Transfiguration In Order To Transfigure

From “The Eucharistic Communion and the World”
by John D. Zizioulas, b.1931

Theological tradition has transformed ethics into a system of rules and an independent field of theology. Thus certain forms of conduct have become disembodied and absolute dogmas (related neither to diverse historical contexts nor to human diversity) that repeatedly judge and morally condemn the world. Under this influence, the relationship between man and God became a legal relationship, in accordance with an old temptation of the West.

In contrast with this tradition, the Eucharistic vision of the world and society neither permits nor admits an autonomy of ethics or its reduction to absolute legal rules. Rather, it holds that the moral life follows from the transformation and renewal of humanity in Christ, so that every moral commandment appears and is understood only as a consequence of this sacramental transformation. In such a vision of ethics (for example, that found in Saint Paul’s “Epistle to the Colossians”) moral conduct is understood as a continuation of the liturgical experience:

“So if you have been raised with Christ… Put to death whatever in you is earthly… You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed.” (Col 321-5, 9—10; note that the. terms ‘to strip off” and ‘to put on‘ are here liturgical terms and that they especially, but also all the terminology of this passage, link it to the experience of baptism).

It is for this reason that the Liturgy recognises only one kind of moral terminology: the sanctification of souls and bodies so that (in communion with “the Blessed Virgin and all of the Saints”) we entrust “ourselves, each other and all our life to Christ our God.”

In this way. the Eucharist does not offer the world a system of moral rules, but a transfigured and sanctified society, a leaven that will lead the entire creation by a sanctifying presence, and not by the compulsion of moral commandments. This witnessing presence does not forge intolerable chains but invites them to the freedom of the children of God, to a communion with God that will bring rebirth.

Contemporary humans seem to reject, utterly and indignantly, the moral rules imposed for centuries by a Christian civilisation. Putting to one side the causes of this situation, let us merely note that the structure that we have built with our good moral values with so much zeal is now seen as a human prison that threatens to ruin its very foundations.

Why the moral decadence in secular society? Why does our Christian voice resound as if in a vacuum? We have turned to moral preaching and to statements of moral principles to convince the world, and we have failed; no one hears us. We offered the Logos and the world did not accept it. We forget that the Logos is not our words, but a person, not a voice, but a living presence and that this personal presence is embodied in the Eucharist, which is above all communion and assembly. This society, which was transfigured in order to transfigure, no longer exists: It was dissolved by our pious individualism, which believed that, in order to work in the world, it had no need for the parish, for the eucharistic community, and it replaced them with an instructive logocracy, believing that it would be sufficient to tell the world to change. The presence of our Church in the world has become a pulpit without a sanctuary and a group of Christians with neither unity nor community. We do not draw our moral attitudes from the new life that we enjoy at the eucharistic assembly, and society thereby has lost the leaven of the divine communion that, alone, can spark an authentic revival.

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