THE SACRAMENT OF THE HOLY COMMUNION
I. Definition & Names
(1) This is the crowing service of the Christian Church, the culmination of Christian worship, the summit of Christian experience where devout believers hold intimate communion with their living Lord. The church through the ages has regarded this sacrament as the supreme act of communal worship.
(2) Through this sacrament we eat the blessed flesh of our Lord and drink His precious blood under the form of bread and wine.
(3) It is called: -
1. The Holy Communion.
2. The Lord’s Table
3. The flesh and blood of Christ
4. The Eucharist
II. Types in the Old Testament
(1) The offerings which Melchisedec offered. For the first and last time in Old Testament it was said that there were offerings of bread and wine. “And Melchisedec king of Salem brought froth bread and wine: and he was the Priest of the most high God.” (Gen. 14:18) For this reason it was said of our Lord “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Heb. 5:6,10; 7:17)
(2) The Passover which the children of Israel offered on the night of their going out of Egypt, and which they used to offer ever year. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. “ (1 Cor. 5:7) “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the World.” (John 1:29)
(3) The “Manna” which Israel ate in the wilderness for forth years “Verily, Verily I say unto you. Moses gave you not that bread (manna) from heaven, but my father grivet you the true bread from heaven, “ (John 6:32)
“This is the bread which came down from heaven now as your fathers did eat manna are dead: he that eaten of this bread shall live forever” (John 6:58)
III. Institution of the Sacrament.
It pleased our Lord to institute this sacrament on a very momentous occasion. The Evangelists told us that He instituted it at the approach of the Passover feast which was considered as the greatest feast of the Jews, and was a type of the sacrifice of Himself. It was also instituted directly before His death, and on the night of His passion when He was about to give Himself for the life of the world. “The Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said. Take eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saving. This cup is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me,” (1 Cor. 11:23-25)
IV. The Visible Sign.
There are two visible signs in this sacrament: (1) the bread & wine (2) the service of mass, especially those prayers through which the Holy Ghost descends upon the bread and wine changing them into the body and blood of the Lord.
(1) The bread should be made of pure wheat, and should be leavened, because the sacrament was instituted at a time when all the Jews were using leavened bread.
The law ordered that Israel should feast on the evening of the 14th day of the month, and begin to eat unleavened bread at the time of eating the Passover. “And ye shall keep it up till the 14th day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. In the first month, on the 14th day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses, for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel whether he be a stranger or born in the land” (Exodus 12:6, 18,19).
But the sacrament was instituted on the 13th day of the month because of the following reasons:
1. It is expressive said that it was “before the feast of the Passover.” (John 13:1)
2. The next morning, after having hands on Jesus, it was said the Jews were preparing themselves to keep the feast. “Then led they Jesus from Caliphs unto the hall of judgment: and it was early, and they themselves went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” (John 18:28.)
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying be brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he said unto the Jews, Behold your King.” (John 19: 13,14)
3. They were preparing themselves for the feast even after the death of Christ on the cross, “The Jews therefore because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day. (For that Sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31)
4. It was the custom that the governor should release unto the people at the feast time a prisoner whom they liked. And Barabas was released accordingly on Friday. The prisoner was generally released before the feast, in order to keep it with his household.
5. It was said of Judas Iscariot “after the sop Satan entered into him. Them said Jesus unto him. That thou doest, do quickly. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him. Buy those things that we have need against the feast or that he should give something to the poor.” (John 13: 27-29)
This shows that on Thursday the feast has not yet begun; because one has to buy things for the feast before and not on the same say of after. But the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the bread should be unleavened, because it was said: “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the Passover. And He said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the Passover. “ (Matt. 26: 17-19)
As it is clear from the previous verses that the feast was on Saturday, it is impossible to find a verse contradicting the other. The reason for this seeming contradiction is that the feast was on Saturday, and the lamb was to be slain on the evening of Friday (the 14th day). The 14th day was called the Passover, and the unleavened seven days were to begin at the evening of this 14th day. The Jews used to consider the day beginning from the evening of the previous day; thus Friday begins from Thursday evening. When St. Matthew and St. Mark said that the Lord instituted this sacrament on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, they meant to say that He instituted it on Friday (which began on the evening of Thursday) the feast of Passover, which was to be followed by the seven days of unleavened bread and which was often called the first day of the unleavened bread (Luke 22:7)
6. Moreover, most commentators affirm that this sacrament was instituted on the 13th day of the month, i.e. before the Passover, or rather before the first day of the unleavened bread.
a. John Chryksostom says: “The Evangelist in saying ‘Then came the day of unleavened bread when the Passover must be killed’ does not mean that it had already come but that it was at hand, and refers to the beginning of that day, because every day begins at the previous evening.”
b. In interpreting Mat. 26:17 “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus saying unto him, where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the Passover? “ we have arrived at the Thursday in the Holy week, Nisan 13th. The festival actually began at sunset of the 14th, which we called the day of preparation, because the lambs of the feast were slain in the afternoon of that day, preparatory to their being eaten before the morning of the 15th. Domestic preparation began on the 13th, hence this was considered (the first day of unleavened bread).”
c. And Adam Clarke, in his commentary, states : “As the feast of unleavened bread did not begin till the day after the Passover, the 15th day of the month, this could not have been properly the first day of that feast; but as the Jews began to eat unleavened bread on the 14th (Ex. 12:18), this day was often termed the first day of the unleavened bread. The Evangelists use in this sense, and call even the paschal day by this name. See Mark 14: 12; Luke 22: 7”
7. In addition to all this it is worthy mentioning that the Bible states in every place that our Lord ”took bread and blessed it.“ (Matt. 26: 26); (Mark 14: 22; Luke 22: 19: 1 Cor. 11: 23; etc. etc.)
It was never said in the Bible that He took unleavened bread.
(2) And the wine should be:
1. Very pure,
2. The fruit of the vine. “And he took the cup, and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which the shade for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
3. Mixed with water, because the Lord thus used it (Orders of the Apostles 8: 22) and because it resembles, in this way, the blood and water that came out of the Lord’s side (John19: 32)
V. The Invisible Grace.
(1) We partake of the flesh blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2) We get the spiritual foodwhich helps us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6: 35,55).
(3) We receive remission of sins, “And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. “(Matt: 26: 27,18)
(4) We abide in Christ, and Christ abides in us, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6: 56)
(5) We get Holy Fellowship; with Christ Himself, with our fellow worshippers and with all the Church on earth, with the saints around the throne of God, with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The Holy Communion tells us that God’s salvation comes to us in fellowship with our fellow men. This is not truly understood an individual act of worship, but the common meal of the family of God, our father.
“For we being many are one bread, and one body, for we all partakes of that one bread.“ (1 Cor. 10: 17)
(6) We are given true life in this world. Unless the branch abides in the vine, it cannot have life, “Then Jesus said unto them, verily. Verily I say unto you, except ye ea the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood ye have no life in you. He that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6: 53,57)
(7) We are given eternal life, “Whose eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” (John 6: 54,58)
VI. The Change of Bread & Wine
We believe that, after prayer, the bread and wine are spiritually changed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason we do not look at mere bread and mere wine on the altar, but we truly look at the body and blood of the Lord under the forms of bread and wine.
The church Fathers said in the respect:
“We believe that our Lord Jesus is present in this sacrament, not in type or by way of granting his grace, as in the case of other sacraments, but He is truly and actually present. For this reason the bread is changed after prayer into the Lord’s very body which was born at Bethlehem from the Virgin Mary, baptized at Jordan, suffered, buried and rose from the dead, Likewise, the wine is changed into the very blood of the Lord which was shed on the cross.”
The way of the Lord’s presence is by changing he bread and wine into His blessed body and precious blood.
But some Protestants say that we take the bread and wine as a mere memorial service in remembrance of the Lord’s sufferings and death. In reply we have to refer:
(1) To the Bible.
All that is mentioned in the Bible regarding this sacrament supports our doctrine.
1. The Jews to whom the Lord was speaking about the living bread took His words literally. When they heard Jesus saying “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” (John 6: 51) they began to strive among themselves saying “How can this man give as His flesh to eat?” (v.52) Had they been mistaken in taking His words literally, the Lord would have told them the true sense, which He meant. But, contrary to this, He began to repeat the same teaching more powerfully and more clearly: Then Jesus said unto them Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, he have not life in you. Whose eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed,” (vv, 53-55)
2. And the disciples also, taking the master’s words literally, and being unable to understand the possibility of eating the Lord’s flesh and drinking His blood, began to murmur saying “ this is an hard saying; who can here it?”
But the Savior began to convince them of the reality of that teaching, and said to them; “Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” (vv. 61, 62)
3. When the Lord gave the Holy Communion to His Disciples, He “took bread, and blessed it and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take eat this is my body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying. Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the New Testament.” (Matt. 26: 26-28)
There was no need for the Lord to speak at that time in parables or proverbs, as it was His last day with them, and He had to open to them all His heart, and speak to them very simple and clear words, “His Disciples said unto Him, Lo, now speakest Thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.” (John 16: 26)
4. St. Paul says: “ The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor.10: 16)
Then He repeats the same words used by the Savior when He instituted the sacrament. “For I have received of the Lord which also I deliver unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread and when He had given thanks, he break it, and said Take eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. And after the same manner also He took the cup, when he had supped, saying This cup is the new testament in my blood, this do ye as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. Wherefore whosoever shall et this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor.11: 23-27)
These are quite clear words showing that whenever we take the Holy Communion we partake of the body and blood of the savior.
(2) To the decisions of the early synods
1. The Council of Nicaca reported: “We should not look at the bread and cup on the holy table as if they were mere bread and cup on the holy table as if they were mere bread and wine, but we must lift up the mind beyond the sense, and perceive by faith that the lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world rests here, slain by the priests, and that they are partaking of the very body of the Lord and His very blood.”
2. The 3rd world council held at Ephesus confirmed the message of St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, which ran as follows; “We admit that the only begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, died in body, we confess His resurrection and ascension to heavens, and we offer in the churches the un bloody sacrifice. Thus e approach the blessed sacraments, and we are sanctified when we partake of the blessed body of Jesus Christ our Savior and His precious blood.”
3. And the seventh Council asserts that “the un bloody sacrifice which is offered in remembrance of the sufferings of the Savior and the blessed incarnation was never called by anyone of the Holy Apostles or the forefathers, the form of Christ’s body, neither were they taught to proclaim the same, but they heard Him saying ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.
“He did not say ‘the form of my body’. Neither the Lord nor the Apostles spoke of the form of Christ’s body and blood, but they spoke of the very body and the very blood. Whenever they are spoken of as bread and wine this is as concerning them before prayer.”
(3) The writings of the early fathers.
Clement, Dionisius and Cyril of Alexandria; Macarius and Cyril of Jerusalem; John Chrysostom, Gregory, Basil and many others all of them affirmed that the bread and wine are spiritually changed after prayer into the very body and the very blood of the Lord.
Justin and Irenacus attribute to the Logos he operative power by which the elements become the Body and Blood Christ, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius assert that the spiritual content of the Eucharist is indentifid with the Logos.
This idea finds expression in one of the ancient Egyptian liturgies, when the Logos is invoked to come upon the bread that it may become the Body of the Logos.
(4) The writings of the Protestants themselves.
1. Calvin, one of their most prominent leaders, said; “If any one inquire of me respecting the manner, I shall not be ashamed to acknowledge that it is a mystery too sublime for me to be able to express or even to comprehend; and to be still more explicit, I rather experience it than understand it. Here, therefore, without any controversy, I embrace the truth of God, on which I can safely rely; He pronounces His flesh to be the food, and His blood the drink, of my soul. I offer my soul to him to be nourished with such aliment.”
2. Martin Luther, the great leader of the protestants, said: “Christ said, this is my flesh, and we can do nothing better than to respect His words”.
3. The Scottish Confession of 1560 of the Presbyterian Church, says, “So that we confess and undoubtedly believe that the faithful in the right use of the Lord’s Table do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, the He remaineth in them, and they in Him; yea, they are so made flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone”. (The “Holy Communion, by David Cairns & others P.75)
VII. The Holy Communion
As a Sacrifice
(1) We believe that this sacrament is a un bloody sacrifice offered for our salvation. This we can prove from the following:
1. When instituting the sacrament, our Lord said: “This is my blood which is given (sacrificed) for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.” (Luke 22: 19,20)
2. St. Paul, in his comparison between the sacrifices and altar of the gentiles, and the Christian scarifies and altar (1 Cor.10: 18-21) gives the proof that the Holy Communion is offered on the altar as a true sacrifice.
3. And in Heb. 13:10 refers also to the Christian altar.
4. This sacrifice of the New Testament was foretold in the Old Testament:
“From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the gentiles and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering (or “sacrifice as in other translations) for my name shall be great among the heathen saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mall. 1: 11)
It is clear that the Prophet speaks here about a new sacrifice, which had to be offered in the Gospel time.
