|The Creed and Approaching the Chalice, March 6, 2010|
The Symposium of Romanian Orthodox Spirituality, known commonly as the Spirituality Symposium is a ministry of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas, established for the purpose of sharing the rich treasure of Orthodox Christian theology and spirituality with campus communities throughout Canada and the USA. This symposium brings the advanced study of matters of doctrine and makes them available for spiritual benefit of all.
On March 6, 2010, the third annual Spirituality Symposium was held on the campus of St Thomas University. Fr Paul presented on the topic: “Nicea and Constantinople: A Confession of Faith, Witness and a Source of Unity,” along with Archbishop Dr. Nicolae Condrea of the Romanian Archdiocese of the Americas, Very Rev Dr. Nicolai Buga at St Tikhon Seminary, Dr Dragos Giulea, lecturer in religious studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and Dr Steven Matthews, Assistant Professor of History at University of Minnesota in Duluth.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and Approaching the Chalice of the Orthodox Church - Some Pastoral Implications of the Nicene Creed
Very Rev Fr Kenneth Paul Wesche, Ph.D.
St Herman’s Orthodox Church
In the Orthodox Church, only Orthodox Christians who have prepared themselves through prayer and fasting and living a Christian life may approach the Chalice. Conversely, Orthodox Christians are not permitted to approach the Chalice (or table) of the non-Orthodox. Those who do not understand why non-Orthodox are not permitted to approach the Chalice generally argue from St Paul: We are not of Apollos, or Paul or Cephas; we are of Christ. What they mean to say is that what matters is one’s devotion to Christ and what’s in one’s heart. Christ transcends doctrinal and creedal differences. These, after all, are just words; and words are inadequate for describing the indescribable God.
One notes in this regard the striking co-incidence that those who feel this way generally come from religious communities that diminish to varying degrees the importance of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (commonly called the Nicene Creed) as an ecumenical Symbol of Faith. Moreover, their communities either explicitly state that their own "Lord's Supper" is only a "memorial" or there is strong argument within their communities that it is not the body and blood of the Savior. Here, I want to share some pastoral implications of the Nicene Creed as it bears on this problem of the Church’s Eucharistic practice in order to explain why the faith one holds – i.e. the doctrine one holds about Christ – is a condition for approaching the Chalice of the Church.
What the bible has to say about doctrine.
“Brethren, test the spirits to see if they are from God,” writes the holy apostle and evangelist, John. “By this, you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. This is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.”
And so, in the Spirit of God the holy fathers of the first two ecumenical councils in Nicea and Constantinople formulated what we call the Nicene Symbol of Faith to expose the spirit informing specifically the faith of Arius, but also the spirit of any other faith, to see if it is from God. For, if the faith one holds cannot receive the doctrine of Nicea, viz., that Jesus is Himself the “Son of God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made, who (i.e. the Son of God who is of one essence with the Father) for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man,” then how can one be sure such a faith is not informed by that spirit which is opposed to the Christ whose body and blood is in the Chalice of the Church? And how can one approach the Chalice that carries the Christ to whom the spirit of one’s faith is opposed?
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to us: “Take heed that no one leads you astray; for many will come in my name and say, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray. Then, if anyone says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There He is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, 'Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.”
From these words of the Lord, we could draw the first pastoral implication of the Nicene Creed. Sound doctrine is a sure sign of a faith that is of the Spirit who is from God. Performing great signs and wonders is not.
Now, we call the Nicene Creed the Symbol of the true Faith. A symbol (from the Greek sum – balloV) unites two or more things. As the symbol of the true Faith, you could say that the Nicene Creed unites the one who professes it with the Christ whom the Creed professes. The Nicene Creed is both a test to expose the spirit of one’s faith, and a sign to direct us to the doctrine of the true faith that is informed by the Spirit of the Christ proclaimed by the Gospel. Through its doctrine, that is to say, it directs us to Christ in the Spirit of that Christ whose body and blood is held in the Chalice of the Church.
Return to Eden.
Pastoral is the quality, of course, of the Chief Pastor, the true Shepherd of the sheep who Shepherds the flock to green pastures. In the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, pastoral, then, has to do with shepherding the faithful to the narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life. The teaching in the Church’s liturgical texts gives us to understand that this hard way the Savior speaks of leads to the green pastures of Eden. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.
