Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Christ is in Our Midst" - Retreat Part 2

Continued from Retreat Part 1

Fr Daniel Forsythe, from St. Basil the Great, Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas was our first speaker of the day.  Fr. Daniel expounded upon the Schmemman reading briefly and then turned to his favorite Bible passage, The Samaritan Woman, St. Photini, (John 4:1-45).

Samaritan womanChrist and his disciples came to "Jacob's Well," outside of Samaria at noon.  The disciples traveled on farther into the city to find food.  Jesus, sat by the well and asked a woman to give him a drink.  The woman was shocked Jesus would talk to her.  Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Further men and women do not normally talk with each other in public.  Jesus asks for a drink of water, after some banter about the water and well Christ offers, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

Jesus and the Samaritan woman discuss her life and worship all alluding to the worship of the Samaritans as well as her personal life.  Finally, Christ reveals to her that He is the Messiah and she believes Him and runs to the town to tell everyone.  They believe and come to the well to meet the Messiah.  St. Photini, the Samaritan woman, is known as the Mother of the Church in Samaria.

Following the meeting with the Samaritan woman, the disciples returned and offered Christ food, but He said that He had food they did not know about.  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (Jn 4:34-38).

Fr. Daniel explained, we encounter Jesus as we are, as Photini did.  She was not perfect.  She was a sinner who had had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband.  But encountering Christ is life giving.  The woman is elevated from being a lowly Samaritan and a woman of ill-repute to becoming the leader of conversion for her people in this life-giving encounter with Christ.

In summary, in the Gospels we never are given Doctrine from Jesus, which is what the Samaritan woman and disciples sought from Christ.  What we get from Jesus is Jesus.  Jesus is Truth.  Jesus is living and moving in our midst, giving us Truth throughout His ministry on Earth.

The Eucharist is not a Doctrine laid out in the Gospels.  Jesus gives Himself to us--sacrificing Himself for our sake out of Love.  The Eucharist is our gift of ourselves back to Christ.  We come to be in communion with God out of our love as He always has offered His communion with us from the beginning of time.  From the Greek word eukaristo meaning grateful, with gratitude, grace.  It is not saving in Its transformation--we are transformed in our partaking.  It is a mystery in which our communion is our saving.  We must recognize Christ in each other and come to the table together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is our communion with God as the Church, not individually.   Therefore, it is costly to turn Liturgy into a hyper-spiritual experience in which it is your expectation, need and desire that every moment be engaged in an individual, lofty, spirituality.  Communion is not an individual experience.  It is the Church coming to the table.  Christ does not cease to be present in life's experiences and distractions.  We do not need to have an ultra-awareness of Christ's presence to actually be in Christ's presence.   A toddler is tugging at your clothing, or babbling away during consecration--Christ does not cease to be present.  While lighting a candle in prayer and your mind suddenly questions whether you turned off the oven before leaving the house--this does not negate your prayer.  "Christ is in our midst!"

Liturgy is our coming together as Christ's Church.  The Holy Spirit has gathered us proving we have a relationship with Christ--whether there is heightened awareness of Christ or not.  When we eat our Eucharistic meal, when we come and have a place at the table as son's and daughter's of Christ, that is our saving.

***I am sure I have not done Fr. Daniel's talk or Fr. Schmemman's essay justice, however, I have to add my own reflection as a mother.

When Fr. Daniel spoke the words, "Christ is in our midst," a blessing I have heard many times in the Byzantine Church, I burst into tears.  I hoped that no one around me would notice.  How could I explain my sudden emotion at that moment.  I could have bawled and still I get teary-eyed when I think about it.  These words were my undoing.

As a mother of three pre-school aged children, it has been years since I have attended a Liturgy or uttered a prayer uninterrupted.  There have been so many times in which I felt hopeless, because I would go to the gathering of the Liturgy and had hardly participated at all as I spent the entire time disciplining or attending to children.  In the past, I felt strained emotionally, and in my spirit, that I could not focus on a tangible relationship with God--with Christ.  Yet, I persevered, and over time, I felt I came to a place of peace about it all--that is until this day came.

Through all the noise and busy-ness of my days with these beautiful blessings--my children, my work--Christ is in our midst.  Through all the Liturgies in which the children were the central focus as opposed to the worship--Christ is in our midst.  Through all the days in which my attention was on my duties and on doing good work--Christ is in our midst.  Through all my worst and best moments--Christ is in our midst.  How many times I had heard this phrase before, and this was the first time I knew it was not only true, but it released me from my own bondage in some strange way.  We do not need to hunger or thirst for Christ.  He is in our midst now.  This gave me comfort and peace (like a warm hug).  His grace is there.  I had been receiving it all along.  I have been in His midst--my every prayer has proved it, my every effort has proved it, and my presence at His table has proved it.  And He has blessed me.

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