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The Eucharist is the center of life in the Orthodox Church because the Church is primarily a eucharistic community. The Eucharist is the completion of all of the Church's other sacraments and the source and the goal of all of the Church's doctrines and institutions.
The majority of scholars of the Last Supper do not believe that it was a Passover meal, a position consistent with the account given by the Gospel of Saint John. A minority believe that it was a seder or Passover meal, a position consistent with the Synoptic gospels. However, as Enrico Mazza has argued, the minority view "remains a theological interpretation. The historical fact is that the Last Supper was not a Passover celebration and, consequently, that its liturgy was not that of the Jewish Passover" (The Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite and the Development of Its Interpretation [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999] pp. 25-26).
The Orthodox Church uses leavened bread for, according to the Gospel of Saint John, Last Supper and Passion, took place during the evening, night and day time of Passover Day, therefore leavened bread was eaten in Last Supper. According to the synoptic Gospels, last Supper, Lord's trial and crucifixion took place during next day, the first Day of Unleavened Bread feast, but according to Lev 23:7, any work on that Day was forbidden. Clearly, the synoptic Gospels are in error on the day of Last Supper and Passion.
For the remission of sins and unto life everlasting
Before the reception of Holy Communion the following prayer is generally recited by all. It is each person's act of personal commitment to Christ, their promise of faith in Him and the Sacred Mysteries of His Church.
- 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 the first (see 1 Tim 1:15).
- I believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own most precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: Have mercy upon me and forgive me my transgressions, committed in word and deed, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.
- Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant. For I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: "Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom."
- May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, 0 Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.
The faithful receive Holy Communion on a spoon. They are given both the consecrated bread (NIKA) and the sanctified wine. The communion of the faithful is always from the gifts offered and sanctified at the given Divine Liturgy. All who are prepared members of the Church through the sacraments of baptism and chrismation, including small children and infants, may partake of Holy Communion.
Eucharist as a sacrifice
The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice. As is heard in the Liturgy, "Thine of Thine own we offer to Thee, in all and for all."
- At the Eucharist, the sacrifice offered is Christ himself, and it is Christ himself who in the Church performs the act of offering: He is both priest and victim.
- We offer to Thee. The Eucharist is offered to God the Trinity — not just to the Father but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. So, what is the sacrifice of the Eucharist? By whom is it offered? and to whom is it offered? In each case the answer is Christ.
- We offer for all: according to Orthodox theology, the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead.
The Church teaches that the sacrifice is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. The sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.
Real, symbolic, or mystical
The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical. Also, the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God's true and genuine presence and his manifestation to us in Christ.
The mystery of the Holy Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is "not of this world." The Eucharist, because it belongs to God's Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born "logic" of fallen humanity.
From John of Damascus: "If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit ... we know nothing more than this, that the word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable".
The Eucharist is normally reserved in a tabernacle on the altar table, although there is no strict rule as to the place of reservation. There are no services of public devotion before the reserved sacrament, nor is there any equivalent to the Roman Catholic functions of Exposition and Benediction. The priest blesses the people with the sacrament during the course of the Liturgy, but never outside it.
The faithful at the liturgy are never given communion from the reserved gifts; they are kept exclusively for those unable to be attend liturgy for good reasons, usually sickness or infirmity. Holy Communion is always from the gifts, the bread and wine, actually offered at the eucharistic liturgy which is currently being celebrated. Only the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts uses gifts sanctified at the previous Divine Liturgy.
The reserved gifts are normally prepared at the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday or when the need arises. A detailed description of this can be found in the addendum of the clergy service book. For an illustrated description online see .
|This article forms part of the series on the |
|Liturgy of the Preparation|
|Liturgy of the Word|
|Great Litany |
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Litany for the Departed
Litany of the Catechumens
|Liturgy of the Eucharist|
|Cherubic Hymn |
Litany of the Completion
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In the Orthodox Church four Eucharistic Liturgies are commonly used.
Liturgy of St. James
The Liturgy of St. James is served only in certain places, usually on the feast day of St. James the "Brother of the Lord" (October 23), first Bishop of Jerusalem. It is the oldest and longest of the liturgies. It varies greatly from the other liturgies celebrated by the Church today in that it is celebrated outside the sanctuary at an altar that faces the congregation.
The rubrics require that this liturgy is celebrated by a bishop and twelve priests. In the absence of a bishop, thirteen priests may celebrate the service. The faithful receive Holy Communion as the clergy do, receiving the Body in their mouth and then drinking from the chalice.
Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used on the Sundays of Great Lent, Holy Thursday, the Eves of Pascha, Christmas, and Theophany, and the Feast of St.Basil the Great (January 1). St. Basil shortened and standardized all the variations of liturgies that developed from the time of St. James until the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Empire.
Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
The most common is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the liturgy used on all Sundays except those which fall during Great Lent and all holy days on which a Eucharistic liturgy is served except for the eves of Pascha, Christmas and Theophany, Holy Thursday, and the feast day of St. Basil the Great.
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
- Main article: Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is a vesperal service during which elements that were previously consecrated are distributed to the faithful. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is appointed for use on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent (and certain feast days when they fall on a weekday during Great Lent) because the full celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy is generally prohibited on the weekdays of Great Lent. This service is often attributed to St. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome in the sixth century.
Other Divine Liturgies
There are several Divine liturgies that are used in some Orthodox churches frequently and in others rarely.
Divine Liturgy of St. Mark
The service is the original, traditional liturgy of the Church of Alexandria, used by the great hierarchs of Christ Athanasios, Cyril, Makarios, Dionysios and others. Manuscript texts of this liturgy date back to the fourth century, but more ancient fragments exist. Although the order of the service has developed over the course of many centuries, we are assured that the author of this liturgy is indeed the Apostle Mark. The most recent text (dating to 1585 during the time of the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria Meletios Pigas) was approved and published by St. Nektarios of Aegina. This liturgy is served once a year in the Greek and Russian Churches.
Divine Liturgy of St. Tikhon
- Main article: Liturgy of St. Tikhon of Moscow
Used by the Western-rite Orthodox of the Antiochian church.
Divine Liturgy of Peter the Apostle
This liturgy is also known as the Sarum Rite; it is used by the Antiochian and ROCOR Western-rite churches.
Divine Liturgy according to St. Germanus of Paris
The Divine Liturgy according to St Germanus of Paris is a restoration of the Gallican liturgy as celebrated in Paris in the sixth century. It is authorized for use by some parishes of the Church of Romania in France.
- Laverdiere, Eugene. The Eucharist in the New Testament and in the Early Church. (ISBN 0814661521)
- Zizioulas, John D. Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries. (ISBN 1885652518)
- Orthodoxy and Transubstantiation
- The Holy Eucharist by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website
- The Orthodox Faith Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Seminary, Crestwood, NY.
- Theology and Eucharist by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
- Broken but Never Divided: Some Thoughts on "closed" Communion
- Leavened versus Unleavened Bread
- Preparation of the reserved mysteries for the sick