Orthodox Church of Estonia and Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Common Statement on “The Eucharist and Divine Service”
For centuries, Orthodox and Lutherans in Estonia have been living side by side. The first official talks between the churches began in 2006. The Orthodox Church of Estonia (OCE) and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) established committees, respectively chaired by Metropolitan Stephanos and Archbishop Andres Põder, and entered into dialogue. The first meeting took place on 6 December 2006 at the Institute of Theology of the EELC in Tallinn. It was decided that the topics for future discussion would include theological issues, practical matters, such as worship life and church ceremonies, as well as questions related to social ethics and society in general. The topic of the second meeting, held on 18 April 2007 at St Platon Seminary of the OCE in Tallinn, was “Christ as the foundation of the Church.” The third meeting, held on 17 December 2009 at the Consistory of the EELC in Tallinn, focused on practical and pastoral aspects of church ceremonies, especially weddings and funerals, involving members of the other church. The fourth meeting, held on 29 January 2010 at St Platon Seminary of the OCE was dedicated to “the Eucharist and Divine Service.” The last three meetings focused on the final topic and were primarily dedicated to writing this common statement. The fifth meeting took place on 4 February, 2011 at the Institute of Theology of the EELC, the sixth on 10 February 2012 at St Platon Seminary of the OCE, and the seventh on 27 August 2012 at the Theological Institute of the EELC.
We have done a considerable amount of work, which is addressed not only to specialists in theology, but to all Christians in Estonia. For this reason, we have tried to find words and expressions that can be understood by our people. In preparing this common statement, we have experienced the importance of working together, and we hope our people will take seriously our cooperation and appreciate what has been done. Finally, we thank God for the blessing of being together in a spirit of love and sharing.
1.1 The Church finds its best expression in various forms of worship services, taking place according to the set rhythm of days, weeks and feasts throughout the Church year as well as in other Church celebrations, such as baptism and marriage etc. The focus of the weekly rhythm of Christian life is the Divine Service held on Sundays, the day of Christ’s resurrection.
1.2 Orthodox use the biblical term “liturgy” (leitourgia: leitos – ergon; the work of people), especially to denote the celebration of the Eucharist. Because the Holy or Divine Liturgy, as a Eucharistic gathering, remains the focal point of all other forms of services, such as “vigil” and even of the services of Church Sacraments, such as ordination, baptism, and marriage, the last two according to their original celebration. The usage of the term liturgy refers to the response of the faithful to eternal salvation through Christ, in the sense that, every time a service or a sacrament is celebrated, the Church experiences the Grace and blessings of the respective event achieved through Christ.
1.3 In Estonia, Lutherans usually refer to the Sunday morning service as the Divine Service. The term liturgy, which, in a Christian or religious context means serving or service, and, therefore, specifically “the Divine Service”, is used by Lutherans in reference to the structure of worship, or order of service. A Lutheran Sunday service can also be held without the Eucharist, as a “Service of the Word,” even though today the main service usually includes the Eucharist. “The Divine Service with the Eucharist” can be also called “the Mass.” However, morning and evening prayers, Church ceremonies held in connection with certain events in human life, various blessings of places and things, as well as individual, private prayers are all also part of the Church’s rich worship life.
2.1 Human beings are called into a relationship and life with God, to worship Him with all creation in gratitude, reverence and praise. Thus, human beings are called to serve God, or, more precisely, to become liturgical beings.
2.2 This vocation of human beings may be manifested in circumstances where God is mistrusted, ignored, or despised, because even in such situations human beings and their society are shaped by that which they believe to be of most importance, of highest value, or worthy of the greatest trust.
2.3 Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church’s worship life. In Him and through the Holy Spirit, God the Father revealed the most fundamental of all relationships in human life, the communion with God, which, at the same time, is most decisive for the nature of human life.
3 Worship, for which human beings are called by virtue of their created nature, is based on the fact that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has made Himself known to humanity. Thus, Divine Service or Divine Liturgy is the gift of God’s Grace and, simultaneously, the service of His deeds by the people of God. St Paul describes this Christian conviction as follows: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18, NRSV). In this sense, Divine Service is a grace, or an economy of grace, whereby the Triune God acts in His creative, reconciling, as well as sanctifying work, and the service of the Church takes place within the framework of God’s triune action, and revolves around Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
4.1 The service of the Church is not a unilateral monologue, but a bilateral and dialogical event: God comes to human beings in word and sacrament, while human beings serve God with prayer and praise. This essential mutuality of worship is evident in both traditions. At the beginning of the Orthodox Divine Service the deacon says, “Kairos tou poiēsai tōi Kuriōi”; “It is time to act for the Lord”, for God calls us to serve His eternal sacrifice and sanctifying work. In the Lutheran tradition, this basic structure has often been expressed by saying that in the Divine Service “our dear Lord Himself speaks to us through His holy Word and we in response speak to Him through prayer and praise” (M. Luther).
