fathers of the School of Antioch






All the preceding images of the Temple of Nuptial Love to describe the Church open on the Mystery par excellence of the Body of Christ, a Mystery of Faith on which the Fathers have commented most. Furthermore, the Body-Temple image is applied equally to the Church and to every baptized Christian.

The Eastern Fathers develop the doctrine of the Mystical Body in connection with the deification of man, by stressing the mystical identity of the Christian with Christ. This appears in Acts, where Christ speaks to Saul who is persecuting Him, when He was only persecuting Christians. Let us follow them chronologically starting with:


It is through the Eucharist that we become one single body with Christ. "As this piece (of bread) was scattered over the hills and then brought together and made one, so let your church be brought together from the ends of the earth into Your Kingdom, for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ" (9:4, Early Christian Fathers by Cyril C. Richardson, p. 175).


For him, the Church is like a tower whose stones look almost alike to the extent that they look as one single stone or like an old woman he saw in a vision, and when asking why she was old, the answer was because she had been created first, before anything else. This was why she was old and it was for that reason the world had been made.


The unity with the Church is unity with Christ.

He is eager to die to possess Christ, to be united to Him. "Do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts that I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ... Then shall I be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more" (Romans 4:3-10).

"It is rather with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My desire has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me which speaks and says inside me, 'Come to the Father'" (Romans 7:7-10).

"That is He I am looking for - the One who died for me - the One who rose for me. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my coming to life" (Rom. 6:3-6).

The visible unity of the Church is as necessary as the Flesh of Christ: He exhorts the Christians to union and harmony, concord and obedience to the bishop in order to be united with Christ: The visible and bodily unity of the Church is incarnated in the bishop: "You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbyterium as you would the apostles and respect the deacons as you would God's Law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop's approval. You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or someone he authorizes" (Smyrnians 8:1-7).

All of this teaching is the echo of the Lord's teaching: "That they all may be one," since the Church is Jesus continued; unity of life, unity with Christ, is expressed in the visible unity with the bishop.


The principal doctrine of St. Irenaeus is Recapitulation (anakephalaiosis) of St. Paul, return to the sources, restoration, incorporation under one Head; the doctrine of the two Adams as developed by St. Paul. God remakes in Himself His creatures; He remakes the whole Old Testament; He remakes Adam and all of humanity. The Church is His fullness, his pleroma, and it is altogether visible and invisible and is the milieu of our deification in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Recapitulation brings back everything to the Principle, to the Father, as it was in the beginning.

The Word unites the end with the beginning: He harvests the seed sowed at the beginning. "The Word recapitulating Adam in Himself, and appearing from Mary, who was still a virgin, rightly received the generation of the recapitulation of Adam... Consequently, Mary, the Virgin, is found to be obedient saying: 'Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word'" (Luke 1:38). (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, 21:10 & 22:40).

The Church is the divine milieu in which the Holy Spirit is given to us: "In the Church, God set apostles, prophets, teachers" (I Corinthias 12:28) and all other means through which the Spirit works; of which all of these do not partake, do not join themselves to the Church but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behavior. For, "where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God and, where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace" (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, 24).

And, finally, this axiom which became famous and was repeated after Irenaeus: "Christ became what we are, so that that we might become what He is." "You will, however, follow the only true and reliable Teacher, the Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who, on account of His great love, became what we are, so that He might bring us to be what He Himself is". (Adversus Haereses V, preface). To summarize: "The Spirit prepares man through the Son of God; the Son leads him to the Father and the Father gives him incorruptibility and eternal life, which comes to everyone by the fact of seeing God" (Sources Chretiennes).






If, at every instant, Christians are born sons of God in Christ Jesus, it is also necessary for them, at every moment, to be born in Jesus Christ, "the Son of Mary." The following is a precious pearl from the writings of Origen concerning the Theotokos: "It is not necessary to dare to say that the principle of the Gospel is St. John's. His Gospel has such a deep meaning that no one can perceive it, unless he rests on Jesus' bosom and unless Jesus has also given Mary to Him for His Mother also."


Against the Arians who said that Christ is a pure creature, St. Athanasius' point of departure is that if Christ is not God, He cannot deify men and he proves the divinity of the Son because of the deification of man.

A union with the Word, if He were a simple creature, would not have deified man: "Thus the truth shows that the Word is not of created things, but rather their creator. Thus He took on a created and human body, and renewing it as its creator, He divinized it in Himself, and brought it with His likeness to the kingdom of heaven. Again, man joined to what is created would not be divinized, if the Son was not true God, neither would man be present to the Father, unless He who took on a body was not by nature and truly His Word" (II Contra Arianos, 70).

The Church is the humanity of Christ taken in its totality: "When Peter said: 'Therefore, let all the house of Israel know most certainly that God made both Lord and Christ this same Jesus, whom you have crucified' (Acts 2:36), he was not speaking of His divinity, which made Him Lord and Christ, but of His humanity, which is the whole Church" (De Incarn. & Cont. Arianos, XXI).

"There cannot be any adoption outside of the Son, since the Son says: 'No one knows who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and to whom the Son will reveal Him.' (Luke 10:22)... If all who have been called sons of God, either on earth or in heaven, have been made sons and divinized, and the Son Himself is the Word, it is clear not only that all men are made sons through Him, and that He is before all, but moreover that only He is the true Son, and He alone is true God of true God" (1 Contra Arianos, 39).

There is a perfect union between the head and the members; He gives life to Himself; He sanctifies Himself; He exalts Himself. Hence, he says that the Father has sanctified Him, "exalted him and given Him a name which is above all names" (Philippians 2:9), and gave Him life; it is clear that it is also by Him that the Father has made all things.

We are "verbized" or made Word through Baptism. "The same as, made out of the earth, we die in Adam; the same as we are regenerated by water and the Spirit, we are all vivified in Christ. Formerly, the flesh was only an earthly thing; it was made Word because of the Word of God who was made flesh for us." The same as the Word, having taken on flesh, became man, so we men taking the flesh of the Word are divinized by Him and made heirs of eternal life. St. Athanasius added to the doctrine of our deification stressed by those Fathers before him, by pointing out our mystical identity with Christ. We are one with Him. The Fathers who will come after him will develop this doctrine, especially St. Cyril of Alexandria.