How to get back to the Garden of Eden is the central plot of the bible, which reveals the hidden purpose of this worldly life. Opening the gates to Eden is accomplished by Christ in the mystery of His Incarnation as the Church tells us in, for example, her liturgical texts for Christ’s Nativity: “Bethlehem has opened Eden; we have found joy in secret.” What remains, then, is for us to: “Come! Take possession of the Paradise that is within the cave;” because: “The middle wall of partition of the ancient enmity is now laid low and destroyed by Thy coming in the flesh, O Christ, and the flaming sword now gives way before all who approach. And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in
“And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden.” The life-giving tree is the Cross, so the liturgical texts of the Church teach us, that carries Christ the Most High like a cluster of grapes full of life. This is a reference to the Holy Eucharist of the Church. Every door that opens onto the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, opens, then, onto the green pastures of Eden. “The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise,” so the liturgical texts of the Church tell us: “having within her, like the first Paradise of old, a tree of life, Thy Cross, O Lord. By touching it we share in immortality.”
I partake in faith: faith is the gift of spiritual knowledge in whose light one walks the hard way that leads to life, described in the Feast of Theophany as the better and changeless path that ascends to God. In the movement from the font to the chalice I think we have a liturgical icon of this hard way of faith that leads to life. At the foot of the ambon where sanctuary and nave meet, where heaven and earth meet, God meets man in the God-Man Jesus Christ whose life-giving body and blood are given in the Cup of Life to all who have approached in faith.
So you see, the truth is that anyone who wants to may approach the Chalice of the Orthodox Church. But the way of approach is not by any ol’ path and not by any ol’ faith in Christ, but by way of the narrow gate and the hard way of faith that leads to life, the path of the Cross that leads to the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha. And this hard way of the Cross that leads to life in the Resurrection is Christ Himself – the Way, the Truth and the Life; again, not just any ol’ Christ here in the wilderness or there in the inner rooms, who may even be doing great signs and wonders; but the Christ of sound doctrine whose Spirit comes from God. This is the doctrine of the Nicene Symbol of Faith formulated by the pastors of the Church in the Spirit of God.
And so, the Nicene Symbol of Faith is of critical pastoral significance as the staff of the Chief Pastor that shepherds those who know His voice into the cave, into the tomb that opens onto Eden – into the baptismal font in whose depths one comes upon the better and changeless path that ascends to God, which leads to the fountain of immortality, the Church’s Holy Eucharist.
Receiving the Faith of the Church.
I think it highly instructive that the Nicene Creed is given to the catechumen at his baptism to confess as his own. That is to say, he is received into the Church on the basis of his receiving the Faith of the Church.
This liturgical rite is prophetic in character. The Church leads the candidate for baptism in the confession of his sins, then gives him the Mind of the Church by giving him the Church’s Symbol of Faith. The Church is mystically leading the candidate out of the city ruled by the wisdom of human opinion and to the Jordan in the desert. According to Isaiah, the Lord proposes to do a new thing in the desert: “Now the desert springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” In the desert, according to Isaiah, “the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
The Church is the desert that once was barren, as liturgical texts say, which the Lord has made to blossom like the rose from the flower of life that blossoms from His Cross. In the Church, the candidate is directed to take off his worldly garments and to empty himself of the mind of the world in order to be clothed with Christ and to receive the mind that was in Christ, the mind of obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross – i.e. even to the point of denying oneself and losing one’s life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, and to be buried with Him in the likeness of His death in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha.
This prepares the candidate for baptism and makes his dying in Christ voluntary as was Christ’s. This liturgical action is, again, a liturgical icon of the hard way of faith that ascends from the deeps of the font as the better and changeless path to the life of God in the partaking of Holy Eucharist, and which the believer now walks daily by means of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, described in the Lenten Triodion as the flower of abstinence that grows from the tree of the Cross. St Maximus the Confessor calls it the first and unique effect of the divine gift of genuine spiritual knowledge that produces within us by faith the resurrection of God. “Thus faith, rightfully expressing itself through the fulfillment of the commandments,” he says; i.e. through our dying daily with Christ, “is the first resurrection within us of the God whom we have slain through our ignorance.” This baptismal life of the believer, this dying daily with Christ, opens the heart like the “new tomb” of the Lord to prepare him for receiving into the tomb of his heart the crucified God that he may be united to Him in the likeness of His Resurrection and pass over with Him from the garden of the Lord’s tomb to the Garden of Eden and to the Tree of Life – the Holy Eucharist – standing in its midst.
Again, this is the hard way of faith that is the way of approach to the life-giving tree in Eden. It is narrow and hard because it is the way of crucifying the old man in us with Christ; of denying oneself for the sake of Christ, of taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life, losing one’s worldly life, losing one’s love for the pleasures of the flesh, one’s love for the wisdom of one’s own opinion, losing even one’s own opinions about the Lord and His Christ for the sake of union with the Christ who is the Son of God, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
We approach the Chalice of the Church, let me say to emphasize the point, in the death and the tomb of the Lord. That means that the Chalice has an unseen, spiritual depth that extends into hell and opens onto heaven. The Chalice made of precious metal that you see in the hand of the priest at the foot of the ambon at the Divine Liturgy is but an earthly veil that hides and reveals the unfathomable spiritual depths of the Lord’s saving Pascha. And so we do not approach the Chalice – even if we approach it – except by way of the hard way of faith that leads to the Cross and to the crucifying of the old man in us in order to be buried with Christ into death.
Sometimes I like to say that the Eucharist of the Church is the meal of the dead. I mean by this, of course, that it is the meal of those who are dying to themselves in Christ that they may be buried with Him in the tomb of His Pascha, in the likeness of His death; for the Chalice of the Lord is given to us from the grave, or rather from the other side of the grave in His Holy Resurrection; and one simply can’t get there except by the hard way of the Cross and through the narrow gate that is in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha. The Nicene Creed is the Symbol of Faith that directs us to that Way and on that Way as it leads to the font and beyond, to the Chalice in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha, by uniting us with the doctrine of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that is truly the body of Christ, whose doctrine is of the Spirit who proceeds from the Father
Our Own Theophany
Baptism unites us with the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. It seems to me that the Nicene Symbol of Faith opens us onto the inner mystery of the Lord’s Baptism to make our baptism our own epiphany; more precisely, our own Theophany. For, what is the Nicene Symbol of Faith if it is not the confession of what John the Baptist saw and bore witness to: the worship of God as Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
The evangelical portrait of John the Baptist, with a leather girdle round his waist and eating locusts and wild honey, is but to say that he was a prophet in the line of Moses and Elijah. Therefore, the witness of JnBapt is the final and definitive prophetic witness of the God of Moses and the prophets: He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons; and Jesus is His Son, Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father. The Nicene Symbol of Faith is the spiritual substance of JnBapt’s testimony and reveals the inner substance of the prophetic doctrine that was inspired by the Spirit who comes from God. The Nicene Creed, that is to say, qualifies one’s baptism in the Church as one’s own epiphany, or rather, one’s own Theophany: it illumines the mind of faith to see what JnBapt saw: God is Holy Trinity, “Three co-eternal Persons in one Essence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a single Light in threefold brightness, one Power and Kingdom in unconfused identity,” and Jesus is the Word of God incarnate of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. The Nicene Creed, then, is the sacred veil of faith that reveals in one’s baptism into Christ the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, viz. the mystery of Jesus Christ who was destined before the foundation of the world and was made manifest at the end of times for the sake of those who believe in Him.
The Spirit of God who descends on the baptismal font of the Church is the same Spirit who descended on Christ in the form of a dove. The Spirit descended from heaven in the form of a dove, as though the Spirit was the dove released by Noah after the flood, brooding over the earth all these millennia just as He had brooded over the waters of creation, looking for a man worthy enough for him to rest on, and not finding Him until the Son of God, the true Light who enlightens everyone who comes into the world, shone forth in the Jordan as the Word of God by whom all things were made and who in these last days, for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man, the New Adam. In the Light of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God has returned to man. The mystical Eighth Day has dawned, a new creation, a new breathing of the Spirit on those who are raised from the dead in Christ, as the old Adam was raised from the dust of the ground, and made living souls in the Image of God, Christ the New Adam, as Adam was made in the beginning.
As the history of Orthodox Christian Theology bears witness, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as set forth in the Nicene Creed has been the key for unlocking the theological solution to the ancient riddle of the One and the many that no Euclid or Marinos or Ptolemy could understand; what none of the Empedocleans or Socratics, Aristotelians or Platonists could penetrate with their logical methods and mathematical proofs. Our natural destiny is not to dissolve into the One but to become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal, sharers in God’s Eternity and to become like God in the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Love of God the Father and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit.
This is the theological vision of God, man and the world that is opened up by the true faith in the sacred Tradition of the Church, a Tradition we should call: that Gnosis rightly so-called. Even the history of the Church reveals that one attains to a different theological vision if one’s doctrine is informed by a confession of faith that is different from the faith of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Symbol of Faith. The source of every heresy can be traced to either an explicit or implicit denial of some doctrinal element of the Nicene Symbol of Faith as it was formulated by the pastors of the Church in ecumenical council.
In the Orthodox Church, we believe firmly that the theological vision that follows from the Nicene doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a knowledge that comes from the city of human wisdom. I think even the history of the Trinitarian controversies leading up to Nicea amply illustrates that. It is a divine knowledge revealed from heavens opened only in the true faith. This is the Faith of the Church that opens the eyes and ears of those who receive it in faith to see and hear the true Christ who is Himself the Way of the Cross that leads to Life; and so it is the faith that reveals the path that ascends to the gates of Paradise in the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha.
Conclusion. A Proclamation of the Gospel.
This takes me to the final point I want to make. The formulation of the Nicene Creed by the holy fathers of the Church rather explicitly implies that the true faith can be known in its fullness in the Church because of who and what Christ is: He is the Lord who has revealed Himself to us; He is the Way that leads to the Father, who is of one essence with the Father. By His Incarnation, He has declared [exegeted] the Father; and the Church is His body, the fullness of Him who is all in all. In her midst is the Tree of Life, the Cross, by which He who in His essence is altogether inaccessible and unknowable, becomes known and accessible in an altogether incomprehensible manner. “Today,” i.e., this biblical seventh day on which the Eighth Day has already begun to dawn, “He who is in essence unapproachable, becomes approachable for me and suffers His Passion, delivering me from passions.”
This is Good News. It means that Christ is faithful. In His Church His Holy Spirit makes His word known so that those who want to be Christ’s disciples can be His disciples, because they can continue in the word of Christ and come to know the truth that makes one free. It means that knowing the word of Christ that brings one to know the truth that makes us free is not obscure; and so finding the hard way that leads to life is not left to guesswork. We are not left in a murky fog to fend for ourselves as best we can precisely because the Christ we confess is of one essence with the Father, the very Wisdom and Knowledge of God, the Way to the Father.
The practice, then, of permitting to the Chalice only those who have united themselves to Christ by faith, viz., the Faith of the Church formulated by the holy fathers of Nicea (and Constantinople) in the ecumenical Symbol of Faith and who have been baptized into the Christ of that Faith and who are living that Faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, serves the pastoral purpose of the Church: to make crystal clear where the narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life are to be found, so that all who hunger and thirst for the salvation of the Lord may approach and partake in faith from the life-giving tree unto life eternal.
 I Cor 1:12ff.
 I Jn 4:1-2.
 Mat 24:4-5 & 23-26.
 Mat 7:13
 Festal Menaion, p. 278. (cf. with the prophetic formula, “to take possession of the land.”)
 Ibid, p. 207; cf also p. 253.
 From the Elevation of the Cross, Festal Menaion p. 153.
 Eph 1:23
 Lenten Triodion, p. 341 (Matins for the Sunday of the Cross.)
 From Theophany, Festal Menaion, pp. 377 & 383.
 From Theophany, Festal Menaion, pp. 377 & 383
 Isa 43:19
 Isa 51:3
 Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, Festal Menaion, pp. 113 & 145
 Isa 35:1
 Elevation, FM p. 156.
 Phil 2:5-11
 Mark 8:34
 Cf. Rom 6:4
 Lenten Triodion, p. 230
 2nd Cent of Var. Txts §70, Philo II , p. 202.
 Rom 6:4
 Lenten Triodion, p. 341.
 Eph 3:9
 I Pt 1:20
 Jn 1:5; cf. Gn 1:3
 Col 1:15
 St Gregory Palamas, 150 chapters.
 St Maximus the Confessor
 Cf. the title of St Irenaeus’ work, Refutation of that Gnosis Falsely So-Called.
 Jn 1:18
 Lenten Triodion, p. 349.
 Jn 8:31-32
 Eph 1:23