This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of the eucharist.
Of the many sacraments of the Church, the Holy Eucharist is central. “Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” (1) If one takes a moment to think about the sacraments of the church, it is evident that this is true! Baptism, chrismation, and confession make us eligible and prepared to receive the eucharist. Ordination provides the blessed hands (and heart) to prepare and serve it. Marriage and unction flow from the abundant grace of the eucharist, and both of these sacraments can/should go on to become healing elements for members of the Church and society in general. So all of the mysteries of the Church have the eucharist at their heart.
But what does the word mean? And how did this sacrament begin? The Orthodox Study Bible’s definition of eucharist explains that the word is “taken from a Greek word [Ευχαριστία] meaning ‘thanksgiving.’”(2, p. 1779) It goes on to remind the reader that during the Last Supper, our Lord gave thanks, then it reminds us that “embodied in the communion service is our own thanksgiving.” (ibid)
How beautiful it is that this thanksgiving that we find in our communion service was actually begun by our Lord Himself when He gave thanks in the midst of the Last Supper (which was a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal). When Christ told His disciples to eat and drink the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, that action “became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of His people.” (1) They did just that, and we continue to do it today. The eucharist has been practiced in the Holy Orthodox Church since the first century, according to the Didache!
The sacrament of eucharist is available to all members of the Orthodox Church, and is “strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in His name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.” (1) Because of this, we take the eucharist very seriously, preparing our hearts and our bodies with prayer, confession, and fasting before communing, and reserving the act of communion for Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church.
Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of the eucharist! May He make us worthy to partake of it, and as we do, may He cleanse and purify us that we may become ever more like Him!
- Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Eucharist. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist .
- Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on the sacrament of the eucharist, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study the sacrament.
What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:56, NKJV)
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” (Matt. 26:26-28, NKJV)
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Cor 11:23–26, NKJV)
“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria
“Whenever we enter the church and draw near to the heavenly mysteries, we ought to approach with all humility and fear, both because of the presence of the angelic powers and out of the reverence due to the sacred oblation; for as the Angels are said to have stood by the Lord’s body when it lay in the tomb, so we must believe that they are present in the celebration of the Mysteries of His most sacred Body at the time of consecration.” ~ St. Bede the Venerable
“Until a man’s earthly life finishes its course, up to the very departure of the soul from the body, the struggle between sin and righteousness continues within him. However, high a spiritual and moral state one might achieve, a gradual or even headlong and deep fall into the abyss of sin is always possible. Therefore, communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, which strengthens our contact with Him and refreshes us with the living streams of the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing through the Body of the Church, is necessary for everyone.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco
“For a man’s complete sanctification, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and the true Blood of Christ which we receive become part of the great Body of Christ.
Of course, for union with Christ, the mere conjoining of our body with the Body of Christ does not suffice. The consumption of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial when in spirit we strive towards Him and unite ourselves with Him. Receiving the Body of Christ, while turning away from Him in spirit, is like the contact with Christ which they had who struck Him and mocked and crucified Him. Their contact with Him served not for their salvation and healing, but for their condemnation. But those who partake with piety, love and readiness to serve Him, closely unite themselves with Him and become instruments of His Divine will.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco
“When going to the Holy Mysteries, go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence towards this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave it to the Lord Himself. Many desire ahead of time to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him — to strengthen you in every kind of good so that you will be acceptable to Him. The fruit of Communion most often has a taste of sweet peace in the heart; sometimes it brings enlightenment to thought and inspiration to one’s devotion to the Lord; sometimes almost nothing is apparent, but afterward in one’s affairs there is a noted a great strength and steadfastness in the diligence one has promised.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse
Revel in the beauty of this multifaceted list of what the eucharist is, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: http://ww1.antiochian.org/eucharist
“The policy of closed communion does not imply that those outside the Orthodox Church are considered not to be Christians, or not to be saved. The Church explicitly refuses to pass judgment concerning the salvation of any individual, within or outside her walls. But having received the deposit of Faith from the Lord and His Apostles, and having faithfully kept it intact down to this day, the Church must protect that deposit by extending communion only to those who have united themselves to her.” ~ Fr. James Bernstein, http://store.ancientfaith.com/communion-a-family-affair/
In what ways is the sacrament of the eucharist like the coal in Isaiah 6:7? Read this article to find out: http://ww1.antiochian.org/holy-eucharist-live-coal