Word Magazine January 1975 Page 3,4/14
SACRAMENTAL LIFE —AND THE LIFE STYLE OF ORTHODOXY
The Keynote Address of the 21st Annual Conference of the
Eastern Orthodox Catechetical Association
delivered on July 22, 1974, by the
Very Rev. Fr. John Badeen, President of the Association
In his piercing insights into the nature of Christianity, St. Paul exclaimed, “For me to live is Christ.” (PHILIPPIANS 1: 2) Those words of St. Paul are valid for all Christians today. Our principal chore is to allow Christ to form Himself in us, to act through us, to make us His dwelling place. We, on our part, are to live, love, suffer, and die in Christ. Through all the vicissitudes of this world, God is at work that we be “conformed to the image of His Son.” Christian holiness is identification with Christ.
The great means established by God to communicate with us this Life in Christ are the Sacraments. With good reason has Christian Tradition always considered the Sacraments as the special channels of special grace. Through the Sacraments all the benefits of Redemption, acquired once and for all on the Cross, are transmitted to us. They represent a new mode and order of being transcending time and space, which God has created to perpetuate in our midst the reality of His Redemptive Sacrifice and the personal action of our Savior in each of our lives. Through the symbolic rites and ceremonies performed by the Church in the Sacraments, the deeds of Christ are perpetuated. Thanks to the Sacramental Order, the Christ of history, circumscribed in space and time, is become the Christ of all nations and all ages. Jesus is still present among us. The Christ that was crucified on Golgotha calls unto Himself every generation. It is for us, then, to turn our existence into an ardent search of Christ. The span of life apportioned to us constitutes the personal hour of our personal Redemption.
Over and above the individual, however, it is the entire Mystical Body of Christ that is progressively built up from one century to another through the economy of the Sacraments. Perhaps, this wider, this social aspect of the Church’s Sacramental life has not always been sufficiently emphasized. Yet there is not a single Sacrament that does not have, at least indirectly, its effect on the whole of Christ’s Mystical Body. In our own day men everywhere are giving increased attention to social values. In all walks of life — in religion, in art, in culture, as well as in economic matters — all questions are approached from a supra-national point of view. To the Church this is not a new approach. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is used to seeing all things in relation to the all-embracing plan of the Redemption. It is easy, indeed, it is natural, for her to place everything within this perspective. All her teachings introduce social repercussions. But it is the theology of the Sacraments in particular that brings us face to face with the most efficacious means for the growth and the solidarization of Christ’s Mystical Body.
Thus, Baptism is the Sacrament of initiation into the Christian community, the official rite of incorporation into Christ and His Church, our personal death and resurrection spiritually, being reborn in Christ, being dead to the old sinful nature, having the distorted image restored once again to its pristine beauty within us. A Christian soul never stands alone before Christ. We have it on Faith that God sent His Son to the whole human race to unite all men in the one and the same Mystical Body. This social import of the Graces of Baptism and of the other Sacraments is too much neglected in the individualism of modern piety. The greatest fruit of Baptism is precisely the entrance that it grants us into the Church, this achievement of Christ so full of mystery. Through Baptism we are constituted both children of God and of the Church, and living members united with the whole Mystical Body of Christ. To the Christian, Baptism brings God as Father, the Church as Mother, and all men as brothers in Christ Jesus.
Engaged in relentless struggle in fulfillment of the Redemption, the Church needs apostles; the Church needs soldiers. Chrismation creates these laborers for God. In this Sacrament we receive the seal of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord said “it is the Holy Spirit that teaches all things.” We grow in the knowledge of the Faith as we grow in years. The Sacramental character implanted on the soul of these Christians constitutes them as the laborers and workers for Christ, with the solemn obligation to bear witness, to proclaim their faith to the world, to spread and defend, at the cost of martyrdom, if necessary, the common good of the Christian Society. The Christian, a follower of Christ, lives and dies for Christianity.
The Eucharist, which is the Sacrament of Unity, affects the Communion of the entire Church with the one Christ. The more men are united with Christ, the greater the accord among themselves. If the first Christians lived in such perfect brotherly love as to be “of one heart and of one soul” in the Lord, they succeeded in this only because with one mind they continued steadfastly in prayer and partook together of the breaking of the Bread. Before the act of consecration in the Divine Liturgy, the priest faces the people and says, “Let us love one another that with one accord we may confess.” The first Christian community gathered around the Eucharist as the source of their unity. Faced with internal division and external friction that so often resolves in modern nations clashing with one another in wars, what power for understanding between peoples and for conciliation among nations the world would find if all men gathered around the same Eucharistic table of the one Christ, seeking there the source of their common inspiration and mutual understanding as well as the pledge of harmony and of peace.
Composed of sinful members, the Church Militant works out its salvation in the midst of a thousand dangers, maintaining an existence that is not only precarious from the human point of view, but also marked by frequent lapses and relapses. If our Divine Savior had not provided for the permanent establishment of a Sacrament of mercy and pardon, the Mystical Body should quickly have succumbed to the forces of ruin and death. But Penance is there to restore the life of Christ and the friendship of God to souls dead by sin. Here again, let it be noted, that it is not only the isolated individual who receives the fruits of the Sacrament of Penance, in addition to the sinner who is converted and the just who with the help of priestly absolution advances to a higher degree of holiness, but also the whole Mystical Body of Christ profits from these graces of spiritual resurrection and sanctification. The most secret fruits of pardon brought to the sinful soul by this purifying Sacrament accrue indirectly to the whole Church, which is cleansed of her daily faults in the Blood of the Redeemer and thus, according to the wish of her master, is made pure and holy, without spot or wrinkle, becoming more and more like unto the holiness of God.
In the Church, hardened and scandal-giving sinners are treated as contagious members against which the community must guard itself. In the manner of the living organism the Church struggles against every evil that threatens the entire social body, for nothing divides men like sin. By expelling sin, which is the internal principal of disintegration, the Sacrament of Penance removes from the Christian community the element of disorder and death, and thus serves as one of the strongest safeguards of unity.
When, next, the Christian advancing in age begins to think of founding a family, the Church brings to his attention the meaning of Christian marriage, essentially ordained to the propagation of the Mystical Body of Christ, to the numerical increase of the Adorers of the Trinity. There is no need to insist on this classical teaching. The family is the basic cell of the Christian community, and indeed of every human society. Parents must live for their children. A father and a mother, worthy of the name, forget themselves. In a Christian environment conjugal love develops into friendship in Christ and is dedicated to the pedagogic mission of the family, the school of sanctity in which the members of the Mystical Body of Christ are trained and matured. The Christian borne is the recruiting station for apostles of Christ, for priest, and for saints. Thus, this Sacrament of Matrimony, and through it, the family unity builds up the City of God.
Holy Orders are the Sacrament of Hierarchical unity in the Church. In the Christian community the priest is the man of the common good, at the service of all. The lowliest priest is charged with the care of the whole church; his mediation extends to the entire Mystical Body of Christ. His office places him between God and men, and is not restricted to one parish, one diocese, or one nation. His priesthood puts him at the service of all men, and in every priest it must be possible to find again the soul of Christ. For in every performance of his sacred functions the priest always acts in the Name of Christ and in behalf of the whole Church.
The power of the priest reaches its maximum efficacy at the Divine Liturgy. In perpetuation on the Altar the supreme act of Christ’s Priesthood that saved the world, the action of the priest reaches out to embrace the whole Mystical Body of Christ. The sacrifice of adoration and thanksgiving and expiation which he lays before the Throne of God is invested with such amplitude as to render to God infinite praise and homage, while his suppliant prayer effects the application to mankind of all of God’s graces. It is in the Name of the entire Mystical Body and on behalf of all mankind that the priest at the Altar raises up, as if to all the world, the consecrated Victim that brought about our redemption.
Nothing on earth equals the mediating power of the Priest at the Altar holding Christ in his hands and offering Him in sacrifice to the Holy Trinity. The Liturgy is the privileged moment and the power of the priest achieves its highest efficacy, and the supreme moment when the Church of the Word Incarnate gathers around her Supreme Head, her Highpriest, her Christ, to be united in prayer and adoration before God. The Gates of Heaven themselves are flung open: Heaven and Earth meet.
It is not only in the Divine Liturgy but also by his whole life that the priest is at the service of the Christian community. All the treasures of Christ’s Redemption pass through his hands. In our day a priest is entrusted with the care of souls and as such has to perform a variety of tasks relating to the priesthood and the Kingdom of Christ. Sublime as his sacred functions are – and, in fact, they constitute the supreme value of his priesthood – something more is required to meet the needs of modern Christian living. The modern priest must have the moral and intellectual qualities of a leader of men. It is his mission so to guide and direct men and women through the formidable complexities of daily life and temporal needs as to bring them to their eternal destinies. No life has a greater bearing than his on the spiritual well being of mankind.
“Is any among you sick?” Mindful of St. James exhortation, “Let him call the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord…and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him.” Again in the Sacrament of Holy Unction, the whole Church is at prayer for those who are sick in body or soul. The Church is admonished to have concern for the well-being of her members, both physical and spiritual. For the sickness of any cell affects the entire body. So here again the priest is entrusted with special care for the members of his Church. He is the servant of Christ and the steward of the Mysteries of God. To him, the priest, falls the task of promoting the spiritual and physical common welfare of all.
In the Sacramental economy every action reflects and betokens an indissoluble solidarity among all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. God Himself views mankind from no other perspective than the framework of His Redemptive plan; and Jesus looks at each of us only through the horizon of His Church, against the background of the Kingdom of God. Christ’s watchfulness over His Church is seen in the Sacramental world, which is a continuation of all the benefits of Redemption wrought by the Incarnation. Through these special seven channels of Grace, we of the 20th Century can be as close to Christ as were our forbearers in the Faith. The Sacraments exert an influence on us not only as individuals but also as members of a society; the society founded by Christ and called by St. Paul the Mystical Body of Christ.