The Holy Eucharist

Martyr Longinus the Centurion, who stood at the Cross of the Lord

“Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts Here set forth: And make this bread the Precious Body of Your Christ, And what is in this cup, the Precious Blood of Your Christ, changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen, Amen.” [The Anamnesis and Epiclesis from the Divine Liturgy of  Saint John Chrysostom]

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.  Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

Orthodox Christians are constantly challenged by the secular and unbelieving world and society which they live in.  The opponents of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Divine teachings make every possible effort to create doubt and confusion among Christian believers.  They attempt this by misinformation and unorthodox teachings to persuade Christians to abandon their Faith and Church.  Saint Peter the Holy Apostle warns us of the following:  “But there were [are] also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who brought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.  By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

In the Scriptural commentary found in the Orthodox Study Bible states:  Saint Peter now reaches his main concern:  “False teachers” who are unholy and communicate heresy.  They are arrogant, sensual, and greedy, and they deny accountability in their lives.  Isolating themselves from Apostolic Doctrine concerning Christ, they hold their own ‘private interpretations,’ misconstruing doctrines about the Second Coming and the ultimate authority of Christ over us.  Being deceivers, they teach as though they possess true apostolicity” (Orthodox Study Bible, page 564).

As your priest I am concerned about your spiritual welfare and include all of you in my prayers and seek our Lord’s blessings, guidance and protection for all of you knowing the many threats you and your children encounter every day.

“The Christian, through faith in Christ and participation in baptism and Holy Eucharist and the other Mysteria (Sacraments) become «σύμφυτοι» -having been “planted together” in Christ; having been ingrafted, having made a part of His Body, as branches into the Vine of Life.”

The Holy Mysteria (ries) or Sacraments of our Holy Church are the means and channels of Grace, i.e., the sacred services and ceremonies through which Divine Grace and power are communicated to sinful man and cleanse him and sanctify him, making him righteous before God.  Divine Grace is also conveyed through the word of God, through the preaching of the Gospel, and through prayer.

According to Saint John Chrysostom, “it is called Mystery (Sacrament) because we believe not that which we see; for we see one thing and believe another”.  And another Father of the Church states: “The Mysteries (Sacraments) are composed of the natural (i.e., the material and visible) and the supernatural (i.e., the spiritual and invisible)”.  And these are the powerful means which necessarily bring Divine Grace to those who accept the Holy Mysteries.  And still other holy Fathers state: “The Mystery or Sacrament is a ceremony which under a visible form is the cause for bringing to the soul of the believer the invisible Grace of God”.  Thus it is that the Mysteries (Sacraments), when they are worthily received, become instruments, means of transmission, of Divine Grace. Not death, but of salvation.

One of the divine Mysteries (Sacraments) of our Church that is under attack by unbelievers is the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  Some of our people have been influenced by unbelievers to fear the Holy Eucharist as dangerous to one's health because of how is distributed by spoon to the faithful.  They are afraid that by touching the communion spoon with their lips they will catch germs.  The solution that has been suggested is for the priest to either sling in the Holy Communion in an open mouth or to simply turn over the communion spoon with the Holy Eucharist (the Precious Body and Blood of Christ) into an open mouth without touching the communion spoon.  The spoon which is the instrument that Holy Communion is  dispensed to the faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world is NOT an instrument of destruction and death. Or even of transmitting illness to those who receive the Holy Eucharist.  It is constantly placed in the holy Chalice which is filled with the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The spoon is drenched constantly with Holy Communion and therefore how can we fear the spoon?  Holy Communion gives life, forgiveness, restoration, healing, salvation and the Eternal Heavenly Kingdom and NOT disease.

I was alarmed when I read in the South Bend Tribune in recent years of a bishop of a non-Orthodox church advising his people not to receive Communion when many are sick by a flu virus so as not to transmit the virus through Communion from one person to another.  Are we, as Orthodox Christians, to follow that example?

The Holy Eucharist is the Mystery in which the bread and wine of offering are changed by the Holy Spirit into true Body and true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,  and then the believers receive Holy Communion of them for a most intimate union with Christ and eternal life.

Before the first performance of this Mystery (Sacrament) at the Mystical Supper, Christ promised it in His conversation concerning the Bread of Life on the occasion of the feeding of the five thousand men with five loaves.   The Lord taught, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven:  If any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (St. John 6:51).  And again the Lord said:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoso eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He that eats My flesh, and drinks My blood dwells in Me, and I in him” (St. John 6:53-56).

The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  “As the words of the Epiclesis make abundantly plain, the Orthodox Church believes that after consecration the bread and wine become in very truth the Body and Blood of Christ: they are not mere symbols, but the reality.  But while Orthodoxy has always insisted on the reality of the change, it has never attempted to explain the manner of the change: the Eucharistic Prayer in the Divine Liturgy simple uses the neutral term metavallo, to ‘turn about’, ‘change’, or ‘alter’.”

Some, however, may argue that it is not the Holy Eucharist that we are afraid of but the communion spoon that touches the lips of so many Christians.  But is it not the same spoon that enters the same chalice that contains the Precious Body and Blood of Our Savior Jesus Christ?  Are we are to believe, God forbid!, that the spoon that touched someone’s lips transmits germs and pollutes the entire Eucharist in the chalice?  There is only one word that applies here with this kind of thought, and that it leads to, blasphemy! or heresy! It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to deny the consecration of the gifts by the Holy Spirit. It is also a sin against the Holy Spirit which according to our Lord is an unforgivable sin.  “But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (St. Mark 3:29). 

We as Greek Orthodox priests must not give in to either the fears, doubts, distortions and superstition of  our people who are religiously illiterate and uninformed, but instead teach them about the Holy Eucharist and why it is administered the way it is and furthermore, that it does not and cannot ever present a threat to any of the Orthodox Christian believers who receive the Precious and Life-Giving Body and Blood of Christ “with the fear of God, with faith and love…”.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George