I apologize for getting this information out so late!  My lecture series on art and spirituality at the University of the Arts is taking place at Elimäenkatu 25 A, the nearest tram and bus stop is Mäkelänrinne. We’re meeting in seminar room 3 on the first floor. Yesterday we talked about what specifically brought the class participants to the class, and talked some about features of contemporary spirituality raised by the group members’ stories. Today we’ll be talking more about the context of contemporary spirituality/spiritualities.


For those who are interested, the meditation on the Eucharist I mentioned earlier is now up. Go to:


and click on the image under he word “ateria” (Finnish for “meal”). The text has been translated into Finnish, the original English is there as well.

Here is the  small list of resources I provided for the participants in the New Valamo course.

Bakhtin on carnival and carnivalesque: http://culturalstudiesnow.blogspot.fi/2011/07/mikhail-bakhtin-carnival-and.html

Liminality and communitas: Excerpts from Victor Turner, The Ritual Process (1969): http://faculty.dwc.edu/wellman/Turner.htm

McVey, Kathleen, trans. Preface by John Meyendorff. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1989.

Orthodoxy and Peace: a small collection of quotes from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship:


Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. Image Books: 2011.

Taft, Robert F. “Christian Liturgical Psalmody: Origins, Development, Decomposition, Collapse.” In: Harold W. Attridge and Margot Elizabeth Fassler, Psalms in Community: Jewish and Christian Textual, Liturgical, and Artistic Traditions (Brill: 2004), pp. 7-32.

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963. See Chapter 2, “The Eucharist” (pp. 23-46).

Vassiliadis, Petros. Eucharist and Witness: Orthodox Perspectives on the Unity and Mission of the Church. Geneva: WCC Publications/Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998. See especially Chapter 4, “The Eucharistic Perspective of the Church’s Mission” (pp. 49-66)

I plan on expanding this into something more substantial sooner rather than later. But for anyone curious about the content of my lecture in the international course on diakonia a couple of weekends ago, here’s the outline from which I spoke. The Ephrem hymn enumerates examples from the natural world of suffering on behalf of others, and suffering that leads to good. Since for Ephrem both the scriptures and the world are treasurehouses of symbols of God’s lovingkindness towards us in Christ, this hymn attempts to express the reality of suffering inscribed in the world as symbols of Christ’s redemptive suffering. However, we would need to spend a lot of time unpacking how this hymn might, if at all, speak to people who are suffering today because of war, violence, strife, famine, and injustice. It can be found in the collection of Kathleen McVey’s translations of a selection of Ephrem’s hymns in The Classics of Western Spirituality series.

Taste of Hope, Bread for the Journey: Eucharist and the Suffering World

  1. Eucharist and suffering: liminality, transition, Body of Christ, church

St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272, On the Eucharist:

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! (http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm

1. Taste of Hope: and see that the Lord is good: Psalm 34 and Eucharist

2. Bread for the journey: manna from heaven: John 6

3. Eucharist and prophecy: eschatology, symbols of power, carnival: Mark 11:42-45, Luke 22:24-30, John 13:1-20

 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:15 NRSV)

4. Postscript: St. Ephrem of Syria, Hymns on Virginity and on the Symbols of the Lord 11 (McVey, 307-309)

I’ve written a short meditation on the Eucharist for Great and Holy Thursday which should appear on the paastokalenteri.fi site this week.

What brings to mind these reflections on Eucharist and being-in-transition is the reality of how millions of people in our world are forced to live today. For example, transition, uncertainty, vulnerability, quarantine, isolation all mark the lives of people who are forced to flee their homes because of war or other violence. Whether they have to move to a new country, or to a new, hopefully safer place within their own country, they are in transition physically, psychologically, emotionally. They are caught between powers over which they have no control: political, religious, economic.

As I noted earlier, the celebration of the Eucharist might well seem light-years away from the reality of the suffering of refugees and displaced people. I believe that it is possible to find a connection between these two realities, but to do so we have to reflect on what the body of Christ is, what church is, what it means to be the body of the One into whose death and resurrrection we have been baptized. His body suffered at the hands of the powers of his time. He went through a Passover, a transition, experiencing becoming an object, abandoned and left to the powers that destroyed him – hanging on a cross between heaven and earth, between two convicted criminals. The end of his life was a journey from the midst of his community of disciples and followers to the aloneness of his execution.

Because we are the body of the One who suffered at the hands of the powers of his day, the church must be, is called to be, the place where people who suffer at the hands of the powers of our world will find welcome, embrace, hope, life. The church can be that place because suffering and death did not have the last word over Christ; “trampling down death by death,” he journeyed through suffering and death to resurrection. His being raised from the dead is the source for our being hope to others today. Not the source of our ability simply to give hope, but to be hope, to embody hope. In becoming tangible hope. We who insist that the Eucharist is not only a “mere symbol” (can a symbol ever be “mere”?) need to insist equally firmly that as members of Christ, we are to be Christ’s presence concretely, tangibly. In being so, we don’t claim that we are superhuman or somehow better than anyone else. Quite the opposite. In becoming hope and life for others, we discover our own brokenness, our own suffering, our own need for healing, life, and hope.

