Fr. Kyrillos’ Comments and Confessions
Again it has been two months since our last encounter. In these last three encounters I have called your attention to our encounter with our Bridegroom, Christ, giving his human life for us, to put on us his own divine life. For this we see that He has prepared His bridal chamber, the Divine Liturgy. In this mysterious-secret-event we take part as receivers of His invitation and commandment:
“I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed… so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (Jn. 6:32-58).
In our June article I wrote: ‘The simplicity of the words of Jesus is extreme: “this is my body,” “this is my blood”- “τουτό μού εστι τό σώμα,” “τουτό εστι τό αιμά μου.” The human intellect experiences vertigo leaning over this chasm, this… Mystery! The bread and wine changed –μεταβαλών- in such a real manner that, as Kyrillonas, the priest, will say, in the 4th century, in that Last Supper Jesus carried Himself in his own hands. (Paschal Homilies, paragraph 1035.)’
Examining the words of Jesus in the concrete historical environment in which they were pronounced, the bread and wine distributed by Jesus in the Last super to his disciples were, really and truly, his own body and his own blood. The consequence of this examination is that, if the Saviour would have used these expressions in an improper, metaphoric or symbolic manner, the disciples necessarily would have understood them wrongly. Therefore, the Lord would not have allowed such a misunderstanding in something so crucial for the life of His Church.
So crucial that it has past to us in the reading of the Apostolos of Holy and Great Thursday every year: 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23 to 32.
The Apostle Paul was writing to the Church living in the city of Corinth, which was not only a great centre of Hellenism and a magnet to every sort of philosophy and religion, it was also a notorious centre of immorality. Saint Paul had organized this Christian Community, which grew strong and was composed mostly of poor people, who had to make a living in an environment that could create awkward problems for the newly converted. The letter is written to correct abuses and to clarify what was the faith and morals of the Church:
“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, 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.” For as often as you drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore 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 judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:23-29.)
The Apostles understood that the Lord spoke properly, clearly and straight for them to understand correctly. As also Paul confirmed this, and the post-apostolic tradition bore witness to it, which links with the apostolic times and continues through the centuries up to today.
Further more to the point, the Apostles, given the intimate state of affairs in their relationship with the Lord, could not but take the words of Jesus in the proper, clear and straight sense in which they had been pronounced. There had been occasions during the course of their relationship, when the Apostles had taken to the foot of the letter the expressions of Jesus, even when they should not have been taken thus; then Jesus corrected several times this literal understanding that He had given to them (Jn. 4:31-34; Mk. 8:15-21.)
However, at the Last Super, it was thrust upon the ears and minds of the Apostles the proper sense, first of all in the context of the foregoing circumstances and, secondly, in the words themselves pronounced by Jesus.
The infallible effectiveness of the words of the Lord was evident to the Apostles. They had heard their Teacher say: “Lazarus, come forth,” and in the place where they had seen the deceased of four days buried, his feet and hands tied, they witnessed him come out of the sepulchre (Jn.11:43-44.) Three of them had heard the Master, and the others had learned (Mt. 9:26), that Christ had called to Jairus’ dead child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” and they have been astonished that the girl got up and walked (Mk. 5:41.) The efficiency of the word of Jesus was so well known by the public that a pagan centurion came to Him in Capernaum requesting healing of his servant with the words, “…only speak a word and my servant will be healed” (Mt. 8:8.)
The Apostles also had experience of the infallible effectiveness of the word of the Saviour over the inanimate matter: “He rebuked the wind and said to the sea ‘be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mk. 4:39.) Moreover, Jesus’ power had been made palpable to the Apostles in the concrete multiplications of bread (Jn. 6:1-15; Mt. 15:32-39) and in the changing of the water into wine in the wedding in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11.) In addition the Apostles were aware that the body of the Lord was easily exempted from the ordinary laws to which any other body was subject, as they saw over the waters of the sea (Jn. 6:16-21) and in the transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9.)
In my opinion, the promise that the Lord had given (Jn. 6:32-58, which I used to start this article and on which I commented also in my articles of last April and June 2003,) psychologically obliged the Apostles to accept the proper, clear and straight sense of the words of Jesus. It was impossible to forget that promise, which in itself, was surprising and, in addition, had been so crucial for them to follow Jesus. For many others it was the cause for abandoning Him (Jn. 6:67-70.)
Jesus had designed the Eucharist, that is, the Divine Liturgy, as the centre of the Christian life; an act, of such sublime and unique grandeur to the glory of God and love towards man, which instituted the New Testament. And, He gave the command to repeat this that He had done: “…do this in remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22:19.) We call this “Act” The Divine Liturgy –Η ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ.
The sacrificial character of this “act” is shown in the Holy Scripture. We encounter expressions that are typically sacrificial. In a principal manner, right in the line about blood, “which it is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:28) and which is called “blood of the New Testament” (Mt. Ibid and Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20 and 1 Cor. 11:25). This sacrifice has necessarily an intimate relationship with the Sacrifice of the Cross, but in the Last supper appears offered in the supper itself according to the participles used body broken / blood shed. And even, stronger force of meaning is expressed by St. Luke, who says: “This cup is the new Testament in My blood, which is shed for you,” thus it appears more clearly that it is not the blood shed on the cross but the one contained in the cup. Therefore, the sacrifice offered by Jesus in the Last Supper is united indissolubly with the Sacrifice of the Cross.
ă Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir. August, 2003
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