By Fr. Deacon Michael Faryna
student at St. Andrew’s College
Today in our Church, participation in the Eucharist has become a infrequent occurrence. Some participate in the Eucharist maybe two or three times during the year, and many others only participate in the Eucharist once a year, at Pascha, the Holy Resurrection of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is a sad reality, when we live in a world, where we are freely able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist of our Lord Jesus Christ on every Sunday of the year, and that’s not counting Feast Day Liturgies, and the Liturgies of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts during Great Lent.
Since the institution of the Eucharist everyone has participated it in, even if they were unable to attend the service, as the deacons of Church would bring the Eucharist to them. In the Acts of the Apostles we read, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) The breaking of the bread here is the Eucharist. It was unheard of that anyone would not participate in the Eucharist, and yet today it is a common practice to not do so.
Now although any amount of participation in the Eucharist is good and helpful for us, it is far better and more helpful for us to participate in and receive the Eucharist more frequently. The benefits of frequent participation in the Eucharist can be compared to that of a candle in a dark room or a fire on a cold day. The nearer we draw to the candle, the more light we receive. The closer we come to the fire, the warmer we get. In the same way, the more often we draw near to God in the Holy Eucharist, the more we receive the light, warmth and holiness of God.
Out of everything in the Orthodox Christian experience, the Holy Eucharist holds the most important place in the Orthodox Church, for the Eucharist is the centre of our life in Christ. The Eucharist is a mystical sacrament and tradition that came from our Lord, Himself, before His Crucifixion. Holy Scripture tells us of the First Eucharist, that “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the new convent, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’.” (Mt 26:26-27) The priest at every Liturgy repeats these very words of Christ.
By doing this in the Divine Liturgy, it affirms the truth of Holy Scripture. Christ did indeed institute the Eucharist and He affirmed its importance by saying, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never be hungry and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn 6:35) and He continues by saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:53)
The Eucharist is our spiritual food, which gives us eternal life. It sustains us and helps us to grow spiritually. Just as the right food is important for the development of infants and young children, so too is the Eucharist for the development of each one of us. You would not say to your children, “You can only eat two or three meals a year.” Why do we not say this? Because everyone must eat two or three times daily in order that our physical life may be sustained and we not die. Yet, unfortunately, we do not share this same concerns for our spiritual life. We starve our spiritual life by only feeding it two or three times a year, or perhaps only once in our life time.
By celebrating the Eucharist, we confirm that we believe Christ’s words. This is not just a mere remembrance, even though Christ commanded us, saying “do this in remembrance of Me.” (Lk 22:19). Christ Himself teaches us, saying “My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:55) Just as Christ is mystically present with us, when two or three are gathered together in His name, so too is Christ mystically present with us in the form bread, which is His Body, and in the form of wine, which is His Blood.
The Eucharist teaches us that unless Christ is living inside of each one of us, and we live in Christ, then we have no life. It is Christ who gives life to all, and through the Eucharist we embrace Christ and we allow Him to abide in us, and we in turn, will abide in Him.
But it is not just Christ who abides in us and becomes one with us, through the participation of the Eucharist. Christ also teaches us saying, “I and My Father are one.” (Jn 11:2) By participating in the Eucharist, God the Father also abides in us and likewise God the Spirit, for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one. Through Eucharist, the Holy Trinity abides in us and we in the Holy Trinity.
In His final prayer in garden of Gethsemane, Christ prays, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us.” (Jn 17:21) It is the Eucharist that makes us one with God, God one with us, and us, one with each other.
As we approach Holy Pascha, let us answer the call of the priest, “with the fear of God, faith and love, draw near” to the Holy Eucharist of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ for eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom.