The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): The Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Eucharist (Part II)

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


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

In the Mystery (Sacrament) 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. 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 True Blood of the Lord Jesus, 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 reformed (Protestant) Zwingli taught; and likewise, (2) it is not only by His "activity and power" ("dynamically") that Jesus Christ is present in them, as Calvin (another Protestant) taught; and finally, (3) He is not present in the meaning only of "penetration," as the Lutherans (Protestant) 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 (Sacrament) are changed into the 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 term "transubstantiation" comes from medieval Latin (Roman catholic) scholasticism: 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."

This Truth is expressed in the Encyclical of the Easter Orthodox Patriarchs in the following words: "We believe that in this sacred rite our Lord Jesus Christ is present not symbolically (typikos), not figuratively (eikonikos), not by a simple descent, as certain Fathers say about Baptism, and not through a "penetration" of the bread, so that the Divinity of the Logos/Word should "enter" of the bread offered for the Hoy Eucharist, as the followers of Luther (Protestant Reformer) explain it rather awkwardly and unworthily--but truly and actually, so that after the sanctification of the bread and wine, the bread is changed, converted, transformed, into the actual True Body of the Lord, which was born in Bethlehem of the Ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, resurrected, ascended, sits a the Right hand of God the Father, and is to appear in the clouds of heaven; and the wine is changed into the actual True Blood of the Lord, which at the time of His suffering on the Cross was shed for the life of the world. Yet again, we believe that after the sanctification of the bread and wine there remains no longer the bread and wine themselves, but the very Body and Blood of the Lord, under the appearance and form of bread and wine."

Such a teaching of the holy Mystery (Sacrament) of Communion may be found in all the Holy Fathers, beginning from the most ancient ones, such as Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, and other ancient Church writers such as Saint Justin the Philosopher...The Holy Fathers who participated in the First Ecumenical Council (Synod) 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 receive His Precious Body and Blood, we should believe that this is a sign of our Resurrection."

Some Observations on the Manner in Which the Lord Jesus Christ Remains in the Holy Gifts.

  1. Although the bread and wine are changed in the Mystery into the Body and Blood of the Lord, He is present in this Mystery with all His Being, that is, with His soul and with His very Divinity, which is inseparably united to his humanity.
  2. Although, further, the Body and Blood of the Lord are broken in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Communion and distributed, still we believe that in every part--even the smallest particle--of the Holy Mysteries, those who receive Holy Communion receive the entire Christ in His being, that is, in His soul and Divinity, as perfect God and perfect man. This faith the holy Church expresses in the words of the priest at the breaking of the Holy Lamb: "Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God; Who is broken and not divided, Who is always eaten and never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake thereof."
  3. Although at one and the same time there are many Divine Liturgies in the universe, still there are not many Bodies of Christ, but one and the same Christ is present and is given in His body "in all the churches of the faith."
  4. The bread of offering, which is prepared separately in all churches, after its sanctification and offering becomes one and the same with the Body which is in the heavens.
  5. After the change of the bread and wine in the Mystery (Sacrament) of the Holy Eucharist into the Body and Blood, they no longer return to their former nature, but remain the Body and Blood of the Lord forever, whether or not they are consumed by the faithful. Therefore the Orthodox Church from antiquity has had the custom of performing on certain days the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, believing that these Gifts, sanctified at a preceding Liturgy, remain the True Body and Blood of Christ. There has likewise been from antiquity the tradition of preserving the sanctified Gifts in sacred vessels in order to give Holy Communion to the dying. It is well known that in the ancient Church there existed the tradition of sending out the sanctified Gifts through deacons to Christians who were not able to receive Holy Communion of the Holy Gifts in Church, for example to confessors, to those in prison, and to penitents. Often in antiquity believers brought the Holy Gifts with reverence from the churches to their own houses, and ascetics took Them with themselves to the desert to receive Holy Communion.
  6. Since to the God-man Christ it is fitting to offer a single inseparable Divine worship, both according to His Divinity and His humanity, as a consequence of their inseparable union, therefore also to the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist there should be given the same honor and worship which we are obliged to give to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

The Relation of the Eucharist to the Sacrifice on Golgotha

The Eucharistic sacrifice is not a repetition of the Savior's Sacrifice on the Cross, but is an offering of the sacrificed Body and Blood once offered by our Redeemer on the Cross, by Him Who "ever eaten, though never consumed." The Sacrifice on Golgotha and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are inseparable, comprising a single sacrifice; but at the same time they are to be distinguished one from the other. They are inseparable; they are one and the same Grace-giving tree of life planted by God on Golgotha, but filling with its mystical branches the whole Church of God, and to the end of the ages nourishing by its saving fruits all those who seek eternal life. But they are also to be distinguished: the sacrifice it is performed after the Resurrection of the Savior, Who "being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him" (Romans 6:9). It is offered "without suffering," without the shedding of blood, without death, although it is performed in remembrance of the suffering and death of the Divine Lamb (Christ). [Please note: The Orthodox Church confesses that the sacrifice of the Eucharist is a real sacrifice, and at the same time that Christ was sacrificed once only, for all time, when He was crucified on Golgotha "to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28). Saint Nicholas Cabasilas explains this seeming paradox as follows:

"The sacrificing of a sheep consists in a changing of it state; it is changed from an unsacrificed sheep to a sacrificed one. The same is true here; (during the Divine Liturgy) the bread is changed from unsacrificed bread into the very Body of Christ which was truly sacrificed. Through this transformation the sacrifice is truly accomplished, just as that of the sheep was when it was changed from one state to another. For there has been in the sacrifice, a transformation not in symbol but in reality; a transformation (change) into the sacrificed Body of the Lord..."}

The Significance of the Eucharist as a Sacrifice

It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The priest who performs the Bloodless Sacrifice according to the rite of the Liturgies of Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom, before the sanctification of the Gifts remembers in his secret prayer the great works of God; he glorifies and gives thanks to God in the Holy Trinity for calling man out of nonexistence, for His great and varied care for him after his fall, and for the economy of His salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise all Christians present in church in these holy moments, glorifying God, cry out to Him: "We hymn Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God." (Σέ υμνούμεν, Σέ ευλογούμεν, Σοί ευχαριστούμεν, Κύριε, και δεόμεθά Σου, ο Θεός ημών.)

The Eucharist is likewise a propitiatory sacrifice for all members of the Church. Giving to His disciples His Body, the Lord said of It: "Which is broken for you"; and giving His Blood He added, "Which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins." Therefore, from the beginning of Christianity the Bloodless Sacrifice was offered for the remembrance of both the living and the dead and for the remission of their sins. This is evident from the texts of all the Liturgies, beginning with the Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James, and this sacrifice itself is often directly called in these texts the sacrifice of propitiation.

The Eucharist is a sacrifice which in the most intimate fashion unites all the faithful in one body in Christ. Therefore, after the change of the Holy Gifts as also earlier at the proskomedi, the priest remembers the Most Holy Lady Theotokos and al the Saints, adding, "By their prayers visit us, O God"; and then he goes over to the commemoration of the living and the dead--the whole Church of Christ.

The Eucharist is also a sacrifice of entreaty: for the peace of the Churches, for the good condition of the world, for authorities, for those in infirmities, and labors, for all who ask for help--"and for all men and women."

(Next: Conclusions of a Liturgical Character)



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 Chrysostom


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

+Father George