Grace, Love, Communion

Anyone remotely familiar with the Divine Liturgy will immediately recognize this wonderful blessing during the Anaphora: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

The basis for this blessing is not the result of later “theological development” that became very consciously trinitarian following the Arian crisis and the First and Second Ecumenical Councils.  Rather, we find here a scriptural passage that became part of the Liturgy presumably at a very early date.  This blessing is actually the final verse of Saint Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians 13:11-14 and is the culmination of his warm benediction—after a rather stormy letter!—to the local church in Corinth:

Finally, brethren, farewell.  Become complete.  Be of good comfort, be of one mind,
live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy
kiss.  All the saints greet you.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and
the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

The Lord Jesus Christ, God (the Father), and the Holy Spirit are named together as equal yet distinct Persons.  This may be the Trinity in embryonic form, but it is still expressed emphatically.  But not only are the Persons of the Trinity named.  Saint Paul succinctly brings together the three most essential and enduring divine gifts that pour forth from the Persons of the Trinity and that sum up the Gospel and the entire New Testament—“grace,” “love” and “communion.”  In his Commentary on Paul’s Letters, the unknown writer, referred to as Ambrosiaster, comments on the essential unity of these mighty gifts:

Here is the intertwining of the Trinity and the unity of power which brings all salvation to
fulfillment.  The love of God has sent us Jesus the Savior, by whose grace we have been
saved.  The communion of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to possess the grace
of salvation, for he guards those who are loved by God and saved by the grace of Christ,
so that the completeness of the Three may be the saving fulfillment of mankind.

These “uncreated energies” create, sustain, inspire and transform our lives within the Church.  A community characterized by the presence of these divine gifts would certainly reflect the words of Christ:  “You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” [Matthew 5:14].  A community devoid of such gifts would be reduced to a club.

In fact, if put into practice, this entire final blessing could be seen as the Apostle’s description of an ideal local church, or parish.  Before all of the planning committees and their proposed programs are put into place; before the necessary stewardship drives are organized; before, even, the “evangelization committee” begins the work of “growing the Church”—before all of this, on the most foundational level, the local church must be the “place” where grace, love and communion are present and active, together with “peace,” mutual love, and unity of mind.  This is the type of church in which people would desire to be active, to which they would give generously, and about which they would witness to others.  The Divine Liturgy exhorts us to this when preparing us for our shared recitation of the Nicene Creed: “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.”

Clear remnants of the “holy kiss” referred to in this passage still exist to this day, though often limited to the concelebrating clergy, the exchange of a kiss during the paschal season, and simply the affectionate greeting of members of a parish.  Saint John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 30.2, reminds us why a certain type of kiss can indeed by “holy:

What is a holy kiss?  It is one that is not hypocritical, like the kiss of Judas.  The kiss is given
in order to stimulate love and instill the right attitude in us toward each other.  When we return
after an absence, we kiss each other, for our souls hasten to bond together.  But there is
something else which might be said about this.  We are the temple of Christ, and when we kiss
each other we are kissing the porch and entrance of the temple.

Being pastoral, the Apostle Paul realized that the Corinthians needed a strong and affirmative blessing to end his correspondence with them, a correspondence that was often filled with chastisement and correction.  At times, he was clearly angry and employed more than a little bit of calculated irony—and even sarcasm.  Yet, he never lost sight of his burning desire that the Christians of Corinth manifest the new life to which they were called and into which they were baptized when they received the Gospel.  For this reason, he labored and struggled to properly articulate a sound understanding of such seemingly disparate themes as the resurrection of the dead and a Christ-centered sexual morality.  We can only believe him when he assured the Corinthians that he wrote to them in tears, fearing for their salvation as he begged them to repent of their sins.  The apostle, who himself was the astonished recipient of the unmerited forgiveness of God, was convinced that the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit” were able to transform a wayward community so that it would truly be the “Church of God” residing in Corinth or Cincinnati, or wherever God is pleased to raise up a people to the glory of His Name.