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email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

TALK ON ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM'S

RESURRECTION SERMON AND COMMUNION 

26th APRIL 2012

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Christ is risen from the dead, by death he hath overcome death, and to them in the graves hath he given life.

Welcome back to our Thursday evening weekly talk. I hope you all had a wonderful and spiritual journey to Pascha and have after feasting with souvles, flaounes and eggs regained your bodily strengths.
Every year after Easter I am always asked by someone if everyone is allowed to have Holy Communion on Easter night even though someone may not have prepared for this with confession and the Lenten fast. The query always comes after they hear St. John Chrysostom's Easter Sermon which is read on Easter night at the end of Mattins or as I prefer just before Holy Communion. In it St John says: "Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day. The table is fully laden; all of you delight in it. The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry."
Indeed if we take what St. John says literally then everyone can partake of Holy Communion on Easter night disregarding the fact that they haven't prepared themselves in any way. Many do take these words literally and we see that people who never come for Communion throughout the year, who have never fasted, or made any sort of preparation, and who even have meat on Holy and Great Friday come to Commune of the Holy Mysteries on Easter night believing that they are justified in doing so because St. John Chrysostom tells them that it is permissible. What they are doing is taking these words out of context and out of ignorance fail to understand the theological and spiritual meaning of the sermon.
Yes, St. John say that everyone should partake, but he is speaking about a future time, of the spiritual banquet which we shall all partake of, if we are found worthy to be standing with Christ after the General Resurrection from the dead. Thus those who do not have their bad health to justify why they didn't fast or prepare themselves in any way for Holy Communion are in fact treating the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in a very casual and trivial manner and will I’m sure be asked to justify their actions when they come before the Judgement seat of God.
There is a general misunderstanding about fasting and Holy Communion which I think we should clear up before we look at St. John's Easter Sermon. Most of our parents were raised with the teaching that people are not allowed to have regular Communion and especially not until 40 days have passed from the last Communion. Many from the "old school" have Communion only on the Great Feasts. Why? Because before each Great Feast there is a fast, and they were brought up to believe that to have Holy Communion you must first fast. Of course, this teaching is not the teaching of the Church, but rather the invention of the Evil one to distance Christians from the Holy Chalice and the Source of Life.

In contrast, the Church teaches that Christians must and are obliged to have Communion every time they attend the Divine Liturgy. If we go back a few centuries, we see that it was not allowed for someone to remain in Church if he/she was not to have Communion. If for example they were under a penance and were not allowed to receive Communion, they had to leave the Church after the reading of the Gospel or at the latest when the Priest exclaimed "The Doors, The Doors", whereby the doors of the Church were shut. If we go back even further to the first four centuries we know that Christians in those days had regular Communion, can we then assume that they fasted every time before partaking? Of course not! During the first centuries, the Church only had the fasting days of Wednesdays and Fridays and the fast of Great Lent. The other fasts entered the Church's calendar after the 4th century. Logic tells us that if the Church teaches us to have Holy Communion every Sunday, but at the same time forbids fasting on Saturdays, then food has nothing to do with Holy Communion. You see therefore that fasting does not make us worthy to partake of the Most Pure Mysteries. The purpose of fasting is something else. It is first of all our obedience to the will of God, because the first commandment he gave to Adam was not to eat of the forbidden tree, but because he disobeyed the will of God, he was exiled from Paradise. Fasting together with prayer are the means which help us to cultivate our souls and pull out the roots of bad habits.

What then is it that makes us presume to be worthy of Holy Communion? The truth is that whatever man does it cannot make him worthy to partake. We partake only because Christ commands us and calls us to commune of His Precious Body and Blood. Jesus said: "If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on that last day".
We cannot and do not have the right to call ourselves Christians if we do not Commune of the Precious Gifts. Everything that I have said doesn't mean that everyone without exception can come and have Holy Communion at every Liturgy without some kind of preparation. Christians ought to be always ready and their way of life should be such that does not allow for any impediments. They should observe all the fasts in the Church's calendar and especially the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. They should have regular confession and have the guidance and blessing of their Spiritual father to have Communion, because there is also a great danger in regular Communion. We may become so accustomed to having regular Communion that we take it for granted and instead of it being for the remission of our sins, we add a greater sin onto our already heavy shoulders.
