|Table of Contents | Words: Alphabetical - Frequency - Inverse - Length - Statistics | Help | IntraText Library|
|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
IntraText CT - Text
The 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, andthen 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 Eucharist is the greatest Christian Mystery (Sacrament).
The Saviour’s words on this mystery.
Before the first performance of this Mystery 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” (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?” (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” (John
His disciples also understood the words of Christ literally: “This is a hard saying; who can
hear it?” (John 6:60), they said, The Saviour, 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…”
(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” (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” (John 6:64).
By these words the Saviour 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 and its performance in apostolic times.
Whereas the pre-indication of the Saviour concerning the future establishment of the Mystery
of the Eucharist was given in the Gospel of John, the very establishment of the Mystery is setforth in three Evangelists, the Synoptics Matthew, Mark and Luke, and then is repeated by the
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, in the 26th chapter, it is said “As they were eating Jesus took
bread, and blessed it, and brake 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” (Matt. 26:26-28).
The same thing is said in the Gospel of Mark in the fourteenth chapter.
In the Gospel of Luke, the 22nd chapter, we read “And He took bread, and gave thanks, and
brake 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 testament in My
Blood, which it shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20).
The same thing that the Evangelist Luke says we read in the First Epistle of St. 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 brake it, and said...” (1 Cor. 11:23-24).
The words of the Saviour at the Mystical Supper, “This is My Body, which is broken for
you; this it 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 Saviour in the sixth chapter
of the Gospel of 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 “til He come” (1 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
Saviour: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.
And indeed, the Eucharist was received by the Church from the first days as the greatest mystery;
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 of the 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 Apostle Paul writes:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, it at 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” (1 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 hlmself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this cause many are weak and sickly
among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor. 11:26-30). In the quoted words the Apostle instructs us with
what reverence and preparatory self-testing a Christian must approach the Eucharist, and he
states that this is not simple food and drink, but the reception of the true Body and Blood of
Being united with Christ in the Eucharist, believers who receive Communion are united also
with each other: “We, being many, are one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread.”The changing of the bread and wine in the mystery of the Eucharist.
In the Mystery of the 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 Zwingli 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” (The term “transubstantiation”
comes from medieval Latin 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.”) into the true Body and true Blood of Christ, as the
Saviour said “For My flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55).
This truth is expressed in the Encyclical of the Eastern 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 an abundance of grace, as in the other Mysteries, 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 Word should “enter” into the bread offered for the Eucharist, as
the followers of Luther explain it rather awkwardly and unworthily — but truly and actually, so
that after the sanctification of the bread and wine, the bread is changed, transubstantiated, 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 at the
right hand of God the Father, and is to appear in the clouds of heaven; and the wine is changed
and transubstantiated 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 of Communion may be found in all the Holy Fathers,
beginning from the most ancient ones, such as St. Ignatius the God-bearer, and other ancient
church writers such as St. Justin the Philosopher. However, in several of the ancient writers, this
teaching is not expressed in completely precise terms, and in some expressions there seems to be
almost a symbolical interpretation (something which the Protestants point out). However, this
means of expression in part is to be explained by the polemical aims which these writers had in
mind: for example, Origen was writing against a crudely sensual attitude to the Mystery; Tertullian
was combatting the heresy of Marcian; and the apologists were defending the general Christian
truths against the pagans, but without leading them into the depths of the mysteries.
The Fathers 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 GodWho 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.”
In order to show and explain the possibility of such a transformation of the bread and wine
by the power of God into the Body and Blood of Christ, the ancient pastors indicated the Almightiness
of the Creator and the special deeds of His almightiness: the creation of the world out
of nothing, the mystery of the Incarnation, the miracles recorded in the holy books, and in particular
the transformation of water into wine (St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem,
St. Damascene, and others). They also indicate how in us as well the bread and wine or
water taken by us as food are converted, in a way unknown to us, into our own body and blood
(St. John Damascene).
The manner in which the Jesus Christ remains in the Holy Gifts.
