Seeking the Light. Having spoken of a darkness descending on our society and the Church. That being the case, we quite naturally ask, “Who can help us find a way forward?” Can one expect to find hope from those now caught up in such darkness? Probably not. But, looking back over history, we do find remarkable examples of hope-in-darkness. Those most effective in rekindling hope all followed essentially the same roadmap to re-illumination. That path involved three basic steps: re-grouping, remembering, and re-igniting. During times of danger and darkness believers faithful to Christ have repeatedly responded to descending darkness by coalescing into small groups in order to preserve and nurture the remaining spark of light, faint though it may have been. Across many places, times, and institutions, the remaining faithful explored various forms of remnant-living—residual communities of individuals who withdrew without leaving, who lived apart but not in isolation, who were separated and yet remained integrated. So, what would it look like for us, using their examples, to implement a contemporary expression of those basic ascetic principles today, to seek out and latch onto the spark of divine light still present in the darkness, to regroup as remnants around that light, to remember our biblical and traditional treasures, and to initiate a new twilight, a new dawn?
To begin with, history teaches us that the flower of hope, that fruit of divinity should be sought within the context of existing faith communities. In other words, a strategic withdrawal, a movement of resistance, does not necessarily mean further fracturing the Church by creating yet another separate ecclesial entity. No, the lesson, entirely appropriate for our own situation, seems to be that the task of a remnant is not to start something entirely new, but rather to rediscover and preserve what has already been given. The continual presence of the light, Christ, is facilitated by the Holy Spirit and passed into the assembly of believers at Pentecost. That is where it is to be found. That is where one is to look for it. That is where the survivors mentioned above sought it, within the Church as it exists. But, if hope is to be rediscovered, it will mean penetrating the moral darkness generated at the interface of Christianity’s interaction with the secular world. To find light those seeking it will have to ignore the evil undergrowth of unethical alliances, see past the structures of alternate truth, overlook the presence of self-centered devotion to wealth, and draw courage, knowing that, as instantiated in this world, the Church is a combination of becoming and being, of potential and actual, constantly caught up in the process of change. So, understanding that the true properties of Church are generated by its own essence (the person of Christ) and despite the sinful limitations of those who interact with it, one may still be able to get a glimpse of, reach out, and touch the flower of the light, its primary properties generated at the interface between the transcendent holy personhood of Christ and our own created personhood.
Searching for hope in that place and in this way immediately draws one’s attention to the radiance of the Eucharist, that divinely actuated mediation of and communion with the person of Christ. Therein lies hope––there is the living vine, the flower of hope (the Rose of Sharon, Song of Songs 2:1). However, it is not just the vision of this light, but rather direct contact with the light that allows Christ, who is present in it, to illumine individual experience of the darkness and heal wounds. So, even if all other avenues of personal engagement in the Church may fail to generate hope and seem to simply re-enforce non-Church darkness, one possibility still exists, and in aid of accessing that transcendent hope, this quest must be focused on the Holy mysteries as offered during Divine services by disregarding the many darkness-generating characteristics of ecclesial communities and seeking unmediated participation in the primary transformative power of becoming as it is offered in the Eucharist and applied by Church
One might counter by saying that the celebration of the Liturgy is subject to all the same corrupting influences that have otherwise masked the Church’s holiness. Indeed, one might be tempted to think that the sacrament itself is exposed to a hope-limiting degree of vulnerability because it has to be overseen by priests who may or may not be worthy of the sacred task. But, clearly, the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend on the piety or words of the priest but rather on the descent and the operation of the Holy Spirit. True communion is possible even if the celebrant does not embody the essential properties of the Church because the sacrament is accomplished exclusively by God and its efficacy is guaranteed by Him. The act of receiving the holy mysteries may well create the only space in the Church, the only moment in life, in which the individual participating in the very life and presence of Christ is beyond the reach of evil; it cannot be corrupted. It is a truly safe haven. It is the best, if not the only, operative point of departure for the individual journey toward restoring hope.
This is, no doubt, one reason why the Eucharist has been the unbreakable link to the light even for those who, in the past, have withdrawn into the isolation of the “deserts.” (Hall 2006) John the Hermit “took food only on Sunday. For on that day a priest came and offered the Holy Sacrifice for him, and the Sacrament was his only food.” (Hall 2006) No matter how much he wandered in the desert, “…on Sundays he was always at the same place to receive Communion.” (Cain 2016, VIII.51) Abba Helle came down out of the desert and crossed the Nile in order to receive communion at the village Church. (Cain 2016, XIII.59) Abba Apollo taught that “he who receives communion frequently, receives the Savior frequently…[i]t is therefore useful for monks to keep the remembrance of the Savior’s passion in their minds constantly, and to be ready every day, and to prepare themselves in such a way as to be worthy to receive the heavenly Mysteries at any time….”(Cain 2016, VIII.56) Another example is Saint Mary of Egypt who received communion from Zozimas. (“The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt” 2005)
The Remnant Gathering. So, having recognized the flower of divine light, these spiritual survivors of the darkness reach to partake and are strengthened. Doing so is an intentional expression of faithfulness, of the spiritual life that still pulses in their hearts. Moreover, it is an observable sign of spiritual commitment that is recognizably and quantitatively unlike the occasional and perfunctory behavior exhibited by many others in the darkness. That contrast combined with the working of the Holy Spirit will allow these spiritual survivors to recognize fellow survivors, sensing a communion that goes beyond the general unity of action inherent in participation (Rom. 12.5, I Cor. 10.17, 12.13). This is a unity of mind (Rom. 12.16, 15, 15 Phil. 2.15), a fellowship, a having-in-common, which creates a perceptible bond between those who genuinely follow Christ (Eph 3.9 1 John 1.7). This is certainly in keeping with the teaching of Romans 8:16 where St. Paul indicates that it is the Spirit Himself who reveals what is shared with one another. According to Archimandrite Mitilinaios, there has always been and is today a faithful minority, a remnant in the Church, and they will know each other and will have a clear inner understanding that they belong to the remnant. (Mitilinaios 2016) In other words, the survivors taking communion have always and will always be able to recognize each other.
This recognition, of course, does not by itself always lead to an actual coalescing of a remnant into an identifiable group. A remnant will not form solely based on some mystical magnetism shared by its potential participants. As history teaches, the remnant is constituted by means of some human agency, that is, by divinely inspired believers willing to issue the call to repentance, courageously speak the truth, teach, write, and even organize. Consider Elijah complaining to God that he alone had remained faithful. Apparently, he was not aware of the seven thousand faithful that God still had in the land, and it took some additional action in order to activate the remnant (1 Kings 19:15-21). In this case the fashioning of a remnant was a direct result of God calling Elijah and equipping him to challenge his contemporaries in light of the promise of the Messiah (Is. 6, 8:16ff). It should also be noted that the remnant existed by an act of God which displayed the justice of His judgment (8:6; 14:21ff). Its coalescing and survival were the result of divine grace (Mic. 2:12; 4:7; 5:6-7). So, today it will be necessary to, in the traditions of the prophets, find ways to enable God-inspired individuals to formally agitate for the coming-together of the survivors into a functioning remnant.