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An Orthodox statement on the Eucharist


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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 03:45 PM

Since 1985 the Lutheran/Orthodox international ecumenical dialogue have released several statements on various theological topics, including a 2006 statement "The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church." Given our recent discussion of transubstantiation, as well as recent discussions on the Eucharist that have been simultaneously going on at two other Orthodox forums, I thought it might be helpful to share with the brethren the relevant passages on the eucharistic transformation, as articulated by the Orthodox participants.

The Mystery of the Church

B.7. With regard to the holy eucharist, Lutherans and Orthodox converge in their insistence on the reality of the body and blood of Christ given and received in the eucharistic elements. In this respect, Orthodox speak of the change (metabole) in the elements of the eucharist such that after the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) there is no longer "bread" and "wine" but the real body and blood of Christ. Lutherans traditionally say that the real body and blood of Christ are present "in, with, and under" the bread and the wine. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that in holy communion we do not receive ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but the body and blood of Christ. As St. Paul teaches: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (I Cor. 10:16)."

C.10 The Holy Chrismation (the anointing of the baptized with the holy myron and prayer for their reception of the Holy Spirit) is the distinct but inseparable sacrament that imparts to the individual believer the church’s own Pentecost. Endowed with the gift of the Spirit, believers are prepared and enabled to participate in the eucharist, the sacrament which effects their union with Christ, so that they truly become with him one body (syssomos) and one blood (homaimos). Accordingly, in the Orthodox tradition, all those who have been baptized and chrismated are immediately admitted to the Eucharist, including infants.

D.4. Lutherans and Orthodox take the Lord’s words “this is my body; this is my blood” (Mt 26,27f, par.) literally. They believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood to be consumed by the communicants. How this happens is regarded by both as a profound and real mystery. In order to approach that mystery, Orthodox and Lutherans have drawn on their respective theological traditions and developed different insights on what takes place.

a. Lutherans speak about Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist and describe Christ’s body and blood as being “in, with and under” the bread and wine (Formula of Concord, SD 7). By this they mean that the bread and the wine really become the body and blood of Christ, through the Words of Institution and the action of the Holy Spirit. Drawing on patristic sources, Lutherans understand Christ’s presence in the elements christologically: “Just as in Christ two distinct, unaltered natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper two essences, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here on earth in the action of the sacrament, as it was instituted” (SD 7). Lutherans, however, maintain a distinction between a personal, hypostatic union and a “sacramental union”, favoring the latter in order to describe Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Lutheran theology is able to speak of a transformation (mutatio) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (Apology X, 2; XXIV). This is not understood as eliminating the physical character of the bread and wine in the Eucharist. Lutherans emphasize that it is God’s Word which makes the sacrament (Large Catechism, 5: The Sacrament of the Altar).

b. Orthodox profess a real change (metabole) of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ by the Words of Institution and the act of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic anaphora. This does not mean a “transsubstantiation” of the substance of the bread and the wine into the substance of the deified humanity of Christ, but a union with it: “The bread of communion isn’t an ordinary bread, but united with divinity” (John of Damascus). This union amounts to a communication of the deifying properties of the humanity of Christ and of the deifying grace of his divinity to the eucharistic gifts: The bread and the wine are no longer understood with respect to their natural properties but with respect to Christ’s deified human body in which they have been assumed through the action of the Holy Spirit. As in Christology the two natures are united hypostatically, so in the Eucharist Christ’s exalted human body and the “antitypes” (St. Basil, Anaphora) of bread and wine are united sacramentally through the act of the Holy Spirit.

c. Orthodox and Lutherans agree, whether they use the language of “metabole” or of “real presence”, that the bread and wine do not lose their essence (physis) when becoming sacramentally Christ’s body and blood. The medieval doctrine of transsubstantiation is rejected by both Orthodox and Lutherans.

5. Orthodox and Lutherans believe that the changes that take place in the Eucharist are accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, the Orthodox explicitly include the entire economy of salvation, which culminates in the Words of Institution, Anamnesis, Epiclesis and Holy Communion. For Lutherans, the totality of the work of Christ is also presupposed and is liturgically enacted in the eucharistic worship service as a whole, although less elaborately. Both Lutherans and Orthodox believe that the Eucharist cannot be isolated from the entire mystery of salvation.

