Holy Thursday (2018)

On Holy Thursday we contemplate the institution of the Mystical Supper – we realize that Christ gave His Body and Blood for the life of the world so that we can partake of salvation! The institution of the Eucharist by our Lord is something we not only think about, but actually receive when we come to the Liturgy this evening.

O how manifold and ineffable this communion! Christ became our brother, partaking of the same flesh and blood with us, and through them became like us. Through his blood He has redeemed us for Himself as true servants. He has made us His friends (cf. John 15:14-15) partaking of this blood He has bound and betrothed us to Himself as a bridegroom his bride, and become one flesh with us. He feeds us not only with blood instead of milk, but with His own body, and not only His body but also His Spirit. In so doing, He always preserves undiminished the nobility given to us by Him, leads us towards greater longing, and grants us to fulfill our desire, not only to see Him but also to touch Him, to delight in Him, to take Him into our hearts, and for each of us to hold Him in our inmost selves.

Come, He says, those of you who have set your heart on eternal life, eat My body and drink My blood (cf. John 6:53), that you may not only be in God’s image, but, by clothing yourselves in Me, the King and God of heaven, you may be eternal and heavenly gods and kings, feared by demons, admired by angels, beloved sons of the celestial Father, living forever fairer than the children of men (cf. Ps. 45:2), a delightful dwelling place for the sublime Trinity. (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp. 464-465)

Holy Thursday (2017)

“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.”  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

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On Holy Thursday, our Lord instituted the Eucharist, blessing the bread and wine, declaring them to be His Body and Blood and giving them to His disciples at the Mystical Supper.   As is normative in the Church, our commemoration of the Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples makes Christ present for us today.  We are with the disciples contemplating the Mystery which Christ places before us:  the bread and wine of the Passover transformed into His Body and Blood.   In a prayer from the Didache, a late First Century Christian document, we find the following prayer of the Eucharist:

“As this broken bread, once scattered over the mountains was gathered into one,

So gather Your Church together from the ends of the earth, in your Kingdom.

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Yes, to You be glory and power

Through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever.

We give you thanks, O holy Father,

For Your Holy name

That you have caused to dwell in our hearts,

For the gnosis, the faith, and the immortality,

That you have granted us through Jesus your servant,

Glory to you through the ages!

You it was, O all-powerful Master,

Who created the universe, to the praise of your Name:

You have given men food and drink

That they may enjoy them

And give you thanks.

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But You have favoured us

With a spiritual food and drink

And with eternal life through your servant.

We give you thanks above all

Because you are mighty!

Glory to you in the ages.

Remember, Lord, to deliver your Church

From all evil, and to perfect it in Your love.

Gather together from the four winds

The Church that You have sanctified

In the Kingdom that you have prepared for it.

For to You is the power and the glory

for all ages!

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May your grace come and the world pass away!

Hosannah to the God of David!

If anyone is holy, let him come:

If he is not, let him do penance,

Marana, tha!

Amen.”

(Louis Bouyer, The Spirit of the New Testament & the Fathers, pp. 178-179)

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Of Your Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant! Holy Week is not focused only on past historical events, it is focusing on our relationship today with Jesus Christ our Lord.  We live in Christ in the present, not in the past.

Holy Thursday 2016

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“In all of these savings deeds, God stoops down to His people. All that the Scriptures say about God’s walking, descending, bending down, being with, helping, bringing to birth, carrying, and so on, are simply different ways of describing God’s gracious condescension. Because man will not bow down to God, God, in His infinite humility, bows down to man. On the night He was betrayed, Christ set aside his garments, and stooped down to wash the feet of a man who would deny him three times (Jn. 13. 4-6). That’s how God was with the people of Israel. That’s how He is with everyone.”  (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra , The Way of the Spirit,  p 301)

God is humble, and humbly serves us.  God the Son became a servant in order to serve and to save us.  He washes His disciples feet as an act of humble service before offering His life – His body and blood- for the salvation of the world.  He serves  us His Body in the Liturgy, the institution of which we celebrate on Holy Thursday evening.  St. Ignatius of Antioch says:

“I have no desire for corruptible food or for the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God that is the flesh of Jesus Christ, of David’s seed, and I want his blood as my drink that is love incorruptible.”  (Ignatius Of Antioch & Polycarp Of Smyrna: A New Translation and Theological Commentary, Kindle Loc. 2202-3)

Christ offers Himself up to become the Bread of Life.

“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.”  (J0hn 6:51-56)

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Next:   Holy Friday 2016

Holy Thursday (2015)

Christianity is a religion of both anticipation and fulfillment. The Old Testament anticipates the New. Our life in the Church anticipates our life in the Kingdom of God which is to come.

“When the disciples asked Christ where they should prepare the Passover meal, they were of course talking about the Jewish Passover. And that was what they prepared. ‘Whereas our Passover, the Christian Passover, has been prepared by Christ. And He has not only prepared it, but He Himself has become the Passover.’ At the Last Supper, Christ celebrated both the Jewish and the Christian Passover, ‘both the Passover that was the type and the Passover that was the reality. Christ was doing exactly what an artist does when on the same canvas he first draws an outline and puts in the shading, and then adds the actual colors. At the very same table, He both sketched out the Passover that was a type and added in the true Passover.’ (St. John Chrysostom)”   (Hiermonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 3)

God had placed the first humans He created in a garden filled with luscious fruits to be eaten at will. Food was thus given as a way for us to commune with our Creator. At the last supper, we see fruit – the grape – now crushed into wine – being transfigured into the Blood of Christ.   The world crushes the grape to make wine; Christ uses the wine to restore us to health.   Food becomes communion with God again.

“Before Christ was crucified, He celebrated the Divine Liturgy (c.f. Luke 22:19-20) – the remembrance of His Passion on the Cross. And He commanded us to celebrate it in the same way: to recall those things that seem ‘to betoken weakness, namely the Cross, the Passion and death’.   Why, we may ask, when Christ said, ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’, did He not add ‘…which raised the dead, which healed lepers’, but only ‘…which is broken for you, which is poured out for your sake’? Why does He not recall His miracles, but rather His Passion? ‘Because the Passion was more necessary than the miracles… His Passion is the very cause of our salvation…. Whereas the miracles took place in order that it might be believed that the Lord is truly the Savior.’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas) Miracles are a confirmation of Christ’s divinity; the holy Passion offers us salvation and Christ the Savior.” (Hiermonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY: A COMMENTARY IN THE LIGHT OF THE FATHERS, p 72)

Salvation gives not just sanity to our minds, or eternity to our souls, it brings healing to our bodies as well. And not only to our bodies, but all of creation is transformed by the death and resurrection of Christ through whom the world was created and redeemed.

Church Etiquette

Many of the issues we face in church etiquette are not new problems but have been part of the struggle of Christian communities for centuries. Take for example the words of Bishop Martyrius (early 7th Century, Kirkuk, Iraq):

“I shudder to mention something else that is the most dreadful thing of all done by people who show contempt: at that dread moment which makes even the rebel demons shake, I mean at that awesome point when the Divine Mysteries are consummated, when angels and archangels hover around the altar in fear and trembling, as Christ is sacrificed and the Spirit hovers, many of these people will, on one occasion wander about outside, on another will come in according to their whim and stand there, showing their contempt by yawning as though at their excessive burden, being tired of standing up. At the moment when the priest is making this great supplication on their behalf, deep sleep gets the better of them, so slack are they; at this moment which causes even the dead to awaken, here are these people, fully alive and supposedly running after perfection, nevertheless sunk in sleep, or wandering about, waiting expectantly for when they can quickly leave their place of confinement; for the Jerusalem of light and life is like a prison to these people — the place where Father, Son and Spirit dwell, where spiritual beings and the bands of saints together give praise and glory before God in holy fashion. And once they have received the Living Sacrament they push their way out in haste, before the communal thanksgiving is made. They never quit and leave the Table of the Bread of Spiritual Life in a matter of fact way, without rendering thanks to God, not even with words merely on their lips.

