Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Devotional thoughts for the Sunday Before Pentecost

by Rev. Fr. K.K. John

I am the Bread of Life

Gospel reading is from John 6:35-46.

Jesus Christ presents himself as the real bread of life, which is the cardinal message of this chapter. The chapter opens with the miracle of feeding the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes. People were so happy with the miracle that they wanted to make him king but Jesus departed to the mountain on the other bank of the sea. But people were in no mood to leave him; they followed him. Seeing the people's misguided enthusiasm after seeing the miracle Jesus corrects them saying, "Labor not for the food that perishes but for the food that endures last, which the Son of Man will give you," v 27. Jesus draws their attention to more serious subject of the necessity to believe in Him who is sent by God.

Moses gave them Manna in the wilderness according to what they believe but Jesus corrects them saying Moses did not give them bread from heaven but His Father in heaven gives them true bread from heaven. Then said that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, v 33. People are now really excited and said to Jesus, "Lord, give us this bread always," v 34. People reached the climax of expectation of the bread, not knowing well what they were talking about.

Now Jesus introduces Himself as the bread of life.

Whosoever comes to Him shall never hunger nor thirst. Jesus said that He is doing the will of God and that is not to loose any but raise all in the last day. The people could not understand what Jesus meant for they could not see him as anyone more than the son of Joseph and Mary. Jesus said no one comes to Him unless drawn by the father. No one but He who came from God has seen the father.

Some thoughts:

People were not interested in anything more than their physical need. As ever before, today also man is more craving for physical rather than spiritual enrichments. We often ascribe more importance to genealogy, family status, etc and fail to discern the greatness in people. What makes people great, high birth or qualitative life is a good fuel for thought. Jesus is revealing His oneness of Essence, Nature and Will with Father. In other words He reveals His true identity as deity, one of the Holy Trinity, equal to Father. Those who saw Him only as the son of Joseph and Mary were at a disadvantage that the Father has not drawn them to believe. According to John disbelieving in Jesus is condemnation. Paul says except by Holy Spirit no one say Jesus is Lord, 1 Cor 12:3. These days many are led to believe there are many ways and Christianity is one among the many, etc but Bible says Jesus is not one among the many but the only way.

St. John recorded seven statements by which Jesus Christ declared His deity. that is; He was one with God the Father. They are,

(1) "I am the bread of life," 6:35.

(2) "I am the light of the world," 8:12.

(3) "I am the door," 10:9.

(4) "I am the good shepherd," 10:11.

(5) "I am the resurrection," 11:25.

(6) "I am the way, the truth and life" 14:6.

(7) "I am the true vine," 15:1.

Bread of life:

The word, `Bread' generally denotes the staple food, the basic necessity for sustenance of life. Thus the staple food of all animate beings, both plant and animal kingdom is bread and has special reference to human consumption. By claiming Jesus, as bread He implied that without Him one could not sustain life rather, He was indispensable for the human life. He is not simply bread but bread of life; the true bread, the living bread, the heavenly bread and thus expounded its eternal dimension. He is necessary not only for life in this world but also for life eternal.

Luke's saying of eating bread in the kingdom of God indicates messianic banquet, 14:15. -Breaking of bread" and "The Lord's Supper" are the terms used for Eucharist in the Bible. Lord commanded to do it in His remembrance and so the apostles were very eager to do it as often as they could. In other words, one of the basic purposes of their assemblage was to `break the bread.' Concept about `bread of life' culminated in the establishment of Holy Eucharist. `Eucharist' means thanksgiving. Mor Ignatius Noorono of Antioch first employed this term, then it appeared in `Didache' (the advise of the twelve apostles to the Gentiles) and then it came to be widely used because Jesus gave thanks to God, the Father at the Last supper, Mat 26:27, 1 Cor 11:24.

Certain congregational factions confuse it with Agape meal, which was held immediately before the `breaking of bread,'1 Cor 11:20. Agape meal became extinct as corruption crept in as also due to practical reasons, in due course of time.

