"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:
that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took
bread; and when He had given thanks [Gr. eucharistesas], He broke
it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you;
do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the
cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood.
This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me'" (1 Cor.
With these words - quoting the same words of Christ in Luke 22:19,
20 - St. Paul instructs the Corinthians concerning the Eucharist,
the giving of thanks. Some two thousand years after Jesus gave Himself
"for the life of the world" (John 6:51), there are in Christendom
at least three different interpretations of His words.
How do we view the Eucharist?
For the first thousand years of Christian history, when the Church
was visibly one and undivided, the holy gifts of the Body and Blood
of Christ were received as just that: His Body and Blood. The Church
confessed this was a mystery: The bread is truly His Body, and that
which is in the cup is truly His Blood, but one cannot say how they
The eleventh and twelfth centuries brought on the scholastic era,
the Age of Reason in the West. The Roman Church, which had become
separated from the Orthodox Church in A.D. 1054, was pressed by
the rationalists to define how the transformation takes place. They
answered with the word transubstantiation, meaning a change of substance.
The elements are no longer bread and wine; they are physically changed
into flesh and blood. The sacrament, which only faith can comprehend,
was subjected to a philosophical definition. This second view of
the Eucharist was unknown to the ancient Church.
Not surprisingly, one of the points of disagreement between Rome
and the sixteenth-century reformers was the issue of transubstantiation.
Unable to accept this explanation of the sacrament, the radical
reformers, who were rationalists themselves, took up the opposite
point of view: the gifts are nothing but bread and wine, period.
They only represent Christ's Body and Blood; they have no spiritual
reality. This third, symbol-only view helps explain the infrequency
with which some Protestants partake of the Eucharist.
The Scriptures and the Eucharist
What do the Scriptures teach concerning the Eucharist?
- Jesus said, 'This is My body ... this is My blood" (Luke 22:19,
20). There is never a statement that these gifts merely symbolise
His Body and Blood. Critics have charged that Jesus also said
of Himself, "I am the door" (John 10:7), and He certainly is not
a seven-foot wooden plank. The flaw in that argument is obvious:
at no time has the Church ever believed He was a literal door.
But she has always believed the consecrated gifts of bread and
wine are truly His Body and Blood.
- In the New Testament, those who received Christ's Body and Blood
unworthily are said to bring condemnation upon themselves. "For
this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep"
(literally, "are dead"; 1 Cor. 11:30). A mere symbol, a quarterly
reminder, could hardly have the power to cause sickness and death!
- Historically, from the New Testament days on, the central act
of worship, the new apex of spiritual sacrifice, took place "on
the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to
break bread" (Acts 20:7). The Eucharist has always been that supreme
act of thanksgiving and praise to God in His Church.
from The Orthodox Study Bible, p392
Copyright © 1993 by St. Athanasius Orthodox Academy
Nelson ISBN 0-8407-8391-4
Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia