Great Thursday, Holy Week and the Eucharist

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Apr 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM4/27/00

Greek Orthodox Church

Alkiviadis C. Calivas

Brookline, Massachusetts 02146

Great Thursday


On Great Thursday the focus of the Church turns to the events
that occurred in the Upper Room and at the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the Upper Room, while at meal, Jesus established and in-
stituted the mystery or sacrament of the holy Eucharist and washed
the feet of His disciples as well.
The Garden of Gethsemane calls our attention to Jesus' redem-
tive obedience and sublime prayer (Mt 26.36-46). It also brings us
before the cowardly, treacherous act of Judas, who betrayed Christ
with a kiss, the sign of love and friendship.

The Eucharist
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a radically
new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He iden-
tified Himself with the bread and wine: "Take, eat; this is my Body.
. . Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Cove-
nant" (Mt 26.26-28).
We have learned to equate food with life because it sustains
our earthly existence. In the Eucharist the distinctively unique
human food-bread and wine-becomes our gift of life. Con-
secrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and
Blood of Christ. This change is not physical but mystical and
sacramental. While the qualities of the bread and wine remain, we
partake of the true Body and Blood of Christ. In the eucharistic
meal God enters into such a communion of life that He feeds
humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. In the
words of St. Maximos the Confessor, Christ, "transmits to us divine
life, making Himself eatable." The Author of life shatters the limita-
tions of our createdness. Christ acts so that "we might become
sharers of divine nature" (2 Pet 1.4).
The Eucharist is at the center of the Church's life. It is her
most profound prayer and principal activity. It is at one and the
same time both the source and the summit of her life. In the
Eucharist the Church manifests her true nature and is continuously
changed from a human community into the Body of Christ, the
Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God.
The Eucharist is the pre-eminent sacrament. It completes all
the others and recapitulates the entire economy of salvation. Our
new life in Christ is constantly renewed and increased by the
Eucharist. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the
life of God.
Through baptism and chrismation we have entered into a new
mode of existence. It is an existence of constant becoming. The
Scriptures describe this as new birth, the death of the old man,
the putting off of the old nature and the putting on of the
new. This newness, this radical change in the mode of ex-
istence, is not accomplished by human effort. It is a gift from God.
Rooted in the age to come, this new existence is maintained and
nourished by the Eucharist. At every Divine Liturgy we hear the
good news of Christ and enter into the process of conversion. We
are given the possibility to acquire for ourselves the eucharistic
manner of existence. Little by little we become ourselves commu-
nion and love. At the Divine Liturgy the tragic elements of our
fallen existence-pride, individualism, blasphemy, vanity,
hypocrisy, envy, anger, division, fear, despair, pain, deceit, un-
truth, malice, greed, vice, gluttony, passions, corruption, death-
are being continuously defeated, in order to make us capable to
be love, freedom and life."8
The Eucharist is offered to the Church as a whole not as a
reward, but as a remedy for sin, a provision for life, the commu-
nion of the Holy Spirit, and an opening to others. Every baptized
and chrismated Orthodox Christian should be a regular and fre-
quent recipient of the divine Mysteries. Care, however, must be
taken that Holy Communion is approached with spiritual discern-
ment and adequate preparation. A total fast, as described above,
precedes our reception of Holy Communion. The observance of
God's commandments constitutes the essential preparation and
proper disposition for participation in the sacrament.
In the Eucharist the Church remembers and enacts sacramen-
tally the redemptive event of the Cross and participates in its sav-
ing grace. This does not suggest that the Eucharist attempts to
reclaim a past event. The Eucharist does not repeat what cannot
be repeated. Christ is not slain anew and repeatedly. Rather
eucharistic food is changed concretely and really into the Body
and Blood of the Lamb of God, "Who gave Himself up for the
life of the world.'' Christ, the Theanthropos, continually offers
Himself to the faithful through the consecrated Gifts, i.e., His very
own risen and deified Body, which for our sake died once and
now lives (Heb 10.2; Rev 1.18). Hence, the faithful come to Church
week by week not only to worship God and to hear His word. They
come, first of all, to experience over and over the mystery of salva-
tion and to be united intimately to the Passion and Resurrection
of the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the power of His sacrifice Christ draws us into His own
sacrificial action. The Church also offers sacrifice. However, the
sacrifice offered by the Church and her members can only be an
offering given in return to God on account of the riches of His
goodness, mercy and love. This sacrifice is first of all, a sacrifice
of praise and thanksgiving. It also has other forms, including com-
mitment to the Gospel, loyalty to the true faith, constant prayer,
fasting, struggles against the passions, and works of charity.
At it's deepest level, however, this offering in return
is an act of kenosis (Lk 9.23-25). It is constituted by our willingness
to lose our life in order to gain it (Mt 16.28).
In the Eucharist we receive and partake of the resurrection
Christ. We share in His sacrificed, risen and deified Body, for
the forgiveness of sins and life eternal" (Divine Liturgy). In the
Eucharist Christ pours into us-as a permanent and constant
gift-the Holy Spirit, "Who bears witness with our spirit that
we are children of God-and if children-then heirs with Christ.
(Rom 8.16-17).
The central fruit of the Eucharist is the communion of the
Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, who prepares
us for the resurrection and makes us advance toward it (Rom 8:2-
9: 8). The other fruits of the Eucharist are related to this central gift.
Vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, a clear conscience are both
a preparation for as well as the result of our communion with the
Holy Spirit. Sonship, fellowship with the saints, the manifestation
of love in the unity of faith, and the inheritance of the heavenly
kingdom are obtained by the communion of the Holy Spirit.
St. Gregory Palamas, in an insightful passage, helps us to
understand the power and wonder of the Eucharist :

Christ has become our brother by sharing our flesh and blood
and so becoming assimilated to us . . . He has joined and bound
us to Himself, as a husband his wife, by becoming one single flesh
with us through the communion of His blood; He has also become
our Father by divine baptism which renders us like unto Him,
and He nourishes us at His own breast as a tender mother
nourishes her babies . . . Come, He says, eat my Body, drink my
Blood . . . so that you be not only made after God's image, but
become gods and kings, eternal and heavenly, clothing yourselves
with me, King and God.l2'

Posted by Dr George

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