Archimandrite Savva (Mazhuko) about what the Eucharist is and how it is difficult to explain to other people the truth about this Sacrament.
For some people the Holy Communion is an inconceivable feat. What am I saying? Not for some people. For many people. Maybe even for most people. Moreover, I am personally among them.
Eucharist is such a sacrament that you understand with your mind and feel with your flesh that you are touching something really sacred. You, a person from blood and flesh with all your miserable thoughts and worries, do not just touch the Body of God, but pour His sacred Blood into your veins. The Blood of God washes your heart, changes you and brings you back to you.
It sounds impossible, but it is true. How can it happen like this? How could it become possible? How could I survive that? We can talk much about this. But there is nothing to listen to, if you have not experienced it by yourself. And if you did, you would prefer to remain silent. Eucharist makes you feel holy awe from touching the true relic. This holy awe almost burns you to ashes. At the same time, you can see something completely different around you – peaceful children’s joy, inexpressible silence, the joy of being, praying, running, praising, the joy of being alive forever and being surrounded with those who are alive.
The symbol of the holy awe is a priest standing near the holy table and saying as if from the bottom of despair, “O God, cleanse me a sinner!” The symbol of peaceful joy is a child eating a prosphora. Did you also notice that? It is fun to see a small child holding a prosphora with two hands and eating it greedily with a straight face.
Indeed, there is something eternally peaceful in the sight of the holy bread and wine. How peaceful it becomes in your heart when you look at prosphoras. A peaceful offering indeed!
How can both of these incredible feelings of the peaceful joy and the holy awe combine? It is quite simple. During the Eucharist, we face neither severe cosmic powers, nor any faceless sacred thing. The Living God is going towards us, our true loving Father. He touches us, His Blood renovates our souls, His spirit enlivens our bodies. It is scaring. But it is joyful too. The Gospel story about the feeding the multitude is a true icon of Eucharist. The story is described in all the four Gospels. A very old story. Christ was preaching for the whole day in a deserted place. People got tired, it was far for their homes, and there was nothing to give them. The apostles had only five pieces of bread and two fish. How could they feed so many people?
The Lord just prayed, blessed the food and filled everyone. A regular miracle – this is how we, Christians, think about this episode when we forget that a miracle cannot be regular at all. We even wonder about it without any enthusiasm: yes, God performed a miracle, when He filled 5,000 people. But does it take much effort for him to do this? He is God, the almighty Creator. It must be easy for Him to heal, resurrect and multiply breads.
However, even during the ancient times people understood that the story about the breads is a unique one. Evangelist John, of whom it is not typical to repeat in his Gospel what other evangelists have said before him, decided to include that episode in his mysterious message. He mentioned that in Chapter 6, in which he retold Christ’s speech about the Heavenly Bread, about Eucharist. The miracle with five breads was used as an illustration for explaining the theology of Eucharist. It was not just a miracle, but a sign, a living icon of the Eternal Liturgy.
By the way, what is Eucharist exactly? It is hard to explain with a few words, especially to those people who do not live a church life. You can hardly find suitable words. They resist and demand clarifications. It is hard even for a theologian.
Nevertheless, the Lord gave us that gift, which is available to all of us – scientists, illiterates, theologians, laymen – and if you cannot comprehend this mystery with your mind then just look at the icon of Eucharist, the miracle of the feeding of the multitude. Do not come with pride, but come humbly to the stunned apostles, handing out bread among the people, and join the sacrament of the Communion with God. Let Christ enter your life, your blood and flesh. Let Him reach the deepest end of your soul and ask Him to bring the light of His love there, to enliven you, to feed you with the true life because this is exactly what the aim of the Eucharist is – to bring the dead back, to fill our souls and bodies with the true Divine life.
This is a true, personal and intimate meeting with the Living God. Not with an idea, not with a teaching or philosophical system, not with a mysterious energy. He, the Creator of the world, Who created both me and my history, meets with me in the depth of my soul, in such abyss of my being about which I did not even know before.
Once, a friend of mine, a person with a sad smile and kind eyes, told me how he became a faithful person, when he experienced the meeting with God during the Eucharist. He was living in a typical soviet family and did not know neither God, nor the Church. There was nothing special in his life. A typical soviet childhood, school troubles, boxing lessons – a clear life without any mystical secrets and metaphysical worries.
Suddenly the authorities gave permission to open churches. In our native city Gomel the church of Ss. Peter and Paul was returned to the faithful people. That was unusual. It turned out that there was a different world, a very ancient and traditional. And there were people, there was an entirly different and fulfilling life! He began to come to that church. He understood nothing. He knew no one. He just gazed. It was interesting, unusual. He got acquainted with a nun, who took notes in the church. At first they just got to know each other, but later they begin to discuss.
– Have you ever partaken of the Holy Communion?
– No. How?
– I’ll tell you.
And she told him about the Holy Communion. She told him neither a theological theory, nor catechism with references to the Scripture and the Holy Fathers. She just taught him how to prepare. To the horror of his parents, a soviet schoolchild was courageously fasting for a week. He was patiently reading the “Prayerbook” without even hoping to understand what was written in the ancient language. On the eve of his Communion, he was watching a foolish film on TV as usual. The next day he went to liturgy. He did not understand what he was doing, why he came there and what to expect. I am supposed to partake of the Holy Communion – I will. Are you a faithful person? We will see.
He came to confession. He remained standing for the duration of the entire liturgy. He came to the chalice. His hands are crossed on his chest. He pronounced his name loudly. The priest gave a little spoon with a piece of bread and wine. Strange taste. Unusual. This is it. Nothing more to say. This is how it happened. This is how he became a faithful person. There, before the chalice, he met Christ. How can one talk about this? You will hardly manage to explain.
There was no visions. There were no voices, strange miracles or prophecies. He did not lose the ground under his feet. There were no hurricanes chipping off the plaster from the walls. However, it was the touch of something true and holy. Of someone. No one was waiting for him. No one called him to come. The boy did not think that something like that could happen to him. He did not know about Eucharist, he did not read the Scripture, he did not study the history of the Church and the life stories of saints.
He had heard something before. He had read a bit before that, but he did not expect it would be like that. They just met. He just came. And then he just stayed. Christ told his disciples and wisemen about the Heavenly Bread. They did not understand Him and did not hear him. At the same time, a shy and silent disciple John remembered everything because he had a feeling that it was very important and that later we would understand everything.
And he was right, as the Apostle of Love. Because at first we experience and then we understand. Faith comes after the meeting, which no one is waiting for, which cannot be planned or booked. Only this way we become faithful people – after a personal meeting with God, when we are caught off guard by Him.
This is why it is so joyful and anxious to come to the Holy Communion, the meeting with God. You understand Whom you are going to see, with Whom you are going to commune and Who will stay with you forever.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds
Only there remains no more wine. No more bread but mere appearances. What does remain is Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ.