By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday
Archdiocesan Chapel of Saint Paul
New York, New York
April 21, 2022
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Today, we gather in the Upper Room, the Ἀνώγαιον on Mount Zion, with our Master and Lord, and we celebrate the foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This Mystical Meal is not a so-called, “Last Supper,” as it is known in the West. This designation comes from the desire to reduce the importance of the Eucharist in the early Reformation, by denying the repeatability of the Supper in the Roman Catholic Mass. If the Mystical Supper, as we Orthodox know it, is a “Last Supper,” then the Eucharist is somehow diminished, which is what happened in the Reformed Movement we know as Protestantism. The reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist disappeared in Protestantism over the centuries, even if the Roman Catholic Church stood firm with its doctrine of Transubstantiation.
But for the Orthodox Church, the Mystery of this First Eucharist is like the Mystery of what we call “The Eighth Day of Creation,” Resurrection Sunday. For we do not repeat the Sacrifice of our Savior in the Divine Liturgy, as we do not repeat His Rising from the Dead. But we do participate in both – through the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit.
Like the Day of Resurrection, which commences eternity in the present time, the Divine Liturgy that we celebrate as the Church binds us to the precious moment that the Lord shared on the night in which He was betrayed – the night in which He gave Himself up for the life of the world.
Thus, this Liturgy today is of the greatest significance, because it calls to mind the Institution of the Eucharist. It reminds us of the reason we have the Divine Liturgy in the first place, because the Lord commanded us:
Τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.
Do this in remembrance of Me. 1
We celebrate the Divine Liturgy first and foremost in response to this commandment of our Lord and Master. Because this is how He chose to extend throughout all time and all people His saving work, the Divine Oeconomia. And what was this work, this labor of salvation? Nothing less than His perfect Lifetime, His teaching and preaching, the Cleansing of the Temple, the Gethsemane of His agony, His trials and torments, the Cross, the Grave, His Glorious Resurrection and His Ascension into glory.
All of these and every detail in between are made accessible to us through the Eucharist. For they are all dependent upon the Incarnation – the will of God to become a human being – that we might be transformed into the divinity that God wills for us. The Eucharist is the place where our flesh receives His Flesh, and our blood is suffused with his Blood. And we can be transfigured into His Body.
The Eucharist is what constitutes us as the Body of Christ, the Church. Without the Eucharist, there is no Church. That is why Saint Ignatios of Antioch can say:
Let no one do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the people also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Universal Church. 2
In this ancient letter of the martyred Bishop of Antioch, written less than eighty years after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear the order of the Church that was established by the Apostles.
We, who are Bishops, Priests and Deacons, find the meaning of our roles in the Church in that “proper Eucharist,” spoken of by the Saint. For in continuing the Supper of the Lord that He shared with His Disciples that First Holy Week, we enact the Body of Believers as the Church, so that, as the Lord said:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 3
The Eucharist, above all else, constitutes the Church, and everything that we have flows from it.
Therefore, my fellow brothers and sisters,
Let us treasure the unique Divine Liturgy that we celebrate on this Holy Thursday. As we remember the Lord’s injunction, let us also remember Him.
As we become more and more His Body on earth – even in our sufferings and difficulties – all of them already lived without sin by the Lord Himself – we shall one day be His Body in Heaven, by the grace and power of the Resurrection, which we celebrate anew every Sunday, and especially on the Holy Pascha.
Photo: GOA/D. Panagos