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The Eucharist and Our Necessary Struggle

Excerpts from The Life in Christ, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas

11. The Eucharist compared with Baptism

a) With regard to the purification bestowed

For many it is a cause for amazement, that while this Mystery is thus the most perfect of all, and greater than Baptism, it yet seems to avail less for release from guilt. Baptism does so without any preceding effort, while the Eucharist requires effort on our part. As for those who have been cleansed in Baptism, there is no difference between them and those who have not begun to incur any defilement whatever, while many of those who frequent the banquet bear traces of the sins which they have committed.

Let us make the distinction clearer. In the case of sins committed we notice these four things—the one who has committed sin, the evil action itself, the penalty incurred thereby, the consequent evil inclination which has been intruded into the soul. He who has committed sin must of himself break with the action, and when he has ceased from it he must come to the baptismal washing. The other things, both the guilt and the disease, Baptism straightway removes without any further effort. Thus we believe that it somehow slays the very man who has sinned, for he dies in the waters, and it is a new man whom the washing restores to us.

When one receives the Holy Bread, after such affliction and pains as befit our sinful condition, it releases him from guilt and purifies the soul from its evil state. In nowise, however, does it slay, since it does not avail to create anew. Him who will not amend his life it leaves behind and permits to remain within the bounds of sin, not merely because he is guilty, but because he is presumptuous. There are also those who still bear the signs of sickness and the scars of old wounds because they are not as concerned about their wounds as they ought to be and come without sufficient preparation of soul for the power of the remedy.

So this Mystery differs from Baptism in respect of purification in that it is not spoken of as putting to death him who has sinned and creating him anew, but as merely cleansing him while he still remains himself, and that not without effort on his part. The guilty is cleansed in Baptism by being washed, but in the Eucharist by being fed.

b) With regard to the co-operation required of us

This I will say concerning the effort required of us. Since Baptism receives those who have not yet been united nor have received any strength for running the race for goodness, it fittingly achieves all things for us by a free gift. It has need of nothing on our part—as though we could contribute anything to it. The table, however, is set forth for those who already have been united and who are alive and are able to fend for themselves. It enables us to use the power and the weapons which have been given us and to pursue goodness, no longer as though we were being carried or dragged along, but spontaneously bestirring ourselves and moving as already skilled runners.

Why was it necessary to cause us to receive that which we were not compelled to use? What would be the point of strengthening and arming him who was to remain and sleep at home? Were there not a time for struggle and effort on the part of those who either had been born at the beginning or were subsequently willing to be cleansed, I know not when we should become useful even to ourselves. Were there no contests for virtue, what would be man's work? Or rather, what would be worse than the case of those who achieve nothing whatever that is worthy of praise, but instead keep the soul busied with evil at all times?

It was therefore necessary to grant to men a place for works and a time for struggles, and to give to those who had already received perfection and ability from the Mysteries an opportunity to make the effort befitting their nature. When the day appears "which the Lord has made" (Ps. 118:24) we should no longer be asleep but occupied in deeds as David says: "man goes forth to his work and to his labour until the evening" (Ps. 104:23). just as the night in which no one can work (Jn. 9:4) follows on this day so also before this day there was a night in which it was completely impossible to work. No one knew whither to walk, since that night prevailed on the earth in which, as Christ said, "be who walks does not know where he goes" (Jn. 12:35).

Now that the Sun has risen and diffused His light everywhere by means of the Mysteries there must be no delay of human works and effort. We must feed on our Bread "in the sweat of our face" (Gen. 3:19) since it is "broken for us" (1 Cor. 11:24), for it is appointed only for those who are endowed with reason. Since it is the Lord who says, "Labour for the food which endures" (Jn. 6:27), He commands us not to be idle and inactive, but to come to His banquet as those who are working. If, then, Paul's injunction bans the lazy even from the transitory table of this life, saying, "if anyone is idle, let him not even eat" (2 Thess. 3:10), what works are needed on the part of those who are called to this table!

From what has been said it is clear how we must prepare ourselves to touch the sacred Gifts, and that we must indeed cleanse ourselves of our own accord before the sacred rite. That this is a Mystery not inferior to the others, but even more efficacious, will be clear from the following.

First, if God bestows the greater gifts on those who are superior, it is because He has weighed mercy as in a balance and, according to the prophet, does all things with righteous ness as the plummet (Is. 28:17). On those who have been initiated and already have been striving for virtue He bestows far greater benefits than on such as have not yet been baptized. So the latter grace is superior to the former, and those who have been initiated obtain yet better gifts. The former is Baptism, the latter is the sacred banquet which is rightly considered to be so much more perfect since there is need of greater preparation on the part of those who approach it. It would not be reasonable were the greater gift available to all who desired it, while the lesser were available only to those who have been cleansed by their struggles or by the Mysteries. On the contrary, it is reasonable to conclude that the latter gift is more perfect, since it is not obtained save by many and noble efforts.

12. Christ as our Ally in the struggle

This also we must consider, that Christ who is our Host at His feast fights at our side. But one who fights at our side comes to the aid not of those who are slothful or inactive through sickness, but to those who are fit and strong and courageous and who fight nobly and bravely against the foe.

So Christ, as He acts in each of His Mysteries, becomes all things to us, our Creator as He washes us in Baptism, the one who anoints for the contest in the holy chrism, our Ally as He feeds us in the Eucharist. So He creates the members at the beginning and then strengthens them with the Spirit. On the table He is actually present and endures the contest with us to the very end. After our departure He will award the prizes, and for His Saints He will sit as the judge of the labours in which He has shared. At the triumph, when the victors are to be crowned, He Himself is their crown.

Trans. by Carmino J. deCatanzaro (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 130-133.