ON THE MYSTERY OF THE EUCHARIST
A Collection of Quotes
St John (Maximovich)
These quotes are from the book Sermons of Our Father John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. Together they give an illustration reflecting the pastoral and theological experience of Vladyka John.
One notices that the living ecclesiological and soteriological conceptions of the Eucharist often conflict with actual practice as it has evolved: infrequent partaking of Communion, departure from church after the Paschal midnight office before Communion (which in Vladyka John’s opinion deprives the very holiday of Pascha, indeed the meaning of Great Lent, of meaning, the relegating of Communion to individual, often simple daily needs (for health, well-being, etc). St John contrasted the uncompromisingly lofty significance of the Eucharist: it not only sanctifies, strengthens and transfigures man, but reveals to him the glory of Christ, through Whom man is united with the fullness of the Divine.
In communing of the Holy Mysteries, which lead the faithful to eternal life, and are the investment in their future communion with Christ, the Church itself is realized (as St John often said), as a new, unearthly gathering of its members, united in “the great Body of Christ.” Vladyka John insists that he worthily partakes of Communion who in return for the Gift he is given, strives towards the Lord to the point of self-denial.
The citations come from various sermons (none of which are devoted specifically to the Mystery of the Eucharist), and are given headings for convenience:
* The Mystery of the Eucharist was established by the Lord during the Mystical Last Supper.
The bread and wine translate into the Body and Blood of Christ during Divine Liturgy and the faithful partake of them. As Christ Himself established, giving His Apostles the Eucharist during the Last Supper with the words “Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament” (Matthew 26:26-27).
* The Eucharist is the Liturgical remembrance of the Mystical Last Supper.
On Great Thursday , the Mystical Last Supper and Liturgy of the day especially brilliantly remind us that, in partaking of the Holy Mysteries with piety, we together with the Apostles consume the Body and Blood of Christ, while those who do so unworthily are like Judas. But may everyone strive to commune of the Holy Gifts upon genuine repentance of one’s sins in order to receive mercy from the Lord.
* Communion sanctifies a person.
For the complete sanctification of a person, the body of the servant of the Lord must unite with the Body of Christ, which occurs during the Mystery of Holy Communion.
* Communion is the source of tenderheartedness and spiritual warmth.
Even now, Christ grants us the joy and sweetness of His Blessedness. He strengthens our souls and bodies with His Divine Mysteries… He fills us at times with an inexpressible tenderness and spiritual warmth after the pious communion of His Mysteries.
* Communion is the beginning of heaven on earth.
The entry into Hell is already here on earth. So is the entrance into Heaven, which begins in the human soul during earthly life. Here already we touch the Divine on the day of His Bright Resurrection, and when we partake of the Holy Gifts piously.
* The Eucharist communes mankind with Divine fullness and eternal life.
Unifying with the Resurrected Lord and through Him with the Eternal Trinity, man draws strength from the Trinity for eternal life, and becomes eternal himself.
* Through Holy Communion and one’s own good will, man becomes a new creature.
Not only does man’s soul unite and commune with God, but the body of man through partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, through Whom he unites with the Holy Trinity. By the Grace of God, by means of own will and effort, man becomes a new creature, a participant in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven..
* He who takes Communion worthily and who is ready to serve the Lord makes himself a tool of Divine Will.
He who partakes of the Gifts with piety, love and readiness to serve Him wholly, closely unites with Him and becomes a tool of His Divine Will.
* Communion is the victory over sin and death.
Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ is the acceptance into oneself of the Resurrected Christ, the Victor over death, Who grants those who are with Him victory over sin and death.
* The Eucharist is the precursor of eternal life.
Preserving within oneself the grace-filled gift of Communion, we have a pledge for eternal blessed life of the soul and body.
* The Eucharist is the source of eternal joy and contemplation of the glory of the Resurrected Christ.
Uniting ones soul and body with Christ in this life, will be united with Him in soul and body in the future life. The grace-filled streams of the Life-Giving Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ are the wellspring of our eternal joy in being with the Resurrected Christ and the vision of His Glory.
* Through Communion, the believer becomes a member of the great Body of Christ, that is, the Church.
The true Body and true Blood of Christ received by us become part of the Great Body of Christ.
We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ (in the Holy Mysteries) so that we, too, could become members of the Body of Christ (the Church).
Divine Eucharist, the bringing of the Bloodless Sacrifice and partaking of it sanctifies and strengthens its participants, making those who consume it true members of the Body of His Church.
* The salvation of mankind through relating him with the Divine life of the Body of Christ is the goal of the Church.
All the parts of the Universal Church have one general goal—the preaching of the Word of God, preparing mankind to become able to be members of the Body of Christ, and as such more and more, more earnestly uniting with the Divine Salvific life of the Body of Christ, for therein lies salvation.
* The Church herself is the Eucharistic unity of believers.
In Orthodox teaching, the Church consists not only of hierarchs and clergymen but all believers. Their unity, communing of the Holy Gifts of Christ, is the Church, the Body of Christ.
* Why we must constantly partake of Communion.
Through repentance, a Christian is purified and comes into closer contact with Christ through partaking of the Holy Mysteries, but then the dust of sin once again settles upon him and alienates him from Christ and the Church, therefore repentance and Communion are necessary again.
Until the earthly life of a person ends, until the very departure of the soul from the body, a struggle rages within him between sin and truth. No matter what heights a person reaches, spiritually and morally, he is always susceptible to gradual or sudden, profound descent into the abyss of sin. That is why it is necessary for everyone to partake of Christ’s Holy Body and Blood, which strengthens our communion with and gives us succor from the life-giving waters of the Grace of the Holy Spirit flowing throughout the Body of Christ. The life of St Onouphry the Great shows how important it is to partake of the Holy Gifts, who, as other hermits in the desert, would be brought Communion by holy angels; St Mary of Egypt, whose final wish after many years of ascetic life in the desert, was to partake of the Holy Mysteries; St Savvaty of Solovetsky Monastery and many others. For the Lord said “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53 ).
* The frequency of Communion is the pledge of communion with Christ in the future Kingdom.
The more a person finds himself under the influence of the Grace of Holy Communion and unites with Christ, the more he will take pleasure in this communion with Christ in His coming Kingdom.
* Partaking of the Body of Christ, we will strive to be with Him spiritually.
The Church of Christ is the Body of Christ, He Himself heads her and through His Divine Body and Blood nourishes the faithful, He feeds the children of His Church, so that we are united with Christ both bodily and spiritually. Bodily we unite with Christ through the Divine Eucharist, and we must spiritual join with Him and follow His commandments.
Of course, for unity with Christ it is not enough to simply unite with His Body. Consuming the Body of Christ can be beneficial when our spirits strive towards Him and unites with Him. Partaking of the Body of Christ while rejecting Him in spirit is akin to how those who beat and crucified Him touched Him. Contact with Him did not serve towards their salvation and healing, but towards their condemnation.
* On Communion in the coming Kingdom.
In the coming Kingdom of Christ, we will no longer be in need of communing of His Body and Blood, for all who are there will be in close contact with Him and will enjoy the eternal light of the Life-Originating Trinity, sensing indescribable bliss beyond our feeble understanding. That is why after communing of the Mysteries of Christ during Liturgy, a prayer is lifted up inside the altar which we sing during the Paschal days: “Great and most holy Pascha, O Christ, Wisdom, Word and power of God: grant us to partake of You more perfectly in the unwaning day of Your kingdom.”
* On Communion during Pascha
What most treasured of gifts do we receive when we conclude our Lenten struggle? The prayer we sing which begins the daily Lenten sticheron: “ Our food shall be the Lamb of God, on the holy and radiant night of His Awakening: the Victim offered for us, given in communion to the disciples on the evening of the Mystery.”
Partaking of the Body and Blood of the Resurrected Christ towards eternal life is the very goal of Great Lent. We commune of the Holy Gifts not only on Pascha itself; on the contrary, those must partake on Pascha who fasted, made confession and partook of Communion during Great Lent. It is impossible to fully repent and make confession in all things just before Pascha; the priests are busy with divine services during Passion Week… Preparations must be made in advance.
Whenever we partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, we unite with Christ Himself towards our salvation. Why is Communion on the night of Holy Pascha given such significance, why we are all summoned to partake of the Gifts then? Because then more than ever we can sense the Eternal Light and gird ourselves for spiritual uplifting.
This irreplaceable gift of Christ is an incomparable blessing. May no one be deprived of this joy, and together commune on Paschal night, not then hastening to consume meats and other festive foods. The participation in the Holy Mysteries prepares us instead for the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We partake of the Lamb of God on the holy and light-bearing night of the Resurrection. We pray when we only begin to prepare for Lent, and then many times during Great Lent that the Lord grants for us to partake of Communion on the holy Paschal night. Divine Grace is particularly powerful then upon the hearts of people. We partake of the Resurrected Christ, we become participants in His Resurrection.
Of course, one must first fast, and partake of Communion during Great Lent. And on the Paschal night, receiving absolution, we approach the Divine Lamb, the promise of our own resurrection.
The most important thing on the Bright Day of Pascha is our communion with the Resurrected Christ, which is especially apparent when we take Communion on this bright service, which we pray for all Lent. Leaving church before the end of Liturgy is a sin or reveals a misunderstanding of this divine service.
Compiled by Protopriest Leonid Grilikhes.