With St. Cyril of Alexandria, the doctrine of the Mystical Body reaches its highest degree of perfection ever reached in the Eastern Church (Emil Mersch; Le Corps Mystique du Christ, Vol. I, p. 489). He is the doctor of the Incarnation and he taught that Christ divinizes through the Logos. Deification is taught as a function of the Holy Trinity. With St. Cyril, deification is centered on the humanity of Christ. His doctrine could be summarized in the following paragraphs.

In Christ, humanity and divinity are united in a physical, real union. We cannot consider in Him His humanity separated from His divinity. "After the Resurrection, He had the body that had suffered, but it did not have human weakness in itself. For we say that it was no longer susceptible to hunger or fatigue, or anything else of that kind, but now incorruptible, and not only that, but it is also life-giving, for it is the body of life, that is, of the Only-begotten, having been made resplendent in the divine glory, and understood to be the body of God... Therefore we say that Christ's body is indeed divine, since it is the body of God, shining with ineffable glory, incorruptible, holy, and life-giving" (Epist. XLV).

Christ's humanity is vivifying because it is the humanity of the Word. He contains us all and vivifies us, as the well contains the water from which it springs. He says, "If you consider the nature of the flesh itself and apart from the rest, it is evident that it does not appear to be vivifying. No creature has the power of vivifying another, but, on the contrary, needs a vivifying principle. But if you attentively consider the Mystery of the Incarnation, you will see who it is who dwells in the flesh and, barring any blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you shall believe that it can vivify by itself, the flesh serving for nothing. From the moment that it was united to the Living Word, it became entirely vivifying, elevated to the quality of the Word, without which the One who cannot be diminished would be entirely humbled to its level. By itself, it is too weak to be able to vivify; it only does so by having in it the vivifying Word, and in putting all His power into action. It is the Body of Life Itself and not of an ordinary man of whom you could say, 'The flesh profits nothing' (John 6:63). It is not, in fact, the flesh of Peter or Paul which accomplishes that in us but only, and par excellence, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ 'in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally' (Colossians 2:9)" (In Joannem IV, 2: P.G. 73, p. 601). The Word by Himself causes His Body to be vivifying, since He transports it in His energy to Him. The how of such a mystery surpasses our conception and our language. Our duty is to venerate in silence, in the faith that is beyond the spirit" (Ibid., p. 604). It is because the humanity of Christ is vivifying that it is capable of performing miracles, forgiving sins and raising the dead. "Thus, when He raised the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue by telling her, 'Little girl, arise' (Mark 5:41), he took her by the hand, as it is written. He vivified her by an omnipotent command and He vivified her also by the contact with His holy flesh, thus testifying to the one and the other, actuating a single and same energy. Furthermore, when He came to the town of Naim where they were going to bury the only son of the widow, He touched the bier and said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise' (Luke 7:14). He also not only confers on this command the power to raise the dead but also to show that His Body is vivifying as we have already said. He touches the dead and, by His flesh, he infuses life in corpses" (In Joannem IV, 2; P.G. 73, p. 577).

Christ's humanity illuminates: "By believing that the Body of Christ is vivifying because it is the Temple of the Living God, in the case of the man born blind, we thus affirm that it is the Producer of light. It is, in fact, the Body of Him who is Light by nature and in truth... Thus he anoints with spittle the eyes of the blind man, showing that His body is the Producer of light, even by a light contact. It is, in fact, the Body of the True Light, as we have said" (In Joannem VI, P.G. 73, p. 964).

Finally, the events of Christ's life also have the same sanctifying power: "He was scourged unjustly to deliver us from well-deserved punishments. He received blows and slaps so that we might be able to resist Satan and avoid cooperating in sin by prevarication" (In Joannem XII, P.G. 74, p. 628). Different from St. Hilary, who had propounded an analogous doctrine, St. Cyril goes into details, stating that the privileges of Jesus's humanity do not derive from a super-elevation of His humanity, but rather from its union with the Word of Life.

What Jesus did during His earthly life, He now does in the Eucharist. St. Cyril's doctrine on this point is "one of the most developed there is" and is connected with the truth of the Mystical Body, at the same time that the Body of Christ transfigures, vivifies and divinizes us. "If the simple contact of the Holy Flesh of Jesus vivifies that which is corrupt, how should we not experience even more splendid effects when we receive the Holy Eucharist. Assuredly, it will completely transform into its own greatness, that is to say, into immortality, those who participate in it. Be not astonished at that; ask not how it is possible. Think, rather, that water, by nature, is cold but when it is moved to the fire, it forgets its normal nature and changes into something more powerful. In the same way it will happen to us. Totally corruptible as we are in our flesh, by the mixture with the true life we put aside our own weakness and we are transformed into what is proper to it, that is to say, life." (In Joannem IV, 2; P.G. 73, pp. 577-580). "The same time that He unites Himself to the flesh, the Word raises it to His likeness and makes It vivifying and, to a lesser degree, Christ's Flesh, by descending to us, changes us into His image and makes us living: 'A little leaven,' says St. Paul, 'ferments the whole lump' (I Corinthians 5:6). Thus a very tiny bit of Eucharist causes it to ferment even our entire body and It fills it with Its own energy. Christ thus comes into us and we, on our part, into Him. And, can you not truthfully say that the leaven is in the whole lump and that the whole lump is absorbed by the leaven?" (In Joannem IV, 2; P.G. 73, p. 584).

