The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): The Mystery (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist

My beloved in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

(Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky)

The Holy Eucharist (literally "thanksgiving") is the Mystery (Sacrament) 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 communion of them for a most intimate union with Christ and eternal life. This Mystery (Sacrament) 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 (Sacrament) 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 Christian Mystery (Sacrament).

The Savior's Words before the Establishment of the Mystery

Before the first performance of this Mystery (Sacrament) at the Mystical Supper (the Last 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 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 no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath 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 and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending 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 that a) 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 important not 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 (Sacrament) and Its Performance in Apostolic Times

Whereas the pre-indication of the Savior concerning the future establishment of the Mystery of the Eucharist was given in the Gospel of Saint John, the very establishment of the Mystery (Sacrament) 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 26th chapter, it is said: "As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave 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 of 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.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, the 22nd chapter, we read: "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them saying, 'This is My Body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.' Likewise also the cup after supper saying, This cup is the new testaments in My Blood, which is shed for you" (St. Luke 22:19-20).

The same thing that the Evangelist Luke says we read in the First Epistle (Letter) of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, in the 11th chapter, only with the prefatory words, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said..." (I Cor. 11:23-24).

The words of the Savior at the Mystical (Last) Supper, "This is My Body, which is broken for you; this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins," are completely clear and definite, and do not allow any other interpretation apart from the most direct one, namely that to the disciples were given the true Body and the true Blood of Christ. And this is completely in accordance with the promise given by the Savior in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Saint John concerning His Body and Blood.

Having given communion to the disciples, the Lord commanded: "This do in remembrance of Me." This Sacrifice must be performed "till He come" (I Cor. 11:25-26), as the Apostle Paul instructs, that is, until the Second Coming of the Lord. This follows also from the words of the Savior: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink He blood, ye have no life in you. And indeed, the Eucharist was received by the Church from the first days as the greatest Mystery (Sacrament); the institution of it is preserved with the greatest care and reverence; and it is performed and will be performed until the end of the world.

Concerning the performance of the Mystery (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist in Apostolic times in the Church of Christ, we may read in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42, 46; 20:6,7), and in the Apostle Paul in the 10th and 11th chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The Apostolic Paul writes: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ? For we, being many are one bread, and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread" (I Cor. 10:16-17). And again: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this Bread, and drink this Cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and may sleep" (I Cor. 1126-30). In the quoted words of the Apostle instructs us with what reverence and preparatory self-testing a Christian must approach the Holy Eucharist, and he states that this is not simple 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 Holy Communion are united also with each other: "We, being many, are one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread."

Next: The Changing of the Bread and Wine in the Mystery (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostomos


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

+Father George