central place among the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church is held by
the Holy Eucharist the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus
Christ. In modern times the Holy Eucharist is celebrated in the
Orthodox Church at the following Liturgies:
1. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the usual Liturgy of Sundays and Weekdays.
2. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great celebrated on the Sundays of Great Lent and certain Feast Days.
3. The Liturgy of St. James the Brother of the Lord celebrated on October 23 (St. James' Day) in certain places only (e.g., Jerusalem).
4. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
celebrated on Weekdays of Great Lent and Holy Week. (At this Liturgy
there is no consecration of the Holy Gifts, but rather Communion is
given from the Gifts consecrated on the previous Sunday hence
The Savior Himself said, I am the bread of life;
he who conies to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall
never thirst....If any one eats of this bread he will live forever; and
the bread which I shall give for the life of 'the world is My flesh
(John 6:35,51). At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and
broke it, and give it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My
body'. And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to
them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the new
covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'
(Matt. 26:26-28; cf. Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13; 1 Cor. 11:23-30).
institution of the Eucharist by our Lord is the means whereby we become
united with Christ and with each other as a church, for, as St. Paul
says, the goal of every Christian is to grow up in every way into Him
Who is the head, into Christ, from Whom the whole body, joined and knit
together by every joint with which it is sup plied...makes bodily
growth and up builds itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16). This is so since
Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior
(Eph. 5:23). We become part of the Mystical Body of Christ by our
communion of the Holy Eucharist. As St. Paul says: The cup of blessing
which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The
bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all
partake of the one bread (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
Only by belonging to
the Church, or in other words, being in communion with the very essence
of Christ through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, can one attain
salvation unto eternal life, thus we can answer the question, Who can
be regarded as a member of the Church of Christ? by saying, All those
who have been properly baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the true Son of God
come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3), and are united by the grace of the
Sacraments in particular the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
administered by the Priesthood of Apostolic Succession.
of all Christian believers in the Holy Eucharist is strongly stressed
by the Fathers of the Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Letter to
the Ephesians reminds them that all of you to the last, without
exception, through God's grace are united in common faith and in Jesus
Christ..., so obey the Bishop and the Presbyters in complete harmony,
breaking one bread, this remedy for immortality. Moreover, the
Eucharist is not only a testament to the internal and external unity of
the Church, but is also the means for strengthening this unity.
Therefore St. Ignatius stresses more frequent Communion: Try to gather
more often for the Eucharist and glorification of God. For if you
gather together often, the forces of Satan are overthrown, and his
destructive deeds are wrecked by your single-hearted faith [To the
The union of believers with Christ in the Eucharist
is also stressed by St. Cyprian of Carthage who, speaking of the mixing
of water and wine in the cup, gives an extended meaning to this mixing:
The people are designated by water, the blood of Christ by wine. Mixing
water and wine in the cup shows the people's union with Christ, the
believers' union with Him in Whom they believe. Water and wine after
mixing in the Lord's Cup are so inseparably and closely united that
they cannot be separated one from another. In just this way nothing can
separate from Christ the Church, that is, the people that make up the
Church, firmly and unshakeably abiding in faith and joined by eternal,
indivisible love [Letter to Cacaelius].
This is reaffirmed in the
Liturgy of St. Basil the Great when, after the blessing of the Holy
Gifts, we pray that the Heavenly Father unite us all, as many as are
partakers in the one bread and one cup, one with another in communion
with the One Holy Spirit. Thus we can say that whereas entrance into
the Church begins with Holy Baptism, its fulfillment lies in the Holy
Orthodox Theology sees the Holy Eucharist as a
sacrifice and this is affirmed in the words of the Priest, when he
says, during the Eucharistic Canon, Thine own of Thine own we offer
unto Thee on behalf of all and for all. The sacrifice offered at the
Eucharist is Christ Himself, but He Who brings the sacrifice is also
Christ. Christ is, at one and the same time, High Priest and Sacrifice.
In the prayer before the Great Entrance, the Priest prays: For Thou art
the Offerer and the Offered, the Receiver and the Received, O Christ
our God.... This Eucharist is offered to God the Holy Trinity, and so
if we ask the threefold question, What is offered? By Whom is it
offered? To Whom is it offered? we say in answer, Christ. In addition,
the sacrifice is offered on behalf of all and for all, for it is a
sacrifice of redemption which is brought for the living and the dead.
to St. Nicholas Cabasilas, a medieval Orthodox teacher, the Church's
understanding of the Eucharist is, as follows: In the first place, the
sacrifice is not only an enactment or a symbol, but a real sacrifice.
In the second, that which is sacrificed is not bread, but the very Body
of Christ. In the third place, the Lamb of God was immolated only once
and for all times. The Eucharist sacrifice consists not of the real or
blood sacrifice of the Lamb, but in the transformation of bread into
the sacrificed Lamb [Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, 32].
to the Orthodox Church, then, the Eucharist is not just a reminder of
Christ's sacrifice or of its enactment, but it is a real sacrifice. On
the other hand, however, it is not a new sacrifice, nor a repetition of
the Sacrifice of the Cross upon Golgotha. The events of Christ's
Sacrifice the Incarnation, the Institution of the Eucharist, the
Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, are not repeated
during the Eucharist, yet they become a present reality. As one
Orthodox theologian has said, During the Liturgy we are projected in
time to that place where eternity and time intersect, and then we
become the contemporaries of these events that we are calling to mind
[P. N. Evdokimov, L'Orthodoxie, p. 241]. Thus the Eucharist and all the
Holy Liturgy is, in structure, a sacrificial service.
this takes place is a mystery. As Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow wrote
in his Longer Catechism, concerning the changing of the bread and wine
into the Body and Blood of Christ, this none can understand but God;
but only this much is signified, that the bread truly, really and
substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the
very Blood of the Lord. Furthermore, as St. John of Damascus states, 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 the manner of
operation unsearchable [On the Orthodox Faith, IV, 13).
the Communion itself, in the Orthodox Church both laity and clergy
always receive Communion of both the Body and Blood of Christ. The
Communion is given to the laity in a spoon containing a small piece of
the Holy Bread together with a portion of the wine, and it is received
standing. A strict fast is observed, usually from the night before, and
nothing can be eaten or drunk after waking in the morning before
Communion. As a theologian of the Church has well put it, You know that
those who invite the Emperor to their house, first clean their home. So
you, if you want to bring god into your bodily home for the
illumination of your life, must first sanctify your body by fasting
[Gennadius, Hundred Chapters].
After the final blessing of the
Liturgy, the faithful come up to kiss the Hand Cross held by the Priest
and those who have not communed receive a small piece of bread, called
the Antidoron, which, although blessed, was not consecrated, having
been taken from the same bread(s) from which the Lamb was taken in the
Proskomedia. This bread is given out as an expression of Christian
fellowship and love (agape).