Christ unites us to God in Himself by virtue of the Holy Spirit: "All of us receiving at the same time the same unique Spirit, that is to say, the Holy Spirit, we are by the mixture all together with God. Although we may be different from one another and the Spirit of the Father and the Son dwells within us, that Spirit is, nevertheless, one and indivisible. He reunites by Himself in unity multiple and distinct spirits, making them, in some way, a single spirit in Him. Just as the virtue of the Holy Flesh makes corporeal among themselves those who receive It, in the same way, in my opinion, the Spirit, which comes to dwell in everyone leads them all to spiritual unity. Thus, St. Paul declares, 'Supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all' (Ephesians 4;3-6)." (In Joannem XI, 2; P.G. 74, p. 561).


Although a Westerner, St. Hilary's doctrine is Eastern. He took St. Athanasius' doctrine and added to it something special which is later found in that of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

All men are one and assumed by Christ: "Therefore, the Man, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who through the flesh and the Word is both Son of Man and Son of God, assumed true manhood, according to the likeness of our manhood, without ceasing to be Himself, that is, God" (Trinity 10,23). He also says, "The Son of God, born of the Virgin, did not first become the Son of God when He became Son of Man, but already being the Son of God, He then became Son of Man, so that the Son of God might also be the Son of Man. He took upon Himself the nature of all flesh, and having in this way become the True Vine, He holds in Himself the racial strain of every branch" (On Ps. 51(52), 16).

This unity between Christ and us is produced by the Eucharist: "When we speak of the reality of Christ's nature being in us, we would be speaking foolishly and impiously had we not learned it from Him, for He himself says: 'My Flesh is real Food and My Blood is real Drink' (John 6;56-57). As to the reality of His Flesh and Blood, there is no room left for doubt, because now both because of the declaration of the Lord Himself and by our own faith, it is truly Flesh and it is truly Blood and these elements bring it about when taken and consumed, that we are in Christ and Christ in us" (Trinity 8, 14).






St. Gregory is both a theologian and a poet. For him, each Christian in particular is incorporated in Christ in a most personal way: At his brother's funeral he exclaimed, "What is this new mystery in me? I am small and great, low and high, mortal and immortal. I am one with the world, the other with God; one with the flesh, the other with the spirit. I must be buried with Christ so that I may rise with Him; I must inherit heaven with Him; I must become the son of God; I must become God. Behold where this discourse has led us! I have almost thanked the evil which suggested these reflections to me and which has infatuated me, moreover, concerning the resurrection of the beyond. Behold that which is for us the great mystery; behold the God incarnate becoming poor for us! He came to raise up the flesh, to save His image, to restore men. He came to make us perfectly one in Christ who came perfectly and completely in us in order to put in us all that He is. 'For there is no more male or female, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free man' - characteristics of the flesh. There is only the divine image which all of us bear within us, according to which we have been created that it is necessary to form and imprint in us, so strongly that it suffices to make us known" (Orat.VII, 23). Thus, then, Christ is united to us in everything.

Even the events of His life always continue in us. He relives them in every one of us: "How many feasts for me in each of the mysteries of Christ!" he exclaimed. Their recapitulation in everyone is my perfection, my restoration, my return to the innocence of the first Adam... Celebrate then, the nativity which has loosened the bonds of your nativity; honor little Bethlehem which led you to heaven; adore the manger by which, deprived of reason, you were fed by the Word... Run with the star; with the Magi offer your gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King, to the God and Man who died for you. Glorify God with the shepherds; with the Angels sing hymns and join the chorus of the Archangels... Travel without flinching down through every stage and faculty of the life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcized;... teach in the temple, and drive out the sacriligeous traders. Submit to be stoned, if need be, for you shall be hidden from those who cast the stones; you shall escape even from the midst of them, like God... Be crucified with Him, and share His death and burial gladly, that you may rise with Him, and be glorified with Him, and reign with Him" (Oratio XXXVIII, 16,17, 18).

"Behold, how He has slept so as to bless our sleep; how He wished you to grow tired to consecrate our fatigue; how He wished to weep, in order to give merit to our tears" (Oratio XXXVII, 2. His Passion continues in the sense that He is offended by sinners. Christ's feasts are celebrations of contemporary events: "Now the angels rejoice; now the shepherds are blinded by the brightness; now the star moves eastward to the inaccessible light; now the magi bow down and offer their gifts" (Oratio XIX, 12, 13)). For the feast of the Pasch, he says, "Yesterday, I was placed upon the Cross with Christ; today, I am glorified with Him; yesterday, I died with Him; today, I am given life with Him; yesterday, I was buried with Him; today, I rise with Him..." (Oratio I, 4).

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us; let us become gods because of Him, since He became Man because of us (Oratio I, 5). And so, the mystery of the Incarnation is accomplished here in me and divinizes me; the end of the Christian life is personal sanctification.

Against Apollinaris, who denied that christ had a human soul, St. Gregory asserts that "If anyone puts his trust in Him as a man without a human mind, he is really bereft of a mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved... As He needed flesh for the sake of the flesh which had incurred condemnation, and soul for the sake of soul, so, too, He needed mind for the sake of mind, which not only fell in Adam, but which was the first to be affected....That which transgressed was that which stood most in need of salvation, and that which needed salvation was that which also He took upon Him" (Letter to Cledonius, No. 101). Mersch asserts (p. 450) that these words were cited as decisive documents at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.


St. Gregory stresses Christ's bringing back to Himself the lost sheep, and the unity of the Mystical Body whose Head is Christ.

"But the Son of God, who is God by nature, Lord of the Universe, King of the Archangels and First of all Beings and Restorer of that which had fallen, deigned in His great bounty not to reject from His communion our fallen nature. Rather, He wished to receive it again into life. Now, He is the Life. This is why, at the end of the world, when our malice reached its summit, in order that the remedy be applied to the entire extent of the evil, He desired to be fused into the humility of our nature, to take man to Himself and to become Man Himself. He explains it to His disciples, 'I in you and you in Me' (John. 14:20). By this fusion. He made man what He was. He was the Most High; man also, until then lowly, was raised. He, in fact, as the Most High, had no longer any need of being raised. The Word already was Christ and Lord. He who is assumed becomes Him, and is taken up into divinity"(Contra Apollinarem, LIII).

"Who does not know the divine mystery, that is to say, that the prince and author of our salvation seeks the wandering sheep? We are that sheep, who through sin have strayed from the hundred rational sheep. He takes the whole sheep on His shoulders, for not just part of it had erred; since the whole sheep had gone astray, he brought back all of it to the flock; it was not just the pelt that was carried by the shepherd, leaving behind that which was inside the pelt, as Apollinaris asserts. It was carried on the shoulders of the shepherd, that is by the divinity of the Lord, and by this taking up was made one with Him, so that in this manner He could seek and save what had perished. After He found the sheep that He had sought, He took it up on Himself. The sheep that had formerly moved on his own feet, that had led him astray, now was carried by divinity. Thus the shepherd, taking up the sheep, became one with it, and so spoke to the flock with the voice of a sheep. How could human weakness understand a divine voice? But He speaks to us in a human voice - one might say the voice of a sheep - saying: "My sheep hear my voice'. John 10:16) The shepherd, therefore, who has taken up the sheep, and speaks to us in the voice of a sheep, is both shepherd and sheep; a sheep, indeed, as far as pertains to one who has been lifted; a shepherd truly in that He is the one who lifts" (Contra Apollinarem, XVI).

There is a reciprocal communication: the Christians are in Christ, and Christ in the Christian.

The Mystical Body is one reality: the submission of Christ to the Father signifies the submission of the Mystical Body.

"All of us, having been joined to the one Body of Christ by participation, are made His one Body. When therefore the good result goes through the whole, then His whole Body will be subjected to the vivifying power, and so the obedience of this body is said to be the obedience of the Son, conforming with His own Body, that is the Church" (In illud: Tunc ille Filius, P.G. 44, 1317).

"Since He is in everything, He receives in Himself all those who are united to Him by the sharing of His Body. He makes all of us members of His Body, so that there are certainly many members, but one body. Thus He unites us to Him, and is united to us, and in all things is made one with us. The sum of all our good things is to be subject to God, when all creation is in concord, and every knee is bent in heaven, on earth, and below the earth, and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation. Having become one Body, and all having through obedience been joined with one another in Him, He brings to Himself the obedience of His own body to the Father (ibid. 1317-20).






Theodore of Mopsuetia (condemned with Nestorius after his death) has left us this beautiful passage: "Adam is the beginning of our present life; we are one man by reason of our nature, for we are all indeed in the relationship of members of the common order. Likewise, Christ is the beginning of the future life; let all of us who are sharers of His resurrection, and of immortality following the resurrection, become as one with Him, in the likeness of the reality, having the common order of members towards unity" (In Gal. III: 28-29)


Theodoret of Cyr often bases his exegesis on the principle that Christ in the Scriptures applies to Himself that which is only true of the faithful, in virtue of the unity of the Mystical Body. "He is the mouth of our nature, as having been made the first fruits of that nature." (In 1 Cor. XV:27-28) It is as a man that He is the Head of humankind: "He says those things which are ours, and in Him are foreshadowed those things to which we should give heed" (In Ps. 39, v. 7-8).


St. John Chrysostom makes his own all the force of the Pauline passages in Galatians, which state that we are all children of God by faith:

"How great is the power of faith, as he (the Apostle) reveals it! He had already shown that faith makes us children of the patriarch when he said: 'Know, therefore, that they who are of the faith, the same are the children of Abraham' (Galatians 3:7). Now he is showing that that they are also sons of God: 'You are all children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus,' (Galatians 3:26) by faith and not by the law. Then, since this is a great and awesome thing, he explains the manner of adoption: 'For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ' (Galatians 3:27). Why does he not say: 'For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have been born of God'? It is because he wished to show that His followers are sons, and thus he sets it forth in a much more striking manner. For if Christ is the Son of God, you have put Him on, having the Son in yourself, and being made like Him, into one relationship and one form.

'There is neither Jew or Greek: there is neither bond or free; there is neither male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28). Behold, what an insatiable soul! He has just said: 'You have become children of God by faith." But he does not stop there; he wishes to say more, in order to more exactly express the closeness of our union with Christ. And when he said, 'You have put Him on,' he is not content with this formula; but he explains it, he indicates more strongly the intimacy of the union. He says, 'For you are all one in Christ Jesus.' You have only one form, one type, that of Christ. Can more pulsating words be found? Those who were only mere Greeks, Jews, and slaves, behold how they advance, expressing in them not the form of an angel or archangel, but that of the Master of all things and that in them they show forth Christ!" (Commen. in Gal. III, P.G. 61, p. 656).

On union with Christ in the Eucharist, Chrysostom writes, and Mersch believes that no one has expressed the sense of communion in terms so profoundly human and so moving: "It is necessary to learn the marvel of this sacrament, the purpose of its institution and the effects it produces. We become one single body, the Scriptures say, and members of His flesh and bones (Ephesians 5:30). Let the initiates follow me.

"He wants us to become His body, not only by charity, but that in reality we become part of His own flesh. This is what is worked by the Food He gives as a proof of His love. He is then mixed with us; He implants His body in us in order that we may become one single thing, like a body united with its head. This is a sign of great desire... Christ has done so in order to introduce between Him and us a greater friendship and to show His love for us. He has not shown Himself only to those who were sighing after Him; He gave Himself to touch, to eat, to be chewed, in His flesh, by our teeth, to become deeply engaged in us and to thus assuage all desires" (In Joan. Homil. XLVI, P.G. 59, p. 260).

Chrysostom explains how, in the Eucharist, divine love discerns us and removes all separations:

"Not only did Christ shed His blood, but He imparts it to all of us. So He tells us, if you desire blood, do not go to the altars of the idols covered with the gore of animals, but to my altar reddened with my blood. What is more terrible than this, or what, I may say, more lovable?

