Chapter 8 of Fr Michael Plekon’s work is dedicated to Fr Nicolas Afanasiev, “Explorer of the Eucharist, the Church, and Life in Them.” Fr Plekon’s intention is largely apologetical:
Fundamental to this revisiting of Afanasiev is my conviction that his work has significantly shaped our understanding of the Church and, perhaps more important, our life as Christians by returning to the source, the Eucharist. Yet the greatest criticism of Afanasiev’s vision is his alleged overemphasis on the completeness of the local eucharistic community, often understood by some commentators exclusively as the contemporary parish, and the insufficient weight he supposedly gives to the links between the local church and the universal Church. There are, as suggested, still other criticisms such as those of Metropolitan John Zizoulas, including his alleged lack of attention to the bishop and his supposedly overfunctional view of the ordained ministry. There are also those for whom many aspects of a eucharistic or communion ecclesiology are problematic, as responses to the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry document of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC indicate.Fr Plekon seeks to rebut the criticism made of Fr Afanasiev by such writers as Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), Fr John Meyendorff, Metropolitan John (Zizoulas), Peter Plank, and Fr John Erickson. Fr Michael argues as follows:
I want to argue here that Afanasiev’s grounding of the Church in the eucharistic assembly has become normative in theological discussion, even though his name is not always mentioned. Further, I contend that Afanasiev is sometimes unjustifiably accused of exaggerations or deficiencies. Most frequently, he has been taken to task for positions he did not hold, most notably that the local Church fairly well comprises the ecclesial reality, the larger expressions of the Church being merely quantitative collections and the universal Church merely an ideal. Furthermore, most critics pay little or no attention to Afanasiev as a person and to the significance of his personal witness and teaching for the Church and a number of important colleagues and students.Fr Afanasiev’s focus, however, was not purely academic. He was deeply concerned by what he considered the “eucharistic famine” or “tragedy” of Russian parish life. He was a proponent of such practices of “liturgical restoration” as “the fully audible chanting of the prayers of the liturgy by the celebrants, preaching at every liturgy and on the lectionary texts, fuller congregational participation in singing, and, most important, regular reception of communion by the faithful.” By this last point he meant, it seems, not simply frequent reception of Holy Communion, but the reception of Communion by all participants at all celebrations of the Liturgy. His response to the excuse of the unworthiness of the participants was as follows:
If personal unworthiness was indeed an impediment against receiving communion, then practically no one could ever be admitted to the Eucharist... The eucharistic gathering is the manifestation of the Church in all her fullness and all her oneness. Eucharistic communion is the very expression of life in the Church. If we eliminate eucharistic communion, then what is left of our life in the Church? Is prayer even temporarily able to replace communion? The prayer of the Church is prayer “in Christ,” but it is impossible to be “in Christ” apart from eucharistic communion with Him.But if one relativizes worthiness in this way, then the idea of preparation for communion becomes entirely moot. It’s with matters such as this that the liturgist sets himself up as the opponent of the pastoral theologian.