The Holy Eucharist: In Remembrance of Christ

The Holy Eucharist is given by the Lord “in remembrance of me(1 Cor. 11:25). First of all, in sensu realissimo, the Eucharist is the power of the Incarnation, the realized and abiding Divine-humanity, including all the faithful: “we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (10:17). The Divine Eucharist is the abiding of Christ in the world, His connection with the world, despite the ascension: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20) by the Holy Spirit, sent by Him into the world from the Father: “and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever…I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16, 18).  

Communion with the body and blood is therefore not yet all that the Eucharist signifies as the divine “It is finished” (John 19:30), as the sacrificial and abiding Incarnation. It is the sacrament of sacraments, the foundation of all the sacraments, and its accomplishing power is the Pentecost, the coming into the world of the Holy Spirit, who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you“ (14:26). “In remembrance of me [anamnesin]” and “to bring…to your remembrance [hypomnesei]” are closely connected, which is expressed in the fact that the “breaking of the bread” appears in the life of the Church only after the Pentecost, as the accomplishment of Divine humanity.

Thus, originally, in the apostolic age, the Divine Eucharist as the basis of all the sacraments was exclusively that which it is as the realization of the body of the Church as the body of Christ. Its essential character was not hierarchical but koinonic. That is, its character was one of sobornost, but this character was replaced as early as the second century by hierarchism, which, of course, did not completely eliminate it, but was capable of obscuring it. How this happened has to be explained by church history.” (Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, pp. 286-287).

Community and Communion

Georges Florovsky recalls the words of Tertullian: ‘Unus christianus, nullus christianus,’ that is, ‘an isolated Christian is not a Christian.’ A person who enters into the life of the Church thereby enters into the Body of Christ, which is the Church, in the mystery of communion. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul develops this important concept. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of communion, incorporates us not only into Christ as Person, but into the totality of the Body of Christ, which is inseparable from the Head. This new life includes our communion with the Body of Christ, where we are nourished by His Body, quenched by His Blood, and vivified by the Spirit who unites us into one body. This ‘Body’ contains not only the eucharistic assembly ‘here and now’, but the Church of all times, of all places – the communion of saints.

This point is crucial to our understanding of theology. My theology is not my theology, not even that of the group to which I belong, Rather, my theology has been formulated through living experience: the life and suffering of the saints since Pentecost – and even before Pentecost by the patriarchs and the prophets – in communion. The communion of the saints implies a communion of faith. This explains why the Orthodox Church does not accept intercommunion, which would make light of this profound unity, what Fr. Florovsky calls ‘ecumenism in time’. Communion of faith entails not only attempts to create unity with the dispersed members of churches in our world today, but also constancy in maintaining unity with our church fathers.”

(Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, pp 128-129).

Be Nourished by the Eucharist of Love

“For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”  (J0hn 6:55-58)

[St.] Isaac’s use of the symbolism of wine and inebriation is sometimes transformed into a Eucharistic symbolism which is characteristic of the Syriac tradition from [St.] Ephrem onwards. According to Isaac, love is food and drink, bread and wine, and these are at every hour given to those who love God:

“When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of the angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. ’He that eateth of this bread,’ he says, ’which I will give him, shall not see death unto eternity.’ Blessed is he who consumes the bread of love which is Jesus! He who eats love eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness saying, ’God is love’…Love is the kingdom where the Lord mystically promises his disciples [they will] eat in his kingdom.

For when we hear him say, ’Ye shall eat and drink at the table of  my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a man. This is the wine ’which maketh glad the heart of a man.’ Blessed is he who partakes of this wine!

Licentious men have drunk this wine and become chaste;

sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling;

drunkards have drunk this wine, and become fasters;

the rich have drunk it and desired poverty;

the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope;

the sick have drunk it and become strong;

the unlearned have taken it and become wise.”

(Hilarion AlfeyevThe Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, page 255-256)

In the Church We Live in Christ

“Hence the Church, in the Orthodox Tradition, is identified with the Sacrament of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist. She is a Sacramental Body of Christ and not a hierocratic institution. The eastern Church Fathers consider the nature of the Church as primarily and essentially a priestly mission of her divine Bridegroom (cf. Exod. 18:; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 5,10). In the Eucharistic service, the whole Church is associated with the sacrifice of Christ, united essentially with His flesh and blood, and transformed into the very body of Christ, Who is her Heart and Head (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 27)

‘When the Church partakes of them (the holy mysteries)’, John of Damascus and Nicholas Cabasilas write, ‘she does not transform them into the human body, as we do with ordinary food, but she is changed into them, for the higher and divine element overcomes the earthly one. When iron is placed in fire, it becomes fire; it does not, however, give fire the properties of iron; and just as when we see white-hot iron it seems to be fire and not metal, since all the characteristics of the iron have been destroyed by the action of the fire, so, if one could see the Church of Christ insofar as she is united to Him and share in His sacred body, one would see nothing other than the body of the Lord.’

