"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." Rev. 3: 20
(Gr. Eucharistia, thanksgiving).
Names of this Sacrament
The name given to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar in its twofold aspect of sacrament and Sacrifice of Mass, and in which Jesus Christ is truly present through the bread and wine. Other titles are used in the Syriac, such as:
The Holy Fathers of the Syrian Church referred such names to this sacrament signifying the profound mystery of the bread and wine, identified with our human nature, becoming the Body and Blood of our Lord in a manner not comprehensible to the external human senses.
to which may be added the following expressions, and somewhat altered from their primitive meaning: "Agape" (Love-Feast), "Eulogia" (Blessing), "Breaking of Bread", etc.; but the ancient title "Eucharistia" appearing in writings as early as Ignatius of Antioch, has taken precedence in the technical terminology of the Church and her theologians. This extensive nomenclature, describing the great mystery from such different points of view, is in itself sufficient proof of the central position the Eucharist has occupied from the earliest ages, both in the Divine worship and services of the Church and in the life of faith and devotion which animates her members.
The modern science of comparative religion is striving, wherever it can, to discover in pagan religions "religio-historical parallels", corresponding to the theoretical and practical elements of Christianity, and thus by means of the former to give a natural explanation of the latter. Even were an analogy discernible between the Eucharistic repast and the ambrosia and nectar of the ancient Greek gods, or the haoma of the Iranians, or the soma of the ancient Hindus, we should nevertheless be very cautious not to stretch a mere analogy to a parallelism strictly so called, since the Christian Eucharist has nothing at all in common with those pagan foods, whose origin is to be found in the crassest idol- and nature-worship. What we do particularly discover is a new proof of the reasonableness of the Christian religion, from the circumstance that Jesus Christ in a wonderfully condescending manner responds to the natural craving of the human heart after a food which nourishes unto immortality, a craving expressed in many pagan religions, by dispensing to mankind His own Flesh and Blood. All that is beautiful, all that is true in the religions of nature, Christianity has appropriated to itself, and like a concave mirror has collected the dispersed and not infrequently distorted rays of truth into their common focus and again sent them forth resplendently in perfect beams of light.
The Lord Jesus instituted the holy Eucharist on Covenant Thursday (Last Supper), in the Upper Room of Zion, shortly before His arrest and trial. After He celebrated the Rite of Passover of the Jews, He rose and washed the feet of His disciples, as a sign of humility, repentance and preparation, then sat down and instituted the Passover of the New Covenant, which is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “He took bread, blessed it 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 His disciples 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’” (Matthew 26:26-28), and our teacher St Paul repeats the same words in 1 Corinthians (11:23-25).
The Meaning of the Eucharist
According to the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, of all the seven sacraments, the Holy Eucharist is the greatest and most revered and exalted, by which the believer eats the Holy Body and drinks the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, presented by the Bread and Wine. It is sometimes called the ‘Mystery of Mysteries’; for all the Sacraments are crowned by the Eucharist:
It gives us the promise of eternal life : “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. He who eats this Bread will live forever” (John 6:54,58).
It provides growth in the Spirit and spiritual perfection and life in Jesus Christ, for He said: “For My Flesh is food indeed and My Blood is drink indeed .... As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:55,57).
As food develops the body and keeps it healthy, so too the spiritual food, which is the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, strengthens the soul so that it may grow continually in grace.
It provides remedy to the soul, body and spirit, as we say in the Anaphora: “That they (Holy Body and Precious Blood) may become to us all for participation and healing and salvation for our bodies, souls, and spirits”.
Partaking of the Communion without worthiness causes weakness, sickness and death, for as St Paul said : “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
Communion gives a person immunity against sin. Material food gives him health and immunity against bacteria and viruses that attack his body. Likewise, partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ gives the spirit immunity and inaccessibility against the viruses of sins, Satanic warfare and bodily lusts, so the person lives victoriously in his spiritual struggle. The Psalmist says : “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). This verse was a prophecy about the table of Communion and its benefits for victory against our enemies.
We find many benefits of Communion in this prayer:
It gives purification for our souls, our bodies and our spirits. St Paul advises us, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
It provides the unity of the body and spirit, as St. Paul our teacher says : “For we being many, are one bread and one body, for we all partake of that one body” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
As the bread that is transubstantiated to the Body of Christ was previously grains of wheat having become bread after much grinding, kneading and baking, and the wine that is transubstantiated to become the Blood of Christ was previously many grapes pressed to become liquid, so too all the community of believers, partaking of the Holy Body and Precious Blood, become one in Christ.
Worthiness has various meanings of Communion from the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord:
True Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: as the person who approaches the Holy Communion must be a Christian Orthodox believer, baptized in the Orthodox Church, and strongly believes in the transubstantiation of the Bread to the Body of Christ, and the mixture into the Precious Blood of Christ, and that the Communion is the actual Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus.
Repentance: the person coming to Communion must practice repentance and confession regularly with his confession-father. The priest who is the Minister of the Sacrifice, can ask the person if he is not well acquainted with him, if he practices confession? If the person does, then the priest will give him the Communion, if he did not, the priest can forbid him until such time that he does confess. This is for the personal benefit of the person and the priest too, who carefully keeps the commandment of Priesthood, for as St. Paul says: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Self-examination is all about being aware of ones sins and mistakes, and confessing them honestly, as St. John Chrysostom says: “No one approaches idly or negligently, but let us approach with zeal and fervor and stay alert (ready as the judgment is prepare for those who share in an unworthy manner”.