This is what is done by those stricken with love. When they see those whom they love desiring strangers and despising what is familiar, with gifts they persuade them to turn away from the others. But those who love exhibit their liberality in money, clothing, and possessions, but never in blood; in this Christ truly showed His care and ardent charity for us. In the Old Testament, because the people were more imperfect, God reserved the blood for Himself, since it was being offered to idols, so that He might lead the people away from them. This was in itself an ineffable love; now He has altered it for the sake of many into a more terrible thing, a more magnificent priestly operation. The sacrifice was changed, and He ordered that He Himself be offered in the place of animals. 'The bread that we break, is it not the sharing of the Body of the Lord?' (1 Corinthians 10:16) Why did he not say 'participation'? Because he wished to signify something more, and to indicate a closer union. It is not only in receiving our share, it is in uniting ourselves to Christ that we partake. For in the same way that that body is united with Christ, so we are united through this bread.

Why, however, did He add: 'which we break'? This is done in the Eucharist, but was not done on the cross; nay, to the contrary, it is written: 'not a bone of him shall be broken' (John 19:36) But what He did not experience on the cross, he experiences in the oblation for your sake, and that which is broken is held up, so that all may be filled.

Then he also said: 'the sharing of the body'. That which shares is other than the sharing: he affirms this difference, which may seem to be small. For when he said 'sharing of the body', he meant something more intimate, and thus he added: "Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body' (1 Corinthians 10:17). Why do I say sharing? He said we are that body. For, what is the bread? The Body of Christ. What do the partakers become? The Body of Christ; not many bodies, but one body. For as the bread, made of many grains, is a unit, so that the grains do not in any way appear; they subsist but are not visible, since their difference is hidden by their closeness, so we are joined to each other and to Christ. For it is not that this one is nourished by one body, and that by another, but all from the same body. Thus he adds: 'for we all partake of the one bread' (1 Corinthians 10:17). If we are all made the same from the same, why do we not show the same charity, and in that way we are made one?" (Ad. Cor. Homil. XXIV, 16-17)

Regarding the mystical identity of the poor man with Christ, he says, "It is He who is scorned in the poor man; thus the crime is enormous. Thus, Paul, in persecuting his own people, persecutes Him. This is why He says, 'Why do you persecute Me?' Let us be disposed, when we give alms, as if we were giving them to Christ Himself. His words in fact, are more worthy of being believed than our own eyes. When you see a poor man, remember His words which assert to you that it is He who is being fed. Even if him whom you see is not Christ, nevertheless, under those appearances, it is He who receives and who begs. You are ashamed of hearing that Christ begs! Be ashamed still more when you do not give Him anything when He is begging. In that, there is the shame, there the punishment and the damnation. Insofar as He begs it is out of goodness, and so we are accused. Not to give is cruelty on our part. If you do not believe that in neglecting one of the faithful who is in poverty, you are neglecting Him, you shall believe it when He causes you to appear before Him, and He shall say: 'As long as you neglected to do it to one of these my least brethren, you neglected to do it to Me' (Matt.25, 45)." (In Matt. Homil. 88, 3)


St. Anastasius strongly makes the soteriological argument: All that is not assumed is not healed: "God bore in Himself entirely that which we are. He assumed our entire race in a single individual and He thus became the first fruits of our nature. He wished, in effect, to put straight what had fallen. Now, our whole race had fallen. He mingled Himself totally with Adam. He poured Himself out, as life to one in death, in order to save him. He penetrated the totality of the one with whom He had become united like the soul of a large body, vivifying it entirely and communicating life to it in a sensible way. This is why the human race is called 'the Body of Christ and members of member' (1 Corinthians 12:27), because Christ extends Himself equally in everyone and, nevertheless, abides in a particular way in each one" (Oratio III, 10, 11).


The Damascene argues in a similar way: "He assumed the whole of what was ailing, in order that He might heal the whole, for what was not assumed was not healed. What was assumed was healed, even though it had offended. What was it that fell and was the first to be sick, if not the mind, and the reasoning of its desires, that is the will. This needed healing, for the disease of the will is sin. Thus if He had not assumed a rational and intellectual soul, and the will that goes with it, the sickness of human nature would not have been cured. In this way, He assumed a human will, but He did not take on sin, for sin is not His doing. In order that He might take away from the soul the sickness of sin that had been overseeded by the enemy, He assumed the soul and its will, but He did not commit sin. Also, to liberate the body from destruction and the servitude of sin, he assumed a body (De Duabus in Christo Voluntatibus, 44).





The Church is constituted by the Liturgy. It is not the various liturgical antiquities, texts and rites which make the liturgy, but their being applied in the official and communitarian act of worship. They do not become liturgical except when they are taken on by the Church, so as to become the means of communicating the Mystery of Salvation.

It is the Word of God Who is at work in the liturgical act. "The word which comes forth from my mouth," says the Prophet Isaias, "returns not to me without result, without having worked and fulfilled its mission." It is through the Liturgy and chiefly through the Sacraments which constitute it that the Church fulfills the plenitude of its being and the fullness of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the faithful. This is why:

The Liturgy only allows into its prayer those who are active members sharing its prayer and Sacraments. It never allows for passive spectators who attend "Mass." It is in this sense that we must heed the dismissal of the catechumens who, nevertheless, are awaiting the reception of Baptism. They have not yet been incorporated into the Church.

The liturgical act is necessarily social and is subject to laws, as was Mosaic worship. It is the whole assembly praising God and glorifying Him, praying for an outpouring of the Spirit.

The Liturgy then is not just something for the clergy. When the Liturgy loses its social character, it becomes cut off from the people and withers. Nothing is more communitarian than the Byzantine Liturgy in its developments, in its processions, in the active participation of the entire assembly in the prayers and Eucharist of the priest. Everyone must take part in the earthly liturgy, the image of that which is celebrated in heaven. "You have approached Mount Sion, of the City of the Living God which is the heavenly Jerusalem, from the myriads who form the assembly of the Angels, the assembly of the first-born" (Hebrews 22:23; Cherubikon and Prayer; the Anaphora).

All liturgy has an eschatalogical mark: "Maran-atha; O Lord, come." This is what all sacramental liturgy, and especially the Eucharist and Baptism, commemorate. The symbolism of the doors, the processions, the singing of the Thrice Holy Hymn, which is the hymn of divine holiness, the Cherubikon, the Hagios, hagios, hagios of the Anaphora, the Anamnesis, the Epiclesis, and so forth. It is the same Liturgy which is celebrated here below through signs and symbols, and which is celebrated above without a veil and concerning which the Apocalypse gives us some idea. "We are called and we are truly children of God," says St. John, "but what we are will not appear again." "Your life is hidden with Christ in God," says St. Paul, "when Christ our Life shall appear, then shall we appear also with Him in glory" (Colosians 3:3-4).

That act which constitutes the Church is the sacramental liturgy. "It is the sign and bond of unity of the Body of Christ. In fact it spreads His grace over the assembly of the baptized. "The sacraments are not, properly speaking, new acts, but under the mode of being of a symbolic-real celebration, the very presence in their substance (Eucharist) or at least in their sanctifying power (Baptism and the other sacraments)' of the redemptive mystery of Jesus Christ... The sacrament signifies and makes our divine life of faith and charity mystically the life of Christ Who has died and risen again, and His mystery truly lived in a mystical way by the Church which is His Body" (Congar: Esquisses du Mystere de l'Eqlise, pp. 30-31).

The liturgical act expresses the Church which is, above all, Mystery. It signifies and makes present to us a divine reality, which is in itself inaccessible. The Liturgy culminates all its rites in awe-filled adoration before the mystery of the ineffable Thrice Holy One, and causes His presence to be felt in a lively way: this is evident throughout the entire development of the Liturgy... "Let us stand well, let us stand in awe..." Liturgical action implies celebration, which means doing something together in a solemn and religious way. The essence of the Liturgy is nothing more than the activation of the mystery spoken of by St. Paul. It is the redemption by which the Savior brings us from death to life, from the captivity of sin to the glorious freedom of the children of God. The feast in days of old was inseparate from the celebration. That term signifies a break in the daily course of life and the bursting forth of something which transcends us and which is none other than the Triune God. "If the ordinary course of time is suspended, it is not to make room for chaos nor to give free rein to all kinds of excesses; it is that there has been manifested to men a Presence (Epiphany), a manifestation to men of divine power and grace, which wish to be communicated and to assure the spiritual life to men who are solicitous of offering their collaboration in celebrating the solemnity'" (Dom Casel; La Maison-Dieu, I, 1945, p.26). (Dalmais, op. cit. p.37)

The Holy Spirit descended upon all who were present on the day of Pentecost, as well as upon the twelve. He came to animate a body, giving to each the charism of his vocation. The simultaneity of this pouring out of the Spirit upon the entire Church is a sign that the priesthood is given and rooted in the totality of the body.

In the community of the baptized, which constitutes a holy nation, God selects apostles and their successors to whom He confides the maintenance of the sacramental life. The twelve, in their quality of witnesses established by the Lord, who have received the priestly and ministerial power, are alone charged with assuring the continuity of the message and the common life. The apostles and their successors, to whom is given the name of bishops, constitutes a charismatic organism which assures the identity and unity of the living body. But we know that the New Covenant has only one priest, the Lord Christ, the Mediator between God and men, as follows clearly from the secret prayer of the Cherubikon: "And you became us our High Priest." Also it is given to bishops to confer the power of orders and to chose collaborators for the conduct of worship. These are the priests.

Episcopal succession is not a unique line; it is a network of lines which goes back to the Apostles, since every bishop is consecrated by several bishops and in the name of the entire episcopate. Hence, the communal and collegial nature of the episcopate. The consecrators who, according to the Council of Chalcedon, must be bishop-ordinaries, do not act in their capacity as local bishops, but precisely in so far as their college represents the totality of the Church. For this reason, the bishop is consecrated with the title of a church and acclaimed by the Christian people who sing "Axios!"

The power of jurisdiction, inseparable from the power of orders, must be exercised in communion with the hierarchical body and principally with its head, the pope. Episcopus in Ecclesia et Ecclesia in Episcopo. The bishop is the authentic spokesman of his church which constitutes of a functional organ of testimony united to the episcopal college and the Pope, he proclaims the truth of the message ex officio. Thus, although the truth of the message is borne by the entire body, it is the sacerdotal ministry alone which is authorized to give authentic testimony. The authenticity of the testimony is assured by the hierarchical succession.





The last explanation of the liturgical act is to be sought nowhere else but in the call to that which is transcendent, namely God as Mystery, in His life and in His works. It is there that in an act of deep faith one finds his ultimate response. We are going to review the different meanings of the word "mystery" in St. Paul.


It is to St. Paul that the Liturgy owes the word "mystery" (Greek: mysterion). With him it means something secret which cannot be known except through revelation.

It also means access of the Gentiles to the inheritance: "How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ, by the Gospel" (Ephesians 3:5-6).

It also means Christ Himself manifested in the flesh: "and without controversy, great is the mystery of holiness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by the angels, preached unto gentiles, believed on in this world, received up into glory" (1 Timothy 3:16).

It is in fact in these few words that the entire Christian mystery is contained and so condensed that one might consider it a matter of a credal formula. The mystery for St. Paul is "Christ, our Peace, He Who has reunited in Himself the two parts, Who overturned the wall of separation" (Ephesians 2:14). The mystery is revealed on the day of His birth, but it is after His Resurrection that Christ is identified with mystery. He entered into His glory.

For the Greeks, the mystery which derived from the old agrarian cults, has nothing in common with Christian mystery except the name. Christian mystery pertains to what is absolutely transcendental.


Mystery, as St. Paul sees it, differs from the word sacrament which, thanks to Western theology, has a rigorously precise meaning, designating the seven sacraments which constitute the privileged acts of the Church. But liturgy is not reduced to a sacrament, since it comprises our entire Christian life. It is the entire liturgy and not just the sacramental part which is the encounter with the living God. The word mystery comprises the sacraments and overflows with them because it covers a greater wealth, since it designates Christ Himself, God revealed subsisting in a created nature. "The Man-God is not only a sign or symbol, He is the sacrament of God, that is to say, God Himself, while at the same time visible and given, given to be received (receiving and gift are the two poles of love, the two terms of the Covenant)" (Varilon, Francois, Elements de Doctrine Chretienne, Vol. 2, p. 219).


The time of the Church is the time of the Spirit, Who by His power joins together in unity a multitude of different spirits, making of them, so to speak, one single spirit in itself. The culminating point of worship is in the Eucharist which it commemorates and makes real: the death and resurrection of Christ. It announces the future under the form of messianic repose. Between the creation and the Day of Yahweh (the end of the world) stretches the time of the Church, which is the time of the Spirit.

The Church is an imitation of the Trinity, says St. Gregory the Theologian. The only source of unity is God, and the only model of unity is the Trinity in which the three Persons of the Trinity make only One. It is upon this superior model that Christian unity must be modeled.

The sacramental life of the Spirit has truly been the supreme revelation. It is not grace which is given, but rather the source of all grace who is given. The Holy Spirit gives testimony of the glorified Christ and assures the insertion of every baptized person into the body of the Church.

If it is true that the divine missions are the reflection of eternal processions, the Holy Spirit is revealed as place of communion and of exchange. And it is on Him that the duty devolves of causing the disciples to enter into this intimacy of the Father and the Son and help them acquire the "manners (ways) of the Son." "We receive entirely in us," says St. Cyril of Alexandria, "the same and unique Spirit, and thereby, we are all united with one another and with God, although we are different from each other and the Spirit of the Father and the Son abides in each one of us." Thus the Holy Spirit is the factor of unity and the artisan of catholicity among the faithful. He cries within us, "Abba, Father!" and shows us in the other the image of the invisible God.


All Christian worship is paschal. In truth there is only one day in Christian prayer and that is the day of the Resurrection, celebrated every Sunday of the year, as well as every day in the Office. But more especially its wealth is revealed during the entire preparatory period before Easter, known as the Triodion (starting with the week of the Pharisee and the Publican and ending on Easter) and that which follows and which is properly speaking a paschal or pentecostal period (extending from Easter to Pentecost). We celebrate the divine life which comes down in time and our liberation from the influence of Satan and sin at the same time as our passage from death to life.

The paschal mystery which is the reconciliation of humanity by God by means of the death of His Son, "Christ, our Pasch has been sacrificed" is rendered present in time by the mystery of the Divine Liturgy. It is rather the presence of Christ Himself and His Spirit which is restored to us by the sacraments. The sacraments are in fact the specific places of this encounter with Christ. There is a continuous Epiphany of the Lord in the sacramental life of the Church.

The grace given by the sacraments is that of dying and rising with Christ. It is by His death and Resurrection that the God-Man expressed the being and the love of God through humanity. It is never necessary to envisage this being and this love independently of the manifestation which has been given to us in Christ. This manifestation is the paschal mystery. The death and resurrection of Christ represent death in all forms of evil and the plenitude of charity. In all its states and all its forms and degrees and whatever may be the opinion it takes, Christian life is always a death of egotism and thus a passage to the Risen Christ.


Time is repurchased by the mystery of the Incarnation which continues in the Church. "Christ is the same today and yesterday and until the end of time" (Hebrews 13:8). In Him all Christian generations meet again and are unified. The Church will be obliged, until the end of time, to make expression in her liturgy of the manifestation of the Word upon earth, until His second glorious coming. This is what she does all through the year by the various feasts of the calendar.

Sacramental order

By actualizing His presence in the world by means of the sacraments, the Church sacralizes time. Both in her office of praise as well as in the celebration of the holy mysteries, she is united to Christ risen and receives from Him the outpouring of the Spirit. "What Christ's humanity operated by a visible action during His mortal existence," says St. Cyril of Alexandria, "it operates now in an invisible way in the Eucharist." And moreover, "because of His great and immense love for men, He is mixed with us, not to transform Himself into us, but in order to change us in the flesh, we henceforth possess all His goods: we are, in fact, called sons and gods, not by nature like Him, but by grace."

"There is hope in time, in the secret and decisive event, rather more in the personage who can bring salvation. And it is here that there is a prodigy. In time, in hope, in the universal temptation of human hope, a supernatural act takes place, a new act which is gratuitous and miraculous: the coming of Him in the framework of human vicissitudes, the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus Christ. And we know who Jesus Christ, the Son of God is, the eternal Word of God who enters into the history of the human race by assuming in His divine and personal existence a human nature in which He lived, acted, suffered and died a Man and by divine power, rose again and lives forever. This is the Christian mystery" (Pope Paul VI: General Audience 12-13-72).

The Liturgy of Time: Divided into Several Cycles

The Paschal Cycle

As far back as we can go into the history of the Church, we find Christian communities celebrating the feast of Easter which, at the beginning was the only feast, which comprised the entire paschal cycle: Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost. Certain Christians celebrated it on the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan, believed to be the exact date of Christ's death on the cross - Good Friday. Others observed it on the following Sunday. From this came the paschal quarrel which brought the churches of Asia and Rome into opposition.

The Council of Nicea in 325 fixed the date of Easter. It should be celebrated henceforth on the Sunday following the first full moon after March 21, but never at the same time as the Jewish Passover.

There is the liturgy of the saints. The martyrs, first of all, and then the pontiffs, are the witnesses par excellence of Christ's death and resurrection. Feasts which included a liturgical celebration were instituted in their honor, since they were associated with the triumph of Christ Himself. Their dies natalis is the day of their martyrdom or death. It is their own Easter. The Eucharist is the memorial of the risen Christ. Hence the eschatological character of the worship of the saints (also Christological).