Commenting on Saint Paul’s expression: ‘You are the body of Christ and members in particular’ (1 Cor. 12.27), Cabasilas adds:

If he called Christ the head and us the members, it was not that he might express…our complete subjection to Him…..but to demonstrate a fact – to wit, that from henceforth the faithful, through the blood of Christ, would live in Christ, truly dependent on that head and clothed with that body (1 Cor. 12.27).’” (Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, Introduction to Easter Patristic Orthodox Theology, pp 100-101)

Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts!

‘Let us lift up our hearts,’ says the celebrant, and the people answer: ‘We have lifted them up to the Lord.’

The Eucharist is the anaphora, the ‘lifting up’ of our offering, and of ourselves. It is the ascension of the Church to heaven. ‘But what do I care about heaven,’ says St. John Chrysostom, ‘when I myself have become heaven…?’ The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what ‘happens’ to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have ‘constituted’ the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

‘Let us lift up our hearts,’ says the celebrant. ‘We lift them up until the Lord,’ answers the congregation. ‘Let us give thanks unto the Lord’ (Eucharistisomen), says the celebrant.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do by give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

‘It is fitting and right to give thanks,’ answers the congregation, expressing in these words that ‘unconditional surrender; with which true ‘religion’ begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s ‘betting’. It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a ‘lack’ of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. ‘It is meet and right’ expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.”  (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the Worlds: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, pp 37-38)

The Eucharist: Nurturing Relationships

“The Eucharistic meal dynamically realizes and foreshadows the reversal of the stipulations of the natural need to receive nourishment: the bread and the wine in the Eucharist are shared in, not consumed individualistically, and the eating and drinking serve relation, not nature; life, not survival. Sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharist refers to the transformation not of mortals or of conduct but of mode of existence. That is why the Eucharist is the sign that reveals the Church’s identity, the event that realizes and manifests the Church.” (Christos Yannaras, Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, p 44)

Holy Communion is the common meal of the Christian community.  Communion cannot be separated from the community, nor is the community separate from the communicant.   We receive communion to inspire us to love one another and to abide in the community of love.

Confession as Love and Communion

“Our culture encourages us from an early age to be strong and assertive, to handle matters alone. Yet, for the spiritual wisdom of the early desert, such a way is false; it is, in fact, the way of the Devil. For ‘we are members one of another’ (Rom. 12:5), not islands unto ourselves. And the Orthodox spiritual way proposes a variety of contexts within which we may begin to open our hearts and affirm the communion that exists among us: these include the sacramental way of confessing to a parish priest and the spiritual way of sharing with an experienced elder, whether male or female. People need others because often the wounds that they feel are too deep to admit to themselves; sometimes, the evil is too painful to confront alone. The sign, then, according to the Orthodox spiritual way, that one is on the right track is the ability to share with someone else. This is, of course, precisely the essence of the sacrament of confession or reconciliation. Yet repentance (or metanoia) should not be seen in terms of remorse, but rather in terms of reconciliation, restoration, and reintegration. Confession is not some kind of transaction or deal; it defies mechanical definition and can never be reduced in a juridical manner merely to the – albeit significant – act of absolution.

Confession is not some narcissistic self-reflection. Sin is always understood in Orthodox spirituality as a rupture in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship of the world; otherwise metanoia could easily lead to paranoia. Instead, genuine confession always issues in communion; it is ultimately the ability to utter, together with at least one person, ‘Our Father’. It is the sacrament of the Eucharist, the mystery of communion, lived out day by day.” (John Chryssavgis in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, p 160)

The Eucharistic Fast

The fast of Great Lent is a form of abstinence practiced over an extended period of time in which certain foods are abstained from during the Lenten season and/or also food is abstained from for designated periods during the day –  for example, in the morning or until after Vespers.   Besides the periods of fasting of the various lenten seasons and the usual weekly fasting days in the Orthodox Church there is also a fast done in preparation for receiving Holy Communion.  Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas comments:

“In the beginning the Eucharist was celebrated within the context of an evening community meal, referred to as the agape or love feast. By the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, the celebration of the Eucharist was separated from the community meal and transposed to the early morning hours. From that time forward, every Eucharistic celebration is preceded by a fast, called the Eucharistic fast. The Eucharist is Christ himself. It is his sacrificed, risen, and glorified body, which is given to the faithful ‘for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.’ As such, it is the most precious of gifts, through which the life of God continually becomes the life of those who believe in him, receive him in faith, and abide in him. That is why the Eucharistic fast has become a fixed prerequisite for Holy Communion. It is meant to place the faithful in a state of readiness, vigilance, expectation, and anticipation for an encounter with the living God who calls his people to communion and holiness.

