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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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(Mat. 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-38 and John 13-17)
While all four Evangelists narrate on the Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples — on the eve of His cruciferous sufferings — not all relate the circumstances of this supper with equal detail. Apart from that, the expressions used by the first three Evangelists appear to somewhat contradict those applied by the fourth Evangelist, Saint John. The only thing of absolute certainty is that the Last Supper took place on the fifth day of the week i.e. according to our calendar, Thursday. Likewise as clear, is that the Lord was condemned on the sixth day of the week — Friday, remained in the tomb on the seventh day of the week — Saturday, and resurrected from the dead on the first day of the week. However, what brings out a difference of opinion is the relationship of the Last Supper to that of the celebration of the Jewish Passover i.e. was the Last Supper on the 14th of Nisan in the evening of the Jewish Passover, or was it on the 13th of Nisan i.e. on the eve of the Passover? These confusions regarding the Last Supper, are born from the following passages from the Evangelists:
Mat. 26:17 “Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…”
Mark 14:12 “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb…”
Luke 22:7 “Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread…”
John 13:1 “Now before the Feast of the Passover…”
Passover began on the evening of the 14th Nisan and consequently, if there is an adherence to the strict, biblical word usage, “first Day of Unleavened Bread” can only be the day after it, i.e. 15th of Nisan. Apparently, the first three Evangelists didn’t adhere to the strict, biblical phraseology, but to the everyday, conversational one. That’s why its possible to nominate “the first Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,” not the 15th of Nisan, which occurs on the day after the partaking of Pascha, not even the 14th (when the Pascha is eaten), but the 13th — the day before Passover — as is clearly indicated by Evangelist John, confirming that the Last Supper was “before the Feast of the Passover.” Apart from this, Saint John has other testimonies that the Jewish Passover began on Friday evening, when the Lord was crucified: John 18:28, — in leading Jesus to Pilate, they didn’t enter the Praetorium, “lest they should be defiled, but that they may eat the Passover,” and John 19:31 — the Jews hurried to break the knees of those crucified, so as not to leave the bodies on the crosses on Saturday, “for that Sabbath was a great day,” i.e. Saturday coincided with the first day of Passover and consequently, the Pascha was eaten on the eve — Friday — after the Lord’s crucifixion.
There appears a question— why did Christ perform the Jewish Passover one day earlier than was required, (which He undoubtedly do on the day of the Last Supper), even though the Apostles do not describe this in detail, because their main attention was focused on establishing the New Testament Pascha, Holy Communion of Christ’s Flesh and Blood. The basic assumption is that because the evening of the 14th Nisan in that year was the beginning of the Sabbath’s rest (approach of Saturday), the Passover lamb was slain on the evening of the 13th. This coincides with Saint Mark’s denotation: “When they killed the Passover lamb” and Saint Luke: “When the Passover must be killed.” Apart from this, it was acknowledged that after the Babylonian bondage, the Jews — especially the Galileans — began celebrations days before the approach of the feast day and in part, for the Galileans that arrived at Jerusalem, the lamb was always slain one day earlier i.e. on the 13th instead of the 14th. This was a great relief to the temple workers, as slaughtering 256,000 lambs in a matter of one day of the 14th of Nisan, would have been too arduous.
Finally, it is assumed that the Lord performed the Passover one day earlier (as He knew that the following day He would fall into Jewish hands and be crucified), so that the Sacrifice on the Cross — symbolized by the Paschal lambs — would be brought the same day and hour when the Passover lambs were slain. In any case, we know that the aim of Saint John was to expand on the narratives of the first three Evangelists. Therefore, we must accept his account as indisputable -that the Last Supper took place before the onset of Passover i.e. not the 14th but on the 13th of Nisan.
The actual preparation for the Last Supper was quite miraculous. The Lord sent two disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem, telling them that they will meet a person carrying a water urn. They were to follow him into whatever house he enters, and tell its owner: “The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand.” I cannot postpone the celebration of Passover, and today “will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” According to Saint Luke, Peter and John went forth and everything came to be, just as the Lord said. The owner took them to a large, prepared chamber where they prepared the Passover. The Lord’s all-seeing power is evident in all these events. With this, in view of the impending time when great and final events of His earthly life had to take place, the Lord’s words indicate a sense of haste. Saint John begins his narrative on the Supper in a moving way: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” — here, the Divine and human in Christ is united: as God, He knows of the nearness of His hour and approaches it Himself; as a human, He humanly grieves about His forthcoming physical separation from His disciples, and this creates an exceptional degree of love toward them. And this, His love “till the end,” the Lord revealed in everything that had been said and done during the mysterious Supper.
Saint Luke states that the Lord began the supper with the following words: “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of Heaven.” This was the last Paschal supper that the Lord could celebrate with His disciples in His earthly life; instead of this legally sanctioned Passover, He now intended to establish the genuine Pascha — the mysterious supper of His Blood and Flesh, the mystery of Eucharist. This was the last Old Testament Passover for all His followers: from now on, they would have Holy Communion of His Flesh and Blood until they enter into a closest and most genuine communion with Him in the next blessed life — “in the day without night of His kingdom,” as sung in one of the Troparions of the Paschal canon. The closeness of communion of all true Christians with Christ in that future life can be, in part, likened to that closeness which the Lord had with His disciples at the Last Supper. Consequently, the meaning of the above mentioned words of the Lord are: “This Passover that we are performing today, will not be repeated again until the next life, in the triumphant Church, when it will be performed in its complete and final state.”
According to Saint Luke, immediately after and in following the Old Testament ritual, the Lord gave His disciples a chalice with wine to drink, saying: “I will not drink the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes,” and according to Saint Mark, “when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” The Church teaches us this new wine when it sings on the day of Christ’s Resurrection: “Come to the birth of the new wine and join in the Divine joy of Christ’s Kingdom.” Hence, in as much as wine is a symbol of joy and happiness, the new grape harvest — new wine — is the Divine joy of Christ’s kingdom.
It must be assumed that after these words from Christ, the Passover food was consumed with the usual prayers and rituals, about which the Evangelists regarded as superfluous. Their task was to denote the completely new Christian Passover established by Christ — the Mystery of the Eucharist. This New Testament supper began with the washing of the feet.