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God in the Time of COVID-19: Eucharistic Union

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A major consequence of COVID-19’s spread has been the shutting down of institutions, including the public services performed by the Church. This led to an illusory existential problem in the mind of many believers, that of the so-called separation between members of Christ’s body, as well as between the believer and the Eucharistic gift. Indeed, even the suggestion of separation is erroneous. How could we be separated from God during any time, even a time of quarantine, as is currently being imposed by the authorities upon us?

The only understanding of God that could justify this erroneous perspective is a dualistic view that puts God in one direction and man in another. However, such a view carried to its logical conclusion must end with no union, unity or communion with God, and even communication with Him must be by proxy. This reflects not only an imprudent understanding of reality as articulated by the Gospel and holy Tradition, but indeed it is a disastrous view of God, who is Emmanuel. God is always with us, he is always here, omnipresent, filling all with his glory. The incarnation cannot be undone; it cannot be withdrawn; it is not retractable. Christ is indeed in our midst, and because this is so, he suffers through every aspect of this saga alongside us. Therefore, if God the Father sent this virus as a ‘soft’ mode of separation to threaten us to straighten our ways lest he leaves us permanently, then he is causing his Son Jesus Christ immense pain. The fact of the matter is, if we are truly the body of Christ, then Christ is surely experiencing pain with us as a result of this separation, for indeed he told us that he abides in us and we in him.[1] How prideful of us to think that we are more keen for union with Christ than He is for union with us?

Christ’s only mission in the economy of salvation is to be in loving union with us. To reduce this union into the tangible form of the Eucharist alone, would suggest that by allowing this pandemic, God has permitted a calamity that would disturb the sole source of his union with us. Further, this would quite simply mean we have replaced God with a distant deity.  We have also limited him in a way that threatens his own salvific work, because if the tangible form of the Eucharist is the only way to achieve union with God, then it should transcend any natural disasters. In other words, more elaborately, it would mean that God, in his attempt to establish a framework for union with humankind (if it is only reducible to the tangible form of the Eucharist) has also limited himself to a system that could at times prevent him from accessing humans, as in the case of a pandemic. The Eucharist, properly understood, is the εὐχαριστία or the process of thanksgiving by which we reciprocally respond to God’s χάρις or gift of union. He sends us a gift ‘χάρις’ and we respond ‘εὐχαρις’, ‘good gift’ or colloquially ‘thank you’. Thus, reducing union with God to the tangible form of the Eucharist alone, without any other divine solution based on God’s economy, means that the sacrament is more akin to a temporal trophy, a magical potion, as opposed to the Eucharist being an ontological process, an everlasting activity which will always be happening while we are in the flesh or beyond the flesh, whether we do it in a physical tangible way or through other transcendent spiritual means. Therefore, based on this reductionist and dualist view, we ask: is God not only working against his primary plan of union, but is he also limited by his own framework of union? What a disastrous end to the salvific work of God!

The current event, more than ever in the modern history of the Church has revealed a devastating distortion in our minds of his divine truths as we allowed our pride and human thought (separated from the Tradition and the wisdom of the Church) to come in between us and God’s self-revelation, true identity, and ultimately union. Let us therefore repent of the reductionist views of God that swing us left and right like a pendulum. Let us understand that our union is a real union with Christ through all his salvific works, his unfathomable and mysterious ways of union even beyond the tangible form of the Eucharist.[2] Let us understand that through our baptism we have entered into a real union, one which surpasses our understanding. Let us unite ourselves with him through invoking his name through noetic prayer and taking him inside our innermost being,[3] through the mystery of asceticism, the mystery of sufficiency, the mystery of repentance, the mystery of prayer and fasting, the mystery of silence, the mystery of praise, the mystery of self-emptying, of becoming saints, of being men and women with God in us, of shining his light to the world, simply… through the mystery of the incarnation (with all its phases and milestones included), where we too become the vessel through which God is incarnate in the world, God with us…Emmanuel.

By Dr. Emmanuel Gergis

[1] John 15:4.

[2] While the tangible Eucharist (in the form of bread and wine) is the crown and pinnacle of our physical apprehension of union between God and humanity, it is in no way representative of the totality of ways of Eucharistic, let alone other means that God used and can use for union with him. Many saints, monastics, ascetics and anchorites lived in the desert for decades without access to the tangible Eucharist like St. Anthony and St. Mary of Egypt. If we truly believe that through the incarnation, the heavenly and the earthly became one, and are one body, then how do the heavenly (the saints who have departed) share the Eucharist with us? They are not limited by the tangible form of the Eucharist, they participate in a mysterious way that is above our dimension and our understanding. According to the Coptic Orthodox Anaphora of St. Gregory the theologian: Christ has “established the rising of the choir of the incorporeal among men, [has] given to the earthly the praising of the Seraphim” and in a mysterious exchange “they [the heavenly] send up the hymn of victory and salvation which is ours…”. See The Divine Liturgies of Saints: Basil, Gregory, and Cyril, 2001, 229–31. In other words, through the reconciliation made between the heavenly and earthly realms, there is a space for exchange of properties, and as such, the Eucharist cannot be simply reducible to the tangible realm only, especially through a limiting circumstance such as the one we experience today. Popular theology must develop a non-reductionist proper understanding of union with God without reducing it into rigid single and limited method.

[3] The Eucharist is something we must approach with a purified nous, it is in the process of purification of our nous that we encounter union in other ways like engaging in noetic prayers as practiced by the fathers for thousands of years.

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