4.2 While Lutherans traditionally emphasize the Word, this does not suggest a one-sided and narrow attachment of worship and faith to reason. What is meant here is that God addresses and is revealed to human beings, so that they too can turn towards Him. Consequently, God’s Word is not originally and primarily a written text but, rather, God’s self-expression that has decisively taken place in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the Word (Jn 1:1). This Word is the center of the Divine Service, and even in the services of the Word, without the Eucharist, the crucified and resurrected Lord is present and shares himself through the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the gospel. He is the Word, which not only touches human reason, but also the heart, i.e., it renews a person completely, awakening and confirming trust in God. The Word proclaimed in the Divine Service also enlightens human reason, so that the more it grasps of the abundance of God’s endless mercy and grace the greater the mystery becomes.
4.3 In the Orthodox liturgy, the presence of the Word is vividly expressed by the presence of the Gospel Book on the altar table during the first half of the Liturgy, the so-called part of the Catechumens, while, during the second half, the same place is used for the paten, diskos, with bread, and the chalice with wine. This symbolizes that Christ comes first verbally, through word, and then eschatologically, through His body and blood, i.e., the resurrected Christ confirms that the proclamation concerns Him. The service reimages the manner in which Christ comes from the Father, assuming human nature, reconciles the faithful and brings them back to the Father. Through this liturgical service of the Word, Christ illuminates the minds, reason, and hearts of human beings and awakens them to repent and walk according to His Will.
5.1 The Eucharist (translated as “thanksgiving”), or the Eucharistic service, is the focal point of multiple facets of the service of the Church. In Estonia, the word armulaud, table of grace, is customary among Lutherans and Orthodox. Together we emphasize that the Eucharist is based on Christ’s words of institution.
5.2 The dialogue committee of the EELC and the OCE notes with appreciation the common statement of the International Lutheran–Orthodox Joint Commission on “The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church” (2006), which includes a detailed discussion of these issues. It is noteworthy that representatives of the EELC and the OCE have at various times participated in the work of this International Joint Commission, founded in 1981.
5.3 The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is instituted by Christ. It is a Communion of Christ’s body and blood, offered by Christ Himself according to His word. He Himself is the one who is the giver and the one who is shared at this Table. Therefore, the role of the celebrant can be characterized as a representative of Christ. When people come to the Eucharist, they gather around Christ. Both Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and the believers partaking in it with faith are given through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
5.4 The Eucharist is the closest and fullest communion with Christ and partaking in the beatifying fruit of His sacrificial death and resurrection. The gift of the Eucharist is the forgiveness of sins, communion with God and eternal life.
5.5 Thus, the Eucharistic communion enables us to experience the renewed eschatological humanity (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the promised ultimate blessed life, the future reign of Christ in glory and the completion and fulfillment of the history of salvation, which the Church expects and hopes for. Even now, Christians as Church partake in this eschatological reality – the communion of the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ who defeated the devil, sin and death. Based on this, the Divine Service, and the Eucharist in particular, celebrate the manner in which the Triune God acts with us through His creative, reconciliatory and sanctifying work. Consequently, jubilant joy and gratitude are appropriate in the celebration of the Eucharist.
6.1 For Christians, assembling for the Divine Service means coming to the source of their true identity, their eschatological identity. There they are equipped for life in the Holy Spirit, for “rational worship” (Rom 12:1) in daily life. Therefore, through communion with Christ in the Divine Service, especially in the Eucharist, the unity of Christians shall not limit practicing solidarity only among them, but must lead to solidarity with all people and the entire creation. The service of the Church continues outside the church buildings in Christian life; the experience of the Divine Service liberates people to see the whole world and each individual relation and moment in life as a place of worship, e.g., in speaking out for peace and social justice and caring for the natural environment, etc.
6.2 The Church brings the life and situation of the world – issues both large and small, common and personal matters – before God in prayer during the Divine Service. The Church brings before God that which inspires joy and gratitude, as well as issues that provoke the tragic tension between the eschatological reality of God’s kingdom and the groaning present situation of the world and the entire creation. The light of the Gospel enables us to see, and gives us the courage to acknowledge the inhumanity around us, as well as our own failures, and to pray for forgiveness and the grace of the Holy Spirit to change ourselves. The Divine Service is the place where the believer is renewed and transformed, where human beings are healed, faith strengthened and the spirit nourished. Therefore, worship, especially the Divine Service with the Eucharist, is the source of all Christian life and ethos.
Lutherans and Orthodox emphasize, in mutual consent, the importance of the service of the Church for the life of individuals and its value for society. They affirm that, even though in certain respects the churches play only a modest role in Estonian society, they are very significant in uniting and bonding people. The Divine Service expresses the conviction that God’s love is directed to all human beings. Thus, the hundreds of services held in each week in Estonia, inspire people to practice a culture of love, reconciliation and dialogue. In the same vein, the talks between the OCE and the EELC are a step on the path toward mutual understanding, in the hope one day to be able to gather together around the Lord’s Table.
Tallinn, April 24, 2013
Stephanos Andres Põder
Metropolitan of Tallinn and All Estonia Archbishop of the EELC