Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
«A man made a great banquet and invited many».
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, many times used parables in order to make the people understand the heavenly truths which He revealed. Thus, today, He used an image from the daily life, in order to reveal the importance of man’s participation in the banquet which is offered by God’s Love, the Holy Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist.
Before us lays a banquet. A great banquet, which is offered by God. It is a banquet which the Wisdom of God invites all men saying: ‘Come, eat my bread and drink wine, which I offer to you”. It is a banquet of which Prophet King David had spoke of: “You have prepared before Me a banquet contrary to those who make Me sad; You have anointed My head with oil and Your cup I drunk as the most best”. It is a great banquet which is offered for our salvation by the Lamb, the Son and Word of God. A great banquet, in the midst of which the Heavenly Lamb of God invites everyone saying: “come, for all is prepared”.
In the midst of the Holy Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist the extreme Love of God is expressed, Who “desires that all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Τim. 2:4). The special characteristic of God’s Love towards man is the offering and the sacrifice. He who loves sacrifices everything for him whom is loved. He, who loves less, offers less. But, he who loves more, offers even more. Our Lord Jesus Christ extremely loved “His own in the world”, and for this reason He offers Himself “for the life and salvation of the world”. St. John the Evangelist speaking about the greatness of this divine love says: “Thus God loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15-16).
“Come, for all is ready”, the Saviour of the world is inviting all those who call upon His Name, He Who is broken but not divided, He Who is been eaten but never consumed. But, how many times we found ourselves distracted by worldly cares; or by vain goals and sinful desires, and we showed indifference to approach and participate with the Fountain of Life? How many times we surrendered our hearts to the worshiping of the golden bull, mammon, the love for money and material riches and we had ignored the heavenly and most precious wealth? How many times we had enslaved our hearts within the tentacles of pleasures and carnal sins of the flesh and we had deprived from ourselves the precious Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ? So, St. Paul spoke well when he said: “You cannot brink from the Lord’s cup and the cup of demons”.
Our communion with the Saviour Christ has as its result the forgiveness of our sins and the offering of eternal Life. But, when man distends himself from Holy Communion he faces the negative results. Our Lord has assured us that: “Truly, truly I say to you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you cannot have eternal life within yourselves” (John 6:53). So, he who does not partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ, deprives himself from the eternal life. On the contrary, “he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, says the Lord, has eternal life, and I will raise him at the last day” (John 6:54).
Within the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church the renewed man in Christ, he who lives in Christ, according to Christ and for Christ, partakes not only in the Body of Christ, but has communion with all the members of entire Orthodox Church around the world. The true Christian knows the essential problems of man and prays daily to God for their solution. He does not show indifference towards man’s needs, as the Foolish Rich Man of the Parable, whose land, although, prospered and gave plentifully, he never thought or even considered for the needs of his poor neighbors. He just restricted to build greater store-rooms in order to store all the goods which God had given him. But, his end came as the result of his ego-centered selfishness.
Today, unfortunately, we can see the same phenomenon of less participation of the faithful in Holy Communion. They are satisfied in participating only on Pascha, Christmas and on the Dormition of the Theotokos. They believe that this is enough and that they have fulfilled their religious duties.
But, Holy Communion is not casually. It is not only for the great feast days. We do not remember Christ only three times of the year. Christ invites all of us to participate in His Banquet, because, if we avoid eating we will become ill and even die; in a similar way when we do not participate in Holy Communion, our soul becomes ill and cannot resist against sinful passions and desires. He who does not participate regularly and through proper preparation, is impossible to rise victorious in the stadium of virtues.
Amongst the Holy Sacraments, which have been given by our Lord to His Church, four of them are obligatory for every faithful. In other words, Baptism, for through it a man becomes a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Holy Chrismation, for through it one receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Holy Confession and Repentance, for through it the faithful receive forgiveness of their sins committed after Baptism. Finally, Holy Communion, for through it the faithful participates in the Divine Body and the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Our participation in the Holy Sacrament must not be done without proper preparation and with a light heart. It is the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the same Body of our Saviour which was crucified on the Cross for the salvation of the entire world. Consequently, we should approach with the fear of God, faith and love.
St. Paul speaking about the way that we should approach the Lord’s Table stressed that every faithful must examine himself and then to approach the Lord. Self examination is the beginning of repentance. When man sees his soul’s inner condition, he acknowledges his mistakes and is leaded to repentance. Whereas, on the contrary, the egoistic and self-centered man remains unrepentant and heart-hard. He closes his ears to Christ’s invitation for repentance and without godly fear approaches the Cup of Life, disregarding the words of St. Paul: “he who eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup unworthy, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1st Corinth. 11:27).
Our Lord invites continuously all men to participate in His Great Banquet of His Divine Love. He invites us, let us not turn away. He invites us, let us not find thousands of excuses not to approach Him. He invites us, let us prove that we worthy of this divine invitation.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Few days remain to celebrate Christmas. Let us take this opportunity to practice deeds of repentance. Let us cry for our sins. Let us enter the Manger of hearts and with the light of self-knowing, let us examine what had soiled our souls. With the cleansing Grace of the Holy Spirit, let us clean our souls, so that we will offer to the Divine Infant Christ the precious gifts of our tears and our repentance. Thus, we will become worthy travelers towards Bethlehem, worthy participators of the Great Banquet. Amen.