Some talks on Ignatius

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]


Oh, BTW, I don’t know if you’re still reading Ignatius or not, but if so…

English: Ignatius of Antioch, Russian: Игнатий...
St Ignatius, via Wikipedia
He recently had his feast day where the Orthodox celebrate his martyrdom. I saw these talks where Fr Andrew Stephen Damick talked through some big issues present in the writings of Ignatius. I know you have nothing but free time 🙂 and opportunity to listen to Orthodox talks, but…

I love you. I might try to get on the phone with you later today to see how things are going before you take off.


Some talks on Ignatius

Intercession of the Saints

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]

Hey Mom,

Here’s the next issue I’m going to address, per our earlier conversation.  You said that you were having a hard time understanding prayer to and veneration of saints.  This is one of the biggie issues for Protestants.  This seems to be due to a misunderstanding of what’s going on, and an intense desire to have authentic worship of God.  Hopefully I can address some of those issues and make the practice understandable.  It’s an unfortunate turn of events that the intense reaction on this issue has caused Protestantism to lose contact with the Body of Christ that is no longer on this earth.

English: Simon the Zealot (Simon the Canaanite...
Simon the Zealot

I’m only going to be dealing here with asking for the intercession of the saints, or prayer to the saints.  Due to length I’d like to punt on dealing with veneration to saints and icons into another email.  I know that’s a big part of the puzzle for you as well, but this is just too long and I need to cap it off.  I think it’ll be easier to deal with that separately.  Hopefully you understand.I REALLY tried to keep this one brief, and I thought I would be able to, but it kept creeping longer.  Sigh.  I did my best.

But before I get into my discussion on the saints I’m going to first vent a little.  🙂  A couple Sundays ago at First Christian as they prepared for communion the pastor got up and read from one of the synoptic passages of the Last Supper and said, “Jesus said, ‘Take and eat, this represents my body.'”  I just about choked when I heard that.  I’d just spent so much time writing out the letter on the Eucharist so perhaps I was a bit touchy.  I know he meant well, but that’s NOT what Jesus said.  Sigh.  Okay.  On with the saints….

How do the Orthodox interact with the Saints?  The Orthodox have a strong respect for the saints, and generally want to have them be a part of their life.  On a personal level they will take a patron saint, which is a saint that they find meaningful for some reason that they will have a deeper connection with.  A person who is raised Orthodox will often have this saint picked for them at birth.  A convert will often choose their own based on their own reasons.  This patron saint is looked on as an example to be followed, and also something like a mascot.  That sounds odd, but has its own worth.  It’s great that these wonderful people are remembered from generation to generation, and this is one of the mechanisms by which that occurs.  They will have icons of various saints in their homes; typically the patron saints of those in their families or saints that are particularly meaningful for other reasons.  Orthodox Christians will include the saints in prayer, both personal and corporate.  In Orthodoxy you don’t tend to see as much identification of a saint with specific functions.  That seems to be more typical in Roman Catholicism, though there is a bit of that in Orthodoxy.  Orthodox Christians will pray to saints and ask them to intercede on their behalf to God.  They don’t ask them to act directly, nor do they ask for information.  They don’t replace prayer and worship of God with prayer and worship of saints.

Protestantism, particularly in America, is strongly individualistic.  This is the opposite of how Orthodox believers approach the Christian life.  They see themselves as part of the great community of saints that surround the Lord God of Sabbaoth (Hosts).  God is not alone, and we are not alone.  This under girds the reality of the Orthodox life with the saints.  This goes beyond merely acknowledging the reality of saintly humans, but goes deeper into the understanding that these people are part of the same Body with us, even though they are departed, and that has meaning in our lives.  We are never alone when we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.

Who are the saints? 
It is certainly correct to say that all Christians are saints.  The saints are the holy ones of God, called out for a new kingdom.  The term got overloaded by the Church over time to specifically refer to individuals of outstanding piety, usually martyrs early on, but without losing the initial, more general meaning.  Certainly personal holiness is something that increases over time in a Christian (hopefully), and isn’t an automatic.  You can see how the saints in heaven are seen as being perfected in Hebrew 12:22-23:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect

A person specifically called a saint then is a person who has attained that righteousness.  A saint isn’t “declared” by the Church as in Roman Catholic terms, but is recognized by the people of the Church and accepted by them.  Sometimes this is via miracles that occur in relation to a Saint’s bodily remains, as in the case of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:20-21, or their personal effects, like happened to Paul’s handkerchief in Acts 19:11,12.

Those who are still alive are called to look at other Christians who are exemplars of the faith, some of whom are “dead”, and some of whom are still living.  Thus the saints are respected (venerated) for being Christ-like.

What does it mean to “pray” to the saints?
The word “prayer” did not originally have the strong overtones of divine specific communication or entreaty.  In Middle English prayer was an entreaty to any other person, most often another human.  You can see in the origin of “prayer” that it originally just meant to “ask” or “question”.  Praying to the saints as understood by the Orthodox is simply that.  They ask (pray) another person to intercede with God on their behalf.  Prayer to the saints is NOT worship of another human.  It is not requesting them to act directly on your behalf for some need.  It is merely asking for the intercession of another person.

I was recently at the First Christian Church and saw an example of this in action.  At the end of the time of worship the leadership of the church came to the front and anyone who had a prayer was encouraged to come and pray with the leaders.  Why?  Why didn’t these people just pray to Jesus?  Well, of course, they could, and did, and were, but they were also doing as God commanded by asking others in the Body of Christ to pray with them.  Truly the prayer of the righteous man is effective!  The saints are righteous men and women.  It is reasonable then to seek their intercession on our behalf in the same way we do with other Christians here around us.  In other words, it’s not either/or, but both/and.  We should pray BOTH to Jesus, and ask other Christians living and departed to pray to Jesus on our behalf.

As an aside, while I am frequently using the phrase “pray to the saints”, the actual mechanism that is engaged would more clearly be described as praying with the saints.  The Saints aren’t the destination of the prayer; God is.  This is exactly the same as those people at First Christian who went forward to pray with the leaders of the church.  The destination of the prayer wasn’t the pastor.  The person was praying with the pastor to God.  Any time you see “pray to the saints” feel free to replace that mentally with “asking the saint to pray for me” or something similar.

I have to say that honestly I still have some tension on this issue.  I’m going to try and make the case below that asking the saints to intercede with us is normal, natural, and Biblically supported.  However, I do think that petitions should be directed to God alone (and of course worship is strictly directed to God).  Sometimes language that is used by the Orthodox in prayer skirts around the edges of presenting petitions, though I believe that this is intended as poetic language and that the intent is to ask for intercessions only.  I try not to judge the piety of others and read more into what they say than is actually intended, but yes, it does still bother me occasionally.

Historical Background

When did Christians first start praying to/for the departed saints?
There is some evidence that early Jews believed in intercession from the dead, both in the form of the paternal blessings passed down from Abraham to his children, and also 2 Maccabees, where Judas Maccabaeus sees the dead Onias and Jeremiah giving blessing to the Jewish army.  You can also find such intercession in Enoch 39:4, which is apocryphal but speaks to the idea of the practice in Judaism.  Take it for what it’s worth.  There’s also intercessions by angels, as in Zechariah 1:12 or in Tobit 12 who hear the prayers of those on earth and present them to God.  That is somewhat bound up in this subject, but I’m not going to address it.  Certainly intercession for others is all over the Old Testament.

In Scripture you can see an instance of Paul praying FOR a departed person in 2 Timothy 1:16-18.  Protestant commentators agree that Onesiphorus is dead at this point when Paul is writing.  This is not quite the same as prayer to a saint for intercession, but not entirely different either.  It’s just the reverse of the situation of asking a saint to pray for us.  Instead, we pray for them.  Moving on….

You can see prayers that were left on the epitaphs of the dead in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere in the early centuries, where Christians asked their dead loved ones to pray for them, or to asked other dead saints (Peter or Paul for instance) to pray for them.  You can see good examples in this book:  Chapter 5 is particularly instructive, and requests for the prayers of those who are dead can be seen on page 81, 93, and 94.

From this it seems that there is certainly good evidence for early practice of prayer to departed saints.  I’ve never seen anything in the historic record indicating a controversy over prayer to saints.

What do the early Christian writers say regarding prayer to saints?
Considering that the Church consistently fought many heresies, and most of the writings we have from the very early centuries deals with correcting heresies, it certainly seems that if there was an outcry against prayer to saints we would have some record of it.  Instead, nothing I can find.

Various (probably Philo and Agathopus who were with Ignatius):
[After the death of Ignatius and in a dream] “… some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord.” (Martyrdom of Ignatius [A.D. 107 – 116])

Hippolytus of Rome:
[Speaking of the three youths in the fire in Daniel 30] “Tell me, you three boys, remember me, I entreat you, that I also may obtain the same lot of martyrdom with you…” (Commentary on Daniel, 30.1 [A.D. 202-211]

Clement of Alexandria
“In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]).

“But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels … as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep” (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]).

This next one will probably rankle a bit, since it’s a prayer to Mary (Theotokos), but it’s appropriate to the discussion.  It’s a prayer on John Ryland’s Papyrus, from Egypt, around 250 A.D:
“Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Theotokos.  Our petitions do not despise in time of trouble…”

Cyprian of Carthage
“Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy” (Letters 56[60]:5 [A.D. 253]).

Cyril of Jerusalem
“Then [during the Eucharistic prayer] we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition . . . ” (Catechetical Lectures 23:9 [A.D. 350]).

I’m including Cyril in the list even though he is out of the ante-Nicene period (but not by much) because he is clearly stating the theological position on prayer to the saints, and because this is still the same practice you’ll find in the Orthodox Church today.  It’s a two-fer!

There isn’t a huge list of writings on the subject to really pound the subject home, but there’s some good ones (plus Cyril).  It appears that prayer of the saints doesn’t get a lot of air time either for or against in the early writings, but as I said before, this just demonstrates to me that the practice was never a controversy, so there was never an outcry.  There’s plenty of evidence that the practice is present early on, and no indication that the practice was ever resisted.

I will say that most places where I find prayer in the early writings it is referring to petitioning God, as is right.  As I’ll mention below, this is in line with actual Orthodox practice where the vast majority of prayer is directed to God.  Some object that the quotes above don’t specifically say that someone asked the saints to pray for them.  I think that is quibbling over trivialities and I don’t see that it affects the conversation at all.  Those people will only be satisfied if every single writer spells out the entirety of the Orthodox understanding of prayer with the saints in detail.  I’m afraid we can’t go back in time and get their thoughts that specifically.

Up to the reformation the practice was normative in the church as far as I can tell, only being opposed by a couple heretical groups (not heretics because of this practice but because of other views, such as the world being created by the Devil), in the 10th and 12th century.

What about Lactantius?
One counter example I found referenced in the early writings is from a man named Lactantius, who was an adviser to Constantine.  Is unclear how important his works would have been, aside from his position with Constantine, since he was not a leader in the Church as far as I can tell, but we should look at them nonetheless to see if they indicate a problem with the practice of praying to the saints.

In his Divine Institutes, Book I, he says:
“They ought therefore to have understood from the mysteries and ceremonies themselves, that they were offering prayers to dead men.”

When you examine the context of what he is talking about it’s clear that what he is referring to men who over time came to be regarded as deities by various people, and were then worshiped (pagan gods).  He is not referring to prayers to saints.

In Book 2 he says:

“But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law.”

Again, when read in context, he is constantly referring to pagan gods who are being worshiped as images of dead men who over time were exaggerated into gods.  His “prayers to the dead” is clearly referring to worship given to these dead men.  He is not at all referring to prayer to saints.  His entire aim in that section is clearly aimed at discounting pagan religions.  He is not instructing on Christian prayer or the particular act of prayer to saints.

What about Tertullian?
Another quote I’ve seen thrown out is by Tertullian in the work known as The Apology, and says:

“And if we speak of Paradise, the place of heavenly bliss appointed to receive the spirit of the saints, severed from the knowledge of this world…”

It seems that Tertullian is indicating that the saints have no knowledge of what’s going on on earth.  Well, two problems. First, this clearly contradicts Scripture.  Second, that’s not what Tertullian is actually saying.  If people would quote a bit more of the context you’d clearly see that Tertullian is talking about bits of Christian wisdom that match up to pagan ideas and fables, matching up hell against a river of flame in the regions of the dead called Pyriphlegethon, and heaven matched to the Elysian planes.  His “severed from the knowledge of this world”, when you see the whole sentence, looks different.

“And if we speak of Paradise, the place of heavenly bliss appointed to receive the spirits of the saints, severed from the knowledge of this world by that fiery zone as a sort of enclosure, the Elysian plains have taken possession of their faith.”

I think the most natural reading of what Tertullian is indicating is that the activities in heaven are removed from our awareness, not the reverse.  It’s important, however, not to make more of this section of comparison by Tertullian than can be warranted given what he is trying to do.  This is not a treatise on heaven or prayer, but rather on truth in pagan beliefs, and besides which using this quote against praying with the saints would again contradict Scripture which clearly indicates neither forgetfulness nor separation of those who are departed from the affairs on earth.

I’ve also seen quotes given by Athenagoras and Irenaeus.  They aren’t very convincing to me, so I’ll ignore them for the sake of what brevity I can wring from this subject, unless you’d like to dig in to them.  There’s a really good one from Clement of Alexandria where he defines prayer as only going to God, but I’m pretty sure this is a translation issue.  Greek had words used to reference communication specifically to God, whereas communication to humans used other words, but English isn’t that specific.  The general term prayer in English covers both communication directed to God, and that directed to other humans, so I don’t put much weight in Clement’s text as ruling out communication directed toward the saints (more on that later).  I see this as similar to the situation that exists in Greek for concepts of love.  We all know that Greek has multiple words to indicate different types of love, but English just doesn’t correspond, so we end up with “I love my wife” and “I love pizza”.  I believe the other quotes that are sometimes aired on this subject, such as the one from Clement, are species of this type of translation issue.

Prayer is something that is addressed a lot in the Fathers, as you’d expect.  Mostly they talk about how prayer is directed to God, but as I’ve read them I’m comfortable that they are addressing the issue of petitions made to God, which is interpreted into English as prayer, and not communication to other humans, especially departed saints, which is also, unfortunately, translated as prayer.  It does make for a somewhat uncomfortable read in some spots, but overall I’m satisfied that reading of the Fathers indicates an awareness of the practice of asking for intercession from the departed saints and an acceptance of it, in as far as it is addressed.

What about the Reformers?
The reformers are a mixed bag on this subject.  Luther seems to be generally in sympathy with the view, but strongly opposed any idea that the saints are co-mediators with Christ (the Orthodox also oppose that idea).  In early writings Luther says the saints in heaven intercede for those on earth:

“May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary!  Amen.” (Commentary on the Magnificat)

Later writings by Luther do weaken this straightforward affirmation, but don’t eliminate it.  Calvin on the other hand was strongly opposed to intercession by the saints, so there you go.

Points of Agreement

The saints are alive and aware, not asleep.  I probably don’t need to stress this point too much.  I think that you are in agreement with the Biblical picture of the “dead” in Christ as being alive and aware.  I mention it just to paint the entire picture of why the Orthodox pray to saints.  So, let me throw out a list of passages dealing with this: Mark 12:26-27Hebrews 12:1Luke 20:37-38Luke 16:19-31Luke 23:43Revelation 4:4-11Revelation 5:8-10Revelation 6:9-11,Revelation 7:9-12Philippians 1:23-242 Corinthians 5:8Matthew 17:1-9Mark 9:2-10Luke 9:28-36.

Should we pray for one another?
Again, I know that this isn’t an issue for Protestants, but it’s part of the picture so I’ll put up some verses on this as well and move on:
Colossians 4:2-4Ephesians 6:18Colossians 2:1-5James 5:16

The Objections

Where’s the scriptural command to pray to saints?
Nowhere, but this argument does seem to cut both ways.  Scripture doesn’t clearly state that we are to pray to departed saints.  On the other hand, it doesn’t say not to.  It’s just silent on the subject.  Having already dealt with Sola Scriptura in a previous letter I’ll just point out that silence or ambiguousness of the Scriptures on a subject is not an argument against.  It is also unclear on the Trinitarian existence of God, but that does not make the fully realized doctrine developed over the first centuries non-Biblical.  The same is true about the full divinity and humanity of Christ.  Or the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Or the make up of the Scriptures themselves.  All of these subjects are ambiguous or completely missing from Scripture, and yet are fully affirmed by all Christian groups.  Lacking clear statements for or against, the subject must be argued from parts of Scripture, logical affirmations, and the witness of historic practice.  Some people will say that Old Testament prohibitions against necromancy are the clear admonition against the practice, but this is wrong, and I’ll address that argument below as it is a fairly common objection.

I’d ask the question too of, should we expect to find much discussion of this practice in the New Testament?  Honestly, I don’t think so, and here’s why.  The Scripture is largely written up in the early years of budding Christianity.  Most of it is written up by the 60s and 70s.  How big was the population of dead and martyred saints at this time?  Probably pretty small.  I doubt that the Church had much time to accumulate much thought about the intercession of the departed saints at the time of writing the Scriptures.  Therefore I’d suggest that not finding much discussion of it there is not unexpected.  I think this practice is a natural development of the New Testament understanding of all Christians as a unified whole.

Isn’t prayer to the saints necromancy, and forbidden in the Old Testament?
No, it isn’t necromancy.  This is an extremely common objection to the intercession of the saints, and one that I find uncharitable and demonstrating an almost intentional obtuseness.  Necromancy is an occult practice, practiced by a witch or sorcerer, for the purpose of divination or uncovering hidden knowledge.  Literally the word necromancy means “divination by use of a dead body” in the Greek.  That’s not even close to asking a departed saint of God to pray for you.

Necromancy was a common practice in antiquity.  There are many known forms and they typically involved gathering bones from a dead body, or involving snakes apparently (weird), and with various incantations or meditative practices producing knowledge of the future, real or imagined.  There’s references to necromancy all the way back in Homer’s Oddysey, where Ulysses’ invokes dead souls by various rites, to consult with them.  There’s a common thread of getting advantage by gaining information from the dead in all necromantic rights.  This selfish practice is the opposite of members of the Church praying for one another.

Let’s look at three Old Testament passages commonly cited in connection with this.  First, Leviticus 20:27:
27 ‘Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.’ “

A medium/spiritist is one who has a dead person (or potentially a masquerading demon) speaking through them.  This is not at all relevant to intercession by a departed saint; apples and oranges.  To see this in operation one need only go to Acts 16:16 and see that this demonic manifestation of power bears no resemblance to intercession by saints.  All the Protestant commentaries I have access to make no relation to this verse and prayers to departed saints.

Next, Deuteronomy 18:10,11:
10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium , or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

This passage is slightly more expansive than the one in Leviticus, but amounts to the same thing.  It forbids any Jew from being a medium, a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.  As with Leviticus, the practice of calling of the dead is an occult practice of divination.  These practices were common to the Philistine religions that God was making sure they didn’t engage in.  It bears absolutely no resemblance to asking intercession of the saints.

Again, I can’t find a Protestant commentary that links this verse to the practice of prayer to the saints.

Finally, 1 Samuel 28:7-19.  It’s long so I won’t quote it here.  King Saul goes to a necromancer to call up Samuel when he can’t get an answer from God on how to proceed in battle.  It appears that she is actually successful, and Samuel is none too pleased.  So, is this the same as prayer with the saints?  No.  Saul 1) goes to a medium, who 2) engages in a necromantic rite, so that 3) he can gain information, and 4) Samuel spoke through the medium to Saul.  None of these are the same as prayer with the saints.  So, again this really doesn’t apply.

And again, no commentaries link this to prayer to the saints, that I can find.

How about some counter examples?  Take a look at the Transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9:28-36.  Jesus engages in conversation with Moses and Elijah, who are dead physically.  The disciples see the dead men but don’t indicate any reluctance to engage with them, nor do they indicate any problem with Jesus engaging with them.  You could say that certainly Jesus is a special case, so perhaps this is something that’s ok for Him but not for us, but again the disciples show no hesitancy in dealing with their heroes returned from the dead.  From this I think we can clarify that contact with the dead is not the same as necromancy.

Here’s another example.  The Apostle John in Revelation speaks with the elders in heaven, in Revelation 7:13-17, having a two way conversation, but that’s not considered necromancy.

You could also look at Revelation 5:8.

Doesn’t praying to the saints makes the saints a mediator, instead of the ONE mediator Jesus?
This is a reference to the description of Jesus as the one mediator between God and man in 1 Timothy 2, and is one of the most common objections I’ve seen to the intercession of saints.  If you look at the context of the passage though, it completely reverses the argument.

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

Paul starts off instructing us to intercede for each other, even regarding non-Christians, that God would save all (v. 4).  Then he follows up immediately with the description of Jesus as the one mediator.  Clearly if Paul had in mind that Jesus’ role as a mediator in any way annulled our ability, and even duty, to pray for each other he wouldn’t have followed one with the other directly in that fashion.  Clearly the two are not contradicting in the least.  Instead, Jesus’ role as a mediator (v. 5 points back to v. 4) is the reason why we pray for everyone, making salvation possible for all.

Common objections using this verse confuse intercession with mediation.  Christ is the one mediator of a reconciliation between God and man.  The saints never mediate between us and God.  We are all, however, intercessors for each other.  These are two different things.  Now in some instances saints are referred to as mediators, but the context makes it clear that the references are more in line with what we would call intercession.

Praying for each other as Christians is simply what we do.  It is God’s will that we pray for each other, as expressed in Scripture I’ve already covered.

Does prayer to the saints equate to worship?
I’m not sure I need to spend much time on this assertion.  It seems patently false and easily dismissed.  Only by taking a very narrow and non-historical view of prayer could this is begin to make sense.  “Prayer” does not equal worship.  Prayer is communication.  When we ask other Christians that we know here on earth to pray for us we are not worshiping them, though we have just prayed for their intercession.  I think we are mostly tripped up by our own language here, and reading back our current thinking on prayer as divine specific communication into older texts and scripture.  It’s simply a case of defining things differently.  We need another English word to cover this!

How could the saints know our needs?  Would they care? 
Do the saints care about us or know our needs?  Well, as we can see in Hebrews 12:1 they are witnesses to our lives.  They can’t be witnesses unless they are aware of what goes on here on earth.  The saints aren’t omnipresent or omniscient, as God is, but then neither are angels and scripture clearly indicates that angels are aware of our prayers.  The most likely answer to this objection is that they are aware because God makes them aware.  There’s no need to ascribe to them Godlike powers, merely communion with God.  You can see this greater than normal awareness also in the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah are aware of the upcoming crucifixion, an event that hadn’t yet occurred in time.  Probably the knowledge came from God, again. You can also see saints in heaven with knowledge of what’s going on here on earth in Revelation (5:8-10), and also offering the prayers of the saints on earth up to God, which is pretty much the whole thing in a nutshell right there.  So, I’d say, yeah, the saints in heaven are aware of events on earth.

As to caring for us, I think that’s safe to say that they do.  The saints are considered saints because of their exemplary holiness, and that includes compassion for us here on earth.  Knowing how we go through trials and have needs here, why would we think they wouldn’t care?  We can also say that we are all one family, on heaven and on earth (Ephesians 3:15,commentary).  Paul said there should be no division so that we would all have the same care for one another.  Certainly that wouldn’t change after death.  We are one bodyone brideone vine in Christ that is commanded to love one another (John 15:14).  This isn’t changed by death, which cannot separate us from Christ.  This is both why the saints would care, and perhaps even an explanation for their knowledge of events on earth, though that is speculation on my part. They know because they are connected to Christ, as are we.

There is one church in heaven and earth, and we care for one another, and pray for one another.

Can you have relationship with a departed saint?  Isn’t it better to have accountability with a person who is present?
As to whether you can have a relationship with someone who is in heaven I think it is reasonable to say that it will certainly not be the same type of relationship as with someone who is present.  That doesn’t make it less significant though; merely different.  The saint isn’t expected to come and walk on the beach with you, or go chit-chat at Starbucks.  But the saint is in a purified state, in the presence of God, and their prayers are therefore common with the will of God, making them effective (all effect is from God, of course).  Here again is a case of not making an issue either/or.  We don’t JUST pray to Jesus.  We don’t JUST pray to saints.  We should also have relationship with brothers and sisters still present and have accountability with them.  This is Biblical of course and the common practice of all Christians.  We just have an unfortunate position of cutting out anyone who has died here on earth but is alive and present with Jesus from our common body of communion.  We don’t acknowledge them, know who they are, or seek to be at one with them.

How much do Orthodox pray to the saints, versus to Jesus?  Isn’t this too much attention in the wrong place?
This may be somewhat surprising, but the answer to how much prayer goes to saints is, not that much.  For something that is by quantity a small portion of Orthodox practice it is surely made into something of huge proportions by opponents of the practice.  I typically do morning and evening prayers found in the Orthodox Study Bible, or a small Orthodox prayer book.  I looked to see how much time is given to asking the saints for intercession, or even just referencing the saints.  In the OSB out of about 3 pages of material for morning prayers you might find 2 or 3 lines that include even a reference to the saints.  The small prayer book is about the same, but includes a few extra lines about Mary.  The evening prayers have even less of a reference to saints.  In the divine liturgy you get frequent reference to the saints or requests to them to pray for us, but considering that the liturgy may last 2 to 2 1/2 hours, the percentage of time spent engaging the saints versus direct prayer to God is really minimal.  It’s there, but if quantity means anything (not that it does) certainly the vast majority of prayer is directed to God.

Can the saints answer our prayers directly?  Is it within their power to grant requests?
No, and no.  🙂  Neither proposition is Orthodox.

Summing Up
Saints in heaven are very highly respected by Orthodox believers.  There’s certainly no getting around that, nor do I think we need to.  This is an exemplary practice and Protestants engage in it as well.  We all highly respect Peter and Paul, Stephen for his martyrdom, etc.  I think it is clear that those in heaven are aware of our situation on earth, and desire to pray for us.  The act of piety on the Orthodox believer’s part of asking for those saints to pray for him demonstrates humility and oneness in the Body of Christ.  It is in line with Biblical mandates for how the Church is to act.  There is no smoking gun verse instructing us to ask saints in heaven to pray for us, but neither is there one against.  The practice doesn’t seem to be at all harmful, any more than asking our brothers and sisters here on earth to pray for us.  Historically it seems to be going on in the early church, and is referenced in various writings.  Claims that asking saints to pray for us amounts to necromancy I reject on all counts, as I do those claims that this is polytheism.  No worship is occurring.  Finally, this practice in no way replaces or diminishes prayer to God.  The vast majority of Orthodox prayer is made to God, and what little is directed at saints is merely asking them to intercede for us.

Given all that, I can find no reason to reject the practice.  The Protestant in me could wish for a smoking gun verse, for or against, but there just isn’t one. It’s not addressed.  Unfortunately this is true for a lot of the controversial points.  It makes sense why, of course.  If there was a definitive verse or verses, it wouldn’t be a controversy.  Instead it would be settled.  🙂  Sometimes life is not that simple.  Instead you have to look at the whole package of a position and say, what makes the most sense of Scripture and holds to the most consistent witness of history.  I think the balance of evidence weighs in favor of prayer to the saints, and I’d need much stronger objections raised than I’ve seen to decide that this is an aberrant practice and reject it.

There’s only so far I can let my own reasoning take me without resting in the Church, which has the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide it into all truth.  Some of these issues seem pretty straight forward to me.  Some don’t.  Actually I find Sola Scriptura and the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to be two of the easier subjects to deal with, since there is ample Scriptural, historical, and philosophical support to decide in one direction for me.  Prayer to the saints is one that is somewhere in the middle.  It has decent support and makes a certain sense.  As I said earlier, I do still have tension sometimes when reading some of the stronger poetic language, but that’s mostly culture shock I think.  I take a deep breath, read it calmly, and accept that while it is not natural to my prayer life it is not something to be summarily rejected.  Most of the time, though, I happily enjoy a new found source of support when I ask the departed holy ones of God to pray for me.  I’ll take all the prayer I can get!

Love you,

Some other sites to reference on this subject:

Some extra audio on this subject:

Intercession of the Saints

Where’s the discipleship in Orthodoxy?

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.


You said:
I’ll be ready. I have been going back and reviewing Sola’s to check my understanding. I find myself still wondering how much emphasis goes to expecting the Word to speak to you individually or how much (in actual practice) depends on the priest. Where is the actual discipling process carried out? That I haven’t figured out. I know that you are studying orthodoxy at a level that very few in a typical congregation would ever do (based on what I see in Protestant and Catholic adherents). Where do you see this placing you? I can appreciate the hunger for truth and the search that you are in, but I don’t want you to lose the preciousness of your personal experience/relationship with God in conjunction with this knowledge. From what I understand you to say, you are entering more fully into prayer, fasting, and reading of the Scripture. What are the fresh insights that you are receiving from the Holy Spirit for you personally as a result? What does this look like for you?”

Good questions!  If I understand you correctly, based on our discussion so far about Sola Scriptura, I think in your first question you are asking whether the individual Orthodox believer is responsible for reading the Bible on their own, and how much responsibility for understanding it is placed on the priest?  Hopefully I read that correctly.  If I didn’t please clarify for me.

The answer is, of course, both!  Yeah for ambiguous answers.  The individual is definitely not off the hook for knowing the Scriptures.  They can and should be reading them and know them.  My local parish has a weekly Bible study.  Parish members have the opportunity to hear a lot of Scripture on Sunday, though to be honest not as many take advantage as they should, and there are daily readings that each parishioner is encouraged to read on a daily basis at home that can form the basis for Bible knowledge.  Then you have podcasts, like the wonderful Coffee Cup Commentaries that I sent to you, to cite an example of the resources that are available outside the local parish.

Orthodoxy certainly provides many opportunities to know the Scriptures.  Like you find in Protestantism, though, the actual uptake by individuals is spotty.  Some see it as important, and some don’t.  Insert sad noise here.  Personally I’ve found Orthodox practices to be mostly encouraging to my personal study of Scripture.  There’s room for improvement, I think, but if you are Orthodox and don’t know your Bible, it’s your own fault.

As for discipling, that looks very different in Orthodoxy.  There’s a variety of mechanisms that exist to help a convert get their sea legs, and make sure that you are making progress toward Christ likeness.  Again, the ultimate responsibility for using them is up to the individual, but the tools are there, and in my estimation are far superior to Protestantism.  Those tools are a mentoring relationship with a godparent and confession with a priest.  I haven’t discussed either of these with you, so I’m probably jumping the gun and opening up topics that I’m not quite ready to address, but I’ll go ahead and throw them out as teasers.  Every person becoming Orthodox, when they are chrismated, have a mentor that is picked out.  That person is your godparent.  They are responsible for you as a Christian, and if things are working correctly they should be guiding you into Orthodoxy.  Then you have confession, which is so much more (as I understand it) than just going periodically to list your sins and getting a little forgiveness so you can go and sin more.  In Orthodoxy confession is more like counseling, but it’s required counseling for everyone.  Usually this means that your priest knows the issues you are dealing with and you have accountability.  Outside of these two discipling tools you have a more strongly knit community in Orthodoxy than you typically do in Protestantism.  That is, of course, speaking from my own experience alone, so I can’t say that this is always the case.  Like everything else, it varies in uptake, but it’s there for you.

You referenced my search for knowledge in the Orthodox sphere, and voiced some concern that this might be an overbalancing factor against having a personal relationship with God.  I think I understand what you are going for there.  Certainly I have a tendency to live in my head.  I’m a learner, and the new knowledge and exploration in Orthodoxy is exciting.  I love this kind of thing, but eventually that will fade as it slows down and I become more used to Orthodoxy.  I don’t know how long this process will take, but I’ll enjoy the ride.

Orthodoxy does something really good for me here that I think you will appreciate.  Orthodoxy has huge amounts of knowledge.  It has the collected writings of a Church that is 2,000 years old.  I’ve been reading in the writings mostly just from the first three centuries and I’m nowhere near completely read.  It’s a huge body of work and I don’t think I could ever wade through it all, much less completely internalize it.  There’s plenty to chew on.  But that’s not Orthodoxy.  I’ve been writing these big long apologetic style emails, with quotes from historians and early church writers and philosophical arguments and what not.  But that’s not Orthodoxy.  All this information I’m accumulating and trying to distribute to you to help you understand is also not Orthodoxy.  It’s not a set of things to understand.  You don’t become Orthodox from reading books.  That’s what they keep saying.  That’s what I’m told.  In order to be Orthodox I have to go and do and be.  Orthodoxy is all verbs.  🙂

Of course, I’m over simplifying, but I find that Orthodoxy is far more effective at motivating me to move out of my head and act than Protestantism was.  I think that rather than leading me into a danger zone of turning Christianity into an apologetic swamp of facts, it is telling me to stop thinking and start being.  This probably isn’t coming through on these emails because they are so heavily driven by the intellectual side of the questions.  It seems that in order to open a person’s mind to these truths it is sometimes helpful to pry with the apologetic crowbar.  Sometimes not too.  I’ve found both to be helpful to me.  Everything that I’m reading, and hearing, and seeing is telling me that this isn’t a comfy choice.  It will require much from me, and my family, but it promises much as well.

