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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The Eucharist

The Eucharist (literallythanksgiving”) 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

Apostle Paul.

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 termtransubstantiation

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 wordchange.”) 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 calledbloodless” 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 poor.

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).

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