SALVATION THROUGH COMMUNION
“May Christ live forever in the Orthodox Christian Church! The high priestly ministry of the redemption of Jesus Christ continues without interruption. This continuation is performed in a visible way, specifically through the external rites. The sum of all forms of Orthodox worship makes its essence Christian. The foundation of Orthodox worship was laid down by Jesus Christ Himself, because he established the Holy Eucharist and its effectiveness in the form of bread and wine… For every Holy Liturgy is produced the consecrated bread (the Holy Lamb of God) and wine, which become the righteous Body and Blood of Christ, the Savior. This faith that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord comprise the entire structure of the Orthodox Church.”
“The Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. It is the greatest expression and proof of God’s love for His people… And the Son of God so loved His people that He sacrificed Himself for the salvation of people of His own will once at Calvary and on a daily basis in the sacramental sacrifices in Orthodox temples. He did this to enable us to have spiritual union with him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist… Holy Eucharist – the greatest treasure a Christian can possess. In the light of Communion, a Christian receives, in addition to eternal life, all other good things from God… The Holy Communion gives spiritual rebirth to a person. This is the experience for Christian saints. They all experienced it, but out of modesty they never wanted to tell or write about it. The one exception among these saints is the Holy Father, John of Kronstadt. His famous diary My Life in Christ (which was translated into many languages) states: ‘After the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, with the prayers of his Mother Most Pure, who Herself was Immaculate, by the goodness of the Lord, it gave me such a new spiritual nature, clean, good, beautiful, bright, wise, gentle, in the place of one that was unclean, lazy and dead, faintheartedly, dark, dull, evil.’”
According to the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the “Divine Liturgy” is the most important worship service performed in Orthodoxy. Within these services, consecrated bread and wine is literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ, and every person who receives them receives eternal life and salvation through them. It is especially noteworthy to read the Orthodox statement that “This faith that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord comprise the entire structure of the Orthodox Church.” So, the evidence on the basis of Scripture and church history teaches us that “Transubstantiation” (the literal transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – despite the remaining external forms of bread and wine) was introduced in the Church many centuries after the first apostles. Furthermore, this teaching presumes that the first disciples did not understand this word of the Lord – the “word” that allegedly comprises the very foundation of the Orthodox Church!
A further explanation of this issue of sacraments based on the facts of church history will be given in detail in Chapter Seven. For now, we will examine this issue from the texts of Holy Scripture.
What Did the Lord Say during the Last Supper?
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.’”
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”
Before beginning a detailed study of this broad topic, I want to emphasize that
Christ’s message was given during the last Passover supper, so that we can appreciate his symbolic manner of speaking in metaphors. Jesus used metaphors in many other statements: “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way,” “I am the true vine,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the offspring of root and branch of David, a great star,” etc. However, before diving into a closer study of Christ’s speaking, let us observe a few striking facts that are apparent from the text:
(1) This event occurs the night before Jesus is arrested.
(2) In addition to other food prepared for the Passover holiday on the table in front of the Lord and His disciples, there were also placed unleavened bread and wine.
(3) Christ draws a comparison of the bread to His body: “This is my body.”
(4) Christ takes the cup of wine and states, “This is My new covenant with you in My blood, which will be shed for you.”
(5) Christ commanded His disciples to keep this ordinance regularly and repeatedly (in remembrance of Him, that is, His sacrifice on Calvary).
(6) Christ affirms that the cup is “the fruit of the wine”, that is, wine.
(7) Nowhere does Christ discuss the transformation of the bread and wine into His physical body and blood, nor does He command His disciples in the future to render such “transformation”.
The Significance and Practice of the Lord’s Supper in the Early Church
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
This text from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the first record of the Lord’s Supper with regard to its practice in the early Church. This epistle was written before any of the New Testament Gospels, including that of Mark, the oldest Gospel. Thus, the report of this apostle is very important to having the correct understanding of the topic we are studying.
Paul mentions the same elements as we saw in previous passages (even though Paul personally was not present at the Last Supper, for the simple reason that he was not one of the original apostles taught during Christ’s earthly ministry). Paul then explains the proper meaning of the procedures in the Lord’s Supper:
(1) Jesus took the bread and stated, “This is my body, which is for you.”
(2) Jesus took the cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
(3) The bread and the wine are to be partaken by Christians as a periodic sign in memory of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. (“Do this in remembrance of me.”)
(4) Whenever the Christians would reenact the Lord’s Supper by eating the bread and taking the wine (until His Second Coming), their observance reveals the Lord’s death, that is to say, they testify both to believers and unbelievers of their faith in the redemptive work of Christ for their salvation.
Did the Apostles Believe in the Transformation of the Bread and the Wine?
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
The text just mentioned above, along with those mentioned earlier, clearly demonstrate that the apostles taught the bread and the wine were symbolic metaphors of Christ’s death – and not transubstantiation (i.e., their conversion into the literal body and blood of Christ). However, the next passage gives us a more detailed explanation of the meaning of the “Lord’s Supper.” Namely, when talking about the consequences of Christ’s vicarious death, the Scripture says this:
“…of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
“And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’”
God’s revelation says that the Lord Jesus has purchased many people from eternal damnation and led them to eternal life through His death by pouring out His own blood. God’s will for all people who are saved by faith in the shed blood and broken body of the Savior is to be united into a unique Christian fellowship with an abundance of love for one another:
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
As the Church consists of Christ’s followers and members of His spiritual body, believers need to remember the events on Calvary, which opened the way for them to become children of God. Precisely for this reason, the Apostle Paul reminds Corinthians that the cup (of wine) they share with each other serves as a metaphor for fellowship with the blood of Jesus (in other words, a communion of believers with Christ and each other, which was created thanks to His blood that was poured out for them). Similarly, taking the bread and breaking it symbolizes the mutual fellowship they have in His body broken for them and fellowship in His sacrifice. The main emphasis in this explanation of the meaning of the “Lord’s Supper”, e.g., “Communion” is its symbolism of Christian unity within the church community.
It is particularly important to note that even the Apostle utters not one word that compels the faithful to believe that the bread and wine change into Christ himself. Rather, he speaks of literal bread and a literal cup (with wine obviously) that represent the symbol of unity of believers who trust in Christ’s saving work. There is no text in the entire Bible, neither this text, nor any other passage in the New Testament, that teaches that a person acquires eternal life merely through partaking of the bread and wine.
In fact, completely contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the Holy Scriptures show that no person who is not saved by faith and born of God has no right to participating in this holy rite. For an unbelieving person, the Lord’s Supper has no meaning. The bread and wine, as well as the remembrance of Christ’s death, have meaning only for people who have experienced redemption from sin and death through faith and trust in Jesus on a daily basis.
Spiritual Truth from John 6
Jesus has always demanded and still does demand full commitment and loyalty from His disciples. He also requires His disciples to obey fully all of his commandments:
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
“If you love me, you will obey what I command… Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…”
However, during His ministry on earth, Christ received many followers who came after Him out of greed – not out of a desire for true discipleship. Although Christ was crucified at the end of His three year ministry with the approval of a great part of the people of Israel, it is an undeniable fact that the preaching of Jesus was very popular amongst the Jews. Perhaps His popularity gained the most from His working of miracles (including the resurrection of dead people, healing the sick, expelling demons from the demonized people, etc.), This happened in spite of Jesus’ request, even prohibition, that news of His miraculous work would be proclaimed. At one point, a great mass of Jews wanted to drag Jesus away by force and declare Him Messiah, just because of His miraculous feeding of them by multiplying bread and fish. However, the Lord wanted the people, where he was, to turn to God in truth and experience spiritual revival. By this, they would gain new fellowship with the Almighty God, the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus wanted to bring about genuine fruits worthy of true heartfelt repentance. He rejected mere outward religious pomp with a shallow trust in the piety of their ancestors, yet at the same time living against the will of God. Before Christ’s appearance, John the Baptist instructed the people with the following words:
“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’”
However, the Jews labored in a formal religiosity that did not satisfy God. Although they boasted in their virtuous ancestors, the Israelites of Jesus’ time and generations before them did not worship God in a way that pleased Him. Finally, Jesus was forced to reject the claim of that generation to be children of God just like their faithful ancestor Abraham. Christ responded to their boast by calling them the children of the devil. As a result of this exchange, the Jews lashed back by calling Jesus a Samaritan, which was considered a deep insult and betrayal to the nation, and their eventual plot to murder Him.
The very same people who wanted to proclaim Jesus as King quickly changed their mind about the Lord and tried to assassinate Him. The same people who on Palm Sunday shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” and then only a few days later screamed in a loud voice, “Crucify Him!”
In contrast to such “followers” who vacillate from one extreme to another and lack a durable spiritual foundation and endurance, the Lord has always desired to have with Him faithful and loyal people. People like Job in the Old Testament or the Apostle Paul persevered in faith versus major challenges and dangers. These two spiritual giants are two examples of men with faith in God.
When it comes to the righteous Job, his sincere godliness is reflected in the fact that Job praises God even after the worst catastrophes ever to occur in his family, including the death of their children and the loss of his entire property:
“And [Job] said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance…”
Another example is Paul:
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For the same reason, to distinguish the wheat from the tares and to separate the real from
false followers, Christ pronounced a beautiful, spiritual instruction, which, as we shall see, the Orthodox quoted incorrectly in their misapplication of the “Lord’s supper” and their false doctrine of misappropriating/stealing/grabbing eternal life:
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ So they asked him, ‘What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
Jesus Christ, who had intimate knowledge of the sinfulness of human nature and people personally, knew that most of his followers came to Him out of selfish interest. Some of them were there because He fed them every day. Others followed Him because He easily and quickly healed them of various diseases. But the Lord was aware that the material benefit from His physical presence among the people would be temporary. His work consisted of serving His Father to open people’s eyes to the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was for this reason that Jesus commands His audience not to labor for the food that does not last, but rather for the food which yields eternal life (v.27). This speech is a critical turning point. By this time, the crowd had resolved to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. However, after Jesus gives this spiritual lesson, the crowd begins to express doubt about the validity of the teachings of Jesus (30-34). Although the Lord spoke of eternal life and heavenly food, the Jews could only think in physical terms. The Jewish crowd was under the impression that they could receive daily bread and never go hungry.
The Samaritan woman at the well showed similar logic. After her Savior pointed to the possibility of obtaining water, which would never run out, the woman asked Him where she could find it, as she was under the impression He meant physical, fresh water.
“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’”
Like the Jews, the Samaritan woman did not grasp the spiritual message. The Apostle Paul explains the reason for this misunderstanding:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
In this case, the water which never runs out is the Holy Spirit, and the bread which will never leave one hungry is Jesus Christ.
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
John in his gospel reveals a conversation between Jesus and His disciples:
“’I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”
It is quite obvious that, although Jesus speaks of himself as bread from heaven, he does not consider the message to be literal. Rather, He is speaking it as a metaphor. If we carefully follow Christ’s statements clearly, we will notice that He frequently refers to faith as a means of spiritual “feeding”, i.e. eating bread, which gives eternal life (in verses 29, 35, 40, 47). While, therefore, that message was obvious, the Jews began to argue amongst themselves. At that moment, the Lord decided to unveil the false believers that were with him to this point. Christ pronounced these words in order to offend many of these so-called “followers”, and which today are misunderstood by others who have fallen into spiritual darkness by taking these words of Christ literally.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, 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. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.’”
If understood literally and not figuratively, this statement would sound truly repulsive and astonishing. In that case, the words of Jesus would compare with the worst kind of pagan worship in which the participants drank the blood of their victims and thus considered themselves to have received the life of another person. However, it is impossible to imagine that Christ would have commanded His audience to eat His literal righteous body and drink His literal blood in order to gain eternal life (though many in His audience misinterpreted it that way, even though Jesus did not say that). However, the Lord spoke this entire message with gravity. It was intended to demonstrate that His disciples implicitly believed in His words, even if they could not understand them fully at the time, or even if other listeners did not trust Jesus. Of course, the message was more than clear to those who were seeking spiritual truth. What happened next was a perfectly logical outcome:
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’… From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
The key to understanding this dialogue with Christ is the correct spiritual application of His metaphors for His body as “real food” and His blood as “real drink”. Emphasizing this principle, the Lord said:
“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever… The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
Putting one’s faith in Who Christ is and what He has done along with obeying Him in accordance with God’s will is the core message of Jesus’ speech. Every believer, who from the heart is one in accord with the Lord, is nourished by spiritual bread from heaven and never starves. Whoever puts the hope of his heart in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and follows him as his Lord is like one who partakes of a drink from heaven and will never thirst. Jesus clearly asserts that His words are akin to bread from heaven that we should eat, just “as your forefathers ate in the wilderness.” The manna from heaven that the Israelites of the Old Testament ate in the wilderness could prolong their life only for a short time, because it was mere physical bread. In contrast, the words of the Son of God are “spirit and life” (that is, the words of Christ should not be understood as literal food, but rather contemplated in a spiritual way). Instead, Jesus gives New Testament believers the opportunity to receive faith in Him and thus gain eternal life. According to the Lord, every one who believes and trusts in Him is found in Jesus Christ. This truth proves the unbreakable bond of Christian fellowship with the Lord for all eternity.
Seeing it from this perspective, we can conclude that the texts regarding the Lord’s Supper, or “Communion”, utterly contradict official Orthodox teachings. The Son of God never instructed his listeners to understand this ordinance in the way Orthodoxy depicts it. Thus, St. John of Krondstadt concludes:
“Instead of the tree of life – the bread of life, instead of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – the same bread that gives life. As He said, ‘Do not eat of that tree so you will not die,’ (Gen. 3:3), but now He says, ‘Eat, and you will live.’ (Jn. 6:51, 58)”
Orthodox doctrine that dictates eternal life can be acquired through actually eating of the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist is wrong. Orthodox teaching on the Lord’s Supper is only one of many theological inaccuracies that fine no basis is God’s Holy Scriptures.
Further information from church history on the origin of the Eastern Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) teaching on transubstantiation, i.e. the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, follows in the following chapter on the seven holy sacraments.