Even though more than two months have passed since the Episcopal retreat in Poznan and we are already preparing the next retreat, only a few days ago, motivated by the Rev. Prof. K.M.P. Rudnicki, who wants to publish it in his magazine Praca nad Soba, I recreated from memory the reflection I delivered then during the Eucharist. You will find it below.
Readings: Deuteronomy 4, 1-2; 6-9; Mark 7,1-8; 14-15; 21-23.
What will be left after we’re gone? Religions are not eternal, even though they do what they can in order to make it seem as though they were. And still – as everything in this world – they have their beginning, their history and often also their end. They become then at best a memory or an object of studies.
What will be left after we’re gone? If it depended on us, what would we like a scholar of our times to bring out of the darkness of the past – in a few hundreds or perhaps thousands of years?
A question like this is also a question about the essence, the core of what we believe in. One of the reasons we have gathered here is to learn about the Anglican tradition. So there is nothing strange in the fact that as the hosts, yesterday and the day before yesterday, we have been confronted with questions about the “specificity” of this tradition, about its characteristic elements. What do Anglicans believe in? What is their position on this or that issue? How do they pray? This all comes down to one basic question: What is Anglicanism actually? Step by step it became clearer and clearer that the characteristic feature of Anglicanism is… that it has actually never wanted to have any characteristic features, that it simply wanted to be Christian – in a sense without predicates, without redundant defining features. And when some predicates were used, they actually pointed at the impossibility of putting on us any label known from the history of the church. So we talked for example about the Anglican churches being (both) Catholic and Reformed. Catholic, because they stress the continuity of the Christian tradition since its very beginning, and Reformed, because they are aware of the need to deal with it with criticism, which is exemplified not only by the 16th century Reformation, but also many subsequent reforms and changes. If we fulfilled our task well, in the course of these conversations one more thing should have become apparent – that, according to Anglicans, the question about what Christianity is can be often not answered otherwise but by another question, which then in its turn brings forth yet another question, etc., etc…
Interestingly, in the Gospel for today Jesus deals with a similar question. Christians sometimes perceive the Old Testament rules pertaining to ritual purity as something marginal, of little significance. But for the Jews they have a totally different meaning; they touch upon the very essence of their religion. So in today’s Gospel the Jew Jesus is confronted with the question asked – in a quite aggressive manner (for as an accusation) – by his fellow Jews about what was for him the essence of the faith they all professed.
Also during our conversations the topic of God’s Law and it’s role came up a few times. We said that it was/is meant to prepare people to spiritual independence. The churches often forget that the rules they preach are never an aim in themselves, that they are meant to prepare people to attain such a level of spiritual development that external prohibitions and obligations won’t be needed anymore, for they will find their way into the very hearts of people, they will become their integral part. Religious upbringing should then always point to freedom, to inner liberty, to independent thinking, feeling and judging.
Speaking about the various roles of the Law, we haven’t yet mentioned the one sketched in today’s Old Testament lesson: the Law as the line separating those who obey by it from all others. We know it from our own experience. We like very much to draw such lines. We very often treat the world around us as something fundamentally different, “impure”, dangerous. We very often think as if the church – the People of God – were here and not behind these doors anymore. There are those those whom we should, at best, “convert” – to our way of thinking, of course. Yet Jesus says something different: it is not from the outside that danger comes. It is not from the outside that this what might “pollute” us comes. It’s not “the others” that pose a danger to us, it is not them that we should fear. The source of the danger is we ourselves – our own hearts.
And now I would like to take a step in a direction that may surprise some of you. We have gathered here this morning in order to celebrate the Eucharist together. In a moment we will come over to another room and there stand around the altar. We wanted very much that priests be among us, and we did what we could to make it happen, in order to be able to celebrate the Eucharist at which they would preside. We are very grateful to Br. Pawel and the Rev. Tony Litwinski for finding time and coming to Poznan, because the priestly ministry is very important to us and not only in the functional sense. Priesthood is not only a function which enables something to be done according to the rules of the church, it is above all a sort of lens where the things that make the church come together – it is a living symbol making the essence of our calling visible to us. That is why Anglicanism, also in the middle of the storms of the Reformation, preserved the continuity of the threefold spiritual ministry of deacons, presbyters and bishops. For us their ministry is not a marginal “addition” to the church, but is rooted in its very essence, even if it always was subject to and will always be subject to historical changes and be shaped according to local circumstances. It can be seen precisely when we celebrate the Eucharist. But on the other hand our priests will in a while stand around the altar hand in hand with us, simply as ones of us. And this points to another – not less basic – dimension of the Eucharist. Not only they carry it on their shoulders. Not only on them, and even not on them in the first place, depends the authenticity of what we will be doing in a moment. The Sacrament of Christ’s Real Presence among us is rooted in his promise (“I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”), but also in our reaction to it. On our way here we prayed the Daily Office for the typical for Mariavitism, and at the same time giving rise to many misunderstandings and controversies, Commemoration of the Cessation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. What is it about? In the last revelation from the series given to the Blessed Maria Franciszka, she wrote that she was said that Christ will not descend on altars where the sacrifice of the Holy Mass is not celebrated worthily. What does it mean?
At this point I would like to come back to today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and scribes ask about ritual purity, but Jesus’ answer gives a fundamentally different dimension and meaning to this question. Jesus took the whole issue from the level of cult to the moral level – that is the one of our attitude to other people. For the words like malice, theft, murder, greed, deceit and adultery are about nothing else but our attitude to our neighbors! This was the essence of religion for Jesus. In one of the conversations we had yesterday, Br. Pawel quoted an Orthodox theologian who stressed that every human being is, if I remember correctly, an antenna for the Holy Spirit. Here a question arises: how do we treat people, knowing about this? How do we treat others, knowing that they – like we – are bearers of the same Spirit, that in their nostrils is the same breath of God that gives life to us also? This is the essence of morality, and not faithful obeying by these or other rules and regulations. And this is also the essence of our contribution to the Real Presence of Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. This Presence does not in the first place depend on the presence of a priest. The priest doesn’t guarantee anything – this is what the Mariavite Commemoration, which we celebrated last Friday, reminds us of. This Presence depends on us all, on our openness to the words of Jesus and readiness to make work of them. And not only today. The real test will come when we leave this place, when we come back to our daily duties, our normal life. Will we be ready to treat other people as livened by the same breath of God which pulses also in us? Will we be ready to treat them as our sisters and brothers? Will we share our bread and wine with them and accept bread and wine from their hands? Each time this happens, He will be among us. For as one rabbi put it: God dwells where we – people – let him in…