Participation in the Divine Liturgy, therefore, requires prayerful preparation, for we stand on holy ground in the presence of the Triune God (Ex. 3:4-7). Hence, in preparation for this profound experience, we are called to quietness, abstinence, and forebearance, to a quickening of body and soul that we may receive the King of all. Fasted from the night before, as a sign of spiritual vigilance and awareness, we approach the Holy Table ‘with the fear of God, with faith, and with love,’ to receive the Holy Gifts as the first meal of the day and as the essential food of life.”  (Essays in Theology and Liturgy, pp 166-167)

Respecting the Lord at the Liturgy

St. Paul in his epistles to the various parish communities that he worked with frequently deals with practical community issues.    Obviously even in the very first local churches and from the very beginning of Christianity,  Christian leaders had to deal with the age old problem that people will be people.  So in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34  St. Paul takes to task the parish at Corinth for their misbehavior during their Eucharistic celebration.  St. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it,  for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—  if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Fr. Paul Tarazi commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 writes:

Even more serious is the misconduct during the Lord’s supper, an occasion for which the Corinthians gather to become one Messianic community in practice as well as in belief. Notice Paul’s use of the expressions ‘come together as a church; (synerkhomai en ekklesia; v.18) and ‘come together in one place’ (or ‘for the same purpose’; synerkhomai epi to avto; v. 20) as well as the repeated occurrence of ‘come together’ (synerkhomai; vv. 17, 33, 34). The believers are not themselves ipso facto ‘the church’ but are called to gather as one. And it is always the Lord who defines that gathering: the calling (kerysso) is through his word and the matter at hand is his supper (vv.20), which is not a potluck dinner (vv. 21-22)!

[…]  Therefore (v.27), let us watch our conduct at the Lord’s suppers. These gatherings are a test (vv. 28-29) as to whether we realize that the Lord seated at the head of the table is none other than the one coming to judge us. They are opportunities for us (v. 31) to be judged by him and chastened (v. 30) for the purpose of instruction (paidevometha, v.32a), lest at his coming we be judged worthy of condemnation (v. 32b). Therefore, let us behave at these suppers in accordance with the host’s will, that we love our neighbor (v. 33); if we fail to do that we shall indeed be condemned (v. 34)!”   (The New Testament Introduction: Paul and Mark, pp 68-69)

Humans: Flesh and Body (II)

This is the 20th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Humans: Flesh and Body (I).

“To be sure, the body remains central because of Christianity’s insistence that the salvation process is worked by Christ’s physical incarnation and physical resurrection.  In Syriac the same term is used to mean both ‘salvation’ and ‘life’ (hayye).  We know our fallen condition through the corruptibility and mortality of the body; we will know salvation through its incorruptibility and immortality as revealed in original creation.  The most prevalent image for salvation in early Syriac literature is that of healing.  Christ is the Treasury of Healing and Medicine of Life, a title also commonly employed for the Eucharist. . . . For early Syriac writers, then, Christianity was located in the body because the body, in the most literal sense, was what God had fashioned in the beginning and where God had chosen to find us in our fallenness.  This was why God acted through the incarnation.  Ephrem declares, ‘Glory to You who clothed Yourself with the body of mortal Adam, and made it a fountain of life for all mortals!’  This, too, explains the ritual process of the liturgy, as one enacted in and with the body.  Ephrem evokes the liturgy as that which teaches us not only how to experience with our bodies, but further, what to experience.  . . .  The healing of the sacraments restores our oneness of being and our appropriate sensory experience.  Yet there is more to be done.  In the body of Christ, the cosmic war between good and evil was fought in earnest.  Our bodies are the battleground in which the struggle between God and Satan, good and evil, life and death continues.”   (Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Embodiment in Time and Eternity: A Syriac Perspective’, SVTQ Vol 43 No 2 1999, p 114-115)

The early Christian assertion, “God became human so that humans might become God”, became central to the Christian understanding of salvation.   “God became human” is the incarnation of God the Word in Jesus Christ, the God-man.  It is only because Jesus is both fully human and fully divine that salvation for all humanity occurs.   His death on the cross alone is not sufficient for salvation.  All of the later theories of substitutionary death and satisfaction coming through the crucifixion of Jesus, are in Orthodox theology meaningless without the truth of the incarnation of God in the flesh.  We are saved in Christ because in Him God and humanity are united together again.  We experience the salvation of Jesus Christ in our bodies in and through the sacraments.  Our bodies are essential for our salvation!   We find this also asserted in writings attributed to the 4th Century Saint Macarius of Egypt  [Today most scholars believe these writings came from a monk in the 5th or 6th Century and were not written by St. Macarius the Great, and so often the writings are attributed to “Pseudo-Macarius”].