We dare to believe that as the body of Christ we are not only saved and nourished by the Eucharist we celebrate and receive, but that we ourselves become who we receive. “Become what you receive,” said St. Augustine to his hearers in North Africa. His exhortation remains as true for us today as it was for his church then.

More reflections on the way to a completed lecture for the diakonia course:

The Eucharist was born at the threshold of Christ’s suffering, Christ’s transitus, Christ’s Passover: “On the night he was betrayed” (I Corinthians 11:23). The field of ritual studies uses the idea of liminality to speak of the place that is between, the place you occupy while you are moving from one place, one state, one community, to another. Liminality is dangerous, because it is neither one thing nor another. It is transition, potential, danger. The liminal person (in a rite of initiation, for example) is quarantined, isolated, separated from the community as they undergo their passage.

We may be used to thinking of the Eucharist in rather static terms: it is the Body and Blood of Christ received by the faithful. It is what we receive. The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given these gifts for our healing and salvation. And so it is.

But when we ponder the possible ways in which the Eucharist has anything at all to do with people who are themselves in transition, who are suffering, who are neither here nor there, but are rather quarantined, isolated, I think that static categories in which we often think about the Eucharist no longer are of much help. We need to think in terms of liminality, transition, journey, accompaniment. And, ultimately, in terms of hope. Hope given, hope made visible and tangible.

I’m finishing the New Valamo lecture and thought it wouldn’t hurt to think out loud as I put things together.

Where is the best place to begin when talking about the Eucharist and the suffering world? Do we begin from the suffering we see around us every day and experience ourselves in our own lives? Or do we begin with the redemptive suffering of Christ, of which the Eucharist is the memorial/anamnesis (there isn’t a single word in English that captures the Greek word anamnesis)?

It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case for there being no connection at all between the Eucharist and the suffering world. To take the Byzantine tradition as an example, although the Divine Liturgy contains intercessions, and although individuals may add their prayers for specific people or situations, the liturgical action as a whole doesn’t speak in a direct way to the suffering that people experience. In the worst case, the our celebration of the Eucharist suffers from inwardness and exclusivity that shuts out the world and its suffering. It becomes a celebration of us, medicine for the healthy, a feast for the already-well-fed.

One could argue in reply that liturgical signs aren’t supposed to speak directly to anything, that liturgical action is about praise and glorification, not addressing concrete issues in the world. I agree with this view, to the extent that at least in some Christian liturgical traditions it is possible for worship to be hijacked by one cause or another and lose the central element of doxology.

But — and I think in the end this overrides such a view of liturgical signs and actions — the God we worship has indeed spoken directly to us in the Word made flesh. The word God speaks to us is a word of healing, hope, and life, the Word who became a servant, for whom the first would be last and the last, first.

Moreover, the great teachers of the church have reminded the church again and again that (to put it in terms of diakonia, the theme of the New Valamo course) there must be a living connection between what we do liturgically and what we do diaconally. The “work of the people” (leitourgia) must take concrete shape in the world in the form of our servanthood to and for others (diakonia).

Insisting on the consonance of leitourgia and diakonia has great implications for how we live out being church in the suffering world.

In April I’ll be giving a series of four lectures on the topic “Art and Spirituality: Contemporary Thought and Practices” at the University of the Arts Helsinki.

The series will be a kind of continuation of a lecture I gave on religious art, place, and encounter at the Galleria Titanik in Turku in March 2014. In Turku I spoke about encounters with traditional religious art in a modern, secular society and about some of the roles that such encounters could play in breaking open the otherwise smooth landscape of our social spaces.

As the title of the series indicates, we’ll be looking at both ideas and their embodiment in practices.

As soon as there is information on the university’s site about the precise place and time of each lecture I’ll post the link.

On March 21 at 10:20 I’ll be giving a lecture entitled “Taste of Hope, Bread for the Journey: Eucharist and the Suffering World” at the International Diakonia Course offered at the Valamo Lay Academy at the monastery of New Valamo. The course has been organized by Filantropia, the international missions, aid and development agency of the Orthodox Church of Finland. I am a member of the boad of Filantropia. The course will focus on a variety of topics having to do with the church’s work of service to our neighbors, including in Syria, Armenia, and Finland. The goal of my lecture is to get people thinking concretely about what the Eucharist has to do with the church’s response to the suffering of our neighbor.

Please see the English version of the Filantropia web site for more information about Filantropia and its work:


There is only a Finnish version of the page devoted to the course, and I haven’t had the chance yet to translate it. If I find time soon, I will post the translation. In the meantime, if you’re interested you could try plugging the page into Google Translate. If you do, let me know if the results are at all intelligible.

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