|Per crucem ad lucem|
I blogged about it here. One of the stories I told of my experience of that magnificent liturgy includes the following:
After we gathered on the steps of the church - the place was PACKED and the crowd spilled out onto the street - holding our lit candles and proclaiming and singing many, many times, "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is Risen) and responding "Alithos Anesti" (Truly, He is risen), Fr. Demetri said, "I beg you. I implore you. Please don't leave now. Please come back and celebrate Eucharist. Give thanks for this Great Mystery of our faith."Here's what I didn't tell you.
He paused a moment for effect and then said, "I promise that you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay. I'm begging you. I'm imploring you. Don't leave. It has only just begun! I promise from the bottom of my heart!"
And then, about half of the congregation followed him back into the church while the rest slipped quietly away.
A few moments later, as we were preparing to celebrate Holy Eucharist, Fr. Demetri stood on the chancel steps and said, "Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox tradition - in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in an Orthodox Church can receive Communion."
This, after Fr. Demetri had promised, ".... you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay".
I did. And, because I was not baptized in the Orthodox Church but still part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," I was excluded from a "foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all".
I sat in my pew and wept.
Now, I've been to other Greek - and Russian and Armenian - Orthodox churches before. I have always been invited to partake in the blessed bread. The consecrated wine, as I understood it, was reserved for those who had received Orthodox baptism.
I didn't like it, and I don't pretend to understand the theology, but I was grateful to be invited to share in at least part of the meal.
I'm not sure why this young priest has decided to make this exclusion so obvious - especially after his invitation and his begging and imploring. I asked my friend and she said, simply, "I don't know. It's just the way Fr. Demitri has done it in the three years he's been with us."
She looked pained and I didn't want to ruin the celebration or festivities by making her more uncomfortable, but I did ask, gently, "Has no one asked him about this?"
She looked away, "Well....no....he's... well, he's the priest."
I don't think my experience of exclusion at that Great Orthodox Vigil of Easter Eucharist would have been quite so painful if I hadn't been given such a great build up to Eucharist.
I believe what Fr. Demetri said. I know it to be true. So, why would I be excluded, just because I hadn't been baptized in the "right" church? Don't we believe that there is one Body and one Spirit; one hope in God's call to us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God who is (Creator) of all"?
That's not just a clever liturgical innovation that marks the opening liturgy of our baptism. Those words come right from St. Paul. I'm assuming Greek Orthodox also read the Epistles of St. Paul.
If Eucharist is truly a 'foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all', why was I being excluded from having the foretaste now?
No wonder more than half the church left before Eucharist. I know I considered it. I suspect they all knew what was coming. And, I suspect many of them came to church that night with relatives or friends - perhaps even a spouse - who had not been baptized in the Orthodox church.
The 'easy', institutional answer, of course, is to have everyone catechetized and then baptized in the Orthodox church. But, is that the pastoral answer?
What would Jesus do?
|Feeding the Multitudes|
Thousands of people have gathered to listen to Jesus. Well, Mark and Matthew say 4,000 (plus women and children) while Luke and John say 5,000, so probably closer to 6,000, give or take a few unimportant women and children who don't count anyway so why count them?
There is a quibble about whether or not it was 'five loaves and two fish' or 'seven loaves and a few small fish', but again, we're talking a miracle here, people. Lighten up!
You know the story. The disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry. Let's send them away so they can get something to eat."
Again, the details vary but the bottom line is Jesus would have none of that plan. Instead, he gathered all the food that was brought to him, blessed and broke the bread and fish and - lo and behold! - there was not only enough for everyone to eat, but even leftovers. Seven baskets, by one count.
I don't know about you, but I can't count the number of sermons I've heard in the past which tells this story as the model of our Eucharistic celebration. This, of course, and the story of the Last Supper Jesus had with is disciples in that upper room.
Imagine, then, if you will, that when the disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry," He said to them, "What!?! I can't feed all these people! Well, I could, of course, because I am, after all, the Christ (but don't tell anyone), but I'm not going to do that now. Not yet! Idiots! They have no idea what I'm about to feed them! So, okay, let's start catechism classes first. A couple of weeks ought to do it. Then, we'll have to schedule a baptism. And THEN, we'll feed them."
"But...but...Master," says Peter, "It's really late and this is a remote place and they are Really Hungry. Why not just send them away to their villages so they can buy something for themselves to eat?"
And Jesus says, "Right. Good plan. Send them away, then. If they want the 'real stuff' they are going to have to learn about what it is I'm doing and exactly what it is I'm giving them. And then, they'll have to get baptized. I promise that no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all".
|The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century|
Preposterous, right? Never happen, right? Jesus never turned anyone away from eating with Him.
Whew! Glad you're not Greek Orthodox, right? Glad you're part of the 'inclusive' Episcopal Church, aren't you?
Wait. Hang on just a red hot New York minute. I think we need to look at the mote in our eyes before we criticize the splinters in others.
Canon 1.17.7 in The Episcopal Church states: “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”
Of course, we know that this canon is broken all the time - and not just at Christmas and Easter. There are, however, other Episcopal churches that make that canon very clear at the announcements and/or in their church bulletins before celebrating Eucharist.
Which is why there is a resolution - actually, a couple of them - which will be considered when The Episcopal Church gathers at General Convention July 4-12 in Indianapolis, that ask us to take another look at that canon.
Eastern Oregon’s Resolution C040 would pave the way for an open invitation to communion by eliminating Canon 1.17.7. The resolution asks to allow the church’s congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.”
North Carolina's Resolution C029 proposes a longer-term look at the issue and calls for a special commission to conduct “a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion” and recommend to the 78th General Convention any amendment to Canon 1.17.7 it believes is needed.
The texts of both resolutions are available here. Eastern Oregon’s is accompanied by a diocesan statement explaining its stance.
Holy Moley! I hardly recognize some of the comments as coming from Episcopalians, much less Christians.
This discussion strikes at the very real tension between the theology and the centrality of baptism in our lives of Christian faith and the reality of how we apply our pastoral theology to people who are hungering and thirsting for the real, sacramental presence of Jesus in their lives.
Of course, baptism is important to me. I understand the theology. I understand its importance as one of the two great Sacraments of the Church - Eucharist being the other. According to our Catechism (BCP 860), confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation and unction are five Sacramental Rites.
In truth, I have lots of questions about our assumptions concerning baptism. I understand that scripture tells us that Jesus was baptized by John, but show me one place in scripture where Jesus baptized anyone. Go ahead. I'll wait.
We may assume that the disciples were, in fact, baptized and that they also did so at the direction of Jesus, but the truth is that these facts were not recorded in Scripture. It seems a shaky argument, indeed, to argue from the letter of scripture and then, when something is not there, to assume that a fact was so obvious that no one bothered to record it.
Although it appears that Jesus never told anyone in any of the Gospel accounts to be baptized, all of them report his many discussions with numerous people about how to have a relationship with God.
Personally, I think there's a great deal to be said about that.
Here's the thing: As a priest, I would like a little more latitude in the discretion I use in the distribution of the elements of Holy Eucharist. I would like to be able to feed someone who is spiritually hungry and then have the opportunity to talk with them about the significance of that sacramental act.
We feed them first and then provide catechesis. Well, that's the plan, anyway.
And, if after some careful catechesis, the person in question still declined to be baptized? The truth of it is, I'm not sure what I would do. It would depend on the situation, I suppose.
I mean, if Peter could deny Jesus three times and go on to be the 'rock' on which His church was founded, I suppose I could allow at least as many times for someone to decline baptism.
Would that be a reflection on the efficacy of my teaching or what is in the person's heart?
Unless even evidence to the contrary, I'd rather err on the side of generosity and compassion.
I'm curious to know your feelings on the subject. What do you feel about requiring baptism before Eucharist? Beyond being principled about (heaven forbid!) not excluding anyone from anything, what is your thinking about what Scripture and the Church's history and tradition have to say in his matter? What are your expectations of the church's role in this? What are your expectations about the role of clergy in these pastoral matters?
If Jesus says, "Come" should we say, "Wait?"
Why? Why not?
Tell stories. Blog on it. Link your blogs here.
Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm really curious to know.