In The Eucharist, Fr. Alexander Schmemann lays before us the glories of the faith, which “manifests and grants that to which it is directed: the presence among us of the approaching kingdom of God and its unfailing light.” The very Kingdom of God seems to shine directly from the pages of Fr. Alexander’s book into my heart; it feels that way because he brings to mind what I have experienced in our services.
Jesus himself referred to the kingdom as something present on earth when He was among his disciples; as something within us; as something for whose coming we ought to pray in The Lord’s Prayer. Truly the Divine Liturgy is where we both experience heaven and anticipate the fullness of the kingdom to come.
The Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, begins with the announcement, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”
What does it mean to bless the kingdom? It means that we acknowledge and confess it to be our highest and ultimate value, the object of our desire, our love and our hope. It means that we proclaim it to be the goal of the sacrament — of pilgrimage, ascension, entrance — that now begins. It means that we must focus our attention, our mind, heart and soul, i.e., our whole life, upon that which is the “one thing needful.” Finally, it means that now, already in “this world,” we confirm the possibility of communion with the kingdom, of entrance into its radiance, truth and joy. Each time that Christians “assemble as the Church” they witness before the whole world that Christ is King and Lord, that his kingdom has already been revealed and given to man and that a new and immortal life has begun. This is why the liturgy begins with this solemn confession and doxology of the King who comes now but abides forever and shall reign unto ages of ages.
I was a gardener long before I had a blog — still, it’s surprising I didn’t tell my magic bean story here before. [Hmm… well, I did tell it, as the “related article” boxes below just revealed to me!] It started with friend Elsie… A Long Long Time Ago she and I used to share garden lore and harvest, and mysteries. The biggest mystery was how the special bean ever came to be growing in her vegetable plot.
It must have been in 2006 at her house that she led me to a bed of earth next to a fence, to show me runner beans with big pods and pretty flowers. “Maybe you can tell me what this bean is,” she hoped. She always thought I might have the answers to any garden question. She hadn’t planted it, and her neighbors had no garden. I was clueless, but I went home and tried to find its picture online. It didn’t take long, even though at the time you could not easily find the seeds to buy. I read that only one runner bean has a bicolor flower, and this definitely matched the pictures of that variety called “Painted Lady.” Baker Creek Seeds in 2018 has this to say about it:
Traditional English bi-color grown since 1596! The name had mention to Queen Elizabeth I, ‘who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.’ The gorgeous flowers of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. The large beans are also good as snaps, freshly shelled or as dry beans, which are chocolate and tan mottled in color.
Just today I read on Wikipedia that this is a cultivar of the plain old Scarlet Runner Bean. They are all perennial, which is a great boon for someone like me who takes forever to get around to planting in the spring. The beans are pretty large, not the sort of seed you would imagine a bird dropping into the soil… Its appearance in our neighborhood and these other special features of the plant made it seem magic indeed, admittedly in a different way from those in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk;” but Elsie gave me seeds that fall, I planted them the following spring, and in a few months I had lots to give to friends in these packets I made, with an error in the name of the associated queen. Oops.
It’s been many years since these beans have been given a spot in my garden, but I found a handful of seeds of uncertain age to try training along with the butternut squash on my sturdy trellis — and they sprouted!
Nearby, the green beans named Blue Lake and Spanish Musica are reaching for the sky. I was lying in bed last night letting the poetry of bean names evoke images of Spanish ladies swimming in blue lakes, and composing a blog post about my wealth of beans. I had already made three pickings of the Spanish Musica, and Soldier came by to eat them with me — after I’d taken a picture of the last bunch, one of which was 11 inches long! They were very good eating, and their being stringless made them quick to prepare for the pot.
This morning at church the Gospel was the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Father James’s homily ranged over the whole Bible and the goodness of God to feed us: The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ, as He explained to His disciples at the Last Supper when they said,
Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst….Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Now we have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist week by week, imparting Christ the Bread of Life to us. Our homilist reminded us of the prayers that many people pray at meals, including those going back many millennia such as Jewish prayers like “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth,” and “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who feeds the world.”
When the theme of bread was added to the swirl in my head, a song popped up (naturally, because of Musica!) and joined in, one that our family used to sing as a grace before meals, part of Johnny Appleseed’s song adapted to the theme of dinner:
The Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the bread and the milk
and the bowl of beans;
the Lord is good to me!
It just so happens that I made bread last week, too, part of my ongoing project of combining “artisan no-knead” technique with my sourdough starter and experience. This latest effort was very satisfying, and makes me want to get another batch going tomorrow.
I assembled the ingredients for the Swedish Sourdough Rye on Tuesday…
…and put two lumps of wet dough in the fridge in plastic bags.
On Friday I baked one as a boule in the Dutch oven, and Saturday I baked the other in a bread pan, resulting in this 2-pound loaf:
It is incredibly moist, what they call a custardy crumb, and nice and sour, with the anise and caraway and orange peel I got the idea for from Mabel last fall in Tucson. I sort of forgot to put any white flour in this batch, though it has whole wheat flour with the rye, and it is therefore dense, but it’s not doughy or heavy.
I bought the book at right but have read only a couple of pages. Before it arrived I had perused many recipes online but was too intimidated by all the details to follow any of them. After you’ve baked bread in a rather relaxed (a.k.a. sloppy) fashion for 40+ years the idea of completely starting over step-by-step was paralyzing. So I picked up some general principles and hoped that I might learn by experimentation; I’ve been keeping notes on my own trials and results. But I don’t know if I will ever have a real recipe to share with you all. I do know what is working for me currently:
1) Keep the dough wet and loose, more runny than biscuit dough.
2) Let it spend a good amount of time in the refrigerator.
3) When you take a lump out to bake it, handle it gently and don’t knead.
4) Bake it hot, at 450° or 500°F, and for longer than seems reasonable.
It’s not easy to see, but in the center of the photo below the Spanish Musicas are reaching across the space to hold hands with the trellis climbers. The poem that is being played out in my garden is too elaborate a ballad for me to follow easily (though Albert will likely jump at the chance to translate it), but tomorrow I’ll go out in the garden and try to soak up a few more lines.
On Holy Thursday one of the events the Orthodox Church commemorates is the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at Christ’s last meal with His disciples; on this occasion I thought to share a post from Abbot Tryphon on the topic of this mystical sacrifice:
The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice, in which Christ himself performs the act of offering, and is both priest and victim. This sacrifice is offered to God the Trinity, and not just to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. It is Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.
Our Orthodox theology also teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead, and is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. This sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.
All the events of Christ’s sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present. The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical, and is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because the bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and His manifestation to us in Christ. It is a mystery precisely because the Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is “not of this world.” The Eucharist, because it belongs to God’s Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born “logic” of fallen humanity.
Saint John of Damascus tells us, “If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit … we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable”.