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'Touch me not': Holy Baptism as a Presupposition for Participation in the [...] the Eucharist

NTRODUCTORY NOTE: As we come to the mid-point between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church begins to warm us up in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit we will receive by beginning the celebration today of what is known as the Feast of Mid-Pentecost, where a mighty river of divine grace flows down to us, which has these two great Feasts - Pascha and Pentecost - as its source. Hence, we chant hymns about Pascha and Pentecost. We even see a play on words within the hymnography that expresses this. For instance, the OIKOS in Matins says,

"With the streams of Your blood, water my soul parched by unlawful offences, and show it to be fruitful in virtue. For You have said to all, to approach You, all-holy Word of God, and to draw the water of incorruption, which is alive and washes away the sins of those who extol Your glorious and divine Resurrection. O Good One, You grant to those who know You as God the power of the Spirit that truly came down from on high to Your Disciples. You are the fountain and source of our life, O Lord ."

Thus, we offer to you on this auspicious grace-filled day a precious gem found in the Scriptural Commentary of ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA regarding the reception of the Holy Spirit in the one Baptism of the one undivided Church as an immovable presupposition for communing with the God-Man in the Holy Eucharist.

The writer of this short introduction (Maximos) recently came across a popular saying in the ascetical tradition: "Give blood, receive the Spirit", which they feel can be incorporated herein to a certain degree. Accordingly, the Orthodox spiritual life is innately ascetical, an ethos centered on Christ through self-denial, repentance, and waging war forcefully (βιαστής) against the passions and demons. Fasting, ceaseless prayer, vigil, prostrations, physical toil (etc.) are spiritual tools given to us by the Church that aid in the ultimate goal of acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to such an extent that we become dispassionate and deified.

To a certain degree, one could say this begins in Holy Baptism, where we choose to be stripped of the old man and live a life of self-denial and obedience, first enacted by mystically being co-crucified with Christ in the Baptismal font, thereby 'giving our blood' as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. But that is only the beginning of our ascetical martyrdom; from that point forward a new life begins for us not only to preserve the grace of God but multiply it abundantly. Having come out of the Baptismal font, we come out anew, energized with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is sealed in Holy Chrismation. It is this imparting and seal of the grace of the Holy Spirit we are called to cultivate in our ascetical endeavors, thereby 'receiving the Spirit' more and more, moving through the stages of purification, illumination and deification. Thus, "Give blood, receive the Spirit".

According to our Father among the Saints, CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, our Lord did not allow St. Mary Magdalene to touch Him when He appeared to her after His glorious Resurrection because, unlike the 11 disciples, she had not yet received the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril goes on to explain that this is a perfect image or type of the Church and her Holy Mysteries; only those initiated into the Body of Christ, His Church, can touch the All-Holy and Incorrupt Flesh of the God-Man Jesus Christ in the Divine Eucharist because they have received the Holy Spirit through Holy Baptism. They are the ones who have given their blood by being co-crucified with the Lord in Holy Baptism, and thus have "received the heavenly Spirit". Therefore, contrary to what modern ecumenists think in their foolish delusion, St. Cyril of Alexandria concludes that the non-initiated - the heterodox - are not permitted to commune in the Eucharist, for they have not received the gift of the Holy Spirit in the one Baptism of the one undivided Church of Jesus Christ, which alone imparts the purifying, illumining, and deifying energies of the consubstantial and life-giving and undivided Trinity to Her members, as the Patristic Patrum and Canonical Tradition indisputably demonstrates [1].

Indeed, one notices how St. Cyril expresses the sacramental theology and ecclesiology of Orthodoxy; if heretics could truly be baptized outside the Church, then he would have said they are permitted to commune in the Church. But such is not the case. Therefore, "following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church...” let us now humbly sit at the feet of one "made wise by God" so that we may inherit the same blessed end [2]! Wisdom! Let us be attentive! CHRIST IS RISEN! BLESSED FEAST OF MID-PENTECOST!

"Jesus saith to her, "Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended unto My Father...""

"The meaning of this saying is not easily understood by the vulgar, for a mystery underlies it; but we must probe it for our advantage. For the Lord will vouchsafe unto us the knowledge of His own Words. For He repulses the woman as she was running up to Him, and though she longed to embrace His Feet, He suffered her not; and, in explanation of His reason for so doing, said: For I am not yet ascended unto My Father. We must inquire into the meaning of this saying. For what if He were not yet ascended to His Father? How could this reason suffice to render it improper for those that loved Him to touch His holy Body? Would it not be blameworthy for anyone to imagine that the Lord shrank from the pollution of the touch, and thus spake that He might be pure when He ascended to the Father in heaven?

Would not such a man stand convicted of great folly and madness? For the Nature of God can never be polluted. For just as the light of the sun's ray, when it strikes upon a dunghill or any other earthly impurities, suffers no stain----for it remains as it is, that is, undefiled, and partakes in no degree of the ill odor of the objects that it encounters----even so the all-holy Nature of God can never admit of the blemish of defilement. What, then, is the reason why Mary was prevented from touching Him, when she drew near and yearned so to do? What can the Lord mean when He says: For I am not yet ascended unto My Father? We must investigate this according to the best of our ability. We say, therefore, that the reasons for our Saviour's sojourn amongst us were manifold and diverse, but this one the principal of all, which is indicated in His own words: For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Therefore, before the saving Cross and the Resurrection from the dead, while as yet His providential scheme had not received its appropriate fulfilment, He mingled both with the just and the unjust, and ate with publicans and sinners, and allowed any that so willed to come to Him and touch His holy Body, that He might sanctify all men and call them to a knowledge of the truth, and might bring back to health those who were diseased and enfeebled by the constant practice of sin. Therefore also, in another place, He said unto them: They that are whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. Therefore, before His Resurrection from the dead, He had intercourse indiscriminately with the righteous and with sinners, and never frightened away any that came unto Him. Moreover, when He was once reclining at the house of a Pharisee, a woman came in unto Him weeping, who was a sinner in the city, as is written, and let down her wanton locks, scarcely released from the service of her past sins, and wiped His Feet therewith; and we see that He did not stop her. Again, when He was on His way to bring back to life the daughter of the leader of the Synagogue, once more a woman came near unto Him, who had an issue of blood, and touched the border of His garment; and we find that He was in nowise offended, but rather vouchsafed unto her the comforting assurance:

Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. But at that time, by His Providence, men who were still unclean, and who were polluted both in mind and body, were suffered without let or hindrance to touch the holy Flesh Itself of our Saviour Christ, and to gain every blessing thereby; but when, after having completed the scheme of our redemption, He had both suffered the Cross itself, and death thereon, and had risen again to life, and shown that His Nature was superior to death, henceforward, instead of granting them a ready permission, He hinders those who come to Him from touching the very Flesh of His holy Body; thereby giving us a type of the holy Churches, and the mystery concerning Himself, just as also the Law given by the all-wise Moses itself did, when it represented the slaughter of the lamb as a figure of Christ; for no uncircumcised person, said the Law, shall eat thereof, meaning by uncircumcised impure----and humanity may justly be deemed impure in its own nature. For what is the nature of man, as compared with God's inherent purity?

We may not, therefore, while we remain uncircumcised, that is, impure, touch the holy Body, but only when we have been made pure by the true circumcision of the Spirit. For circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, as Paul saith. And we cannot be spiritually circumcised if the Holy Spirit hath not taken up His abode in us by faith and Holy Baptism. Surely, therefore, it was meet that Mary should for a while be restrained from touching His sacred Body, as she had not yet received the Spirit. For even though Christ was risen from the dead, still the Spirit had not yet been given to humanity by the Father through Him. For when He ascended to God the Father, He sent the Spirit down to us; wherefore also He said: It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter cannot come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. As, therefore, the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent down unto us, for He had not yet ascended to the Father, He repulses Mary as not yet having received the Spirit, saying: Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; that is to say, I have not yet sent down unto you the Holy Spirit.

Hence the type is applicable to the Churches. Therefore, also, we drive away from the Holy Table those who are indeed convinced of the Godhead of Christ, and have already made profession of faith, that is, those who are already catechumens, when they have not as yet been enriched with the Holy Spirit. For He does not dwell in those who have not received Baptism. But when they have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, then indeed there is nothing to hinder them from touching Our Saviour Christ. Therefore, also, to those who wish to partake of the blessed Eucharist, the ministers of Divine mysteries say, "Holy things to the holy," teaching that participation in holy things is the due reward of those who are sanctified in the Spirit."

+ St Cyril of Alexandria, Book 12 in Commentary on John’s Gospel, concerning John 20:17 “Jesus said unto her, ‘Touch me not…’”


[1] Watch Fr. Peter Heers' Orthodox Ecclesiology Lectures on YouTube and read his book The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: - The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II | Uncut Mountain Press - Orthodox Ecclesiology: The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - A Ten Week Course - YouTube

[2] To follow and listen to the Holy Fathers is to follow and listen to Jesus Christ (Luke 10:16). Thus...

St. Gregory Palamas: “How could someone who does not follow the teaching of the Fathers be trustworthy? And how would such a person not reject the God of the Fathers and the God of the saints? For the Lord says, ‘He who rejects you rejects Me’ (Luke 10:16), that is, he rejects the truth itself. And how could someone who is opposed to the truth be acceptable to those who are seeking the truth? So, to study the Fathers is on one level to study Christ, it is to enter into the communion of the Saints, it is to become part of a living Tradition, it is to become part of God’s own gracious life” (+ Excerpted from The Triads 1.2).

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov: "Wherever there is oneness in opinion, unfailingly there is oneness of soul as well, and unfailingly there is one goal and identical success in attainment of the goal. Make the thoughts and spirit of the Holy Fathers your own by reading their writings. The Holy Fathers attained the goal: salvation. And you will attain this goal in the natural course of events. As one united thought and soul with the Holy Fathers you will be saved. Heaven received the Holy Fathers into its blessed bosom. By this it gave witness that it was well-pleased by their thoughts, feelings, and deeds. The Holy Fathers set forth their thoughts, their heart, their mode of action, in their writings. Therefore, what a faithful guide to heaven, as witnessed to by heaven itself, are the writings of the Holy Fathers. The writings of the Holy Fathers were all set down by the inspiration or rather under the influence of the Holy Spirit. There is a wonderful harmony in them, a wonderful anointment! He who is guided by them, without any doubt, is guided by the Holy Spirit. The writings of the Holy Fathers are all united in the Gospel; they are all directed towards teaching us the exact fulfillment of the Commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ; the source and end of them all is the Holy Gospel... Reading the writings of the Holy Fathers, with the decrease of Spirit-bearing teachers, becomes the principal guide for those wishing to be saved and even to attain to Christian perfection. The books of the Holy Fathers, as one of them expressed it, are like a mirror; looking into them attentively and frequently, the soul can see all its deficiencies. Again, these books are like a rich collection of means of healing; in them the soul can seek out a saving cure for each of its diseases" (+ Excerpted from The Field).

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