Presently in our Church, `Burksa' is symbolic reminiscence of agape in ancient times. Again, Agape was full-fledged meal and commonly shared without formal liturgy. Probably the name `Holy Communion' (Koinonia), widely used in western churches, is derived from Agape meal. `Anaphora' is another name for Eucharist in Greek, which means `offering.' New Testament Anaphora is the pinnacle culmination of the Levite offerings. Clement of Rome was the first Apostolic Father to designate the title, `Offering'. Bread and wine we offer in the liturgy . In fact the faithful offer themselves wholeheartedly in purity to the will of God. Thus the priest's prayer during preparation (Tooyobo), "Grand us in meaningful service,to offer ourselves to Thee a living and acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to thee… and become Thy clean and spotless sheep" is intensely personal, sublime and meaningful. In Syriac it is, "Koorobo" derived from "Kareb" that means to come near, touch, etc. God comes to humanity and humanity touches God in the Eucharist and hence Koorobo, is very apt. It is also called "sacrifice", another name for offering. Sacrifice should not be construed as a repetition of `the once and for all sacrifice' that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross for the atonement of the sin of the whole world and of all ages but as partaking in reality the great redemption that Jesus Christ achieved for us. Mor Ignatius calls it, "Medicine of immortality." Mor Aphrem, the Syrian calls it, "Touching fire and Holy Spirit." St John Chrysostom says, "This is the divine food of fraternity. We partake with the Lord when we partake in this divine food.

Keeping away from this divine meal would tantamount to keeping away from the Lord." Holy Eucharist is the great festivity and celebration where our Lord's birth, public ministry, passion, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, Second Advent and banquet with Him in eternity are commemorated. It is imperishable food for the journey to the kingdom of heaven.

It is our central act of worship and sacrament of sacraments. It is the perfection of all other sacraments. St James, half-brother of our Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, was the first to conduct it and form a written liturgy in AD 37. The Greek Orthodox Church mostly celebrate the liturgy of St. John Chrysostum, from our Syrian Orthodox tradition there is a variety of wealth in about 80 liturgies, like the Ethiopian Coptic and Ethiopian churches has many. Almost all the liturgies are based on St. James liturgy but nevertheless St. James liturgy is the finest, the first and the most important of all. Over the course of centuries, there arose in Christendom diametrically opposed views negating and diminishing value of Holy Qurbono, among various other things, whether or not the consecrated bread and Wine are truly body and blood of Jesus Christ. Though it is too voluminous and unnecessary to deal with various views about it in detail, the faithful ought to know major different views, which form the fundamental aspect of church and Christian-unity.

Roman and all Orthodox Churches, be they of our family of Orthodox Churches or Eastern Churches hold in common that the consecrated Bread and Wine are real body and blood of Jesus Christ and yet there is sharp difference. Romans believe what they call, "Transubstantiation." Physical and chemical properties of the elements effect material change from bread to flesh and wine to blood according to this theory. We believe real, mystical and invisible presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated elements. The consecrated Eucharistic elements are real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which is mystery but not by transubstantiation. This fact is evident in the prayer of invitation to Holy Spirit (Kroithod'rooho kaadeeso), "Holy Spirit from the topmost heights of heaven takes wings and descends and broods and rest upon the Eucharist here present and hallows it." Due to indwelling power of Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine they convert themselves as flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Such change is invisible to our finite senses and yet what in the chalice is no more mere bread but the Holy body of Jesus Christ and what in the cup is no more mere wine but real blood of Jesus Christ. Reverence we show to them is the same that we show to the real person of Christ. When Jews doubted as to "how we can eat His flesh and drink His blood" Jesus Christ reiterated that, "My flesh is truly bread and my blood is truly drink."

Medieval reformation brought about all modern schisms and Eucharist is no exception and this greatest tragedy torn apart the Christendom ever since. It is important that difference to faith `Marthomaites' merits special mention.

They have the same liturgy, including invocation to Holy Spirit as we have, but say that Eucharist is only remembrance. Innocent and unaware laity receives consecrated Eucharistic elements as real flesh and blood. They have infant baptism but do not believe in regeneration that takes place in baptism! Priests are called as `achan' but not `Father' title! Certain Bishop admitted in court and private that prayer for the departed is biblical but taught against it in the church!

May our Lord and God guide the faithful to be true to the Apostolic faith of the Church.

See Also:

I am the Bread of Life
by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas Valiyaparambil

Bread of Life
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

I am the Bread of Life
by Rev. Dn George Mathew

Foundation of the Holy Eucharist
by Rev. Fr. Thomas Ninan

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for Sunday Before Pentecost

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