Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reverent Wisdom from St. Cyril of Jerusalem

So it's been forever since I've posted anything; not because I have no thoughts, but because it has wearied me to think of writing them down, and I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps soon I shall rediscover my mojo and find my muse and resume my own writing of blog posts.

In the meantime, I came across the following from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth Mystagogical Catechesis (his instruction of the newly-baptized communicants in the days following their Holy Baptism and First Communion at the Feast of the Resurrection). I was particularly struck by the faithful piety and reverent wisdom of his words, and I'll candidly admit that I long for such an attitude to have free course among our fellowship at large. To preach and teach of the Lord's holy body and precious blood, but then to handle the same as though they were simply bread and wine, and to conduct oneself at the Lord's Altar as though it were a Sonic drive-up or the local hotel lounge, betrays and undermines the truth of the confession and demonstrates ignorance, hypocrisy, foolishness, or a lack of piety and reverence. That's not okay.

But here is how St. Cyril beautifully explains it to his neophytes, in the joy of their Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion, in the confidence of Christ's Word:

"Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee gold dust, wouldest thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss? How much more cautiously then wilt thou observe that not a crumb falls from thee, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

"Then after having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be thou hallowed by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thine hands, hallow both thine eyes and brow and the other senses. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.

"Hold fast these traditions unspotted, and keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, by the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen." (St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses, edited by F. L. Cross, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986, pages 79-80)


  1. Now there's an remarkable quote, since it comes from from one whose position is held forth by those who (unlike Luther) recommend receiving the Host in the hand rather than in the mouth. See, even he remarks that not one crumb should be lost!

  2. And one cannot but smile a bit when one realizes that his description of the Distribution actually accords better with the Lutheran Mass than either the Orthodox or the Roman (in those places - and they are many - where the cup is not received).

  3. I also prefer the reception of the Body of Christ upon the tongue, but I believe it would have been anachronistic for St. Cyril of Jerusalem (mid fourth century) to recommend that practice. In any case, he does not write of receiving in the hand in contrast to receiving on the tongue, but of reverence in contrast to a cavalier and careless attitude and action.

  4. Did reception on the tongue developed in the medieval Western Church?

    I've thought that the formerly traditional Lutheran practice of reception on the tongue was emphasized in opposition to the Reformed.

    Overall. St Cyril gives good advice.

  5. Matt,

    Yes, it was a medieval development (I believe), but after the Reformed made reception in the hand a mark of their sacramental beliefs, reception on the tongue became the mark of Lutheran beliefs.

  6. ...where the cup is not received.

    The Lord's Body and Blood are always received in the Orthodox Church, it's just a matter of when. There is no such thing as a 'permanent' reservation of the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church. It's my understanding that the reserved Gifts kept on the altar of an Orthodox Church are 'replaced' at least once a year (following the Great and Holy Thursday Liturgy, I believe), meaning the previously unconsumed Gifts are communed.

    The ancient, undisputed practice of taking communion home, reserving the consecrated Gifts, giving fitting honor to them prior to reception, and communing throughout the week between Liturgies also testifies to the permanence of the change wrought at the Divine Liturgy.

    Orthodox clergy still receive in the hand. This changed for laity to disallow 'abuses' that had arisen and to ensure the Gifts were consumed or dealt with fittingly. (There is a story of St. John of SF communing a man who immediately threw up; St. John immediately lapped up every last bit of everything the man threw up to ensure the gifts were consumed. Scott Cairns gives a vivid account of 'dropped Gifts' on Mt Athos in his "Short Trip to the Edge" - see p. 33 at http://americanbookreview.org/PDF/LineOnline/Issue29_V4_LineOnLine.pdf or p. 66-7 in the "Search Inside This Book" function of "Look Inside" at http://www.amazon.com/Short-Trip-Edge-Heaven-Pilgrimage/dp/0060843225). I believe communion from a spoon (Orthodoxy) developed for much the same reason communion on the tongue and of one species developed in the West (as well as the other implements such as the 'papal straw'); some have argued that the innovation of unleavened bread was also at least partially for ensuring proper reception of the Lord's Body; similar reasons for all this can also be identified for the development of the iconostasis, altar rail and choir/rood screen.


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