“Tell me how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ…”

The novel Pilgrimage to Dzhvari by Valeria Alfeyeva describes a conversation after Vespers in the monastery refectory between Guram, a first-time visitor of a monastery and its abbot, Father Michael:

Guram, one of the restorers, came in too. He’d stood through the service for the first time, crossed himself when everyone else did, and was now continuing a conversation he’d begun previously with the abbot.

“Tell me how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. I can’t understand this at all, and so receiving it…”

Darkness was pouring in through the open door and the window grating and it filled the room. Benedict, Archil, and Mitya sat at the unlit end of the table, while I sat on a couch in the corner. Guram was leaning against the doorpost. Only Father Michael was sitting beside the lamp, leaning his hands on the table, his eyes cast down. The lamp threw shadows against the hollows of his eyes. Moths fluttered against the funnel of the lamp and their shadows flickered about the ceiling in circles.

“This is a mystery, which therefore is not to be understood with the intellect,” the abbot replied, making an effort to overcome the silence. Guram waited and no one else spoke. “Remember, in Luke’s Gospel, the Virgin Mary asked the Archangel, ‘How will this be?’ How should she give birth to the Son of God? And the angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Almighty will overshadow you.’ That’s all we may say. The Holy Spirit comes down to create the flesh of Christ in Mary’s womb, and so during the liturgy he changes the bread and wine in the cup into the Body and Blood of Christ. How? This is where the secret lies.”

His voice was hushed, and hearing him speak, I felt the mystery being poured out on us that night with its mixture of darkness and light, and in us ourselves, in our ability to see, to think, to breathe, to suffer, to long for love, to long not to be burdened by any earthly possession.  (pp. 88-89)

Valeria Alfeyeva, mother of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, wrote Pilgrimage to Dzhvari in Russian back in 1989 as an autobiographical novel to describe her own spiritual journey to the Orthodox Church.


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