 .  .  .  Judas did exactly the same thing, for once he had received the bread, he went outside, showing contempt for his Master and his fellow apostles by going off. It was for this reason that Satan entered him and he became the traitor of the Master. The other apostles, however, remained with their Master, giving praise and going our to the Mount of Olives.”

(in THE SYRIAC FATHERS ON PRAYER AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, pp 215-216)

St. Justin the Martyr on the Eucharist

On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Last Supper, the Mystical Supper, which Christ held with His disciples.  This is the institution of the Holy Eucharist, our union with the Incarnate Lord.

“This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing [Baptism] for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s work took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which flesh and blood and nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”  (St.Justin the Martyr 150 A.D. in Alkiviadis C. Calivas’ book Essays in Theology and Liturgy Volume Three – Aspects of Orthodox Worship, pg.164)

Archbishop Seraphim of Canada Arrested

News about the arrest and charging of Archbishop Seraphim of Canada on two counts of child sexual assault circulated widely yesterday (American Thanksgiving Day).  You can read articles: CTV Edmonton, Canada.com, Global Winnipeg,  The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The arrest means Canadian authorities believe the allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a trial.   The OCA’s Synod of Bishops had in their recent meeting (November 15-18) also approved a commission to look into these allegations.

However painful such a story is for the Church, the Church as an institution was called into existence to deal with sin in the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The purpose of the Church is to deal with sin and sinners, and now we will see how the Church, with its very human leaders deals with sin and sins, not only in the world, but in the Church.

While news within the church of allegations of misconduct comes as a shocking surprise and is often met with incredulity, I am much reminded of the Gospel lesson of the Last Supper as recorded in  Mark 14:16-23 (and the parallel account in Matthew 26:19-30):

And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

Images of the last supper resonate with us not only because of Holy Thursday and iconography but more because of Holy Communion which we receive each week.  We understand the event of the Mystical Supper to be one of high points of the liturgical remembrance of Christ during Holy Week – for Communion becomes our real participation in the life of Christ, in His death and resurrection as members of His Body.

In the midst of this Mystical and sacramental participation in Christ, we see the Twelve Disciples one by one verbalizing the fear of their own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?!?”  For Christ informs them around the Eucharistic table that one of them is going to betray Him.   Each disciple does not express the firm conviction and disbelief, “No!  It is not true, don’t say that, Lord.”  They each do not ask, “How can you say that, Lord?”  Rather each one asks aloud, “Is it I, Lord?”   Is it I, chosen apostle, one of the Twelve, who will betray you?  They each knew themselves.

What a scene!  The chosen and holy apostles each is able to vocalize that dreaded fear, “Is it I who will betray you, Lord?”  For each in that moment realized the truth and the depth of his own heart:  for each it was a possibility.  We each need to think about this truth before we rush to judgment or lose all faith in the Apostles or the Apostolic Church.   “Is it I, Lord, who can betray you?”  “Is it I, Lord, who does betray you by my sins?”

We deceive ourselves if we believe that church leaders are sinless for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  All includes priests, bishops, apostles, and saints.   We each stand in church as sinners, perhaps penitents, perhaps seeking forgiveness and mercy, perhaps redeemed by Christ, but sinners nonetheless. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10)

This is the reality the Church claims to believe.  It is not for nothing that before receiving the Eucharist we recite in the creedal prayer, “Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss.”   The incredible truth about us as disciples is we are human and we are capable of betraying Christ – not only that, but betraying Him by the kiss of peace.   We do contemplate Judas each Holy Week as well, as a reminder of what it is to be human.

