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The soul’s deeper craving
by Fr. Haralambos Giokas
Which is more important? The sensation of thirst, or having water? The sensation of hunger, or having food? If there is an abundance of water and food, without the sensation of thirst or hunger, then there is no benefit, inasmuch as the need for something is equally important as that which we are in need of. Physicians can judge if a body is healthy, by its appetite for food and thirst for water. Likewise, we can perceive if a soul is healthy, by its thirst for God and its hunger for His word.
A long time ago, more than 5000
people had followed Christ into the desert for three whole days, without a
second thought about their sustenance.
What was the source of such eagerness, such thirst?
The Evangelist John said: “And a great multitude followed
him, because they saw his miracles which he did on those who were diseased.
And Jesus went up into a
mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.”
In short, the people had already learnt of Christ’s substantive miracles, and had realized that, since He had performed such significant miracles, then surely what He has to tell us ought to become laws for us, which we must observe with all our being. To them, Christ’s words weighed just as heavily as His miracles. They followed Jesus with the full dedication of their soul. At last, their thirsting souls were quenched, with heavenly words. Noticing how the people’s thirst for Him had made them forget their bodily hunger, He provided them with sustenance, with yet another miracle.
“....for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But, seek first the kingdom of God, and His Realm, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32-33).
But then came the critical moment. As soon as those thousands of followers had filled their bellies, they underwent a dreadful change: whereas previously they had been thirsting and hungering for what Christ was giving them, as soon as they were given food to satisfy their hunger, they lost interest in Christ and focused on the bread. Their attention, their desire and their interest had shifted. The satiation of their bellies had perverted their spiritual craving for Christ, to a material craving for food.
God’s Word is spiritual, it fills the soul; bread is material, it fills the body. When the yearning for the one prevails over the other, it inevitably takes over. This does not apply to material food only, but to every desire for every single thing. This means of intervention is the first blow in the process of spiritual blinding; the devil does not alter the momentum of our soul, but instead diverts it elsewhere – away from God. When the soul has become worn out and offers no resistance, the devil then easily entraps it in his meshes...
The next day, the crowds who had been enchanted by the miraculous multiplication of the bread and the fish and were now sated, proceeded to seek Jesus to “make a deal” with Him. They went to Capernaum and found Jesus and His disciples at the synagogue. “We will make you our king and You will feed us forever, the way that Moses fed our ancestors in the desert” was their proposal. “And when they had found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, Rabbi, when did You come here? Jesus replied to them, saying ‘truly, truly, I say to you that you seek Me, not because you saw the miracles, but because you ate of the bread and were filled.” (John 6:25-26).
When they had instinctively sought Christ, He additionally gave them food. But when they afterwards located Christ and asked Him to always provide them with food, that was when they “lost” both the bread and Christ.
26 Jesus answered them and said, truly, truly, I say to you that you seek Me, not because you saw the miracles, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. 27Do not labour for the food that is perishable, but for that which will endure unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give to you... After which, we ask Him eagerly, what is that food, Lord? He replies, with the following: For the bread of God is He who has come down from heaven, and gives life to the world. Then they said to him, Lord, give us for evermore this bread. And Jesus said to them, I am the living bread: he that comes to Me shall never hunger; and he that believes Me shall never thirst. 36 But I told you, that though you have seen Me, yet you still have not believed. [...] 41 The Jews then grumbled at Him, because He said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. If one eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I shall give for the sake of the world... Whosoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood shall have eternal life, and I shall raise him in the final day...”
Christ had revealed to everyone the grand Mystery (Sacrament) of the Divine Eucharist, but they did not believe what He told them and thought Him to be insane, so they left Him. When all of the followers had departed, Jesus turned towards the Twelve and asked them: “Do you perhaps also wish to leave?” Simon Peter then replied: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have recognized that You are the Christ (the anointed One), the the Son of the Living God.” (John 6:67-69).
In this confession by Peter, the sequence of the verbs “have believed and have recognized” indicates that this Mystery cannot be perceived by the mind, but by the heart. Saint Nicodemus proclaims: “O Mystery immense! We cannot understand you, yet we can taste You!” So, what was the reward given to the Twelve for that understanding of the heart? Only they were rendered worthy of partaking in that “Last Supper”, of the Precious Body and Most Holy Blood of the Lord, which He Himself had distributed to them, with His own Hands. What an honour! What glory! Not only for those Twelve, but for all of us today, who have received that Divine Sustenance through them, down through the ages! Behold: the supreme mystery – the supreme gift: the very Body and Blood of the Lord... sustenance for all eternity, both for the body and the soul. When the officiating Priest parcels out the “Lamb” (the sacrificial Bread) into pieces, he recites: “You are the offerer AND the Offering”. Saint Augustine clarifies this: “Lord... You are not something other than Your wages; You are both the wage-giver and the wages as well.”
However the tragedy for mankind is that albeit available, they do not hunger for the life-giving Food...
For the faithful Orthodox, it is an honour, but simultaneously a huge obligation, to have been invited to the most significant event in History - to be seated at God’s table; but are the guests truly hungry and thirsty for Christ? Well, how does one hunger for Christ? If a vessel filled with soil is dipped into the waters of a lake, water will not fill it, even if it is fully immersed in that lake. The vessel needs to be emptied of that heavy content, so that the water can freely fill the cavity of that vessel. The “soil” is our desire and our appetite for material things; when we empty ourselves of all material desires, then our thirst and hunger for Christ will prevail and conquer our entire existence – in body and soul. When we offer God our thirst and our hunger, He will offer us back His Divine Sustenance: the Body and the Blood of His Son.
“With desire I have desired to eat with you this Passover, prior to My suffering...” (Luke 22:15) said the Lord during that Last Supper, where He had offered Himself. The expression “with desire I have desired” clearly reveals how sincerely God longs to be united with us. How can we possibly remain coldly indifferent when hearing such wonderful words from our Lord God Himself - the Creator of all things, Whom the Hosts of Angelic Powers serve with fear and awe? He is the beginning-less, the infinite, true God, Who lacks nothing and is Perfect.
The term “Eucharist” (Gr.: gratitude) is used when communing with Him worthily; it is the expressing of a well deserved “thank You” for the sacrifice of His Son. But how deep is the ungratefulness that we are actually displaying towards such a monumental Mystery (Sacrament) that is titled “Gratitude”? Christ’s actual Presence through Holy Communion inside us is not a symbolic thing, or imaginary, or emotional. It is real and it is intrinsic: “...for My flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink...” (John6:55)
Saint John the Chrysostom tells us: “...and when the moment for Holy Communion arrives and you must approach the holy Altar, believe unshakeably that there present is Christ Himself – the King of All. When you see the Priest offering you the Body and the Blood of the Lord, do not imagine that the priest is doing that; rather, believe that the hand extended before you is Christ’s... He is actually present, and He examines each one’s predisposition and observes who approaches with piety befitting the holy Mystery, who approaches with a mischievous conscience, with foul and impure thoughts, with unclean acts... Approach, therefore, the holy Chalice with fear and trepidation, with a clean conscience, with fasting and prayer. Without making a noise, without trampling on, or pushing those near you, for that is a serious derangement and the worst possible disregard for the divine Mysteries.”
To demean and to show contempt for this Mystery, but also to approach it with carelessness are truly insane acts. This is what Paul the Apostle has written: “For whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you are denouncing the terrible death of the Lord, until He comes. So that whoever eats of this bread or drinks of the Lord’s cup unworthily is guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Let each person test himself, and thus eat of the bread and drink of the cup; for, the one who eats and drinks unworthily is eating and drinking unto his own judgment, by not discerning the Body of the Lord. For this (reason) there are many among you weak and ill, and many are asleep (have died).” (1 Cor.11:26)
The feast of the Nativity is close, and this is what we usually do to “appreciate” this major event: We exhaust ourselves with “Christmas shopping”, cooking, or “Christmas” feasts, parties, banquets, concerts, futile philosophical discussions and confrontations, theatres, cinemas and all other kinds of pleasures and satiations, striving to make ourselves feel something supposedly heavenly and spiritual, whereas the Body and the Blood of Christ atop the Holy Altar leave us totally unmoved, or at best, shallow. Thus the ... “holy days” pass, and the thirst and hunger of the soul return even more intense, tormenting us with that feeling of emptiness and futility.
Let us not repeat that mistake this year, by propping a plastic “baby Jesus” in a cheap manger under our “Christmas” tree. Instead, let us prepare our soul with contrition, repentance, confession, and our body with temperance, so that by thirsting and hungering for Christ, we can welcome Him with true longing in our soul and our body. Amen.
Article published in English on: 13-11-2019.
Last update: 13-11-2019.