metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

On the Eucharist

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

When the Lord at the Last Supper instituted that mystery of our faith which we call the Holy Liturgy or the Eucharist, He gathered round Himself His disciples, both those who were later on to be faithful unto death and also the one who was already prepared to betray his Master, and He confronted him, together with the others, with the extraordinary love of God, because to be admitted to a man’s table means that He, our host, considers us to be His equals, His companions in the old sense of the word, those who are entitled to break the bread with Him, to share with Him the substance of life; equals in the love of God, equals with God through His love for us.

This is one of the aspects of the extraordinary events which we call the Last Supper. But we have given it also another name: we call it the Eucharist from the Greek word which means simultaneously “gift” and “thanksgiving”. Indeed, we can see that communion to the Body and Blood of Christ, this incredible relationship which He accepts for us, is the greatest gift which the Lord can grant us: companionship and equality, becoming the co-workers of God, and through the incredible, unfathomable action and power of the Spirit, (because this Bread is no longer bread only and this Wine is no longer only wine, they have become the Body and Blood of the Giver) we become incipiently and increasingly partakers of the divine nature, gods by adoption; gods by participation, so that together with the one who is the incarnate Son of God we become the total revelation of God’s presence, the total Christ of whom St. Ignatius of Antioch spoke. And beyond this, higher, deeper even than this, in this community of nature and life with the Only-Begotten Son of God, in the words of St. Ireneus of Lyon, we become truly, with regard to God Himself, the Only-Begotten Son.

This is the gift, but where is the thanksgiving? What can we bring to the Lord? Bread and wine? They belong to Him. Our own selves? Are we not His? He brought us out of nought, He has brought us into being, He has endowed us with all that we are and all we possess. What then can we give which is really ours? St. Maximus the Confessor says that God can do all things save one. He cannot compel the smallest of His creatures to love Him, because love is supreme freedom. This is the only gift we can bring to God, the gift of a trusting heart. But why is this mysterious supper of the Eucharist called a thanksgiving more than any other service, more than any other action of ours? What can we give to God? This was a question the psalmist was asking himself centuries ago, before Christ appeared and revealed the divine love, and his answer was so unexpected and so true. He says, “What reward shall I give to the Lord for all His benefits?” And he replies, “I shall take the cup of salvation, I will give thanks unto the Lord. I will sing praises in the courts of the temple of the Lord.” The supreme act of thanksgiving is not to give back, because one who receives and pays back repays the gift and thus somehow destroys the gift. Both indeed become equal, both have given, both have been at the giving end of the chain, but the reciprocal gift has destroyed both joys up to a point.

If we are capable of receiving wholeheartedly, then we are expressing truly our total trust, our assurance that the love of the giver is perfect and it is in receiving wholeheartedly in all simplicity that we bring joy to the one who has given from all his heart. This is true even in human relationships. We wish to repay a gift only to make ourselves free from gratitude and from a certain enslavement in which we are put when we receive from one who does not love to receive wholeheartedly and whom we do not love enough to receive wholeheartedly. This is why the Eucharist is the supreme thanksgiving to the Church and the supreme thanksgiving of the earth. People who trust the love of Church and God openheartedly without any thought of repaying the gift, only rejoicing the love it expresses, receive from God not only what He can grant but also what He is, participation to His life, to His nature, to His eternity, to His love divine. Only if we are capable of receiving with perfect gratitude and perfect joy can our participation in the Eucharist be true, only then does the Eucharist become the supreme act of gratitude. But gratitude is difficult because it requires hope, a loving heart capable of rejoicing when it receives, and a perfect trust and faith in the love of the one who gives, that this gift is not meant as humiliation or an act of enslavement. This is why we must grow from day to day into the ability to love and to be loved, into the ability to be grateful and rejoice, and only then does the Last Supper and the Lord become the perfect gift of God and a perfect response of the earth. Amen.

Published: Newsletter N. 180, November, 1985