His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Homily for the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday
Archdiocesan Chapel of Saint Paul
New York, New York
April 29, 2021
My beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
As we celebrate this First and Holiest Divine Liturgy – the Mystical Supper – we are reminded of the journey through which we have passed this last year: loss of life, livelihood, disappointments at every turn, and we have yet to see the end of the pandemic. Yet, we march on. And through this Holy Week, we have now arrived at the Eucharist by which our Lord continues to enfold us within Himself.
In this Mystical Meal that the Lord shared with His Disciples, He transformed the “everlasting memorial”[*] of the Passover Supper, which commemorates the liberation of Israel from Egypt, into the New Covenant of freedom between God and humanity.
In Egypt, the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the lintels of the door blocked the angel of death, which passed over your house. In the Upper Room, the Ἀνώγαιον on Mount Zion, the Lord offered His own Precious Blood and Body to His followers – even to the one who betrayed Him and denied Him.
Even before the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross – suspended between Heaven and earth – The Lord offered the Disciples a way out, an escape:
from sin to righteousness,
from anger to peace,
from envy to generosity,
from hatred to love,
from death to life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ became Himself the reality of the Passover and the shadow of the law passed into the light of truth. As the Apostle Paul says: For truly, Christ our Passover, has been sacrificed for us.[†]
But in the Sacred Meal He shared with His Disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ did much more than substitute the totality of His own Sacrifice for the pale fragment that was instituted by Moses.
In the Mystical Supper, the Lord, as Saint John Chrysostom says, “drank His own Blood.” [‡] This is a startling and even alarming observation. And if you think about the sharing of the ἂρτο – the bread blessed by Him to become His Flesh – we arrive at a most profound truth of this First Eucharist. At the Mystical Supper, the Lord ate His own Flesh and drank His own Blood.
Earlier in His ministry, the Lord Jesus gave this hard teaching to His Disciples and the Jews of His day. He said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you feed on the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within. Those who feed on My flesh and drink My blood possess eternal life, and I will raise them up at the Last Day. Indeed, My flesh is truly a food that nourishes, and My blood is truly a drink that quenches. Those who feed on My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me and I in them.” [§]
This vivid and graphic language caused much consternation and confusion among the Lord’s Disciples. The Evangelist John tells us: As a result of this teaching, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.[**]
The Eucharist is a defining line for Christians, because there is a reality here that defies our rational minds, but not our faithful hearts. We understand that by eating His own Body and drinking His own Blood at the Mystical Supper, the Lord took into Himself the humanity of us all.
Think of it, my dear Christians! The Lord literally incorporated us into Himself. In His Flesh and in His Blood, He took us all the way to the Cross. When He died thereon, we died with Him. That is why Holy Baptism is baptism into his death, as the Apostle says.[††] He took us to the Cross and into the Tomb, and He has also raised us up by His Glorious Resurrection. Every time we receive Communion, we receive eternal life in Him.
This Mystical Supper – and every Divine Liturgy – is an act of salvation that is perfected in the Lord’s Passion, Death, Burial and Resurrection. He left us this memorial, so that He would always be with us, and we would always be able to be with Him – everywhere in the world, and at all times.
Therefore, each time we receive, let us pray with both urgency and sincerity of heart:
O Son of God, receive me today as a partaker of Your Mystical Supper. For I will not speak of the mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss, as did Judas. But like the thief, I confess to You: Remember me, Lord, in Your Kingdom. Amen.