by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.
The Lord Jesus set the foundation of the marvelous Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist by declaring Himself truly to be: "The bread that came down from heaven". This proclamation surprised His listeners, who belonged to different sectors of society of the old order, along with their varied religious, cultural and social levels. Also their opinions, judging the mission of the Lord Jesus, were contradicting. Many of them recognized Him as the expected Messiah: The hope of nations and generations. Others thought He was one of the prophets. Yet, others rejected Him and were waiting for Him trying to trap Him into saying something He could be arrested for. Therefore they asked Him to perform a miracle by reminding Him of the incident of the descent of Manna from heaven upon their forefathers in the wilderness. " Then Jesus said unto them, very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father Who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world " ( John 6:32-33 ). He continued saying: " I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty " ( John 6:35 ).
The multitudes could not comprehend this truth which is beyond the grasp of the human mind. In the Holy Gospel, the apostle John says: "Then the Jews began to complain about Him because He said: I am the bread that came down from heaven." ( John 6:41 ). These words were even difficult to some of His disciples who interpreted them materially for they were asking each other saying: " how can He give us his body to eat?" And in order to reaffirm this divine teaching to them, our Lord explained it fully, and added further to clarify the effects of the Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist saying, "Öunless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day; for My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them" ( John 6:53-56 ).
Yes, whoever contemplates in the Lordís teaching, the great sacrifice of the Lord, will be transfigured before Him. His self-denial is not only by bearing great pains and dying on the cross for the salvation of the world, but also by giving Himself to the believers, as spiritual food. They will be nourished by receiving Him, and they will grow in grace and be fortified and will abide in Christ, and finally, they will be worthy to inherit with Him His Heavenly Kingdom.
The Lord gave Himself to His pure disciples in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He gave the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine before He delivered Himself willingly into the hands of His enemies the Jews for crucifixion and death, as a redemption for humanity.
On the night of His passion, and after eating the Jewish Passover Meal with His righteous disciples, "Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said: Take, eat; this is My body. Then He took a cup and after giving thanks He gave it to them, saying: Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." ( Matthew 26:26-28 ) and ( Mark 14:22-24 ).
Thus, the Lord established the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and granted His pure disciples the authority to offer the bloodless, divine sacrifice by saying to them: "Ödo this in remembrance of Me." ( Luke 22:19 ). In fulfillment of this Commandment of the Lord, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the disciples set up the ritual of offering this divine sacrifice which is called The Order of Service of the Divine Eucharist. The Book of Acts of the Apostles mentions that the early Christians "Continued steadfastly in the .. fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers." ( Acts 2:42 ), which indicates their actual participation in the Divine Sacrament and the receiving of the Holy Eucharist which is His holy body and blood.
This bloodless sacrifice is a remembrance of the Sacrifice on the Cross and an extension of it and the continuation of its benefits. Furthermore, its true offerer is the Lord Christ, who gave Himself as a redemptive offering on the cross.
The Lord Jesus offers Himself on the Holy Altar as a bloodless sacrifice in the form of bread and wine. The Holy Bible said about Him, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." ( Hebrews 5:6 ). Melchizedek was a king of the Holy City and its priest during the time of Abraham, the father of the Patriarchs, and his sacrifice was bread and wine; symbolizing the sacrifice of the new covenant just as he Melchizedek was a symbol of Jesus, the great priest.
The priest who offers the sacrifice of the new covenant, represents the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the believers who participate in the Holy Eucharist, should be of one accord with the priest, who offers the sacrament, in order to receive Christís blessings. They should also receive the Holy Communion. For, if the physical food nourishes the body, the Holy Eucharist the body and blood of Christ is the food of the soul which makes its partaker worthy to be united with Christ. Concerning this matter, the Lord says: "Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me and I in them" ( John 6:56 ). St. Paul explains this relationship between Christ and the true believer by saying: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in meÖ" ( Galatians 2:20 ).
Therefore, the Holy Eucharist, grants us the Spiritual life in Christ and makes us abide in Him; so we grow and become strengthened spiritually. If that is so, then our abstinence from receiving it will be a terrible and irreplaceable loss. For we will be compared to the branch which is separated from the vine; it will dry up, whither, die and be thrown into the fire. Thatís why the Lord Jesus warns and cautions us saying: "Unless you eat the body of the Son Of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." ( John 6:53 ). Hence, the church imposed punishment upon the heretics, schismatics, and criminals by denying them the receiving of the Holy Eucharist and the participation in the Divine Liturgy.
Dearly Beloved; Because of the sacredness of the Holy Eucharist, it is required that the believers be prepared, body and soul, before they receive it. Their bodies must be clean, and they must be in a state of grace; meaning that they had offered a true penance and lawfully confessed before the lawful priest. They must also adhere to the order of communion abstaining. Concerning this matter, Saint Paul says: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment to himself not discerning the Lordís body". ( 1 Corinthians 11:28,29 ). Thus, Whoever comes to receive the Holy Eucharist must gather his thoughts and proceed, with the fear of God, with humility and meekness, and with a burning desire that matches "the desire of the deer to the streams of water " ( Psalms 41:2 ). Thus thanking God for His indescribable grace, for who has redeemed us by His sacrifice on the Cross; and bestowed upon us the sacrifice of the Holy Communion which is called "Eucharist" or the Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
Beloved, it is regrettable that many of the church sons and daughters, nowadays, have neglected to come forth to the table of the Lord, not comprehending that they are exposing their souls to eternal perdition. So, let us all return to God, with true penance, so that we may be worthy of partaking of the Lordís Table. Let us be united with Him, the Lord of Glory, and He with us, to grow in grace and be worthy to inherit His Heavenly Kingdom.
May the Lord God bless you and accept your prayers and alms. May He have mercy upon your faithful departed. Amen.
Source: The 1991 Patriarchal Lental Encyclical of His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
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