|Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Archdiocese of Palermo and All Italy
Chiesa Autocefala Ortodossa Ucraina
Arcidiocesi di Palermo e di tutta l'Italia
The Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, stands at the very heart of the life of God's People. Everything in the Church leads to and finds its source in the Eucharist, the fulfillment of all of the Church's sacraments.
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink of His
blood, you have no life in you.
The Christian Eucharist is a meal specifically connected with the Old Testament Passover meal which commemorated the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the eve of His death, Jesus Christ shared the Passover meal with His disciples:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and
broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat;
this is My Body." And He took the 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 Testament, which is shed for you
and for many for the remission of sins."
Christ transformed the Passover meal into the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the risen Christ in the midst of His People. The Eucharist is not a mere remembrance of a past event; rather, it is our participation in the ongoing life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the affirmation of our hope that He shall come again in glory:
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?
Jesus Christ is the new and eternal Passover Lamb who liberates us from the slavery of evil, ignorance, and death and leads us into the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God.
The Eucharist is also called Holy Communion as it brings us
into a common union with God, with each other, and with God's
People throughout the ages.
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ,
the Son of the Living God, who camest into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own
most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood.
In the history of Christian thought, a number of attempts were made to explain how the bread and the wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Such attempts were characterized by the desire to explain philosophically or scientifically that which can only be understood by a deep and abiding Faith. Orthodox Christianity makes no attempt to "rationalize" that which is beyond human understanding. On the contrary, Orthodox Christians believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ because:
1) Jesus Christ clearly says it is: "This is My Body ... This is My Blood." Faith prompts us to accept Our Lord's words.
2) The Holy Spirit -- the "Spirit of Truth" who "fills all things with Himself" -- changes our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
3) Our faith leads us to believe that this is indeed reasonable and true. God's mysteries cannot be explained or "rationalized" in limited, exclusively human terms.
THE RECEPTION OF THE EUCHARIST
The frequent reception of the Eucharist, however, requires careful preparation. Prior to our reception of the Eucharist, we should:
1) acknowledge our sinfulness and sincerely seek God's forgiveness. Though we should all participate often in the sacrament of Confession, those who receive Holy Communion regularly are not required to confess each time they receive, only when there is a particular need or serious sin. Those who do not receive regularly should confess before receiving;
2) desire to enter into communion with the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, in the Holy Sprit;
3) seek the Lord's guidance and will in redirecting our lives; and
4) observe a period of prayer, fasting, and reflection, allowing our thoughts to be guided and directed by the "mind of Christ" in the Holy Spirit. We should abstain from eating and drinking from midnight Saturday until after the Divine Liturgy. People who are ill, who must take medicine or are pregnant are excused from the fast and should just do the best they can. (Note that the Wednesday and Friday fast is disciplinary in nature and not connected to the reception of the Eucharist.)
FOR ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS, THEN, THE EUCHARIST IS:
1) the Sacrament of sacraments;
2) the very Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, "shed for the life of the world" and "given as food for the faithful";
3) the source of our spiritual life;
4) that which brings us into a common union with Christ;
5) the most perfect way by which we show our love for God while rendering thanks for all He has done for us; and
6) the real and visible sign that we are truly members of Christ's Body, the Church.
By receiving the Eucharist on a regular and frequent basis, we are spiritually nourished while being nurtured to "grow in life and Faith and spiritual understanding."
"Then Jesus said to them: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:53-58.)
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