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Word Magazine March 1960 Page 4-5
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
By Father Michael Azkoul
Spring Valley, Ill.
We are going to study the Holy Eucharist. We are not concerned with the rite or administration of it, but with the essential nature of the Sacrament. We will reserve these other matters in another article.
Our Lord came into the world to bring the Kingdom of God. The Church is the beginning of the Kingdom. When She is perfect and the Will of God is fully accomplished through Her, the Kingdom of God will come in all its Glory. This Kingdom was the essence of the preaching of Jesus Christ — The Gospel or “good news” was that the “Kingdom of God was at hand.” It was now possible to be reconciled with God by entering the Kingdom with true faith in Christ as God and Savior. Most of His teachings were concerned with it — its nature, character and how men must live in relationship with others in the Kingdom. The central place in the Kingdom was given to a common meal over which a prayer of thanksgiving (in Greek: “eucharisto”) . At the Last Supper, Christ said to the Apostles: What I am doing is the pattern of the Kingdom to come. Whenever you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you do so in remembrance of me. The word “remembrance” has two senses: (1) it means “to wait for,” “expect” (in Greek “anameno”) or as Saint Paul said (I Cor. xi, 26): “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” On the Cross, the Lord was crucified and was an offering to God as an atonement for the transgressions of mankind. In this manner was the “new testament” for the remission of sins accomplished — of which He spoke at the Last Supper. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated on earth — the Church (i.e., “the ecclesia” or the gathering of those who are “called out” of the world to be members of “the Body of Christ.”) We now have the second sense of the word “remember,” that is, “to make present.” In the Church, the death of Christ on the Cross is “made present.” The Flesh and Blood that was offered, broken and given on the Cross to the Father is now “made present” on the Altar in the midst of the Church.
Now that we have an understanding of the background and divine institution of the Holy Eucharist, let us consider the definition of it. “Every Sacrament is the indication in signs… of things invisible and beyond speech,” according to Theodore of Mopsuestia. Again, just as Christ and the Church, The Holy Eucharist has a visible and invisible aspect. The “sign” or “form,” i.e., wine and bread, is related to the spiritual reality, i.e., the Body and Blood of Christ much in the same way as a body and soul are. The material or visible “sign” or “form” are employed because they best express their spiritual reality, e.g., the Church or the members of Christ is one although composed of many members, just as bread is made from many grains and wine from many grapes. These “signs” or “forms” are right and necessary for 4 reasons: (1) they are Traditional, having been entrusted to the Church at the Last Supper; (2) St. Basil said: “The sacred Mysteries are clothed so that the imperfect and unbelieving will not gaze upon their unspeakable essence…;” (3) God uses “signs,” as He does when He reflects His Glory in a beautiful sunset; and (4) because spiritual realities can not be seen, heard or felt.
The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament in which Christ is present under the forms or signs of bread and wine. He is really there even though the wine and bread seem to remain. Christ is there in a special way and not as He is now. He is on the Altar as He was on the Cross, with the exception that the exact conditions are not. The bread and wine are supernaturally changed by the Holy Spirit. It is the same Flesh and Blood that Christ referred to when He said: “Take, eat, this is my body… Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood.” Some argue that since Jesus spoke Aramaic (Hebrew-Syriac) that the Greek translation “estin” (is) is understood as “symbolize” or “represents,” etc. However, there are some 40 words in Aramaic which may be translated that way, but none of them can be rendered “estin” (is). In any case, read Matt. xxvi 25-27;
Mark xiv, 22-24; St. Luke xxii, 19-20 with John vi, 48-60 and I Cor. x, 16; xi, 23-29 and it will be more than evident that the living Christ is really, actually present in the Holy Eucharist. Listen further to the Fathers:
ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (c.d lOO): “They (the Docetai) abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour, Jesus
Christ. . .” (Ad. Smyrn.); ST. JUSTIN (c.13O): “We have been taught that the food over which thanksgiving has been made by the prayer of the word which came from Him. . . is both the Flesh and Blood of the same Incarnate Jesus” (Apol. i 65-66) THEOPHYLACT (c. 200): “saying, “This is my Body,’ He did not say, “This is a figure,” but this is My Body’” (In Matt. vii, 26) ST. AMBROSE OF MILAN (c. 333): “The Flesh of God is food to me … The Blood of God is drink to me. . .”
And just two more significant quotes from the writings of the Fathers of the Church:
ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA (c.370): “Just as a person who joins one piece of wax to another and applies both to the fire makes the compound of both one, so by means of our participation of the Body of Christ and His Precious Blood, He is indeed in us, and we are united in Him.” (in Joan.X, 4).