True faith and pure repentance are the beginnings of life with Christ, as St. Paul says: “The elementary principles of Christ, the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God” (Hebrews 6:1).
Reconciliation with others: anyone who approaches the Communion must be first reconciled with others, for the Lord’s advice is clear: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24).
He must not deal with Communion as being an ordinary food, or partake of it for blessing only, but he must know the greatness of the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord, for Communion is like a live coal which the Seraphim presented to Isaiah the prophet after he confessed his sins: "So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged." (Isaiah 6:5-7).
(1) The Matter or Eucharistic Elements
There are two Eucharistic elements, bread and wine, which constitute the remote matter of the Sacrament of the Altar, while the proximate matter can be none other than the Eucharistic appearances under which the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present.
(a) The first element is wheaten bread, without which the "confection of the Sacrament does not take place", Being true bread, must be baked, since mere flour is not bread. Since, moreover, the bread required is that formed of wheaten flour, not every kind of flour is allowed for validity, such, e.g., as is ground from rye, oats, barley, Indian corn or maize, though these are all botanically classified as grain. On the other hand, the different varieties of wheat (as spelt, amel-corn, etc.) are valid, inasmuch as they can be proved botanically to be genuine wheat. The necessity of wheaten bread is deduced immediately from the words of Institution: "The Lord took bread ܠܚܡܐ" (ton arton), in connection with which it may be remarked, that in Scripture bread (ܠܚܡܐ artos), without any qualifying addition, always signifies wheaten bread. No doubt, too, Christ adhered unconditionally to the Jewish custom of using only wheaten bread in the Passover Supper, and by the words, "Do this for a commemoration of me", commanded its use for all succeeding times. In addition to this, uninterrupted tradition, whether it be the testimony of the Fathers or the practice of the Church, shows wheaten bread to have played such an essential part, that even Protestants would be loath to regard rye bread or barley bread as a proper element for the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
In accordance with our ecclesiastical tradition, the bread to be consecrated for Holy Liturgy is a flat cake made of wheat dough mixed with a small portion of leaven and salt and is imprinted with a special seal. On preparing the dough, the priest, in keeping with the ancient tradition of our Church, uses as yeast a part of the dough used for baking the bread for Liturgy the previous time. This is another expression of the oneness and unity of the sacrament of Communion offered in our churches all over the world from the apostolic times.
(b) The second Eucharistic element required is wine of the grape. Hence are excluded as invalid, not only the juices extracted and prepared from other fruits (as cider and perry), but also the so-called artificial wines, even if their chemical component is identical with the genuine juice of the grape. The necessity of wine of the grape is not so much the result of the authoritative decision of the Church, as it is presupposed by her, and is based upon the example and command of Christ, Who at the Last Supper certainly converted the natural wine of grapes into His Blood, This is deduced partly from the rite of the Passover, which required the head of the family to pass around the "cup of benediction" containing the wine of grapes, partly, and especially, from the express declaration of Christ, that henceforth He would not drink of the "fruit of the vine".
On the other hand, a very ancient law of the Church which, however, prescribes that a little water be added to the wine before the Consecration (Anaphora). The rigor of this law of the Church may be traced especially to the deep symbolical meaning contained in the mingling, inasmuch as thereby are represented the flowing of blood and water from the side of the Crucified Savior and the intimate union of the faithful with Christ.
(2) The Sacramental Form or the Words of Consecration
In the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as, in the Oriental Liturgies a petition to the Holy Spirit, "that the bread and wine may be converted into the Body and Blood of Christ". that the Latin who have no such thing as the invocation of the Holy Spirit in their present Liturgy, would possess neither the true Sacrifice of the Mass nor the Holy Eucharist.
We find the Invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of St. James:
"Have mercy upon us, O God the Father, and send upon these offerings Your Holy Spirit, the Lord Who is equal to You and to the Son in dominion, reign and eternal substance; Who spoke through Your Old and New Testaments; and descended in the likeness of a dove on our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River and in the likeness of tongues of fire on the apostles in the Upper Room."
invocation of the Holy Spirit the celebrant says on the
likewise, says on the wine:
According to the true doctrine of the Syriac Orthodox Church, within the prayer of the Divine Liturgy after the priest repeats the Lord's words, "This is My Body and this is My Blood of the New Testament," (Matthew 26:26-28), he calls down the Holy Spirit (Invocation of the Holy Spirit) to dwell the Bread and the Wine, we believe and confess that our Lord and God Jesus Christ is present in the same form of the Bread and Wine that are set on the altar before the priest.
We therefore believe and acknowledge that by receiving the Holy Eucharist, we truly eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ for eternal life that we may dwell in Him, and He in us. This is the promise of our Lord Jesus to us: "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the Body of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats of My Body and drinks of My Blood has eternal life; and I will raise him at the last day. For My Body truly is the food, and My Blood truly is the drink. He who eats My Body and drinks My Blood abides with Me, and I in him," (John 6:53-56).
By receiving this Sacrament we become members of His Body, of His Flesh and of His Bones (Ephesians 5:30), and we also become partakers of the Divine Nature, (2 Peter 1:4).