I remember an elder saying, “You want to know God? It is very easy. Just approach him with a painful heart, and it’s easy to relate with him, with a contrite and humble heart.” And it’s easy to relate to him and with him and receive his incorruptible consolation. And this incorruptible consolation overshadows the life of the members of this body. When this consolation abounds in the life, it brings the end of the world to them and to us the ends of the world have come, says St. Paul. That is to say, the members of this body, they live in an eschatological way. Like the Lord suffered for their sake outside of the camp of this world, they also come out of the camp of this world, renouncing all the vanity, the futility of this world, the values of this world, the illusions of this world, and the greatest illusion of this world is to want to make compatible the love of God with the love of the world. The love the world is enmity to God, says the Scripture.
So the true members of the body of Christ, they live continually in the presence of God, overshadowed with the incorruptible consolation of his Spirit, and they hasten to his second coming. They do not just simply wait for the second coming, but they hasten to the second coming, because of the great consolation that abounds in their life.
I say these things because, for us who are priests and have received in the Church the ministry of reconciliation of people with God, it’s very important. We are not just the celebrants of sacraments; we are not magicians. Forgive me for this exaggerated word. We are not just celebrants of sacraments. Of course, the sacraments are holy, and the Lord is present in them, but above all we are comforters of souls. God has given us such a grace, and he wants from us to be comforters of souls. But how can we be comforters of souls? Simply by entering the presence of the living God. Every time we approach this living God with a contrite heart and a humble spirit, we enter his presence, and coming out of this presence of the living God we find ready words in our hearts which we are ready to transmit to our fellows, words that will impart grace to them, words which will inform their hearts with grace and gain them for the Lord, and be co-workers with God for their regeneration.
This is par excellence the work of the priests, continually, whether they celebrate the sacraments of the Church, whether they prepare for the Liturgy, whether they offer the Liturgy, whether they preach. Whatever they do, they must have a living word for their fellows, to transmit a living word. Even when we are churching a child, we must say a few sentences, a few words to the parents, to make them understand that they are stewards of this child and co-workers with God for a great edifice, for a wondrous work in God. So whatever we do, whether we marry people, whether we bury people—forgive me—whether we church children, we must always be ready to give a word, a word which will impart strength, grace to the people.
So we see from this that our identity—to be members of this great body—is far greater than any other human identity we may have, because in this body, as I said, we can enter the communion of grace, the communion of gifts of all the saints. When we prepare for the Liturgy, for example, not only the priests but all the faithful, we work in our secret room in our home. We work a little gift in preparing for the Liturgy. That is to say, we try to repent, to warm up our heart with the expectation of his gift, and we come to the Liturgy with this little gift. Each one of us to be members of the body of Christ has to have a small gift, and that small gift will be a key to open the door to the gifts of all the other members of the body.
We come to the Liturgy with a little gift that we have worked in the secret. In the secret—we mustn’t be seen by men. That is a rule of life: not to be seen by men, says the Lord, and that was the rule the mother of God had. That’s why the Most High beheld her humility and did great things to her. So in secret we must work. We must work out a little gift, fill our heart with humble dispositions, with dispositions of repentance, of humility, and even of love for God. And with a heart full of such dispositions we come to the assembly of this body, to the other members, and this gift we bring into the assembly. If we don’t bring any gift, we do wrong to ourselves and also we are not just to our fellows. We must all contribute something in this assembly. We must bring our little gift to this assembly, and this will open up for us the way to share in the gifts of all the other members who are gathered there together in the name of Christ, and that’s how we become rich in this communion of gifts, in this communion of grace, because when we assemble to form the body of Christ, the Lord himself is present, and wherever the Lord is, there are all the orders of saints and all angels. Wherever the Lord is, there are all the armies of heaven present, and that is the kingdom of God in the Liturgy, come in power in the Liturgy.
So when we go to the Liturgy, prepared with a little gift, and we invest this gift in the gifts the priest offers to God on our behalf, we put in those gifts all our prayers, all our repentance, all our humility, all our love, all our expectation we have of him, all our life, and we offer it to God through the words of the priest who does it on our behalf, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in all and for all.” Then God, who is faithful to us in his promises and his covenant he made with us in baptism, he does the same. He puts his life in the holy Gifts, the grace of the Holy Spirit, in making them his body and his blood, containing all the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And at the end, the Lord speaks to us, and he says: “The holy things unto the holy.” We offer him these gifts full of our life, saying, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in all and for all,” and the Lord, he accepts our humble and small sacrifice, small life, and he returns to us his infinite and boundless life. “The holy things unto the holy.” And we have the possibility in this gathering, in this assembly of the body of Christ, to make an exchange of our little and small life with the boundless and great life of God. In every Liturgy, we make an exchange of our life with the life of God. That’s why after we have communicated in the holy Gifts, after we have received holy Communion, the Church sings a triumphal song for this exchange that has been accomplished: “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, worshiping the true and undivided Trinity,” and so on.
There is our life: in this body. And we mustn’t forget that St. Paul says to the Ephesians that we can only comprehend the depth and the height, the length and the breadth of the love of God with all the saints. That’s why our Fathers, and especially St. Cyprian of Carthage, taught that outside this body there is no salvation: extra Ecclesia, nulla salvus; outside the Church, there is no salvation, because only in the Church we find this communion of grace, this communion of the gifts of all the saints, the strong ones in heaven and the chosen people of God on earth in every place of his dominion. And in this communion of grace, in this communion of the gifts of the saints, we become rich, and we find salvation.
It was a mystery which was known even in the Old Testament, when the children of the Jews ascended to the temple of Solomon, coming down after having entered the wondrous presence of God in this temple, because the glory of God filled the house of God, as we read in the Scripture, in the old Scripture. When they entered this glorious presence of God, they came out as those that dreamt, says the psalm. They were so happy to enter the living presence of the God in those times, and in those times, the children of the Jews saw the Son, not directly, but reflected in the water, in a pool of water. It was the only way for them to see the Sun of righteousness, Christ.
For us, there is something greater. For us, there is the possibility to become partakers of his body and blood, to become partakers of his nature, in the energetical form, by grace. So as the Jews of old, when they entered the presence of God in the temple, they came out as those that dreamt, so also are the children of God of the New Israel, of the Church of Christ, when they enter the presence of God in the Liturgy, bringing gifts to God in the manner we try to describe. Then they come out renewed. It’s such a wonderful honor, privilege, that we have, to make this exchange of lives. Of course, if we make this exchange of lives, then we would be true witnesses of his death and resurrection, and then our words might convince some people to accept the truth of Christ’s revelation. If we do not manage first to convince God about our belonging to him, in vain will be our effort to convince anybody in this world.
So we said a few words that I wanted to say. And many of the tragedies of the history of the Church are due to the fact that we are not conscious, we are not aware of this great identity we all have in the Church, that we are, above all, members of the body of Christ, and anything else is a shadow. Anything else is very secondary.
ODE VI, Irmos: Beholding the sea of life surging the flood of temptations,
Let us fervently follow the ways of Jesus the Savior and His humility, if we desire to reach the tabernacle of everlasting joy and to dwell in the land of the living.
O Master, Thou hast shown to Thy disciples the humility that raiseth men on high, for girding Thy loins with a towel, and washing their feet Thou didst prepare them to follow Thine example.