Fasting was never intended to be the instrument, which would prepare us for Holy Communion. The Divine Liturgy in the Ancient Church was in fact served in the evening and after supper according to the practice initiated by Christ himself at the Mystical Supper. By imitating that very first Divine Liturgy, the Apostles organized the so-called “Agapes” which was a common feast of love where the Christians gathered to eat and give praise together and after supper they would then perform the Divine Liturgy and everyone partook of the Divine Mystery. The Agape Feasts were soon separated from the Divine Liturgy because they were at times disorderly. The Church moved the Eucharist service to the morning so that the Lord’s Body should take precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian. This was the original meaning of the Eucharist fast. No food should enter the mouth before partaking of the Divine Mystery.
With the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman occupation of the Greek lands, and the prohibition of education, the Church suffered greatly because the priests themselves had but a basic education with no theological training. The Eucharist fast was misinterpreted as a normal fast before the Eucharist, which was a burden on the people. They couldn’t fast every week from Wednesday to Saturday so that they could have regular Communion. This caused the people to stop having regular Communion and they just Communed on the Great Feasts as these were preceded by a fast. This became the normal up to our age, with people believing that they couldn’t have regular Communion or at least not until 40 days had passed. In more recent years, the educated Priests are finally outnumbering the uneducated Priests and the Church is finally returning to her true teachings, although it is difficult to wipe away the old teachings which people had been brought up to trust and hold as the truth. In our day and age, most Priests will tell you that if you keep all the fasts in the Church’s year, that is: every Wednesday and Friday, The Lenten fast, Holy Week, The Apostle’s fast, The August fast, and the Advent fast, and have the blessing of your Spiritual Father, then you can have regular Communion.
Fasting and Holy Communion are in fact two different things. In theory, one doesn’t always need to fast to have Communion and one doesn’t always need to have communion because one fasted. But one must always be prepared.
So with that let's return to the main subject of the talk. In the past I have mentioned parts of St. John Chrysostom's Easter Sermon, but today I want us to look at the full text. But to understand what he says we must first understand how the Church understands and interprets the Divine Liturgy. We have seen the interpretation in previous talks, but I do not expect you to remember every detail of what we said then. What you must always try and remember is that the Divine Liturgy is not just a celebration of a historical event that took place in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. As we begin the Liturgy in our earthly time, something mystical happens and the Church is transported to heaven and is joined to a different time sphere, a time called the aeon. This heavenly time is very different from our earthly time. Earthly time is measured by change and motion. Its nature is to begin, to endure and to have an end. Heaven and the angels, exist outside of earthly time. but they are not eternal, because they have a beginning, they have their existence ‘in the age’ [aeon, αιώνι], which according to St. Maximus is motionless time, for it remains without any change. God Himself, being uncreated, exists outside of time as we know it and outside of the aeon, for God has no beginning or end, but is eternal.
The Church is not only the visible congregation worshipping here on earth, but also the invisible congregation of the saints and the angels worshipping in heaven. The Church visible on earth lives in complete communion and unity with the whole body of the Church of which Christ is the Head. It stands at a point of intersection where the past, present and future of our earthly existence are merged with the unchanging and motionless time of the aeon.
Thus the Mystical Supper was performed in a large upper room by Christ himself [Mark 14: 15]. He took the bread and the wine and transmade them into His Body and Blood. This event is united to the "aeon" and what Christ performed that one time, was performed for all times. Christ had only one body and so when the priest re-acts the same event, in the Divine Liturgy, he does not make another body because then we would have millions of bodies and that would be quite absurd. He prays that the bread and wine become the same Body and Blood that Christ Himself offered to His disciples. When we attend the Liturgy and partake of His Body and Blood, it is as if heaven and earth have been joined together and we are at that same upper room participating at the some table and of the same Sacred Supper as did the Apostles. In this same way, all the events of Christ’s life, from His Birth to His Resurrection and Ascension, are re-acted by the Church, but they cease to be just an act and become a reality in that all the events are forever taking place in the motionless time of the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, we become witnesses of His birth together with the wise men and the shepherds, we follow His earthly life, hearing His divine words of salvation and bear witness to the countless miracles He performed; we stand and gaze at His crucified body, in pain and disbelief that the Jews preferred the murderer Barrabas to Christ; and we become co-mourners with the Mother of God, the Apostles, the Myrrhbearers and all His followers; we then follow Mary Magdalene and the Apostles to the empty tomb and rejoice with them at the news of the Resurrection.
This concept of being transported and joined to another time sphere of motionless time is clearly taught in the Church Hymns. Many of the Great Feasts have hymns beginning with the word "Today" as though the event being celebrated is happening now before our very eyes and not some two thousand years in the past. The Christmas kontakion say: "Today the Virgin comes to the cave to give birth"; "Today the Virgin gives birth to the creator of all"; from the Lord's Baptism we sing: " Today the nature of the waters is sanctified" and from the prayer for the blessing of the waters we say many verses beginning with Today: "Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon the waters. Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with splendour by the light of the Lord... Today the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling... Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the coming of the Lord... Today Paradise has been opened to men and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us... Today things above keep feast with things below..."
Probably you might remember the more recent event of the Crucifixion on Holy and Great Thursday. As the priest comes out of the Sanctuary for the Crucifixion procession he says aloud. "Today is hung upon the Cross he who hung the earth upon the waters" The Resurrection Service is all sung in the present - in the now, for example: "Today a sacred Pascha has been revealed to us, a Pascha new and holy, a mystical Pascha, a most honourable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the redeemer". Only sin and death are things of the past.
Every Sunday Service is a Resurrection Service, but the Easter Service has a special peculiarity. Although we don’t know when, it is believed from the times of the Apostles that the Second Coming of Christ will happen one year on the night of the Resurrection. So the Easter Service not only transcends our earthly time, but also transcends the “aeon” and is in fact the Feast, the Banquet of the New Kingdom of which we will partake of after the Second Coming of Christ, thus it is our return to Paradise, our return to God in the future age after the Second Coming.. St. John has this in mind when he says “Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has appeared.”
This teaching of the Church transcending to a different time and place is verified by the Divine Liturgy itself. After the Holy Gifts have been consecrated and before Holy Communion, the priest cries out “The Holy Things unto the holy.” In other words only those who are holy and therefore worthy can partake of the divine Mysteries. If we understand “The Holy Things unto the holy” with our earthly time then no one can receive Communion for no one is holy but God, and that is why we respond by saying: “One only is holy, One only is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
If the Holy things are only for those who are Holy, how do we dare approach and partake of these dread Mysteries? We partake because we anticipate the Universal Kingdom. We say “The Holy things unto the Holy” because we have been transported to the banquet of the New Kingdom. At that moment we are with Christ at the Wedding banquet which means that we have been saved and if we have been saved then we are saints and therefore Holy. If we are found standing with Christ after the General Resurrection then Christ has found us worthy to be among the ranks of saints and therefore worthy to partake of the Wedding Banquet. Only in this understanding can we approach for Holy Communion because even the most spiritual and Holy Father would not dare say that he is worthy or that he is a saint.
Let's now hear St. John Chrysostom's Paschal Sermon keeping in mind what we have just heard.
"Whosoever is pious and loves God, let him enjoy this good and cheerful festival. Whosoever is a grateful servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord. Whosoever is weary of fasting, let him now receive his earnings. Whosoever has laboured from the first hour, let him today accept his just reward. Whosoever has come after the third hour, let him with thanksgiving take part in the celebration. Whosoever has arrived after the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, for he too shall suffer no loss. Whosoever has delayed until the ninth hour, let him approach without hesitation. Whosoever has arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not fear the delay, for the Master is gracious: He receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that has laboured from the first; and to him that delayed He gives mercy, and the first He restores to health; to the one He gives, to the other He bestows. And He accepts the works, and embraces the contemplation; the deed He honours, and the intention He commends.
Therefore let everyone enter into the joy of the Lord. The first and the last, receive your wages. Rich and poor, dance with each other. The temperate and the slothful, honour this day. Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day. The table is fully laden; all of you delight in it. The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry. Let everyone enjoy this banquet of faith. Let everyone take pleasure in the wealth of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has appeared. Let no one bewail for his transgressions, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He who was held by death, eradicated death. He plundered Hades when He descended into Hades. He embittered it, when it tasted of His flesh, and this being foretold by Isaiah when he cried: Hades said it was embittered, when it encountered Thee below. Embittered, for it was abolished. Embittered, for it was ridiculed. Embittered, for it was put to death. Embittered, for it was dethroned. Embittered, for it was made captive. It received a body and by chance came face to face with God. It received earth and encountered heaven. It received that which it could see, and was overthrown by Him whom he could not see. Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O Hades is your victory? Christ is risen, and thou art cast down. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life is liberated. Christ is risen, and no one remains dead in a tomb. For Christ having risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those that have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen."

St. John begins his sermon: "Whosoever is pious and loves God, let him enjoy this good and cheerful festival." Here we have to be cautious because his message is clearly not a free invitation to everyone to partake, but only to those who live pious and holy lives, who love God and live according to his commandments. From the very beginning of his message he excludes all those who are Christians only in name, who live without God in their lives and then when it befits them to interpret what he says further down as his blessing to everyone, even murderers, to partake without any guilt of the precious gifts.
St. John continues: "Whosoever is a grateful servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord." John is making a reference to the Parable of the Talents where the good and faithful servant is rewarded because he had been faithful over a few things, in other words he worked for his salvation, thus the Lord said to him: "I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." (Matthew 25:14-30). Again without spelling it out, John is excluding those who resemble the wicked and slothful servant in the Parable who was cast out of paradise because he never made even the slightest effort to change his way of life, he never worked for his salvation and never once made even the slightest effort to show love to others.
John then takes us to another Parable – the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
"Whosoever is weary of fasting, let him now receive his earnings." In the Parable the workers are working in the vineyard of the Lord, but John replaces this work with the spiritual work of fasting: the wages though remain the same. The Lord agreed with the workers one denarion a day or one penny a day. Again in the Parable the Lord hired workers at different times of the day – at the first hour, the third hour, the sixth, ninth and the eleventh hours. Everyone received the same reward though some complained that it was unfair for them who worked all day in the heat to receive the same as those who only worked for an hour in the coolness of the evening. (Matthew 20:1-16) St. John in his sermon continues with the Parable to show that the Lord is merciful and compassionate treating everyman with equality and accepting each man according to the time of his life he received the calling to repentance even if that time is on his deathbed.
"Whosoever has laboured from the first hour, let him today accept his just reward. Whosoever has come after the third hour, let him with thanksgiving take part in the celebration. Whosoever has arrived after the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, for he too shall suffer no loss. Whosoever has delayed until the ninth hour, let him approach without hesitation. Whosoever has arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not fear the delay, for the Master is gracious: He receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that has laboured from the first; and to him that delayed He gives mercy, and the first He restores to health; to the one He gives, to the other He bestows. And He accepts the works, and embraces the contemplation; the deed He honours, and the intention He commends. Therefore let everyone enter into the joy of the Lord. The first and the last, receive your wages. Rich and poor, dance with each other."
There are two things we must give special attention to. Firstly everyone who received his reward from Christ, worked for his salvation, even the person who came at the eleventh hour put in a little effort. He didn't just craftily walk up at the last minute with his hands opened to receive a wage for which he didn't work for, which is exactly what those who come for Holy Communion without any form of preparation do: they are craftily trying to receive a reward for doing absolutely nothing. Secondly, by referring to the two Parables of the Talents and the Workers in the Vineyard, St. John is telling us that his message is referring not to this world or to our earthly time, but of the future time of the General resurrection after the Second Coming of Christ because both Parables are images of the Dread Judgement day of Christ.
