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Is the Eucharist harmless?


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#21 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 03:29 PM

Certainly you have the opportunity and indeed the responsibility to communicate your concerns to your bishop in private. If indeed this is a situation where it is the bishop's "regular" deacon, then that opens the door even more since that relationship is one of close mutual interdependence and friendship. But to publicly condemn a bishop for his actions in choosing whom he does or does not commune - that's a bit beyond the bounds of decency.


Father, you are not quite dealing with the deacon's dilemma. You are saying, he can tell the bishop what he thinks but must live with the bishop's decisions and remain an active assistant in his bishop's communion, which already is and will increasingly become a communion of abortionists.

#22 Father David Moser

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 04:20 PM

This is really off topic for this particular thread so if this aspect of discussion continues further we should probably spin it off into its own little thread on the nature of obedience in the Church or perhaps on the necessity of dealing with conflicts within the ranks of the clergy.

You are saying, he can tell the bishop what he thinks but must live with the bishop's decisions and remain an active assistant in his bishop's communion,


Not quite as simple as that. Yes, tell your bishop but that shouldn't be the end of it. A bishop is, hopefully, a compassionate and Christlike man who will take his deacon's concerns into consideration. So its really a two way street. You can alsotake your concern to the Synod and ask for some relief. Next aspect is that of obedience - in the Church, and especially as clergy, we live in obedience to those that God has placed in authority over us. If you cannot accept that authority then perhaps the next step is to request that your bishop give you a release and transfer you, allow you to retire, or at the last resort laicize you. What you don't do is stand up and condemn or judge your bishop in public.

Fr David

#23 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 04:37 PM

On the other hand we have at least two Saints (I think St. Andrew of Crete and St. Nifon the ascetic Bishop) who have said how in visions they saw the faces of those who received worthily shine, but those who were unworthy became very dark. What does the darkness mean they do not explain (or i do not remember) but they said this with great pain.


This is consistent with St. Paul in 1 Cor. and St. John Chrysostom in the quote provided above by Edward. The Holy Gifts do not change their nature when partaken unworthily, but the effect on unworthy partakers is destructive to their souls instead of salvific. How can this be?

The unworthy partaker — unrepentant, rebellious toward the truth, and in denial about his sins — eats and drinks the Body and Blood of Christ selfishly, like a cannibal, like the Jews who sacrificed Christ to their own interests. He eats and drinks for his own good and no other, thinking he can keep enjoying his sins while consuming the Most Holy Gifts, in his own mind making God party to his wickedness. God is for him no longer a source of good outside himself to draw him out of his iniquity, but merely food for his fondly fallen being. The more he partakes unworthily, the more he confirms his denial of the only hope there is of escaping damnation.

The worthy partaker — "discerning the Body" (1 Cor. 15:29) — distinguishes the purity and holiness of Christ from his own sinful condition, thinking not that he can combine the two, but that partaking of the One must mean forsaking the other. He therefore lays aside his sins to eat and drink, choosing God over his fallen being so as to overcome his fallenness, and confirming that choice as often as he partakes worthily.

I know a man who was addicted to pornography all his adult life, until he joined the Church. He truly believed in the Body and Blood, and he craved to commune. He knew that communion required repentance, but he didn't know how he could truly repent. He had struggled against the temptation for years, never doubting that pornography was evil, yet time and time again it defeated him. But he wanted Christ enough to struggle harder so as to partake. And so he confessed his sin in church, was chrismated, and then communed. Instantly, he was cured of his addiction. He had never imagined it possible before, and certainly didn't expect it, but the temptations that had haunted him for years no longer held any power over him. He was free — completely, confidently, joyfully free. So long as he confessed and communed, he remained impervious to the temptation.

That's how it works. But it only works when we make people choose between God and their sins by distinguishing between the worthy and the unworthy and denying the Body and Blood to the unworthy. Had this man been told that he could always commune, without confessing his sins and repenting of them, he would not have been cured. He would not have thought the Gifts particularly powerful or holy or worthy of a struggle, and he would have kept on sinning even as he partook. Those who communed him without repentance would have damned him in his sins.

Edited by Brian Patrick Mitchell, 13 July 2011 - 04:53 PM.


#24 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 04:47 PM

What you don't do is stand up and condemn or judge your bishop in public.


For the record, I have never done this or even raised this issue. I only raised the issue of whether a deacon should continue serving a bishop who is profaning the Eucharist by giving it away freely, to illustrate the implications of viewing the Eucharist as harmful or harmless to those who partake unworthily.

#25 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 07:48 PM

I remember some time ago reading a story about a priest in the Soviet Union, who was a communist plant. His job was to listen to confessions and report back to headquarters. And yet, when he stood at the altar and blessed the Eucharist, he would think: "O no, not YOU again!" as the Holy Spirit descended. He eventually became a true Christian and martyr for the faith.

The Holy Apostle Paul tells us to "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). It is a dreadful thing to even contemplate that the clergy who are responsible for us must "give account" in a special way before God for their actions if they are lax in upholding their awesome responsibility. What we do here and now about them does not begin to compare with what they will face there and then.

What then, are we really trying to discuss here? Is the Eucharist the Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Christ Jesus? Of course it is, we would not be Orthodox (big or little "o") if we thought otherwise. If we approach the Chalice in certain spiritual states, are we putting ourself at risk? Undoubtedly since denial of communion has historically been a common penance, not as a punishment, but to "protect" the penitent from harm (if we indeed take the Holy Apostle Paul at his word)! Do the bishops and priests bear an awesome and even dreadful responsibility as guardians of the Chalice? It would seem so.

What then, is the appropriate action to take given that one "knows" that a specific person or persons are approaching the chalice in a spiritually dangerous manner and are not being prevented by the guardians of said chalice? Is that the question at hand? If so, that is not the question originally asked. What do we really KNOW about the situation at hand unless we are prescient saints ourselves?

As in many things discussed in Orthodox fora, I have to suspect there is no single "correct" answer that covers all situations. Or at least so it seems to this old bear of admittedly little brain.

What was the question again?

Herman the forgetful Pooh

#26 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 08:31 PM

What then, are we really trying to discuss here? ... If we approach the Chalice in certain spiritual states, are we putting ourself at risk? Undoubtedly since denial of communion has historically been a common penance, not as a punishment, but to "protect" the penitent from harm (if we indeed take the Holy Apostle Paul at his word)!


This is the original issue, and a few commenters have provided helpful backup from the Fathers. But other commenters have focused on the ambiguities, warned us not to judge, stressed everybody's unworthiness, and counseled us to just trust and obey.

Such responses stray from the actual and hypothetical facts of the initial question, in which there is no doubt about the public defiance of those being knowingly communed. Such responses also tend to minimize the danger of partaking unworthily by erring on the side of open communion, as if it is better to commune unworthily than to be asked to choose between Christ and sin.

Make no mistake about it: Some clergymen today believe it is better to commune open homosexuals than to offend them by not communing them. Even clergymen who believe homosexual sex is sinful do this, not discerning the danger to the gays they commune. What can we give these clergymen to make them more discerning?

#27 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 10:00 PM

A spanking? A 2"x4" upside the head? Make them write "I won't commune homosexuals" 1000x on the blackboard? Two aspirin and call the bishop in the morning?

Are WE obligated to give them anything at all? Is that our duty? And most importantly, what if the correct answer is, in fact, no?

I find that prayer is never inappropriate.

Herman the probably obvious Pooh

#28 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 10:57 PM

A spanking? A 2"x4" upside the head? Make them write "I won't commune homosexuals" 1000x on the blackboard? Two aspirin and call the bishop in the morning?

Are WE obligated to give them anything at all? Is that our duty? And most importantly, what if the correct answer is, in fact, no?

I find that prayer is never inappropriate.

Herman the probably obvious Pooh


I don't understand your facetiousness, Herman, unless it's personal impatience with me. The Apostle says, "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father." (1 Tim. 5:1) So if we have an erring father, is it not our duty to entreat him to mend his ways? With what shall we entreat him?

#29 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 11:17 PM

]1. to ask (a person) earnestly; beg or plead with; implore
2. to make an earnest request or petition for (something)
3. an archaic word for treat

[from Old French entraiter, from en + traiter to treat]

Seems pretty self-explanatory to me.

Herman the self-explained Pooh

#30 Olga

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 01:47 AM

I don't understand your facetiousness, Herman, unless it's personal impatience with me. The Apostle says, "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father." (1 Tim. 5:1) So if we have an erring father, is it not our duty to entreat him to mend his ways? With what shall we entreat him?


Fr Patrick, have you spoken to your bishop about your concerns?

#31 Nina

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 01:52 AM

Herman made a very good point that we all must pray... for the forgiveness of our own sins first, for our Church, for our brothers and sisters in Christ and all people of the world alive and departed when something is so concerning and is making us unsettled. Prayer always works. By praying we (the worthy ones, and not I) attract the Grace of God on this earth and this Grace covers us all, not only those who pray but also those for whom we are praying.

Tomorrow (NC) we celebrate Saint Nikodimos of Mount Athos. He is a wonderful Saint that God blessed our Church with.

In regards to Holy Communion and holiness, Saint Nikodimos says that only God is Holy because He has holiness by nature and not by acquisition. People who become holy become so by participating in the Holy God (starting with Holy Baptism, and receiving the Holy Communion etc). He continues to say that when the holy people commune they receive more sanctification and draw more to God by doing His commandments and thus they are more and more sanctified and ascend towards perfection. The Saint concludes that it is not wrong to call these kind of people holy and saints because they are holy children by the grace of the Holy God. For this reason - says St. Nikodimos - Saint Chrysostom says: "Holy Things are for the holy people of God". So (suggests Saint Nikodimos) let's see what Saint Chrysostom says about this:

"Let no sinner approach. However I do not mean "no" sinner, because I would thus preclude myself above all from approaching the divine Table. What I mean is that no one who is persistently a sinner (that is, unconfessed and unrepentant) is to approach. For I know that we are all subject to penances because of our sins, and that no one can boast that he has a pure heart. That we do not have a pure heart, however, is not what is evil, but that we do not approach the One Who is able to purify us."

Therefore, continues Saint Nikodimos, Fathers tell us that the holy must commune frequently, however the Fathers do not seek perfection from communicants, but amendment of life through repentance. Because just as not all people are of the same age in this world, so not all people are in the same stage of the spiritual world of the Church as the Parable of the Sower indicates.

Saint Nikodimos continues by emphasizing that Holy Communion is the perfection of divine love, and because of this Abba Apollo numbers this Mystery with the commandment of love saying that: "upon these two commandments, namely, frequent Communion and love for one's neighbor, hang the whole Law and the Prophets."

The discourse continues with explanation that Holy Communion is spiritual nourishment and we are in need of it frequently. However here Saint Nikodimos again quotes Saint John Chrysostom because caveats apply:

"Just as he who has a pure conscience should commune every day, so the one who finds himself in sins and unrepentant should not commune even during a Feast. For if we commune unworthily, even if once a year, we are not liberated from our offenses. Rather, this condemns us all the more, because, even though we only commune once a year, we still, even then, do not commune as pure. For this reason I ask all of you not to receive the divine Mysteries haphazardly and just because it is a Feast. For since the priests cannot know who are sinners, and who unworthily partake of the Holy Mysteries, God often delivers such people to Satan. For when diseases, attacks, sorrows, calamities, and the like afflict them, it is on this account. This is shown by Paul, who says: "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1Cor. 11:30). "But how can this be?", someone says, "when we approach but once a year?" This is what is terrible, that you determine the worthiness of your approach, not by the purity of your mind, but by intervals of time. You think it is pious not to commune frequently, not knowing that you are seared by partaking unworthily even if just one time. But to receive worthily, even if frequently, is salvific. It is not bold to commune frequently, but to receive unworthily, even if one receives unworthily but once in his whole life. But we are so miserably foolish, that, thought we commit thousands of evils in the course of a year, we are not anxious to be absolved of them, but are satisfied that we do not boldly and frequently dare to insult the body of Christ, not remembering that those who crucified Christ, crucified Him but once. Is the sin then the less because committed but once? And Judas betrayed his Master but once. What then, did that exempt him from punishment? Why indeed is time to be considered in this matter? Let our hour of approaching the Mysteries be when our conscience is pure.
What then? Whom shall we approve, those who receive Communion once a year? Those who receive many times? Those who receive a few times? Neither those who receive once, nor those who receive often, nor those who receive seldom, but those who come with a pure conscience, with a pure heart, and with an irreproachable life. Let such always draw near, but those who are not such, let them not approach even once. "Why?", you will ask. Because they thus receive to themselves judgment, condemnation, punishment and vengeance."

Summarized from the pages 150-155 of the book Concerning Frequent Communion of the Immaculate Mysteries of Christ by our Righteous and God-bearing Father Nikodemos the Hagiorite... whose memory we commemorate tomorrow. May Saint Nikodimos and Saint Chrysostomos intercede on our behalf that we may offer to God always the fruits of our repentance and receive the Holy Mysteries always worthily as our Church teaches; and may God have mercy on us, bless us, and save us through the intercessions of His Saints.

#32 Kosta

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 04:56 AM

"Those presbyters contrary to the Gospel Law,..before pentitence was fulfilled...dare to offer on their behalf and to give them the Eucharist. That is they dare to profane the sacred body of the Lord. However it is written, Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."

What a crime is theirs who rashly seize communion and touch the body and blood of the Lord...even though their foulness is not washed away by the laver of the church. For it is written, Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."( St Cyprian of Carthage)


'Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. (St Cyril of Jerusalem Lecture 23)

Frome the DL:

Priest (in a low voice):
We entrust to You, loving Master, our whole life and hope, and we ask, pray, and entreat: make us worthy to partake of your heavenly and awesome Mysteries from this holy and spiritual Table with a clear conscience; for the remission of sins, forgiveness of transgressions, communion of the Holy Spirit, inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or condemnation.

Priest:
And make us worthy, Master, with confidence and without fear of condemnation, to dare call You, the heavenly God, Father, and to say...

Many people wonder why they have aches and pains and even more serious ailments by the time there 40 nowadays, which is rampant in the greek community. A day doesnt go by where i dont hear of 50 year old greek individuals complaining of arthritis or some other pain that mysteriously has plagued them.

#33 Father David Moser

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 05:12 AM

Fr Patrick, have you spoken to your bishop about your concerns?


I think it would be better to focus on the question regarding the nature of the Mysteries here and let Fr Patrick work out his episcopal issues in his own way.

Fr David

#34 Paul K.

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 09:06 AM

That’s what Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles say about worthy Eucharist:

9:5 And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs.
14:1 But on the Lord's day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure.
14:2 But let not any one who hath a quarrel with his companion join with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be polluted,
14:3 for it is that which is spoken of by the Lord. In every place and time offer unto me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the Gentiles.

#35 Paul K.

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 09:36 AM

The Twelve Apostles say in Didache that before the Communion a Christian should confess his sins, so that his sacrifice may be pure. Following this rule, reading special prayers before the Eucharist and having a several day lent help a lot to clear your soul, to remember about the Great Mystery of the Holy Eucharist and to accept Christ’s Flesh and Blood in a worthy manner. I am quite used to this in Russian Orthodox Church and I think this tradition helps to take the issue off the table.

I’ve heard that in Greek Orthodox Church there is no need to confess before the Communion and to read special prayers, but that’s due to the general devoutness of Greeks and that they anyway follow the daily circle of prayers and confess rather often.

My point is, shouldn’t the priest know everyone who is accepting the Holy Communion and give his permission for that? A spiritual father knows the state of mind of his spiritual son, and can either allow or not allow him to take the Eucharist. A person shouldn’t decide himself whether to have a Communion today or not. St. Ignatius of Antioch said: “Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid”.

A similar thing we can say about the Eucharist – nobody can have it without priest’s blessing.

#36 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 10:03 AM

Anna, this is a good example of the oh-so-sensitive thinking common in America today that completely ignores the reality — according to the Apostle — that communing unworthily is actually bad for such people. Recognizing that reality, the Church has historically practiced excommunication for those who, in your words, "are living in blatant sin," without worrying much about their fagility. Following your thinking, the Church should rather commune more and more such sinners and have less and less to say to them about their sin.

...in which there is no doubt about the public defiance of those being knowingly communed.

There are two issues that I see at stake here. One the issue of those who are living in defiant sin. One of the things I was attempting with my other post was to say that it can be difficult for us to judge what is defiant, and unrepentant sin, and in what cases people may be struggling with their sin in private. But if we assume defiant sin, then I think that Nina and Kosta have more then adequately addressed this above. BUT in these cases nowhere is the admonition given to the priest to stop communing these people, rather the people are warned to stop communing.

Maybe what is needed here are specifically quotes on excommunication and the reasons for it and under what circumstances and why priests are specifically asked to take this action. It seems to me that excommunication is a different issue then God's judgment on those partaking of the Eucharist unworthily.

The Holy Gifts do not change their nature when partaken unworthily, but the effect on unworthy partakers is destructive to their souls instead of salvific. How can this be?

but our agreement presumes the Eucharist is good for some people and bad for others.


The other issue is whether and in what manner it is proper to speak of the Eucharist as bad, or destructive. I do not see in the patristic quotes we have looked at so far any mention of this. I think that the nature of God's judgment is being misunderstood. In these quotes by Dcn Patrick it sounds as if God's judgment is always seen as being harmful. As if people have to be protected from a merciless God who either cannot protect people from His own holiness or does not choose to do so.

To me it sounds like the Eucharist is being viewed kind of like an electrical outlet where if one is in the right spiritual shape then one gets recharged, and if one is in the wrong spiritual state then one gets short-circuited. As if what one partakes of is not from the personal will of Christ but rather according to impersonal mechanical natural laws. It was to address this issue that I brought up the fact that there are modern elders who have talked about people partaking of nothing but bread and wine.

Also it sounds kind of presumptuous to me to think of needing to protect sinners from God's judgment as if God does not know what He is doing. Maybe this is not what Dcn Patrick is saying, but this is how it is coming across. There may be reasons to bar people from the Eucharist, either to bring them to repentance, or to protect the community, but worrying about the harm that partaking might cause to the sinner seems to me an issue that is exclusively on the head of the one partaking and soley between them and God.

If people are suffering because of partaking, this is not necessarily, nor even usually to the person's ultimate harm. It is meant to humble the insensitive, bring repentance, and turn people back to God. Certainly the judgments of God against Israel in the book of Hosea are severe and in a material sense harmful, but consider these verses from Hosea 2
13 I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,”
declares the LORD. 14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness (desolation) and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor (Trouble) a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.... (And it goes on how God will restore them)


and Hosea 5
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away,
I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver.
15 I will go away and return to My place
Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.

Obviously this presupposes that those people will be humbled and repent under this treatment and will not be like those in Revelation who when all the plagues came upon them continued to blaspheme God. But the real point is that simply because someone is in blatant sin - and both Israel here and those in Revelation are in blatant sin- does not automatically mean that God's judgment is destructive in an ultimate sense.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 14 July 2011 - 10:28 AM.


#37 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 12:48 PM

I thought possibly of a way to disentangle this discussion. There is the issue of what happens when partaking of the Holy Mysteries - and we know that to partake of the Holy Mysteries is to encounter Christ. But we see from the Gospels how many different forms this encounter can take, and it's not our place to put this in a box.

But the other issue is the responsibility of the priest toward his flock, and what needs to be done if the person sinning and the community are being harmed because that priest is operating out of fear of people ("to avoid hurting their feelings") rather then putting the work in to guide people toward repentance in whatever manner he discerns is best for this.

Is this maybe helpful in properly separating the issues?

#38 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 01:17 PM

I think it would be better to focus on the question regarding the nature of the Mysteries here and let Fr Patrick work out his episcopal issues in his own way.


Who says I'm having episcopal issues? There are several well-known cases of OCA clergy communing open gays. There are also OCA priests now publicly justifying a communion including open gays. Here's an example that doesn't quite condone gayness but does argue that it's better not to exclude them from communion, as if including them does them no harm. What can we use to make the case that it does?

#39 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 01:21 PM

]1. to ask (a person) earnestly; beg or plead with; implore
2. to make an earnest request or petition for (something)
3. an archaic word for treat

[from Old French entraiter, from en + traiter to treat]

Seems pretty self-explanatory to me.

Herman the self-explained Pooh


When do we "beg," "plead," or "implore" someone to do something without giving them reasons to do it? It's reasons I'm after — wisdom from the Fathers that clergymen will take to heart.

#40 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 01:49 PM

Anna Stickles wrote:

I thought possibly of a way to disentangle this discussion. There is the issue of what happens when partaking of the Holy Mysteries - and we know that to partake of the Holy Mysteries is to encounter Christ. But we see from the Gospels how many different forms this encounter can take, and it's not our place to put this in a box.


I think that this is a very good point. It is after all Christ Whom we approach in the Eucharist. This is like the Christ of the Gospels except that we can see from there that not everyone could or did approach Him worthily. Some indeed 'walked with Him no more' (Jn 6:66). So we already see from the Gospels themselves that not mere physical approach allows one to partake of Christ.

This is also what the priest is specifically asked to guard as an essential part of his ministry. He may be a poor preacher or lacking in other skills. But all across the board when priests are ordained, the sacred Lamb is placed into their hands by the bishop and they are told to guard this precious treasury of Life for the people with their own lives. This guarding though also extends to the word of the priest to his people. Again priests are allowed to be slow of word, or awkward in word. But to not guard the Lamb by word- well, again this guarding of the Eucharist is an essential part of the priest's very calling.

Of course though how this is done is only through discernment and as a measure of care for his people.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael




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