Steven Robinson and Bill Gould · November 7, 2005
Steve: And good evening, and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host this evening Steve Robinson in the studio with Bill Gould. Hi, Bill.
Bill: Hey, Steve. How are you doing?
Steve: I’m doing good. It’s a Wednesday night. It’s nice to be here.
Bill: That’s right.
Steve: Well, you know, there’s a lot of things that have happened in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve had a major computer issue.
Bill: That’s right, Steve. It’s you.
Steve: It’s all about me.
Bill: No, it’s all about Bill Gates actually.
Steve: Yeah true, because my computer crashed last week, and oh my gosh.
Bill: And it’s so painful when that happens, if anybody has ever had that happen, and I’m sure that they have.
Steve: Well, it’s happened to me before. Technology is a beautiful thing when it works. And when it doesn’t, it’s a real test of your religion.
Bill: Well, that’s right. We had just recorded that show on original sin, and I was glad to hear that you were able to resurrect that.
Steve: Thank God! I actually found a data recovery program for $29.95.
Bill: Are we doing software advertising on the show?
Steve: Well, I’m telling you. I would. I spent probably a good twenty hours recovering my data. But otherwise, I’d be paying data doctors $500 to do it.
Bill: Yeah, no kidding.
Steve: But anyway, we’re back in the land of the techno-living, and I have all my software reloaded, so we’re recording this evening’s program. So Bill, last week we were talking about original sin, and we promised our listeners a follow-up on that program, and I think we lied.
Actually, we started thinking about it, and that is such a huge topic. And it really kind of diverges from the path that we’re really on in talking about the sacramental life of the Church. Original sin is specific to the concept of Baptism, since that’s one of the hot button issues related to infant baptism. But we really don’t want to get too much further into that, because that’s not germane to the direction, which we’re headed with this series.
But we will talk about that in a future series when we talk about the Orthodox view of salvation, and the juridical view of salvation and participation and all of those kinds of things.
Bill: Suffice to say that following on the heels of what we’re talking about last week that we tend to juxtapose life and death and not necessarily sin and judgment. Although those again, that language, is there in the Scripture, but it’s not the only way that we look at the salvific work of Christ.
Steve: And I think that’s an important point, Bill, because when we talk about the Sacraments and we talk about the life in Christ, we really are talking about, in the Orthodox view of salvation, that it really is about life and death; that death is the final enemy of the human being; that death is the thing that causes us to sin; death is thing that Adam brought into the world by his separating himself from his life in God.
Bill: Yes, and death is what we inherit.
Steve: We don’t inherit guilt. We inherit death. So all of these things, they’re Scriptural. There’s passages that talk about this, and so when we talk about the sacramental life, we’re talking about our life in Christ. And we’re talking about our participation in Christ who came, as Hebrews 2 mentions, and took on our debt; overcame that debt; and freed us from the fear of death, which causes us to sin. So these are really the root and the fundamental things that Christ came to overcome in His human flesh.
Bill: And if you go and read a lot of the stories of the saints and especially of the martyrs, you really get a sense that that was such a pertinent and potent reality for the early Church. They had life and they weren’t afraid of death. They willing put themselves and their lives and gave their lives. It seems like they were so willing and so ready to give themselves over, because they had no fear of death. Now, this was something that God imparted to them through the Holy Spirit.
Steve: And through the Apostles and through the Scriptures read from that perspective. So basically, we’re just going to kind of leave the discussion of original sin at that. We’re really talking about the ancestral curse in the Orthodox view. The ancestral curse is Adam introducing corruption and death and sin into the human existence, and that Christ comes and overcomes death. And by overcoming death, he overcomes the power of Satan and the power of sin. We are no longer slaves to sin, because we’re no longer dominated by death.
Bill: That’s right. And he does it as a human being. And this is amazing. This is the Incarnation and the purpose of it.
Steve: And now, we, as human beings, need to participate in the divine humanity of Christ. And how does that happen? Well, it happens through the Sacraments and through the material world.
Bill: Through being baptized into His death, burial, and Resurrection.
Steve: And then walking in newness of life.
Bill: Right. And it is not without coincidence that the ancient practice of receiving someone into the Church was Baptism and then accompanied by the Eucharist.
Steve: Yes, and why the Eucharist? Well, it’s because as Christ says in John 6, “I am the Bread of Life, which comes down from Heaven.” And this is the Eucharist. This is the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the thing that now sustains our life in Christ. It is our physical participation in the life of Christ through the physical elements of bread and wine.
Bill: Well, that’s right. If we even look just simply at what happens when a child is born into the world, what’s the first thing that happens usually after their born?
Steve: It has to be fed.
Bill: That’s right. It has to suck on the mother’s breast and get some milk.
Steve: That’s a participation. This is an organic union and a very real union.
Bill: Exactly, and when folks, whether they’re babies or older, are received into the Church, the first thing that the Church does is feed them.
Steve: And commune them. And so, Bill, we have a program that is about Eucharist, but it’s one that we did a while ago. I’m old. I can’t even remember when it was. It was before we actually started archiving the programs on the website. And I just happened to come upon it when I was recovering my data and found one of the files and it said Eucharist on it.
So I listened to it, and I thought, I’m going to run this by you, Bill, but I don’t think we could do much better of a job discussing it than we did that time. And again, we’re kind of behind schedule and this is an easy way to get a new program up.
Bill: We can study real hard for the next show.
Steve: Yeah, there you go. Actually, it does answer a lot of the Protestant issues and objections to the concept of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Bill: Right. That is a hot button for a lot of people, and we can look into this and continue that discussion about the Eucharist. But we’ve dusted this thing off, got it out of mothballs, and are ready to present it to you all.
Steve: We’re already doing reruns.
Bill: Yes, but you guys have never heard this before.
Steve: So Bill, let’s queue up the program.
Archived program starts
Steve: I’m your host today Steve Robinson, as usual. And I’m in the studio today with Bill Gould, as usual.
Bill: And we’re glad to be in the studio today, because it was a 109 degrees out there. I was reading that this is the Seventh Sunday of Pentecost, and I was thinking that it’s the Seventh Sunday of Purgatory. It’s really hot today.
Steve: Well, there’s all the jokes about Hell and Purgatory when you live in the desert, so we won’t even go there. So today’s program, we have probably one of the hottest red flag button topics that separates the Protestant Evangelical world from the Liturgical Churches, and that is the nature of the Lord’s Supper.
Bill: More specifically, the Roman Catholic Church.
Steve: And so, what we’re going to do today is we’re going to take a romp through Church History. We’re going to take a look at the Early Church and the Early Church Fathers. We’re going to take a look at the Middle Ages Church Fathers. We’re going to take a look at the Reformation Fathers. We’re going to take a look at modern Evangelicalism. But most importantly we’re going to take a look at the Scriptures.
What do the Scriptures have to say about this? Because this is a real, real issue between the modern Evangelical world and ultimately between how Church History has viewed this for centuries and centuries.
Bill: Well, I was going to say, why don’t you, Steve, just quickly tell our audience what the Orthodox Church believes about the Eucharist.
Steve: Well, basically, we believe what the Scriptures say, and when Jesus said, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” Let’s go to the Scriptures. I’m sure everyone has read this and everybody knows this, but we’re going to go to the earliest Gospel. We’re going to the Gospel of Mark, and this was written probably between 40 and 50 A.D. And some scholars think it formed the basis for the rest of the Gospels, but that’s a scholarly debate. Let’s just go to the Scriptures as God has ordained to give to us.
Mark 14:22 says, “And while they were eating, He took some bread and after a blessing He broke it and He gave to them and said, ‘Take and eat. This is my Body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks and they drank from it, and He said to them, ‘This is my Blood of the Covenant, which is to be shed on the behalf of many.’ “
Now, if we go through the rest of the Synoptic Gospels, we find that this formula or these words that Jesus spoke are repeated verbatim in all of the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper. There is no variation. There is no change.
Bill: Right. And I think it’s safe to say that all of Christendom, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, affirms that these are the words of Christ.
Steve: Right. I don’t think that there is any version of the Scriptures out there, whether it’s a literal translation or a paraphrase like the Living Bible or the New International; no matter how you cut the translation, it always comes down to, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” Nobody tampers with that text. What we tamper with is how we view it and how we understand it.
Bill: Right, how we understand the words.
Steve: Now, if we go to John 6, it’s interesting that the Gospel of John is the only Gospel that doesn’t have an account of the Lord’s Supper or the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But that does not mean that John does not have an account or a theological exposition of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.
Bill: And we would like to point out that John is the latest Gospel, so it was written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and if it was in need of any correcting or reinterpreting of the words of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, we would probably find it in John. But he doesn’t provide that for us.
Steve: That’s an interesting point, Bill, because what you said is true. John was written probably a couple of decades after the last Synoptic Gospel was written. And there are a couple of places in the Gospel of John where John records Jesus’ words, and he specifically says, “And some understood Him to mean this, but He really didn’t mean that.”
I think one incident that comes to my mind is when Jesus is talking to Peter, and He says, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” and John said, “Some people interpreted this as that disciple would not die, but He didn’t mean that.”
Bill: Yeah, there are some footnotes in John.
Steve: Yeah, John actually footnotes some of Jesus’ teaching and says that this is the correct teaching. But it’s interesting, as you said, that John does not do this with the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. He does not theologically correct a misinterpretation or a misunderstanding of these words.
Bill: No, but he takes us back in John 6 to an incident that takes place prior to the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, in terms of the chronology of His life. And we’re going to read part of that to our audience.
Steve: Now, we’re going to be coming up on our break pretty quick, Bill, and so maybe we should read that after the break. But before the break, let’s just talk a little bit more about the Gospel of John and what it is and why it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the other Gospels.
One of the things, when you enter the life of a Liturgical Church, you begin to see the writings of the Apostle John in a liturgical context. These are books of worship. These are books of devotion and prayer. When you read the book of Revelation, there is so much imagery in the book of Revelation that relates to the services, to the worship, to the Temple, to all of the accoutrements, and the things that surround the worship of the Early Church. It is a liturgical book.
And the Gospel of John is also a liturgical book. It reflects, what we call, the inner life of the Church or the Church as it relates to Christ spiritually and the Church as it relates to Christ in its worship and devotion to God and how the Church approaches God and how God approaches the Church through the Incarnation.
The book of John is a book about the Incarnation. It begins with the Incarnation in eternity, and it ends with the consequences of the Incarnation, and so we have to look at John again, not as a strict historical, but an account of the inner life, the spiritual life, and the sacramental life of the Church.
Bill: And I think most Protestants and Christendom will agree overall that John had a very loving and intimate relationship with Jesus. He was always included in all of the miraculous events that took place, like the Transfiguration. He was on the inside.
Steve: Yeah, he was on the inside track of everything that Jesus had to share with the disciples. And so when we look at John 6, we’re going to see the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist as Christ presented it to the disciples before His death, before He went to His Passion, before He went to the Cross, and before He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
And so John, in giving us this account, gives us the theological understanding of what Christ was going to do at the Lord’s Supper and what we were going to do for the rest of eternity as Christians who share in the Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ. So Bill, let’s take our break. We’ll come back from our break, turn to John 6, and we’ll have a book study today.
Steve: And welcome back, I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, and I’m in the studio with Bill Gould. And we’re talking about the early Patristic and the Eastern Orthodox Church’s understanding of the presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
And Bill, you asked me for a synopsis about what the Orthodox Church believes about the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and basically, we believe what the Scriptures said when Jesus said, “This is my Body. This is my Blood,” He was speaking the truth. And He said what He meant, and He meant what He said.
And I think one of the things, and we’re going to talk about this more as the show progresses, but one of the things that we want to do in this program is give an apologetic reason for believing that what Jesus Christ said is true, that we can trust the words of the Scripture, and that Jesus was not speaking symbolically or metaphorically or figuratively and that what He said is what He meant.