CreationAdamEve“And so God, who made your body, did not give it life from its very own nature nor from the body itself, nor from the food, drink, clothing, and footwear that he gave the body, but he arranged it that your body, created naked, should be able to live by means of such extrinsic things as food, drink, and clothing.  (If the body were to attempt to exist only by its own constituted nature without accepting these exterior helps, it would deteriorate and perish.)  In a similar way, it is so with the human soul.  It does not have by nature the divine light, even though it has been created according to the image of God.  For, indeed God ordered the soul in his economy of salvation according to his good pleasure that it would enjoy eternal life.  It would not be because of the soul’s very own nature but because of his Divinity, of his very Spirit, of his light, that the soul should receive its spiritual meat and drink and heavenly clothing which are truly the life of the soul.

As therefore, the body, as was said above, does not have life in itself, but receives it from outside, that is, from the earth, and without such material things of the earth it cannot live, so also the soul, unless it be regenerated into that ‘land of the living’ (Ps 27:13) and there be fed spiritually and progress by growing spiritually unto the Lord and be adorned by the ineffable garments of heavenly beauty flowing out of the Godhead, without that food in joy and tranquility, the soul cannot clearly live.

For the divine nature has the bread of life who said: ‘I am the bread of life’ (Jn 6:35), and ‘the living water’ (Jn 4:10), and the ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man’ (Ps 104:15), and ‘the oil of gladness’ (Ps 45:8), and the whole array of food of the heavenly Spirit and the heavenly raiment of light coming from God.  In these does the eternal life of the soul consist.  Woe to the body if it were to rely solely on its own nature, because it would by nature disintegrate and die.  Woe also to the soul if it find its whole being in its own nature and trusts solely in its own operations, refusing the participation of the Divine Spirit because  it does not have the eternal  and divine life as vital part of itself.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 43)

Neither the human body or soul by themselves can find the way to salvation.  Each needs to be nourished by God and they need to be nourished together since a human is an ensouled body or embodied soul.   There is no salvation apart from the human body as God in the incarnation shows the physical world is completely spiritual as well and capable of being united to divinity.   The Holy Mysteries of the Church, the sacraments, nourish both soul and body together bringing them to salvation.  This salvation is truly cosmic and involves the entire universe.

thestarrynight“The entire Cosmos thus participates by representation in the preparation of the matter used by the Church sacramentally and in other ways.  And it in this fashion that the entire cosmos offers its praise. With specific reference to the Eucharist, the wheat and the grapes are the offering of the community that is the Cosmos, the offering of the dust clouds in space, the stars, the Earth and other planets, of bacteria and fungi, of plants and animals. This offering is transformed into bread and wine by human labor and skill, and it receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, an offering to God by man, the priest of the Cosmos. Man depends on the Cosmos for the matter that makes up his and her body and for the matter that is used sacramentally; reciprocally, the Cosmos depends on Man to complete its own offering. Thus the seventh-century saint Leontius of Cyprus wrote:

Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through relics and church buildings, and the Cross, and angels and men—through all creation, visible and invisible, I offer veneration to the Creator and master and Maker of all things. For creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God; through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dew and all creation, venerate God and give him glory. In the Eucharist we offer, in this piece of bread and in this cup of wine, the entire Cosmos and every living creature including ourselves—everything from the tiniest particles of matter to the farthest reaches of space, as well as the fruits of human labor in all places and all times.4 We thus come to see that the Eucharist is central to the Cosmos. And it is the Eucharist that enables us to recognize more clearly that the Cosmos is transparent to Christ, who shines through all matter.”  (G Theokritoff, Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle  Loc. 2934-49)

It is in and through empirical creation that God reveals Himself to us and unites Himself to us bringing us from life in this world to life in the world to come.  It is how in and through bread that Christ is revealed to us and how we can eat His body to gain eternal life.  The Lord Jesus said,

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”   (John 6:51-56). 

Next:   Humans: Flesh and Body (III)