Categories
Personal

This Also is True

The central feature of the Coptic Orthodox liturgy is the celebration of communion. Consumed as the final element of the mass, much of what comes before is preparation. Early on, before most people arrive, are Bible readings and traditional hymns, followed by a sermon aimed to connect both to the Gospel text of the day and the lives of the Coptic faithful. By then most are in attendance, and priests and congregation alike repeat the words establishing the foremost mystery – Jesus present in body and blood.

As the priest prepares the host he chants from the passage in Luke in which Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper:

Take, eat of it, all of you, for this is my body, which is broken for you and for many, to be given for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.

The people reply: This is true. Amen.

Then follows the presentation of the cup, and the priest proclaims:

Take, drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many, to be given for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.

The people reply: This also is true. Amen.

As an aside, before returning to this mystery, then follows my favorite part of the mass, in which the congregation sings:

Amen. Amen. Amen. Your death, O Lord, we proclaim. Your holy resurrection and ascension, we confess. We praise you, we bless you, we thank You, O Lord, and we entreat you, O our God.

These sentiments are repeated throughout the mass: I believe, I confess, this is true. The priest states an understanding of the Eucharist, and the people respond: Amen, amen, amen… Lord have mercy. It is as if the utter impossibility of the event itself – bread and wine becoming flesh and blood, and that of a crucified man nearly 2,000 years ago – demands constant sublimation of the message. Appropriately, at a certain interval, all are invited to prostrate before the holy host. Many are familiar with the sight of Muslims with forehead bowed in reverence to God; though pew position disallows most Copts from complete prostration, most adjust their bodies to the degree possible. In monasteries, lacking any impediments, all humble themselves with their face to the ground.

Raised in Protestant tradition, I have little connection to these pious practices. Communion is a time of remembrance, not an infusion of the transubstantiated Son of God into my being. I label them pious; upon observing the mass many would be excepted. The congregation is prompted to confirm, “This also is true” – quite a few mutter along unengaged. At the moment of prostration, group ethics demand a response, but some heads are bowed only minimally. Among the worshippers seated on the sides of the church (and thus not facing east as demanded by tradition), a good percentage fail to turn their bodies appropriately.

In these observations no disrespect is intended; the repetition of any established pattern naturally lessens the experience of its import. What I would like to highlight is the degree to which an incident today demonstrated unequivocally that Jesus’ presence is a matter of deep conviction.

When communion commences, the men line up at the left of the church, the women at the right, and they receive a cloth napkin. Upon reaching the iconostasis the priests emerge to place the bread in the mouths of the supplicants, after which they proceed to the central aisle where another priest spoons the wine. After each element is received the napkin is placed over their mouths lest anything fall to ground.

In this particular church, women tend to outnumber the men, and as such the last few minutes consist of the final few ladies making their way through the line, some of whom carry their babies who also partake. Today it so happened that one of these babies received his portion of bread, but when the mother lowered him toward the priest to pour from the spoon, the bread, unrestrained in his toothless mouth, fell to the floor.

I cannot tell if the congregation noticed. By this time most are shuffling back into their seats or even out the door. Communion is the point of church – though there are a few minor rituals remaining, many have stopped paying attention. The priest, woman, and those around, however, were jolted into confusion. Immediately the priest bent down and placed the morsel back in the baby’s mouth, as his mother looked on horrified. When it fell again the mother quickly descended to pick it up. The priest, though, was quicker, and pushed the woman’s hand away. This time he put the bread into the woman’s mouth, and mother and child filed away into the anonymity of the crowd.

This woman was the next-to-last participant, and the one after her received the wine without incident, and the priest returned behind the curtain to join his colleagues and the deacons in cleaning the communion implements. This final worshipper, however, was still a little unsettled. She looked down at the ground where the bread had fallen, stepped to the side, and walked around. She took all care that her feet would not trample on Jesus, should any of his presence remain where he fell.

What should be made of such faith? That which struck me the most was that this belief was real. Not in the sense of intellectual credence, but of tangible reality. I cannot say if these women love their families, are considerate to others, or pray on a daily basis. Do they know God? Do they love him?

They know however, at the deepest core of their being, that Jesus is present in the bread and the wine. Maybe this is not true; maybe it is only a constructed social mechanism. Yet a further question is this: Assuming, of course, that God and Jesus somehow go together, does this faith please God?

According to Biblical testimony, God seems quite ready to receive flawed faith. Elisha the prophet bid the healed leper Naaman on his way with a barrelful of dirt on which to worship God in the manner of his idolatrous understanding. Jesus healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda who had no one to help him in when the angel descended to stir the waters. Surely other examples could be gathered.

Perhaps the most relevant example, though, should come from an essayist who believes that God loves and accepts him, yet cannot refrain from wondering at the legitimacy of the faith of others. No matter how orthodox my creedal faith, such an attitude betrays a pride and superiority unbefitting a creature of God. That he welcomes me into his family, despite such flaws, should give hope to us all. There may be many pretty sentiments I can conjure, but until I perceive God’s presence as fully as the women I observed today, I must remain their pupil.

7 replies on “This Also is True”

Oh. how I agree with this: “That he welcomes me into his family, despite such flaws, should give hope to us all.”

Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your life, and welcome to High Calling Blogs. I will be looking forward to reading about your unusual life and what you glean from it spiritually…

Oh, and don’t worry too much about little ones sucking their thumbs. I think we try to make kids grow up too fast sometimes. 🙂

Like

My Dear Brother & Sister in Christ, Jayson and Julie,

I hope & pray that you and your children are doing well. My name is Cyril and I am a Coptic Orthodox Christian living in America. I came across this site and I would like to know more about you and your work in Egypt. I would also like to help you learn about the Orthodox Church, if you would like, as I’m not sure if you are able to find anyone in Egypt to teach you about our beloved Church.

Please forgive me for the long post but I have a couple questions for you regarding this post:

You said, “It is as if the utter impossibility of the event itself – bread and wine becoming flesh and blood, and that of a crucified man nearly 2,000 years ago – demands constant sublimation of the message.”

Please correct me if I’m wrong but it seems that you are saying that it is, according to you, essentially impossible. I am not sure if you and your family are Christian or not, but if you are, you certainly must read the Holy Bible. If you do read the Holy Bible, you must have read all the Gospels. In the Gospel according to Saint Luke 22:19,20 it is written:

“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

Here our Lord Jesus Christ is clearly saying “This IS MY body and MY blood” after He took bread into His Holy Hands and gave thanks and broke it. In the Gospel according to Saint John 6:51-58 it says:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

Here our Lord Jesus Christ is also clearly saying that if anyone eats this bread, the same bread He just gave to His disciples, they will live forever. He also says that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” And here our Lord makes it clear that although it is bread and wine to our senses, it is truly His flesh and blood.

You may notice that the Jews quarreled among themselves and even His disciples said in the Gospel according to Saint John 6:60, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” Our Lord responded by saying, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”

The only thing that I find truly hard to understand about the verses is how can our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ say that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’ and then not leave us a way to have His Holy Body and Blood! He must have given us a way, He must have or else there is no hope for any Christians, according to what He said, we have no life in us if we do not eat His Body and Blood and if we do, then we shall live forever.

I wonder, how can a Christian misunderstand these statements? Of course, if you are not a Christian, then even according to a simple understanding of what is written in our Holy Book, the Bible, one can comprehend what our Lord Jesus Christ is saying, even without having any faith in the words.

To continue the point I’m making, that our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ must have left us a way to have His Body and Blood, lets look further in history to see what happened, after our Lord ascended to Heaven, to the First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11-23-29:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

In these verses Saint Paul is sharing with us what He received and taught and clearly these verses show that the Disciples and Apostles understood that Christ spoke of His Body and Blood and they did as our Lord taught them and they came together, prayed, gave thanks and then partook of His Body and Blood long after He had departed from this earth, and they taught all Christians to partake of His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine and to prepare themselves for communion as well. One can understand this when Saint Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Clearly he is speaking to the Corinthians and this means they were partaking of His body and blood, and apparently quite often, years after our Lord ascended to Heave. Once again, whether or not one is a Christian, he must read and understand exactly what I am stating here. The words of God are clear here and there is no parable given, no symbolism, these are teachings that Saint Paul is delivering as he was commanded to.

My dear brother and sister in Christ, please share with me your thoughts on these simple words I have written here.

I am no scholar, I am not a preacher, I am but a fool, a fool for Christ. I love God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength, and with all my mind. I desire that all may come to the true knowledge of God, the knowledge of the Holy Trinity, of His Holy Orthodox Church, and enjoy His love and that we may all live together forever in Heaven with our beloved Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Before I end this message, I must say that I am deeply saddened and hurt by one of your statements. You said, “Yet a further question is this: Assuming, of course, that God and Jesus somehow go together, does this faith please God? According to Biblical testimony, God seems quite ready to receive flawed faith.”

Once again, please correct me if I am wrong in my understanding of your words, it seems that you are saying that my faith is flawed and you question whether or not my faith pleases our beloved God. My dear brother, I wonder how you can come to such a conclusion. My beloved Church and the Holy Orthodox Church was not started yesterday, our beliefs did not come up overnight a few hundred years ago, no man interfered in our faith since it was founded. Saint Mark the Apostle, the writer of the second Gospel in the New Testament of our Holy Bible is the one who delivered this faith to Egypt following the command of our Lord Jesus Christ himself in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew 28:19,20:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

He heard these words from the Lord himself that day and went to Egypt to preach and thus gave birth to the Church of Alexandria, which came to be known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Our faith is exactly what our Lord taught His disciples and apostles. Our Orthodox faith, as attested to by history, has existed for almost 2,000 years and has remained unchanged. There are well over 500 million Orthodox Christians worldwide according to some recent statistics. We aren’t a small denomination started a few years ago. Our faith is strong, our faith is deep, our faith is true, our is the Truth, and I say this with a deep conviction in my heart.

You speak of ‘Biblical testimony’ and I would like to add that the Holy Orthodox Church gave birth to the Holy Bible and the Holy Bible did not give birth the Church. What do I mean exactly? The Holy Bible as we know it today did not exist as one book until many years after the Church was strong and growing worldwide. The first time that all 27 books of the New Testament of the Holy Bible were ever mentioned together as being contained in one book was by Saint Athanasius the Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, my beloved Church, in the year 367 AD in his ‘Festal Letter #39’. This can be found online if you would like to read it. My point is, we know what is contained in the Holy Bible, we gave birth to it, the Holy Orthodox Church gave you what you are holding in your hands and reading. We preserved it over the centuries, we passed it down generation to generation as you hear in our Divine Liturgy when the congregation says in one voice, “As it was and shall be, from generation to generation, and unto all the ages of the ages. Amen.” We carefully preserved the faith and have kept it until this day. I hope you truly understand what I am trying to say and if you have any questions at all about any word I said, please ask and I shall clarify with references.

Once again, please forgive me for the lengthy post but I am eager to hear your response.

Please remember me in your prayers.

Your brother in Christ,

~ Cyril, a servant of Christ and a seeker of the Truth

Like

Thank you, Cyril, for your reply. You have provided in detail what I hope in small ways to do through posts like this: Introduce Orthodox Christianity to the Western Church. Why? Because many, especially in Protestant traditions, are unfamiliar with Christian history outside of the 1st Century, Constantine, the Crusades, the Reformation, and the growth of the church since then. Sadly, we know even less about Christians like yourself who practice the faith in its most ancient of forms, and who exist largely outside of this narrative of history. You are hidden, we don’t know you, and we are less for this lacking.

Concerning the correctness of your Biblical interpretation I do not wish to enter into it here or now, but I am glad you provided it. Many cast a quick glance at the ‘traditional’ churches and see human tradition given priority over Scripture, so it is good to see that not only is your vision thoroughly Biblical, it is also infused with a love for God. Your arguments must not be dismissed. Let us allow a thoroughly Protestant theologian to speak into your interpretation, but let us also invite the Protestant of any level of study to esteem your desire to ground your practice in sacred text. Are you correct? Are they? Let friendly dialogue lead all to greater understandings of the truth, which we must confess in the end lies only with God.

So this leads to my last level of response about the hurt you took from one of my statements. In terms of ‘flawed’ faith I was not referring to your tradition of Orthodox faith, but of the personal faith (perhaps) enacted by the women I described who were unnerved by the elements falling to the ground. As your tone here is friendly, I imagine you took the greater point that I was making, in that my personal faith is flawed, and I should learn from the reverence those women portrayed. Looking back at the text, though, I see how you could have read this otherwise.

Finally, I hope to link to your comment soon, so that others might profit from it. As it is now, it is buried in the comments of an obscure blog post. My link won’t do much to change that, but perhaps your long response can yet have greater impact. To the extent you encourage the Christian to look more closely at the Bible – and from different perspectives – you can only promote his or her spiritual growth. Who knows. Perhaps the Protestant theologian will be able to comment back and challenge you all the same. Thanks for writing. By blogging my experiences and questions I help myself think through and reflect upon what I learn in Egypt – religiously and otherwise. Please comment freely as you follow along, and I will take much benefit.

Like

Peace & Grace,

Thank you for your response and please forgive me for misunderstanding your comment about a ‘flawed faith’. Of course I did understand your greater point and it shows that you are a humble person who is eager to learn more about God as each day passes. The Fathers of our beloved Church teach us that if one day passes which we do not seek to know more about God and grow in our relationship with Him, we should not count it as a day in our life!

I look forward to hearing more from you, as well as anyone else, who would like to discuss anything about Orthodox Christianity. Nothing brings more joy to my heart than to talk about our beloved God all day long.

I would like to share a simple statement by the late Coptic Bishop Athanasius of Beni-Swef and Bahnassa who departed from this world in 1977. He said regarding our Church:

“…On one hand, its theology is based on nothing outside the scriptures. On the other hand, the doctrines agree in all parts with those of the Early Church i.e. the tradition which has the proper interpretation and application of the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles as understood and practiced by the Christians and the leaders of the Church during the period of the One Universal Church until the division of 451 A.D.”

I would like to comment on one statement you made. You said:

“Let friendly dialogue lead all to greater understandings of the truth, which we must confess in the end lies only with God.”

Of course I understand your point in saying such a thing and God told us He is the truth. But one can understand from this statement that God left us in this world surrounded only by lies and the truth is only with Him in Heaven. So how then could God share the truth with us? How DID He share the truth? Should we never expect to know the truth while living in this world? I will share some references and explain my point after them.

The the Gospel according to Saint John 18:37, it is written:

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Our Lord himself says He came to testify to the truth and there are those who lived on this earth who knew the truth and were on the side of the truth and they listened to Him. This must mean that there was a truth that He established.

In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16:18, Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the Saint Peter and the Apostles saying:

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”

From this verse one can only understand one thing, that God, the Creator of this world, said the gates of Hades shall NOT prevail against it, and therefore it can NEVER happen. What does this mean? It means that the Church that our Lord established still exists in this world, it is impossible for it to have disappeared or to have fallen into error. The only one who can dispute this is one who has the audacity to say that God does not speak the truth. So where is this Church…?

Also in the Gospel according to Saint John 14:5,6 & 15-17 & 26 it is written:

“Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

In these verses our Lord and Savior tells His disciples and apostles that He is the way, the truth, and the life, then He continues to say that He will send the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to come and dwell in them and teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things that He said to them.

My point? If God said He is the truth, then said that He will give us another Helper, the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, to abide in us, and that he will teach us all things, then clearly, there must be a possibility of having access to the truth in this world, there must be.

Please share your thoughts with me on this. I’m not asking for the response of a Biblical Scholar or a Theologian, as I am neither, I am nothing but a simple servant of God. I wish to hear your feelings on my words if you desire to share them.

I know in my heart that the truth, the truth about God, exists in this world… the question is how many people want to believe this and understand the truth? How many people want to give up their ‘beliefs’ that they’ve made for themselves, or that someone made for them, and accept something that was taught almost 2000 years ago and accept this as the truth about God and the only truth that God himself taught? This takes a lot of humility! To give up what one has come to believe to believe and accept what has been established as the truth from the time our Lord was walking upon this earth…

I pray that everyone may come to the truth. May God touch all our hearts and humble us to accept the truth, the truth He taught us while He dwelt in this world. May we grow in faith and love for our beloved God day by day.

Please pray for me. My name is actually Kyrillos but for most people it is hard to understand so I say it as Cyril instead. I love the name very much and I love Saint Cyril the Great, the Pillar of Faith, and Saint Kyrillos the VI the previous Pope & Patriarch of our beloved Church who departed from this world in 1971 to be with Christ.

Your brother in Christ

~ Kyrillos a servant of Christ and a seeker of the Truth

Like

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s