The reality of humans, the reality which God so grudgingly acknowledges in Genesis 6:6 and 8:21 in the story of Noah and the great flood, is that there is evil in the heart of humans even from when we are young. 

We are created in God’s image and likeness, capable of bearing God in us, capable of theosis.  We also are beings in whose hearts evil can and does dwell.  Both are the truths about humanity, and both are supposed to be included in how the Church sees itself, its members, and the world.  In the Church we deal with truth, even when it is painful and cuts to the heart.  “Is it I, Lord?”

Holy Thursday (2010) Sermon Notes

Tonight we commemorate the Mystical Supper – the last meal Christ ate with His disciples before His death and Resurrection.  We call it the Mystical Supper because Christ gave the bread and wine of the Passover Meal new meaning and importance by declaring we are to eat this meal in memory of Him, and by saying the bread and wine have mystically become His Body and His Blood.  We tonight enter into that story as the other disciples of Christ – we too are invited to the Mystical Supper, to the table with the other disciples, invited by our Lord Jesus Christ.   We are not simply remembering a 2000 year old historical event, nor are we merely re-enacting it.   Rather we are “remembering” the event.  How can we “remember” something we weren’t there to witness?   Because the remembering of the Liturgy places us in the event.  We are receiving this Body and Blood of Christ with the first apostles, not in the upper room, but in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We join the Communion of the Apostles whose icon is ever before in this church.  We are receiving the Body and Blood of the risen Lord – we already know the resurrection, we are not pretending to go back to a time before the resurrection.    Time is not of the essence in the mystical celebration of an historical event.   We enter into the Gospel story fully knowing the end of the story.  We know what the disciples did not know, but we don’t go back in time to a date in which we too don’t know that is to happen.  The Gospel writers wrote the story years after the Resurrection and the Gospel narrative assumes we have a knowledge of the Resurrection.   The Gospel writers, the Gospel we read, and we ourselves all see the story of the Mystical Supper from the vantage point of Knowing Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.    The Gospel narrative didn’t end with the crucifixion of Christ, nor was it written before the Resurrection was known and proclaimed.   So we see the story, hear the story and participate in the Last supper as believers in the Resurrection.  The only Christ we know is the Risen CLord.   We know what even the chosen 12 Disciples did not know on the night that Jesus was given up, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.  Our faith in Jesus Christ risen from the dead brings us to the same table as the original 12 chosen disciples.    Our faith brings us into the Gospel story and places us in the presence of all of these who have believed.  Our communion is not only with Christ, but also with His chosen 12, with Mary His mother, and with all the martyrs and saints who have believed throughout history.

We are not re-enacting the events of 2000 years ago.  We are not trying to walk along and experience what Christ experienced, or what the disciples experienced.

Christ for us is always the RISEN LORD.   We are not searching for the historical Jesus, for we believe in the RISEN Lord.  The Gospel lessons were written by those who already knew and believed in Christ risen from the dead.

We view all of the events of Christ’s life from the vantage point of the resurrection, of God’s victory over sin, death, Satan and all evil.

We don’t pretend that the suffering of Christ is unbearable.  For we know the Gospel Story of Christ through our faith  in Who He IS, not through who what the disciples didn’t understand of failed to believe.   Though it is true that our reaction to the Risen Christ may be the same incredulity and misunderstanding that the disciples themselves demonstrated. 

We now stand with all those who believe in the resurrection of Christ.  We stand tonight with those who know who Jesus is – the Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead.   The details in the 4 Gospel accounts do differ at points, but the faith of the Evangelists in Jesus Christ as Lord, risen from the dead, is one and the same in all 4 Gospels.   Our experience is of this same Jesus Christ.  The details of what happened are not quite as important as the truth about who Jesus is, and who we all receive into our hearts and lives when we believe in Him, when we hear proclaimed the Gospel, and when we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist.

Great & Holy Thursday (2010)

COMMUNING WITH CHRIST

The Master saith, My time is near at hand, with thee I make the pasch with My disciples.”  

The Communion of the Apostles

“With my disciples…” because the Master’s pasch is always social. It is never only individual. Even if it is a question of that invisible Last Supper which Jesus can celebrate at any moment in the upper room of my soul, this room must remain open to all of Christ’s disciples. If I am with Jesus, I have to be with Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul and all the apostles, and all those who either in past centuries or today, have been or are the Savior’s disciples. Jesus speaks of His disciples in these terms: “Go, tell My brethren…” I cannot isolate myself from the Savior’s brethren without separating myself from Him. I must commune with them in the same faith, with the same affection. 

(A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: A Dialog with the Savior)

On Holy Thursday, we also commemorate the Lord Jesus Christ humbling himself to become a servant to His disciples – washing their feet.  He taught  us to imitate Him in this way of love, servant leadership (John 13:1-16).

“Let the rulers of nations exercise lordship over them, but let the rulers of the Church be to it as servants”…In recognizing in the Church the existence of power other than that of love, one diminishes or even denies grace, for this would be to diminish or deny the common charism of love without which there could be no ministry.  ((Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pg. 275)

Christ came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)

Holy Thursday: The Restoration of Life as Communion with God

mysticalsupper02St. Vladimir’s Seminary sent out those on their mailing list an excerpt from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book on HOLY WEEK.   The entire passage is beautiful, but I will quote her part extrememly relevant to Holy Thursday and the commemoration of the Last Supper – the institution of the Holy Eucharist.   Unfortunately in Orthodox piety the Vespers-Liturgy which celebrates Christ’s instituting the Eucharist is often made a less important liturgical service than doing the Matins of Holy Friday with its 12 Gospel readings.  But it is in the Upper Room, in the washing of the disciple’s feet and in Christ saying the words of consecration that we are given to understand the sacrificial nature of His voluntary death on the cross.    Perhaps one day there will be the liturgical revival that will restore the services to their proper times and which will make the Vespers-Liturgy of Holy Thursday as central to Orthodox piety as it is to our theology.

God is Love (1 John 4:8).  And the first gift of Love was life.  The meaning, the content of life was communion.  To be alive man was to eat and drink, to partake of the world.  The world was thus Divine Love made food, made Body of man.  And being alive, that is, partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content, and the end of his life.  Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God.  Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God; transformed it into life in God and with God.  The love of God gave life to man; the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God.  This was paradise.  Life in it was, indeed, Eucharistic.  Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence, and man was the priest of the sacrament. 

But in sin man lost this Eucharistic life.  He lost it because he ceased to see the world as means of communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving.  He loved himself and the world for their sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life.  He thought that his hunger and thirst – that is, the dependence of his life on the world – could be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such.  But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning as means of communion with God; once they are not received for God’s sake, and filled with hunger and thirst for God; once, in other words, God is no longer their real ‘content,’ can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves.  And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires.  And he died.  For death is the only inescapable ‘decomposition’ of life cut from its only source and content.  Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death.    His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world; he ceased to be its priest and became its slave.  And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and ‘sat in the region and shadow of death’ (Matthew 4:16). 

But if man betrayed God, God remained faithful to man.  He did not ‘turn Himself away forever from His creature whom H had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy ‘ (from the Liturgy of St. Basil).  A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation.  And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God, who, in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of life.  And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted, and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God.  He rejected the basic human temptation: to live ‘by bread alone’; He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man.  And this perfect Eucharistic Life, filled with God, and therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who believe in Him, that is, find Him the meaning and content of their lives.  Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper.  He offered Himself as true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the truth Life.  And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine ‘take, eat…’ (for eating is life for man) comes now ‘unto the end’ with the Divine ‘take, eat, this is My Body…’ (for God is life for man).  The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, HOLY WEEK: A LITURGICAL EXPLANATION FOR THE DAYS OF HOLY WEEK