Because of my interest in Orthodoxy I have begun to enter into the rhythms of the Orthodox life.  I keep a small rule of prayer.  I fast.  I attend services.  I read the daily Scripture readings and descriptions of the day’s feasts.  Right now the Church is in the middle of the fast of the Nativity, which is quite long, but I’m not engaged in that.  One thing at a time. 🙂  There’s so much to the Orthodox life, so I just pick up small chunks and don’t worry about the rest.  I’m actively connecting with some men in the parish to see if any of them might make a good godparent/mentor.  It’s an interesting time.  I don’t know that I can pinpoint an insight that has come specifically due to increased prayer and Scripture time.  I have so many new thoughts in my brain right now, I’m not sure I can pluck them out and trace the source.  Certainly I read Scripture differently now.  Or with a different slant.  I see certain passages in a different way, but I haven’t journaled anything, so I don’t have any particularly good examples to share that I know came from Scripture and personal study.  I do have something I can share from a book I’ve been reading called “Beginning to Pray“, but Archbishop Anthony Bloom.

First, in the following section he is talking about the absence of God in our lives, as opposed to those times when we feel a distinct presence of God.  When he talks about the absence of God he has already stated that of course God is never absent in truth, but may sometimes seem that way to us.  With that proviso he says:

First of all, it is very important to remember that prayer is an encounter and a relationship, a relationship which is deep, and this relationship cannot be forced either on us or on God.  The fact that God can make Himself present or can leave us with the sense of His absence is part of this live and real relationship.  If we could mechanically draw Him into an encounter, force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen this moment to meet Him, there would be no relationship and no encounter.  We can do that with an image, or with the imagination, or with the various idols we can put in front of us instead of God; we can do nothing of the sort with the living God, any more than we can do it with a living person.  A relationship must begin and develop in mutual freedom.  If you look at the relationship in terms of mutual relationship, you will see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him.  We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer, ‘I am busy, I am sorry’ or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life.  So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.

The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us.  We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned.  I do not meant this in major terms of eternal damnation or eternal salvation already given and received, but it is always a critical moment, a crisis.  ‘Crisis’ comes from the Greek and means ‘judgment’.  To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment in our lives, and thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting.  Remember the many passages of Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity.  Therefore, the first thought we ought to have when we do not tangibly perceive the diving presence, is a thought of gratitude.  God is merciful; He does not come in an untimely way.  He gives us a chance to judge ourselves, to understand, and not to come into His presence at a moment when it would mean condemnation.

Beginning to Pray is a good book, as far as I’ve read it, and in my own estimation which is of course flawed and ignorant.

So I guess my answer to your last question on what this discipling looks like to me, it looks like humble pie and a lot of patience.  If I’m learning in this process, what I’m learning is just how little I know God, and how flawed I am.  But I’m encouraged to make strides!  Yeah for hope!

I love you.  Keep the questions coming.  I’ll be working up a dry, boring, intellectual and apologetic approach to explaining the intercession of the saints.  Of course, this isn’t Orthodoxy, but it’s something.


Where’s the discipleship in Orthodoxy?

The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.  If you’d rather just listen to audio, rather than read, skip to the bottom for links to audio.]

Hey Mom,

Here’s the next installment in the series, on the Eucharist, or communion.  It seems that I’m writing a book here.  I apologize in advance for the length, but I want to cover the ground thoroughly on this issue.

The Eucharist (which is a greek word meaning “thanksgiving”) is the central facet of Orthodox piety (or at least one of the most important).  It was instituted by Jesus, and since it is believed to be a direct means of sharing in the life of Jesus it is held to be extremely important.  The divine liturgy on Sunday morning is a 2-3 hour worship event that culminates in Christians partaking of the body and blood of Jesus, and not just in a metaphorical sense.  I can certainly understand how from a Protestant stand point this seems odd at best, and some form of devotional cannibalism at worst, but after adjusting to the “reality” of the idea it has become my main point of longing for Orthodoxy.  Having come to believe in the doctrine of the Eucharist as the literal Body and Blood of Jesus I now want very badly to join in.  I now see the beauty of the idea.  I can’t wait to enter the reality of it.

But that aside, let me lay out the “case” for the Eucharist for you.  The basic understanding of the Eucharist is summed up, in the words of Jesus, as “This is my Body”, and “This is my Blood.”  It’s very simple and straightforward.  The Orthodox understanding is not identical to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but does share a belief in the reality of the elements as body and blood.  The Orthodox understanding affirms that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus, but do not give any indication of the methodology used by God.  The Eucharist is a miracle, and a mystery.  It’s not necessary to understand the mechanics of how it works in order to affirm the truth of it, so I won’t address that any further unless it becomes necessary.  The argument for the Eucharist doesn’t need to include those details in order to work.  As Saint John of Damascus said, “If you inquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit … we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable.”

I am going to lay this Orthodox understanding along side the typical Evangelical Protestant understanding of communion as a symbolic only act.  The actual lay of the land in Protestantism is slightly more complex of course, with Lutherans basically holding an understanding of the Eucharist very close to Orthodox and Catholic understandings, traditional Reformed/Calvinistic Protestants also being somewhat close but making it very spiritual, and then those who follow after Ulrich Zwingli and go with a symbolic only understanding.  Since what I’ve mostly encountered is a Zwinglian understanding, that’s what I’m going to use as the counter position.

The argument for a literal Eucharistic understanding in a nutshell is two fold.  First, the consistent and universal understanding of the Church has been that the body and blood in the Eucharist is understood literally, up to and including some of the early Protestant Reformers.  Second, the straightforward and consistent reading of Scripture strongly supports a literal understanding of the Eucharist as the body and blood, rather than a symbolic understanding.  I’ll unpack both of those to deal with specific passages in more depth, and illustrate the early understanding of the Church about the Eucharist to show how strongly the literal notion of the Eucharist is supported by Scripture and Tradition.

Historical Support
Of all the historians I’ve read or seen referenced, I’m not aware of any that would deny the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist in the early church.  This is important because I have frequently seen people make the bold assertion that the doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist didn’t come about until the 9th century.  This is completely wrong.  The doctrine is clearly present from the very earliest stages of Church life as I’ll demonstrate.  The first time the doctrine becomes an issue to be debated in the Church is in the ninth century, and in a very small way.  This is the incident that spawns the references to the “generation” of the doctrine in the ninth century.  Such a view of history just demonstrate ignorance, sometimes willful.

The first time their is widespread disbelief in the real presence is by the branch of the Protestant Reformation led by Ulrich Zwingli in the 16th century.  I’ve read various apologists for the symbolic understanding of the Eucharist and not one can enlist the aid of the Church Fathers.  Most will make only oblique references to the Fathers and mention that perhaps they weren’t all unanimous, but none can actually provide solid examples of non-unanimity in the Fathers.  There’s a few proof text quotes, taken out of context and easily dismissed, but by and large the apologists are silent on the subject.  Tellingly so, I believe.  It’s fairly obvious why they don’t want to grapple with the early Church understanding of the Eucharist, because it is so strongly opposed to a merely symbolic understanding of the Eucharist.  Now, this is not to say that the early Church holds ONLY a literal understanding of the Eucharist.  It is understood in both literal and symbolic terms, without confusion, and without exclusion.  The literal body and blood are always there, though, but sometimes the symbolic is also referred to.

Now some of these apologists will move the issue by agreeing that indeed, the Church Fathers understood the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood, but that the Fathers did not believe in the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation.  Dr. James White ( takes this tack, and he’s a major player in the apologetics space.  I’m fine with that tack.  He cedes the point of the early, literal understanding while making his sticking point merely that the fathers didn’t hold to the fully realized doctrine of transubstantiation the Roman Catholic Church came out with at the Council of Trent in the 1500s.  This does nothing to detract from the clear understanding of the early church in the literal presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements, or to refute the Eastern Orthodox understanding.

Another Protestant apologist, William Webster, in his book “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History”, p. 117 says:

From the beginning of the Church the Fathers, generally expressed their belief in the Real Presence in the eucharist, in that they identified the elements with the body and blood of Christ, and also referred to the Eucharist as a sacrifice…”

Before I throw out any of the early Church writings, here are statements from protestant historians that verify that I’m not just pulling quotes that present one side of the story. [I got this basic list from another site on the net.  I have modified it by adding in some different quotes that I thought were better.]

1) Otto W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought, vol.1, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965, 221-222:

The Post-Apostolic Fathers and . . . almost all the Fathers of the ancient Church . . . impress one with their natural and unconcerned realism. To them the Eucharist was in some sense the body and blood of Christ.

2) Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., rev. by Robert T. Handy, NY: Scribners, 1970, 90-91:

By the middle of the 2nd century, the conception of a real presence of Christ in the Supper was wide-spread

3) Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, v.3, A.D. 311-600, rev. 5th ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rep. 1974, orig. 1910, 492, 500, 507:

The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy . . . till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century . . . In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim.

On p. 96: The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question.

4) J.D. Douglas, ed., The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, rev. ed., 1978, 245 [a VERY hostile source!]:

The Fathers . . . [believed] that the union with Christ given and confirmed in the Supper was as real as that which took place in the incarnation of the Word in human flesh.

5) F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd ed., 1983, 475-476, 1221:

That the Eucharist conveyed to the believer the Body and Blood of Christ was universally accepted from the first . . . Even where the elements were spoken of as ‘symbols’ or ‘antitypes’ there was no intention of denying the reality of the Presence in the gifts . . . In the Patristic period there was remarkably little in the way of controversy on the subject . . . The first controversies on the nature of the Eucharistic Presence date from the earlier Middle Ages. In the 9th century Paschasius Radbertus raised doubts as to the identity of Christ’s Eucharistic Body with His Body in heaven, but won practically no support. Considerably greater stir was provoked in the 11th century by the teaching of Berengar, who opposed the doctrine of the Real Presence. He retracted his opinion, however, before his death in 1088 . . .

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual. The suggestion of sacrifice is contained in much of the NT language . . . the words of institution, ‘covenant,’ ‘memorial,’ ‘poured out,’ all have sacrificial associations. In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . .

From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

6) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 146-147, 166-168, 170, 236-237:

By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term ‘sacrifice’ to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the ‘pure offering’ commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .

The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .

. . . the doctrine of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which did not become the subject of controversy until the ninth century. The definitive and precise formulation of the crucial doctrinal issues concerning the Eucharist had to await that controversy and others that followed even later. This does not mean at all, however, that the church did not yet have a doctrine of the Eucharist; it does mean that the statements of its doctrine must not be sought in polemical and dogmatic treatises devoted to sacramental theology. It means also that the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or sixteenth century is both silly and futile . . .

Yet it does seem ‘express and clear’ that no orthodox father of the second or third century of whom we have record declared the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist to be no more than symbolic (although Clement and Origen came close to doing so) or specified a process of substantial change by which the presence was effected (although Ignatius and Justin came close to doing so). Within the limits of those excluded extremes was the doctrine of the real presence . . .

The theologians did not have adequate concepts within which to formulate a doctrine of the real presence that evidently was already believed by the church even though it was not yet taught by explicit instruction or confessed by creeds . . .

Liturgical evidence suggests an understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, whose relation to the sacrifices of the Old testament was one of archetype to type, and whose relation to the sacrifice of Calvary was one of ‘re-presentation,’ just as the bread of the Eucharist ‘re-presented’ the body of Christ . . . the doctrine of the person of Christ had to be clarified before there could be concepts that could bear the weight of eucharistic teaching . . .

Theodore [c.350-428] set forth the doctrine of the real presence, and even a theory of sacramental transformation of the elements, in highly explicit language . . . ‘At first it is laid upon the altar as a mere bread and wine mixed with water, but by the coming of the Holy Spirit it is transformed into body and blood, and thus it is changed into the power of a spiritual and immortal nourishment.’ [Hom. catech. 16,36] these and similar passages in Theodore are an indication that the twin ideas of the transformation of the eucharistic elements and the transformation of the communicant were so widely held and so firmly established in the thought and language of the church that everyone had to acknowledge them.

7) J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco:Harper & Row, 1978, 440:

Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.

On pg 196: [T]he Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier.

8) Carl Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983, 107:

Early Christians were convinced that in some way Christ was actually present in the consecrated elements of bread and wine.

9) Maurice Wiles and Mark Santar, Documents in Early Christian Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge, 1975, 173:

Finally, John Chrysostom and Augustine explore the social connotation of participation in the Eucharist: the body of Christ is not only what lies on the altar, it is also the body of the faithful.

When I discussed this with [my wife] she asked insightfully, “then why didn’t these historians believe in the real presence?”  Well, to begin with, we don’t know that they didn’t.  There’s more to being Protestant than a symbolic understanding of communion.  Second, we can never know why men choose the things they choose.  I recently heard of a Jewish rabbi with a doctorate in New Testament (go figure) who wrote a book defending the resurrection of Jesus.  Why did he remain a Jew?  He came to believe that Jesus was the messiah for gentiles.  Who knows what goes on in men’s minds.  Third, some historians did convert.  I know that Jaroslav Pelikan, quoted above, who was an esteemed Lutheran historian became Orthodox before he died.

Church Fathers
From that you can see that there’s a consensus by historians, protestant no less, that the early church held to a literal understanding of the Eucharist.  Now with that backdrop, here’s some quotes from the early Church on the topic.  I’m cherry picking to pull some quotes from various writers, and all before Constantine legalizes Christianity in the early 300s.  There are more quotes that could be pulled on this subject, but given space I want to go shallow but broad, rather than deep with any particular writer.  Now, in chronological order:

Didache, 9:2; 14:1, circa 90 A.D.:

Regarding the Eucharist … Let no one eat and drink of yourEucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: Do not give to dogs what is sacred.

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.

This doesn’t speak directly to the literal body and blood of Christ, but it is the earliest (probably) non-Biblical reference to the Eucharist and it calls the Eucharist both “sacred” and a “sacrifice”.  Neither of these fits very nicely with a symbolic only view of the sacrament.  Not a slam dunk, but worth mentioning.

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Smyrnaeans, 7,1 (c. A.D. 110):

Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”.

Ignatius considers failure to see the Eucharist as the flesh of Christ as a distinctive mark of non orthodox (small o).  There are other quotes from Ignatius that could be dropped in here.  He also notably called the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality,” indicating his high respect for the effectiveness of the Eucharist as a means of God’s grace.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (c. A.D. 110-165):

“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

Justin was writing a somewhat “open letter” to the emperor in order to help him understand Christianity, and cease persecuting Christians.  He describes many things about how Christianity works, including how they felt about the Eucharist.  He’s clear that after being blessed by prayer the Eucharistic bread and wine is now the flesh and blood of Jesus.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V:2,2 (c. A.D. 200):

“He acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as his own blood, from which he bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of creation) he affirmed to be his own body, from which he gives increase to our bodies.”

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 2 (ante A.D. 202):

“For the blood of the grape–that is, the Word–desired to be mixed with water, as His blood is mingled with salvation. And the blood of the Lord is twofold. For there is the blood of His flesh, by which we are redeemed from corruption; and the spiritual, that by which we are anointed. And to drink the blood of Jesus, is to become partaker of the Lord’s immortality; the Spirit being the energetic principle of the Word, as blood is of flesh. Accordingly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine and water, nourishes to faith; while the other, the Spirit, conducts to immortality. And the mixture of both–of the water and of the Word–is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul.”

Origen Homilies on Exodus 13,3 (c. A.D. 184-253):

I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know, when you received the body of the Lord, you reverently exercised every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence. but if you observe such cation in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?

Look at how carefully the Christians treated the Eucharistic meal, and because it was the body of Jesus.

Tertullian, Against Marcion, 40 (A.D. 212):

“Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples,He made it His own body, by saying, ‘This is my body,’ that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body…He did not understand how ancient was this figure of the body of Christ, who said Himself by Jeremiah: ‘I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter, and I knew not that they devised a device against me, saying, Let us cast the tree upon His bread,’ which means, of course, the cross upon His body. And thus, casting light, as He always did, upon the ancient prophecies, He declared plainly enough what He meant by the bread, when He called the bread His own body. He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new testament to be sealed ‘in His blood,’ affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body which is not a body of flesh. If any sort of body were presented to our view, which is not one of flesh, not being fleshly, it would not possess blood. Thus, from the evidence of the flesh, we get a proof of the body, and a proof of the flesh from the evidence of the blood.”

I’ve seen this quote from Tertullian used by Dr. James White, but JUST the portion where he says “figure of my body”.  White loves to use this truncated quote to “prove” that Tertullian did not actually believe in a literal presence of Jesus’ body, but reading the entire quote makes it clear that his using “figure” in no way indicates that Tertullian does not see a literal presence.

One other early writer that is sometimes thrown out as having a symbolic understanding is Eusebius of Caesarea.  In one of his writings he refers to the Eucharistic wine and bread as symbols, but this is not unknown in the fathers.  Many others also referred to them as symbols while also referring to them as literal.  Their understanding encompassed both modes as is seen in their writing, and that is still the case today in the Orthodox Church.  The elements are seen as symbols, while at the same time being real.  It’s both/and, not either/or.

I’ve spent a lot of time building up this case for a “universal” understanding of the Eucharist as real, but I have to admit that the situation is slightly more complex than I’d like to portray it.  I’m trying to make a strong case for a realist position, and it would be nice to say that every single time someone in the early church wrote about the Eucharist is was in astonishingly literal terms.  That would be nice, but not the truth.  Many times the writings are more ambiguous than those I’ve quoted, and in the case of Augustine there’s a LOT of language that works really well for the symbolic view because the Eucharist is referred to as a symbol.

It is very important to understand what the word “symbol” meant to the Fathers. In the Greek (which is how the majority of the Fathers would be using it), the word does NOT mean substitution or in place of. It is a compound word made up of sym (meaning together) and ballon (meaning to throw). Thus, a symbol is something where two unlike things are thrown together. Thus, the Eucharist is a symbol because the mundane bread and wine are thrown together with the divine presence of Christ. The eucharist is BOTH bread and wine AND the body and the blood of Christ. This is how it is a symbol.

The truth is that there’s a mix of both types of language, and honesty does require that proviso.  Apologists for both sides will rarely admit that, but that’s what I see.  I think it’s a mistake to take only some of these quotes and construct a view of the Eucharist that issimplistically allied with a literal only view, or only the symbolic, but doesn’t match what the Church actually believed.  Truly they did believe in the real presence of the body and blood in the Eucharist, but they also simultaneously affirmed that there were “symbolic” meanings as well.

It’s also necessary to always keep in mind that any one particular writer is not the authoritative spokesman for the Church.  This is not an Orthodox understanding of how the Church works, and so no one particular writer, even one as prominent as Augustine, can be used as the absolute yardstick for understanding the mind of the Church.

The quotes above are pretty much a who’s who of ancient Christian writings, prior to Constantine (nothing changes after him).  I think that’s a pretty fair and widespread display of thought in the Christian community early on.  Particularly Ignatius and Irenaeus demonstrate the early (within the first century of Christianity) and widespread (Ignatius in the far east and Irenaeus in the far west) belief in the literal presence.  Certainly when I first started reading the patristic literature and ran  up against these writings I had to squirm quite a bit.  Like the first historian I quoted above said, the Fathers seem quite natural and unconcerned in their discussion of the literal presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Why did it make me uncomfortable, but to them it seemed quite natural and even necessary?

I’ve seen various apologists go halfway down the road and say that of course everyone believed in the presence of Jesus in communion.  It’s real, but only spiritual.  Certainly there is a spiritual truth to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but it’s quite clear from the various quotes above (buttressed by the understanding of the protestant historians) that what the Church taught was that Jesus’ body and blood were in the Eucharist, not just a “spiritual presence” that really doesn’t fit what they are saying.

What about the Reformers?  I’m not going to go in depth into the Reformers except to say that in general, Luther held to a literal understanding of the Eucharist and John Calvin was close.  Ulrich Zwingli is the source of the current symbolic only thinking.  I understand of course that just because Luther supported a literal understanding doesn’t make it true, but certainly it demonstrates that a literal understanding is not necessarily a Protestant position.  As an aside, you might remember from my Sola Scriptura letter that the Reformation only maintained an outward unity for 10 years.  This was the issue that broke the unity.

Zwingli said:

In the words: “This is my body,” the word “this” means the bread, and the word “body” the body which is put to death for us. Therefore the word “is” cannot be taken literally, for the bread is not the body and cannot be . . . “This is my body,” means, “The bread signifies my body,” or “is a figure of my body.”

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 225)

So basically, Zwingli says it can’t be the body of Jesus because God can’t do that?

Luther speaks directly to the symbolic understanding:

[S]ince we are confronted by God’s words, “This is my body” – distinct, clear, common, definite words, which certainly are no trope, either in Scripture or in any language – we must embrace them with faith . . . not as hairsplitting sophistry dictates but as God says them for us, we must repeat these words after him and hold to them.
(Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528; in Althaus, 390)

Luther wrote on the same scriptural text as Zwingli and said:

[T]his word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone. 
(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 217)

In one of his other writings (not to Zwingli) regarding another theologian who removed the sacramental understanding of the Eucharist he said:

He [the theologian Karlstadt] thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he [Karlstadt] makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, whilewe receive nothing else than bread and wine.
(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 206)

I confess that if Karlstadt, or anyone else, could have convinced me five years ago that only bread and wine were in the sacrament he would have done me a great service. At that time I suffered such severe conflicts and inner strife and torment that I would gladly have been delivered from them. . . . But I am a captive and cannot free myself. The text is too powerfully present, and will not allow itself to be torn from its meaning by mere verbiage.
(Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, 1524; LW, 68)

“I have often enough asserted that I do not argue whether the wine remains wine or not.  It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills.  Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood.”
(Luther’s Works, vol 37, page 317)

Biblical Support
I wanted to set the stage with historical support so that as I’m talking through various Scripture passages you can see that what I’m arguing for as the normative or default reading of the Scripture is actually in line with what the early Church understood the Scripture to mean.  If it comes down to just dueling interpretations it will be hard to accept so radical a difference as the real presence.  But I believe that keeping to a straightforward and literal reading of Scripture, in addition to the consistent understanding of the early Church leads to a very strong position of believing in the literal presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic meal.

