The Eucharist as the Gift of Life: On Great Thursday

There really are such bitter days in man’s life when he does not have the strength to live. Our shadows and specters walk along streets and squares; we breakfast without tasting anything; we converse without interest – and we are afraid even to ask: am I still alive or am I in a dream? I do not feel that the people around me are alive. From such a drowsy condition the words of this prayer seem absurd, even mocking. Would it not have been better never to have been born than to be so abused and to abuse others? But Christ came in order to return us to life, to fill us with life abundantly
Igumen Savva | 29 March 2010

We thank Thee, O King Invisible, Who… by the fullness of Thy mercy hast brought forth all things out of nothing into being. The priest reads these marvelous words during the secret prayers at the Liturgy. This is an authentic Christian feeling: joy and gratitude for being alive, since in our adult life another kind of thought quite often prevails. Life seems unbearable to us; we toil exhausted, and reproach God in our prayers for bringing us to life. There really are such bitter days in man’s life when he does not have the strength to live. Our shadows and specters walk along streets and squares; we breakfast without tasting anything; we converse without interest – and we are afraid even to ask: am I still alive or am I in a dream? I do not feel that the people around me are alive. From such a drowsy condition the words of this prayer seem absurd, even mocking. Would it not have been better never to have been born than to be so abused and to abuse others? But Christ came in order to return us to life, to fill us with life abundantly (Jn 10:10).

The gift of the Eucharist is the gift of life: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you (Jn 6:53). One approaches the Eucharistic chalice when one lacks the strength to live. In the Holy Chalice we are given life in its pure form, we take it from a spoon, and revive our souls and bodies, infecting them with Divine life. The Lord created us so that we might live and receive this joy. In the Eucharist we receive not only some abstract life, but the joy of authentic life. One may even say that the taste for joy is given back to us. And for us as Christians this is very important, because the Lord has entrusted us with a special service in this world: to learn to love the people He brought to this place and at this time, and this is a very difficult task, and sometimes it is just intolerable. Therefore it is pleasant to listen to Horace, Pasternak’s presence is very nice, and Shakespeare is charming as ever, but this neighbor of mine, who is coughing behind the wall, these neighbors who shuffle around in their slippers, smack their lips at table, gossip, peep from around corners, who always want something from you – to love them? How is this possible? The gift of the Eucharist is the gift of love. Simply to smile at someone, to listen to him, to take his hurt into one’s heart – for this one needs strength, the strength of love. This strength is filled in us through communion with the authentic source of Life, Love, and Joy – communion with Christ the Lover of Man. Every Christian, approaching the Chalice and tasting of the gift of life with gratitude and thanksgiving, has the entire essence of his life filled to abundance with life, and becomes a source of joy and love for his neighbors. We see evidence of this in the lives of the saints. Many people went to the desert to St. Anthony for comfort, advice, and support. His speech was filled with grace, and the Holy Spirit spoke through his mouth. Once the saint noticed that one of his visitors never asked anything: he came in silence, and left in silence. The Elder asked him why he never asked anything. The visitor answered: “It is enough for me to look at you, Father.“ In the precence of an authentic Christian, everyone’s heart blossoms, and the desire to live returns. Such a Christian, like the sun, warms the frozen souls of people around him. This is the sunny, resurrecting, Paschal power of life in abundance that we drink from in the Eucharistic Chalice.

Great Thursday is the day of the institution of the Mystery of the Eucharist. One who today approaches the Holy Chalice mystically, “through all of time and space,“ participates in that first Eucharist, the first breaking of bread, which took place many centuries ago in a distant and strange country, by the Savior embarking on His way of the Cross. Thursday’s Liturgy is important to us also because here, at this point of Passion Week, we commune of the life of Christ so that we will be able to experience all the horror of His Cross and death. But all the stronger our gratitude and the more sincere our thankfulness to the Lover of Mankind, for Thou ceaseth not, until Thou hast done everything to bring us to Heaven, and grant us Thy Kingdom to come.

Translated from Russian by Olga Lissenkova
Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky) and Isaac (Gerald) Herrin

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