Before we identify specific hesychastic elements observable in the texts of the Divine Eucharist, we ought first to consider its universal perspective as a spiritual journey leading upwards but also downwards. This is not our journey from home to the church building, but out progress from corruption and mortality to reborn life, from created to the uncreated temple, from created to uncreated worship, from rational prayer to noetic prayer, and from biological life to eternal life.
a) The Divine Eucharist is actually an ascent of Mount Sinai, as foreshadowed by the people of Israel and Moses. Just as the Israelites stayed at the foot of Mount Sinai, so during the Divine Liturgy, by analogy, the laity either leave the church building as catechumens and penitents, or stay inside, praying and taking communion in repentance and contrition. As Moses entered the darkness and beheld the glory of God, so, by analogy, the clergy ascend the chancel steps, enter the Holy Sanctuary and see God’s Glory. The obvious difference is that under the Old Testament participation in the glory of the Triune God was through the Unincarnate Logos (Word), whereas under the New Testament we experience participation in His glory in the Incarnate Logos (Word).
b) The Divine Eucharist is an ascent to the upper room in Jerusalem where Christ first celebrated the Mystical (Last) Supper,passing on to us the revered Sacraments. This ascent is much emphasized by the Holy Fathers of the Church. The Divine Eucharist itself is called, and is the Mystical Supper. It is not simply a recollection of the event of the Last Supper, but a participation in it, and also in the supper at the end of time, the supper in the Kingdom of God. All Christ’s Parables referring to the supper and the wedding point to this.
The Words of Institution of the Divine Eucharist are Christ’s words: “Take, eat; this is My Body which is broken for you for the remission of sins”, and “Drink ye all of it; this is My Blood of the new testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.” When they are pronounced out loud this show that the Christians have ascended to the upper room and are taking part in the Last Supper. The Priest’s prayer before the changing of the Precious Gifts, when he repeats Christ’s words, “Do this in remembrance of Me; for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show My death and confess by resurrection“, also makes this fact clear. In accordance with the liturgical phrase, “remembering therefore this commandment of salvation”, this is not simply a matter of commemoration but of obedience to God’s Commandment and participation in the Mystical Supper.
c) The Divine Eucharist also means going up to Gethsemane and Golgotha, as well as going down into hell. It is a journey with Christ to His Sacrifice and Tomb. “Remembering therefore this commandment of salvation, and all those things which came to pass for our sakes: the Cross, the tomb…” and, “wherefore we also, O Master, having in remembrance His redeeming Passion and Life-Giving Cross, the three days He was in the tomb…“
d) The Divine Eucharist is also an ascent to the upper room of Pentecost, where ten days after His Ascension Christ’s Disciples received the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit became members of the Body of Christ. It was then, on the day of Pentecost, that they experienced the grace of the Triune God “in the person of Christ Jesus” proceeding from within, for they themselves had become members of the Body of Christ. Before Pentecost the Body of Christ was outside the Disciples,but at Pentecost the Disciples become members of His Body.
The Divine Eucharist points Christians towards this same path. After the Words of Institution of the Divine Eucharist have been pronounced, the Father is entreated to send the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Celebrant Priest, at the central point of the Divine Eucharist, beseeches the Father: and make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. And that which is this cup the precious Blood of Thy Christ. Transmaking them by Thy Holy Spirit” and, “We pray Thee and beseech Thee, O Holy of Holies, of the good pleasure of Thy goodness let Thy Holy Spirit come upon us and upon these gifts here set forth“
After the consecration of the precious gifts the priest beseeches God the Father to make partaking of them effective “unto the communion of Thy Holy Spirit.” And also to unite all the partakers “in the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
e) As we have seen already, the Divine Eucharist is an experience of the Mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection. In the Eucharistic Prayers we not only see the unity between the Cross and Resurrection of Christ but also His invitation to Christians to share in the Mystery of His Cross and Resurrection. “Remembering therefore…the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day.”
Experiencing the mystery of Christ’s Cross, His Tomb, His Descent into Hell and His Resurrection is obviously not merely an intellectual, liturgical commemoration, but is linked with man’s whole hesychastic and ascetic life.
The Divine Eucharist lifts man up to experience the mystery of God’s love and increases the Christian’s love for God. As stated in Christ’s Parables, the Divine Eucharist is the mystery of the spiritual wedding, because it represents man’scommunion with God.
This love, however, is not something sentimental or an anthropocentric state. It is man’s communion with God as a result of the Resurrection and presupposes that he has passed through Golgotha. To experience love in the theological sense, self-love must be transformed into love for God and our fellow human being…
Christ conquered death through His voluntary Crucifixion, His descent into Hell and His Resurrection. United with Christ, the Christian too can be victorious over death within his own life, and experienced the mystery of the Resurrection. In the Orthodox Christian Tradition this is referred to as living the mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection.
Living the mystery of the Cross comes through voluntary struggle in Christ to purify the passions, and living Christ’s Resurrection comes through the illumination of the nous (the eye of the soul) according to Christ and through deification (theosis). This is how godly love is acquired.
by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios (Hesychia and Theology: The Context for Man’s Healing in the Orthodox Church)