6. For both Lutherans and Orthodox, proper use of the eucharistic elements is dictated by Christ’s own words in Holy Scripture: “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood…” (Mt 26,27f, par.). Those who believe Christ’s words receive his body and blood for their salvation. Lutherans do not recognize salvific qualities in the elements when these are used for non-eucharistic purposes. That position need not exclude a belief that the change of the elements into body and blood of Christ is definitive, however. Orthodox insist on the permanence and irreversibility of that change.

a. The Lutheran position stems from a historical critique of non-eucharistic uses of the eucharistic elements common in late-medieval Western traditions. Lutherans see a danger of superstition, fetishism or an abuse in private masses in such practices. Lutheran theology, furthermore, views the elements as means of salvation (media salutis) which means that its primary interest lies in the two entities that are brought together by those media—God and the believer—and not in the media themselves. Hence, the Lutheran tradition has not emphasized reflection on what happens to the elements outside their use in the Eucharist (extra usum).

b. Orthodox understand the elements’ change christologically. Since Christ’s presence with the elements brings the divine into contact with the earthly, the earthly elements are affected—“deified”—much as Christ’s human nature is affected by union with the divine. As a consequence, Orthodox believe that the elements are sacramentally changed in themselves when they are united with Christ’s body and blood, and that that change is as irreversible as the incarnation itself. However, they insist that the consecrated bread and wine are used only for eucharistic purposes.

c. Lutherans can agree with the Orthodox position without giving up their concentration on the proper use of the elements in the Eucharist. A Lutheran appreciation of the Orthodox’ christological emphasis, along with reflection on Lutherans’ own tradition of reverence for the Eucharist would demand corresponding care when handling the elements extra usum, for example with respect to consecrated bread and wine after the Eucharistic celebration.

7. Lutherans and Orthodox together affirm the eschatologial dimension of the Eucharist, which brings both the past and the future into the present. Since the eschatological mystery is the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and exalted Christ, who is coming again with glory, the Eucharist, which brings us to him and him to us, is truly eschatological. The Eucharist presents the eschaton to the believers and to the world. It brings salvation to the believer and judgement to the unbeliever and unworthy participant (1 Cor. 11,27ff).

By giving us his holy body and blood to eat and to drink, Christ is bodily as close to us now as he was to his first disciples and to all his followers throughout the ages. But the sacrament is also an anticipation of the future redemption and a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven (Rev. 19,9). This meal, the supper of the Kingdom, encompasses both the future eschatology of the Parousia and the inaugurated eschatology of the Eucharist. In it God the Father not only forgives us our sins, but nourishes us with the body and blood of His Son so that we are strengthened through the Holy Spirit for our earthly pilgrimage, until at last we fully possess the life of the world to come, which we already possess in a hidden manner by faith. In the words of the ancient prayer, “Maranatha, Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16,22c), the Church prays for the future coming of the Lord at the end of time as well as for his coming now through the Spirit in this holy meal. In the Eucharist, the Kingdom becomes a present reality since by coming to Communion with Christ’s body and blood, the believers experience abiding union with the exalted Lord.


I note that the employment of the notion of "sacramental union" by both the Orthodox and Lutheran participants to speak of the eucharistic change, analogous to the hypostatic union, in which the divine Son assumes to himself human nature. Key for the Orthodox is this sentence from St John of Damascus: “The bread of communion isn’t an ordinary bread, but united with divinity.”

I invite discussion of the above passages. Do they adequately present what you believe to be the Orthodox understanding of the eucharistic transformation? I ask that you please ignore the references to the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, as the document never makes clear what is meant by that term. Let's focus instead on the Orthodox, and perhaps by way of contrast the Lutheran, understandings. An exegesis of the quotation from St John of Damascus would also be helpful. Sometimes when I read St John I think he is advancing a form of impanation; on other occasions I do not read him like that.

And if you happen to be convinced that we shouldn't be talking sacramental mysteries we cannot comprehend, I ask that you indulge those of us who do like to reflect on these mysteries.

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 01:32 PM

I think this is the key point of which I would like to see Orthodox acknowledgement: The Lutheran position stems from a historical critique of non-eucharistic uses of the eucharistic elements common in late-medieval Western traditions. Lutherans see a danger of superstition, fetishism or an abuse in private masses in such practices. Lutheran theology, furthermore, views the elements as means of salvation (media salutis) which means that its primary interest lies in the two entities that are brought together by those media—God and the believer—and not in the media themselves. Hence, the Lutheran tradition has not emphasized reflection on what happens to the elements outside their use in the Eucharist (extra usum).

#3 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 05:35 PM

What are the Lutheran opinions on the following?

The Procession of the Holy Spirit
Free Will
Divine Predestination
Justification
Veneration, feasts, and invocation of Saints, their Ikons, and Relics?

#4 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 05:36 PM

Lutherans see a danger of superstition, fetishism or an abuse in private masses in such practices.


I think that I once read that fetishism was one of the reasons that the East adopted administration with a spoon, directly into the mouth.

#5 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 11:20 PM

What are the Lutheran opinions on the following?

The Procession of the Holy Spirit
Free Will
Divine Predestination
Justification
Veneration, feasts, and invocation of Saints, their Ikons, and Relics?


The place to begin is the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Large Catechism. Then the Formula of Concord. One of the advantage of being a confessional church is that you always have lots of authoritative documents to cite.

#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 11:54 AM

I'm afraid that my last post listed here by me was not written by yours truly. Some type of system failure or editor failure perhaps.

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 12:00 PM

Now I see what happened. What has been posted is a quotation from the text Fr. Kimel has posted. I recall making a short comment which seems to have dropped off. The point worth making is that in the Lutheran statement the Eucharistic elements are not considered apart from the participation of the believer. This is the essential point I have been trying to stress all along on this thread. I hope that doesn't make me a Lutheran! I think it simply means that this point is profoundly Orthodox and should be recognized as such. It's certainly what sets Orthodoxy apart from a "scholastic" treatment of the Eucharist.

#8 Daniel Smith

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 05:02 AM

This statement is false. Its a direct contradiction to the decrees of the Jerusalem synod Of the 17th century which explicitly condemns any notion of hypo static union of bread and divinity and the Lutherans by name. This statement seems like it is a betrayal of tradition.

Edited by Daniel Smith, 26 July 2013 - 05:15 AM.


#9 Daniel Smith

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Posted 26 July 2013 - 05:20 PM

being poured out, for the remission of sins.

In the celebration whereof we believe the
Lord Jesus Christ to be present, not typically,
nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace,
as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare
presence, as some of the Fathers have said
concerning Baptism, or by impanation, so
that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose, but truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated (metaousian), converted and transformed
into the true Body Itself of the Lord,* Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever- Virgin, was baptised in the Jordan, suffered, was buried,
rose again, was received up, sitteth at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven ; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated (metaousian) into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.

Further [we believe] that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, there no longer remaineth the substance of the bread and of the wine, but the Body Itself and the Blood of the Lord, under the species and form of bread and wine ; that is to say, under the accidents of the bread.

#10 Wayne Whitmer

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Posted 28 July 2013 - 04:01 AM

What are the Lutheran opinions on the following?

The Procession of the Holy Spirit
Free Will
Divine Predestination
Justification
Veneration, feasts, and invocation of Saints, their Ikons, and Relics?

 

Resident Lutheran moving toward Orthodoxy here so I can take a stab at your question.  

 

Procession of the Holy Spirit is basically similar to Rome as the Filoque is recited in the Creed each week.  Lutherans would also clarify that it is "through the Son" and affirm the Eternal Generation of the Holy Spirit as well as the Son with the Father as the Origin of them both.  

 

Free Will-Lutheranism is Monergistic when it comes Salvation and embraces Election of those who are in Christ but unlike the Calvinist those who reject Christ do so of their own Free Will.  

 

Divine Predestination-God predestines those who are Elect to Salvation but we don't have Sovereignty or Predestination of Events as any type of focus in Lutheranism.  

 

Justification-One time event where Christ declares us Righteous through the merits of Jesus Christ.  His Active Obedience, Death, Burial, and Resurrection save us from our Sins.  

 

Veneration-Lutherans oppose Veneration, Invocation of Saints, their Icons, and Relics.  Lutherans don't oppose Icons but the Veneration of Icons as not consistent with the one mediator Jesus Christ.  

 

Hope that helps.  






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