The Holy Eucharist
"Oh taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8)
WHAT DOES THE WORD "EUCHARIST" MEAN?
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek and means Thanksgiving. The Lord's Supper is called the Holy Eucharist because when Christ instituted it He gave thanks, "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" (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
THE PLACE OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP
The Holy Eucharist is the principal act of Christian worship as it is the one Service instituted by Christ Himself. Other religions have prayer, readings, hymns and sermons, but only Christians celebrate the Eucharist.
Following the example of the Apostles and early Christians, the Church has assembled on the Lord's Day (Sunday) week by week for nearly 2,000 years to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread [the Eucharist], and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ are received. At the Last Supper the Lord Jesus Christ said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." He did not say, "This represents my body" or "This is a symbol of my blood."
Jesus said, "'I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.' The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?' Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:48-58).
Just like today, many of the disciples who heard these words would not accept them. "Therefore, many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?" (John 6:60). Yet Jesus did not take His words back, or explain that they were only meant to be taken "symbolically." And just like today, from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." (John 6:66).
The Apostles and early Christians understood that Christ meant his words to be taken literally. The Sacrament of Holy Communion does not merely represent the Body and Blood of Christ, but actually presents the Body and Blood of Christ. The true Body and Blood of Christ is received in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (I Cor. 10:16).
Because Christ is really present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, St. Paul goes on to warn, "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." (I Cor. 11:27-29).
The early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and so did all Christians everywhere for some 1,500 years until the Protestant Reformation in Western Europe in the 16th century.
St. Ignatius, an early Church Father, lived from AD 30 to 107. He was Bishop of Antioch, and was martyred for his faith. He was a disciple of the Apostle John. While awaiting martyrdom he wrote a number of epistles (letters) to various churches. To the Church in Ephesus he wrote, "obey the bishop and presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but that we should live forever in Jesus Christ" (Epistle to the Ephesians, c. AD 105).
In his Epistle to the Romans, (c. AD 105), St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."
St. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) wrote, “And this food is called among us the Eucharist... For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh" (First Apology).
St. Cyril was an early Bishop of Jerusalem, the Mother Church of Christendom. Around the year AD 350 he delivered introductory lectures to his classes of catechumens. Regarding the Eucharist he said, "The bread and wine of the Eucharist, before the invocation of the holy and adorable Trinity, were simple bread and wine; but, after the invocation, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes the blood of Christ" (Mystagogical Lecture 1.7).
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) said, "I am mindful of my promise. For I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the Sacrament of the Lord's Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine, the Lord Christ willed to commend his Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins" (Sermons).
WHO CAN CELEBRATE THE HOLY EUCHARIST?
In his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. AD 105), St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote, "See that ye follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery [the priests] as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [celebrated] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he entrusted it [a priest]."
The Orthodox Church is the historic Church which Christ Himself established. We have a verifiable and unbroken history going back nearly 2,000 years. We still believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and our bishops and priests still celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Lord's Day.