What is Holy Eucharist?
Holy Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, Thanksgiving, Lord’s Supper, Mysterious Supper, or Sacrament of Community, is a Holy Sacrament by which the believer receives the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, presented by the Bread and Wine. It is also known as Holy Qurban. The Mystery of Holy Eucharist is considered as Mystery of Mysteries or the Crown of Sacraments. This is because all the Sacraments are crowned by the Eucharist. This can be illustrated by the following. Those who are baptized must receive Communion directly after Baptism. The repentant must receive Communion after having confessed. S/he who marries at church must receive Communion after the wedding. Whoever is ordained with any priestly rank must receive Communion following his ordination. As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught us in the John’s Gospel 6:56, the Holy Eucharist is a real testament of the Lord’s presence in the life of the Christian person. Hence, by receiving the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, that Christian person ensures the sanctity of any other sacrament that he/she has partaken from.
Symbols/analogies of Holy Eucharist in the Old Testament
The Mystery of Holy Eucharist is the most prominent grace of the Lord to Christians in the New Testament. It is the mystery that proves that God is with us as His beloved Son, Jesus Christ is named Emmanuel. Though the Mystery of Holy Eucharist didn’t exist during the Old Testament, there were many symbols/analogies of Holy Eucharist in the Old Testament. These include 1) The offering of Abraham (Gen 22:1-9); 2) The offering of Melchizedek (bread & wine) (Gen 14:18); 3) The Passover lamb that the Israelites offered (1 Cor 5:7); 4) The manna that the Israel ate in Sinai (John 6:51, 58); and 5) The live coal of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1). These were considered as the main symbols for the forthcoming Mystery of Holy Eucharist in the New Testament.
In Abraham’s offering, Abraham symbolises God the Father who sent His beloved Son to die for us. Issac (the sheep that was offered in Issac’s place) symbolises God the Son (Jesus Christ), who obediently died for us without a fault on His side. The offering of Melchizedek is particularly the closest symbol as He made the offering with bread and wine, in the same way as the Holy Eucharist of the New Testament. As the Israelities who ate the manna in the desert survived to see Canaan, a Christian partaking from the Holy Eucharist will inherit the Kingdom of God on judgement day. Isaiah needed the live coal to be worthy of proclaiming the Word of God. In the same way, we all need the Holy Eucharist to be worthy of inheriting the Kingdom of God. While the angel who brought the live coal to Isaiah did not have the authority to physically handle the coal, which represents the Holy Body of Christ, priests in the New Testament have the authority to touch and deliver the body of Christ to Christians.
The Lord Instituted the Mystery of Holy Eucharist
The Lord Jesus taught extensively about Bread from Heaven (John 6: 22-59). His teachings of ‘Bread from Heaven’ are the basis for Mystery of Holy Eucharist. St John the Evangelist summarized this as follows: “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 at 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.” (John 6:53-56). This eternal word remains to be the core theology of mystery of Holy Eucharist.
Besides, He instituted the Holy Eucharist on Covenant Thursday (Matthew 26:26-28 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 Mark 14: 22-24 Luke 22:14-23). The Holy Apostles continued exactly the same way as He taught them (Acts 2:42). The words of institutionalization of the mystery of Holy Eucharist are documented in the Holy Bible as follows: “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’” (Luke 22:19-20). Our Holy and Apostolic church follows these words of our Lord Jesus Christ in performing the mystery of Holy Eucharist.
The benefits of Holy Eucharist
The ultimate goal of participating in the mystery of Holy Eucharist is eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Based on the teachings of Holy forefathers, the main benefits of Holy Eucharist can be summarized under the following five areas: 1) Abiding in Lord Jesus Christ. John 6:56 Eph 5:30 2 Peter 1:4; 2) Growth & Maintenance of Our Spiritual Life. John 6:55,57; 3) Salvation & Remission of Sins. Mt 26:28 2 Corinthians 7:1; 4) Unification of Believers. 1 Cor 10:17; and 5) Obtaining Eternal Life. John 6:54,58. By partaking from the Holy Eucharist, we can maintain our individual spiritual growth. Whenever we partake from the Holy Eucharist, we remember the healing sufferings of the Lord, which will guard us away from temptations to commit sins. As the mystery of Holy Eucharist is a communal ritual, it manifests the spiritual unification of believers in the most fascinating and literal sense by eating and drinking from the same source.
A view on some misconceptions
We believe some of you reading this article maybe wondering why some parents (and in some cases the clergy) categorically prevent the youth from taking part from the Holy Eucharist once they reach puberty. That’s a reflection of a deep seated misconception about this mystery in Ethiopian and Eritrean congregations. The rationale behind that “prevention” or discouragement is that “now you’re likely to commit sins”. The rationale has some merit whereas the consequent prevention is totally misguided. It must be noted that the Mystery of Holy Eucharist is meant for the sick (sinners) as Jesus came for us sinners. But we MUST repent our obvious sins to a priest and most importantly be remorseful so that God will forgive us.
Partaking from the Holy Eucharist is a testament of our repentance. However, there are a number of practical challenges for the youth in the process of repentance particularly where there are linguistic and cultural barriers inhibiting constructive engagement with their father confessors. That’s a challenge the church has to acknowledge and try to resolve. However, despite the challenges, abstaining from the mystery is not the solution. As the youth grow to adulthood, they need more food and energy. So do they need the ultimate food for their soul: the body of Christ through the Mystery of Holy Eucharist.