But, on the other hand, we’re not here to rationally and reasonably explicate and explain the event. And I think this is a difference between the Eastern approach to the Eucharist and the Western approach to the Eucharist from the 11th Century down to the present day that has led us into this rational, utilitarian kind of Western philosophical approach that has divested the Eucharist of its value and its reality.
We have divided the spiritual and the physical. We have become, in a sense, neo-Gnostics; that the spiritual world is a reality that’s out there and never the twain shall meet. And so, let’s go to the Scriptures.
Bill: And if you have a Bible and you want to turn to John 6 in the latter part of the chapter. And just a little bit of background, we’re talking about the feeding of 5000 in John 6. And of course that miracle takes place, and it involves bread and fish. And on the very next day after the feeding of the 5000, we have Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. And as part of this discourse, He mentions that He is the Bread of Life that has come down from Heaven and mentions the manna in the wilderness.
Steve: Verse 43, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.” This is the title of our show, For the Life of the World. That’s right. And they said to Him, “Sir, evermore give us this bread.” And Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Bill: So Verse 48, we’ll start there.
“I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the Bread, which comes down from Heaven that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever. And the Bread, which I shall give Him for the life of world, is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
And I think that’s the question that we’re really posed with.
Steve: Well that’s the question that even exists today. How can this man, Jesus Christ, give us His flesh to eat?
And so Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him as the Living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father. So he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from Heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died. He who eats this Bread will live forever.”
He said this in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Now, many of His disciples when they heard it said, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” And Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then, what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life, but there are some of you that do not believe,” for Jesus knew from the first who those were who did not believe and who it was that would betray Him.
And He said, “This is why I told you that no man can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” After this, many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him. Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Bill: Pretty cool, huh?
Steve: Yeah! And what is the problem with this? As you mentioned in Verse 52 when the Jews debated among themselves and said, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” That is the central question about the Eucharist. That is the only question about the Eucharist that has been debated and thought about and written about for the last thousand years in Church History.
Now, why do I say just the last thousand years in Church History? Because Church History has lasted the last two thousand years.
Bill: Because again, the interpretation of John and what Jesus said was originally received by His disciples as being a literal statement. In other words, you had to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood in order to have life. Now, that was obviously very offensive to some of His disciples who were good Jewish boys. And the reason it was offensive to them is because of what it says very clearly in Leviticus 17:11 where it says that you’re forbidden to eat blood or drink blood, because life is in the blood.
Steve: Now, the Jews in the sacrificial system could sprinkle the blood and put the blood all over everything, but they could not drink it. And this is interesting, because in Acts 15 when the Jewish people were meeting to decide what to enjoin on the Gentiles from the Law, in order for them to become Christians, there were basically only two things. Abstain from sexual immorality, and do not drink blood. Now why is that? Why blood? This is a ritual and a ceremonial law, but why blood?
Bill: Well again, because Christ says and God says in Leviticus that the life is in the blood.
Steve: Yes, and the Gentile Church or the Gentiles who have become Christians would understand the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Lord’s Supper to be exactly what Jesus said. This is His body, and this is His blood, and unless you drink His blood, you have no life in you. You cannot drink the blood of a pagan sacrifice. You cannot drink the blood of anything else, because the only blood that a Christian is permitted to drink is the blood of Christ, because that is where our life comes from.
Bill: And we do know that in the Roman world, some people looked at Christians as people who affirmed or practiced human sacrifice.
Steve: And ritual cannibalism of some sort.
Bill: Which obviously we don’t do, so we don’t want to misinterpret that.
Steve: But that’s also an interesting historical point, Bill, because what you find throughout the Early Church, up to the 6th Century, is the mystery of the Eucharist. And when the Eucharist was celebrated and when the Lord’s Supper was presented, it was only presented to Christians. This was the inner life of the Church. This was only to the initiated. This was only to the people who had committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
And in our Liturgy, still to this day, we have, before the Eucharist is celebrated, we have a statement in the Liturgy that says, “The doors, the doors!” And this goes back to St. John Chrysostom’s time. It goes back to the 3rd or 4th Century when the catechumens and the inquirers and the non-Christians were excluded from the Church.
Bill: They were dismissed.
Steve: And the doors were closed at the giving of the Lord’s Supper. And so this was the mystery. And we still call the Eucharist the Mysteries. We still call it the Mysterion; the thing that cannot be beheld by reason and rationality. And it could not be beheld by anyone who was not initiated into the life of the Church and into the life of Christ in the Early Church.
And so again, this would kind of play into those rumors and misunderstandings of what was going on behind those closed doors of the Eucharistic sacrifice. And so when we look at John 6, the question, “How can this man give us His flesh?” And when Jesus says, “Unless you drink it and unless you eat my flesh, you have no life.” That’s pretty darn plain, and that’s pretty darn offensive.
Bill: And it offended plenty of them at the time.
Steve: And it offends plenty of people today. It offends pretty much all of Western Christendom today, because Western Evangelical Christendom rejects Jesus’ words here. And essentially, they try to do away with this understanding of the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
Bill: Well, why don’t we take a look at that real quickly? Because I think that’s, at least for our non-Orthodox hearers, got to be sending sirens and alarms and bells going off.
Steve: Well, we’ve got one minute, Bill.
Bill: Okay, why don’t we just go out with this then? The big objection that non-Orthodox and non-Catholics will raise is that Jesus really didn’t mean this literally. They want to spiritualize this.
Steve: And on what basis do they spiritualize it?
Bill: Well, they take a Scripture out of John 6, starting in Verse 61:
Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured, said, “Do you take offense with this? Then, what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.”
And so, this idea that these words that Christ follows with…
Steve: ...Basically discounts everything said before, and we need to interpret all of this in a spiritual manner.
Bill: Right! And we can’t really believe that the bread and the wine of our Liturgy actually becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.
Steve: Well, when we come back from the break, let’s find out how the Early Church Fathers and the Early Church interpreted this passage. And then we’ll talk about how we can come to this passage and understand it.
Steve: And welcome back. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson. I’m in the studio with Bill Gould. And we’re talking about the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Presence of Christ in the bread and wine in the Communion. And Bill we have a caller, Christy is that right?
Steve: Hi, Christy! How are you doing?
Christy: Oh, fine.
Christy: My question is regarding the cup and the bread. As He once gave it to His disciples, and said “This is my body, which is broken for you. This is my blood, which is poured out for you.” That was prior to His death, so that couldn’t have been literal with that night.
Steve: Well actually, we were going to address that in the program. Because this is one of those things that when we get locked down to a timeline and place Christ, who is God incarnate in the flesh; when we try to nail Him down into the literal, historical time frame of His existence, because He existed in the flesh as a human being; He was born of a virgin in time, and yet He remained eternal God. He remained eternally Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.
And we have a line in our Liturgy, which is during the Consecration of the Eucharist. I wish I could quote it, but it’s one of the priest’s prayers, and it says, “In the grave with the body, In Hades with the soul, At the right hand of the Father in the Spirit.” And it talks about Christ existing in all three of these places at once, because He is God.
And so, this is how we understand the Eucharist. The Eucharist was in fact Christ giving His Body and giving His Blood to His disciples, because when He became incarnate, when He became flesh and blood, what was He really doing? He was giving Himself, as God, to the fallen world as flesh and blood. He took on human flesh. He took on human blood.
And so, the Eucharistic Sacrifice didn’t just take place on the Cross. The Eucharistic Sacrifice embodies the entire existence of Christ as the God-Man; as fully God and fully man.
Bill: I have a little quote here from Augustine, who in his writings basically declared that at the Last Supper Christ held and carried Himself in His own hands.
Steve: That’s a pretty awesome mystery to try and grasp.
Bill: And again, I think it bears saying that in the Orthodox Church, and this has been a Tradition from the very beginning of the Church, we can’t explain it.
Steve: And I think this is where we were going with this segment of the show, Christy. One of the differences between the East and the West in how we approach the Eucharist is in an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. And basically, I think we would say that if you can explain the Incarnation; if you can explain how eternal God, the Second Person of the Trinity, becomes a human being as God and man in one person and dies and is raised from the dead and exists now in Heaven at the right hand of the Father as still God and man, then you can explain the Eucharist to us.
Bill: And men have tried.
Steve: And I think this is where the West has actually derailed itself. When I’m teaching this to inquirers, one of the things that I always tell them is that Jesus said, “Take and eat,” which means take and participate in His life and take Him into yourself. Become one with Him and commune with Him. He did not say, “Take and analyze. Take and dissect. Take and rationalize. Take and reason.”
Bill: He didn’t say, “This is the symbol of my Body,” or, “This is a facsimile of my flesh.”
Steve: There’s just nothing in the Scriptures that says or even hints that Jesus meant, “This bread contains my Body,” or, “This bread represents my Body,” or, “This bread symbolizes my Body.” There is none of that language, and yet, how are we to understand that? How are we to grasp the meaning of what Christ was doing when he said, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.”?
Well for us, it hinges on the meaning and the nature of the Incarnation. It means that when God became flesh, all creation is capable of containing the uncontainable God. God became true materiality. God became real flesh and real blood. And for us to try to say that the Eucharist and the bread and wine cannot, in some mystical or mysterious way, be the Body and Blood of Christ is almost tantamount to denying the Incarnation.
And so again, to your question, how we can understand Eternal God entering time and space and creation and yet still being omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful God? Well, we approach the Eucharist the same way. We don’t try to rationalize it. We bow before the Mystery, and we worship, and we thank God, and we approach, as our Liturgy says, “In faith and love, we draw near.”
And it’s much like a child approaching the dinner table. How much knowledge do we have to have of nutrition and the gastrointestinal system of the human body and the assimilation of nutrients to eat and to be nurtured by a Happy Meal? We don’t. We just consume. And by consuming, we become; we grow; we thrive; and we become mature.
And so in the same way, we approach the Eucharist in faith and love; we draw near to the Eucharist. We draw near to the Lord’s table. He gives us His Body and Blood. We eat His flesh and drink His blood. We don’t analyze, but we thank God. We praise Him. We love Him for the sacrifice and the gift. And we don’t try to rationally dissect it.
Bill: And it’s interesting too that given all of the Early Church controversies and the heretical teachings of Nestorius and Arius and the others, the issue of whether or not the Lord’s Supper was actually the Body and Blood of Christ was never challenged.
Steve: That’s a real interesting point.
Bill: And the fact is, the Church only experienced a couple of controversies in the first 1500 years, and never in the East. These controversies always arose in the West. And explanations that perhaps some of our audience has heard in terms of trying to understand consecration and when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, you’ve heard these words of transubstantiation and consubstantiation. They are just people trying to explain the unexplainable.
Steve: They’re trying to reasonably and rationally explain a mystery that Christ never tried to explain. He just said, “This is,” and by faith, “Eat.” In faith, accept. In faith, partake. In faith, commune. That’s what we have to do.
Bill: Well then, how did the Church and Western Christianity get to this place where we have this analytical and rational approach?
Steve: Well, let’s go back to John 6. And this kind of ties in with Christy’s question when Jesus says, “The flesh profits nothing. My words are Spirit and Life.” What did He mean by that? What is the Early Church Fathers take on that?
Now, you already noted, Bill, that this was never challenged in the first eleven centuries of Church History. You cannot find a Church Father or a heretic that taught that Christ’s Body and Blood were not present in a real and substantial way in the Eucharistic gifts. It’s just not there. And so, when we come to this passage, it’s not until 1600 or 1700 A.D. that somebody yanks this passage out of the Gospel of John and tries to make it say that everything that Jesus said prior to this is symbolic; that it’s metaphorical; that Jesus didn’t say what He meant. Now, how did the Early Church Fathers deal with this passage? What was their understanding?
Bill: The one that we chose was St. John Chrysostom. Go ahead, Steve.
Steve: Now, how does St. John Chrysostom deal with this passage? What does he say? And basically, I’m going to synopsize this for the sake of time. St. John Chrysostom said that when Jesus said, “The flesh profits nothing. My words are Spirit and Life,” he basically said that what Jesus was meaning here is that trying to understand His words in merely a fleshly way, in merely a carnal sense, is the wrong approach.
It’s futile, because you cannot grasp the true spiritual meaning of what He means by, “Eat my flesh. Drink my blood,” if you merely look at it as a fleshly event, which is what the Jews were doing.
Bill: And by the way, what many of His disciples also did. In the end of this whole thing, the only people who are left are the Twelve.
Steve: And Jesus didn’t try to correct them and say, “Hey! Wait a minute! Come back! You got it all wrong! I was speaking metaphorically. Don’t run away!” No, He let it stand. He didn’t correct the misunderstanding, because it was a true understanding.
Bill: And this is why the Church, for a thousand years, never questioned it.
Steve: Right. And St. John Chrysostom said that the Jews were looking merely at what was before their eyes. They were looking at Jesus Christ as a human being and as a man; as a son of Joseph.
And yes, carnally and fleshly apprehended for a man to say that, yes, that profits nothing. But Jesus’ words are Spirit and Life. What words is He talking about? He’s talking about the words, “I am the Bread that came down from Heaven.” He is the Word. “I am the Word of God who has come in the flesh.”
Well, we’re going to have to take another break here, Bill. When we come back, we’re going to wrap up St. John Chrysostom. We’re going to talk about some of the philosophical and mental gymnastics that we go through in trying to get our arms and minds and hearts around the Lord’s Supper and what it means for us today.
Steve: And welcome back. I’m your host today Steve Robinson in the studio with Bill Gould, and we’re finishing up this last segment on the Orthodox understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
And we were talking before the break about St. John Chrysostom and how he dealt with the passage in John 6 where Jesus says, “The flesh profits nothing. My words are Spirit and Life.” And the Protestant has used this passage for the past 300-400 years to basically make Jesus say that everything He said prior to this was metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative.
But you cannot a Church Father or writer for the first 1100-1200 years of Church History that even went close to that path. So when St. John Chrysostom talks about the flesh, and we talked to Christy about the consequences of the belief in the Incarnation, and this is what St. John Chrysostom hinges his argument on. He says,
If the flesh profits nothing, then the Word would not be made flesh to dwell among us. If through the flesh, Christ has greatly profited us, does the flesh then profit nothing? It is by the flesh that the Spirit has done what it has done for our salvation.
And so, this is the truth of the matter. Jesus was not talking about His flesh, because He came in the flesh. His whole purpose of His existence as the God-Man; as God Incarnate; as the Word of God come in the flesh was for our salvation. And so it would be gnostic to say that Jesus was saying here that flesh profits nothing.
Bill: Right. And what Chrysostom is saying and what Jesus is saying is that the flesh and the Spirit together profit a great deal. That is what we have in Christ. We have God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, becoming incarnate.
Steve: This is exactly what happens in the Eucharist. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and the wine become the Body and the Blood of Christ. Now, let’s talk a little bit about that, Bill. How does that happen? How do we get our heads around that?
Bill: Oh Steve, we can’t!
Steve: Well, let’s go back to some basic and fundamental orthodox theology. We have a hymn in our Liturgy. It’s called The Hymn of Justinian, written in the 5th Century. And it says, “And without change, you became man, O Christ our God.” And so, this is the Hymn of Justinian. This is Incarnational theology. God becomes human. God becomes flesh without change.
God does not change in His nature; God does not change in His substance when He becomes a human being. And on the other hand, human flesh does not become something other than human flesh when it is taken on by the Son of God. And so, the nature of the human flesh remains human flesh. And the nature of God remains the nature of God. We have two natures in one Person. This is just orthodox theology.
And this is what we hinge the understanding of the Eucharist on. Theodoret, in one of his dialogues against one of the Gnostic heretics, he’s talking about the bread and the wine, and his argument is, “Just as the bread and the wine do not change or lose their own nature, neither did Christ’s humanity change or lose its own nature in the Incarnation.”
