The Heavenly Liturgy We Live
When considering the Christian faith, there are many ideas floating about concerning salvation, our life in Christ, the Church, etc. However, just as St. Luke wrote,
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
In the same way, it is important that we apply ourselves to the task of understanding our faith, or rather, who the Faith is. Metropolitan Heirotheos Vlachos points out that the begining of our journey with Christ starts with our studying the Fathers, the Scriptures, etc. – living the Life. We apply ourselves not just to increase our intellectual understanding about God, but to transform our lives, to be transformed by Christ Himself and to know God. This is true theology.
In the 9th chapter of Hebrews, St. Paul writes:
Then verily the first tabernacle (σκηνη) had also ordinances of service (literally acts of worship λατρειας), and a worldly sanctuary (literally Holy Place). For a tabernacle was prepared; the first … which is called Holy; but after the second veil a tabernacle, which is called Holy of Holies, having a golden censer, the ark of the covenant covered round about with gold … and over it [the ark] the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak in detail.
Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the Holy of Holies was not yet made manifest …
This particular passage is quite revealing considering the significance of what St. Paul attempts to express. St. Paul, calling to rememberance the significance of the Holy of Holies, points out that the High Priest was not permitted to minister, to serve at the meeting place of God, always, i.e. permenantly, as in the case of the “worldly” sanctuary. Man stood without while the presence of God was within. Not that God was separated from man in the sense that man would never interact with God, but the relationship that God foreshadowed in the Holy of Holies was not yet complete. God did not create man to simply tend a garden and enjoy the nice sunshine of Paradise. God created man for communion. Before the coming of Christ, man looked on in wonder and anticipation, but could not remain in God’s presence as he was meant to do.
St. Paul emphasizes the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies because “the way into the Holy of Holies was not yet made manifest.” The veil was the visual declaration that man’s relation to God was incomplete; the Holy of Holies is synonomous with the dwelling place of God.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which [are] upon the ark of the testimony, of all [things] which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel (Exodus 25:22)
And thou shalt put it before the veil that [is] by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that [is] over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. (Exodus 30:6)
The veil therefore showed the separation between God and man. The way to God, literally, the life that God had designed for man, was obstructed. Therefore, St. Paul brings this up as a stark contrast to our existence after Christ. Notice that St. Paul does not say that the veil is absent. But rather, he is saying that Christ becomes the veil (i.e. man may not enter by any other means except through Christ). Christ replaces the veil of cloth that foreshadowed “a new and living way, which he hath consecrated [literally made “anew”] for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; (Hebrews 10:20).” Through His Flesh man enters into the Holy of Holies. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, ye have no life in you.” The way to the Holy of Holies for mankind is through the veil of Christ’s Flesh and upon entering then our hearts are then sprinkled by His blood. St. Paul deliberately includes all three elements of those sacraments that unite us to God: The partaking of the Eucharsit, the eating of the flesh and blood and in baptism, the washing of the man, in this case, with pure water: This can be better seen in the context of this passage:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water … Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…not forsaking the assemblying of ourselves together … but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
St. Paul exhorts us to have boldness and enter the Holy of Holies. In that entering into His Presence, we have our hearts sprinkled with His Blood, literally receiving His Blood within us, the cleansing of our minds ( literally our νους) The “sprinkling of our ears from an evil conscience” talks about the changing of our faculties that have been damaged by sin. The conscience is a power, an operation of the soul, and when purrified, can lead us unto righteousness. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (νους), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
However, after the fall man found himself with a darkend nous (in Greek meaning “eye of the soul”) and thus a darkened conscience. For this reason St. Paul talks ealier in Chapter 9 about the fact that the ealier sacrifices were unable to make the priest, or the people, “perfect in regard to the conscience.” Christ desires that we would enter into the Holy of Holies, to enter into the Life that God designed man to exist in, “For I have come to give Life and to give it abundantly.” The veil no longer holds man from the Holy of Holies, literally from dwelling in God’s presence and being united to God through Jesus Christ; rather, the veil of Christ’s flesh becomes a passage unto Life. This is accomplished through two means: 1) through the incarnation, the Divine nature is united to human nature, the separation between the Uncreated (God) and the created (humanity) has been joined in Jesus Christ the “God-man”; and 2) through His Flesh, that is to say the Eucharist, we are literally brought up into the Holy of Holies. The Church has always understood that “God became man in order that man might become god.” That man’s destiny, by God’s design, is to be in communion and union with God, literally deified.
So, St. Paul contrasts the Old Covenant with the New, pointing out the deficiencies, that the Old Covnenant was unable to rectify or reform the maladies of the hearts of men. Man remained diseased with sin and sin ravaged him until Death. However,
… Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is , not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Chirst, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, clease your concience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:11-14)
Notice that the more perfect tabernacle, literally the dwelling place of God, not made with man’s hands, but by God Himself, by His Blood sprinkled upon, literally touching us, purifies our flesh and even our hearts – cleansing our conscience from dead works, literally separating us from the effects of sin.
The Body of Christ reafirms this proclomation in the celebration of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos.
Today is the prelude of God’s goodwill and the prophecy of the salvation of men. The Virgin appears openly in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. So let us cry to her with loud voices: Rejoice, thou who art the fulfilment of the Creator’s providence.
The hymn of the feast, the troparia of the feast, the Church proclaims that today is the prelude of God’s goodwill or the good pleasure of God not simply because a virgin is added to those who already were there at the temple, but because the fulfillment of the Holy of Holies had come. Man would very soon be united to God. Why is this feast announced as the prophecy of the salvation of men? Because upon entering the temple, the High Priest Zachariah, lead by the Holy Spirit, took the Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil into the presence of God.
This of course reveals God’s good pleasure: that man would forevermore dwell in union with Himself. It was for love that God created us and it is for love that we will find our fulfillment.
As we can see, Christ desires that we would enter into the fullness of Life that he has called us to. We ought to respond out of love. May the words of the Divine Liturgy ring loudly in our hearts, “In faith and love draw near.” Draw near unto life; draw near unto our salvation; draw near unto the Holy of Holies and enter in. The Divine Eucharist is not something that God designed for us to abstain from … quite the contrary …; rather, God calls, beckons unto us to draw near. “Come unto me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest not from our physical life, but rest from the passions that the Peace of Christ may reign in our hearts. Therefore, brethren, let us with boldness enter into the Holy of Holies that we might each have our conscience cleaned from dead works and that we might find the life abundantly that our hearts long for.
Christ is in our midst!