23 May 2014

Know the Eucharist

In a conversation I had with the chancellor of the Edmonton Eparchy during the first part of Great Lent, he related a story to me, that may or may not have happened, about the historical meeting in the Holy Land between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1964. The story goes that when they embraced, Pope Paul said, “At least we agree that there are Three Persons in the Holy Trinity.” To which Patriarch Athenagoras said, “Don’t count. Don’t count.”

This story struck a chord in me and I thought back before I  began a family and was planning to make a living playing drums as a professional musician. After two months of music school, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my Friday and Saturday nights in a smoke filled room encouraging everyone to drink as much as possible so that I could take home a decent amount of the liquor sales. However, during one of my classes in those two months, we had to, in turn, play a particular rhythm with a small ensemble. After the class, a couple of my classmate approached me to find out what it was that I played because it sounded so much better than everyone else. I simply said that I played the rhythm that everyone else played.

What my classmates didn’t understand, and what I just barely grasped, was that there is a difference between playing a rhythm (counting) and being a part of the music (not counting). It could be possible to analyze every note to discover what made the difference, but perhaps the human mind could not comprehend all of the subtle nuances. However, it is possible for the finite human mind to be engulfed in the infinite. With the chancellor’s story, I realized I had a burning desire to experience theology this way, particularly Eastern theology; to be engulfed by the infinite richness and beauty of Eastern spirituality; to not count.

(Incidentally, St. Evagrius of Pontus said: “The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.”)

This morning, during Divine Liturgy at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, I began to not count. I felt as if I were approaching the infinite; like I was between χρόνος (chronos) and καιρός (kairos). I could not describe it in words, but I knew the presence of God in the tabernacle. I knew God hovering over the gifts during the the Holy Anaphora. And I knew God on the altar after the consecration. I approached to receive the Eucharist like never before; and when I had received, I sensed… only bread soaked in wine.

The supernatural that I sensed before was only a thin taste of what awaits in the Heavenly Divine Liturgy, and my natural senses detected nothing but what is natural. I then realized the much truer meaning to what St. Paul was describing to the Corinthians in the 13th chapter of his first letter to them, particularly verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”

What we know only in part now has the appearances of bread and wine; then we shall have full knowledge of the Eucharist, spending eternity contemplating the Infinite. The closest we can come now with our natural senses is in marriage. The Greek word for know in the 1 Corinthians 13:12 is γινώσκω (ginosko), which is also found in some translations of Genesis 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…”