Great Lent

In the beginning, people fasted on the day of Christ's death, Good Friday; then the Saturday was added; the fast was then extended to all of Great Week. The Easter fast, properly speaking, is differentiated from the lenten fast, introduced in the fourth century, which ends on the Friday preceding Lazarus Saturday. This fast imitated that of Jesus after His baptism.

This fast starts on the Monday of the seventh week before Easter and ends on the eve of Lazarus Saturday. With the exception of Saturday and Sunday, this makes 35 days. With the addition of Great Week, which honors Jesus' sleep in the sepulcher and the two days (Wednesday and Friday) of Cheese Fare week, we have a total of 38 days.

Except for Saturdays and Sundays, the days of Great Lent are aliturgical. The liturgy of the Presanctified may be celebrated. This was once the custom in Milan and Rome (cf. Baumstark: Comparative Liturgy, p. 215).

Lent is preceded by a preparatory period of three weeks, corresponding to the Latin Septuagesima (70 days before Easter). And this was the Triodion.

In relationship with the Jewish Passover, commemorating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, the Christian Passover celebrates, with Christ's resurrection, our deliverance from sin and our passage from earth to heaven (cf. the paschal cycle).

The Epiphany-Christmas Cycle

The Christmas feast is of Roman origin; that of the Epiphany, which comprises all the divine manifestations (Trinity, Christmas, Baptism in the Jordan) comes from the East.

The separation of the two feasts took place in the era of St, John Chrysostom. Since then, there have been two distinct feasts. The Armenians, nevertheless, continue to celebrate the two feasts together on January 6/19.

In Rome Christmas replaced the celebration of the winter solstice and was henceforth fixed on December 25. Christ is the true Sun of Justice. The association of Christ with the sun and light is very evident in our liturgical offices.

The Weekly Cycle

This is of Mosaic origin. In its Christian form it is organized around Sunday, the Lord's Day, which dates back to the time of the Apostles (Apoc. 1:10). This day requires the celebration of the Eucharist. Our present form of the Divine Office developed under monastic influence.

The daily cycle is governed by the rhythm of light: Vespers, Matins, Compline and the Little Hours aiming at the sacralization of time, reflecting eternity. Thus the contemplation of the mystery of Christ has penetrated cosmic time and He has communicated the divine energies acting in creation.





The Liturgy is the Hymn of Praise of the Church, the breath of her prayer. But the Church is a mystery accessible by faith alone. Foretold by the prophets, under the form of figures and images, she does not identify with any of them because she surpasses them all and transcends all reality of this world. It is only when reality shines forth that images and shadows vanish and the meaning is grasped. "We who are of the Catholic Church," says Origen, "do not scorn the Law of Moses. In this condition we have the right knowledge of it."

The Church, like Christ, is of the order of mystery. No image can exhaust its meaning.

It is the Temple in which God is reflected and in which Moses saw the image of Sinai when he received from God's hands the tables of the Law.

It is the beloved spouse of the Canticle of Canticles, in which Christ pours out the waters of His love.

It is the Body of Christ Who is its head and from Whom it receives the waters of divine life.

From it, all of those who are baptized in Christ receive Christ and are nourished by His flesh and Blood; they become adopted children of God by the Spirit of adoption whom they receive and Who makes them cry "Abba, Father!" "See what great love the Father has shown us so that we are called the children of God, which we are" (1 John. 3:1). And it is because we are sons of God that we are brethren: "If we love one another, God abides in us (1 John 4:15). Thereby echoing the commandment of Christ, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

The sacraments are the signs and effective instruments of our sanctification or divinization. Baptism, while incorporating us into the body of the Church, restores in us the image and likeness of God destroyed by sin. The Eucharist identifies us with Christ and makes us one with Him. But this identification with Christ is not possible unless we first die to the present life, to egotism and to sin. The agent of this work of sanctification is the Holy Spirit who makes us enter into the concert of divine life.

The Liturgy is the sacralization of time. No portion of this world is profane, since, having come forth from God's hands, it was assumed by His only begotten Son in the mystery of the Incarnation. The entire cosmos and temporal duration are henceforth sanctified.

The Christmas cycle together with the Theophany commemorate and actualize the divine manifestations or theophanies of the Son of God in the Flesh. Easter (plus Ascension and Pentecost) marks the triumph of Christ over death and the passage from death to life. By His resurrection, Christ is the first born from among the dead. The saints, by their combat and their life of faith and charity, merited to be associated with His glory. For each one of them, Easter is a personal feast.

The liturgy is no longer the accomplishment of an obligation, an expression which we must banish from from the Christian vocabulary, but the participation in the Messianic Banquet and in the wealth of Christ's glory. Copied after Christ in Baptism and nourished by His flesh and blood, we restore in us the original image in all its purity. We can then say with St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me," and further, "for me to live is Christ" (Galatians 2:20).

Time is no longer the eternal and despairing threat which takes us away in the folds of death; it shines with the brilliance of eternity, since it is assumed by the eschatalogical duration towards which it tends and from which it expects redemption.

The liturgical celebration of the Church, the Church's cry of waiting for its Spouse, is the opening by which that which is eternal enters into time and penetrates us with divine energies. The aim of life is to be transparent in the presence of God in us and to radiate Him around us by awaiting the shining forth of His image in all its brilliance in the Kingdom of the Father.

We return to the theme of the icon, the mystery of the presence of God. Speaking about Rublov's icon of the Holy Trinity, Evdokimov says, "A powerful appeal is revealed: 'Be one, as the Father and I are one.' 'Man is the image of the triune God; in his nature, Church communion is inscribed as an ultimate truth. All men are called to unity around the one and only chalice of the Covenant to raise themselves to the level of the divine heart and to take part in the Messianic Meal, to become a single Temple-Lamb.' And eternal life is that they may know You and Him Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ. The vision ends on this eschatalogical note: It is the anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven, completely bathed, at last, in the divine joy, by the simple fact that the Trinity exists and that we are moved and that everything is grace. Astonishment bursts forth from the soul: it keeps quiet. The mystics never talk about the summit. Silence uncovers (discloses) it." (Orthodoxy, p. 238).





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