International Theological Institute for Studies of Marriage

 

Workshops for Christian and Jewish social organizations

Round table № 1 “Social work and ecumenical engagement”

June,14

 

Christian Social Action as a Liturgical Manifestation of the Kingdom:

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a joy for me to be able to present this humble contribution to the subject SocialWorkandEcumenicalEngagement. We have gathered here in Lviv as brothers and sisters from different Christian confessions to work for unity and to express our common desire for authentic social progress. Today, I would like to speak about Christian social action as a priestly act of every Christian which manifests the Kingdom of God. The great Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann tells us: “Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion.”[1] That is to say that the experience of Christianity is in a profound sense the fulfillment of religion--it is life in the Kingdom of God, life opened to us by Christ’s Priestly sacrifice of Love.

At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the priest intones, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” It is in this Kingdom of the Trinity in which the Divine Persons, “One in essence,” are united in bond of Love. This is so beautifully evident in the icon of the Trinity of St. Andrej Rublëv, in which we see the Three Divine Persons seated around a table in an ineffable union of Love. This love is not a self enclosed circle; there is a space that is free and open, ready to receive a sojourner. Here the whole world is invited to participate in God’s Life—His Love. This is the essence of the Kingdom—Life and Love. It is for this Love that God created man.

Man’s faculty to praise God and to offer Him thanksgiving reveals that humanity is endowed in the creation with a priestly and Eucharistic nature. Fr. Schmemann notes:

The first basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God--and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.[2]

 

Yet in the fall man lost this Eucharistic nature when he partook of a fruit that was devoid of Eucharistic content--devoid of life giving Love.

When Christ came, however, He came as a priest-servant to open to us, not the kingdom of an earthly paradise lost by Adam and Eve, but the Kingdom of God, which is new Life--Life abundant in the Trinity as sons and daughters of the Living God. Christ did this by offering His life for us. He did what Adam could not do, and thus He reveals and restores to man his truest identity, that as gift—which is the soul of man’s Eucharistic nature. This is very beautifully summed up in Gaudium et Spes of the Vatican Council II:

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.[3]

 

And further:

 

[Christ] implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.[4]

 

 

Thus we are created to give our lives like Christ in an act of Love to God and for our neighbor. This life giving, self-giving love stands at the heart of the Kingdom of God, and reveals something of the Essence of the Trinity.

When we give ourselves out of love to our brothers and sisters in the Love of Christ, we are performing a priestly work of sacrifice rooted in love which manifests God’s Kingdom. Thus, the social commitment of Christians becomes a reflection of the Kingdom of God.

This social commitment seems to me to be fundamentally Liturgical, a priestly work--first of all in the Liturgical prayer of the Church and secondly in the work of love of each individual Christian. In the Eucharist, the Church assembles as a communion of believers to worship God, as Fr. Schmemann would say by ascending “to heaven where Christ has ascended”[5] In the Liturgy we bring the entire world to God through our prayers and offer to God bread and wine, two basic staples of our earthly life, so that these elements of earthly existence be transformed into the Life Giving Eucharist of Christ. In receiving these mysteries we receive graces that transform our lives and our world and unite us more fully to God and to one another. When the Liturgy ends, we must "go Forth in Peace" -- back out into the world to proclaim Christ.

The great French Roman Catholic mystic, Marthe Robin, known for her many years suffering and offering her life for the world, said, "every life is a Mass and every person is a host." Hence each Christian Life must become a "liturgy" of self donation to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters. St. Maria Skobtsova, the great Orthodox martyr of charity teaches us:

And, being in communion with this sacrificial Body [in the Eucharis], we ourselves become offered in sacrifice--"on behalf of all and for all." In this since the Liturgy outside the Church is our sacrificial ministry in the church of the world, adorned with the living icons of God, our common ministry, an all human sacrificial offering of love . . . In this liturgical communion with people we partake a communion with God, we really become one flock and one Shepherd, one body, of which the inalienable head is Christ.[6]

 

By being sent into the world, we exercise a priestly ministry common to all the baptized to witness to the Kingdom of God by the works of love. This love is a reflection of Christ who reveals man's truest vocation, that is to give himself out of love, which is the "supreme calling" of humanity. In our social undertakings, united then to the Priestly act of Christ, these works take on a prophetic function; they announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Kingdom of God has been started by Christ in this world, yet it is growing and becoming what is already in heaven. From this earthly pilgrimage we must work tirelessly to announce this reign of love in our broken world as Christians. Even if we are still waiting for that blessed day when we shall gather around the same altar to celebrate together the Holy Mysteries, we can begin by celebrating together the "liturgy" of charity in that we work together to build up the Kingdom of God through the works of Mercy. Through this, may we work for the time when we can offer the world to God in the Eucharist, not separately according to each one's jurisdiction but together beyond our jurisdictions together as one Church. Only God knows how this will come about, but in Him all things are possible. Let us work together so that when Christ comes in glory, he may find a rich harvest for His Kingdom. Amen. Marantha! Come Lord Jesus, Come!

 


[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1982), 20.

[2] Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 15.

[3] Gaudium et Spes, 22,1.

[4] Ibid., 24,3.

[5] Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 28.

[6] Mother Maria Skobtsova, Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, translated by Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky (Maryknoll: Orbis Press, 2003), 81.