For the scriptural passages I’m going to be looking at Matthew 26:26-29Mark 14:22-25Luke 22:14-20John 6:25-711 Corinthians 10:14-181 Corinthians 11:17-34, and Hebrews 9:26.  It’s also mentioned in Acts 2:46 and 20:7, but I won’t be talking about those passages.  I think I’ll be spending most of my time in John 6, so I will deal with that last.

The Matthew, Mark and Luke passages are synoptic accounts of the Last Supper.  I’ll take the Matthew passage as representative of the other two.

26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Mark is almost identical, while Luke includes additional detail.  Before moving into a couple of objections made using these verses let me just point out that the language here is dangerously straight forward.  “This is my body.”  “This is my blood.”  This is exactly the language that gave Martin Luther such fits, and which he found inescapable.  In Mark it is identically straight forward.  In Luke it is identically straight forward.

Did the wine change?
Now I included verse 29 from Matthew because it has been the point of some resistance by Protestant apologists.  Some apologists say that since Jesus refers to the cup in v. 29 as wine, after he had blessed it, He indicates that no change has taken place.  There are some problems with this.  The account in Luke, which is the more detailed account, has that part moved to before the consecration.  You can’t determine the exact chain of events from the passages, therefore, because they differ.  Luke is the more detailed account, so certainly you could err on the side of Luke getting the order correct, or at least that it does not matter.  Where this phrase was in the conversation could make quite a difference in understanding, though you don’t have to insist that Jesus means anything of the sort.  If the phrase comes first then it most certainly does not refer to the Eucharistic meal, and in fact, that is the understanding of St Clement of Alexandria, who affirms the meaning implicit in the order of Luke (Clement, The Instructor, 2, 2).

Second, Luke indicates that the meal was already ongoing when Jesus blessed bread and wine, and thus the natural understanding of His statement in v29 is that Jesus is referring to the ongoing meal as what he would not enjoy again, since He was about to die.  And we certainly know that Jesus did eat with His disciples following His resurrection, so this is plausible.  In this case, why would Matthew (and Mark) mention the fruit of the vine at all?  Clement says it is to make sure that we know that Jesus was drinking wine, so that we would know how to perform the Eucharist.  If you look at Matthew 26 you can confirm that indeed there is no mention of wine prior to verse 29.  Mark is identical.  Regardless, you can’t force that statement to be a denial that the wine became His blood.

How could this be a true Eucharist if Jesus is still alive?
Another objection that is made by apologists is that both Orthodox and Catholics understand that Jesus isn’t just showing how the Eucharist should be done after His resurrection, but that this is in fact the first Eucharistic meal and a participation in his crucifixion, but that wouldn’t happen until the next day.  All this time bending gives the apologists head aches, apparently, and so they say this proves that this wasn’t literally connected to Jesus’ actual body and blood, which had not yet been crucified.  To that I merely have to say, do you limit God?  Who are they to say God could not accomplish this sharing across time and space?  James White raises this protest in his book The Roman Catholic Controversy (p. 176), but yet He has no problem with God being able to change bread and wine into body and blood (same book p. 165).  So Dr. White believes God can do miracles.  Just not all miracles.  Time apparently is a barrier to Him.

The same objection in a different form says that this Eucharistic meal could not be the literal body and blood of Jesus, since He would then be holding in his hands his actual body.  Body holding body.  It seems fantastic, but again, how can we limit the mystery of God?  This objection was anticipated by the writer Aphraates in the early 4th century, but apparently caused him no heart burn.  He recognizes the difficulty and rests in God’s mystery.

Interestingly I’ve seen it said (and here I won’t claim any particular expertise) that the greek in these passages uses a present participle in verse 28 which means that it should correctly be translated as “this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out…”  That would indicate the exact time bending that gives Dr. White such head aches.  I don’t hang anything on this since I have no in depth knowledge of the language, but if so it’s an interesting indication of Jesus indicating the presence of His blood as sacrifice right at that particular time.

Neither of these objections to the power of God to achieve His will merits any consideration in my mind.

How many times must Christ be crucified?
Let me now jump over to Hebrews 9:26, since this bears on the objections above.  The passage says:

26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Protestant apologists point to this verse as an obvious objection to the daily/weekly Eucharistic sacrifice.  How could the Eucharist be a sacrifice and the actual presence of Jesus’ body and blood if Hebrews says He was crucified once, and suffered once, not many times?  This objection only demonstrates a misunderstanding of what the Eucharist is by Protestants, not an actual impediment.  The Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist isn’t that it is a new sacrifice of Jesus, but rather a joining of the present time/space to the one time sacrifice of Jesus accomplished 2,000 years ago.  The crucifixion is in some sense brought into the here and now, or we are brought to it, or both.  A connection is made, and we partake of the body and blood and the sacrifice of Jesus.  However, this is not a new crucifixion taking place.

Isn’t this all cannibalism?
One objection is that believing in the literal presence of Jesus in the Eucharist makes Christians into cannibals.  This is a valid objection, and one that did give me pause.  Certainly understanding the Eucharist in literal terms, or looking at the various Eucharistic passages in literal terms does seem to call for actions that are without precedent in the Old Testament moral code.  (Actually reading over the reasoning that God gives for some of His commandments on blood in the OT is very interesting and somewhat germane.  It’s likely that the injunction against drinking blood in Leviticus 17:10 may only apply in non-sacrificial circumstances.)

Now, is it actually cannibalism?  I’ll offer a few thoughts.  First, cannibalism involves eating the dead.  Jesus is living.  Second, cannibalism is a sinful activity.  How could we attribute a command of God to eat and drink as sinful?  Eating the Eucharist does nourish the Christian’s body and soul, but does not diminish Christ’s body at all.  The Eucharist is non-violent.  It doesn’t seem to match up to cannibalism.

Also, this situation where two commands from God are apparentlypitted against each other is not unique.  The most obvious example of a similar situation is from the Old Testament.  God instructs the Israelites that they are not to kill.  He then proceeds to send them on a very long campaign of war with instructions to kill men, women, children, and livestock.  This seeming dichotomy is in the same time frame as the OT laws against killing, so it’s not even just a culture drift over time.  Apparently there’s a contradiction, but upon reflection I don’t believe that there is.  God’s first command is a general one, and is indeed consistent with the moral tone of the entirety of Scripture, Old and New.  It isn’t a good thing for people or nations to go around killing people for their own purposes.  However, in some cases it is necessary, such as in the case of self-defense (personal or national), or when God deems it necessary for whatever inscrutable reason.  The situations are not the same, and sometimes God’s specific command can cause a person to do something that God’s general command would not allow.  Certainly God in His amazing wisdom and purity is much more capable than we are of determining proper moral course in a situation.

Given the precedent we can see that Jesus may have good reason for instructing us to ingest Him.  The act brings life (“the life is in the blood”) and is not morally reprehensible when done with God in the same ways it WOULD be when done with a human being.  This philosophical objection here then requires some personal judgment to decide how it should be viewed, but given the preponderance of other evidence I think I am justified in dismissing this thought.

Interestingly, by making this objection the person is somewhat solidifying the case against a symbolic understanding.  An early charge against Christians by the Roman government was that they were cannibals.  This was most likely due to a misunderstanding of the Eucharistic meal (and got horribly botched in translation, but there you go).  So this is certainly not a new accusation, but it’s interesting to note that the original source of this objection is from non-Christians against Christians.

Just a memorial?
Ok, back to Luke 22.  One other interesting addition in Luke 22 is the phrase “do this in remembrance of Me.”  Protestants will argue that this means that partaking of bread and wine (crackers and grape juice?) is merely a means of publicly unifying in remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The problem is in the “merely”.  The phrase is clearly indicating that the Eucharist is a memorial, or remembering.  That does not, however, say anything about what else it is.  You can have a remembrance that is strictly mental and emotional, or one that is based around a physical object or action.  Either is possible and both could be indicated.  Which is meant in Luke 22?  The most we can say is, from that phrase alone, we can’t tell.  It doesn’t tell us anything one way or another, because while it talks about “remembrance”, we can’t forget that it also says “do this”, which is the central point of that phrase.  The remembrance is just the “why”.

Orthodox theologians will say that the greek word that is translated as “remembrance” (anamnesis) is more active than merely mentally recollecting.  I can’t say for sure if this is the case.  The same word is used in the NT in only two other situations as far as I can see.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians when it quotes Luke 22 (no help there) and in Hebrews 10:3.  I’m not sure it’s appropriate to draw any conclusions from that verse, but you can do with it what you will.  Perhaps its use there indicates a more active remembrance, though the object of remembrance is opposite what the Eucharist is remembering.

Eucharist creates unity
Now I want to take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:14-18 which says:

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men ; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body ; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel ; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?

First I’d point out that that again there is very straight forward language in verse 16 saying that the wine is the blood of Christ and the bread is the body of Christ.  Beyond that it says that by partaking we are sharing in the blood and body, showing that we actually take it in and are nourished by it.

Second, note that in 17 Paul identifies the Eucharist as a means (baptism is also elsewhere seen as a means) of creating the unified body of Christ out of the individual members.  It is because there is one Body, shared by all the Christians in the Eucharist, that we are one Body.  I find this interesting.  It also bears out a certain practical proof in that the Orthodox, who have an understanding of a literal Eucharist also display an amazing degree of unity.  Food for thought.

So, here you have strong language indicating the literal presence!

Rightly judging…
Skipping ahead to the next chapter of 1 Corinthians I want to take a look at chapter 11 verses 17-34.  It’s a bit long so I won’t quote it all here.  You can open the link in a window and just look at the text there.

Paul lays into the Corinthians in the first section because they were eating the love feast together (and getting crazy) to the point where some didn’t eat the Eucharistic meal, and apparently some were so drunk they couldn’t even tell when the Eucharist was given to them.  He reiterates the words of Jesus from the last supper, again with very straight forward language that the body and blood were literally present.  Then he indicates the seriousness of the Eucharistic meal by saying that if you partake unworthily you are guilty of the body and blood of Christ?  Why?  Because it is symbolic?  No, because it IS the body and blood of the Lord?  In all the new testament there’s only a handful of things that are handled this severely.  Paul says that some people have died because of this practice of the Corinthians!

Another interesting thing happens in verse 29.  Paul says that the judgment of God comes from the Corinthians not judging the “body” rightly.  Could this possibly mean that the Corinthians were getting drunk and unable to tell when the food they were eating was actually the Eucharistic body of Jesus?   Perhaps.  The only nearby mention of a “body” is the body of Jesus in verse 27.  However, it could be that the judging is tied to the judging mentioned in verse 31 and so refer to judging their own bodies.  I can’t tell for sure, and merely mention it as a possibility.  However it is intriguing.

Nevertheless, you have strong language indicating the literal presence of the body and blood here!

I’ve seen people object that Paul still refers to the wine and blood as wine and blood in verse 27, after it has been blessed.  Shouldn’t he now refer to it as body and blood.  Certainly that would have been nice, but not necessary.  The majority of the language is quite clear, and the same verse even says that ingesting unworthily makes you guilty of Jesus’ body and blood.  I think that’s clear enough.

