FAQ: Sacraments Of The Church
What does the Orthodox faith teach concerning the Sacraments of the Church, specifically communion?
Some Protestant groups teach communion or the Lord's Supper is only sign or symbol. Most all of Christendom, however, believes it is far more. The Church has always believed that we, in a Mystery, receive the body and blood of Christ. Let us look at Holy Scripture concerning Communion.
Jesus said at the Last Supper: "This is my body" and "This cup is ...my blood" (Luke 22: 19 and 20, italics added). The Lord is clear that His gifts to us are more than just sign or a mere memorial.
In I Corinthians 11:29, 30, we read of people who became sick and even died for receiving communion hypocritically. People do not die over something merely "symbolic." The bread and wine is, in mystery, the body and blood of the Lord.
In I Corinthians 10, Saint Paul is comparing the manna and water in the wilderness with the true bread and drink of the New Covenant. In I Corinthians 10:4 he writes, "And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." The question is, was the Rock Christ? Under laboratory observation, the rock was still most likely granite. But the word of God says, "The Rock was Christ." We do not subject the gifts to the table of chemical valence, but to the word of God. It's mystery, but never magic. Christ was present in the Rock as He is present in the Holy Gifts.
In John 6:53 we read, "Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.'" The Church receives this passage at face value - nothing added, nothing taken away. In communion we become partakers of the body and blood of Christ. Just as the new birth (John 3) gives us life through water and the Holy Spirit, so the body and blood of Christ sustains His life in us.
There is also the fact (Hebrews 9:11, 12) that Christ our High Priest enters the Heavenly Sanctuary with His own blood, and that it is in this Heavenly Sanctuary that we worship (Hebrews 10:19-25). There is only one Eucharist, the one in heaven, and we join in that one feast.
We must neither add to nor subtract from the word of God. Therefore we confess with holy Scripture that the consecrated bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ. It is a mystery: we do not pretend to know how or why. As always, we come to Christ in childlike faith, receive His gifts, and offer Him praise that He has called us to His heavenly banquet.