Eucharist comes from the Greek, meaning giving thanks. Other names for the Eucharist include: the Holy Gifts, Communion, and the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Orthodox Christians believe that the Real Presence of God (not merely a symbol) is present after the consecration of the Gifts.
The eucharist is the center of life in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is a eucharist community. It is the completion of all of the Church's other sacraments. It is he source and the goal of all of the Church's doctrines and institutions.
At the end of his life Christ, the Jewish Messiah, ate the Passover meal with his disciples. Originally a ritual supper in commemoration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Passover meal was transformed by Christ into an act done in remembrance of him, of his life, death and resurrection as the new and eternal Passover Lamb who frees men from the slavery of evil, ignorance and death and transfers them into the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God.
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."
- We offer Thine of Thine own. 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.
In the Orthodox Church four Eucharistic Liturgies are used.
Liturgy of St. James
The Liturgy of St. James, is served only in certain places, 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.
Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, 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 till 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 the 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
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which is actually an extended Vespers service at which Holy Communion which was consecrated on the previous Sunday is distributed. The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is used during weekdays of Great Lent when the full celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy is prohibited. It received its present form from St. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome in the sixth century.