Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystical Supper; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies; I will not kiss Thee as did Judas, but as the thief I will confess Thee, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MYSTICAL SUPPER BY OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks [Gk. eucharistesas], He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me'" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
With these words--quoting the same words of Christ in St. Luke 22:19, 20--Saint Paul instructs the Corinthians concerning the Holy Eucharist, the giving of thanks. Some two thousand years after Jesus gave Himself "for the life of the world" (St. John 6:51), there are in Christendom at least three different interpretations.
The Holy Eucharist (literally "thanksgiving") is the Mystery in which the bread and wine of offering are changed by the Holy Spirit into the true Body and true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then the believers receive communion of them for a most intimate union with Christ and eternal life. This Mystery is composed, thus, of two separate moments: (1) the changing or transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, and (2) the communion of these Holy Gifts. It is called "the Eucharist", "the Lord's Supper", "the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ." The Body and Blood of Christ in this Mystery are called the "Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Life" or the "Cup of Salvation"; they are called the "Holy Mysteries," "the Bloodless Sacrifice." The Holy Eucharist is the greatest Mystery (Sacrament).
THE SAVIOR'S WORDS BEFORE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MYSTERY
Before the first performance of this Mystery 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 eat 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). The Jews evidently understood the words of Christ literally. They began to say to each other, "How can this man give us of His flesh to eat?" (St. John 6:52). And the Lord did not tell the Jews that they had understood Him incorrectly, but only with greater force and clarity He continued to speak with the same meaning: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have not life in you. Whoso eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, have 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 eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him" (St. John 6:53-56).
His disciples also understood the words of Christ literally: "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" (St. John 6:60), they said. The Savior, so as to convince them of the possibility of such a miraculous eating, indicated another miracle, the miracle of His future Ascension into heaven: "Doth this offend you? What if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" (St. John 6:61-62). Further, Christ adds, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life" (St. John 6:63). By this remark Christ does not ask that His words about the Bread of Life be understood in any "metaphorical" meaning. "There are some of you that believe not," He added immediately (St. John 6:64). By these words the Savior Himself indicates that His words are difficult for faith: How is it that believers will eat His Body and drink His Blood? But He confirms that He speaks of His actual Body. His words concerning His Body and Blood are "Spirit and life." They testify (a) that he who partakes of them will have eternal life, and will be resurrected for the Kingdom of glory in the last day; and (b) that he who partakes of them will enter into the most intimate communion with Christ. His words speak not of life in the flesh, but of life in the Spirit. "The Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Life; taste and see that the Lord is good"--these are words we hear at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. This Communion of His Body and Blood is not important for the quenching of physical hunger, as was the feeding with manna in the desert, or the feeding of the five thousand--but it is important for eternal life.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MYSTERY AND ITS PERFORMANCE IN APOSTOLIC TIMES
Whereas the pre-indication of the Savior concerning the future establishment of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist was given in the Gospel of Saint John, the very establishment of the Mystery is set forth in three Evangelists--the Synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke--and then is repeated by the Apostle Paul.
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, in the twenty-sixth chapter, it is said: "As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My Body And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all from it; for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (St. Matthew 26:26-28).
The same thing is said in the Gospel of Saint Mark in the 14th chapter, as well as in the Gospel of St. Luke, the 22 chapter, Saint Paul 11th chapter to the Corinthians.
Concerning the performance of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist in Apostolic times in the Church of Christ, we may read in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42, 46; 20:7), and in the Apostle Paul in the 10th and 11th chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. (see I Cor. 10:16-17; I Cor. 11:26-30). In the quoted words the Apostle Paul instructs us with what reverence and preparatory self-testing a Christian must approach the Holy Eucharist, and he states that this is not simpler food and drink, but the reception of the true Body and Blood of Christ.
Being united with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, believers who receive Communion are united also with each other. "We, being may, are one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.
THE CHANGING OF THE BREAD AND WINE IN THE MYSTERY OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
In the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, at the time when the priest, invoking the Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts, blesses them with the prayer to God the Father: "Make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ; and that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ; changing them by Thy Holy Spirit"--the bread and wine actually are changed into the Body and Blood by the coming down of the Holy Spirit. (This moment of the Invocation of the Holy Spirit is called Epiclesis.) Bishop Kallistos Ware writes: "According to Orthodox theology, the act of consecration is not complete until the end of Epiclesis...Orthodox, however, do not teach that consecration is effected solely by the Epiclesis, nor do they regard the Words of Institution ['Take, eat, This is My Body...' 'Drink of it, all of you, This is My Blood...'] as incidental and unimportant. On the contrary, they look on the entire Eucharistic Prayer as forming a single and indivisible whole, so that the three main sections of the Prayer---Thanksgiving [culminating in the Words of Institution], Anamnesis [the act of 'calling to mind' and offering], Epiclesis--all form an integral part of the one act of consecration,' such a moment cannot come until the Amen of the Epiclesis" (The Orthodox Church, p. 283).
The term "transubstantiation" comes from medieval Latin sholasticism: following the Aristotelian philosophical categories, "transubstantiation" is a change of the "substance" or underlying reality of the Holy Gifts without changing the "accidents" or appearance of bread and wine. Orthodox theology, however, does not try to "define" this Mystery in terms of philosophical categories, and thus prefers the simple word "change."
After this moment, although our eyes see bread and wine on the Holy Table, in their very essence, invisibly for sensual eyes, this is the true Body and the true Blood of the Lord Jesus, and only under the 'forms' of bread and wine.
Thus the Sanctified Gifts (1) are not only signs or symbols, reminding the faithful of the redemption, as the reformer Zwingly taught; and likewise, (2) it is not only by His "activity and power" ("dynamically") that Jesus Christ is present in them, as Calvin taught; and finally, (3) He is not present in the meaning only of "penetration" as the Lutherans teach (who recognize the co-presence of Christ "with the bread, under the form of bread, in the bread"); but the Sanctified Gifts in the Mystery are "changed" or (a later term) "transubstantiated" (by the Roman Catholics) into true Body and true Blood of Christ, as the Savior said: "For My Flesh is meat indeed and My Blood is drink indeed" (St. John 6:55).
The holy Fathers of the Church who participated in the First Ecumenical Council confessed: "At the Divine Table we should not see simply the bread and the cup which have been offered, but raising our minds on high, we should with faith understand that on the Sacred Table lies the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, Who is offered as a sacrifice by the priests; and truly receiving His precious Body and Blood, we should believe that this is a sign of our resurrection."
Please note: Traditionally Orthodox Christian receive Holy Communion on Holy and Great Thursday which is the day that the Mystical Supper was established by Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God