Tag Archives: aceticism

Property, Liturgy & Asceticism

One of the oldest Eucharistic prayers is from the Didache. It is in this, first century text, that we read

Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To you is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever (9:4).

Though not sharing our concern here with property rights in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the prayer nevertheless has I think implications for that bundle of rights. This should come as a surprise because, as Fr Alexander Schmeman writes, liturgy reveals “the true ‘nature’ and ‘destiny’ of . . . the world. By being restored through the blessing to its proper function, . . . matter becomes again [a] means of communion with and knowledge of God” (For the Life of the World, p. 132).

Creation mixed with human labor—in the case of the Eucharist, bread and wine—through prayer and the invocation of the Holy Spirit become the Body and Blood of Christ. Or in the words of the Roman rite‘s prayer at the preparation of the Altar and the Gifts (here):

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.

Likewise, with the wine in the chalice it is “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.”

In the celebration of the Eucharist we see the process by which creation is returned incrementally to God through human labor. The latter is not only priestly but technical; land must be cleared, seeds planted, weeds pulled, vines trimmed and the harvest collected. And all this before wheat becomes flour and grapes wine.

While we can and should distinguish between the priestly and technical modes of engaging creation, in the Eucharist they converge. Not only is creation is returned to the Creator, it is given back to humanity transformed. No longer is creation simply the source of physical life. Now, in the Eucharist, it becomes the source of divine life.

In all this entire process property rights play a secondary but key role. Wheat and grapes aren’t simply collected but cultivated. This cultivation must be protected. The land and its fruits must be safeguarded from general use so that they can be used in turn for the common good.

Without a right to property, that is to set aside some of creation for a specific purpose, the universal destination of creation is frustrated. Unless farmers, and the mill owner and the vintner are all allowed to practice their crafts as they see fit, there will be neither bread nor wine and no “spiritual sacrifice without the shedding of blood” no “sacrifice of praise and true worship” offered in behalf of “all and for all” (Liturgy of St Basil the Great).

Property rights in the social realm fulfill a similar function as does asceticism in the personal realm. In both, human desire and ingenuity are progressively conformed to the divine will and so transfigured without loss of what is truly unique to the person. And it is only in this way—what we might call the ascetical and liturgical use of property—that the particular can become an epiphany of the universal; the created the sacrament of the Uncreated.

None of this is automatic. The mere fact that I have a right to property no more guarantees that I will exercise that right wisely than ascetical struggles guarantees that I will become a saint. In both cases, more is required. Like asceticism, property rights protect human freedom. But neither is the source of that freedom. For this we must look elsewhere.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory