As we look back on our founding as described in the book Growing Point by Alfred Heidenreich, we can pause to consider the issue of ritual:
In his last published reference to The Christian Community, Rudolf Steiner called us ‘candidates for an honest and spiritually real priesthood’. This was more forward- looking. For this, it did not matter what job we had had in the past, what studies we had pursued, what academic labels we had acquired. Candidates for a new Christian priesthood – this was the category into which we were to grow in the future. It was our assignment with history.
The shift of emphasis from theology to priesthood was of the essence of the situation. Many a time had a ‘new theology’ arisen. and been taught in the history of Christianity. A new priesthood never. But we were destined to be just this; not lecturers or teachers of a new theology, but a new order of priests who were to celebrate the Christian sacraments reborn from their original source. And now we must attempt an outline of this new faith and order, and we shall not be able to avoid altogether getting into deeper waters.
Ritual, according to Steiner, is a legitimate means of communicating with the unseen half of our world, of active relationship with the divine spiritual background of our existence, the kingdom of God. There may be many ways for the individual soul of making contact with the world of spirit through prayer and meditation. But communally there is nothing which in its reality is on the same level with ritual.
It is a fact that the appearance of Christ sharply divides pre-Christian and Christian ritual. In pre-Christian times ritual, which was very varied in form but universal in fact, demonstrated the deeper truths of life in liturgical pictures for the masses of the faithful. In Greece the ‘sacred drama of Eleusis’ presented the tragic loss by Demeter of her daughter Persephone to Hades, or Pluto, the god of the underworld. The parable of Isis, the goddess widowed through the murder of her husband Osiris, and the rescue of Isis by her son Horus, was a universal focussing point of religious thought and feeling in Egypt. In the Near East the cult of Adonis put before the devotees a picture of death and resurrection. In each one of these and many other similar rites the vital truth was taught in picture form, that the world of the human being has fallen into the grip of the dark powers of evil and destruction, but that this fallen world can be rescued and one day rise again. Perhaps it is beyond our powers of imagination, and certainly beyond our normal experience, to form an adequate picture of the shattering impact which these pictorial ceremonies must have had on those who witnessed them.
However, these ceremonies were only symbolic representations, outward and visible signs. They were the esoteric translations of the first—hand inspiration and secret knowledge possessed by the initiates. The esoteric events themselves, that is the direct intercourse with the spiritual world in full reality was strictly confined to the inner circle of the priests and initiates. They alone performed, in the inner sanctuary, the occult sacrifices through which the god appeared.
In contrast, Christian – ‘post-Christ’ – ritual is not merely a pictorial demonstration of metaphysical truths, although this plays into it. It is demonstration and real act all at once. The Christian Sacrament is the actual communication with the spirit-world in reality but this act of communication is not reserved for a secret society of officiating priests. It is open to all practising Christians. Christianity is a mystery religion in the sense that it communicates with the unseen but not in the sense that this is the privilege of a secret brotherhood of initiates.
In the fullness of time Christ stepped out of the unseen half of the world into the visible, and forged the essential link between the two. It is in his name that Christians continue to maintain this link in their sacraments. This is the significance of ‘the New Covenant’. Its origin lies in the dual being of Christ, his divine and human nature. At the Last Supper his historic human presence ‘instituted’ the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine; after his resurrection he ‘inspired’ the further use and development of this rite. In the Last Supper, before his death, Christ observed the ritual of his own people. ‘It becomes us to fulfil all righteousness’. The Passover, too, was more than an act of remembrance. The exodus from Egypt which it commemorated had been, for all its historic fact, a sacred drama with a deeper meaning: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’. After his resurrection Christ adopted and sanctioned also other rites. Rudolf Steiner made the astonishing statement that during the forty days between Resurrection and Ascension Christ walked spiritually through the mystery temples of the ancient world. Thus the sacrament of the Eucharist has ultimately grown from two sources: the Last Supper and the mystery temples. The process of this growth defies detailed analytical research, unless it can be observed by a higher consciousness.
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