Word Magazine May 1960 Page 6-7
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
By Father Michael Azkoul, Spring Valley, III.
The last article was concerned with the Holy Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of the Son of God. We said that it was His real Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine. The transformation of bread and wine into spiritual realities takes place at each Divine Liturgy. We said that it must be taken at the time of Liturgy, with the right preparation. If there is no grave sin, then, Confession is not required. But if there is no need for Confession, then, one must prepare himself with prayers and examination of conscience. Incidentally, sins are grave that are mentioned on Pages 39-43 in the Pocket Prayer Book For Orthodox Christians. By partaking of the Body and Blood, the Church has fellowship with Herself and God; and we join Christ on the Cross and offer ourselves with Him to the Father. Now we are going to study the Bible and see what it can tell us about the Holy Eucharist. We will investigate (1) Melchisedech, (2) the Rock of Horeb, and Heavenly Manna, and (3) the Holy Eucharist as a Banquet.
The Bread and Wine offered by the ancient Hebrew priest, Melchisedech, were considered from a very early date to be a foretelling of the Eucharist. Clement of Alexandria in the second century spoke of “Melchisedech, who offered bread and wine, the consecrated food as a figure of the Eucharist” (STROM iv). St. Cyprian not much later enumerated texts in the Old Testament in which wine is presented as a figure of the Eucharist. Among these passages the most important is that concerning Melchisedech: “In Melchisedech the priest, we see the Sacrament of the Lord foretold according to the witness of the Scripture; Melchisedech, king of Salem, offered bread and wine” (Ep. LXII).
Cyprian begins by showing that Melchisedech is a figure of Christ, basing his statement on Psalm cix, 4: “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech”; and “Who is more a priest of God Most High than our Lord Jesus Christ?”, asks the Saint; “Who offered to the Father the same offering as Melchisedech, that is, bread and wine, which is to say, His Body and Blood?” Christ is the sacrifice to the Father for our sins. According to the Bible, it is a priest such as Melchisedech that makes the offering. Jesus offered Himself to the Father for our sins. Thus, Jesus is both He that offers and is offered. “Thus,” continues Cyprian, “the sacrifice consisting of bread and wine has taken place in the past. And it is this figure that the Lord fulfilled and accomplished when He offered the bread and the chalice of wine mingled with water: He who is the fulfillment accomplished the reality of the figurative image.”
Now, the effect of the epistle to the Hebrews is to present Melchisedech as the figure of Christ, the eternal priest. The Sacrifice of Melchisedech altered by Christ in the epistle is mentioned by the prophet Malachi (i, 11) as characteristic of the Church and the Kingdom of God. Father Danielou says in his Mystery of the Advent:
“Christ is not only the fulfillment not only of the figures of the worship of the Old Testament, but of all the sacrifices which in all religions and all times men have offered to God . . . It is the universal character of the sacrifice of the Eucharist which is signified by the appearance of bread and wine, and it is that that the liturgy . . .is stating when it shows us that it was prefigured in “the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim, offered by the high priest, Melchisedech.”
Thus, we see that the symbolism is concerned with the elements of the bread and wine. The Old Testament is a promise, Christ the fulfillment; the Old Testament is a looking forward, Christ is a making present; the Old Testament symbolizes, Christ realizes; the Old Testament prophecies through its personalities, such as Melchisedech, what Christ is to do; Christ does what was expected; what was a human being offering bread and wine to God as an offering, Becomes in Christ, His own Body and Blood.
(2) The Heavenly Manna and the Rock of Horeb: with the miracles mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the Eucharist corresponds with the marvelous conditions under which the People of God were nourished. The Eucharist is foretold in the two essential episodes recorded in Chapters 16 and 17 of Exodus; the heavenly manna and the rock of Horeb. St. Ambrose writes concerning the first: “The manna was a great marvel, the manna that God rained down on them. The heavens nourished them with daily food. As it is written: ‘men ate the bread of angels’ (PSALM lxxv, 25). And nevertheless, those who ate this bread died in the desert. But this nourishment that you receive, the Bread descended from heaven communicates to you the substance of eternal life. It is the body of Christ. . . .” (De. Sacra., 46).
The Jews were led from Egypt by Moses. They were wandering about in the desert after the escape. They asked Moses for food and he turned to God. God sent “manna” or the bread from heaven. The Jews died because it was only bread. Christ said “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which comes down from
heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (JOHN vi, 48-51). Like the “manna” Christ descended from heaven. “Manna was given that men might not die, but Christ is given us that we can not die. We are like the Jews who have escaped from the Kingdom of the Devil, signified in the Old Testament by Egypt. The desert in which the Jews wandered under the leadership of Moses is like the world through which we are led by Christ. The Jews were fed with “Manna,” we are fed by the body of Christ. As God fed His People in the Old Testament with a miraculous food, He feeds His New People with a miraculous food.
