Recapturing the Vertical Dimension of Faith

Laboring in the desert of the kingdom of man, the true believer finds himself bent by the weight of sin, stiffened by the pain of sorrow and stained by the sweat of fear.  While he knows that God created him out of pure love, redeems Him out of pure mercy and awaits his full return in pure sanctity, the true believer finds himself weary because he is forced to acknowledge that his own sin, sorrow and fear are what desiccate him in this horizontal land.

Despite his semi-permanent state of hunger and thirst, the true believer is able to reach into a mystical pool of strength, which is poured into him from on high.  Remembering that heaven has repeatedly bent down toward him, spooning into his mouth the bread and wine sacredly and mysteriously transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, he also recalls that he too is not only mysteriously and ontologically transformed by Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) but also continually transfigured on a cyclic basis by the power of the Holy Spirit in and through the mystically constituted portion of the Eucharistic prayers called the epiclesis (a transliterated Greek word meaning ‘invocation’ or ‘calling down from on high’).

As it is written in the 1962 Roman Missal:

Humbly we beseech Thee, almighty God, to command that these our offerings be carried by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine Altar on high, in the sight of Thy divine Majesty, so that those of us who shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son by partaking thereof from this Altar may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing: Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

As it is written in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming, we offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all. We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God. Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen.  And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.  Amen. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.  Amen. Amen. Amen.  So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or condemnation.

Alas, this great and holy moment that helps us to reach out to heaven as much as it confirms that heaven reaches in toward us, is far too often diminished by those (in the Church especially) who, four decades ago, became preoccupied with the need to prove the humanness of humans and the humanness of God.  The fascination with so-called ‘practical’ theologies that include the raison d’être for lay ‘ministers’, neo-Marxist ascending Christologies that push leftist political agendas, and psycho-therapeutic spiritualities that tend to enforce the Pelagian tendencies of a naturally solipsistic people — has damaged the ability of man to give himself over to the divinization that God desired for us from the moment of our creation.

In other words, when ‘horizontal action’ replaced ‘vertical ascension’ as the operative hermeneutic in theology and spirituality, the result was to reduce humanity rather than lifting it up to be what it has been offered by the Father in His Son through the Spirit – namely, theosis, or union with God.  Making matters even worse is the recent tendency of the true believer to slip into an attitude of living in ‘ordinary time’.  In this post-Lent, post-Easter time period there is a danger of embracing the oft-repeated premise that we are only human, when, in fact, the Holy Spirit is continuously sanctifying our world and inviting us into deeper divine communion with God in body, soul and spirit.  That is why we must be vigilant in these days between Pascha and Pentecost. 

We must renew our commitment to taking special notice of the epiclesis during the Eucharistic prayers of the liturgy: because it is then when are being transformed into human and heavenly creatures.  It is then that the Holy Spirit descends upon us for the purpose of extending the kingdom of heaven into the kingdom of man, and when it is then that we must fully proffer ourselves to God.

We must renew our commitment to understand that this vertical dimensionality of our faith is precisely how we remain so closely connected with God – and isn’t that our deepest need?  “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).  This vertical relationship also becomes our assurance in this desolate land that we have been given a share of the divine life — despite our sin. 

Finally, we must go of the fear caused by a world who thinks we are scandalous for trying to live out the vertical dimension of the faith in the horizontal plane.  After all, St. Peter and the Apostles experienced the same thing.  “So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘Whatever could this mean?’  Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine’” (Acts 2:12-13).

By reaching deep into the mystical pool of the Eucharist we are not merely reaffirming our faith in Jesus Christ, but we are opening up ourselves to becoming repeatedly, and permanently, changed by the Holy Spirit.  As the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine offered, He also descends upon the people present in order to comfort them, to advocate for them, and more than anything else, to bestow sanctity upon them.  This divine transformation in us is a mystical reality that lifts us out of the past, the present and the future and into a transfigured state. Transfigured, changed, we bear the gifts of the Spirit into the horizontal desert of the kingdom of man.

Thomas Colyandro is a professor for Catholic Distance University and the author of two books, including: The Judas Syndrome: Seven Ancient Heresies Return to Betray Christ Anew. He is completing a certificate from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, and already holds masters’ degrees in divinity and theology from the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas, a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and a certificate from the Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program.