Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, Michael D. Peterson
The A to Z of the Orthodox Church



EUCHARIST. From the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving,” and variously called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, and the Liturgy, this thanksgiving first involved Jesus (1Cor 11:24), and subsequently everyone with the name Christian who is to “do this in remembrance of me,” following the command of Christ for the messianic banquet. Both the institution and the periodicity, the “eighth day,” of this sacrament (qq.v.) as the primary Christian worship can be demonstrated from the Gospels and other of the earliest documents. To deny the centrality and frequency of the Eucharist in the face of our current knowledge of the worship of the early Church, let alone Holy Tradition (q.v.), can only be labeled an intentional distortion. This datum, continuously shared by the Eastern and Western Church alike, should be taken very seriously by those who claim to be “Biblically Christian” and who teach differently in doctrine or in personal piety (q.v.).

In traditional liturgical texts used in the Church many Old Testament images and institutions are looked upon as prefiguring the Eucharist. For example, the table and cup described in Ps 23, the bread and wine presented by Melchizedek (Gen 14), the Levitical offerings of thanksgiving, the paschal lamb, the banquet of Wisdom (Prov 9), et al. are among those precursors and types. The New Testament references are almost all direct, including Paul (1Cor 11) and the synoptic Gospels (Mt 26; Mk 14; Lk 22), with only a veiled reference in Jn 6. Acts gives further information about the Eucharist as it was celebrated by the Jerusalem community (ch. 2) and by Paul in Troas (ch. 20). Other of the earliest Christian sources cite occurrences of the Eucharist as central to Christian life, including the Didache (ch. 9), Ignatius (“Epistle to the Philippians,” 4f.), and Justin Martyr (“First Apology,” 1) in spite of the disciplina arcani, a reticence to speak of the sacred mysteries. After the Christianization of the Roman Empire, many of the Church Fathers, e.g., Cyril of Jerusalem, Joh n Chrysostom, Augustine (qq.v.), made contributions to a popular understanding of the centrality of this sacrament-to the extent that all of Christian spiritual life would henceforth be explained classically in terms of either Baptism (q.v.) or the Eucharist.

For the Orthodox it is important to say that the Eucharist manifests the mystical communion of the individual believer with God, of believers with one another, and of the unity of the Church. (See Ecclesiology.) There is no church, no theology, no mysticism, no individual that may disregard the eucharistic assembly (cf. “The Life of St. Seraphim of Sarov”). Fortunately, the East was not doctrinally affected by the exhausting Western debates regarding transubstantiation, and maintained a holistic view of the process of the entire Divine Liturgy-probably due to the understanding of the Eucharist expressed within the liturgical prayers themselves. (A recognized spiritual discipline of the East demands that one not overintellectualize a mystical event, but humbly and silently experience that reality-rather than merely talk about it.)

Temptations to Orthodox communities in their communion practices have come and continue to come from other sources: a misguided understanding of sin and confession (qq.v.), and a “hyper-pious” attitude to sacraments (q.v.), which puts them beyond human reach. These temptations are being addressed through new translations of liturgical texts that make the “plain meaning” and liturgical action intelligible, and through the sound spiritual advice that Christians are judged not only in what they do, but also in what they refuse to do sacramentally.