World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Together on the Way: 2.2. Anamnesis

Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania, explored the implications of "anamnesis" - "remembrance" - for the church and the world, lifting up the importance of anamnesis for the ecumenical movement. Delegates were given some silent time to reflect on his words before turning their attention to the second presentation.

04 December 1998

Anamnesis

by Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania

Celebrating, in the upland of Harare, the jubilee of the World Council of Churches, we recall an adventurous march of the Christians at the end of the second millennium. Assemblies: multiple meetings, struggles, successes, failures, enthusiasm and disappointment. But mainly marching on. With labour and pain. With vision and expectation. And now we have arrived at a landmark turning point for self-criticism and recommitment.1

1. Thousands of people from every nation and cultural tradition, representing hundreds of Christian communities and millions of people from throughout the world, are gathered at this place. The common link that binds all of us here: a series of remembrances of extraordinary events. But mainly, a specific remembrance, an anamnesis which is the main root of all the others.

A simple reminder of the themes of past assemblies2 reveals not only the conditions and the spiritual starting-point but also the longing of the quest. During these days, we will remember many aspects of this adventurous journey, with a doxological attitude for all the good that God has granted us, and simultaneously with a spirit of repentance for our mistakes and omissions. We will remember the keystones upon which our thinking was based in the previous assemblies: Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, God; disorder, hope, light, life, freedom, unity, renewal; the world, the whole creation, all things.

This jubilee of the WCC automatically opens to a second large circle: the march of the church during two millennia, with all its transforming presence, but also with its tragic adventures. This history is not a past which has been lost. It is the subconscious of what we experience today. All that we now are has been determined by the events that took place during the past twenty centuries. A community without memory or with intermittent memory is fraught with problems and fragile.

However, this second circle of remembrances is encompassed in a third circle, of enormous dimensions, which embraces the entire world, the whole of space and time. It is for its sake that the two first circles exist. The church steadfastly remains the community that remembers. How God, from the creation of the universe, during the flow of time, has guided, protected and blessed humanity, choosing individuals or entities who were based entirely on him. "I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember thy wonders of old" (Ps. 76 (77):11). The church recalls with gratitude and draws power and inspiration as it remembers. "You shall remember what the Lord your God did" (Deut. 7:18) was the order God gave to his people when he guided them from slavery to freedom. Later, this paschal event acquired a new meaning, a perspective and dynamism in the person of Christ.

2. This entire series of remembrances leads finally to the fundamental anamnesis which defines our Christian identity: the remembrance of the amazing intervention of God in the life of humanity. The remembrance, in faith and dedication, of the economy of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit determines our self-consciousness. It is from this that all other things begin and draw their meaning.

We know that memory forms a basic psychological mechanism, a complex function that is linked with human self-consciousness and the health of the human person. Generally, it may become less or more vivid. In the former case, it may become a simple, faint remembrance of some faraway past; in the latter, there is a strengthening of the memory through which the past becomes present and defines the future decisively. The whole of human civilization and all acquired knowledge are based on the ability to organize and take advantage of memory.

This aberration, the decline of memory, brings on a more general breakdown of the personality. I recall the case of a prominent professor at the University of Athens, whose memory was severely damaged in an accident. When meeting with his friends he used to say: "You know, I am professor S., who was one of the best university professors." It was evident that he was in decline. When one loses the ability to remember, one is in a tremendous crisis. Very often, we individual Christians or Christian communities resemble people or groups that are severely wounded because we have lost the vivid remembrance of Christian consciousness, or we retain the power of anamnesis only in a very feeble way.

3. The mainstay, which we steadily keep, remains the anamnesis of Christ's redemptive work which permeates our existence and continuously transforms it. The anamnesis is not a simple intellectual function; it is an action. It has an incomparably wider spectrum, which includes the element of thought and makes it an existential, personal event. As members of the eucharistic community we recall again to consciousness the economy of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection of Christ, his ascension, and Pentecost. We live them. We share in them. We do this not through our own human abilities but through the grace of the Holy Spirit, through the uncreated energy of God which accomplishes the sacraments.

"Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor.11:24), the Lord ordered "on the night when he was betrayed" (1 Cor. 11:23). The continuously proceeding divine energy culminates in the sacrament of the eucharist which has for twenty centuries formed the pivot of a Christian's worship. In liturgical language, the term "anamnesis" defines the core of the eucharistic anaphora, the consecrated offering.

Anamnesis is even broader. Beginning with Christ's words, "take, eat; this is my body" (Matt. 26:26; cf. Mark 14:23, 1 Cor. 11:24) and "drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant" (Matt. 26:27), it proceeds to the offering, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, culminates in the sanctification of the holy gifts and their sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, and is completed through holy communion, becoming a personal event. Thus, anamnesis becomes an incessant dynamic turning to the Triune God, the source of being; a grafting into Christ, a receiving of the Holy Spirit, an orientation that gives meaning to our life and to our march within space and time. Through the renewal of anamnesis the church maintains her vitality and truth.

