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One further prominent aspect of Mary in Syriac tradition, however, deserves mention, even if only briefly. This concerns the parallelism that many Syriac writers bring out between the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, resulting in her conception, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the eucharistic bread and wine, and their resulting consecration. These two actions of the Holy Spirit serve, as it were, as assured paradigmatic models for the individual Christian who receives Communion; and these models are ones which each individual needs to strive to make her or his own. In a striking image, one anonymous early Syriac author speaks of the three churches that need to function in harmony at each celebration of the Liturgy: the church on earth, the church in heaven, and the internal ‘church’ of each individual Christian, for whom the heart—the spiritual centre of one’s being—is an altar. This internal altar is sometimes described also as a womb, and so providing a link with Mary’s birthgiving. The process of spiritual birthgiving, which should be the aim of Communion, is beautifully described in a long prayer for use before Communion by the eighth-century mystic of the Church of the East, Joseph the Seer. The prayer is addressed to Christ:...In the various Eucharistic prayers of the different Eastern Christian traditions, at the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, the priest prays, not only that the Holy Spirit should come upon the Eucharistic Gifts, but also ‘upon us’. Whereas the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gifts is assured, making them the Body and Blood, the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit ‘upon us’ will depend on whether or not the individual communicant accepts the Holy Spirit in the way that Mary did at the Annunciation: if they do, then the ensuing ‘birthgiving’ takes the form of a life whose sole aim is the imitation of Christ.
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