Only this understanding justifies what St. John say next: "The temperate and the slothful, honour this day. Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day." If after the Great Judgement we still find ourselves with Christ then Christ has deemed us worthy of salvation and we may enter with him into the Wedding Banquet. If Christ, according to his righteous judgement has found something in the slothful person who was too lazy to fast, worthy of salvation, then who is John, or me, or anyone else to question this judgement? Therefore John says: "The temperate and the slothful, honour this day. Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day." He is not giving permission to the person who was indifferent to fasting to partake of Holy Communion, but rather with his mind on that future age, after the Great Judgement, John cannot imagine anyone still standing with Christ, whom Christ has judged worthy, of not partaking of the Wedding banquet.
John continues: "The table is fully laden; all of you delight in it. The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry. Let everyone enjoy this banquet of faith. Let everyone take pleasure in the wealth of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has appeared." Here then John verifies that what he has said refers to events after the Second Coming when the universal kingdom of Christ will be established. John is asking us to celebrate the universal kingdom now as though it has already happened because in the motionless time of the aeon all events past, present and future are happening as now.
Then remembering that we are all still sinners awaiting death he reassures us saying: "Let no one bewail for his transgressions, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He who was held by death, eradicated death." Here John begins the Orthodox teaching of where the souls of the dead went before the Resurrection. Through Adam's sin Paradise had been closed to men and all the souls of those who died ended up in a place cut off from paradise which the Greeks called Hades. In Mythical Greek Hades was the God of the underworld and in the Christian era the name was retained to refer to the temporary abode of the dead. It must not be confused with Hell which is a permanent place prepared for the devil and his followers for after the Great Judgement. Because everyone inherited the consequences of Adam’s original sin, everyone even the righteous ended up in the temporary abode of Hades. Christ was the only exception. Christ was not subject to original sin and was free from all personal sin, he was therefore not subject to death or Hades. When he was crucified and laid dead in the tomb, Hades had no legal claim over his soul as it did with the souls of other men. Thus it stands to reason that if Hades had no legal claim over Christ then it couldn't hold him and had to let him go. And so the soul returned to the body and Christ was resurrected from the dead.
In the Psalms and in general all ecclesiastical language, everything created by God like the sun, the moon, mountains streams etc, are personified and referred to as logical creatures for example, from the Song of the Three Children that we sing on Holy Saturday Morning we sing: "O ye sun and moon, ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord. O every shower and dew, all ye winds, bless ye the Lord. O ye earth, mountains and hills, and all ye things that grow in the earth, bless the Lord. O ye fountains, seas and rivers, ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord. In the same way, when referring to Hades, the fathers and the church hymns personify it as a person, or rather as a power that laid claim to the souls of men and held them captive, but this has nothing to do with the mythical ancient Greek God. Thus St. John says in his Sermon: "He plundered Hades when He descended into Hades. He embittered it, when it tasted of His flesh, and this being foretold by Isaiah when he cried: Hades said it was embittered, when it encountered Thee below. (This is a quote from Isaiah 14: 9) Embittered, for it was abolished. Embittered, for it was ridiculed. Embittered, for it was put to death. Embittered, for it was dethroned. Embittered, for it was made captive." When the Priest reads the Sermon during the Resurrection service every time he says the Word "Embittered" the people in response shout out "Embittered" Likewise when further down he says "Christ is risen" they respond with "He is risen".
St. John then gives us a wonderful image of Hades meeting with Christ: "It received a body and by chance came face to face with God. It received earth and encountered heaven. It received that which it could see, and was overthrown by Him whom he could not see. Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O Hades is your victory?" (This is a quote from 1 Corinthians 15:55)
Then in triumph John announces with great joy: "Christ is risen, and thou art cast down. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life is liberated. Christ is risen, and no one remains dead in a tomb. For Christ having risen from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those that have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20) To Him be glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen."