The Bread That We Break

Venerable Pachomius the Great, Founder of Coenobitic Monasticism

Beloved brothers and sisters,

By Fr. Lev Gillet

"We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence" [St. Luke 13:26]

Normally, no day passes for us without the taking of at least some food. During this day I am trying to spend with Thee, Master, I must establish the relationship between Thee, O Master, and all of the foods that nourish us, both in body and soul.

Of all the actions which were Thine and remain ours, the act of taking nourishment is perhaps the most complex and the most mysterious. The bread that we break and the cup that we drink are in themselves realities and signs to an exceptional degree. Thou didst choose these humble, necessary elements of daily life, Lord, to be the bearers and instruments of Thy presence through the grace which confers on them, amongst all the elements of matter, a character that is unique.

Thy disciples are called upon to eat and to drink, with Thee and by Thee. They are even called upon to eat Thee and to drink Thee. Food, for them, is composed of aspects that are distinct and yet linked. There are the everyday meals, in which Thy goodness and Thy blessing call for our joyful thanksgiving. There is the generous gift that must be made to those who have no bread. At a different level, there is the participation in Thy Mystical Supper, in the Sacrifice of Thy Body and Thy Blood. And there is the invisible and permanent Presence and effective virtue of Jesus, the Bread of Life which, independently of any fixed form, serves as the food of souls.

One must not confuse these aspects of our food. But, all the same, it is necessary to discern their connection, and to see what it is, in each of them, that derives from Thee. If we ignore the links between what is the humblest and what is the most excellent, if we keep separate and divide the various different, but real, 'eucharists' which allow us to communicate with Thy presence, we thereby manifest our incomprehension of the 'breaking of the bread' such as Thou didst think of it and desire it, such as Thou didst practice it. And then the Gospel saying about the disciples, after the multiplying of the five loaves and the two fishes: 'For they considered not the miracle of the loaves,' would apply to our own selves.

A man sits down to dine. He chooses what tastes good and is also expensive. He gives no thought to those outside who are hungry. A man who is rich and has an important position takes part, at the gathering of the faithful, in the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. He receives the sacrament. Next to him (and the Lord's Supper is one of the rare occasions when such a juxtaposition is possible) the same food of life is given to a poor man, who does not perhaps know how he will feed himself that day or on the morrow, and who will leave the church with a feeling of total isolation. The first of these two communicants, and many of those who came with him to the Lord's table, will not ask themselves who that poor man was or what his needs might be. Another man will receive communion, but with no thought about the effects of this communion and how it must reach into all the actions of his daily life, no realization that he can no longer behave as though he had not taken it. Truly, none of these men has understood the 'miracle of the loaves'. To them, and certainly to myself, is addressed that saying of Jesus: "Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence...' and the master of the house shall say: 'I tell you, I know you not whence ye are.'

Now I am about to eat one of my ordinary meals. Is that a 'profane' act, a purely human act? Certainly not. At this precise moment, I sit down in the open with the five thousand that Thou didst command to sit down 'upon the green grass'. I see Thee taking the loaves and the fishes. With Thee, I lift my eyes to the sky, giving thanks to Thy Father, to our Father. And I give thanks to Thee Who dost offer me my food, whatever it may be. Not only do I eat in Thy Presence, but I eat with Thee. And I also go into that house at Emmaus which Thou interest into to 'tarry' with Thy two disciples. Now I am seated at table, with them, with Thee: 'As he sat at meat with them, he took bread...' Lord, let me never take part in a meal without adoring in it Thy invisible Presence, as both the host who receives me and as the guest whom I receive. My Thy Presence inspire and set the tone of all my meals. (The tone: Oh! preserve me from the sort of table-talk that wounds and stifles the Spirit.)

Lord, for those five thousand, whose hunger Thou didst miraculously satisfy, Thou could have made manna more exquisite than all earthly food come down from heaven. The bread which Thou gave them could have been made from the purest wheat. But, to accomplish the miracle, Thou didst choose what was the simplest and roughest: 'five barley loaves'. Lord, I do not ask Thee to raise me to extraordinary feats of asceticism, nor do I seek to regulate my diet scrupulously. But I do ask Thee this at least: each time that I have the chance to choose, let me choose to eat as Thou didst eat at Nazareth, as Thou didst eat with Thy disciples.

Lord Jesus, Thou did feed the five thousand because Thou was 'moved with compassion toward them'. Thou did give the loaves to Thy disciples 'to set before' the wearied crowd. In the same spirit, Thou did say to us: 'When thou make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.' Have we invited the poor to our meals? If, for reasons which have nothing to do with my will, I have neither been able to invited them nor to be of help to them (and help which does not 'cost' something, in some way, has no real value), at least make my thought, at every meal, go out to the poor and the sick, so that it might implore Thy Compassion, so that it might unite itself to Thy Compassion, to the Compassion that Thou did feel when Thou did multiply the loaves.

"For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world...I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.' The bread of our daily meals, the bread that we distribute to the poor, the bread that Jesus multiplied for the crowd, the bread that He gave to His Disciples on the eve of His death, and that His Eucharist perpetuates--all these aspects of the bread that we break are united and transcended in the Person who is the Eternal and invisible Bread of Life. For our earthly foods are but for a time, and our eucharists themselves will cease, but Thou, Jesus, Living Bread come down from heaven, Thou are with us for ever...Thou who does stand at the door and knock. "If any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' It is Thou Thyself Whom I desire, saying with Thy disciples: "Lord, evermore give us this bread." Amen.

With sincere agape in our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George