On Holy Thursday one of the events the Orthodox Church commemorates is the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at Christ’s last meal with His disciples; on this occasion I thought to share a post from Abbot Tryphon on the topic of this mystical sacrifice:
The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice, in which Christ himself performs the act of offering, and is both priest and victim. This sacrifice is offered to God the Trinity, and not just to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. It is Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.
Our Orthodox theology also teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead, and is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. This sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.
All the events of Christ’s sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present. The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical, and is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because the bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and His manifestation to us in Christ. It is a mystery precisely because the Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is “not of this world.” The Eucharist, because it belongs to God’s Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born “logic” of fallen humanity.
Saint John of Damascus tells us, “If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit … we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable”.
With love in Christ,
On Thursday of Holy Week (today) we commemorate the first eucharist as the Lord Jesus instituted it, what we Orthodox call The Mystical Supper. On the Orthodox Wiki discussion page I found that someone had asked for clarification of what the Real Presence is, according to Orthodoxy; it seemed confusing to them. Then various people gave input. One said that it may be confusing because it is a Mystery. [Think smiley face] It is a common joke in or on the Church that this is a facile answer.
But it points to the true nature of the faith, that our relationship with God is not purely intellectual. We do not know Him by putting together all the facts we’ve learned; He doesn’t reveal Himself through our intellects alone, or even primarily.
Fr. Thomas Hopko says, “The mystery of the holy eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the eucharist — and Christ himself — is indeed a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is ‘not of this world.’ The eucharist — because it belongs to God’s Kingdom — is truly free from the earth-born ‘logic’ of fallen humanity.”
The page on The Holy Mysteries, what we call the sacraments, is very good! It starts right out with this perspective and reality about the Church that I love: “…the Orthodox Church considers everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical.” I suppose this is why “There has never been a universal declaration within the Orthodox Church that there are only seven sacraments.”
I knew that, but I learned some other things, more historical and not so mystical, reading these pages today: “While the Synoptics do give the Last Supper as a Passover seder, John’s Gospel (which the Church privileges over the others) has it happen before the Passover.” The contributors all seemed to agree on these points though they differed on their theological significance.
On a more personal note, while I am grieving the death of my husband, I’ve been so grateful that we are in Holy Week, with its numerous opportunities to participate in this sacrament, this mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven — and truly, in all the abundant graces of the Church. It’s not facts that have been sustaining me, but His Real Presence.
The Orthodox Church remembers so many events on Holy Thursday that it takes five mostly-long passages to comprise the Gospel reading. These events are: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.
Icon Reader shares a 15th-century Russian icon that includes all of these events:
This site explains at length all the commemorations of the day, including the Last Supper, which is our experience also in the Divine Liturgy as the article testifies: “In the Eucharist the Church remembers and enacts sacramentally the redemptive event of the Cross and participates in its saving grace.”
On his blog this week Fr. Stephen explores Judas’s “banal and prosaic” reason for betraying Jesus: the love of money. He writes: “Money is the anti-Eucharist. Like the Eucharist, it is a way of life.”
“Christ gives His disciples the Eucharist on the ‘night in which He was betrayed.’ … Christ loves the Father – and all that the Father has given to Him. The bread that Christ gives is life, and life more abundantly…God give us life!