"As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom. Remember, O Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love; and gather it together from the four winds."
These words, my beloved spiritual children in Christ, are found in the Didache . . . the so-called "Teaching of the Lord to the Twelve Apostles." This early second century Christian document is, in reality, a manual for church life and practice. It gives us a window through which we can observe the concerns of our ancient spiritual forebears. Clearly, in this prayer, which would have been said during the early Christian Liturgy, the theme is unity.
And just as clearly, the prosforo, or the bread of offering, is the symbol of the Church itself. We all know that symbols of loaves and fishes were often used by the early Christians to recognize one another, while preserving their anonymity in the pagan world. But why was bread such a powerful symbol for the growing Church? If you think about how a prosforo is made, you will find the answer.
Kernels of wheat are gathered from many different fields. In the hands of a skillful miller and baker, they are ground together -- the many now becoming one. From the multitude of the kernels of wheat, one perfect loaf is produced.
And so it is with the Church. Our Greek Orthodox family is many, many people with diverse backgrounds. We have unique personalities, individual needs and desires, but like the prosforo, we can become one -- one Church -- one Body in, and of Christ. It is this potential that our Lord speaks of in this morning’s Gospel passage.
Confronted with the inspiring faith of a supposedly pagan centurion, the Lord marveled: "Truly I say to you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven."
This morning, in this glorious Liturgy, that prophecy is being fulfilled. We have come to Orlando, like kernels of wheat from all across our Holy Archdiocese -- from the east and west, the north and south. We have each come in the truth of our diversity, and as individuals, we will never be able to realize our unity in Christ. It is only when the kernels of wheat are ground down, when they are mixed with water and kneaded together then, the prosforo becomes possible.
My friends, the same is true for us. As long as we cling to our own egoistic desires, our selfish will, and our pride, we will not experience our unity in Christ as something real, and the true satisfaction of being a Christian will always elude us.
Remember, the kernel of wheat cannot stand alone. It must become capable of being mingled with others. It needs a millstone.
And that great millstone of the Church, which can take all of our hardness of heart, our stiff-necked will, and our secret pride, and grind it into perfect peace is none other than the Prince of Peace, the Stone Whom the builders rejected, the Cornerstone and Foundation of the Church, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ.
He wants us to become part of Himself, of His Body, the Church. But He knows that we are not able on our own. Our individualistic pride will always hold us back. But if we are humbled. If we will just receive the new heart that the God has promised through the Prophet Ezekiel -- that new heart of flesh, which is slow to anger, and receptive to others in genuine love. If we will, as we say over and over in the Divine Liturgy, "bow our heads unto the Lord." This bowing of our heads must become more than a mere outward formality. We must learn to bow our pride, our arrogance, our puffed-up sense of importance. And notice that I did not say our sense of self-worth. Our worthiness comes from God Himself. Even if you were the only sinner who had ever lived, He would have gone to the Cross and died for your sins. God’s love is our most precious possession. It is our most valuable treasure. It makes us richer than any gold or silver.
But it is only as we are ground down and made receptive to others, that we are capable of becoming the Bread of the Church. Each of us here, especially those of us who have lived a few decades, know that life’s experiences have a way of fulfilling this process of humbling oneself. Each of us has learned, sometimes through great personal difficulty, that we are not what we thought ourselves to be. But this is good and spiritually healthy, for God loves us even when we make mistakes. He loves us just as we are. And He accepts us into His Church, not to demand anything from us, but to offer us to become like He is. We can become part of this reality one way or another. we can humble ourselves, or let life do it for us. One way or another, we will become like the ground wheat that is ready to kneaded into the prosforo that becomes the Bread of Heaven.
And we are mingled together, not by our own action, but like the flour that requires water to be mixed, we need the Holy Spirit to ‘come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity of thought, intention and disposition.’ In the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Church comes together, so that we might be kneaded by the hand of Christ to become His Body.
This morning, in this glorious Liturgy, we are being made into that Divine prosforo. And just as the most simple loaf of prosforo cannot be separated again into its basic elements of wheat and water, neither can the Body of Christ be separated into individualism and self-centeredness.
This morning, we are gathered from the four winds. Let us pray to the Lord that He may always deliver us from evil. And let us pray that He may perfect us in His love, and gather us together in His Kingdom, which is from the ages to all ages. Amen.