Purposeful Communion Takes Hard WorkFr. Barnabas Powell
There seems to be a cottage industry that has developed in America surrounding the notion that modern life is lonely. It seems this sense of loneliness flows from the notion that we are to be “self-sufficient” and not “need” anybody to help us. We live in a society of radically autonomous people all insisting that their own immediate desire is the highest good and must be achieved! Of course, there is nothing wrong with being capable of caring for yourself, but, as with all good things, this ability can be twisted and made to be an impoverishment to our lives. And the cancer of this narcissism means true community, which we all crave and desire, is practically impossible!
As usual, the elusive power of balance and sobriety marks the places in my life and your life where we need the grace of God to heal us and set us free from the delusion of our own self-sufficiency. This message of balance and sobriety is not a very popular message and it certainly isn’t an easy one as well. So, in light of our life in Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit and His power given to us by the Church, with all the spiritual tools given to us in our precious and timeless faith, how can we regularly confront ourselves with the wisdom of the faith to overcome this sickness of radical autonomy?
Look at our Gospel Lesson in Matthew 5:20-26:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”
Here, Jesus speaks very plainly to the crowd around Him about the dangers of destroyed relationships. In one section He says “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Broken relationships directly affect our relationship with God. Broken relationships directly affect our communion and our lives. Broken relationships release the spiritual “poisons” of resentment, bitterness, fear, despondency, anger, and the desire for revenge. Left unattended these spiritual poisons then infect all our other relationships and set up a pattern of self-protection and defensiveness that reinforce the very loneliness we fear. And all this usually flows from our insistence that we are autonomous from one another and that we always have to look out for “number 1!”
One of the remedies to this spiritual spiral down into loneliness is taking seriously the Lord’s command to not let these difficulties and broken relationships fester. Deal with misunderstandings and arguments as quickly as you can after a “cooling off” period. In another place, the Apostle Paul said “Don’t let the sun set on your anger.” Keep short accounts, especially with those closest to you.
By doing this you invite the grace of God into all your relationships to provide healing and humility and you can approach the Chalice of the Eucharist with integrity and peace. At each liturgy the priest, before he takes the Eucharist there on the altar, turns to the faithful gathered and asks forgiveness, all because broken relationships poison communion, and doing the hard work of communion sets me free to receive the Eucharist in peace and not merely by habit or as “my right.” In fact, this hard work of relationships actually transforms us into real persons instead of individuals!
The saint we remember today was actually martyred BECAUSE he loved the people he was called to serve as their bishop. St. Theodotos was the bishop of Ancyra during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284 AD – 305 AD). Christianity was still an illegal religion at the time and Bishop Theodotos found out that a group of Christians had been ordered executed because they refused to deny their faith in Christ. The bodies of these 8 female martyrs were recovered by their bishop who made sure they received a Christian burial. When the local proconsul Theotecnus heard that Bishop Theodotos had done this, he had the holy bishop arrested, tortured, and beheaded for doing the hard work of being in true communion with his flock!
Today, do you see the value of the hard work of communion to be the medicine that heals you of self-destructive selfishness that breaks the relationships in your life? Are you willing to take up the spiritual “weapons” given to you through your Orthodox faith to combat the real enemies of your life? Even though it’s hard, are you willing to do the work to restore broken relationships so that your reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood will be healing to you and freedom from the delusion of a selfish prison? You can, and you will discover the joy of the hard work of communion and being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Your Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since he possessed Your strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.