ST. JOHN OF DAMASCUS (c.700): “The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!) but the deified body of the Lord itself: for the Lord said, ‘This is my body’ not this is a figure of my body; and ‘my blood,’ not, ‘a figure of my blood.’ And on a previous occasion He had said to the Jews, ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. For My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed (De. Fid. Orth. iv, 13).
Both in the New Testament and the Fathers, we find the Tradition of the Church affirmed. Jesus Christ is present on the Altar, although under the material or visible forms or signs of bread and wine.
The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Church. It is the most important of all the Sacraments. In fact, it is the end of all the other Sacraments, e.g., Baptism for its reception, Penance to prepare one to receive it, Ordination to serve it, Matrimony to usher the family into it, etc. We will discuss this matter in another article, but for now we will say that all the Sacraments are related to the Eucharist as the human body to the heart. Where there is no Eucharist, there is no other Sacrament, because all other Sacraments exist for the sake of the precious Body and Blood of the Son of God. It is the center of the Orthodox Church. For that reason it is called “the Sacrament of Unity.” It is the Sacrament which unites men to Christ and to the Trinity. It is that by which Church unity is obtained. It operates in the Church, for the Church, and by the Church: or rather by the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church. The Holy Spirit transforms mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist does not work by magic, but by the Power of God.
The Holy Eucharist, or as the Fathers used to say, “the Sacrament of Sacraments” is the Sacrament of the Church, but nowadays we think of it as a means of individual salvation, a stimulant of individual devotion, or something to be taken by the individual who thinks he has sinned. Thus, the individual thinks he has the right to determine when he will take it. He usually has two reasons for not receiving; either he is unworthy or he has not sinned. He feels either he shouldn’t receive or has no need to. These ideas contain a gross misconception and reveal great ignorance of the meaning and purposes of the Holy Eucharist. In the First place, we are never worthy of Christ; and in the second place, we are always sinners. Furthermore, the Eucharist is not to be received for our ulcers, business, schoolwork, guilt-feelings, psychological
satisfaction, or because we want to obey a law that Communion must be received once a year. All of this is deadly wrong. The Eucharist is for the unity of the Church; to unite the members of the Church on earth with the members of the Church in heaven, the angels and the Blessed Trinity. It is “the Sacrament of unity.” This unity of Christ and the Church is the only reason why we take it. Jesus said in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John:
“Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. . . (v. 11). “I do not pray for these only (the Apostles), but also for those who are to believe in me through their word, that they may all be one: even as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me” (v. 20-21).
And St. Paul wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, the 10th Chapter, the l6th-17th verses:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf.”
There are of course various effects of this Sacrament, such as the forgiveness of sins and the acquisition of grace, and the like, but these are not the most important things. Unity through the love and sacrifice of Christ is that with which we must concern ourselves.
When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ during the Liturgy, we receive Christ Himself, therefore, the Church which is His Body. Christ is really present in the Eucharist and as many as receive Him receive those united to the Church. We have fellowship, brother-hood with one another and Christ. The unity or fellowship with one another, the heavenly part of the Church, the angels and God is the “Kingdom of God.” This is the way that it will be in Heaven: perfect harmony and love between God, men, and angels. In the Holy Eucharist, we have a present realization of the “Kingdom of God,” a foretaste of what is to come, an earthly anticipation of the Kingdom to come. It is a heaven on earth, as it were. On Earth that fellowship or brotherhood or unity is made through the reception of the members of the Church, receives the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, if you prefer, She remembers the death of the Lord until He comes again. She is remembering the act whereby our salvation was accomplished and participates in it. She offers Herself to God the Father. The sacrifice of Calvary is realized in us. There are not many sacrifices, but one: Christ and the Church are one: there is one sacrifice, not many. Thus, if we do not receive Holy Communion, not only do we exclude ourselves from the Orthodox fellowship with Christ, but we do not participate in the sacrifice (offering) of Christ to the Father. The Church united with Christ, or in Christ, offers the one unique sacrifice to God. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of unity, the unity in which and by which, together we offer with Christ our lives to God the Father. It is for this reason that we must receive Holy Communion at each Liturgy.
Indeed, the Liturgy is Eucharist centered. It is a preparation for the reception of the Sacrament, the Mystery. The meaning of the Liturgy is lost unless we communicate. As a matter of historical fact, the early Church never had a Liturgy without some communicants. Briefly, then, the Holy Eucharist is the unity of those who offer themselves with Christ to God the Father. It is the fellowship of the whole Church — Christ, the departed and those still alive, the far and the near — before the Altar of the Lord.