Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
THE MYSTICAL SUPPER
[source:The Orthodox Church by John Anthony McGuckin]
If Baptism and Chrismation are the mystical synopses of the whole pattern of the Lord's economy of salvation, by means of which His Church is brought in to the shared experience of His Saving death and Resurrection, and into the pentecostal gift of His Most Holy Spirit, then the Holy Eucharist is the mystical drama of that salvation given to us, as a renewable feast, in a great spirit of joy. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the churches is the repeated entrance into the one great act of Christ's self-sacrificing in His Passion. It is not the death and Resurrection of the Lord happening time after time (for this mystery was once and for all and cannot ever be repeated); rather, it is the recurring admission of time-bound creatures into the once-for-allness of the supreme eschatological mystery of the Lord's redemption. The Church experiences the Eucharist therefore, as truly the sacrifice of the Lord's Body and Blood, His sacred and redeeming Passion. But it is a joyful experience; for this death and sacrifice are at one and the same moment the glorious Resurrection, and the effusion of the light and energy of the worshipping Church in the gift of the Spirit.
The Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Eucharist, while certainly being a Sacrifice in the sense of the entrance of the Church into the great sacrifice of praise that Christ offered to the Father from His obedience on the Cross, is also a sacrifice to Christ, as well as to the Father and the Holy Spirit...It has long been understood, and accepted, in the Church, that the offering of this great "sacrifice of praise" is for the physical support of the believers (the blessing of their homes and lives) not simply for spiritual benefit; and so those who are in need will often ask the priest to pray particularly for them. We can see this practice at work from ancient Christian times.
In the course of the Divine Liturgy, therefore, all the elements of the Lord's saving ministry are summed up, recapitulated, as it were, and re-experienced by His faithful throughout history. The Eucharistic Liturgy begins with prayers, moves on to the record of the earthly ministry through the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the Gospel, recalls the High-Priestly prayer of the Lord, and His Mystical Supper, witnesses the descent of the Spirit and shares the Eucharistic Gifts to the sound of hymns of the Resurrection. All the prayerful oblation of the Church runs to the Father, but only with and through the Spirit, and with an in the Word (Logos) Who became flesh for this very purpose, to bring all the world back to the knowledge of the One God. This is why the ancient prayers are so fundamentally Trinitarian in their structure and conception (something that is especially seen in the constantly reiterated Trinitarian Doxologies).
When the faithful receive the mysteries (a word which par excellence is used to refer to the Gifts of the Eucharistic bread and wine) they have entered beyond time and space into a communion with the Lord of history, one which is the prelude and prefigurement of their future union in Paradise.
The reception of the Holy Eucharist is, therefore, one of the great religious events in the of the Orthodox faithful. It may be something that happens many hundreds of times in the course of a life, but it is a single event into which one feels continually 'initiated', and the depths of which are continually extended, according to the development of the disciple's faith, so that even if one were to receive these gifts every day of one's life, for eight decades, one could not plumb it all. Orthodoxy understands the continual reception of the Holy Mysteries to be necessary for the normal growth of the sacred charismas that underpin maturity in discipleship.
Early in the second century Saint Ignatius of Antioch called the Holy Eucharist the "medicine of immortality" (pharmakia tes athanasias). Saint Cyril of Alexandria described how it was an encapsulation not only of the Redemptive Passion and death of the Lord, but also of the manner in which His Incarnation had deified the human race. For Saint Cyril, as the Incarnation transfigured human flesh with the presence of the indwelling deity, so the deifying gift of the Holy Eucharist utterly changes and transfigures the believer who receives it. It is not merely symbolic bread and wine that reminds us of the presence of the Lord. In the Orthodox Church it is recognized as that very presence in deed and in face: the glorified Body of the Lord, in all His radiant resurrectional power and grace, given in supreme humility to His Disciples in the nourishing form of the most homely of all expressions of utter intimacy: bread and wine.
Orthodoxy sees the Holy Eucharist as a mystery (sacrament) of reconciliation and healing. Those who are sick are strongly encouraged to attend the Holy Eucharist with great regularity than before. This is offered by the Church as the primary step towards healing, one to be taken even before thinking of calling in a doctor. For Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the Divine Eucharist is a deifying drug: "For so the Immortal Body, when it passes into us who receive it, changes the entire body into its own Nature…It is not otherwise possible for our body to become immortal, except that it participates in immortality through that which is itself incorruptible." The Orthodox believe, and sense, that each reception of the Holy Mysteries takes them further into the mystery of the Christ-life, heals and deifies them, protects them and their homes from innumerable troubles.
The Holy Eucharist is preserved in all the Orthodox churches, usually on the altar, or near the altar, in a special gilded vessel. In ancient times this vessel was often fashioned in the shape of a silver dove. The main purpose of the reservation was the have the Holy Eucharistic Gifts available for any of the sick or dying that required them in an emergency, so that the priest would be able to take them day or night. In ancient times the deacons are often recorded as having taken the Gifts to the confessors in prison for the faith.