1. Although the bread and wine are transformed 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 of Communion
and distributed, still we believe that in every part — even in the smallest particle — of
the Holy Mysteries, those who receive 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 divided is the Lamb of
God, Which is broken, though not disunited, Which is ever eaten, though never consumed, but
sanctifieth those that partake thereof.”
3. Although at one and the same time there are many holy 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 faithful.
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 it in the heavens.
5. After the transformation of the bread and wine in the Mystery of the 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 custom 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 custom of sending out the sanctified Gifts through deacons
to Christians who were not able to receive 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 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 Eucharist and the Cross.
The Eucharistic sacrifice is not a repetition of the Saviour’s Sacrifice on the Cross, but it is
an offering of the sacrificed Body and Blood once offered by our Redeemer on the Cross, by Him
Who “is 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 offered in the Eucharist is called “bloodless” and
“passionless,” since it is performed after the Resurrection of the Saviour, Who “Being raised
from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him” (Rom. 6:9). It is offered
without suffering, without the shedding of blood, without death, although it is performed in remembrance
of the sufferings and death of the Divine Lamb.
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 Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and St. 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 non-existence, 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…”
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 united all the faithful in one
body in Christ. Therefore, after the transformation of the holy Gifts as also earlier at the proskomedia,
the priest remembers the Most Holy Lady Theotokos and all 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.”
Conclusions of a liturgical character.
From the accounts in the Gospels and in the writings of the Apostles, and from the practice
of the ancient Church, one must make the following conclusions:
a) In the Eucharist, as the Apostles were given at the Mystical Supper, so also all the faithful
should be given not only the Body of Christ, but also the Blood of Christ. “Drink ye all from it,”
the Saviour commanded (Matt. 26:27). “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of thebread and drank of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). (This is not observed in the Latin church, where
laymen are deprived of the cup.).
b) “We are all partakers of that one Bread” (1 Cor. 10:17), writes the Apostle. In the ancient
Church every community partook of one single bread, and in the Orthodox Liturgy there is
blessed and broken one bread, just as one cup is blessed. (The blessing of the “one” bread was
also violated by the Latin church in the second millenium.).
c) In all the passages of Holy Scripture where the bread of the Eucharist is mentioned, the
bread is called artos in Greek (John, ch. 6, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, in the Apostle
Paul and the Acts of the Apostles). Artos usually signifies wheat bread which has risen through
the use of leaven (“ unleavened” is expressed in Greek by the adjective azymos): It is known that
in Apostolic times — that is, from the very beginning, from its institution — the Eucharist was
performed during the whole year, weekly, when the Jews did not prepare unleavened bread; this
means that it was performed, even in the Jewish-Christian communities, with leavened bread. All
the more may this be said of the communities of Christian converts from paganism, to whom the
law regarding unleavened bread was entirely foreign. In the Church of the first Christians the material
for the Mystery of the Eucharist, as is well known, was usually taken from the offerings of
the people, who, without any doubt, brought to church from their homes the usual, leavened
bread; it was also meant to be used, at the same time, for the love-feasts (agape) and for helping
The necessity of Communion.
To receive communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord is the essential, necessary, saving,
and consoling obligation of every Christian. This is evident from the words of the Saviour
which He uttered when giving the promise regarding the Mystery of the Eucharist: “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” (John 6:53-54).
The saving fruits or effects of the Mystery of the Eucharist, if only we communicate them
worthily, are the following: It unites us in the most intimate fashion with the Lord: “He that
eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56).
It nourishes our soul and body and aids our strengthening, increase, and growth in spiritual
life: “He that eateth Me, even be shall live by Me” (John 6:57).
Being received worthily, it serves for us as a pledge of the future resurrection and the eternally
blessed life: “He that eateth of this bread shall live forever” (John 6:58).
However, one should remember that the Eucharist offers these saving fruits only to those
who approach it with faith and repentance; but an unworthy partaking of the Body and Blood of
Christ brings all the more condemnation: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth
and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body” (1 Cor. 11:29).