And so, the Orthodox Church does not get into these rationalistic and scholastic discussions about accidents and substances and representations and consubstantiation and transubstantiation. We would say, “Was Jesus Christ fully God? Yes. Was Jesus Christ fully human? Yes. Is the Eucharist bread and wine? Yes. Is it the Body and Blood of Christ? Yes. How does that happen? We don’t know.” We approach it and apprehend it in faith.
So again, everything hinges on us seeing this and understanding it through the truth of the Word become flesh; through the truth of what John says in his first chapter and the first few verses of his Gospel. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And this is what Jesus means in John 6.
Bill: And it still, again, begs the question of why somebody like Zwingli or John Calvin or any number of the Reformationists why they wanted to change this or why they wanted to discard this. And it seems to me, again, and I’m not a doctor of Church History, but it seems to me that we have to look at the modern interpretation and the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist in light of a reactionary disposition against Rome that started with Luther.
Although, we can show that Luther, in fact, did not agree with Zwingli and Calvin on this issue. He believed in the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But we have the culmination of scholastic, technical interpretation finding itself in a rejection of anything Roman Catholic. And this was kind of a situation where the baby has been thrown out with the bath water.
Steve: Well, I think part of that too is in Western philosophical history, you have the elevation of the individual to primacy in contrast with the Eastern Semitic concept of community faith. And so when you get around to Zwingli and these guys, we have the individualism of the Church and the elevation of the individual to his supreme place in the spiritual life.
Bill: Well, that brings up a good point. The point of having a Liturgy and consecrating these elements of bread and wine for Communion is self-evidence that it’s communion with the Church. And it’s a rule of Orthodoxy that priests are not allowed to serve a Liturgy if no one is present.
Steve: Right, because it’s Communion. This is going to be our bottom line and what we have to close with, Bill. Rationally and intellectually, when we say we don’t believe that Jesus Christ really meant what He said when He said, “This is my Body. This is my Blood,” I have no reason to say that it isn’t except to disbelieve that He’s capable of doing that.
Then, I have to ask myself, why do I have a hard time believing that? The only reason I can come up with is that I distrust or somehow think of the material world as less than God than my though processes are. I elevate my thinking about the Eucharist above the Eucharist itself. And if it only means what I think it means, and what it really is is bounded by my belief about it, then it becomes really small.
And so, as we’ve been saying in the program all along, the Orthodox approach to the Eucharist is to approach, as we say in our Liturgy, “In faith and love, we draw near to God,” through this gift and through this sharing and participation in the body and in the blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
And whatever that means, and however God chooses or is able to give Himself to us in that material form is how He does that. And I can no more fathom that than I can fathom that God loved the world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to die on the Cross, to be raised from the dead for our salvation.
Bill: Well, let’s just add one more note. The Orthodox Church often calls the disciples of Christ or Christians, rational sheep. And it’s not that the Church is asking us not to ponder these things with our mental faculties. But the fact is that there are certain things that we just have to submit to. And the Orthodox Church, since the very beginning, has submitted to the words of Christ when He says, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” We just say, “Okay.”
Steve: In that sense, we’re very Sola Scriptura. We don’t take anybody else’s word for it but Christ’s. And we only take the Scriptures for what they say. And so, this is, again, something that has not been changed and has not been believed otherwise until virtually the 11th Century when some Western scholars got together and started talking about how this happens, and how does God do this, and how does it become the Body and Blood and still look like bread and wine.
Bill: Hocus Pocus and all that sort of stuff.
Steve: It becomes magic. And with all these rationalizations and inquiries into the gift and the mystery of God, it results in Zwingli and Calvin and these guys throwing up their hands and rejecting the whole thing and saying, “The only thing that matters is what happens in your head, your brain, and your heart in relation to that piece of bread and that cup of wine.”
And that has basically divested the Incarnation, the becoming of God in the flesh, of all of its power and all of its glory. So let’s just go back to the Scriptures. Let’s go back to the simple and plain words of Christ. Approach with faith. Approach with love. And thank God for His gifts.
Bill: And the words of Paul!
Steve: Bill, we’re out of time. I thank you all for listening. I hope this was an encouragement to you. Tune in next week. Thank you.