Dr. James White complains about this passage that you don’t see the Roman Catholic transubstantiation language here, but just a reference to the Lord’s supper which obviously indicates that this is just a simple meal.  Nothing more.  He chastises Catholics for putting medieval doctrines back into early Scripture.  I’d chastise him for the same.  He’s reading it in the EXACT same manner by insisting that doctrinal language somehow make its way back 1,200 years to Paul to be written into this section of Scripture.  Paul isn’t debating the issues of the 1,200s.  He’s telling the Corinthians to take the Eucharist seriously.  We are left with a passage that isn’t a dogmatic statement about the Eucharistic meal but that has oblique information about it.  White shouldn’t ask more than is reasonable for the time and purposes of Paul.  He won’t get a definitive statement to the issues we’ve only created in the last few centuries.

John 6: The Main Event
Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  This is the central Eucharistic passage in the Bible.  If there is a battle ground passage, this is it.  It’s got something to offer everyone, but before I get into John 6 let me quickly recap what I’ve tried to demonstrate so far.  Historically the Church has understood all of these passages to indicate a literal presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.  I’ve given you Protestant historians, Church Father quotations, and even Protestant Reformers to back up that claim.  I’ve also run through three gospel accounts of the last supper and two references from Paul to the last supper, ALL of which include strong and straight forward language demonstrating the literal presence of Jesus’ body and blood.  So far so good I think!

On John 6 Martin Luther said:

All right! There we have it! This is clear, plain, and unconcealed: “I am speaking of My flesh and blood.”
(Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, 1532; LW, 23, 133-135)

No pressure, right?  🙂  Again, this text is quite long, so I won’t try and quote it here.  Instead I’ll merely link to it and let you have it up in a browser window to reference.

In reviewing various arguments on chapter 6 I was again reminded of how often I saw argumentation by declaration in regards to this subject.  Over and over I see people just repeating the assertion that John 6 (and the others) must not be taken literally.  The reasons given are usually small to none, but the declarations are constant.  I hope to do a little better job in the other direction.

Getting the big picture.
This is such an interesting passage to read through.  It’s quite a lot of back and forth, and it builds and builds into verse 58.  Jesus had just done a miracle to feed the 5,000 (related earlier in chapter 6), he walks across water to escape the crowd who want to crown Him as king and comes to the other side of the sea, and then the people he fed follow and find him over there.  Jesus says they are just following him around because He can feed them, not because they really believe in His message.  That’s interesting, but in that culture a man who can produce food miraculously is quite an asset.  The Jews reference God feeding them through manna (perhaps they are looking for another free ride), but Jesus takes a hard turn and starts the conversation on another path.

In verse 27 He tells them there’s food that produces eternal life.  They ask Him how they can get some.  He tells them to believe in Him.  They circle right back around to where they started and ask for food again, through the hint of manna.  Jesus clarifies for them that the manna came from God the Father, and that He sends the bread out of heaven.  They ask for some, still thinking of the full bellies from the earlier feeding I believe (v34).  Then it starts getting weird for the Jews.

Jesus says that He is the bread of life (v35) sent by the Father, for those who come to Him and believe (36-40).  The Jews start getting angry because Jesus says that God is His father, but they “know” that His parents are Mary and Joseph.  He didn’t come from heaven.  At least they weren’t still worried about getting hand outs.  Now they are concerned that Jesus is overreaching in his theological statements into the territory of blasphemy.  Jesus tells them to stop grumbling, and that God will teach them the truth, that they must believe (v 43-47).  What is it they must believe?  That Jesus is the bread of life (v 48.  In v 47 many major versions omit the “in me” since it is missing in some manuscripts).  He clarifies that the bread from heaven isn’t manna, which a person can eat and then still die, but if they will eat the bread of life (which He said was himself) they will live forever (v 51), oh and by the way it’s His flesh.

Now the Jews go even more nuts.  They aren’t worried about his origins now.  This man is telling them they are supposed to eat his flesh (v 52)!  Crazy!  The Jews take Him literally.  Now, what you would expect at this point is that Jesus would back up and correct their obvious misunderstanding, right?  They are taking him literally, but He doesn’t correct them.  Instead, he makes it even clearer what they must do.

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood istrue drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven ; not as the fathers ate and died ; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

Talk about your all time clarification.  Not only does he not say, “No wait!  I meant that metaphorically.” he says “truly, truly, unless youeat the flesh and drink the blood you have no life in you.”  Before when he talked about eating he said to eat the bread.  Now he’s straight out saying “eat My flesh”.  And he goes one further and adds in “drink My blood.”  Much more direct.  Much more clear.  It’s also interesting to note that during the conversation prior to verse 53 the greek verb used by everyone is a generic verb phago.  It’s a form that just generally means to ingest something, and can be used figuratively.  When Jesus cranks up the literalness in verse 53 He also cranks up the greek verb to a new one, trogo, starting in verse 54 that means to “gnaw” and “crunch”.  It’s much more physical, and not seen in a symbolic sense in the rest of the NT (unless you’re going to insist that He’s using it symbolically here and then there’s only one instance).

You can feel the crescendo in what Jesus is saying.  He continues with about as unequivocal a statement as you could hope for in verse 55 when He stresses to His listeners that His flesh is true food, and His blood true drink.  He clearly wants to leave no room for doubt or error.  Not only is He the bread of life, in a metaphoric sense, but He very clearly tells his listening crowd (some of whom are His disciples) that they must eat Him in a literal sense.

This clearly left his audience stunned.  He was in a synagogue talking to his many disciples when He delivers this stunning bit of teaching, and they are indeed stunned.  In verse 60 they say, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  Indeed.  Jesus knows that they are grumbling and discomfited.  Does He finally relent and let them off the hook?  Does He tell them that it was all just a symbolic statement and they obviously didn’t understand Him correctly?  No, He does not.  He just asks (v 61) if they will let this teaching cause them to stumble?  Such an interesting thing.  He is watching them all deal with the reality of the harsh teaching, knowing that many are only following Him because He can feed their bellies.  He knows they will not believe, and consequently many of his disciples left Him (v 66).  He is left with the 12.  He asks them if they want to leave as well, but they stay with Him.  Who else has the words of life, Peter asks.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) those words include the command to eat His flesh.

I don’t believe there is anything paralleling this in the entire rest of the gospels.  Jesus delivers a hard teaching and drives it home with ever more literal language.  It’s quite startling in the straight forward language of it, and the results.  Now let’s consider various arguments used against a literal understanding of John 6.

Where’s the metaphor?
Probably the most common objection to a literal understanding in John 6 is that Jesus constantly uses metaphor in His teaching throughout the gospels.  Is it so hard to see that John 6 is just a very elaborate and drawn out metaphor?  I can grant that Jesus commonly uses metaphor, and metaphor is a possibility in Scripture.  That is not the same as saying that John 6 in fact IS metaphor.  Possible, but unproven.  You can read John 6 literally as well.  That is also a possibility.

Considering the way Jesus reiterates the truth that His body and blood must be eaten over and over in very straight forward language, it seems that the default understanding would be one that underscores the literal understanding of the Eucharist.  Apologists are quick to say, “prove that it’s literal.”  That can just as easily be turned the other way to say, “you prove that it’s metaphor.”  Considering that the early Church apparently understood John 6 literally, it seems the burden of proof is on those who would understand it symbolically.

Can we know that John 6 is metaphorical or literal?  There are significant differences in John 6 from other metaphoric passages that make it clear to me that John 6 is meant literally.

Let’s consider other passage in the same book, John, that are commonly accepted as metaphoric.  In 10:7 Jesus says that He is a gate.  In 10:9 He is a door.  In 15:1 He calls himself a vine.  You find similar statements in 8:1211:25, and 14:6 with the same structure, but in those the meaning is usually taken literally.  Judging strictly by the wording structure used by John you can’t just declare a statement as metaphor or literal statement since the same phraseology is used by Jesus in both contexts.

Jesus is a door… and a vine…and a gate…
Considering the text in chapters 10 and 15, which I would agree are metaphorical, you see that whenever Jesus uses metaphor he always includes His listeners in on the metaphor.  If Jesus is a gate, the people are sheep.  If Jesus is the vine, the people are branches.  They are included in the metaphor and so the metaphor serves to clarify the relationship of the listeners to Jesus.  In other words, the metaphor is inclusive.  Compare that to the ones in 8, 11, and 14.  These passages follow the same verbal pattern without being metaphors, and Jesus does not include the listeners.  There is no metaphorical extension.  Now look at the chapter 6 text again.  There also the listeners are not included in the potential metaphor of bread and wine, so it doesn’t match the other metaphorical mechanism Jesus used in 10 and 15.  If it’s metaphor he’s breaking the pattern of his wording in 10 and 15.  I am the vine and you are the branches.  It’s very clear.  I am the gate and you are the sheep.  Again, clear.  In chapter 6, not clear.

You also have Jesus breaking out of the parable almost entirely after the Jews demonstrate confusion in verse 52.  This also breaks the pattern of the other two clearly metaphoric passages.  Once they appear confused his language changes entirely (away from metaphorical I would sa

y).  It appears that he is clarifying the confusion, but in the wrong way.  He makes it more clear.  “Truly, Truly, I say.  My flesh is true food.  My blood is true drink.  He who eats me…”  Not very metaphoric language.

Another thing to consider is that in chapter 10 and 15, when Jesus uses metaphor, there’s absolutely no indication that his disciples thought Jesus was going to sprout leaves, or need his hinges oiled.  They didn’t appear to understand those literally at all.  The case is quite different in chapter 6. There all the listeners quite clearly understood him literally.  We can’t say that they were unaware of metaphor, or incapable of understanding it.  Clearly they did in other cases.  So they saw something different in this occasion.

Jesus was intentionally vague
One apologist (Dr. James White) I saw argued that Jesus was intentionally vague often times, especially when in the presence of unbelieving Jews, and that was why he was being super metaphorical in John 6.  You can see this in action in places likeMatthew 13:11.  This is true.  Is this the case here?  I’d have to say no for two reasons.  One, Jesus certainly had plenty of opportunity to clarify with the disciples privately, but he doesn’t appear to have.  He repeats this language almost verbatim in the upper room, with just the disciples present.  Surely He would clarify right before His death if He cared to.  Second, the same apologist claims that Jesus is using clear words in the first section (26-40?), before he starts asking people to eat him.  If that’s the case, then the objection is self defeating.  If Jesus is clear in the early section, then He is still clear in the later section.

Truly, Truly I say…
Jesus had a peculiar phrase (at least, peculiar to our 21st century ears) that he liked to say.  “Truly, truly.”  John liked to put the double emphatic on some statements.  In the other gospels its just a single, but I love the double in John because it’s special.  It’s special because when John whips out the double “truly”, Jesus is about to come out with the bottom line.  It’s going to be straight talk.  It’s not going to be pretty and happy, but it WILL be true.  It also doesn’t ever appear to be used as a prelude to metaphor.  I looked at all the instances in John (about 30 or so), and only in one instance does it appear that it might be used inside a metaphor.  That is in John 10 (sigh), which we looked at just above.  Just one time out of about forty, and even in chapter 10 when he uses it, he is emphasizing the truth of the statement it contains.  One is obliquely metaphoric (v 1) and the other is when He is explaining the early metaphor.  In chapter 6 He uses the double truly to emphasize that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood.  And there’s no follow up clarification.  I think this is indicative that Jesus is calling attention to the bottom line in chapter 6.