In On the Sacraments (48), St. Ambrose tells us about the miracle of the Rock of Horeb: “The water flowed from the Rock for the Jews, the Blood of Christ for you; the water slaked their thirst for an hour, the Blood quenches your thirst forever. The Jews drank and thirsted once more; when you have drunk, you need never thirst again. That was a figure, this is the truth. If the figure seems wonderful to you, how much more the reality of the figure which you admire.” St. Paul writes (I COR. x i-5): “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ . . . The Jews were in the desert, and were thirsty, and when Moses approached a place called Horeb, there was a rock. He struck it with his staff and out came water. This is a foretelling of the blood that gushed from the pierced side of Christ. St. Augustine wrote in his tract On the Gospel of John: “All drank of the same spiritual drink. They (the Jews) drank one kind of drink, we another. But these differ only in visible appearance, for they signify the same thing by their hidden power. How did they drink: ‘They drank of the Rock that followed them and this rock was Christ.’ The Rock is the figure of Christ, the true Christ is God united to the flesh. And how did they (the Jews) drink it? The rock was struck twice by the staff. This double blow is a figure of the two arms of the Cross” and St. Ambrose affirms this interpretation “What does it contain, the prefiguration given to us in the time of Moses? We see here that the Jewish people were thirsty and that they complained because they did not find water. Then, Moses touched the rock and it produced water in abundance according to the word of the Apostle: ‘They drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them.’ And this rock was Christ. Drink, you, also, so that Christ may be with you…” The “desert” signifies the world; Moses and the Rock signify Christ, because He is both priest and sacrifice; the water is the blood; the staff, the hammer that nailed the arms of Christ to the Cross, or even the spear that pierced His side.
Now, let’s put this together: the Old Testament tells us that Moses was leading the Jews from Egypt, through the desert to the Promised Land. He delivered them from Egypt out of the hands of Pharaoh. Christ leads the Church to Heaven. He has delivered us from Hell, from Satan and through this evil world. The Jews were fed with “manna” and “water”; we are fed in our journey by the Body and Blood of Christ. Wine and bread are used because Melchisedech offered them to God as a sacrifice or offering for sins. Christ offered Himself, His Body and Blood as a sacrifice for our sins. During the Divine Liturgy, the same sacrifice of Christ is made and received, but the real Body and Blood of Christ is offered to God under the forms of bread and wine. By our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, we are united to Christ and offered with Him to the Father.
(3) Banquet: from a passage in his Letter to Cecelius (lxii, 5) in which he gives the Old Testament prophecies of the Holy Eucharist, Cyprian adds to the episode of Melchisedech, the Banquet of Wisdom: “By Solomon also the Spirit shows us the figure of the Lord is making mention of the sacrificed victim, of the Bread and wine, and also of the altar: Wisdom, Solomon says, has built a house and supported it with seven columns. She has slain her victim, she has mingled water and wine in the cup, she has set the table, then, she sends her servants in a loud voice inviting the guests to come and drink her cup, saying: “Come eat my bread and drink the wine that I have mingled for you. Solomon speaks of the mingled wine, that is to say, he announced prophetically the chalice of the Lord mingled with water and wine.”
Wisdom has often been considered Christ Himself; often the Church, but we will not go into that now. In any case, Wisdom calls the believer to dine, to partake of the holy banquet. This passage corresponds with the parable in Luke XIV, 16-24. The supper in Luke was for the Jews, but they made excuses, and the Banquet was open to all men. Again, in Luke xxii, 20-30, Jesus said to the Apostles: “And I appoint unto you a Kingdom, as my Father has appointed me; that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. . .” This banquet takes place in the Temple of Wisdom, the Church.
The banquets, such as the Banquet of Wisdom, in the Old Testament are messianic in character, that is, indicates the presence of Christ. Furthermore, they are joyful occasions because the Messiah is present and because they are the supreme opportunity for the believer to approach His Lord. His food is the joy of sinners. As it is written in St. Luke (vii, 34); “The Son of man (Christ) came eating and drinking and you (Pharisees) say, ‘Behold a man who is a glutton and a wine-drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners.’” Jesus showed that He had come to bring joy by destroying the barrier between sinful men and God. He ate and drank with them. He was present at the meal. All the meals mentioned in the New Testament (e.g., feeding of the 5,000) are messianic banquets, a preparation for the great feast of the Lord’s Supper. For example, see Mark vi, 41-42 and notice the similarity with Mark xiv, 22 and the other records of the Lord’s Supper before His Death.
We can see the importance of these many symbols, figures and prophecies, if the Eucharist is conceived as a meal. The Old Testament foretells the Sacrament which Christ instituted.
Melchisedech is the first instance of a priest who uses bread and wine as an offering to the Father: “manna” and the water that came from “the Rock of Horeb” foretell our sustenance in this world; and the meal or banquet in the Temple of Wisdom is the best prophecy of the great food of Christians. All of this adds up to the Eucharist as the central principle of the Christian faiths, the first principle of the Christian life, the spiritual nourishment of the People of God, Orthodox Christians, on their way to Heaven, because they have shared in the offering or sacrifice of Christ to the Father and are sent heavenward because that is where Jesus Christ has gone. Being members of His Body, the Church, we must go where He has gone, because the arms and legs must go where the human body moves. Bread and wine are used because it is food which makes the consumption of blood and flesh easy; and because they are the best figures of the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God.