Bread and Wine: Eating and Drinking
The Holy Eucharist is presented by Bread and Wine. This is because of three main reasons. First, it has a symbol – The offering of Melchizedek was through Bread and Wine. Second, there is a prophecy. It was written that “You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.” Ps 4:7. Third, it is analogy: Wheat looks like white meat and wine looks like fresh blood. But beyond these and in definitive terms, Jesus introduced the mystery through Bread and Wine.
However, it has to be noted that the Orthodox Church uses “non-fermented” wine and pure wheat flour to prepare the Holy Eucharist. The church doesn’t use alcoholic or fermented wine to prepare the Holy Eucharist. It also uses only pure wheat flour to prepare the bread. The main reason behind this is to testify that Jesus shaded his fresh blood and presented his sinless body in the cross for our eternal life. The Body and Blood are given separately. This is based on the Gospel. Jesus said “Who eats My Body and drinks My Blood” John 6:54. He said “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” Luke 22: 19. He didn’t say “This is My Body and Blood.” So our church doesn’t mix the Body and Blood.
It’s not without a reason that the mystery of Holy Eucharist is performed through Bread and Wine (eating and drinking). It’s because of a number of reasons. Food and drink are united with the body. The same way the Holy Eucharist gets united with us. Food and drink provide energy & enable development. The Holy Eucharist also provides us with spiritual energy and development. Food (eating together) strengthens bonds between people. The Holy Eucharist strengthens the bond between Christians. It is food that is given to the hungry. It’s the Holy Eucharist that’s given to those who need righteousness. Adam and Eve fell through eating and were exiled from heaven. It’s then through the Holy Eucharist that we enter back to the Kingdom of God.
Theology of Eucharist
Definitive/absolute change: We believe that the bread and wine are changed and become the Body and the Blood of Christ. We believe in this definitive/absolute change, but we don’t attempt to explain the mode of the change (“Mystery”). The change is to Body, Blood and Divine (but without Soul). The mechanism of that change is beyond human imagination and we describe it as a Mystery. We believe the Holy Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ with divinity, but without soul.
Transubstantiation: Those who believe in transubstantiation teach that, during liturgy, there is objective, substantial and entire transformation of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, with no change in the appearances and chemical properties. They also believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is entire – the whole Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.
Sacramental Union: The view of sacramental union teaches that the body and blood of Christ are “truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms” of the consecrated bread and wine (the elements). The communicants orally eat and drink the holy body and blood of Christ Himself as well as the bread and wine. This view is about union, not change or transformation.
Spiritual/Pneumatic presence: This view states that Christ’s body and blood do not come corporally (physically) to the elements, but that “the Spirit truly unites things separated in space.” It claims that His body is not physically present in the elements, nor do the elements turn into his body in a physical or any objective sense. The proponents of this view teach that the Holy Spirit unites the Christian with Jesus though they are separated by a great distance.
Memorialism: This view believes that the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in partaking of the elements the believer commemorates the sacrificial death of Christ. It also teaches that Christ is not present in the sacrament, except in the minds and hearts of the communicants. It furthers claims that the holy communion is Purely symbolic representations of the body and blood of Jesus, the feast being established only or primarily as a commemorative ceremony.
Worthiness: Preparation for Holy Eucharist
Before we receive the Holy Eucharist, we need to have true Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides, we should clean ourselves through repentance & Confession. We must reconcile with others, if we have any issues. Physical preparation including ensuring physical purity of the body and fasting for 18 hours (for healthy adults). There are rules of church that we need to obey when we received the Holy Eucharist and they have to be discussed with confession fathers during the preparation.
There are consequences for unworthy communion. St Paul the Apostle described this as follows. “Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning (recognizing clearly) the Lord’s body. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” (1 Cor 11:27-31) During kidase prayers, the priest will recite a similar proclamation requiring everyone to make sure that we don’t take partaking from the Holy Eucharist lightly. Instead, we must make genuine internal and external preparations.
Anamnesis means remembrance, memorial, or commemoration, and as such part of the liturgy for the Eucharist. It reminds us of the Lord’s salvific work through His sufferings, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. We pray it in the liturgy as the Eucharist is not only the mystery of the crucifixion but is also the fulfillment of the Lord’s instruction to His apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me” (I Cor. 11:24). This prayer reads as “Amen. Amen. Amen. Your death, O Lord, we proclaim. Your holy resurrection and ascension, we confess. We praise You, we bless You, we thank You, O Lord, and we entreat You, o our God.”
Are we repeating the sacrifice of the cross during the Eucharist? Absolutely not. The sacrifice of the cross cannot be repeated. Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Heb 9:28). Therefore, in the Eucharist there is no death and hence it is called “bloodless sacrifice”. We do not repeat the sacrifice of the cross but we recall it. The Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Eucharist are not the same. On the cross, the Holy Body & Precious Blood were offered visibly; offered by Lord Jesus Christ as the Chief High Priest; Lord Jesus Christ was slain, His blood was shed, and He died; offered once on Good Friday.
In the Mystery of Holy Eucharist, the Holy Body & Precious Blood are offered Sacramentally as presented by bread & wine. This sacrifice is offered by the New Testament Priests. There is no shedding of blood and no death. That’s why the Holy Eucharist is also called “bloodless sacrifice.” It is offered several times from it’s institution till the second coming of the Lord. This it is stated as “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever (Heb 7: 26-28).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of us. Amen.