Jesus loses disciples over a misunderstanding?
Looking back at the ending of the chapter 6 passage you see Jesus losing many of his disciples, perhaps most, over his teaching.  Jesus knows that they are having trouble with His teaching, and that they would leave Him.  If they had misunderstood Him in such a horrible way as to turn a fairly innocuous teaching that they just needed to believe in Him into a cannibalistic instruction, wouldn’t He have just corrected them?  No correction is given.  The listeners walk away from Jesus and into likely damnation.

From this we can say that the listeners understood Him to be teaching literally, as did the disciples.  They don’t indicate that they understand a secret symbolic meaning of His words (and John didn’t insert one in as the author), but rather that there was no where else to go when asked if they would leave.  All the listeners heard a literal message, and Jesus left it at that.

Think back over what happened in John 6, culminating in the loss of so many disciples, and consider it from the viewpoint of a metaphoric understanding.  In that scenario what Jesus was trying to get across was that his disciples needed to believe in Him.  This was the important thing.  This wasn’t the first time Jesus had asked people to believe in Him.  He talks about belief extensively in the preceding chapters.  This isn’t new material.  Why then does Jesus let a misunderstanding about His words in chapter 6 cause so many to desert him if it was all a big misunderstanding?  To me that doesn’t make sense.

Maybe Jesus just didn’t want to correct the carnal Jews that were listening?  Perhaps, but then why doesn’t He make the disciples.  At the end He merely asks if they will desert Him too.  In any case, if the message was “just believe in me”, Jesus was being quite clear enough at the beginning.  There was no need to leave everyone in such a quandary.

Did Jesus ever explain Himself when listeners misunderstood His teachings?
Yes, He did.  In John 3 you see this happening with Nicodemus over being born again.  In many ways this isn’t actually a metaphor so much as it is a spiritual understanding of reality that is deeper than the merely natural, but Nicodemus doesn’t understand.  Jesus takes time to give him more and more information to help him understand.  Look at John 4:31-38.  Jesus is using a food metaphor, so this is definitely germane!  There’s confusion on the part of the disciples, so Jesus explains what He means.  There’s a similar situation in Matthew 16:6-12 but I’m sticking to the book of John.  Look at John 11:11-15.  His disciples don’t understand when Jesus says Lazarus is sleeping.  Again, not so much a metaphor as Jesus just understanding things so much more deeply than we do, but He doesn’t leave the disciples in confusion.  He clarifies.  Sometimes John as the author clarifies for Jesus, as he does inJohn 2:21-22 and 7:39.  Back in chapter 6 neither Jesus nor John clarify that the body and blood were metaphoric.

But the important part of what He was saying was about belief
Jesus does talk a lot about belief in chapter 6.  No matter how you slice it what He was saying required huge belief from the Jewish audience.  It was nothing like what they expected.  And noting that the passage places a strong emphasis on the belief of the audience does do anything to speak to whether the talk of body and blood is metaphorical or not.  I don’t see this as adding anything to the discussion.  What is interesting is if you consider verse 47 without the “in me” that some translations have.  Many major translations, like the New American Standard, omit that since it is missing in some manuscripts, and can be translated without it even when the greek words that make up that phrase are present.  Certainly it gives a different meaning to WHAT it was the Jews were to believe.  No one will deny that Jesus requires belief.

The flesh profits nothing
Some apologists will point out verse 63, where Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”  It seems that Jesus is back tracking here.  But is He really?  If what Jesus is saying there is in relation to his repeated (repeated, repeated) assertions to eat His flesh, then isn’t that quite schizophrenic?  “Eat my flesh!  It will profit you nothing!”  No, that certainly makes no sense.  So what is He saying?

If you read the context you can see that Jesus’ directions about eating his flesh and blood end at verse 58.  Most translations will demonstrate that understanding by adding a section header or spacing break at verse 59 and another after 65.  This later section is Jesus dealing with the after effects of His teaching.  He’s done, and now it just remains to see whether people will leave Him over this hard teaching.  It seems to me that Jesus is clearly talking in verse 63 about the listener’s ability to accept the truth of what He was saying, through the power of the Spirit.  The New American Standard even capitalizes spirit at the beginning of verse 63, but not at the end.  It appears they agree with me.  🙂  I think Jesus is saying the exact same thing that Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-3.  I wonder where Paul got his material?

It’s also important to note here a very subtle Protestant bias that flavors this text.  Note that nowhere does Jesus say “symbolic” in the text of verse 63.  He talks about spirit, but when Protestants read this text they typically understand the words as if they implied that the text of verses 54-58 should be interpreted “spiritually”, meaning symbolically.  Spirit vs flesh is not the same as symbolic vs real.  The verses should be read in a “spiritual” way, as in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, but that doesn’t mean read them as symbols.  If I’m going to take anyone’s word for whether to read this passage as symbolic or not, it seems that the right people to make that call would be those closest in time and culture to the apostles who wrote it down, and they understood it literally.

Chapter 6 brings a posse
Another big difference between John 6 and the metaphoric passages in 10 and 15 is the repetition you find in the rest of Scripture.  Not only is this material repeated verbatim in the other Gospels in the Last Supper narratives, but you also see it repeated in 1 Corinthians 10-11.  The fact that this material is used over and over in very serious ways indicates that the intended understanding is most likely a literal one.

And the Fathers?
Well, one thing that I enjoy doing is looking at what St John Chrysostom says on a passage.  The advantage of looking at Chrysostom is that in his preaching he favored verse by verse expository style, so we have a lot of his thoughts on the New Testament in something like commentary form.  They were actually just sermons that were written down.  Anyway, if you care to see what Chrysostom says on John 6 for additional fun reading look here and here.  I find his discussion on verse 52, 55, and 63 particularly apropos.

In summation on John 6, Norman Geisler in his book Roman Catholics and Evangelics says that “Jesus’ words need not be taken in a literal sense” here (p. 261).  To that I reply, “says who?”  The words give every indication of being meant to be taken literally.  The direct listeners all took it seriously.  The author John didn’t interject a correction to the obvious literal meaning, though he does elsewhere in the same book.  Jesus didn’t interject a correction either, despite watching disciples walk away.  The material is repeated all over Scripture in a serious way.  The early understanding by Christians is a literal one.

Summing Up

I know this has been very long.  Perhaps longer than the huge letter on Sola Scriptura.  Hopefully you were able to make it through without losing track of everything.  To help put it all back in perspective, here’s my high level summation of what I attempted to show.

The understanding of the Eucharist as the literal presence of the body and blood of Jesus is one of the most venerable and central teachings of the Church historically.  Historians recognize the universality and antiquity of the idea.  It goes back to the beginning of the Church, and was held universally as far as we can tell.  It was believed without exception by the Church entire up through the Protestant Reformation, where the splinter group led by Ulrich Zwingli pioneered the first major and sustainable break with that unbroken tradition.  Even Martin Luther held to a real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and this formed the first schism within the Protestant community.  So historically the real presence seems virtually unassailable.

Biblically the real presence is strongly supported with many passages.  The literal and straightforward reading of Scripture is most easily supported internally with other Scripture, and makes the most logical sense of what is written.  It also matches up perfectly with the historical understanding present in the writings of the early Church.

If there was one doctrinal difference between Protestantism and Orthodoxy that is most clear cut I think it is this one.  I’ve read a lot of books, listened to debates, read articles and watched videos to try to hear all the possible angles and support for the various sides, and I found the weight of evidence for the historic doctrine of the real presence of the body and blood in the Eucharist to be overwhelming.  I am completely confident in the truth of it.

I find this to be very motivating in my desire to join the Orthodox church, and one of the clearest pictures to me of the danger inherent in the Protestant mindset that puts each individual in the position of determining doctrine for themselves without submission to the Body.  When the Church becomes just a collection of people that think like me then it ceases to have much value to me, and when it ceases to have value it also ceases to have influence and authority on what it means to be a Christian.  Whenever I’m in a protestant service now and we take communion, and I think about what this was intended to be it makes me very sad.  The Eucharist is supposed to be a direct participation in the life of Christ.  It is meant to be a means of sustaining your life, in all possible meanings, as a Christian.  It is supposed to be a great unifier to the Body.  Instead it’s just another way for us to experiment and play with reinventing Church.

This is just another plank in the bridge that led me over to Orthodoxy, but it’s a big one.  By it I gained trust in the Orthodox Church, and a clearer picture of the issues with Protestantism.  My course over the last few years hasn’t been over a single issue, but many issues like this one that I slowly worked through and gained confidence in.  I’ve already detailed my issues with Sola Scriptura, which is another major plank in the bridge.  Hopefully over time I’ll be able to demonstrate the rest of the issues in a way that is convincing and makes sense.

I’m glad that you and dad are finding the writings of Ignatius to be interesting and useful.  Keep your eye out for his mention of the Eucharist!


Here’s some audio for those that would rather listen:

The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

What do the cradle think about the converts?

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]


I have a ton of books about Orthodoxy, but somehow I missed Father Huneycutt’s books until that article, but I thought they were interesting so I already ordered that one and one other of his.  I hope they’re good!
I’m glad you and Dad are enjoying St. Ignatius!  I don’t remember that particular section, but that’s a really great metaphor!  It’s really nice when you read along in the early writings and you think, this sounds so much like scripture.  And then you realize, that IS scripture!  And then you remember that they were very familiar with Scripture, and constantly quoted or riffed off of scripture in the same way modern writers do.  Well, maybe not in the exact same way. 🙂  It’s nice to see that they appreciated Scripture too.  And that’s such a neat metaphor in that it relates so many different things.  Jesus, the Cross, the Holy Spirit, faith, love, and all the believers.  And all toward building a Temple.  Very nice.

I hope that Dad gets something from whatever he reads from Ignatius.  I know there are parts that may be very confusing for him, but its such great commentary on both Scripture and the Christian life.  It can be challenging, but I think that it’s worth while.  At least now Dad can say that he’s read something from the early church writings.  Check that one off the list.  🙂

I don’t recall the Three Chair Series, but I get the idea.  Recently I’ve been thinking about this issue because I started reading some articles by a “cradle” Orthodox.  I am so focused in on the conversion experience that I never considered how all this looks to people who are multi-generation Orthodox.  Definitely there’s a bit of a mix-up in the Orthodox community right now due to the sheer size of the influx of converts.  It’s huge, and that’s a bit of a problem for a faith community that relies so strongly on consistency and mentorship to pass the faith on to the next generation.  And all these converts are coming in with preconceived notions of what Christianity is.  It’s an interesting problem, and I’m considering what that means for me and how I should work to relate to those who may appear to me to be in the slow lane.  Some times still waters run deep.  I need to be do all I can to connect to the people who’ve been doing this their whole lives!

I wonder if the converts were largely under 40 in that article because that may be the age group who are more likely to consider making big moves.  I’ve read stories from converts who went over late in life, though, so it’s not that it doesn’t happen.  In fact, my local priest’s mom just recently became Orthodox (she was Presbyterian), so she is a late life convert, and I’m sure that produces certain stresses.  Probably no one really knows for sure why the converts tend to be young, but it’s interesting.  I bet the same is true of converts in Protestant churches too.I’m almost done with the email on the Eucharist.  It’s another long one, so get ready!  🙂  I’ve got to do a little more polish on it, but maybe later today or early tomorrow I can get that out for ya.


What do the cradle think about the converts?