When interpreting this verse the Pulpit Commentary says.
“The Fathers and mediaeval writers, and many modern commentators, see in this verse a prophecy of the Holy Eucharist, the pure offering commemorative of Christ’s sacrifice, which is found in every nation under heaven where the name of Christ is adored.”
5. The Council of Nicaea called the Holy Communion un bloody sacrifice: “Neither the Lord, nor the apostles, nor the fathers called the holy un bloody sacrifice a sign but they always called it the very flesh and the very blood of the Lord.”
6. In Ch. 14 of the Didache or teaching of the Twelve Apostles it is said that the worship should be preceded by a confession of sins. “That your sacrifice may be pure.” This sacrifice is identified with “the pure offering” of Malachi 1: 11, (The Early History of the Liturgy by J.H. Srawley p.21)
7. All Church Fathers called it sacrifice. For instance Irenacus, in his work “Adversus Haereses” written about A. D. 180, made several references to the Eucharist. The various titles under which he alludes to it are “Eucharist”, “the oblation of the Church”, “the new oblation of the new covenant”, “the pure sacrifice” (in reference to Mal. 1:11)
(“The Early History of the Liturgy” by J. H. Srawley P. 35,36)
8. When speaking about the Holy Communion in the Anglican Church, one of her men said: - The sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross is made present and contemporary by the consecration of the elements (bread and wine); this is wholly and entirely God’s gift of grace to man.” (“The Holy Communion” by David Cairns and others, P. 64).
9. In “The Manual of Worship” of the “United Presbyterian Church of North America” it is said (P. 81)
“It is solemn moment when standing at the altar the minister says, Let us pray”.
If then there is an altar, there must be a sacrifice.
(2) This sacrifice is the same with that which was offered on the Cross. John Chrysostom says: “Our great High priest offered the sacrifice which purifies us. Since then we also offer this same sacrifice.”
The differences between this sacrifice and that which was offered on the Cross are:
1. Our Lord offered a visible sacrifice on the cross while in the Holy Communion He offers and invisible one under the form of bread and wine.
2. On the Cross He offered a bloody sacrifice through shedding His blood, in the Holy Communion He offers an un bloody sacrifice, because “knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” (Rom. 6:9)
3. On the Cross-the sacrifice was offered for all the race of man once only, and in one place, but the unbloody sacrifice is offered continuously, in every place on earth and only for those who receive it in faith.
VIII. Who has the Right to celebrate this?
Our Lord gave this right to the Apostles when He told them “This do in my remembrance.” (Luke 22: 19) And the Apostles gave it to their successors, the bishops.
But because Christianity was soon spread, the bishops could not go to all towns and villages to celebrate the sacrament. For this reason they gave the right to the priests. The deacons can only help the bishops and priests. The laity are strictly forbidden to celebrate.
IX. Who has the Right to Partake of the Holy Communion.
(1) All baptized persons have the right to partake.
(2) It was the custom, in the previous centuries for all believers to take the Holy Communion every week, bearing in mind the words of the Lord: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53, 56) For this reason it is very essential that every Christian should take the Holy Communion from time to time, at least once or twice or three times a year, if not every week.
(3) But before taking the Holy Communion the believer must prepare himself for it beforehand. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor. 11: 28, 29)
(4) And as the babies are all owed to receive baptism they should also be allowed to take the Holy Communion, in order not to be deprived of this food of the spirit.
(5) And we must take both the body and the blood. But the Church of Rome gives only the body. In reply we state the following:
1. When the Lord gave His disciples the Holy Communion, He gave them both the body and the blood. More over when giving the cup, He expressly ordered that all of us should drink of it. “Drink ye all of it.” (Matt 26:27)
2. Whenever the Holy Communion is spoken of in the Bible both the body and the blood are mentioned.
3. All the church fathers said that both the body and the blood were given to the believers since the first century.
(6) When the flesh is divided and given to the believers, we believe that every part of it, even the smallest part is the perfect body of the Lord: and so also is the case with the blood.
We also believe that once the bread and wine are changed they remain to become the flesh and the blood till they are completely consumed. But some Protestants think that what is left over after the Holy Communion has been received can be dispensed with as something of no importance.
Rev. Marcos Daoud, The Orthodox Church Sacraments,
Tinsae Ze Gubae Printing press, Addis Ababa 1952.