4. Anamnesis is celebrated in the greatest variety of forms, depending on various traditions existing within the cultural frameworks of the peoples in the oikoumene. Some years ago I was in a magnificent cathedral in an Eastern European town. The cathedral had just been returned to the church after the persecution. The liturgy was sensational, with impressive richness. After the holy communion, sitting in a corner, I recalled the liturgy I had experienced some time earlier in a hut with a straw roof and a dirt floor in an African mountain village. I asked myself: Where would Christ feel more comfortable? There or here? Where is Christ's anamnesis more authentic? The answer came soon afterwards. There as well as here. Despite the outward differences, the element that determines the essence of the events is the same in both cases. The mystical presence of Christ, our sharing in his body and blood, the peak which the believers reach is just the same, the anamnesis of the unique event, of the keystone of universal history and the experience of it.

5. Experiencing the anamnesis while celebrating the divine eucharist in a church in the poor fringes of a big city or in a church in Albania ruined by absolute atheistic persecution or in a magnificent cathedral, we stop being isolated in our concrete narrow or more comfortable space. We enter the centre of the most essential events, which concern the whole cosmos. We come to live in the centre of the world's history, since we have become united with Christ, the Author and Saviour of the world. Thus, we are redeemed from whatever form of captivity we endure -- whether in our wealth or poverty, in our glory or obscurity, in our small or big egoistic shell.

Anamnesis binds us with the world in an essential way. It places us in the centre of the world's proceedings, of its pains, of its deepest quests. It reminds us that Christ's work of salvation concerns the entire world; it embraces the whole universe, earth and heaven, "all things". The church, "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph.1:23), cannot be shut in itself and take thought only for itself. The church lives "for the whole world". With its prayer, its message, its interests, its action, it embraces all the pains of humanity, the exploitation of individuals or groups, the multifaceted oppression of women and children, the local clashes, the global financial unrest and injustice, and deepening ecological threats. The church offers the holy gifts "in all and for all".

6. Of course, there exists always and everywhere a great danger for the anamnesis to become a mere simple celebration, cut off from life, from everyday action, from our wider planning. We often share in the liturgy, but nevertheless continue in injustice and among our passions, with egoism defining our life. Anamnesis does not act in a magical way. It needs to have an uninterrupted extension within life, to fertilize it, to radiate through our behaviour, to offer criteria for our plans, to illuminate our decisions, to support our acts. All of us who share consciously in the liturgy, the remembrance of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, must return to our daily routine in order to continue another type of liturgy, "a liturgy after the liturgy" (a motto proposed in Etchzmiadzin in 1975) on the daily altar of our personal responsibility, to perform our duty in the local setting, looking with a universal perspective.

All the problems that worry humanity today in this new period of globalization, all the issues that concern us in the ecumenical movement, are illuminated by this anamnesis with a particular light -- the light of Christ's truth, love and sacrifice; with a quiet optimism, as defined in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12); with the decision for a sacrificial diakonia, without being anxious about how we might become a majority, without the anguished pursuit of worldly power.

Anamnesis has a dynamism of metanoia and purification. Various complexities push us into conventional behaviour, into arrogance, into hypocrisy, into various self-centred expectations. Anamnesis brings us back to what is essential and true. Without absolute obedience to the will of God, without a readiness for sacrifice, without purity of heart, without unselfishness and courageous love, the uniqueness of Christians is lost.

In the ecumenical movement, we are often misguided by such currents. We speak about many issues while forgetting the essential element of our identity: living the anamnesis in the certainty that our power does not come from our own projects and decisions, but is found in how God acts in us through his church. Change of mind, change of life, turning towards God -- these mean renewal on the basis of the unique and eternal model which the crucified and resurrected Lord has left us. When we establish our programmes, the starting point, the standard reference, can only be anamnesis, the culmination of the love of God for the world. Experiencing it together with all that follows it makes us living cells of the church, his mystical body. This is what distinguishes us from all other human entities and human organisms, what purifies us from all other dangerous mingling.

7. Anamnesis does not simply refer to the past. It makes present the past and the future. Being a return into the centre of our consciousness, of the work of him "who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev. 1:8), the eternal and timeless, anamnesis supersedes classical categories of created time. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). "Remembering... the second glorious coming" (Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) opens our horizon to the eschata, to what is coming. In the eucharist, the events to come are named "already completed", because Christ, who is "the offerer and the offered", "is above space and time and of the characteristics of the created things" (Clement of Alexandria). This opens our souls towards the end of the world, when all things will be recapitulated in Christ (Eph. 1:9-12).

8. Thus, anamnesis becomes a source of doxology for all wonders the God of love has done within the history of the world, a spring of gratitude "for his inexpressible gift" (2 Cor. 9:15), a fountain of joy and exultation as we share in the festivity and the triumph of the saints, of those who experienced anamnesis with all their being. Anamnesis offers enlightenment, so that we can stand with respect and authentic love in front of each person and people, before the entire world. It gives us resistance for the present and hope for the future and determination to face the new challenges that will rise up in front of us.

In this way, anamnesis becomes renewal, an opening of the existence to space and time. It places us in the heart of history and creation -- so that we really become truly ecumenical, contemporary and universal.

  1. I shall present my thoughts on the theme anamnesis in eight points, referring symbolically to the eighth assembly.
  2. Amsterdam (1948): "Man's Disorder and God's Design". Evanston (1954): "Christ - the Hope of the World". New Delhi (1961): "Jesus Christ - the Light of the World". Uppsala (1968): "Behold I Make All Things New". Nairobi (1975): "Jesus Christ Frees and Unites". Vancouver (1983): "Jesus Christ - the Life of the World". (Canberra (1991): "Come, Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation".