The Mystery of Mysteries

Mystical Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, 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, until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23-26).

“The Holy Eucharist is called the “sacrament of sacraments” in the Orthodox tradition. The eucharist is the center of the Church’s life. Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all of the Church’s sacraments — the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” Fr. Tom Hopko

My teacher goes on to say, and I am quoting him at length, “In the history of Christian thought, various ways were developed to try to explain how the bread and the wine become the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy. Quite unfortunately, these explanations often became too rationalistic and too closely connected with certain human philosophies.

One of the most unfortunate developments took place when men began to debate the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in the eucharist. While some said that the eucharistic gifts of bread and wine were the real Body and Blood of Christ, others said that the gifts were not real, but merely the symbolic or mystical presence of the Body and Blood. The tragedy in both of these approaches is that what is real came to be opposed to what is symbolic or mystical.

The Orthodox Church denies the doctrine that the Body and the Blood of the eucharist are merely intellectual or psychological symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood. If this doctrine were true, when the liturgy is celebrated and holy communion is given, the people would be called merely to think about Jesus and to commune with him “in their hearts.” In this way, the eucharist would be reduced to a simple memorial meal of the Lord’s last supper, and the union with God through its reception would come only on the level of thought or psychological recollection.

The eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and manifestation to us in Christ. Thus, by eating and drinking the bread and wine, which are mystically consecrated by the Holy Spirit, we have genuine communion with God through Christ who is himself “the bread of life” John 6:34, 41.

Thus, the bread of the eucharist is Christ’s flesh, and Christ’s flesh is the eucharistic bread. The two are brought together into one. The word “symbolical” in Orthodox terminology means exactly this: “to bring together into one.”

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.” Hopko

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2 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Christianity

2 responses to “The Mystery of Mysteries

  1. Mark

    I am a recent convert to the Romanian Eastern Orthodox Church having been Baptised as an adult in 2009. My preparation for this Baptism and a subsequent Eucharist was taken with proper preparation including fasting and confession (mindful of our instruction that”Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord “) and I was amazed with what I have expereienced. I have not tried to rationalise it or explain it in a way that I would perhaps of tried previously. However I have been told that what I felt (which lasted for 1 1/2 hours for myself and 4 hours for my wife) was the Holy Spirit over and within my body. There is no way this is a memorial meal and I am satisified that it “is truly free from the earth-born logic…”

  2. Pingback: The Mystery of Mysteries « Sowing Seeds of Orthodoxy

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