At one moment when the Cherubikon hymn is being chanted to a slow and solemn melody, the priest prepares himself to commence the Eucharistic prayer proper, and so bends down over the altar and says this prayer quietly:
None of those who are entangled in carnal desires and pleasures is worthy to approach you, or draw near to You, or serve You, O King of Glory; for to serve You is a great and awesome thing, even for the heavenly powers. Nevertheless, on account of Your inexpressible and measureless love for mankind, You became man without change or alteration, and were named our High Priest; and as Master of All You have committed to us the sacred ministry of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice. You alone, O Lord our God, are Ruler of all things in heaven and on earth: enthroned upon the Cherubim, Lord of the Seraphim, and King of Israel, the Only Holy One Who rests in the Holy Place...
One of the short prayers said together by priest and faithful just before the congregation communicates recalls the ancient discipline of the arcana, when the mysteries were kept secret from the uninitiated:
Of Your Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Your mysteries to Your enemies; nor like Judas will I give You a kiss but like the thief will I confess You: Remember me O Lord in Your Kingdom.
Before the priest calls the faithful to the altar to receive from the chalice, he breaks up the leavened bread, which has now been consecrated, into four parts, according to the way the Lamb has been stamped in the baking process with the letters IC XC NIKA, signifying: 'Jesus Christ has the victory'. The quadrant marked for Jesus (IC) is placed into the chalice with the Precious Blood with the quiet prayer: "The fullness of the Holy Spirit." That marked "Christ" (XC) is retained for the communion of the clergy, and the remaining two halves (of NI-KA) are reserved for the communion of the laity. Hot water is added to the chalice with the prayer: 'The warmth of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.' The hot water (zeon) typifies the energy and fervour of the Holy Spirit within the sacred mysteries. After the clergy have communicated, the particles for the laity are added in to the chalice and the priest stands in front of the royal doors issuing the invitation to all those who are prepared: 'With the fear of God, with faith, and with love, draw near!' The mysteries under two forms are offered to the faithful from the communion spoon (lavida) held by the priest, who says: 'The servant of God [baptismal name] receives the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the remissions of sins, and for the everlasting life.' After Holy Communion those who have taken the mysteries give thanks to God and eat some blessed bread (antidoron) that is kept to the side for them. It is important to note that those who have received Holy Communion, however, should not kiss either any icon or anything else.
The cantors or choir chants:
We have seen the True Light.
We have received the heavenly Spirit.
We have found the True faith
In worshiping the undivided Trinity,
For the Trinity has saved us.
"We have seen the true light..."
By revealing the experiences from his holy life, Saint Gregory Palamas talks about man's entering and communion with a realm of Light. Christ is the "incomparable and exceptional miracle, Who is united with human hypostastes and souls, co-involving Himself with every faithful person through the Holy Eucharist of His Holy Body.
Becoming one body with us - "of one body' - He thus makes us church dwellings of the entire Divinity, for in Christ's Body "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily". How then will He not illuminate with the divine radiance of His Body that is within us, the souls of those who receive Holy Communion worthily, just as He once illuminated the bodies of His disciples on mount Tabor? Moreover, since His Holy Body, the source of the light of Grace, during that time had not yet been united with our body, those who were worthy of coming near Him, were illuminated externally and the light was being sent inside their souls through their censorial eyes. Nevertheless, because He united Himself with us and dwells in us He now brightens our soul excessively within."
Christ assured His Disciples that He shall never drink of this wine that of the earthly vine, until that day, following His Second Coming, when He will be rejoicing as He will be drinking it with them eternally and endlessly, anew and even more joyful in His Father's Kingdom.
What does this mean? Those who have been baptized Orthodox Christians constitute the Body of the Church of the Lord. Therefore, all these people are united with Him in this present life through the Mystery of Holy Communion. However, after His Second Coming, they shall be uniting with our Lord Jesus Christ, as they will be seeing Him Face to face and enjoying in a perceptible and blessed way the co-union with Him into one body, one communion!
For your information:
ON THE ONENESS OF THE DIVINE EUCHARIST...
The Orthodox priest cannot conduct more than one Divine Liturgy a day and the same altar table cannot be used twice on the dame day. According to the Rudder (Πηδάλιον): "For this reason, that is to say, because of the fact that the unique death of Christ cannot occur a second time, the local synod held in the time of Heraclius against Isidorus in A.D. 613 ordained that two liturgies should not be celebrated on one and the same day and on one and the same table, saying: 'It is not lawful on one table in the same day for two liturgies to be said, nor on the same table on which the bishop officiate in a Liturgy in the same day.'"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God